July 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Ebola vaccine trial proves 100% successful in Guinea (Sarah Boseley, 31 July 2015, The Guardian)

A vaccine against Ebola has been shown to be 100% successful in trials conducted during the outbreak in Guinea and is likely to bring the west African epidemic to an end, experts say.

The results of the trials involving 4,000 people are remarkable because of the unprecedented speed with which the development of the vaccine and the testing were carried out.

Scientists, doctors, donors and drug companies collaborated to race the vaccine through a process that usually takes more than a decade in just 12 months.

...the disease didn't stand a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


As Americans Figure Out the Roundabout, It Spreads Across the U.S. (ERIC A. TAUB, 7/31/15, NY Times)

Once seen only in countries like France and Britain, the roundabout, favored by traffic engineers because it cuts congestion and reduces collisions and deaths, is experiencing rapid growth in the United States.

First built in the United States in the early 1990s, roundabouts have doubled in the last decade, to around 5,000 today, according to Richard Retting, a former transportation researcher at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "There are hundreds if not thousands more in the planning stages," he said. [...]

Roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles. Columbus Circle in Manhattan, for example, is a traffic circle; vehicles have the right of way based on when their light turns green.

But roundabouts typically do not have traffic lights; instead, a vehicle approaching one slows to around 20 miles an hour and yields to those already in the circle.

New Jersey has gradually been replacing traffic circles with roundabouts. At trouble-prone intersections, "one of the options given serious consideration would be a modern roundabout," said Kevin Israel, spokesman for the New Jersey Transportation Department.

Compared with stop signs and traffic lights, roundabouts are significantly safer, engineers say. For example, crashes that result in serious injuries or death are reduced by 82 percent versus a two-way stop, and by 78 percent compared with an intersection with traffic lights, according to Jeff Shaw, the intersections program manager for the Federal Highway Administration.

Mr. Retting of the insurance group said that the reduction in injuries and fatalities was "unmatched by anything else we can do in traffic engineering."

Unlike standard intersections, drivers cannot speed across a street and hit a vehicle in the perpendicular lane; instead, they must slow and merge with others in the circle. Left turns in front of oncoming traffic are eliminated. And because vehicles never come to a complete stop, less fuel is consumed.

Elon Musk: Tesla 'almost ready' to go driverless (Cludia Assis, July 31, 2015, Marketwatch)

Elon Musk has test-driven Tesla's next software update, which will enable cars to steer themselves on highways and parallel park. [...]

The Model S cars have built-in driver-assistance systems that include, among other things, forward radar, a camera mounted by the rear-view mirror, and 12 sensors that can sense objects within 16 feet of the car. Tesla is able to release over-the-air software updates so owners don't have to bring their cars in for service.

The road to autopilot driving has been incremental. Last year, Tesla launched features such as lane-departure warnings, and earlier this year it released adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, and a forward-collision warning system.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Hillary Clinton Delivers 'Cautious' Message on Trade to AFL-CIO (PETER NICHOLAS and  MELANIE TROTTMAN, 7/30/15, WSJ)

 One labor leader who heard Hillary Clinton's private pitch Thursday for the AFL-CIO presidential endorsement came away unimpressed by her "cautious" message and her refusal to take a position on the Pacific trade pact, which organized labor fiercely opposes.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United and a member of the labor federation's executive council, said in an interview that Mrs. Clinton was "non-committal" on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a "bedrock issue" for the labor movement. Many union leaders predict that, if enacted, the TPP will result in jobs moving overseas and new strains for U.S. workers.

Were they not paying attention to the free trading administrations she served in?

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Black flight to the suburbs on the rise (William H. Frey, July 31, 2015, New Geography)

While much attention is correctly given to alleviating the persisting segregation of blacks in many American cities, it is also important to recognize a newly emergent shift to the suburbs among blacks from major cities with established black populations. Black population losses have been occurring in some cities since the 1970s. However, the magnitude and pervasiveness of black city population losses during the first decade of the 2000s was unprecedented. As discussed in my book "Diversity Explosion," the black population of the combined central cities of the 100 largest metropolitan areas declined by 300,000 between 2000 and 2010. This is the first absolute population decline among blacks for these cities as a group. [...]

Much of that population is suburbanizing. Metropolitan areas in the growing parts of the country are registering the greatest numeric gains in suburban black population. The suburbs of Atlanta, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Dallas experienced the largest increases in black population during 2000-2010, although Detroit and Chicago also make the list, due in part to large black losses from their central cities (see map). Among the largest 100 metropolitan areas, 96 showed gains in their suburban black populations. Of these, 76 had larger increases in the past decade than in the 1990s. Leading black movement to the suburbs are the young, those with higher education, and married couples with children--attributes that characterized white suburbanization for almost a century. While delayed for decades, a full scale suburbanization of blacks is finally underway.

We should be helping the rest of them flee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Two Points for Austerity: Spain and Ireland (Leonid Bershidsky, 7/31/15, Bloomberg View)

Spain and Ireland now have the euro zone's most dynamic economies: The International Monetary Fund expects Spain to expand by 3.1 percent this year and Ireland, by 4 percent -- realistic expectations, in light of their progress in the first six months. Given this performance, one has to wonder how long any economists can continue to condemn austerity as deadly poison based on the example of Greece. [...]

Of the three countries, it was Ireland, not Greece, that saw its public spending diminish the most relative to the size of its economy. One could argue that austerity was what caused Greece's GDP to contract so painfully, but that argument would be purely ideological, because there's no way to accurately compare the effects of the countries' individual measures. Their economies are too different. It's just as easy to say -- and as hard to prove -- that governments' management aptitude or cultural factors were decisive.

As for statistics, they show that of the three countries, the one that lowered its public spending-to-GDP ratio the most got the best results: Ireland's economic output is back at its pre-crisis level, it's the fastest-growing economy in Europe, and its unemployment level is down to 9.7 percent from the 2012 peak of 15 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Are US Middle-Class Incomes Really Stagnating? (Martin Fekldtein, 7/30/15, Project Syndicate)

Any adult who was alive in the US during these three decades realizes that this number grossly understates the gains of the typical household. One indication that something is wrong with this figure is that the government also estimates that real hourly compensation of employees in the non-farm business sector rose 39% from 1985 to 2015.

The official Census estimate suffers from three important problems. For starters, it fails to recognize the changing composition of the population; the household of today is quite different from the household of 30 years ago. Moreover, the Census Bureau's estimate of income is too narrow, given that middle-income families have received increasing government transfers while benefiting from lower income-tax rates. Finally, the price index used by the Census Bureau fails to capture the important contributions of new products and product improvements to Americans' standard of living.

Consider first the changing nature of households. From 1980 to 2010, the share of "households" that consisted of just a single man or woman rose from 26% to 33%, while the share that contained married couples declined from 60% to 50%.

When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) conducted a detailed study of changes in household incomes from 1979 to 2011, it expanded the definition of income to include near-cash benefits like food stamps and in-kind benefits like health care. It also subtracted federal taxes, which fell from 19% of pretax income for middle-income households in 1980 to just 11.5% in 2010. To convert annual incomes to real incomes, the CBO used the price deflator for consumer expenditures, which many believe is better for this purpose than the consumer price index. The CBO also presented a separate analysis that adjusted for household size.

With the traditional definition of money income, the CBO found that real median household income rose by just 15% from 1980 to 2010, similar to the Census Bureau's estimate. But when they expanded the definition of income to include benefits and subtracted taxes, they found that the median household's real income rose by 45%. Adjusting for household size boosted this gain to 53%.

And, again, even this more substantial rise probably represents a substantial underestimate of the increase in the real standard of living. The authorities arrive at their estimates by converting dollar incomes into a measure of real income by using a price index that reflects the changes in the prices of existing goods and services. But that price index does not reflect new products or improvements to existing goods and services.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Labour's Reckless Left Turn (Matthew d'Ancona, 7/29/15, NY Times)

Mr. Corbyn's rise has caused some consternation. The former prime minister Tony Blair, who led Labour to three successive election victories by jettisoning precisely what Mr. Corbyn stands for, has warned the party against a regression to left-wing purism. To those who say that their heart tells them to vote for Mr. Corbyn, Mr. Blair said, "Get a transplant."

Mr. Blair's analysis is hard to refute, but so far the party is deaf to his entreaties. Ms. Kendall, the only candidate who shares Mr. Blair's perspective, is running fourth. Ms. Cooper and Mr. Burnham are both capable politicians, but neither communicates a sense of urgency or passion.

To win the 2020 election, which will follow redistricting, the Labour Party would need an additional 106 seats in the House of Commons. To achieve this, it must woo Conservative voters.

In Scotland, the dynamic is different. Labour must try to take seats from the left-wing Scottish Nationalist Party. But at present, there are only 59 constituencies in Scotland, so a Labour strategy based on competing with the S.N.P. will fail if applied across the rest of Britain.

This points to the heart of the problem. With the exception of Ms. Kendall, none of the candidates would follow a Blairite template for winning back moderate Conservatives. Although Mr. Miliband, who earned the nickname "Red Ed," already tested to destruction the theory that Britons had shifted leftward, the left is overweening, contemptuous of the "Blairite comfort blanket" -- the idea that tacking back toward the center would make Labour more electable.

In practice, there's nothing comforting in Mr. Blair's message. He's asking a progressive party to confront the bleak reality that millions of decent people are fearful that voting Labour in 2020 would be an act of self-harm.

When I hear Mr. Corbyn speak -- and he speaks very well -- I recall a story from Mr. Blair's great ally Peter Mandelson. He recalled being told by a far-left colleague during Labour's long years of opposition, from 1979 to 1997, that there must be "no compromise with the electorate."

...a party of the right will run on the First Way or a party of the Left on the Second and they will cease to matter to their nation's politics.  Labor bids fair to be the canary in the coalmine.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


What Finland Can Teach America About Baseball (BRIAN COSTA, July 9, 2015, WSJ)

It is called pesäpallo, an obscure version of baseball that is little known outside the Finnish countryside. And for anyone who has ever grumbled about the plodding pace of play in North America, it offers something previously unimaginable: baseball without wasted time.

Tired of pitchers ambling around the mound? In Finland, there is no mound. Pitchers stand beside the hitter and toss the ball vertically over the plate.

Falling asleep waiting for the next batted ball? In Finland, hitters put nearly every pitch in play, sending fielders scampering in every direction. Players aren't allowed to call for time between plays or pitches.

Seen enough late-inning pitching changes? In Finland, there are no relievers. The typical pitcher throws every inning of every game, all season long.

And those are only some of the quirks of a game that includes a zigzag base path, a rectangular outfield, trios of designated hitters called jokers and managers whose primary mode of communication resembles the feathers of a peacock.

"If you dropped acid and decided to go make baseball, this is what you would end up with," said Andy Johnson, a Minnesota Twins scout based in Norway.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Take the IsideWith.com political quiz

I got Santorum/Jeb.  More interesting, the results show that profile to be much closer to Bernie than Hillary.

July 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Support for Bernie Sanders Is Deep but Narrow (Nate Cohn, 7/30/15, NY Times)

As many as 100,000 people attended house parties for Bernie Sanders on Wednesday in an extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented early demonstration of grass-roots support.

Although the tremendous turnout for Mr. Sanders was an impressive indication of the depth of his support among the Democratic Party's liberal activists, it seems that his base of support is quite narrow.

An analysis of Mr. Sanders's activist base shows that the turnout for Mr. Sanders was overwhelmingly concentrated in the country's most liberal communities. There were actually more Sanders attendees in Portland, Ore., than in New Hampshire or Iowa. There was little or no activity in many nonwhite and conservative areas that possess the votes and delegates to decide the nomination.

Twelve congressional districts -- all in Southern or nonwhite areas -- had no Sanders events. There were no Sanders events in an overwhelmingly Democratic, minority-heavy district in New York City. There were no Sanders events in two heavily Hispanic congressional districts in California. There were no events in several congressional districts in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


How Bush Runs as the Party Grown-Up (Francis Wilkinson, 7/30/15, Bloomberg View)

In one of the most remarkable political comments of recent years, Bush said last fall that a Republican candidate had to be willing to lose the primary to win the general election. Bush didn't have to explain why. His premise was widely understood as an expression of concern about his party's affinity for candidates promising a demolition derby in Washington.

So far, he's running as if he meant it. Bush's strategy might be called grownupism. He doesn't just turn down invitations to stoke anger, he treats them as opportunities to show restraint. [...]

Trump's success has allowed Bush to run not only as the unapologetic establishment candidate he is, but as a challenge to Trumpism and the anti-government extremism it represents. (At least what it represents this week; it's possible that Trumpism is not an ideologically fixed manifesto.) While many of his party's voters are dreaming of mass deportation of undocumented, largely Hispanic immigrants, Bush keeps finding ways to remind them why his Spanish is so fluent.

"We are very Hispanic in the sense that we speak Spanish at home," Bush said to Telemundo -- in Spanish -- referring to his wife and children. "Columba is very Mexican. She is proud of her U.S. citizenship naturally, but we eat Mexican food at home. Our children are Hispanic in many aspects, and we don't talk about that. But yes, the Hispanic influence in my family is something quite important in my life."

None of this would be possible without the enormous assets Bush brings to the campaign -- his fundraising prowess, his name recognition and his family's political network. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Common Core for College Readiness (Tiffany Miller, July 30, 2015, US News)

While it's too early to definitively state whether or not the Common Core is improving student achievement, early adopters are showing great promise. In Massachusetts, for example, low-income students outperformed their peers nationally in fourth and eighth grade in both reading and math. In Kentucky, one of the early Common Core adopters, scores have steadily climbed overall and among subgroups of disadvantaged students in math. And in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted a commission to improve Common Core implementation, African-American and Latino students showed academic gains in New York City.

As more states release their test results later this summer and fall, we'll see how students in other states are doing. We'll likely see a drop in test scores as students are tested against more rigorous standards for the first time. However, a preliminary look at assessment results in Washington and Oregon show that students are exceeding expectations.

These promising results couldn't come at a better time. According to the ACT 52 percent of first-generation high school graduates and 49 percent of low-income students didn't meet a single college readiness benchmark. I can't help but be concerned how these students will fare in college.

The Common Core has the potential to be the biggest education reform in decades. Its promise could give many students their best shot at a productive, fulfilling future in college and career. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


New study shows Spain's "Google tax" has been a disaster for publishers (Joe Mullin - Jul 30, 2015, ars Technica)

A study commissioned by Spanish publishers has found that a new intellectual property law passed in Spain last year, which charges news aggregators like Google for showing snippets and linking to news stories, has done substantial damage to the Spanish news industry.

In the short-term, the study found, the law will cost publishers €10 million, or about $10.9 million, which would fall disproportionately on smaller publishers. Consumers would experience a smaller variety of content, and the law "impedes the ability of innovation to enter the market."

The study concludes that there's no "theoretical or empirical justification" for the fee. 

Links drive readership.

July 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Tesla Just Did Something Really Big (Barry Ritholtz, 7/20/15, bLOOMBERG vIEW)

The Tesla P85D with the complete 90kWh "ludicrous" upgrade costs about $100,000. The upgrade gives it a 0 to 60 mph time of 2.8 seconds. To put that into context, to get that sort of acceleration from a car previously required a Porsche 918 Spyder (0 to 60 in 2.3 seconds) or a Bugatti Veyron (2.6 seconds) or a Koenigsegg One (2.5 seconds). They each cost $1.1 million, $2.9 million and $3.8 million, respectively. 

You can save some money by buying a Lamborghini Huracan ($237,250) or the Ferrari 458 Italia ($239,340), but both are slower than the Tesla. That makes the McLaren 570s a relative bargain at $184,900, but it, too, is slower than the Tesla. 

Think about what this does to the high-end segment of the auto market. Tesla founder Elon Musk could put a sexier body on the Model S -- low-slung, fat tires, gull-wing doors -- and steal share from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche, Bentley and Bugatti. Or, he can sell entire drivetrains to those companies and let them clad the cars with their own bodies. Or both. Whatever happens, the sports-luxury market just had a huge shot fired across its bow. 

These major shifts take time. To get an idea of how long a paradigm change takes in an entrenched industry like carmakers, consider these few facts about the Toyota Prius. 

It first went on sale in Japan in 1997; it wasn't until 2000 that it was introduced outside of that country. It was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle in the world. Originally introduced as a compact sedan -- weight and power were always issues -- it has grown along with the underlying technology. Now it is a midsize hatchback, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board as among the cleanest vehicles sold. Of the 7 million hybrids that Toyota has sold since 1997, almost 5 million have been Priuses. (Toyota now sells 27 different hybrid passenger car models but only one plug-in hybrid model -- also a Prius). 

Toyota proved with the Prius that a reasonably priced hybrid electric could be a practical vehicle for the ordinary household. Tesla has taken the baton from Toyota, building a true, pure plug-in only electric car. The ramifications are far-reaching. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


In one-on-one interview, Clinton talks issues, calls Planned Parenthood videos 'disturbing' (DAN TUOHY, 7/29/15, New Hampshire Union Leader)

Calling them "disturbing," Hillary Clinton said undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue raise questions about the process nationwide.

"I have seen pictures from them and I obviously find them disturbing," the Democratic presidential hopeful said during a sit-down interview Tuesday with the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Donald Trump Is The Nickelback Of GOP Candidates (NATE SILVER, 7/29/15, 538)

Despite what you may have read elsewhere -- or heard from the man himself -- Donald Trump is not all that popular with Republican voters. Sure, he's in first place in many polls. But Trump is near the back of the pack by another important measure.

In the chart below, I've taken an average of favorability ratings from seven polls of Republican voters that were conducted wholly or partly after Trump made his comments about John McCain on July 18. They include national polls from CNN, Public Policy Polling and YouGov, along with polls of Iowa and New Hampshire from each of Marist College and Monmouth University.


On average in these polls, Trump's favorability ratings among Republicans are barely better than break-even: 47 percent favorable and 43 percent unfavorable. Among the 17 Republican candidates, Trump's net favorable rating, +4, ranks 13th, ahead of only Chris Christie, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Israel's Foreign Ministry chief: Sunni Arab nations are our 'allies' (JTA, July 30, 2015)

The director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, called the Middle East's Sunni Arab nations "Israel's allies." [...]

Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and a longtime adviser to Israeli prime ministers from the right-wing Likud Party, is also the author of a 2003 book on Saudi Arabia called "Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


The Pro-Life Moment is Here : The Human Capital project has catapulted the pro-life movement into a perfect storm of public opinion and pro-life legislation (John Paul Shimek, 7/26/15, Catholic World Report)

Undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) have prompted these state and federal demands for an investigation and the repeated calls to defund the organization. The videos are part of a campaign against Planned Parenthood entitled "Human Capital". So far, two videos have emerged over the course of the last two weeks and additional videos are anticipated soon. The undercover footage raises questions about whether the organization founded by noted eugenicist Margaret Sanger has been involved in the sale of the remains of aborted babies.

CMP's website describes "The Human Capital project [a]s a 30-month-long investigative journalism study ... documenting how Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of aborted babies." And, the project's website explains that "Citizen journalists at CMP spent two-and-a-half years logging thousands of research hours to painstakingly gather hundreds of hours of undercover footage, dozens of eye-witness testimonies, and nearly two hundred pages of primary source documents."

On the evening of Wednesday, July 23, CMP's David Daleiden appeared on Fox News' Sean Hannity show. In the course of the six minute interview, Daleiden revealed that "Of the really, really shocking, compelling stuff, we've probably got dozens upon dozens of hours. And that will continue to be released in the days and months to come." When the show's host, Sean Hannity, asked Daleiden whether "we're going to see tape after tape after tape as bad as the two that we've already seen or worse," he responded by saying, "Exactly. Even worse."

The release of the project's videos is certainly well-timed. At a moment in American politics when liberals have been demanding the expansion of human rights for immigrants and LGBT couples, these videos reveal Planned Parenthood's refusal to accord even the smallest degree of dignity to the most vulnerable members of society.

Former Bush speechwriter (2001-2006) and current Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson, writes, "All our best instincts push toward expanding the circle of inclusion and protection. ... But how does abortion -- particularly late-term abortion -- square with this trend in liberal societies? Many progressives paper over this tension by denying any value to a fetus until it emerges from the birth canal. But this is both medically and morally implausible."

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Afghan government confirms Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead (Sune Engel Rasmussen in Mazar-i Sharif, Jon Boone in Islamabad and Emma Graham-Harrison, 29 July 2015, The Guardian)

The Afghan government has confirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar died in Pakistan more than two years ago.

The announcement was based on "credible information", the president's spokesman said in an emailed statement on Wednesday, without providing any further details on what the information was.

"The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan," the statement said.

"The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process."

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Tar Heel School Voucher Victory (WSJ, July 26, 2015)

Two years ago Tar Heel Republicans passed a modest reform offering low-income students $4,200 scholarships to attend qualifying private schools. The law requires, among other things, that private schools report graduation rates and test scores. It also mandates an annual report comparing the learning gains of voucher recipients and public school students.

Taxpayer plaintiffs backed by the union argued in a lawsuit that vouchers accomplish no "public purpose" because private schools don't have to adhere to such state educational standards as teacher licensing requirements. You have to admire the gall of a union to argue that private schools are "unaccountable" when only one in five black fourth-graders at North Carolina public schools scored proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2013. According to the Institute for Justice, which represented voucher parents in the case, five of six low-income students fail the state's end-of-grade math or reading tests.

North Carolina's high court ruled 4-3 that vouchers serve a public purpose, and we'd say an urgent one. Last year about 4,500 qualifying low-income families applied for 2,400 slots in the state lottery, though only 1,200 vouchers were awarded because of a court injunction. Now that vouchers are out of legal limbo, some Republican legislators hope to expand the program and raise income eligibility limits. Good idea.

While the ruling is a victory for poor children, the case is a reminder that the unions will do everything possible to preserve their monopoly control over the lives of millions they fail to teach. 

Making teaching an option in a Universal National Service program will do away with the unions altogether.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Iran and America: The Big Picture (PETER VAN BUREN, July 28, 2015, American Conservative)

Don't sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways.

Washington and Tehran announced their nuclear agreement on July 14th and yes, some of the details are still classified. Of course the Obama administration negotiated alongside China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany, which means Iran and five other governments must approve the detailed 159-page "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action." The UN, which also had to sign off on the deal, has already agreed to measures to end its sanctions against Iran.

If we're not all yet insta-experts on centrifuges and enrichment ratios, the media will ensure that in the next two months--during which Congress will debate and weigh approving the agreement--we'll become so. Verification strategies will be debated. The Israelis will claim that the apocalypse is nigh. And everyone who is anyone will swear to the skies that the devil is in the details. On Sunday talk shows, war hawks will fuss endlessly about the nightmare to come, as well as the weak-kneedness of the president and his "delusional" secretary of state, John Kerry. (No one of note, however, will ask why the president's past decisions to launch or continue wars in the Middle East were not greeted with at least the same sort of skepticism as his present efforts to forestall one.)

There are two crucial points to take away from all the angry chatter to come: first, none of this matters and second, the devil is not in the details, though he may indeed appear on those Sunday talk shows.

Here's what actually matters most: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. [...]

[W]hat fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo--hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh--just not a military one. Real power in the 21st century, short of total war, rests with money.

The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world's most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.

The deal is an effect, not a cause, as it is about trade, not weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Bush Appeals for Civility in GOP Race ( Kenneth T. Walsh, July 28, 2015, US News)

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is trying to set himself apart from his GOP rivals by calling for more civility and by disdaining the politics of insult and invective.

Bush, the former governor of Florida, has been urging a lower decibel level while several of his competitors are making harsh and inflammatory statements. The most recent came from former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas who said last weekend that President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran would "take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven." Real estate developer Donald Trump regularly derides his rivals for being stupid, incompetent and "losers." Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is immersed in a nasty tangle with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, whom Cruz has called a liar. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has labeled Trump a "jackass." The list goes on.

The goal of the tough-guy candidates apparently is to make enough news to generate a boost in GOP support that would qualify them for the first Republican presidential debate on August 6. Participants in that main event will be limited to the top 10 candidates in the polls.

Bush is staking a claim to be the adult in the room, not another kid in the sandbox. He criticized Huckabee's language and urged fellow Republicans to "tone down the rhetoric."

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Is America Entering a New Victorian Era? (Michael Barone, July 28, 2015, RCP)

Today, several widely unanticipated trends -- certainly unanticipated by me -- suggest that America is in some significant respects entering a new Victorian Era. Some may regard that as regrettable, others as welcome, still others as a mixture of good news and bad news. But it's certainly news, especially to the aging baby boomers who expected the Age of Aquarius to continue indefinitely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection (JULIE SCELFO, JULY 27, 2015, NY Times)

Ms. Holleran was the third of six Penn students to commit suicide in a 13-month stretch, and the school is far from the only one to experience a so-called suicide cluster. This school year, Tulane lost four students and Appalachian State at least three -- the disappearance in September of a freshman, Anna M. Smith, led to an 11-day search before she was found in the North Carolina woods, hanging from a tree. Cornell faced six suicides in the 2009-10 academic year. In 2003-4, five New York University students leapt to their deaths.

Nationally, the suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has increased modestly but steadily since 2007: from 9.6 deaths per 100,000 to 11.1, in 2013 (the latest year available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). But a survey of college counseling centers has found that more than half their clients have severe psychological problems, an increase of 13 percent in just two years. Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Soon after Ms. Holleran's death, Penn formed a task force to examine mental health on campus. Its final report, issued earlier this year, encouraged the school to step up outreach efforts, expand counseling center hours, and designate a phone line so that anyone with concerns could find resources more easily. It also recognized a potentially life-threatening aspect of campus culture: Penn Face. An apothegm long used by students to describe the practice of acting happy and self-assured even when sad or stressed, Penn Face is so widely employed that it has showed up in skits performed during freshman orientation.

While the appellation is unique to Penn, the behavior is not. In 2003, Duke jolted academe with a report describing how its female students felt pressure to be "effortlessly perfect": smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort. At Stanford, it's called the Duck Syndrome. A duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles.

"Nobody wants to be the one who is struggling while everyone else is doing great," said Kahaari Kenyatta, a Penn senior who once worked as an orientation counselor. "Despite whatever's going on -- if you're stressed, a bit depressed, if you're overwhelmed -- you want to put up this positive front."

Citing a "perception that one has to be perfect in every academic, cocurricular and social endeavor," the task force report described how students feel enormous pressure that "can manifest as demoralization, alienation or conditions like anxiety or depression."

William Alexander, director of Penn's counseling and psychological services, has watched a shift in how some young adults cope with challenges. "A small setback used to mean disappointment, or having that feeling of needing to try harder next time," he said. Now? "For some students, a mistake has incredible meaning."

Meeta Kumar, who has been counseling at Penn for 16 years, has noticed the same change. Getting a B can cause some students to fall apart, she said. "What you and I would call disappointments in life, to them feel like big failures."

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


A Complicated Legacy (Teresa Welsh, 7/28/15, US News)

But with only 17 months remaining in his term, Obama has yet to achieve any real policy victories in Africa. And as he has struggled to balance a full plate of crises in other parts of the world, the accomplishments of the nation's first African-American president appear noticeably thinner than those of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush. [...]

Cameron Hudson, who served as director for African affairs on the staff of the National Security Council from 2005-2009 under the Bush and Obama administrations, says their difference in Africa policies is that Bush appeared to have a more solid strategy in how to approach the continent and what he wanted to accomplish there.

"When Bush came into office, there were civil wars going on in Sudan, Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone. And by the end of his first term, all those civil wars were over," Hudson says. "There was, I think, a very deliberate effort in the first term of the Bush administration to end those civil wars, and by ending those civil wars, enabling him in the second term to launch a very aggressive development program."

When it comes to Obama, "I would question just generally what his vision for the continent was," Hudson says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


The Latest Indication of Obama's Lack of Commitment to Financial Reform (DAVID DAYEN JULY 21, 2015, American Prospect)

Nothing is known about Dominguez's views on financial regulation or consumer issues. Senator Sherrod Brown, ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee, was completely flummoxed to find much to say about Dominguez. "Dr. Dominguez has a distinguished academic record," Brown said in a statement. "I look forward to hearing her views on how the Federal Reserve can continue to maintain and strengthen the policies that have stabilized the financial system and helped our economy rebound from the crisis." Translation: She taught classes, but I want to know what she believes about financial reform.

To understand why reformers may be chagrined by this choice, you must know about the makeup of the Fed Board of Governors. As I wrote in the Prospect last April, particular seats on the board have been unofficially earmarked for certain coalitions and interest groups. The goal is for the board to carry wide experience in all areas that the Fed is involved with, from Wall Street to international banking. For example, when Elizabeth Duke resigned last year, lawmakers asked for a replacement to fill the "community banker seat." Obama obliged by nominating Allan Landon, former CEO of the Bank of Hawaii, in January. (He has yet to be confirmed.)

Reformers were pleased that Sarah Bloom Raskin filled the "public interest seat," as a former regulator focused on consumer protection. But she left in 2014 for the No. 2 position at the Treasury Department, replaced by Lael Brainard, a Treasury official from the Tim Geithner era and a loyal soldier for the administration's viewpoint, which has tended to be more moderate on financial reform issues. When Jeremy Stein resigned last year, there was a chance to restore the "public interest seat." But instead, the White House went with Dominguez.

Dominguez's profile, as an academic with an international finance specialty, mirrors that of Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, and to some degree Chair Janet Yellen. The public interest seat has disappeared, giving Daniel Tarullo, the current point person on financial regulation, no allies on the board.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


A Dutch city is giving money away to test the "basic income" theory (Maria Sanchez Diez, June 30, 2015, Quartz)

Other countries, including India and Malawi, have tested basic income in the past, but the most famous experiment was one carried out in the Canadian town of Dauphin, in Manitoba. Between 1974 and 1979, The Mincome program gave a stipend to the entire population, varying depending on how much money each person earned.

Evelyn L. Forget, an economist at the University of Manitoba, studied this experiment and wrote a report called "The town with no poverty," published in 2011. Her conclusion? Basic income reduced Dauphin's poverty and alleviated several other problems.

Although working hours dropped, as skeptics had predicted, it happened mainly among young men, who instead continued their education, and mothers who used the financial freedom to focus on childrearing.

"People thought that it was negative, but men were less likely to drop school, which has an influence in lifetime earnings," she told Quartz, "and women took longer maternity leaves."

People who participated in Mincome were less likely to go to hospitals and the town's health facilities saw a drop in mental-health-related complaints, reducing costs, Forget said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Democratic Party Machinery Shows Rust : Leaders worry losses of state, local offices create shortage of top candidates (COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON and  PETER NICHOLAS, July 20, 2015, WSJ)

After two presidential victories, Mr. Obama presides over a Democratic Party that has lost 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 69 in the House during his tenure, a net loss unmatched by any modern U.S. president.

Democrats have also lost 11 governorships, four state attorneys general, 910 legislative seats, as well as the majorities in 30 state legislative chambers. In 23 states, Republicans control the governor's office and the legislature; Democrats, only seven.

Such losses help shape the future: An ousted state lawmaker doesn't run for Congress; a failed attorney general candidate loses a shot at the governor's office. As a result, the flow of fresh political talent rising to statewide and national prominence in the years ahead won't be as robust as Democrats hope.

The party's failure to elect more governors, for example, has shrunk the pool of potential Democratic presidential candidates, one reason few have challenged Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination.

For now, the two parties wield their influence in competing branches of government: Republicans in control of Congress, using state-level dominance to draw congressional districts friendly to GOP candidates; and Democrats in the White House, using their demographic advantage nationwide.

In few places are the Democrats' troubles more apparent than in Ohio, the perennial presidential battleground state twice won by Mr. Obama. Ohio Democrats lost every statewide contest in the November midterms, allowing the GOP to build supermajorities in both legislative chambers. Democrats won just a quarter of races last year for county commissioner--the local masters of land-use rules, as well as county roads, jails and a host of other government services.

The losses in Ohio are the consequences of failing to develop a strong corps of local officeholders and the campaign machinery to support them, Democrats in the state say.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Intel's miracle chip could make your gadgets 1,000 times faster (Hope King, 7/29/15, CNN Money)

Intel and Micron say they have a new computer chip that will make your gadgets significantly faster, more durable and able to store way more data.

If the claims hold up, the new chip could serve as a momentous achievement for the computing industry, ushering in a wave of new devices.

The new technology, called 3D XPoint, was developed by combining a computer's memory (RAM) and data storage (hard drive or Flash drive) into a single chip.

July 28, 2015

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:50 PM


"East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)

In my very first ATJ  I mentioned that "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" is my favorite song.  I can't tell you why, exactly.  Certainly the fact that it was written by a Princeton undergrad for a University theater troupe that I was part of almost 50 years after the song's debut is part of the appeal...but over 4 years I played dozens of Triangle Club songs, and none of the others has stayed with me for another 30 years. The lyric is sweet in a moon/june kind of way, but lacks the type of internal rhymes and clever word play I usually like (see, among others, the words of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Dave Frishberg).  It has a lovely melody that, although written as a ballad, does lends itself to various other interpretations...including moderate and uptempo swing and various Latin rhythms; but there are lots of lovely melodies out there, and almost any tune can be played in different styles.  So, while I wish I could explain the song's appeal to me, I really can't.

In his excellent book, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia is lukewarm about the song (much to my disappointment...no one likes to read that their baby is average at best), dismissing the melody as "predictable" and the lyrics as "vague."  Mark Steyn, however, in his survey of Frank Sinatra's Top 100 recordings to celebrate the centennial of Sinatra's birth, places "EOTS" at number 19, which is remarkable when you consider that Sinatra covered, at one point or another, pretty much every important composition in the Great American Songbook.  (Steyn also provides a complete and fascinating look at the birth of  the song and the tragic early death of its composer, Brooks Bowman http://www.steynonline.com/6863/east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon.)

One way I like to verify (or justify, depending on your point of view) my opinion of a song is to look at the musicians who have performed it.  After all, if a song is a clunker, would great artists continue to play it year after year?  I have about 50 versions of "EOTS" in my iTunes playlist and the roster of singers and instrumentalists who have recorded it is nothing less than astonishing.  To name just a few: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey's band (Steyn's #19) and a later version, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, Carmen McCrae, Etta Jones & Houston Person, Diana Krall, Toots Thielmans (ATJ #1), Jimmy Smith (ATJ #6Stan Getz, James Moody, Al Cohn & Zoot Sims and Sonny Stitt.  And I've heard the Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins, play it a half-dozen in times in concert, but alas, it seems he has never released a recording of it.  (Maybe on one of his future "Road Show" CD's...)

Almost all of the versions of "EOTS" mentioned above are available on YouTube and iTunes, and I recommend all of them.  But to keep things simple here, we'll consider 4 recordings.  The link at the top of this post is to Tony Bennett's version, a straight reading of the melody and lyric which is a perfect introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the song.

The other 3 recordings all have as a unifying element the great pianist Kenny Barron.  First is a 2-piano duet with bop pianist Barry Harris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycfMSJcUTv8.  (In ATJ #20 thread Harris and Barron were each featured as accompanists for Clark Terry on his One on One album, and Barron joined Terry and Benny Carter on Live at Princeton.)  After a slow and romantic statement of the tune, the tempo picks up into a jaunty swing as bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley join in.  Barron solos first (supported by Harris) for a couple of choruses and then they reverse roles.  

Next, Kenny joins the great reed player James Moody for a beautiful, slow take of the tune. 

On tenor here (he was equally accomplished and well-known on alto and flute), Moody plays the head in the lower register of the horn, caressing the melody and playing beautiful fills that move sinuously through the changes.  Barron only solos for half a chorus near the end, but provides perfect, empathetic support throughout.  

Finally, my favorite recording of my song...and maybe my favorite jazz recording of all time, period (a strong statement, I know)...another duet of Kenny Barron and a legendary tenor man, this time Stan Getz, recorded live in Copenhagen just a month or two before Getz died.  After a wonderful variation on the tune, Getz  delivers a melodic solo that is tender and yearning, but always swinging.  Barron plays an equally beautiful and singing solo that effortlessly mixes single note lines, stride, double time and block chords, before Stan returns and they bring things to a close.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Bernie Sanders : The Vox conversation (Ezra Klein, July 28, 2015, Vox)

Ezra Klein
You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...

Bernie Sanders
Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein

Bernie Sanders
Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...

Ezra Klein
But it would make ...

Bernie Sanders
Excuse me ...

Ezra Klein
It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?

Bernie Sanders
It would make everybody in America poorer --you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. 

You'd get a real moment of moral clarity in a Bernie vs. Jeb race.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM



Economist Robert Atkinson of the think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation] says a lot of the economy is still made up of things that are hard to automate and low minimum wage in the U.S. makes it economical for companies to hire humans instead of robots.

"If you're an employer, you don't have much incentive to replace workers or add tools because [employees] cost so little," he explains. "If workers cost more, more companies would have the incentive to give them the tools to increase productivity."

However, if low-wage workers got paid more like fast-food workers in New York City are about to be, then more employers might soon be adopting their own robotics workplace.

"There's a movement taking place right now," says Garry G. Mathiason, chairman of law firm Littler Mendelson, which has a specialization in robotics employment law issues. "New York is an example where the minimum wage is going to be pushed up in fast-food areas where they have franchisees in over 30 outlets to a minimum of $15 an hour."

He continues: "And that will have the effect of making it economically more attractive to bring in robotics to absorb some of that work. I think that will accelerate the speed with which this will take place. So over the next five years, we're going to all of a sudden see robots be very much a part of our lives just in terms of our normal commercial activity."

July 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


How Ohio Gov. John Kasich Is Making Life Hell for Women Seeking Abortions (Allie Gross, Jul. 27, 2015, Mother Jones)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the latest Republican to step into the presidential fray, has widely been labeled the moderate in a GOP field that tilts sharply to the right. Climate change? It's real. Common Core educational standards? He'll take it. Medicaid expansion? Sure. Immigration reform? He's open to the possibilities. But his celebrated moderation disappears when it comes to reproductive rights. The religious * former congressman and two-term governor is a hardliner on abortion: As governor he's signed and supported some of the most stringent anti-abortion legislation in the country. 

"Kasich is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's going out there trying to sell himself as a moderate, he's no moderate. He is an extremist," says Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion rights advocacy group. "He is--if not the worst--among the worst of anti-choice governors in this country's history."

Since Kasich entered office in 2011, he has enacted 16 anti-abortion measures. Some directly restrict abortion access, such as the 20-week late-term ban that he signed six months after entering office. Others limit the work of abortion providers. For example, in 2013 he signed the state's budget bill, which included one provision that prohibits state-funded rape crisis counselors from referring women to abortion services and another that stripped Planned Parenthood of an estimated $1.4 million in federal family-planning dollars. The measures have had drastic consequences for access to abortion and medical care for Ohio women: During Kasich's time in office, the number of abortion providers in the state has dropped from 16 to eight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Boston Says 'Nope' to the 2024 Games (JASON GAY, July 27, 2015, WSJ)

Boston didn't want the Summer Olympics. OK, that is not totally accurate: Some Bostonians were excited for the city to host the Summer Games in 2024, just not enough of them to, you know, give the idea popular momentum. Boston never became gripped with Olympic fever, not even close. It mostly acted like the Olympics were a two-week canoe trip with their in-laws that they would get stuck paying for.

As someone who grew up a few miles outside the city, I'm not totally surprised. Every time I read a story about the Boston Olympics, I kept imagining my late father pacing around the kitchen with a coffee mug, complaining about Olympic budgets and especially Olympic traffic, nine years in advance. 

Let some other suckers waste their money.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


As Trade Deal Nears Potential Home Stretch, Worries Abound (WILLIAM MAULDIN, July 26, 2015, WSJ)

The goal is a 12-nation bloc accounting for two-fifths of the world's economic output that would boost growth and put pressure on China, which isn't part of the talks, to adopt American-style rules for commerce, U.S. officials say.

But the U.S., Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Australia and the seven other countries involved each bring sensitivities and demands ranging from disagreements over dairy and sugar to unease with U.S. rules on pharmaceuticals and the treatment of state-owned businesses.

"There's a lot of hard work to be done before this agreement is put to bed," Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said last week in Toronto.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


10 years after the storm: has New Orleans learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina? (David Uberti, Monday 27 July 2015, The Guardian)

"FOUR MONTHS TO DECIDE," the headline blared. "CITY'S FOOTPRINT MAY SHRINK; FULL BUYOUTS PROPOSED FOR THOSE FORCED TO MOVE." Broadmoor was, according to the report, among a handful of low-lying neighbourhoods "that will have to prove their viability to rebuild". An accompanying map showed the area where Carroll and her husband had bought their first home, in 2002, covered by a large green dot. "Approximate areas expected to become parks and greenspace," the key explained.

"I cried," Carroll recalls when I meet her this summer. "I thought: 'This cannot be happening.'"

In Broadmoor, an area with a long history of civic pride, that green dot proved a symbolic turning point in the uncertain days after the flooding. "It was so intense that you couldn't even describe the situation to a family member," Carroll says, explaining how 400 residents crowded under a tent days later to try and make sense of it all. "We decided to deal with this just like we'd been dealing with all of this nonsense."

The proposal to shrink New Orleans caused a massive public backlash, especially since countless residents remained scattered across the country with no say in the planning process. The plan bore out the fears of working- and middle-class New Orleanians - many of them African American - who tended to live in low-lying areas. They distrusted the city-elite's motivation in rebuilding. The Bring New Orleans Back Commission merely made people wonder whether parts of the city would be brought back at all.

These people had, of course, already experienced severe trauma. Government preparation for and response to the humanitarian disaster had proven woefully inadequate. More than 1,800 died across the Gulf Coast region, which also suffered more than $100bn (£65bn) in damage. The flooding put roughly 80% of New Orleans under water and displaced more than 400,000 residents. Some who didn't escape were drowned and entombed in their own homes. Others were stranded in squalid conditions at the Superdome, the city's football arena. Orders circulating through the police department authorised officers to shoot looters as the city fell into a state of collapse.

Small wonder, then, that the green dot rekindled a me-against-the-world mentality among many New Orleans residents. Unlike some other neighbourhoods, however, Carroll's already boasted a well-established organisation to channel that energy. City plan be damned: the Broadmoor Improvement Association, coupled with no small amount of outside aid, helped the community bring itself back to life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The Conservative assault on industrial relations :  This is no route to a high wage economy. (GEORGE WILSON 27 July 2015, Open Democracy)

After the first reading of the Trade Union Bill last Wednesday, more is now known about its form and potential impact. The reforms that it proposes to industrial relations and organised labour are significant - not since Margaret Thatcher have trade unions faced such drastic changes.

The Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, plans to introduce turnout and support thresholds for strikes; criminalise unlawful or intimidatory picketing; allow employers to hire strike-breaking agency staff; and require unions to ask members whether they wish to pay the political levy to the Labour party. Other changes include granting government certification officers powers to fine unions for breaching reporting rules.

At a time when strikes cause considerably less disruption than in the recent past (704,000 days were lost to strike action in the 12 months to April 2015, versus 13m days on average in the 70s), why are reforms needed? Javid's reforms are part motivated by ideology and part by a post-election Conservative strategy to weaken the Labour party whilst at its most vulnerable.

The number of union members that will proactively support paying the political levy rather than pay through inertia will be tiny. Commentators have suggested that the Labour party could be bankrupted by major cuts to its £25m per year fighting fund (the Conservatives resisted cross-party attempts lead by Nick Clegg during the last parliament to lower the individual donation cap).

All Anglospheric politics is the same.
Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


China stocks drop 8.5% in massive rout (Charles Riley, 7/27/15, CNN)

China's Shanghai Composite index shed 8.5% on Monday, a bone-rattling decline that raises questions about the government's ability to prevent a crash.

Beijing managed to stabilize markets with a dramatic rescue in late June and early July, intervening in a number of ways to limit losses for investors.

But the rout has now resumed: Monday's slump was the biggest daily percentage decline since 2007.

The vast majority of companies listed in Shanghai, including many large state-owned firms, fell by the maximum daily limit of 10%.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


What's behind the Corbyn surge? : The wave of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the race to be Labour Party leader reflects a generation's search for a path beyond neoliberal austerity. (PAUL ROGERS 26 July 2015, Open Democracy)

There is near uniform agreement among political commentators that if Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader it would make for an historic crisis for the party, consigning it to the political margins for at least a decade. It may have increased its membership by over 50,000 since the election on 7 May, but for many pundits Corbyn's high level of support is part of a protest born of a childish refusal to face up to the reality of Labour's surprise electoral defeat and Britain's move to the right.

Meanwhile the Conservatives head for their holidays still enjoying the power of their unexpected victory and the great satisfaction not only of the prospect of a bitterly divided and ineffective opposition but also of being rid of that hugely annoying Liberal Democrat millstone. 

From the Tory perspective, the economy is doing better, almost all the press is on side, the BBC will behave itself and the prospect of at least a decade in power is a delight to behold. Furthermore, for the ideologically minded (in a party that is in an unusually ideological phase) the neoliberal revolution looks set to accelerate.  

Life is good.

Up until now, the major parties of left and right have been quite careful after defeats to reclaim the middle from the dominant Third Way party, which faces revolts on its flanks from die-hards who think the voters chose them for either First or Second Way purity.  If Labour follows a loss to the Thatcherite Tories by repudiating Blairism and returning to genuine socialism, they risk oblivion for a generation, like the post Depression GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Why the ISIS threat is totally overblown (John Mueller, July 23, 2015, The Week)

A year ago, the main fear was that foreign militants who had gone to fight with ISIS would be trained and then sent back to do damage in their own countries. However, there has been scarcely any of that.

In part, this is because, as Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro have detailed in a Brookings Institution report, foreign fighters tend to be killed early (they are common picks for suicide missions); often become disillusioned, especially by in-fighting in the ranks; and do not receive much in the way of useful training for terrorist exercises back home. It might also be added that ISIS videos exultantly show foreign fighters burning their passports to demonstrate their terminal commitment to the cause -- hardly a good idea if they want to return. In May 2015, an audio message apparently from the leader of ISIS exhorted Muslims either to join the ISIS ranks in the Middle East or to fight at home "wherever that may be." There was nothing about training people to return home to wreak havoc.

More recently, the focus of fear has shifted from potential returnees to potential homegrown terrorists who might be inspired by ISIS's propaganda or example. However, ISIS could continue to be an inspiration even if it was weakened or destroyed. And, as terrorism specialist Max Abrahms notes, "lone wolves have carried out just two of the 1,900 most deadly terrorist incidents over the last four decades."

There has also been a trendy concern about the way ISIS uses social media. However, as Byman and Shapiro and others have pointed out, the foolish willingness of would-be terrorists to spill their aspirations and their often childish fantasies on social media has been, on balance, much to the advantage of the police seeking to track them.

However, ISIS's savvy use of social media and its brutality have had a major impact on two important American groups: public officials and the media. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has insisted, "The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated" -- effectively proclaiming hyperbole on the subject to be impossible, as columnist Dan Froomkin observes. Equally inspired, Sen. Jim Inhofe, born before World War II, has extravagantly claimed that "we're in the most dangerous position we've ever been in" and that ISIS is "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city." And on Michael Smerconish's CNN program last weekend, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge issued the evidence-free suggestion that the recent tragic killings in Chattanooga followed a "directive" from ISIS.

The media have generally been more careful and responsible about such extrapolations, and sometimes articles appear noting that some American and foreign intelligence officials think that "the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians." But the media remain canny about weaving audience-grabbing references about the arrestingly diabolical ISIS into any story about terrorism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


13 Things You Probably Don't Know About Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger (Kate Scanlon, July 22, 2015, Daily Signal)

3) Sanger believed that the United States should "keep the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feebleminded, idiots, morons, Insane, syphilitic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred by the immigration laws of 1924." --"A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108

4) Sanger advocated "a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring." --"A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108

5) People whom Sanger considered unfit, she wrote, should be sent to "farm lands and homesteads" where "they would be taught to work under competent instructors for the period of their entire lives." --"A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108

6) She was an advocate of a proposal called the "American Baby Code."

"The results desired are obviously selective births," she wrote.

According to Sanger, the code would "protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit." --"America Needs a Code for Babies," March 27, 1934, Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress, 128:0312B

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Don't Just Close Bases at Home, Close Them Overseas (DAVID VINE, JULY 27, 2015, NY Times)

THERE are signs that Congress may soon approve another series of domestic military base closings, after the Pentagon threatened earlier this month to cut nearly 90,000 jobs instead. For years, the military has been trying to save money with new rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), the congressionally mandated process for shuttering underutilized domestic military installations.

The move could save billions since, by the Pentagon's own estimate, our network of domestic bases is bloated by more than 20 percent. But Congress has resisted, since local bases mean local jobs, and votes.

BRAC, however, does not apply to the more than 700 United States bases overseas, including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan and 83 in South Korea, as well as hundreds more in some 70 countries from Aruba to Kenya to Thailand. The military and Congress should go further by closing installations abroad. They both waste taxpayer money and undermine national security.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


A Smart Deal to Cut Tariffs on Tech Products (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JULY 27, 2015, NY Times)

More than 50 countries agreed on Friday to eliminate tariffs on a wide range of technology goods like medical devices, navigation equipment and advanced semiconductors in a trade agreement that should benefit American manufacturers, consumers and the global economy.

Signatories to the Information Technology Agreement, which covers 201 product categories, include the United States, the European Union, China, South Korea and other members of the World Trade Organization. International trade in those goods totals about $1.3 trillion a year, or about 7 percent of all trade.

Negotiators say this agreement is the most significant deal struck at the W.T.O. in almost two decades. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Six collapsing commodities (Katie Allen, 27 July 2015, The Guardian)

Just when investors thought it might be time for a summer lull, financial markets have shifted their focus from the eurozone and its Greek woes to tumbling commodity prices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


US, Turkey finalizing plans to establish Islamic State-free zone along Syrian border (JULIE PACE, 7/27/15, AP)

The United States and Turkey are finalizing plans for a military campaign to push the Islamic State out of a strip of land along the Syrian border, deepening efforts to halt the extremists' advances.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Did This City Bring Down Its Murder Rate by Paying People Not to Kill? (Tim Murphy | July/August 2014, Mother Jones)

IT WAS A CRAZY IDEA, but Richmond, California, wouldn't have signed off on DeVone Boggan's plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation's worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new--now. "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. "It was time to do something different."

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren't the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who'd been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn't expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. "They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt," he recalls.

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that's introduced the "Richmond model" for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program's street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. "It's the only agency where you're required to have a criminal background to be an employee," Boggan jokes.

So far, the results have been promising: As this story went to press, 65 of the 68 "fellows" enrolled in the program in the previous 47 months were still alive. One had survived a shooting and three had died. In 2007, when Boggan's program began, Richmond was America's ninth most dangerous city, with 47 killings among its 106,000 residents. In 2013, it saw its lowest number of homicides in 33 years, and its homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000. Rates are dropping nationwide, but not so steeply. (In 2013, nearby Oakland's homicide rate was 23 per 100,000; Detroit's was 47 per 100,000.)

One City Tried Something Radical to Stop Gun Violence. This Report Suggests It's Working. (Tim Murphy, Jul. 27, 2015, Mother Jones)

On Monday, researchers from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a non-profit, published a process evaluation of ONS, studying its impact seven years in. The conclusion was positive: "While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond."

As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Obamacare rates to rise 4% in California for 2016 (CHAD TERHUNE, 7/27/15, LA Times)

Defying dire predictions about health insurance rate shock across the country, California's Obamacare exchange negotiated a 4% average rate increase for the second year in a row.

The modest increase for 2016, announced Monday, may be welcome news for many of the 1.3 million Californians who buy individual policies through the state marketplace, known as Covered California.

California's rates are a key barometer of how the Affordable Care Act is working nationwide, and the state's performance is sure to be hotly debated among supporters and foes of the healthcare law, including the current crop of presidential candidates.

We need to transition to universal HSAs to get the rates headed in the opposite direction.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


This is Tesla's plan for a cheaper car (Kirsten Korosec, JULY 22, 2015, Fortune)

The newest direction Tesla is headed toward is silicon--not the Valley, but the material that is changing the way batteries are made. Tesla's new 90 kilowatt-hour battery pack--an upgrade announced Friday that increases pack energy by 5% and adds about 15 miles of range to its vehicles--might look the same. But the inclusion of silicon is an advance for lithium-ion technology.

During a call with reporters last week, CEO Elon Musk said the company had improved the battery by shifting the cell chemistry for the pack to partially use silicon in the anode.

"This is just sort of a baby step in the direction of using silicon in the anode," Musk said during the call. "We're still primarily using synthetic graphite, but over time we'll be increasing silicon in the anode."

For the unfamiliar, this might sound like minor tinkering. It's actually an important and challenging step for Tesla (and other battery manufacturers) that could lead to a better, cheaper battery.

"It's a race among the battery makers to get more and more silicon in," said Jeff Dahn, a leading lithium-ion battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who recently signed a 5-year exclusive partnership with Tesla. "The number of researchers around the world working on silicon for lithium-ion cells is mindboggling. A large number of academics and industrial folks are working really hard on this problem."

July 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


What the 'Times' Got Wrong About Nail Salons (Richard Bernstein, 7/25/15, NY Review of Books)

As a former New York Times journalist who also has been, for the last twelve years, a part owner of two day-spas in Manhattan, I read the exposé with particular interest. (A second part of the same investigation, which appeared in the Times a day later, concerned chemicals used in the salon industry that might be harmful to workers.) Our two modestly-sized establishments are operated by my wife, Zhongmei Li, and my sister-in-law, Zhongqin Li, both originally from China, and "mani-pedi" is a big part of the business. We were startled by the Times article's Dickensian portrait of an industry in which workers "spend their days holding hands with women of unimaginable affluence," and retire at night to "flophouses packed with bunk beds, or in fetid apartments shared by as many as a dozen strangers." Its conclusion was not just that some salons or even many salons steal wages from their workers but that virtually all of them do. "Step into the prim confines of almost any salon and workers paid astonishingly low wages can be readily found," the story asserts. This depiction of the business didn't correspond with what we have experienced over the past twelve years. But far more troubling, as we discovered when we began to look into the story's claims and check its sources, was the flimsy and sometimes wholly inaccurate information on which those sweeping conclusions were based.

Consider one of the article's primary pieces of evidence of "rampant exploitation": in a linchpin paragraph near the beginning of the article, the Times asserts that "Asian-language newspapers are rife with classified ads listing manicurist jobs paying so little the daily wage can at first glance appear to be a typo." The single example mentioned is an ad by a salon on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which, according to the Times, was published in Sing Tao Daily and World Journal, the two big Chinese-language papers in New York, and listed salaries of $10 a day. "The rate was confirmed by several workers," the story says. Judging from readers' comments on the Internet, this assertion was a kind of clincher, a crystallization of the story's alarming message.

And yet, it seems strange, or it should have seemed strange to the paper's editors, that the sole example the reporter provides of the sort of ad that the Asian-language papers are "rife with" is one that is not even quoted from and for which no date is provided. Indeed, it's not clear whether the reporter saw the ad at all--otherwise why the caveat "The rate was confirmed by several workers"? (Curiously, while Ms. Nir appears to have visited the salon in question, the story doesn't say whether the owner of the salon confirmed or denied placing such an ad--or whether that question was even asked.)

To test the Times's assertion, my wife and I read every ad placed by nail salons in the papers cited in the article, Sing Tao Daily and World Journal. Among the roughly 220 ads posted in each paper in the days after the Times story appeared, none mentioned salaries even remotely close to the ad the Times described. This led me to wonder if embarrassed salon owners might have changed their ads in the short time since the Times exposed them, so we looked at issues of World Journal going back to March this year. We read literally thousands of Chinese-language ads, and we found not a single one fitting the description of the ads that the Times asserts the papers to be full of.

In fact, only a small number of the nail salon ads indicate a salary at all--most simply describe the job on offer and provide a phone number for an applicant to call. Among the few ads that do indicate a salary, the lowest we saw was $70 a day, and some ranged up to $110. Here is one typical example, which appeared in the World Journal on April 23, several weeks before the Times article was published:

Seeking several large and small work experienced hands. 
Base pay $120 plus tips and commissions.
Small work $70, plus tips and commissions.
Seeking part-time small and large work on weekends.
15 minutes two-way transport Flushing to Elmhurst provided.

The "base pay" in this ad indicates what is known in the business as "large work" salaries--for workers licensed to perform jobs like massage or facial treatments. The "small work" salaries are for manicurists. In our experience, tips and commissions (a percentage of the price for add-on services like massage or special nail finishes) would add between $25 and $50 a day to these figures. A few ads we came across offer higher rates. For example, an ad placed in June by a salon on King's Highway in Brooklyn was labeled "URGENT," and offered jobs at starting salaries of $110 to $130 a day. To attract workers, many ads, like the April 23 one quoted above, promise to provide free transportation from the sort of pickup places where the Times reporter first encountered Ms. Ren, with the ad indicating how long the ride will be. Another ad posted in World Journal that day, for example, says, "Long Island spa needs small work high pay full and part time, 20 minutes pickup from Flushing."

But could it be that the ads indicating salary were not representative? Since most ads do not specify compensation, my wife called a few of the advertising salons at random, speaking Chinese, posing as a salon worker, and asking what the pay would be. The lowest salary she was cited was $70 a day, but the woman she spoke to, who allowed that that salary was "low," quickly added that tips and commissions were "very good" at her salon, which she said was in Upper Manhattan. This conformed to the practice at our own two salons, where we offer starting salaries of $70 a day, plus tips and commissions. My wife has learned that if she is unable to assure her employees that they will earn a total of at least $100 a day, nobody will work for her. On busy days the take home pay can be $150 or more. Of course, even $150 a day does not constitute great wealth. Nonetheless, the classified ads, clearly and unambiguously, reveal the opposite of what the Times claims they do. They show that there is a lively demand on the part of nail salon owners for qualified workers and that the salons need to pay them at least minimum-wage rates to start, plus, in many cases, provide free transportation to and from pickup places in the Flushing Chinatown, to induce them to take the posts on offer.

Needless to say, it is not like The New York Times to get things so demonstrably wrong, or, if it did make a mistake, to show no willingness to correct it. As a former reporter at the paper familiar with its usual close editorial scrutiny of its contents, I was genuinely mystified by this matter of the classified ads, and I wanted to see if there was some explanation for them. And so, two days after part one of the Times exposé appeared, I emailed several senior Times editors, including Mr. Baquet, as well as Margaret Sullivan, the Times's public editor, who represents readers' interests vis-a-vis the editors, pointing out what appeared to be the paper's misrepresentation of the ads. I received cordial replies from editors, but my questions about the ads were ignored, except by Ms. Sullivan who, in an email, told me she had asked Wendell Jamieson, the editor of the paper's Metro Section, about them. Mr. Jamieson told her he had "direct knowledge" of the ads and was satisfied that they had been accurately described. I replied to Ms. Sullivan that I didn't know what Mr. Jamieson meant by "direct knowledge." Ms. Sullivan wrote again, saying that she had had a chance to "clarify" what Mr. Jamieson meant by that term: "that he has reviewed the newspaper ads over the past few days, and he is confident that they were represented accurately in the story."
But these were the very "past few days" during which my wife and I, both of whom can read Chinese, were examining the ads, and the Times description of them was unarguably, incontrovertibly wrong. The Times has neither furnished any copy of the ten-dollar-a-day ad in question, nor identified when it appeared. But even if such an ad did actually appear at some point, the unanswered question would remain: why did the Times reporter, in seeking to portray the whole industry, fail to describe or even mention the numerous, very different kinds of nail salon ads that are easily visible in any of the main Asian-language papers every day? The Times, moreover, seemed curiously incurious about another obvious question: given that there are numerous ads listing salaries of $70 to $110 a day--and salons quoting similar figures when contacted by phone--why would any job seeker answer an ad offering one-seventh or one-eleventh of that amount?

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Uber is the perfect poster child for the Republican economic agenda (Timothy B. Lee, July 24, 2015, Vox)

It's natural for conservatives to side with a business fighting regulators, but the inclination to highlight this particular business has a lot to do with political demographics. Republican voters tend to be older and more rural than Democrats. Uber has a young and disproportionately urban customer base. If Republicans can turn Uber into a salient example of government regulation, it could broaden the GOP's demographic appeal without compromising on conservative principles.

Best of all for Republicans, Uber makes a great wedge issue. Some liberals dislike Uber on ideological grounds, but others -- especially in the media, politics, and technology centers of New York, Washington, and San Francisco -- are regular Uber customers.

On one side of this debate are old-school liberals with strong ties to the labor movement and urban political machines. For them, Uber is a conventional story about worker and consumer rights. Labor unions believe Uber is flouting the law by classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees. And they would love to unionize Uber's fast-growing workforce.

More broadly, conventional liberals are suspicious of claims that deregulation and innovation will benefit workers and consumers in the long run. They view Uber's "gig economy" as part of a broader trend toward declining worker power. They blame decades of deregulation -- under both Republicans and centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton -- for this trend, and believe stricter regulation of Uber could be part of a larger trend toward stricter regulation of labor markets more generally.

In his campaign against Uber this week, Bill de Blasio primarily focused on congestion concerns, but he also mentioned workers' rights as a major concern.

It would be sufficient from a Republican (capitalist) viewpoint that Uber drivers are cheaper to employ.  But what makes it the poster child is Uber's plan to shift to driverless cars as quickly as technology allows, reducing labor costs even further and boosting profits accordingly.

This simply is not a fight that Democrats can win.  If they want to stay in the conversation they need to jump to dealing with the results and propose ways to share those profits more equitably amongst a citizenry that won't have jobs, before the GOP does.   

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


They Can Take It If They Want It : review of THE GRASPING HAND by Ilya Somin   (EDWARD GLAESER, July 24, 2015, WSJ)

[T]he U.S. Supreme Court supported the New London taking by a 5-4 margin. And to the more than 80% of Americans who disagreed--including both Rush Limbaugh and Ralph Nader--the court appeared to be radically redefining property rights. According to Mr. Somin, this view is wrongheaded.

The court had already given city planners extremely broad powers to take non-blighted land via eminent domain--in 1954, not 2005. (The case was Berman v. Parker.) In 1984, the justices unanimously reaffirmed (in Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff), their deference to local government, and confirmed that eminent domain could transfer land from one private owner to another private owner. Indeed, Mr. Somin concludes, Kelo "represented progress relative to the Court's previous ultradeferential public use jurisprudence."

Eminent domain cases all look back to the Fifth Amendment, which states: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment extended this right to takings by state governments. Mr. Somin provides new evidence supporting the view that 19th-century courts often held a narrow definition of "public use" that would have excluded economic development. Hence an originalist approach in Kelo could have led the Supreme Court to reject the New London taking. Yet a sudden judicial shift restricting eminent domain would have also been a radical break with recent precedent--and a power grab, moving authority from local governments to federal courts.

Mr. Somin doesn't think we can trust the political process to protect private property, concluding that the majority of new state laws "provide little or no protection for property owners against economic development takings." But I don't think we can the trust courts entirely, either. For almost a century, courts have smiled on the overregulation of land use, which is a far more insidious threat to private property than eminent domain. A world of judicial empowerment over eminent domain would mean that judges could allow the takings that they like and ban the rest.

If property owners like Susette Kelo are to be protected, we need both judicial and legislative action. The simplest reform--a blanket ban on eminent domain--is off the table: No U.S. government will ever abjure the power to take land, which is clearly accepted in the Bill of Rights. But there are many more modest limitations that could be instituted.

Legislatures could require heightened scrutiny of costs and benefits and higher compensation rules: Some owners might still lose from a taking, but a market-price-plus-50% rule for compensation would do much to alleviate their pain.

Except that, as Mr. Glaeser has just noted, the Constitutional standard is just compensation, not just and a half.

July 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


U.S. Teens Waiting Longer to Have Sex: CDC (Dennis Thompson, July 22, 2015, HealthDay News) 

Less than half of U.S. teenagers aged 15 to 19 are having sex, a rate dramatically lower than it was a quarter-century ago, a new federal government report shows.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Before Beane : The origin story of AVM Systems, the little-known company that jump-started sabermetrics and made Moneyball possible (BEN LINDBERGH,  JULY 24, 2015, gRANTLAND)

Somewhere in your favorite sports franchise's front office, a team of analysts is teasing the truth out of a mess of misleading statistics. Regardless of the sport or the data source -- Corsi, SportVU, or Statcast -- the analysts' goals are the same: to capture contributions that standard statistics omit or misrepresent, and to find the positive indicators buried beneath superficial failures. The shot on goal that goes wide? In a sense, it's a good sign, since it might mean more shots in the future, some of which will find the net. The line drive caught by a leaping outfielder playing out of position? A double would've been better, but even an almost-double tells us that the player who came close to extra bases has the skills to drive the baseball at a speed and trajectory that would typically lead to a hit. Not all outs are created equal.

Whether they know it or not -- and nowadays, most of them don't -- all of these quants are re-proving the principle at the core of a product developed two decades ago by a company called AVM Systems, a small outfit founded by Ken Mauriello and Jack Armbruster, two businessmen based in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois. AVM's central insight sounds hackneyed now, but it was -- to borrow a latter-day business buzzword -- disruptive at the time: Process is important, because results are sometimes deceiving. [...]

You might remember AVM (Advanced Value Matrix) from its cameo in Moneyball­ as the purveyors of then-Oakland assistant GM Paul DePodesta's secret weapon, a system that helped the A's determine (among other things) that the difference in defense between center fielders Terrence Long and Johnny Damon wasn't large enough to justify the difference in salary. AVM did this, Michael Lewis wrote, by "collecting ten years of data from major league baseball games, of every ball that was put into play," and then comparing the outcome of each individual play to the average outcome of all plays with similar characteristics.

Consider the case of a home run robbery, in which an outfielder perfectly times a jump and pulls back a ball from beyond the wall. Traditional stats would credit the outfielder with a putout, the pitcher with a batter retired, and the batter with an out made, making no distinction between the near-dinger and a lazy fly ball, even though the two types of plays tell us dramatically different things about the abilities of the players involved. AVM would chalk up most of a homer to the hitter, crediting the fielder and docking the pitcher by similar amounts. Home run robberies are rare, but by following a similar process for every play, AVM could arrive at a more complete accounting of players' contributions on both sides of the ball.

As one would expect, the value of this exercise wasn't always an easy sell to prospective clients. This was several years before the publication of the Baseball Prospectus study that eventually led to BABIP becoming a common fantasy tool, and the idea that luck made a meaningful difference in a player's performance over the course of a 162-game season met with some resistance.

"They'd always say, 'Well, it comes out in a wash,'" Armbruster says. "The hard liner that's caught, but then a soft hit. We were showing them it usually does, but it doesn't always come out in a wash. There's always going to be that one player out of 20 who's going to be pretty far off from what the numbers are showing. And there's going to be one guy in the league who's just off the charts. You need mathematics to understand that. To understand that if you flip a coin 20 times, it could come up heads 16 times. It doesn't mean it's a very talented coin. It's the randomness of life."

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


8 reasons why living in a city is terrible for you (SAMANTHA LEE AND TANYA LEWIS, 7/25/15, Business Insider)

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


World Jewry ever more uneasy with Israel, major study finds (RAPHAEL AHREN, July 23, 2015, Times of Israel)

World Jewry is finding it increasingly difficult to support Israel due to its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, leading many communities to shun discussing the Jewish state altogether, a new major study has found.

The trend is eroding the Diaspora's support for the Jewish state, warns the report by the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank, to be formally published next week. [...]

"Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one," according to the study's author, Shmuel Rosner.

"A sense of crisis has emerged in many Jewish communities regarding their relationships with Israel, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to discuss Israel because of the bitter political disputes these discussions spark," writes Rosner, a journalist and senior fellow at the JPPI.

Herzog: Netanyahu suffering from 'Tisha B'Av syndrome' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, July 25, 2015)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, accusing him of suffering from "Tisha B'Av syndrome," and saying that Israel needs someone to lead, not instill fear.

Referencing a report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Netanyahu had rebuked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon for placing too many contracted workers in direct employment, Zionist Union chair Herzog called the prime minister a manipulator of people's fears.

"This is the precise opposite of what leadership should do," he wrote on Facebook. "Its role is to safeguard the country's diplomatic, social and security strength; a nation cannot function this way nor can a government. There has never been an Israeli leader who has invested so much effort in intimidation and threats, no one who has made his primary political tool the 'Tisha B'Av syndrome', the same old threat of destruction and extinction, as Netanyahu has."

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


What's Driving the Downturn in Number of Abortions (Charmaine Yoest, July 25, 2015, Daily Signal)

Assuming the drop in the abortion rate holds once we finally get updated statistics, we now have fewer abortions than at any time since legalization in 1973. [...]

First, and perhaps most significant, is the two-pronged advance of science related to the unborn child. Improvements in sonogram technology have made the life of the fetus difficult to deny. Coupled with the compelling images is the advancement of fetal surgery, driving the line of viability ever lower. Together these two elements are unassailably pow­erful in shaping how Americans think about the lives of unborn babies.

Second, there has been a dramatic increase in state-based laws defending life and affecting the abortion industry. This too is a trend with a much longer runway than has been reported. Although significant attention has been focused on the dramatic uptick in state-based legislation since the 2010 mid­term elections, the increase in state regulation of abortion has earlier antecedents.

In the early 1980s, Americans United for Life hosted a summit from which emerged a new state-level strategy of creating immediate real-world abortion limits, but also creating legal tests of the reach of Roe.

While news reports have highlighted the post-2010 surge in pro-life laws--some 260 pro-life laws have been passed across the country since that elec­tion--the previous decade, 2000 to 2010, had already seen a more gradual increase, totaling at least 175 new pro-life laws.

A third factor in the decline of the abortion rate is a focus on the underpinnings of Big Abortion. Gov­ernment supports Planned Parenthood, the larg­est abortion provider in America, to the tune of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year. Government subsidies are propping up an industry increasingly exposed for its reprehensible practices. Legal abortion is the back alley of American medi­cine, with which fewer and fewer doctors are willing to be associated. And as more states pass commonsense regulations requiring abortionists to come under the same scrutiny as other businesses, fewer abortion clinics are willing to comply, revealing the substandard conditions to which women have been subjected over the past 40 years.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


An historic choice awaits Iran's leaders (Editorial, July 14, 2015, The National)

Iran's population, the majority of them young, yearn, like all of us, for the opportunity to build their own lives and careers, to study, travel and work freely.

A country as great as Iran, a country with so much history, ambition and potential, should never have been so restricted. Sanctions have taken a brutal toll on ordinary Iranians. On this side of the Arabian Gulf, we have never wished that pain on the Iranian people - but we have also wished for responsible behaviour from the Iranian government. Stopping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons would indeed be, as Saudi Arabia said yesterday, "a happy day".

This, then, is an historic moment for Iran and for Iran's leaders. They face a crucial choice and an important test. On Twitter, Iran's president Hassan Rouhani wrote: "With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge with a focus on shared challenges." If Mr Rouhani and his government genuinely mean that sentiment, and demonstrate it in the coming months, a new era in Arab-Iranian relations will have opened.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Al Qaeda Chief of Suicide and Explosive Ops Killed in American Airstrike (Emma-Jo Morris, July 24, 2015, Free Beacon)

Senior al Qaeda member Abu Khalil al-Sudani was killed in an American air strike in Afghanistan on July 11, the Pentagon said Friday in a statement.

Finally, a bureaucrat with an apt title.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Comparing Robo-Advisers for Retirees (ELEANOR LAISE, 7/25/15, Kiplinger's Retirement Report)

Traditional financial-services firms such as Charles Schwab and Vanguard Group, as well as newer players such as Wealthfront and Betterment, are competing to attract small investors wary of paying the 1% or more of assets that a typical human adviser charges. After assessing an investor's risk tolerance and goals through an online questionnaire, robo-advisers typically build each client a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds, often for a fee of 0.25% or less.

It was all just good economics when the machines came for the blue collar jobs....

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Australian study: Heterosexuals healthier and happier than homosexuals ( Fr. Mark Hodges Jul 23, 2015, Christians)

A major study funded by the Australian government has found that homosexuals are less personally fulfilled, have more health problems, and are not as happy in their relationships as "straight" people.

In fact, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) surveys reveal a marked difference in people's experiences based on their sexual identity. Participants are followed over time, and in-depth interviews are conducted annually with all adult members of each household. 

For the first time in the study's 12-year history, respondents' sexual identity was researched as it relates to life satisfaction. The results were striking.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people fare far worse than heterosexual people on literally all well-being and social support measures studied, and such homosexuals consistently reported significantly lower "life satisfaction."

Dr. Roger Wilkins of Melbourne's Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research said the negative experience of gay people paralleled people living with a learning difficulty, chronic pain, or limited use of their limbs. "The difference in average life satisfaction between gay, lesbian and bisexual people compared with heterosexual people is comparable in magnitude to the difference you see between people with a moderate disability and people who are not disabled," said professor Wilkins, who authored the study.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


First direct evidence that autism is not rising: study (AFP,  23 July 2015)

Scientists at Penn State University analysed 11 years of special-education enrolment data on an average of 6.2 million children per year.

They found "no overall increase in the number of students enrolled in special education," said the study.

"They also found that the increase in students diagnosed with autism was offset by a nearly equal decrease in students diagnosed with other intellectual disabilities that often co-occur with autism."

Therefore, what may appear to be an epidemic of autism is more likely the result of shifting patterns of diagnosis over time.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


Using a health savings account for medical costs -- and retirement (LISA ZAMOSKY, 7/24/15, LA Times)

When AT&T switched his health plan several years back, project manager Dave Eis says he found himself with only one option -- a high-deductible plan. Today, he sees it as a good thing.

"Cost-wise I didn't perceive it as negative, because it lowered my premiums. My monthly premiums probably went at the time from $250 down to $60 per month," he says.

His family insurance policy comes with a deductible of more than $2,600, allowing Eis, 55, to open a health savings account. He uses it to sock away extra money to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses, and has put aside a nice sum.

"I try to avoid tapping into it, and I've been able to max out the savings," he says.

Health savings accounts, or HSAs, can be a good value for some people like Eis. They are investment accounts -- like a 401(k) retirement plan or a 529 college savings plan -- that can be opened by anyone enrolled in a qualified health insurance plan with a deductible of at least $1,300 for an individual or $2,600 for a family.

But not everyone is convinced. Critics have argued that these accounts primarily benefit young and healthy people who don't use a lot of medical services and high-income individuals who are more likely to benefit from the investment tax breaks.

That's not a criticism, it's an insight.  HSAs suffice until we're so old and infirm that the money we built up will pay for medical expenses. We don't need comprehensive insurance when we're young.

July 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


U.S. Preparing to Release Convicted Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard, Officials Say (DEVLIN BARRETT,  July 24, 2015, WSJ)

The Obama administration is preparing to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, according to U.S. officials, some of whom hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

That wasn't too predictable, was it?

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Ex-Mossad chief: Some aspects of Iran deal are good for Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL, July 24, 2015)

[Former Mossad chief Efraim] Halevy conceded that "there are problems with the inspections. There is the problem that after 10-15 years, there is the option for Iran to make a nuclear bomb."

He maintained, however, that an agreement with a timeline greater than a decade would not hold up in the international arena, and explained that 10 years was an eternity in the Middle East.

"There are less good elements in the agreement," he said, "that require a great deal of work to follow up [on Iran's activities], not just for the United Nations, but also for intelligence services around the world."

He added: "But in a situation where it is impossible to separate Iran from a nuclear weapon, inasmuch as Iran refuses to give up on all of its capabilities, they reached an agreement that facilitates other kinds of options, that yielded a period of time in which it is possible to create a different atmosphere in the Middle East."

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


The inconvenient truth about public and private health care (Shanta Devarajan | July 24, 2015, Brookings)

In an important paper published last month, "Quality and Accountability in Healthcare Delivery," four of my colleagues and friends, Jishnu Das, Alaka Holla, Aakash Mohpahl, and Karthik Muralidharan (DHMM), have undertaken a careful comparison between the public and private sectors in rural Madhya Pradesh, India. They coached a set of "standardized patients (SPs)" to present the symptoms associated with three conditions--unstable angina, asthma, and dysentery in a child (who is at home). They then sent these SPs to randomly selected public and private providers and compared the physicians' responses against a set of metrics (checklists of questions and examinations, likelihood of making a correct diagnosis, and appropriateness of the treatment) to gauge the "quality of care."

The results are, to put it mildly, striking. Even though they were mostly unqualified, the private providers exerted significantly higher effort and were no worse in providing the right diagnosis or recommending proper treatment than their public-sector counterparts. And this is in a context where the overall quality of health care in rural India is quite poor.

To isolate the effect of practice type and control for differences in qualifications, DHMM went further and looked at a sample of qualified public doctors who were also in private practice. They find that the same doctors spent more time with patients, diagnosed them better, and were more likely to offer correct treatment in their private practice than in the public clinics. Noting that "free" public health care is not free to the taxpayer, they compare the per-patient cost in the two sectors and find it to be four times higher in the public sector.

Taken together, these and other results in the paper, as well as Jishnu's previous work with Jeff Hammer, call into question statements such as "health care should be provided free by the government." Unless the doctor's pay is somehow linked to performance, there is a good chance that the quality of care in the public sector would be worse than in the private sector.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Bernie Sanders wants to mandate a $15 minimum wage -- but he only pays his interns $12 (The Week, 7/24/15)

July 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 PM


Amy Schumer's 'Trainwreck': A Conservative Critique of the Hook Up Culture (LISA SCHIFFREN, 7/23/15, Weekly Standard)

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the conservative fantasy of taking over the culture came to pass? What if one major movie studio, and a few popular actors, comedians, writers, directors were conservative?

Producers would still have to work within the current social reality of a sexually promiscuous, morally untethered, post Judeo-Christian culture, of course. Audiences don't pay for heavy handed, feel bad lectures. Where would you start?

Who would guess that Trainwreck, written by, and starring Amy Schumer (comedy's current raunchy, no boundaries bad girl) and directed by Judd Apatow (bard of the pathetic stoner, off any path to responsible adulthood bromance genre) might show the way?

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Once Thought Extinct, 'Royal Turtles' Make a Comeback (Hannah Keyser, 7/22/15, Mental Floss)

Southern river terrapins, known locally in Cambodia as "royal turtles," were long thought extinct. But earlier this week, 21 captive-raised members of the species were released into the wild--the result of a successful 14-year rehabilitation project.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


If we abandon the ideal of European unity, the only winner will be neoliberalism (LUKE COOPER 22 July 2015, Open Democracy)

As the world became more economically integrated at the end of the twentieth century many commentators and academics mistakenly concluded that nation-states and nationalism were becoming a thing of the past. Even those who resisted this argument often accepted the underlying assumption that where nation-states were stronger markets were weaker - and vice versa. This great illusion continues to cloud left wing judgements on the causes and solutions to the world's problems. Far from representing a challenge to neoliberal capitalism, nationalism remains the unstated assumption of all governments' economic thinking: 'how do we make "our" economy more successful, how do we maximise "our" returns at the expense of competitors?'

It is a collectively held set of convictions that has plagued the Eurozone and puts the entire future of the EU as a project of 'ever closer union' in doubt. For the radical left, whose development and popularity is inevitably unevenly spread across Europe, there are no easy catchall solutions in this context. As the Eurozone has failed to reform, Syriza has been left with no choice but to leave or become a de facto debt colony of Germany - with the former, however hazardous, clearly preferable to the latter.

Nonetheless, both Syriza and Podemos have been right to reject the idea that neoliberalism could be fully overcome by retreating into national borders and to adopt the more radical stance of fighting for the social and democratic transformation of Europe. In Britain, the campaign for an exit from the EU will be dominated by anti-immigrant, nationalist sentiment, and this will also be reflected in the inevitable outcome of a no vote: a country even more hostile to migrants, but just as open to capital as before. Indeed, with nationalism and neoliberalism so closely bound together it is no surprise that British supporters of exit are nearly all hard line Thatcherites who see it as a route to even greater free market liberalisation.

If the EU has any hope of being transformed and the collapse into petty nationalism averted, then it will not only have to radically democratise its functioning, but also be seen as a vehicle for prosperity and opportunity for the working classes of Europe. Not just a source of their pauperisation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Why Are Libertarians Mostly Dudes? (Jeet Heer, 7/21/15, New Republic)

Since 1980, the Republican party has been bedeviled by a persistent gender gap in presidential elections, as GOP nominees have struggled with female voters. But Rand Paul is facing an intensification of this phenomenon: He can't even win over Republican women. A recent CNN poll showed that the Kentucky senator is highly competitive among male primary voters; his 13 percent support put him neck-and-neck with top candidates like Scott Walker (13 percent), Marco Rubio (12 percent) and Jeb Bush (11 percent). Yet among Republican women, Paul's share of the likely vote collapses to 2 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Cuba travel ban should be lifted, says Republican-controlled Senate panel (Associated Press, 23 July 2015)

A Republican-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift a decades-long US ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Barack Obama's moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with the Castro-governed country.

The Senate appropriations committee also voted to repeal a law prohibiting banks and other US businesses from financing sales of US agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time. The committee's 18-12 vote comes just days after the US and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by re-establishing diplomatic relations cut off during the cold war.

"We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them," said sponsor Jerry Moran, a Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Frigid offices, freezing women, oblivious men: An air-conditioning investigation (Petula Dvorak, July 23, 2015, Washington Post)

You can spot them. The frozen ones who come outside at lunch like sun-seeking turtles, cardigans balled up next to them, bare shoulders defrosting in the noon sunlight, no matter how wilting it is outdoors.

Every single woman I talked to in downtown Washington on a hot, humid July afternoon was thawing out.

"I. Am. Fuh-reezing. Feel my hand, I'm still cold," said Ruth Marshall, 64, who was seated on a park bench, face to the sky. And yes, her hand felt like a cold steak.

"I have to come out here for 30 minutes at a time just to warm up," said Marshall, the director of administration at a construction firm, where the air-conditioning is set to Arctic.

It's the time of year desperate women rely on cardigans, Pashminas and space heaters to make it through the work week in their frigid offices. And their male colleagues barely notice.

Of course, the only ones doing any phtsical labor in the building are men.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Why Hillary Clinton and her rivals are struggling to grasp Black Lives Matter (Wesley Lowery and David Weigel, July 22, 2015, 

The activists made their biggest campaign splash last weekend in Phoenix, at the annual Netroots Nation conference, when they disrupted the joint appearance by Sanders and O'Malley. Clinton did not attend the gathering.

Some activists already had begun to view Sanders and O'Malley with skepticism.

Some had expressed concern, for instance, that Sanders -- whose elections in heavily white Vermont had not involved much outreach to black voters -- was not talking about race in his presidential campaign.

And O'Malley had earned mixed reviews from a meeting a few days earlier in New York with more than half a dozen Black Lives Matter organizers. Several in attendance said that he stuck to "talking points" and that he was not ready to discuss specifics, although Karine Jean-Pierre, O'Malley's deputy campaign manager, said he made it clear that his goal was to "listen and hear what they had to say" and that he was "thinking through the policy."

At Netroots Nation, the two candidates may have expected to receive a warm welcome. Instead, they seemed to wilt under the questions of protesters, who stormed the space around the stage and recited the names of black people who have been killed in confrontations with police.

Many liberal activists consider the episode an embarrassment for the two candidates, who appeared ill prepared to respond to questions many thought they should have expected.

Sanders threatened to leave the stage as demonstrators demanded that he repeat the name of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a Texas jail cell this month.

Then he canceled a series of meetings he had scheduled with some of the activists following his appearance -- something they found out only when ­campaign manager Jeff Weaver showed up in Sanders's stead.

"I think they were trying to stanch the bleeding from the larger conversation about Sanders, that he's not talking about issues of color in his stump speech," said Elon James White, co-founder of a popular online broadcast, "This Week in Blackness." "And then [they] canceled."

O'Malley, invoking a phrase that has brought Clinton criticism before, responded by telling the protesters: "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter."

Within days of the Netroots Nation gathering, both candidates were scrambling to make amends.

Where's A. L. Levine when his party needs him?

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Blair urges Labour not to wrap itself in a Jeremy Corbyn comfort blanket (Patrick Wintour and Frances Perraudin, 22 July 2015, The Guardian)

Tony Blair has issued his most impassioned appeal for Labour not to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s by adopting a traditional leftist platform, saying the party could suffer four successive election defeats if it does so. [...]

He added: "We lost in 2010 because we stepped somewhat from that modernising platform. We lost in 2015 with an election out of the playback from the 1980s, from the period of Star Trek, when we stepped even further away from it and lost even worse. I don't understand the logic of stepping entirely away from it."

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


No more Muhammad comics, says Charlie Hebdo editor Sourisseau (Deutsche-Welle, 7/22/15)

During an interview with the Hamburg-based news magazine "Stern," editor of the French weekly "Charlie Hebdo" said he would no longer draw comics of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Nuclear Accord with Iran is a Victory for Diplomacy and Peace (Iran Human Rights, JULY 14, 2015)

Iranian civil society strongly supported the negotiations and the pursuit of a peaceful settlement to the long-running conflict. In a June 2015 study by the Campaign, High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations, prominent political and cultural figures in Iran were interviewed on their views of the nuclear talks, and their support for a negotiated settlement was unanimous, even among political prisoners and dissidents whose rights had been severely violated by the Iranian government.

However, while all of the individuals questioned in the study felt a successful accord and the aversion of war were imperative, there was a strong consensus that if an agreement was reached, President Rouhani must turn his attention to the pledges of political and social reform for which he was elected.

As one of the interviewees, the Political Scientist and Spokesperson of the banned National Front political party Hermidas Bavand stated, "[If an accord is reached], Rouhani will have a free hand to deliver on his campaign promises...he can work on his promises for the release of political prisoners, freedom of the press, and lifting the security state in the universities."

The journalist and former political prisoner Issa Saharkhiz similarly noted, "After [an accord], Rouhani will have to focus on human rights and civil rights, which were parts of his initial programs.... Cultural and political issues must be addressed side by side with economic issues."

Although many of the individuals interviewed accepted that political and social reforms had to wait for a settlement of the nuclear conflict, there was a palpable sense of dwindling patience with this line of reasoning and a view that things had been "put on hold" for too long. As succinctly stated by the playwright and theatre director Hamid Amjad, "Whether lame or legitimate, I hope that after a nuclear agreement there are no more excuses after it, and that it would be possible to expect, to demand things."

Hassan Rouhani urged to follow nuclear deal success with human rights progress  (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 23 July 2015, The Guardian)

Most abuses in Iran are carried out by the hardline judiciary and the country's intelligence apparatus, which act independently of his government. Rouhani could, however, use his position to highlight such abuses but has largely failed to speak out.

As many as 15 political prisoners have been released in the past two days, a respected journalist and a senior politician among them, but activists said most of them had been nearing the end of their prison terms and were due to be freed within a few months. They said they were not sure if the releases signalled an opening up.

The ailing human rights activist and mother of two eight-year-olds, Narges Mohammadi, recently wrote a moving letter from inside jail which described the situation of other mothers in prison.

She wrote: "In front of me is the bed of Sajedeh Arabsorkhi, who has not seen her nine-year-old for a year. Beside me is [the Baha'i citizen] Faran Hesami, who has been kept away from her son, who is now six, for three years. On the other bed is Maryam Akbari, who hasn't seen her daughter for six years. Next door is Neda Mostaghimi, whose nine-year-old Ghazaleh is at home. I'm surrounded by 20 women, of whom ten are mothers and four have children below the age of 10."

Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iran's most prominent human rights laywer, said the Iranian authorities had treated rights violations as a low priority for many years, citing various excuses such as war or international isolation. But now, she said, it was time Rouhani gave the matter his full attention.

"From the people who were released recently, only one person was a woman, which is disappointing," Sotoudeh told the Guardian. She said at least 18 women were currently being held in the women's ward of Tehran's Evin prison. "Iran entered into negotiations with the international community to find a solution to the nuclear issue. It should do the same at home and start dialogue with internal opponents and opposition."

Sotoudeh, famous for her work to abolish juvenile executions in Iran, fell foul of the authorities after defending many opposition activists and politicians following the disputed presidential elections in 2009. She was jailed in 2010 and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison and banned from practising law for 10 years. Along with the filmmaker Jafar Panahi, Sotoudeh was the winner of the European parliament's most prestigious human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, in 2012. 

Since her unexplained release following Rouhani's election in 2013, she has dedicated her time to staging numerous protests in front of government offices, demanding, among other things, that her right to work be reinstated. Sotoudeh has often been accompanied by the families of political prisoners or other rights campaigners. The authorities notified her recently that her ban had been lifted and said she could start work again as early as next month.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Things Are About to Get a Lot Hotter for ISIS (Rob Garver, July 24, 2015, Fiscal Times)

The United States may have more than doubled its capacity to conduct air strikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria without committing a single new plane or soldier to the fight. Multiple foreign media sources are now reporting on an agreement between the U.S. and Turkey that would open up Turkey's Incirlik air base to U.S. planes engaged in the fight against the terror group.

July 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM


Lawmakers, White House Explore Tax Revamp for U.S. Firms Overseas : Discussions eye ambitious overhaul of how America taxes its multinational corporations (JOHN D. MCKINNON, July 21, 2015, WSJ)

Topics being discussed include whether to eliminate the U.S. system of taxing companies on their world-wide income, what safeguards to adopt to prevent future abuses and whether to provide special tax treatment for intellectual property.

There is already one area of clear agreement. All sides acknowledge that an overhaul could raise revenues for highways by imposing a one-time tax on foreign corporate earnings sitting offshore.

"Everyone is largely in agreement on the building blocks of a deal," said Rep. John Delaney (D., Md.), a longtime backer of the idea. Mr. Delaney said negotiators are thinking, "Let's get the framework set, so then we can arm wrestle on the numbers."

Overhauling the U.S. system for taxing multinational businesses has been a priority for Republicans, as well as some Democrats. Propelling this year's discussions, which are being led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), is the realization that a tax overhaul could be coupled with a boost in highway funding, a priority of the Obama administration and Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


From reactionary revolution to consolidation: 11 February 1975 to 7 May 2015 (EDWARD WILSON 23 July 2015, OpenDemocracy)

On 11 February 1975 the Conservative Party torpedoed Butskellism, just as irrevocably as their newly elected leader torpedoed the Belgrano seven years later. Butskellism was a cross party-consensus that took its name from the moderate Conservative Chancellor, Rab Butler, and his Labour Shadow, Hugh Gaitskell. The consensus accepted that the reforms of the post-war Labour government - the NHS, public ownership of utilities and social security - would remain in place despite tweaking to the left or right by whichever party was in power. The Monday Club ambush from the right that deposed Edward Heath changed Britain forever. [...]

The forty years since Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party have largely been a mopping up exercise by the free market fundamentalists, the deregulators and the privatisers. Butskellism has been replaced by Blatcherism. The result of the election on 7 May has given the green light for imposing the same economic model on Britain that the 'Chicago Boys' imposed on Pinochet's Chile between 1975 and 1990.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Grieving Gov. Nikki Haley forever changed by church massacre (Jennifer Berry Hawes, Jul 18 2015, Post and Courier)

Throughout the night, until 4:30 a.m., she spoke with SLED Chief Mark Keel as sickening details emerged. Each call "was one more kick in the gut," she recalls.

After learning that Pinckney was dead, along with eight other worshippers, the state's first female governor stepped into her two children's bedrooms, quiet and peaceful at dawn, to tell them she was leaving -- and why. Her husband, Michael, was gone for military training.

Then she walked through the doggy gate at the top of the Governor's Mansion staircase, past formal portraits of President

Andrew Jackson and various governors hanging above her own family snapshots, and past her son's basketball hoop in the flower-lined driveway. About 8:30 a.m., Haley boarded her state airplane to fly to the Holy City, the site of the nation's most recent massacre in a house of worship since a white supremacist killed six Wisconsin Sikhs, the faith of her parents.

The plane was headed toward a nightmare in Charleston, that much she knew.

But Haley didn't yet realize that she also was launching into a new season of her own life. It would force her to shift from a publicly guarded, often rehearsed, on-message partisan to a very human, deeply grieving governor trying to heal a diverse and wounded flock.

With the killer at large, dense heat draped over a command center set up near the historic Emanuel AME Church, an elegant white building on bustling Calhoun Street. First responders, expressions blank with shock and exhaustion, gathered with hundreds of others when Haley arrived early Thursday morning.

Amid the gloom, a piece of good news emerged.

The church's security camera captured a quality image of the likely shooter, a young white man with a bowl cut, and of his car. At 9 a.m., Haley predicted police would capture him by noon. "And we did."

Keel wanted to get his suspect back to town as soon as possible. But police had arrested 21-year-old Dylann Roof a good 250 miles away at the North Carolina border, and the SLED chief had no plane available.

"Take mine," Haley offered.

That evening, when Haley re-boarded the plane, she stepped toward where Roof had sat, forcing her feet forward.

He'd been right there.

Until then, she'd focused on catching the suspect.

Now, with him in custody, she had to lead a grieving state. Satellite TV trucks, hot lights and cameras on, engines rumbling, massed across from the church where memorials formed and crowds gathered to cry and pray.

A news conference loomed with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Police Chief Greg Mullen.

Details were leaking into the public about what happened at that Bible study, around the circular tables, amid the Bibles and prayers. Names of the dead sifted out. So did news of survivors, including a little girl, who had played dead.

"My head was blank," Haley says.

She knew details the public didn't know. They were bad. Details about hate, racial hate, that fueled the killings.

"All I kept thinking is I need to protect the state. And I didn't know how."

With Chief Mullen standing to her right, Mayor Riley to her left, Haley stepped up to a lectern, a woman surrounded by men, her typical set-up.

Then, before a bank of microphones, something changed.

"We woke up today ..." she said. And she paused. Her voiced quivered. Her eyes glanced down as if looking for notes that weren't there. A deeply hurting side of Nikki Haley seeped out as she continued, tears forming.

"The heart and soul of South Carolina was broken. And so we have some grieving to do," she managed. "We've got some pain we've got to go through. Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe -- and that's not something we ever thought we'd deal with."

Local and national media aired her words live. People watched, seeing a Nikki Haley who looked as vulnerable as they felt.

The governor, however, didn't see it that way.

Haley was raised by a tough mother, a lawyer from India who couldn't take a judgeship position because her family considered it inappropriate for a woman. Raj Randhawa taught that there were no tears when kids in Bamberg teased the small town's only Indian family. Get things done, she warned, don't cry about them.

Working in a man's political world only reinforced Haley's need to appear determined, not emotional.

"Women political leaders have to navigate appearing tough enough to do the job as expected and human enough to be 'liked' -- all thanks to prevailing gender stereotypes," says Lynne Ford, a political science professor and associate vice president at the College of Charleston who researches women in politics.

That's especially true, Ford adds, for female politicians like Haley who focus on stereotypical "male" policy areas such as jobs and economic development.

And here was Haley, crying on national TV.

"I was disappointed in myself after the press conference," she concedes. "But with the heaviness of the moment, I was devastated. I knew the state was devastated, and I knew this was going to hurt."

Haley knew early on that she'd attend every funeral, even speaking at them when asked. She wanted each family to feel the state's embrace of support.

"And I felt the need to go for me," she says during a rare moment of quiet in a sitting room at the Governor's Mansion.

Haley wanted to know the nine beyond a list of names.

"I had a need to meet them. I had a need to know, because I knew the forensic story. I knew the investigative part of the story. I needed to know the people."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela becomes a U.S. citizen (STEVE DILBECK, 7/22/15, LA Times)

Fernando Valenzuela has accomplished plenty in his 54 years -- Rookie of the Year, Cy Young award, World Series champion, no-hitter.

But now he's accomplished something never done before -- become a United States citizen.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


The Four States That Will Make or Break Democrats' Senate Hopes : For the party to win back the Senate majority, it will need to turn its fortunes around in crucial battleground states. (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 7/21/15, National Journal)

To be sure, Democrats have landed their strongest candidates in several crucial contests. In Ohio, they convinced former Gov. Ted Strickland to challenge Sen. Rob Portman--a contest that polls show is already competitive. They persuaded Rep. Tammy Duckworth to challenge Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois. They convinced former Sen. Russ Feingold to go for a rematch bid against embattled Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. And to defend Harry Reid's must-win seat in Nevada, they landed a top-tier Hispanic recruit, former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

For a while, they appeared on track, but in the last month, the storm clouds have gathered. Former Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina opted not to run again for the Senate, leaving Democrats empty-handed as they seek a challenger against Sen. Richard Burr in the swing state. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who looked likely to challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte, now appears to be hedging her bets in the midst of a tough budget battle with Republicans. Scandal-plagued Rep. Alan Grayson is taking on party favorite Rep. Patrick Murphy in Florida, and he's poised to spend millions damaging Murphy's image in the primary. Meanwhile, party concerns over former Rep. Joe Sestak continue unabated in Pennsylvania--with few alternative candidates looking to run. Even Strickland, despite leading in several polls, disappointed party officials with his underwhelming first two quarters of fundraising.

The Illinois and Wisconsin races are genuine toss-ups, with small advantages to the Democratic challengers. The Ohio Senate contest is looking highly competitive, but with an early GOP edge. But after those three opportunities, the pickings are now looking a lot tougher for the Democrats. Not only do they have to win all three of those toss-up races, but catch breaks in Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Hampshire in races that are looking less favorable--all while ensuring that they don't lose any momentum defending battleground seats in Nevada and Colorado.

It's still early, but those assessing whether Democrats can retake the majority can't ignore the four states where they've suffered setbacks. That's where the Democratic Senate majority will be made--or where it will fall apart.

The problem for Democrats is there's no national rationale for voting against incumbents, what with a thriving economy, functional Congress and peace busting out all over.  So they'd need Hillary to blow out Jeb, which seems inlikely at best.  This looks like an easy cycle to defend incumbents.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Conservatives are too quick to dismiss the rise of the robots (James Pethokoukis, July 22, 2015, AEI Ideas)

[I] think it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that just because automation so far has not eliminated the need for lots of human workers means it won't in the future. It's a comforting thought. Sherk and Burke offer the textbook, Econ 101 answer: "Automation reduces the need for humans in particular tasks, but employees have historically moved to new or different sectors of the economy as a result. Little evidence suggests this time is different." Yet even if they are correct, this process can be a wrenching one. As my colleague Michael Strain has explained:

Today, real wages and per capita income are both enormously higher in the West than they were when the Luddites were destroying labor-saving machines during the Industrial Revolution, and to date the machines have not eliminated the need for human workers. Why would a technological revolution today have a different outcome than the Industrial Revolution? No need to worry, argue many economists.This dismissal is too flip.

Even if the standard economist's answer is correct when comparing the 21st century to the 19th, it omits the fact that living through this period of transformation was wrenching. Many economic historians believe that the British working class had to endure decades of hard labor with little improvement in their quality of life before they were able to enjoy the benefits of the new economy. Real wages fell dramatically for some occupations. Many who held those occupations couldn't be retrained to compete in the new economy. Lives were shattered. Some families suffered across generations. People flocked from the countryside to dirty, disease-infested cities. For decades, there was deep social unrest. British society was shaken to its core.

Just think about the progress made in autonomous vehicles and the fact that the most common job in most states is that of truck driver. A rising technological tide may not lift all boats, at least over the short and medium term. And even if most Americans eventually prosper, many Americans may not. That matters. Indeed, if you believe the Great Stagnation scenario put forward by Tyler Cowen, a large majority will not flourish in the new economy.

...just not via wages.
Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Inside Amazon's Warehouse, Human-Robot Symbiosis : Amazon's newest warehouse is testing the limits of automation and human-machine collaboration. (Will Knight on July 7, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

Amazon's fulfillment center, located in the township of Robbinsville, is a dizzying hive of activity, with humans and machines working in carefully coördinated harmony. Besides showing the incredible efficiencies of Amazon's operations, the factory hints at how, over the coming decades, technology may start to assist human workers with many simple manual tasks. How far this change goes, and how quickly it comes about, could make a significant difference to the labor market (see "Who Will Own the Robots?").

At the center of the warehouse is a storage space containing square shelves packed with countless products from Amazon's inventory. In previous generations of its fulfillment center, Amazon's workers would have roamed these shelves searching for the products needed to fulfill each new order. Now the shelves themselves glide quickly across the floor carried atop robots about the size and shape of footstools. In a carefully choreographed dance, these robots either rearrange the shelves in neatly packed rows, or bring them over to human workers, who stack them with new products or retrieve goods for packaging.

Amazon's robotic shelves allow more products to be packed into a tighter space. They also make stacking and picking more efficient by automatically bringing empty shelves over to packers or the right products over to pickers. The process is more efficient than having humans walk around, so it also a good example of how automation can be combined with human labor to increase productivity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


How Islamic State's Succession Plan Could Destroy It (Noah Feldman, 7/21/15, Bloomberg View)

Leaked intelligence reports say that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the titular head of Islamic State, is delegating authority in anticipation of his untimely demise. That raises some timely questions: Can you have a caliphate without a caliph? What will happen to Islamic State if Baghdadi is killed? And, by extension, how much effort should the U.S. and its allies put into trying to target and kill him?

The answers are tricky. As a matter of classical Sunni constitutional thought, a caliph may indeed delegate his authority while remaining as the caliph. Yet the separation of the caliph's role from actual military command, a hallmark of much actual Islamic history, would still be anathema to the Islamic utopia the Sunni militant group is trying to achieve. The loss of the caliph would therefore be a significant setback to recruitment efforts abroad. [...]

[T]he caliph was also supposed to be the actual ruler of the community of the faithful, which a conquered Arab caliph couldn't convincingly claim to be.

The creative solution was dreamed up by the scholars of Islamic constitutional thought. The caliph would remain caliph in name. But he would "voluntarily" delegate worldly authority to govern to a "sultan," or ruler, who didn't need to be an Arab or a Qurashi. Thus the conquerors could rule -- in exchange for a promise to observe the forms of Islamic law so dear to the scholars.

The upshot was that the caliph was no longer the actual ruler, but more of a religious figurehead. This remained the case for most of the middle ages, until the Ottoman sultans reclaimed the caliphate with some doubtful genealogy.

This history matters because Islamic State's claim to fame is the reinvention of the caliphate, which Kemal Ataturk ended shortly after World War I when he deposed the last of the Ottomans. Baghdadi claims to be both the actual ruler of territory -- which in a way he is -- and a descendant of the Quraysh, as well as a scholar and a man of moral purity -- which he rather plainly isn't.

Under the scholars' version of Islamic constitutional law, Baghdadi can delegate all the military authority he wants. As caliph, he doesn't have to monopolize military or political authority. The structure of Islamic State could therefore be highly diffuse and diversified without harming his religious claim to be the true caliph. After all, many legitimate caliphs didn't actually rule at all.

But what's legally permissible may be politically damaging. Islamic State has gained much of its global popularity by presenting itself as an Islamic utopia -- not simply "an" Islamic state but "the" Islamic State par excellence. Young people who weren't prepared to join al-Qaeda simply to fight and die are eager to join Islamic State, because they want to participate in constructing an ideal Islamic society.

...nevermind try governing anywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


There's Just One Way to Reach 4 Percent Growth (Noah Smith, 7/21/15, Bloomberg View)

The way to get 4 percent growth is open-borders immigration policy. 

Gross domestic product is simply the product of output per person and the number of people. The more people in your country, the higher the output. That's why China, whose output per person is only about a quarter of the U.S.'s, is now the largest economy on the planet. It just has more bodies. 

The growth numbers you usually hear about in the news are total GDP growth numbers, not per capita figures. To boost those numbers, get more population. For example, when Great Britain conquered India, the GDP of the British Empire went way up. If the U.S. really wanted to supercharge its GDP numbers, it has a much better option than military conquest -- it could simply invite tons of immigrants to move here. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Plane speaking after Iran's nuclear deal  (The Economist, Jul 21st 2015)

 For decades, Iranian airlines were forced into the black market when sourcing, and repairing, their planes. Elaborate paper-trails conspired to throw America off the scent of illicit transactions. Mahan Air, the country's second largest carrier, pulled off perhaps the biggest such deal in May--two months before the nuclear agreement was signed--when it used an Iraqi front to acquire nine Airbus jets.

These shady deals have kept Iranians flying, but at a cost. There have been 28 civilian aircraft crashes in Iran since the turn of the century, according to the Aviation Safety Network, claiming more than 500 lives. The average age of an aircraft operated by Iran Air, the country's flag carrier, is 26 years. Across the Persian Gulf in Dubai, Emirates Airline's much larger fleet has a mere seven-year vintage. Far from grounding Iran's airlines--as America originally set out to do, alleging misappropriation by the military--sanctions simply forced them to deploy older, less safe aircraft. Each time one fell out of the sky, Iranians rallied behind their government and blamed the Great Satan for endangering civilians.

America's political misstep was reversed last year, when temporary sanctions-relief allowed Iran Air to begin buying spare parts for its creaking planes. President Obama's administration is now poised to complete the volte-face. America will "allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran" states the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action released by the nuclear negotiating teams. As well as improving the lot of Iranian passengers, this could earn tens of billions of dollars for Western aircraft manufacturers, including American firms such as Boeing. Billions more will fall into the hands of Western spare-parts suppliers, lessors and financiers, IT service-providers, aircraft interior designers, and so forth.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Russia Braces for Longest Recession in Decades With $50 Oil (Olga Tanas, July 22, 2015, Bloomberg)

For an economy that lives and dies by crude prices, the latest downturn in the world oil market means Russia's recession may stretch into next year for the longest slump in two decades.

Russia's first economic slump since 2009 looked like it would plateau as oil gained 40 percent from a six-month low in January. Crude's recovery has faltered in recent weeks, raising questions about government assurances that the economy will return to growth in 2016 and further squeezing a budget already on course for its widest deficit in five years. [...]

Reeling from a currency collapse last year and sanctions over Ukraine, the government has already cut budget outlays by 10 percent and dipped into one of its sovereign wealth funds, the Reserve Fund, to help cover the shortfall. Lower oil prices mean that Russia may potentially need financing from its other wealth fund, the National Wellbeing Fund, according to Polevoy.

The most severe stress test conducted by the central bank, which assumed oil at $40 and an economic slump of 7 percent, found that 187 lenders may face a capital shortage of 0.6 trillion rubles ($11 billion) while the share of non-performing loans more than doubles to 17.7 percent. The economy will contract for a third year in 2017 if oil remains at $40, the central bank said in June.

Unlike the opening to China, this trade deal with Iran has impact in the real world.

July 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Pro-Life Leaders Say Planned Parenthood Openly 'Targets' Black Community (Kelsey Harkness, July 21, 2015, Daily Signal)

"It's an open secret that they are targeting the black community, that they have located their facilities within a two-mile walking radius of a black or Latino neighborhood...and they are coming after black women," Catherine Davis of the National Black Pro-Life Coalition told The Daily Signal while gathering with other pro-life leaders in Alexandria, Va.

To hear that this organization is allowed by our government to do that kind of targeting is very disturbing to me. I call it today's 21st Century Jim Crow. [...]

"In the black community, one out of two women over the age of 40 have been impacted by abortion," [Lori Hoye, another pro-life leader in the black community,] said. "They've had an abortion or they know the woman that's had an abortion."

New York City, Hoye said, "is a prime example" of this.

In 2012, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Office of Vital Statistics, found that there were more black babies killed by abortions (31,328) than there were born (24,758).

That number accounted for almost half of all abortions in the city.

"Our people are in deficit mode," she said. "We're losing more babies than are actually born."

As even Justice Ginsburg acknowledges, eugenics is the point of the abortion movement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Defense bill hits pay and job security of Pentagon employees, could set wider precedent for federal workers (Joe Davidson July 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Deep inside this tome are provisions that could affect the pay and civil service protections of more than 700,000 Defense Department civilian employees, about one-third of the federal workforce.

They will not like what the Senate bill proposes.

And because the Pentagon is the largest department, what happens there to federal employees can influence what happens throughout the government. Already, employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs have been the target of legislation, enacted and proposed, that undermine their workplace rights.

The Defense bill is now being discussed by members of a House and Senate conference committee working to iron out differences in the versions approved by each chamber.

There are three Senate provisions that distress Democrats and federal labor leaders.

Section 1101 would double the employee probationary period to two years and allow the military departments, such as the Department of the Army, to extend probation periods indefinitely. Section 1102 would allow a delay in periodic pay hikes called step increases, which are based largely on longevity, for poorly performing employees. Section 1103 would allow employees to be laid off because of their performance, while downplaying other considerations including the length of tenure and whether they are veterans.

"These provisions would negatively affect Department of Defense civilian employees by undermining veterans' preference, merit systems principles, and due process rights," said a letter from 12 House Democrats, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They urged leaders of the House-Senate conference committee to strike the three provisions.

Federal employee organizations agree -- mostly.

"These provisions are anti-worker, but they are particularly troublesome for veterans," said Matt Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "Extending the probationary period is a policy position in search of a problem.  It assumes that managers will fire more newly hired federal workers in two years than they would if the probationary period were to remain at 12 months."

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


A Conversation With Gordon S. Wood (DAVID BAHR, 7/14/15, Weekly Standard)

It's interesting, we're not an ethnically homogeneous society, but there is homogeneity in our adherence to a few key philosophic principles.

Precisely, that's the only thing we got holding us together. The belief in these certain things--life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, equality. All of the great notions that are part of the American Dream or American ideology come out of the Revolution. These are our highest aspirations, our noblest ideals. That's why the Revolution is the most important event in our history. It's too bad it's not being taught everywhere. [...]

Perhaps we are only temporarily in this spot? Do you view historical interpretation as cyclical?

Oh, definitely. For a while people who were disillusioned with Marxism and wanted a kind of communal ideology, so they picked up republicanism. Law professors in particular, picked this up. That went on for, I don't know, about 20 years. People began finding republicanism everywhere. It finally died in the early '90s and was replaced by race-class-gender issues. We are again top-heavy in some sense.

I also think that academic historians neglect history books for the general public, and it's being filled by a whole bunch of non-academics. When I came of age in the 1950s, people like Daniel J. Boorstin, C. Vann Woodward, and Richard Hofstadter wrote for two readerships simultaneously. They wrote for each other, which advanced the discipline, but they also wrote for the general public. Nowadays it's impossible for the general public to read the monographs that come out because they're so specialized, so quasi-scientific. You try to inject yourself into the conversation, but you don't know what's come before, you just don't know what they're talking about. It's like a layman trying to read a physics paper. We are cutting ourselves off from the general public and that's lamentable.

Of course, history (the humanities generally) became so specialized (obscure) precisely because its practitioners couldn't follow scientific texts.  Now that so much of those texts has turned out to be nonsense, popular histories have staged a comeback.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013 [Rachel L. Tilling, Andy Ridout, Andrew Shepherd & Duncan J. Wingham, Nature Geoscience (2015)]

Changes in Arctic sea ice volume affect regional heat and freshwater budgets and patterns of atmospheric circulation at lower latitudes. Despite a well-documented decline in summer Arctic sea ice extent by about 40% since the late 1970s, it has been difficult to quantify trends in sea ice volume because detailed thickness observations have been lacking. Here we present an assessment of the changes in Northern Hemisphere sea ice thickness and volume using five years of CryoSat-2 measurements. Between autumn 2010 and 2012, there was a 14% reduction in Arctic sea ice volume, in keeping with the long-term decline in extent. However, we observe 33% and 25% more ice in autumn 2013 and 2014, respectively, relative to the 2010-2012 seasonal mean, which offset earlier losses. This increase was caused by the retention of thick sea ice northwest of Greenland during 2013 which, in turn, was associated with a 5% drop in the number of days on which melting occurred--conditions more typical of the late 1990s. In contrast, springtime Arctic sea ice volume has remained stable. The sharp increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Choosing your own capitalism in a globalised world? (Daron Acemoglu, James A Robinson, Thierry Verdier 21 November 2012, Vox EU)

The fact that technological progress requires incentives for workers and entrepreneurs results in greater inequality and greater poverty (and a weaker safety net) for a society encouraging more intense innovation. Crucially, however in a world with technological interdependence, when one (or a small subset) of societies is at the technological frontier and contributing disproportionately to its advancement, the incentives for others to do so will be weaker. In particular, innovation incentives by economies at the world technology frontier will create higher growth by advancing the frontier, while strong innovation incentives by followers will only increase their incomes today since the world technology frontier is already being advanced by the economies at the frontier.

This logic implies that the world equilibrium with endogenous technology transfer is typically asymmetric with some countries having greater incentives to innovate than others. In such equilibrium, the technologically leading countries opt for liberal-style institutions (what we call 'cut-throat' capitalism) with high-powered incentives, little social insurance and income inequality, while other following countries adopt coordinated-style institutions (what we call 'cuddly' capitalism) as a best response to the technology leader's advancement of the world technology frontier, ensuring therefore better insurance to their population and greater equality.

The main result of this theoretical investigation is that, in the long run, all countries tend to grow at the same rate, but those with cuddly reward structures are strictly poorer. Notably, however, these countries may have higher welfare than the cut-throat leader; in fact if the initial gap between the frontier economy and the followers is small enough, the cuddly followers will necessarily have higher welfare because of the greater social insurance that their institutions provide. Thus, our analysis confirms the intuition that all countries may want to be like the Nordics with a more extensive safety net and a more egalitarian structure.

Yet the main implication of our theoretical framework is that we cannot all be like the Nordics! Indeed it is not an equilibrium choice for the cut-throat leader, the US, to become cuddly. As a matter of fact, given the institutional choices of other countries, if the cut-throat leader were to switch to such cuddly capitalism, this would reduce the growth rate of the entire world economy, discouraging the adoption of the more egalitarian reward structure. In contrast, followers are still happy to choose an institutional system associated to a more egalitarian reward structure. Indeed, this choice, though making them poorer, does not permanently reduce their growth rates, thanks to the positive technological externalities created by the cut-throat technology leader. This line of reasoning suggests therefore that in an interconnected world, it may be precisely the more cut-throat American society, with its extant inequalities, that makes possible the existence of more cuddly Nordic societies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Senior al Qaida figure, Muhsin al-Fadhli, killed in US airstrike in Syria, officials say (KEN DILANIAN, AP)

Muhsin al-Fadhli was killed in a July 8 air attack while traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. Davis did not further elaborate on the nature of the air strike, such as whether al-Fadhli was killed by a drone or a piloted aircraft.

Al-Fadhli was a leader of the Khorasan Group, a cadre of al-Qaida operatives who were sent from Pakistan to Syria to plot attacks on the West. Officials say the Khorasan Group is embedded in the al Nusra front, Syria's al-Qaida affiliate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Welfare Reform on the Fast Track? A top Republican working on the bill wants to avoid another short-term extension as September 30 deadline looms. (DYLAN SCOTT, 7/19/15, National Journal)

[Rep. Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican who is helping craft a sweeping reauthorization bill for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program] asked for public comments to be turned in by July 29. The House leaves for its August recess the next day and doesn't return until September 8, leaving just three weeks until the September 30 deadline. Aides said the goal was to be ready to mark up a bill as soon as possible after the recess.

"There's very little time left from a legislative standpoint because we're going to be out in August and we'll be up to the end of the fiscal year very soon," Boustany said. "So I'm trying to prepare a final product for the chairman so that we can be ready to go."

Both staffers involved with the bill and outside experts have said that the TANF bill being discussed would implement the biggest changes to the welfare program since it began in 1996. About 2 million families receive benefits through the $30 billion program.

The legislation would strengthen TANF's work-activity requirement by eliminating loopholes while also allowing more activities to count toward the requirement; the former is a Republican priority and the latter has been sought by Democrats. The bill would also set up an accountability system in which states could lose a portion of funding if they failed to meet new metrics based on welfare recipients' employment and income.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


The Most Dangerous Man in Iran : Tehran University political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam dares to publicly oppose his regime's foreign policy (Samuel Thrope, 7/21/15, Tablet)

This past March Tehran University political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam said the unspeakable. In a wide-ranging foreign-policy debate with conservative journalist Seyed Yasser Jebraily at Islamic Azad University of Mashhad, videos of which have circulated widely on the Internet, Zibakalam blasted the Iranian government's oft-stated goal of destroying Israel.

Sitting with Jebraily at a small, microphone-studded table, Zibakalam, dressed in an open-collared shirt and dark blue sports coat over his trademark suspenders, first argued that conservatives' anti-American rhetoric was harming Iran's national interest. Then he turned to Israel, saying that cries of "Death to Israel" do the same.

"Who gave the Islamic Republic of Iran the duty of destroying Israel?" he asked sarcastically to the audience's thunderous applause. "Did the Iranian people have a referendum and say they want to destroy Israel? Did the parliament pass a law saying that we should destroy Israel?"

When hard-line hecklers tried to interrupt they were quickly shouted down by the crowd. "Twenty-four hours a day you have the radio, the television, Kayhan newspaper, the parliament, the Friday sermons," Zibakalam boldly replied. "We have two hours here--one for me and one for Jebraily. You are so authoritarian and dictatorial that you disrupt even this." [...]

"I was anti-West, anti-U.S. I was anti-Israel. I was very much what the Islamic regime is at the moment," he said of his revolutionary student days. "But subsequently many of us, even those students who took part in seizing the American embassy in 1979, have changed. We have realized after three decades that being anti-West may be important, but political freedom is much more important."

He argues that while hard-liners claim that the West is opposed to Iran's nuclear activity because they do not want a revolutionary country like Iran to prosper, he says that the real reason for American and European opposition lies elsewhere: in Iranian rhetoric and action against Israel. "The reason that the West is nervous and opposes our nuclear program is because Iran has stated very precisely and officially that Iran is going to destroy the state of Israel. Therefore the Israelis--as well as everyone else--can be worried about this country becoming engaged in uranium enrichment. That's why the United States, Israel, and Europe are against our nuclear program. If we had not stated that we are going to destroy the state of Israel, none of this would happen."

If questioning official rhetoric on Israel is taboo, casting doubt on the country's nuclear program is even more so. In the eyes of many of Iran's political elite, the program is much more than simply a technical or military boon. Iran's ability to pursue advanced nuclear technology is seen as a symbol of the country's self-reliance and freedom from outside influence, which was one of the major goals of the revolution against the shah's American-backed regime.

"You must remember that up until a few years ago the nuclear program was holy; people worshiped the country's nuclear program," Zibakalam explained, referring to the period of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency from 2005 to 2013. "Now all of a sudden, someone is saying: What is the benefit of this?"

Despite this criticism of the program overall, he argues that the nuclear agreement represents a historical turning point for Iran on par with the Islamic Revolution. As he wrote in Politico in March, the agreement means that anti-Americanism will no longer be considered an unquestionable orthodoxy in Iranian politics. This change will pull the rug out from under conservatives who use opposition to the United States to justify their policies internally and internationally and will strengthen reformists and other moderates who seek more engagement with the West.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Iran parliament to take 'at least 60 days' to review nuke deal (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF July 21, 2015)

Iran's parliament will need "at least" 60 days to review a proposed final deal with world powers over its contested nuclear program, a prominent lawmaker said Tuesday, giving legislators in the Islamic Republic about the same time as the US Congress to examine the proposal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


114th Congress breaking gridlock, The Washington Times Legislative Futility Index shows (Stephen Dinan, 7/20/15, The Washington Times)

The 114th Congress is off to the fastest start since the first year of President Obama's tenure, according to The Washington Times Legislative Futility Index, a measure of floor action that shows the House leading the way in getting more done.

Lawmakers are still operating far below Congress' peak years in the 1970s, when they were debating, voting on and passing bills at an astonishing pace. But the first six months of this new Congress have still been a huge improvement on the gridlock of the last five years.

And it's not just the numbers -- members of Congress are debating and passing weightier bills, including a rewrite of the Patriot Act, a long-sought fix of Medicare's formula for paying doctors, fast-track trade negotiation powers for the White House and, most recently, a long-overdue overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


The Onion accidentally breaks a real news story (Becca Stanek, 7/21/15, The Weel)

Maybe the truth really is told in jokes. Last Tuesday -- the day after six world powers struck a nuclear deal with Iran -- the satirical newspaper The Onion published this headline: "U.S. Soothes Upset Netanyahu With Shipment Of Ballistic Missiles."

One day later, Israeli news source Haaretz printed an actual story with this notably similar headline: "After Iran Deal, Obama Offers Military Upgrade To Help Israel Swallow Bitter Iranian Deal." No, that was not a mistake. And yes, The Onion's joke actually was pretty darn close to a reality.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Underneath the Laughs, 'Trainwreck' Is Just Another Regressive Rom Com (EILEEN JONES, 7/21/15, In These Times)

[K]eep that in mind when I say that, though I laughed loudly at a number of points, I didn't actually like the movie. Halfway through, I was appalled to find myself sitting through a real, genuine, regressive romantic comedy, which is a film genre I've avoided like the plague ever since the Nora Ephron scourge began in the late 1980s. [...]

The Trainwreck of the title refers to Amy Schumer's character, also named Amy, who drinks a lot, smokes plenty of pot, has a lot of sex with many different men, and works at a vile men's magazine that publishes articles like "Ugliest Celebrities Under Six." It is made painfully clear that the sex is part of her dysfunction, like the alcoholism, and will have to be brought under control. After all, her approach to sexual behavior is a legacy from her embittered father who, after breaking up with their mother so he could pursue a more varied sex life, led his little daughters in a chant of "Monogamy isn't realistic!"

On assignment, Amy interviews a sweet-natured sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader) and, in spite of her reluctance, gets drawn into a monogamous relationship. But it's a rocky road that soon ends in a break-up, explicitly because of her excesses. She's further punished with a death in the family and career disaster. This all culminates in a scene of Amy sobbing, "I'm not okay--I'm kind of broken," to her straight-laced sister who's presented as virtuously married and pregnant.

Cue the montage of the protagonist getting her act together. This includes waltzing into a new job as a writer at Vanity Fair. Hey, all you struggling writers out there, it's just that easy, if you'll only stop drinking, smoking pot and having sex with many partners!

Judd Apatow, the director of Trainwreck, likes this kind of montage. See Knocked Up, for example, for the same kind of "maturing" process as the protagonist transforms his life overnight by embracing the Big Three of middle-class respectability: marriage, parenthood and a good, solid job (which he's in no way qualified for), a job of the sort that is disappearing from America like a fading mirage. By now Apatow is a comedy pestilence, breaking out like a rash everywhere laughs are sought. He's popularized a formula of profane, speciously frank talk about contemporary American mores that never really reckons with our mad culture in any incisive way, and always affirms the dullest, most conventional values in the end. 

I was startled by Trainwreck's entire plotline.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


A non-French speaker just won the French Scrabble championship (Adam Epstein, 7/21/15, Quartz)

They call him the Bearded Wonder. Okay, no one actually calls him that (that we know of), but they should. He's the greatest living Scrabble player in the world, and he's at the height of his powers. Tennis has Serena Williams. Golf has Jordan Spieth. Soccer has Lionel Messi.

Scrabble has Nigel Richards, and he's arguably more dominant at his game than any of these other athletes are at theirs.

On Monday, July 20, Richards--a native of New Zealand--won the French-language world Scrabble championship. He does not speak a word of French.

July 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Bush Targets 'Big Government' with Plan to Reduce Federal Workforce (Rob Garver, July 20, 2015, Fiscal Times)

Characterizing the federal workforce as bloated and overpaid, former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Monday said that if he were elected president in 2016, he would impose a freeze on federal hiring as part of a plan designed to reduce the government workforce by 10 percent over four years.

Bush described a 10 percent reduction in federal headcount as "a realistic goal, saving tens of billions of dollars, and without adding to unemployment." [...]

Bush's plan to reduce the federal workforce was among the most fleshed-out of the proposals in his remarks. He claimed that similar cuts in Florida during his time as governor had been key to restoring the state's fiscal health.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Jurassic Period Saw Fastest Evolution in Ancient Mammals (Tom Edathikunnel, 07/17/2015, Huffington Post)

New fossil evidence, published by Oxford University in Current Biology, demonstrates the surprising speed with which mammals evolved during the ancient Jurassic period. [...]

To understand the cause of this surge in evolutionary process, Oxford University researchers conducted the first large-scale analysis of skeletal and dental changes of all Mesozoic animals. This massive calculation revealed the evolutionary rates across the entire Mesozoic epoch, allowing researchers to see the rapid burst of evolutionary development in the late Jurassic (200 -145 millions years ago).

"What our study suggests is that mammal 'experimentation' with different body-plans and tooth types peaked in the mid-Jurassic," lead author Dr Roger Close of Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences stated. "This period of radical change produced characteristic body shapes that remained recognizable for tens of millions of years." [...]

"We don't know what instigated this evolutionary burst."

July 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Jeb Bush Wants to Share (Debra Saunders, July 19, 2015, SF Chronicle)

Clinton clearly is on the side of politicians who want to cripple ride-hailing startups that allow individuals to drive their cars at their own discretion. These outfits truly reflect market demand. If consumers don't like a service, they won't use it. If drivers don't like the terms, they will stop offering rides. Competition improves the outcome -- but Clinton wants to impose more regulation.

In contrast, the son and brother of former presidents embraced the benefits of "disrupting the old order." Bush started the day extolling businesses such as Thumbtack on a LinkedIn post. "I love learning about these kinds of companies precisely because before they existed, their market didn't exist either," he wrote. Startups, he added, "cause mental dissonance for people who think they can plan the future of the economy from Washington D.C. -- people like Hillary Clinton."

"He's got a good grasp of the way tech is changing the workforce," Thumbtack economist Jon Lieber told me after the talk.

2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney extolled "creative destruction" as an essential element of free enterprise. He was right, but those words mean nothing to kids used to summoning wheels with their phones. They just know what they want. Perhaps 2016 will be the year capitalism finally clicks for millennial voters.

If so, Bush is ready. When a reporter asked him about Uber, Bush talked about a college student he met who graduated without crippling debt -- because he drove for Uber. A Thumbtacker asked Bush about Obamacare. He turned "repealing Obamacare" into an act of disruption that would free consumers to "opt out of these old models."

When a Thumbtack worker asked Bush what he thinks of new FCC net neutrality regulation dear to the South of Market crowd, Bush did not pander. He answered, "The unintended consequence of these top-down proven rules is always negative."

Unlike the man I saw in January, I think, I maybe could vote for this Jeb Bush. 

July 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Only Iraq's clerics can win against Isis : Ironically, they are the ones who inspire men to fight and who can prevent sectarian division (PATRICK COCKBURN, 18 July 2015, Independent)
Almost a quarter of a century later, Iraq has been turned upside-down: Hussein Kamel, who led the Iraqi army assault that crushed the Shia rebellion, was murdered by his father-in-law, Saddam Hussein, who was himself executed in 2006. A Shia-dominated government rules today in Baghdad and the most influential person in Iraq is unquestionably the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Paradoxically, this has happened despite Sistani's conviction that true religion means keeping out of politics. This quietist version of Shia Islam contrasts with that espoused by Ayatollah Khomeini who established clerical rule in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. But the moral authority of Sistani over Iraq's Shia majority after the invasion of 2003 was such that the occupiers found that they could not rule in opposition to his wishes.

Had all gone smoothly, a state run by Shia parties would have held power after the American forces departed and the Shia clergy might have retreated from politics. But the rise of the self-styled Islamic State (Isis), and its capture of Mosul in 2014 and Ramadi this year, discredited both the Iraqi army and government. Despite the billions of dollars it had spent or stolen, it utterly failed when it came to defending its own people.

As the army disintegrated last year, a fatwa issued by Sistani on 13 June called for men to take up arms against Isis. It immediately brought into being a powerful, enthusiastic, if ill-trained, volunteer force numbering at least 50,000. The main fighting force of the Baghdad government today is these "Popular Mobilisation Units" or Hashd al-Shaabi, which have been fighting with some success against Isis-controlled pockets around Baghdad.

A decisive moment is coming in the next few months. The Hashd and elite Iraqi army units have surrounded Fallujah and are bombarding it. It was Isis's capture of Fallujah, only 40 miles west of Baghdad, in January last year, and the Iraqi army's failure to recapture it, that foreshadowed the military defeat of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later in the summer. The new attack on Fallujah needs to succeed if Isis is ever to be defeated.

There is optimism among clergy and military officers in Najaf and Karbala about the outcome of the battle. This is primarily because in the past the Iraqi regular armed forces, the Hashd and the Americans, while all opposed to Isis, have acted as rivals rather than combining their efforts. Mohammed Ali Bahr Ulloum, an influential cleric in Najaf, says that the struggle for Tikrit was messy "because the forces opposing Daesh [Isis] were divided, but at Fallujah they are united". He is encouraged by the delivery of four F-16 fighter bombers to the Iraqi air force by the US.

The anti-Isis forces have no option but to unite if they are to win. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


What is an Opportunity Society? (Bruce Frohnen, 7/15/15, Imaginative Conservative)

Having spent a few weeks teaching here in Iceland, a few things are becoming clear. First, Icelanders are a friendly people who have managed to maintain a society with very little crime or violence, in which children are very safe and in which there is an extremely strong sense of community. Second, it is a society that values security over opportunity. That is, it is one where great effort is expended to make certain that people can get by (as, for example, with the many adults working part-time jobs). From what I have seen and been told, there is no great outcry at such underemployment in part because getting by is not considered such a terrible thing. Indeed, it seems more problematic, here, for people to be too focused on getting ahead.

And this is where I see the major social difference between social democratic Iceland and the until-recently free, market-oriented United States. Iceland is self-consciously a security society. In it there is great concern that people be "taken care of." Until recent years in the U.S., on the other hand, there was much greater concern that people be given the opportunity to make the most of their lives, professionally, spiritually, and in more purely economic terms. We had an opportunity society, in which getting ahead was considered a worthy goal and in which standing on one's own two feet was considered an important accomplishment for oneself, one's family, and one's local community.

As a very small (320,000) homogeneous and relatively prosperous nation, Iceland can "work" as a security society, particularly because the people themselves are deeply communal and committed to forms and levels of equality few Americans would have tolerated--again, until recent years. That said, as America is driven further and more quickly away from its former character as an opportunity society, it might be worth considering what an opportunity society is not. An indicator, here, may be found in the Icelandic attitude on tipping. It is all very European, of course. Other than in a few high-traffic tourist areas, where everyone appreciates the extra money those foolish Americans insist on throwing around, no one tips in Iceland. As a result, of course, service is not fast. Then again, the Icelanders do not mind this, and there is something to be said for their attitude. No one bothers you in an Icelandic restaurant. If you want to sit and enjoy a meal or just a cup of tea for a long time, there is no problem. I am told that one reason restaurants are more expensive in Iceland than in the United States is that they only plan on sitting two parties per night at any given table--versus four or five at a typical American restaurant. So, there is a lifestyle choice being made. More important, from an "opportunity" point of view, is the reasoning behind the opposition to tipping. As one Icelander explained it to me (slowly and with emphasis to make certain I understood): "Icelanders do not want anyone to have to depend for their livelihood on the whims of some customer."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Google Self-Driving Car Involved in First Injury Accident (JUSTIN PRITCHARD, 7/16/15, Associated Press)

This was the 14th accident in six years and about 1.9 million miles of testing, according to the company. Google has said that its cars have not caused any of the collisions -- though in 2011 an employee who took a car to run an errand rear-ended another vehicle while the Google car was out of self-driving mode.

In 11 of the 14, Google said its car was rear-ended.

In a blog posted Thursday, the head of Google's self-driving car program, Chris Urmson, wrote that his SUVs "are being hit surprisingly often" by distracted drivers, perhaps people looking at their phones.

"The clear theme is human error and inattention," Urmson wrote. "We'll take all this as a signal that we're starting to compare favorably with human drivers."

In a telephone interview, Urmson said his team was exploring whether its cars could do something to alert distracted drivers before a collision. Honking would be one possibility, but Urmson said he worried that could start to annoy residents of Mountain View.

According to an accident report that Google filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles about the July 1 crash:

Google's SUV was going about 15 mph in self-driving mode behind two other cars as the group approached an intersection with a green light.

The first car slowed to a stop so as not to block the intersection -- traffic on the far side was not moving. The Google car and the other car in front of it also stopped.

Within about a second, a fourth vehicle rear-ended the Google car at about 17 mph. On-board sensors showed the other car did not brake.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Rebuilding a Marriage Culture: A Fourfold Mission for the Church (Ryan T. Anderson, July 15, 2015, Canon & Culture)\

First, the church needs to present a case for biblical sexuality that is appealing and that engages the best of modern thought. The virtues of chastity and lifelong marriage are enriching, but after fifty years, the church has still not devised a compelling response to the sexual revolution. The legal redefinition of marriage could take place when and where it did only because the majority of Americans lacked a sound understanding of the nature of man and the nature of marriage.

The church needs to find a way to capture the moral imagination of the next generation. It needs to make the truth about human sexuality and its fulfillment in marriage not only attractive and appealing, but noble and exhilarating. This is a truth worth staking one's life on.

In the face of the seduction of cohabitation, no-fault divorce, extra-marital sex, nonmarital childbearing, pornography, and the hook-up culture, what can the church offer as a more fulfilling, more humane, more liberating alternative? Until it finds an answer, the church will make no headway in the same-sex marriage debate, which is the fulfillment of those revolutionary sexual values.

A proper response to the sexual revolution also requires engaging--not ignoring--the best of contemporary thought, especially the best of contemporary secular thought. What visions of the human person and sex, of marriage and personal wholeness do today's thinkers advance? Exactly where and why do their ideas go wrong? The church needs to show that the truth is better than a lie. And that the truth can defeat all lies. I provide a philosophical defense of the truth in Truth Overruled, we need theologians to continue developing theological defenses.

In these efforts, we shouldn't discount the potential of slumbering Christian communities to wake up. It's easy to forget that, in 1973, the Southern Baptists were in favor of abortion rights and supported Roe v. Wade. Today they are at the forefront of the pro-life movement. Christians who are on the wrong side of the marriage debate today can change their minds if we help them.

The church's second task is to develop ministries for those who experience same-sex attraction and gender identity conflicts. Such persons, for whom fidelity to the truth about human sexuality requires special courage, need our loving attention. Pope Francis's description of the church as a field hospital after a battle is especially apt here.

These ministries are like the pro-life movement's crisis pregnancy centers. Abortion is sold as the most humane and compassionate response to an unplanned pregnancy. It's not. And pro-lifers' unprecedented grassroots response to women gives the lie to that claim. Likewise, those who believe the truth about marriage should be the first to walk with men and women dealing with same-sex attraction or gender identity conflicts, showing what a truly humane and compassionate response looks like. [...]

After all, the conjugal view of marriage--that it is inherently ordered to one-flesh union and hence to family life--defines the limits of marriage, leaving room for meaningful nonmarital relationships, especially deep friendships. This is liberating. The same-sex attracted, like everyone else, should have strong and fulfilling relationships. Marriage isn't the only relationship that matters. And as I explain in my new book, the conjugal view of marriage doesn't denigrate other relationships. Those who would redefine marriage as a person's most intense or deepest or most important relationship devalue friendship by implying that it's simply less: less meaningful, less fulfilling. The greatest of Justice Kennedy's errors may be his assertion that without same-sex marriage some people are "condemned to live in loneliness." His philosophy of marriage is anemic. And as our society has lost its understanding of marriage, it has suffered a corresponding diminution, even cheapening, of friendship.

We all need community, and those who for whatever reason never marry will know certain hardships that the married are spared. We should bring those left dry by isolation into other forms of community--as friends, fellow worshippers, neighbors, comrades in a cause, de facto members of our families, big siblings to our children, and regular guests in our homes.

To the extent that we fail to model Christian marriage we too are the problem.

Defining Marriage (Christopher Wolfe, July 15th, 2015, Public Discourse)

It is important to hold up the truth about marriage for everyone to see. The first step of explaining, defending, and teaching marriage is defining it.

Now that the Supreme Court has taken the decision about same-sex marriage out of the hands of the American people, those of us who believe in marriage have to think about the long-term effort to restore a true understanding of marriage in our nation.

The first step is to clarify what marriage is so that we can explain it to others in a coherent way. Although there is no one way to do this, there are fundamental elements that are a necessary part of any definition.

In this essay, I merely provide one definition of marriage. My goal here is not to "prove" that this is marriage (though I offer some thoughts on each condition), nor is it to engage in a refined academic analysis of the question. I simply want to offer a relatively succinct statement of what marriage is, so that ordinary people who want to defend marriage have a clear baseline from which to understand and respond to developments in our society.

When we say we are "defining" marriage, we are not saying that we choose to view marriage as being such-and-such, that this is what we want marriage to be. Marriage is not a conventional arrangement that society defines for itself. It is "pre-political"--it has a nature that is independent of human desires, beyond the reach of human modification. While some aspects of marriage may vary in different times and places, nevertheless, there are certain "non-negotiables," without which marriage would not be an intelligible institution distinct from ordinary contracts.

What is marriage? Here's my rough and ready definition: Marriage is a formal social/legal bond constituting a union of life, and particularly an exclusive sexual union, established by free consent, between one man and one woman, for life, oriented essentially toward the procreation and education of children and a life of faithful mutual support.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Why Can Ta-Nehisi Coates Get Away With Racial Slurs? (Daniel Payne, JULY 16, 2015, The Federalist)

[S]adly, at the outset of this piece, we are shown that Coates, for all the adulation he receives, is actually a remarkably narrow-minded and unpleasant person, as we find at the end of the article's third paragraph: "When people who are not black are interested in what I do, frankly, I'm always surprised," Coates said. "I don't know if it's my low expectations for white people or what."

It is entirely fashionable, of course, for progressives to speak sneeringly and dismissively of "white people." Coates is not the first person to evince such casual racism, and he will surely not be the last. Common as this low and ugly form of bigotry is, however, it's still a wonder people put up with it to the degree that we do.

Imagine, for a minute, if a white writer--for the sake of argument, say, a guy named Daniel Payne, at, say, a fictional publication called the Federalist--expressed surprise that "people who are not white" ever read his work: "I don't know if it's my low expectations for black people or what," he would remark. Would you be impressed at the jaded profundity of such a statement? Or would you think, "Gee, Daniel Payne sounds like a racist jerk?"

Your response would obviously and correctly be the latter. So it is worth wondering why we are willing to let a very visible, very popular writer like Coates off the hook for an identical statement. We have become used to leftists and liberals spouting off hateful remarks about "white people" for years, so much so that we've tricked ourselves into thinking such rhetoric is anything other than repulsive prejudice. It is why Coates can utter a perfectly racist declaration in a national news magazine and receive no flak for it whatsoever.

Sadly, Mr. Coates seems trapped in the late 60s/early 70s of his father and to want nothing more than to don the mantle of Radical Chic so he can Mau-Mau the Flak Catchers.


The Hard Truths of Ta-Nehisi Coates : After the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and the hopes of Barack Obama. (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, 7/12/15, NY Mag)

Coates was born in 1975 and grew up in Northwest Baltimore, in a sprawling family infused with black political consciousness. Paul Coates, who had briefly been a Black Panther and became a radical librarian and independent publisher, had seven children with four different women. Ta-Nehisi's mother, Cheryl, a schoolteacher, was the last.

Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's : ". . . It's a tricky business, integrating new politics with tried and true social motifs . . ." (Tom Wolfe, June 8, 1970, New York Magazine)

Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (Tom Wolfe)

Going downtown to mau-mau the bureaucrats got to be the routine practice in San Francisco. The poverty program encouraged you to go in for mau-mauing. They wouldn't have known what to do without it. The bureaucrats at City Hall and in the Office of Economic Opportunity talked "ghetto" all the time, but they didn't known any more about what was going on in the Western Addition, Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, the Mission, Chinatown, or south of Market Street than they did about Zanzibar. They didn't know where to look. They didn't even know who to ask. So what could they do? Well ... they used the Ethnic Catering Service ... right ... They sat back and waited for you to come rolling in with your certified angry militants, your guaranteed frustrated ghetto youth, looking like a bunch of wild men. Then you had your test confrontation. If you were outrageous enough, if you could shake up the bureaucrats so bad that their eyes froze into iceballs and their mouths twisted up into smiles of sheer physical panic, into shit-eating grins, so to speak--then they knew you were the real goods. They knew you were the right studs to give the poverty grants and community organizing jobs to. Otherwise they wouldn't know.

 There was one genius in the art of confrontation who had mau-mauing down to what you could term a laboratory science. He had it figured out so he didn't even have to bring his boys downtown in person. He would just show up with a crocus sack full of revolvers, ice picks, fish knives, switchblades, hatchets, blackjacks, gravity knives, straight razors, hand grenades, blow guns, bazookas, Molotov cocktails, tank rippers, unbelievable stuff, and he'd dump it all out on somebody's shiny walnut conference table. He'd say "These are some of the things I took off my boys last night ... I don't know, man ... Thirty minutes ago I talked a Panther out of busting up a cop ..." And they would lay money on this man's ghetto youth patrol like it was now or never ... The Ethnic Catering Service, the bureaucrats felt like it was all real. They'd say to themselves, "We've given jobs to a hundred of the toughest hard-core youth in Hunters Point. The problem is on the way to being solved." They never inquired if the bloods they were giving the jobs were the same ones who were causing the trouble. They'd say to themselves, "We don't have to find them. They find us" ... Once the Ethnic Catering Service was on the case, they felt like they were reaching all those hard-to-reach hard-to-hold hardcore hardrock blackrage badass furious funky ghetto youth

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Capitalism for the Rest of Us (JOSEPH R. BLASI, RICHARD B. FREEMAN and DOUGLAS L. KRUSE, JULY 17, 2015, NY Times)

Capital's share of national income has risen, while labor's share has fallen -- even though it includes lavish compensation of executives who are paid disproportionately through stock grants, options and bonuses. To restore prosperity for all, we need to spread the benefits of economic growth to entrepreneurial citizens through profit-sharing and the ownership of capital. This isn't some radical notion; it has a long tradition in America.

Many of the founders believed that the best economic plan for the republic was for citizens to own land, which was then the main form of productive capital. [...]

The United States already has more extensive profit-sharing and employee share ownership than many other advanced economies. In the European Union in 2010, fewer than 10 percent of workers own company stock and fewer than 30 percent have profit-sharing (except Sweden, where the figure is 36 percent).

In the United States last year, close to 20 percent of private-sector employees owned stock, and 7 percent held stock options, in the companies where they worked, while about one-third participated in some kind of cash profit-sharing and one-fourth in gain-sharing (when workers get additional compensation based on improvement on a metric other than profits, like sales or customer satisfaction). An exemplar was Southwest Airlines, which paid $355 million of its more than $1 billion in corporate profits last year to union and nonunion workers and managers, on top of salaries.

Our research found that these programs, when combined with worker participation in solving problems, and increased training and job security, raise productivity and benefit workers. In every year, about half the winners in Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For have some type of broad-based profit or gain-sharing or stock ownership for regular workers. Google, Intel and Starbucks all have broad-based stock grants or options for their employees. Wegmans has profit-sharing. W. L. Gore, the maker of Gore-Tex, and Publix Super Markets, which operates in the Southeast, are owned by employee stock ownership plans, wherein a workers' trust typically borrows money to buy shares that are paid out of company revenues.

Some scholars have worried that employee-share ownership is too risky when workers buy the stock with their wages or 401(k) retirement savings; Enron is the classic example. We agree. We favor only ownership policies that emphasize grants of stock (as in the case of employee stock-ownership plans), restricted stock (which has to be held on to for a certain period of time, incentivizing workers to stay) or stock options.

Even setting aside the literal focus on building capital universally, such plans depend on maximizing corporate proficts.  This is what's left of the Left at the End of History, putting Hillary to the right of every president but her husband and W.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Does the government subsidize low-wage employers? (Gary Burtless, 7/14/15, Brookings)

Three months ago a California think tank published a tabulation of the federal and state dollars that boost the incomes of Americans who work but earn so little they qualify for government aid. The authors of the report as well as many readers seemed shocked by cost of the aid. Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education estimated that the national and state governments paid out $153 billion in 2013 to finance health benefits, food stamps, and cash assistance to people in families containing a breadwinner who works at least part time and at least half the year.

A remarkable feature of the reaction to the report is that many readers interpreted the government aid dollars to represent a subsidy to low-wage employers. According to this view, government assistance to low-income families constitutes a handout to Walmart, McDonalds, and other low-wage employers. The assistance allows these companies to pay their workers lower wages than would be possible in the absence of the government aid.

For the majority of programs analyzed by the Berkeley researchers, this interpretation of government assistance payments is flatly wrong. Instead of subsidizing low-wage employers, most assistance programs reduce the availability of low-skill adults who are willing to work for low pay and lousy benefits. By shrinking the pool of workers willing to take the worst jobs, the programs tend to push up rather than push down wages at the bottom of the pay scale. Low-wage employers do not receive an indirect subsidy from the programs. Many must pay somewhat higher wages or recruit more intensively to fill their job vacancies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once : The calming, new-idea-free zone will be open around the clock to comfort students who have read or heard opinions that are at odds with their preexisting worldview. (The Onion, July 15, 2015)

In an effort to provide sanctuary for Lynnfield College students exposed to perspectives different from their own, a new campus safe space was dedicated Wednesday in honor of Alexis Stigmore, a 2009 graduate who felt kind of weird in class one time.

Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The Door to Iran Opens (Roger Cohen, JULY 16, 2015, NY Times)

Iran, at 36 years from its theocratic revolution, is a repressive but pragmatic power under an aging leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose conduct in the talks saw his anti-American instincts counterbalanced by understanding of a reform imperative. Iran is finely poised between a tough old guard forged in revolution and its aspirational, Westward-looking youth. A decade is a long time in societies in transition. It is far better to have deep American-Iranian differences -- over Hezbollah, over Syria, over regional Shiite irredentism, over Iran's vile anti-Israel outbursts -- addressed through dialogue rather than have Iran do its worst as pariah.

This accord has the merit of condemning the United States and Tehran to a relationship -- however hostile -- over the next 15 years. The Middle East, several of its states irremediably fractured, needs a new security framework. This will take years. But to imagine it could ever be fashioned without Iran's involvement is fantasy. Meanwhile, the West and Iran have a common enemy: the medieval slaughterers of Islamic State. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Loch Ness Monster hunter hooked on catfish theory (AFP, 18 July 2015)

Steve Feltham, who holds a Guinness World Record for the longest continuous Nessie vigil, says it is the most probable explanation for the enigmatic beast that has captivated people's imaginations the world over.

"The current frontrunner is the Wels catfish. It's the most likely explanation," the 52-year-old told AFP.

"I'm not saying it's the final explanation. It ticks most of the boxes with sightings - but it doesn't tick them all." [...]

He said in the early years of his vigil, there would be up to a dozen good sightings per year, but now there might only be one.

"Whatever Nessie turns out to be, it is dwindling. We are looking for the last one or two now," he said.

The reduced good sightings might be explained by technology - with the pixel resolution on digital cameras, modern amateur Nessie hunters' pictures could be shown to be boat waves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


HOW TRUMP MAY ULTIMATELY HELP BUSH : Though he attacks the former governor, Trump is actually dividing the voters whom Bush's rivals need.  (Ronald Brownstein, 7/17/15, National Journal)

The paradox of Donald Trump's bombastic presidential campaign is that his rise may ultimately benefit the rival he has attacked most vociferously.

With his rambling and belligerent speech in Phoenix last Saturday, Trump signaled again that on the sprawling list of targets that inspire his antagonism, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ranks near the bulls-eye. "If you people go with Bush," Trump insisted flatly during the speech, "you are going to lose."

And yet, while he is creating some risks for the nominal front-runner, many Republican analysts predict that Trump eventually could prove more asset than obstacle to Bush's bid for the party nomination. "If you were a total evil-conspiracy theorist, you'd think the Trilateral Commission got Trump to run because ... it helps Jeb more than anybody," says longtime Republican strategist David Carney.

Every time an opponent calls Jeb too moderate to be the nominee, they drive home the point to voters that he's exactly moderate enough to be president of the United States. It's particularly useful among voters who misunderstand W's presidency and believe it to have been rightwing, rather than conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Taxing churches is a form of religious persecution -- and liberals need to stand against it (Damon Linker, July 13, 2015, The Week)

Conservatives will almost certainly oppose any effort to eliminate tax exemptions for churches. And liberals have every reason to join them in opposition.

Since 1954, section 508c of the Internal Revenue Code has stipulated that churches are automatically tax-exempt under section 503c3 as non-profit enterprises. That's why, legally, they don't have to pay federal income taxes, why those who donate money to churches are allowed to deduct those donations from their own taxable income, and why states and municipalities typically mirror these federal exemptions. The rationale behind granting such exemptions to non-profits (including churches) is that they are presumed to contribute to the common good in ways that for-profit enterprises do not, by engaging in charitable and philanthropic activities.

But it's important to recognize that the tax exemption for churches goes back much further than 1954, and even before the imposition of the permanent federal income tax in 1913. Churches have been exempt from paying taxes from the beginning of the country, and long before the law or any government agency recognized them as "non-profit" organizations. Churches were exempted because they were presumed to play the vitally important social role -- a role essential to self-government -- of inculcating moral virtue in citizens.

That might sound quaint to our cynical, hyper-modern ears. Some of the most secular among us may even think that this thumb on the scale in favor of encouraging faith smacks of the government "establishing" religion.

But of course the First Amendment doesn't just preclude a religious establishment. It also protects religious "free exercise," and it is on those grounds that the elimination of tax exemptions for churches should be opposed by all Americans, liberal and conservative alike.

...it would not be inappropriate for all non-profits/churches to pay such taxes.
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Greece's leftist government pledges privatization push; experts doubt 50B euro goal reachable (ALAN CLENDENNING, 7/18/15, Associated Press)

Work was supposed to begin next year on a 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) waterfront urban renewal project almost twice the size of New York's Central Park that could have poured nearly a billion euros into Greece's depleted coffers. The plans stalled late last year after the far-left Syriza party took power and promised to halt attempts at putting the private sector in control of state assets, both on ideological grounds and because leaders believe rampant corruption must be addressed before any sell-off.

Now, in an attempt to get a third European bailout and prevent the Greek economy from collapsing, the ruling party has done an about-face. It has pledged to fast-track the waterfront project, plus sell government assets and allow for private development of state-owned property, all to generate cash that will help reduce Greece's 320-billion-euro national debt and pay back money lent by European nations to prop up ailing banks.

Experts say the goal set by Greece's European counterparts for the country to raise 50 billion euros in privatizations and private use of state property is probably impossible -- but that Greece must make a better effort than it has in the past.

Always fun to watch the rarely elected Leftist government kick against the End of History futilely before conceding.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Living Near A Lot Of Trees Makes You Feel 7 Years Younger (And $10,000 Richer) (Adele Peters, 7/17/15, Co.exist)

A new study found that living on a street with 10 more trees than average (both on the street and in people's yards) makes you feel as healthy as if you were seven years younger--or as if you were making an extra $10,000 a year.

Researchers already knew that living around green spaces makes people happier, safer, and that greenery can help reduce diseases like asthma by sucking up pollution. But the new study goes deeper to examine the benefits tree by tree.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Iran Nuclear Deal Is a Win for Rouhani. What's Next? (HALEH ESFANDIAR, 7/17/15, WSJ)

Cynics said President Hassan Rouhani would turn out to be yet another bombastic politician who fails to deliver. The deal is a considerable achievement for Mr. Zarif and Mr. Rouhani, who staked his presidency on the negotiations' success. During his first two years in office, President Rouhani spoke about the need to rein in Iran's morals policy and security agencies, give more freedom to students on university campuses, stop official interference with the Internet, and reduce the Revolutionary Guards' outsize role in the economy. But these issues took a back seat. While prioritizing the negotiations, he has failed to secure freedom for numerous journalists, female activists, and other political prisoners. He has left the Revolutionary Guards to pursue their economic activities. Leaders of the opposition Green Movement remain under house arrest. Talk of easing tensions with Saudi Arabia went unfulfilled. President Rouhani's approach has been to get crippling sanctions lifted as part of a nuclear deal, revive Iran's economy, create jobs, and build confidence in the West-all as a basis to address the other issues.

Mr. Rouhani remained determined, and he was adept at outmaneuvering critics. He defended the framework agreement announced in April against fierce opposition. He managed to transfer authority for approval of the final agreement from parliament, where he faces much opposition, to the Supreme National Security Council, where he has greater control. He faced down hard-liners in influential right-wing media outlets such as the newspaper Kayhan and the Web site Raja News, which faulted the Lausanne framework and deemed the final accord no cause for celebration. He understood when to reply to naysayers and when to ignore them. He took on serious critics in parliament, but he ignored one of his predecessors, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who reacted to the deal by quoting a hadith from the seventh-century Imam Ali that one should be "deeply afraid of your enemy when s/he reaches out to you in peace and compromise." [...]

President Rouhani still has much to do. He needs Iranians to be patient: Sanctions will be lifted only gradually, and it will take time for oil production and exports to increase, for Iran's foreign assets to be unfrozen, for foreign investment to flow in, and for the economy to improve. Perhaps, after those issues are in motion, he will fulfill his other election promises and find ways to rein in the security agencies and judiciary, to ease political controls, to give more freedom to Iranians, and address other issues generating friction between Iran, its Arab neighbors, and the West.

July 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Immigrant-Bashers Will Lose the Evangelical Vote (RUSSELL MOORE And  SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ, July 16, 2015, WSJ)

The two of us don't know a single evangelical voter, of any ethnicity, who is supporting Donald Trump. That is due to many factors, including his revolving-door marriages and past support for abortion. But candidates who actually have a shot at winning the presidency should understand: Immigrant-bashing offends not only Hispanic people, but also their Anglo, African-American and Asian-American fellow Christians.

The typical immigrant is not likely, statistically speaking, to be a rapist or a murderer. But he or she is quite likely to be a Bible-believing Christian. A Pew Research study found that about one in four American evangelicals is nonwhite, up from 19% in 2007. That growth is driven in large part by immigrants and their children. For evangelicals, immigrants aren't merely a political issue, they are the families in the next pew. The church of Jesus Christ is a household: When our brothers and sisters are maligned, the whole body of Christ suffers with them.

And while news media fixated on Mr. Trump's speech to a few thousand people in Phoenix last weekend, an estimated 60,000 people gathered in New York to hear the gospel preached by Luis Palau, a Hispanic immigrant. The event was supported by 1,700 local churches, most of them Hispanic-led and many of them Spanish-speaking. New York, thought of as a stronghold of secularism, is a place where Christianity is thriving, fueled primarily by immigrant congregations that believe the whole Bible and preach the gospel of redemption through the blood of Christ.

Where we agree with Mr. Trump is that the immigration system isn't tough enough on dangerous lawbreakers. That is because a "don't ask, don't tell" system doesn't allow us to know who is here with dangerous intent, and who is here trying to provide for his family. This system rewards businesses that want to exploit workers, but robs the government of the power to do exactly what God commands governments to do--to punish evildoers (Romans 13:1-5).

This is why we've supported reforms to secure borders, require employers to comply with the law, and welcome legal immigration. Immigrants in this country unlawfully, whether they overstayed a visa or crossed a border, should be required to face serious consequences to make amends. This is hardly the free grace of "amnesty." Those with criminal offenses should be deported immediately. The immigrants who stay should include only those who contribute to society and are willing to work at restitution for laws broken. About seven in 10 evangelicals back these reforms, according to a survey released in February by LifeWay Research.

Evangelicals don't all agree on how to fix the system. Even the two of us disagree on President Obama's executive action on immigration. But all of us agree that every human being is made in the image of God, with inherent dignity. Those who see immigrants as easy targets for scaremongering will find that they will lose more than the Hispanic vote; they also will lose those who sing, maybe in different languages, from the same hymnbook.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


The Greatness of Eva Brann : Review: Eva Brann, 'Then and Now' (Aaron MacLean  , July 17, 2015, Free Beacon)

The latest, Then and Now--a linked pair of essays on Herodotus and conservatism--shows no sign that Brann, nearing her 90th year, is losing it, though it does provide abundant evidence that she still doesn't care very much for modish thought. Indeed, as undergrads, I think we missed the fact that she never really had. Brann is comfortable writing seriously about things like national character, national or ethnic "types," and even the relative greatness of nations. Considering that the consensus of today's universities holds the concept of a "nation" to be a false if not a dangerous category, it's safe to say that Brann's politics are not exactly in the academic mainstream.

Brann's habits of thought are also not in that mainstream, which tends to wash scholars downriver into delta swamps of hyper-specialization. In Brann's essay on Herodotus, one encounters asides on how Fitzgerald cribbed the diction of the story of Kleisthenes for use in The Great Gatsby; the relevance of the Histories to Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians" and to the argument of Federalist 63; and explanatory recourse to Euler diagrams. The cleverness of these leaps of association may remind some readers of other postmodern polymaths like Guy Davenport, though Brann is less ostentatiously pedantic, and working on a somewhat deeper level of analysis.

Also out of the ordinary is Brann's prose. Sometimes the English language fails her--not in the sense that she doesn't know how to use it, but in the sense that the diction and syntax available off the shelf in 2015 can't express exactly the meaning she is after. So we get unconventionally cobbled-together or dismantled words, and sentences that can require attention in order to appreciate their elegance. There is a strong sense of personality here, a "unique voice," to use a non-unique formula, that is forceful, witty, and modest. It can also seem to be, at times--gods of the Great Books, forgive me--a bit flirty. Of the dashing rogue Themistocles, hero of the Battle of Salamis, Brann writes:

So this Athenian Odysseus is like his model not only in being a versatile man "of many turns" ... but also, as the Homeric Odysseus never met a woman he couldn't (and wouldn't) charm, yet was, even in his wanderings, true husband only to one, Penelope, so Themistocles, who could make himself useful anywhere (and did), was a true citizen of Athens to the last.

Hollywood romcoms have been produced on flimsier premises.

Brann suggests that Herodotus was engaged in a self-conscious competition with Homer over whether epic poetry, or a newer form of human inquiry into the past--dubbed "history" by Herodotus--was superior. Herodotus' new genre was more-or-less equal parts travel writing, investigation into what today we would call "historical causes," narrative non-fiction, and anthropology. In Brann's telling, it can sound a great deal like journalism.

What Herodotus' book was not, she argues, was haphazardly cobbled together. Resisting another trend of modern scholarship--the tendency to assume inattention or inadequacy on the part of authors, and to seek philological explanations for difficulties in the text--Brann makes a case for the necessity of Herodotus' extended descriptions of Egypt and Scythia as central to his project: the showing-forth of the greatness of Greece, and especially of Athens, through demonstrating what Greece and Athens are not. Brann, who in her youth at St. John's worked under the influence of Jacob Klein, a friend and peer of Leo Strauss, tends towards the syncretic in her interpretations, which tend to leave the reader feeling inspired and edified at their conclusion. A critic might point out that this sort of thing runs the risk of turning interpretation into poetry.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Minimum Wage or Living Income? (Robert Skidelsky, 7/16/15, Project Syndicate)

[E]ven if the minimum wage were raised sufficiently to offset the withdrawal of tax credits, transferring more of the cost of labor from taxpayers to employers would be the wrong strategy. The reason is that for many - perhaps most - people, work will be a declining source of income.

After all, one prediction on which we can confidently rely is that automation will make increasingly large inroads into the world of human work. Up to 50% of existing jobs may be at risk in the next 20 years. It is at least an open question whether enough new jobs can be found to replace them, or, indeed, whether it is desirable to continue producing more and more products simply to provide human employment at ever shrinking wages.

As robots increasingly replace human labor, humans will need incomes to replace wages from work. Whereas tax credits point in the direction of replacement incomes, raising the minimum wage points in the opposite direction, by making income more dependent on jobs. In fact, focusing on the minimum wage would almost certainly speed up the automation process. Previous evidence that minimum-wage legislation does not reduce the demand for labor might not stand up against the rapidly falling cost of automating the production of goods and services.

In short, if Osborne is serious about his pledge to provide a "living income" for all, he should be moving toward the idea of a "basic" or "citizen's" income, independent of the job market. A simple way forward would be to provide all citizens an unconditional tax credit, which could be built up gradually as the rewards from work fall.

Both free-market and socialist thinkers have long advocated implementing a basic-income scheme. But the idea has always fallen foul of two objections: societies are too poor to afford it, and it would be a disincentive to work.

The first objection is surely no longer true of the advanced economies, while the second is irrelevant, given that the goal is not to strengthen the incentive to work, but to enable people to live without work. An unconditional basic income would make part-time work a possibility for many who now have to work full-time at non-living wages. And all workers would begin to gain the freedom to make the same choices regarding how much to work, and under what conditions, that owners of substantial capital now have.

We want business to maximize profits for redistribution purposes, so raising their labor costs artificially makes no sense.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White (David Brooks, 7/17/15, NY Times)

Dear Ta-Nehisi Coates, [...]

I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?

If I do have standing, I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy's decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There's a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children's Zone for every K.K.K. -- and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

In your anger at the tone of innocence some people adopt to describe the American dream, you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie. The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

This dream is a secular faith that has unified people across every known divide. It has unleashed ennobling energies and mobilized heroic social reform movements. By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future.

The point of hyperbole like Mr. Coates's is, of course, to force precisely the exercise that Mr. Brooks engages in here, questioning whether he even has the "standing" to disagree and asking permission to do so. It is an attempt to preclude discussion, to so completely claim a moral highground that only you can legitimize those who disagree with you, if you so deign.  

Suffice it to say, that's not an exercise we need submit ourselves to. 

It strikes me that there are two main objections to the arguments or Mr. Coates that Mr. Brooks presents in his column:

(1) Without in any way meaning to diminish how terribly blacks were treated in America (mostly but not exclusively in the South), we must nonetheless note that Mr. Coates wildly overestimates the importance of the black experience in America.  Not only is America not built on slavery and Jim Crow, but had they never existed America would not be appreciably different, as witness Australia, Canada, England, etc.

(2) Thomas Sowell has written about the differences in social achievement between blacks who are descended from slaves and blacks who immigrated here.  Haitians and Africans succeed at the same rate as white immigrants from Europe.  It is, therefore, not really accurate to talk about a generic black experience of America.  There is, instead, something peculiar about the slavery/post-slavery experience. And the difference between these groups suggests the necessity for a far more complex discussion than the one Mr. Coates wants to to have, which is not unlikely why he doesn't want to have one in the first place.

The radical chic of Ta-Nehisi Coates : The author of "Between the World and Me" is a must-read among liberal elites. Does that undercut his argument? (Carlos Lozada July 16, 2015, Washington Post)

With his 2014 Atlantic cover essay on "The Case for Reparations," which explores the brutal U.S. history of redlining and housing discrimination, and now with the critical rapture surrounding his new book, "Between the World and Me," he has become liberal America's conscience on race. "Did you read the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates piece?" is shorthand for "Have you absorbed and shared the latest and best and correct thinking on racism, white privilege, institutional violence and structural inequality?" If you don't have the time or inclination or experience to figure it out yourself, you outsource it to Ta-Nehisi Coates. [...]

And the audience is rapt. "Between the World and Me is, in important ways, a book written toward white Americans, and I say this as one of them," writes Slate critic Jack Hamilton. "White Americans may need to read this book more urgently and carefully than anyone, and their own sons and daughters need to read it as well."

In one of the earliest assessments, New Yorker editor David Remnick described "Between the World and Me" as an "extraordinary" book and likened Coates to James Baldwin. (Actually, everyone else has, too.) Reviewers have hailed it as "a classic of our time" (Publishers Weekly), "something to behold" (The Washington Post), "a love letter written in a moral emergency" (Slate) and "precisely the document this country needs right now" (the New Republic). This is more than admiration. It is an affirmation of enlightenment. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott went as far as one could go, calling Coates's writing  "essential, like water or air." Yes, we cannot live without Ta-Nehisi Coates.

What does such veneration -- especially from a news media that Coates has attacked as indifferent to black America or inclined to view black America as a criminal justice problem -- mean for Coates's arguments about the enduring influence of white supremacy? Does the praise disprove him, or to the contrary, does it only suggest that, in an age when liberal elites line up to lament their white privilege, the structures of inequality are resilient enough to accommodate, even glorify, this most radical critic?

In his 2009 memoir, "The Beautiful Struggle," Coates tells the story of his childhood in West Baltimore and his relationship with his father, "Conscious Man," a librarian and ex-Black Panther, publisher of obscure black texts, father of seven children by four women, but a man who "never shirked when his bill came due." He sought to instill consciousness in the young Ta-Nehisi, awareness of a community's historical struggle. "He covered the crib with Knowledge, until rooms overflowed with books whose titles promised militant action and the return to glory," Coates wrote of his father. The son absorbed the lessons, listening to Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" on his Walkman, becoming "a plague" on his father's books. "My Consciousness grew, until I was obsessed with having been birthed in the wrong year," Coates wrote in the earlier memoir. "All the great wars had been fought, and I was left to rummage through the myths of my fathers."

Coates has found his new wars, mainly by realizing that the old ones never really went away. And now "Between the World and Me" seeks to impart that consciousness not just to his son but to all of us: that the violence done to black Americans is not accidental but by design, "the product of democratic will"; that white America's dream of nice houses, good schools and Memorial Day cookouts is built on centuries of plunder of African American bodies, through lynching and redlining, bullets and chokeholds; and that "sentimental firsts"-- the first black this or that -- are little consolation. "Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free," he writes.

The more radical Coates's critique of America, the more tightly America embraces him. Challengers are soon shouted down, whether Politico's Byers or New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, who last year debated Coates in a series of thoughtful posts on culture, poverty and personal responsibility, and was deemed the loser. Those who posit any shortcomings in Coates's analysis -- as when Buzzfeed's Shani O. Hilton argued that in his worldview, "the black male experience is still used as a stand in for the black experience" -- do so almost lovingly. Even conservative critics, such as National Review's Kevin D. Williamson, must spend nearly as much time extolling Coates as tackling his arguments, or like Shelby Steele in a painful appearance on ABC's "This Week," they seem to capitulate even before the battle has been joined.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Steyin' alive : REVIEW : The (Un)documented Mark Steyn by Mark Steyn (James Allan 18 July 2015

What are the odds that one of the world's best political commentators happens to be an expert on the songs of Cole Porter? Or that he knows more about Frank Sinatra's singing than all of Australia's commentariat put together? Or that this same person happens to be funny, and I mean fall on the ground, laugh-out-loud funny? So funny that he can be writing about something catastrophic - the rapid decline of Western civilization, say, or the creeping lack of will across the West's political class to defend freedom of speech (are you listening Tony Abbott and George Brandis?) - and yet do so in a way that will make you laugh until tears run down your face.

I refer, of course, to Mark Steyn. Hugh Hewitt, the American talk show host, describes Steyn as 'columnist to the world'.   That is because Steyn has written for outlets in the UK (think the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the world's and Australia's best weekly, as all those reading this review will agree, The Speccie). He's written for US publications (think National Review, think Wall Street Journal, think the Atlantic, and more). He's written for Canada's National Post and its main weekly Macleans. Heck, the man appears every now and again in the Australian.

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Iran comes out of the cold : A momentous day for Iran as it signs a nuclear deal with America that may yet transform the Middle East (The Economist, Jul 18th 2015)

 The normally perfunctory state television and radio gave live coverage to the closing days of the arduous negotiation in Vienna. And when the deal was signed, it broadcast not only the comments of the suave, ever-smiling foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, but also those of Barack Obama, the American president. The message was clear: sanctions and diplomatic isolation were coming to an end.

The interior ministry, usually suspicious of uncontrolled crowds, declared the streets open for celebrations. Revellers danced past midnight. Even outside the old American embassy, the "den of spies" that had been taken over by students after the Iranian revolution in 1979, people sounded their horns. "This is the end of 'death to America', and the start of a rapprochement," said a Tehran-based analyst, Ramin Mostaghim, who joined the crowds.

All sides in the negotiation insist that the accord is limited to resolving the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme, at least temporarily. But all believe it is about much more than uranium-enrichment centrifuges and the modalities of inspections, important as these may be (see article). The potential to normalise relations between Iran and America, embittered since the revolution, could change the balance of power in the Middle East, transform America's role and, perhaps, change the course of Iran's politics. [...]

The most obvious consequence will be economic. Unlike its richer Gulf neighbours, Iran is not an oil-soaked rentier state, but a regional power with an industrial economy and lots of educated people who work.

Alone in the Gulf, it manufactures (and even exports) its own cars. For all its petrodollars, Saudi Arabia could not match Iran's nuclear programme without outside help. Mismanagement under the hardline former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as corruption, sanctions and the collapse in oil prices, have shrunk economic output from $248 billion in 2011 to $231 billion in 2014 (in constant 2005 dollars); export revenues have fallen by a third in the same period. Yet isolation has also fostered self-reliance. When Peugeot, a French carmaker, withdrew as a result of sanctions Iran engineered its own (cheap but substandard) parts. Iran's largest petrochemicals manufacturer boasts 44,000 employees, all of them Iranian.

For most Iranians, the nuclear deal offers the promise of prosperity. Under its terms, the world would unfreeze over $100 billion in assets and let Iran sell its oil worldwide. Iran predicts it will be able to double its oil exports within six months. The harshest sanctions will not be eased until early next year, after the international inspectors verify Iran's compliance. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has set a target of 8% average annual growth for the next five years, up from its current 2.5% (see chart). Some Western diplomats and financiers in Tehran reckon that, within a decade, Iran's GDP might surpass that of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the regional economic powerhouses.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Study Questions Radiation Use for 'Low-Risk' Prostate Cancers (Robert Preidt, 7/17/15, HealthDay)

The researchers found that every incremental increase in radiation dose was associated with a 7.8 percent decline (for those with medium-risk cancer) and 6.3 percent decline (for high-risk cancer) in the rate of death for the men from any cause.

However, the equation changed when it came to men with slower growing, "low-risk" prostate tumors. In those cases, using a higher dose of radiation made no difference in survival rates, according to the study published July 16 in JAMA Oncology.

The researchers noted that low-risk prostate cancer was the most common type of prostate cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2014, affecting about 150,000 men.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Ian Bremmer on why the Iran deal is about much more than nuclear weapons (Ezra Klein, July 14, 2015, Vox)

Ian Bremmer: [I] think there are a lot of upsides for the United States that have less to do with the nuclear arrangements themselves than with the nature of a deal with Iran. No one is really talking about this, but the Iranians will be producing, I would say, at least another million barrels of oil on the market by the end of 2016 under this deal. That means prices are going down. That really hurts OPEC, it really hurts the Saudis, but it's an unmitigated good for the US!

And it's not just oil. Iran has a pretty diversified economy. They have 80 million people, they manufacture cars, they have a service sector. This is a country the international community is going to want to invest a lot in. That's an upside.

I wrote about this in my book The J Curve, but one of the ways you open countries is by removing sanctions and investing. This is why Kim Jong Un doesn't want sanctions removed from his country. If North Korea became a functioning part of the international system, his regime would fall pretty quickly. Iran's theocrats also know how dangerous this is. If Iranian expats begin going back to Iran, and Western investment starts flowing in, the likelihood that over a longer period of time the Iranian government opens a little and maybe a lot is much greater.

Now, if you're Obama, you can't make the arguments for regime change and oil, because they're not politically correct, but if you're actually thinking about the impact of the deal over the long term, I think it's fairly clear you'd rather have this deal than not if you're America.

July 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


The Best Way to End Homelessness : The first-ever large-scale study on the topic finds that permanent, stable housing can be more cost-effective than shelters. (ALANA SEMUELS  JUL 11, 2015, The Atlantic)

Now a rigorous report, the first large-scale experiment ever conducted to test the effectiveness of homelessness interventions for families, might have some clues about how to create meaningful change. The Family Options Study is a three-year-long evaluation of three types of ways to help homeless families, conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Abt Associates and Vanderbilt University. It looks at 12 communities throughout a variety of U.S. cities--including Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Honolulu--and involves 2,300 homeless families. The findings so far--the study is currently at its midway point--suggest some solutions for reducing homelessness and improving the lives of low-income families, even those who are currently housed.

"This is an incredibly exciting study," said Kathy O'Regan, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research. "I think this is influencing the work we do immediately and in the future. You don't have that many studies where you say that early on."

The research is following families who were given different types of housing assistance. The first group received a Housing Choice Voucher (commonly known as Section 8), which provided them with a subsidy for permanent housing. The second group was given temporary rental assistance for housing in the private market, an option known in the housing world as rapid rehousing. The third group received time-limited housing in a setting that included services like medical assistance and counseling. The fourth group received the usual type of interventions that a homeless family would be given, such as some time in emergency shelters and whatever housing assistance they can find on their own.

After 18 months, families using the Housing Choice Vouchers are doing much better than those who received traditional interventions. Children in the families that were given vouchers moved schools much less frequently than they otherwise would have. These families spent less time in shelters, parents had fewer health problems and lower incidences of domestic violence, and they were mentally more stable than those who received typical interventions.

The Abolitionist : Bush's homelessness czar has some new ideas. Will liberals listen? (DOUGLAS MCGRAY, JUNE 2004, The Atlantic)

With his dark tailored suits and his silver banker's coif, Philip Mangano looks like a liberal Democrat's idea of a conservative Republican's idea of an advocate for the poor--which, as the Bush Administration's homelessness czar, he happens to be. It is difficult to imagine Mangano fasting on the Capitol steps in a ratty Army-surplus jacket, as the late activist for the homeless Mitch Snyder once did, much less winning over the bleeding hearts in the nonprofit world by promising to apply the President's governing philosophy to their cause. But the latter is precisely what he does. "Any investment we make will be research-and-data-driven, performance-based, and results-oriented," I heard him declare on a cold March morning in New York City, to a gathering of social workers and housing advocates. It is something he has said again and again.

Mangano's message is as pure an example as can be found in government of "compassionate conservatism," which argues that traditionally liberal social concerns can be advanced through such conservative principles as responsibility and accountability. Though this was the centerpiece of George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, the "compassion agenda" heralded in the President's inaugural address seemed to dissolve in the face of partisanship, underfunding, and an all-consuming foreign policy. What was once a unifying theme is now likely to be invoked by his rival as evidence of Bush's hollowness. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds?" John Kerry recently asked an audience in Jackson, Mississippi, quoting from the Book of James. Mangano is nevertheless making a compelling case for compassionate conservatism in an unlikely field.

Widespread street homelessness is a relatively recent problem, at least in the modern era. It began to appear in the late 1970s, when the economy tanked, affordable housing began to disappear, and state hospitals, prodded by patients'-rights activists, released hundreds of thousands of the mentally ill into communities unprepared to receive them. Temporary shelters sprang up in church basements and neighborhood centers to address what was expected to be a short-term crisis. But the problem of homelessness persisted, and improvised measures became entrenched. After years of government neglect the Clinton Administration finally responded by tripling funding for programs to help the homeless and encouraging local organizations to offer a wide range of services, from counseling to health care. But, incredibly, the numbers of the homeless only increased. Today a patchwork of federal, state, city, and private money supports more than 40,000 programs--some cheap, others expensive; some staggeringly successful, others struggling; each with its own agenda; and few accountable for the work they perform. "We're trying to disrupt this ad hoc approach," Mangano says. "We're saying it needs to be strategic."

Homelessness is one of the few corners of public policy in which traditional liberal ideas have gone largely unchallenged. But Mangano believes that many professional activists, though well intentioned, have given up on ending homelessness. They have accepted the problem as intractable and fallen back on social work and handouts as a way to make broken lives more bearable. In doing so, he says, they have allowed "a certain amount of institutionalism" to take root. The Bush Administration proposes to solve the problem by beginning with the hardest cases: the 10 percent who are severe addicts or mentally ill, and consume half of all resources devoted to homeless shelters. Mangano believes that by moving these chronic cases into "supportive housing"--a private room or apartment where they would receive support services and psychotropic medications--the government could actually save money, and free up tens of thousands of shelter beds. The Bush Administration, spotting an opportunity to increase the return on its investment, is seeking to end chronic homelessness within ten years. Not only is this possible, Mangano insists, but it is common sense.

Bush Seeks to Remove Housing Voucher Cap (STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, 1/25/07, The Associated Press)

Up to 180,000 additional low-income families could get housing assistance under a proposal by President Bush to remove caps on the number of housing vouchers distributed by local agencies, Housing Secretary Aphonso Jackson said Thursday.

Bush, as part of his 2008 budget proposal, will offer a plan to free up unspent money already in the hands of local housing authorities by encouraging them to issue more vouchers that low-income families use to pay rent. Bush administration officials estimated that housing authorities across the country are sitting on more than $1 billion that they cannot spend because they have already issued the maximum number of Section 8 housing vouchers that they are allowed.

"The reforms proposed in the president's upcoming budget will create innovative solutions that could help 180,000 more families receive the housing assistance they need," said Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Because many housing authorities around the nation have been good stewards of the taxpayers dollars, we will be able to put a roof over the heads of more people in those communities."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Oklahoma City protesters greet Obama by waving Confederate flag (Peter Weber, 7/16/15, The Week)

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


One thing bugs Barbara Eden on 50-year 'Jeannie' anniversary (AOL, Jul 16th 2015)

Barbara Eden joined NBC Thursday morning for the 50th anniversary of "I Dream of Jeannie."

But the iconic show made one mistake in Eden's eyes: Major Nelson marrying Jeannie.

"She wasn't human. ... She thought she was and he knew she wasn't. ... It just ruined the show. ... I think it broke credibility," she explained.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Hillary Unveils 'Profit Sharing' Tax Plan (DANIEL HALPER, 7/16/15, Weekly Standard)

Today in New Hampshire, Clinton outlined one idea to address this key challenge: encouraging companies to share their profits with American workers. She outlined a key proposal to give workers the chance to share in the profits they help produce.

A Win-Win: Profit Sharing Is Good for Workers and Good for Business

Under profit-sharing arrangements, companies agree to distribute to workers a specified share of business profits. There is strong evidence that profit sharing is a win-win for both workers and business:

Profit sharing gives workers a stake in the company. Under profit-sharing arrangements, when a company does well, the workers share in the gains they helped produce. So when corporations see the type of near-record profits they have recently, not only would the executives and shareholders do well - the workers would too.

Profit sharing increases worker pay. Evidence shows that profit-sharing arrangements are linked with higher pay. If a worker is enrolled in a good profit-sharing plan, that could mean a raise of thousands of dollars.

For example, Professors Richard Freeman, Joseph Blasi, and Douglas Kruse of Harvard and Rutgers find "strong evidence" that profit sharing has "meaningful impacts on workers' wealth" because "[w]orkers with profit sharing or employee stock ownership are higher paid and have more benefits than other workers."

Profit sharing makes businesses more productive and innovative. Studies find that profit-sharing plans on the whole result in increased business productivity and innovation. This makes sense: when employees share in profits, they have a stronger stake in the company's success.

Profit sharing improves the workplace. Profit sharing has also been associated with other improvements in the workplace - including better employee training, lower employee turnover, and increased employee participation in decision-making. In fact, evidence suggests that profit-sharing leads workers to be more satisfied with their jobs overall.

Note that in order to maximize profit-sharing as a means of wealth redistribution requires that we help business to maximize profits in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


The Pixar Theory of Labor : To live is to work is to live. (James Douglas July 15, 2015, The Awl)

It is in the nature of modern capitalism that corporations, especially ones of a certain size and influence, glaze a veneer of enlightenment over a brutal, instrumental value system. This is why Facebook and Google go on worldwide fishing expeditions for new users, but frame it publicly as bringing the internet and opportunity to the developing world; it's why Whole Foods tells its customers they're helping to save the planet by buying organically farmed produce, but often neglects to specify how far that produce has been shipped. Pixar has created a stable of films for children that is founded on narratives of self-actualization--of characters branching out, embracing freedom, hitting personal goals, and living their best lives. But this self-actualization is almost exclusively expressed in terms of labor, resulting in a filmography that consistently conflates individual flourishing with the embrace of unremitting work.

Is there any other production house operating today that is more obsessed with narratives of the workplace and employment? The basic Pixar story is that of an individual seeking to establish, refine, or preserve their function as an instrument within a system of labor. The only way Pixar is able to conceptualize a protagonist is to assign them a job (or a conspicuous lack of one) and arrange the mechanisms of plot to ensure that they fulfill that job. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


The whole trip to Pluto cost less than 1 NFL stadium (Jeva Lange, 7/16/15, The Week)

[S]ending a probe to a planet so far away that it takes light five-and-a-half hours to reach is kind of on the cheap side! It cost $720 million to reach Pluto -- by contrast, the construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium will cost $1 billion, CBS reports. Metlife Stadium, in New York, cost $1.6 billion to build, and the world's most expensive stadium, Tokyo's forthcoming 2020 Olympic arena, could cost $2 billion (the Pluto trip was a mere 36 percent of the latter's cost). Further, the worldwide gross of Fast and Furious 7 made $800 million more than it cost to send a probe to the far reaches of our solar system (and even The Twilight Sage: Breaking Dawn Part 2 made $109 million more than New Horizons' entire budget).

July 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Why We Shouldn't Forget That Jesus Was a Jew : Claiming the golden key of understanding our faith (RUSSELL E. SALTZMAN, 7/15/15, Aleteia)

Christians owe much to the Jews. Worship, for instance. Synagogue worship at its root is the Christian service of the Word: scripture readings from a lectionary, hymns, prayers, and sermon. The sermon itself was a Jewish invention; there was nothing like in pagan practice. Early Christians took the synagogue service and to that added "the breaking of the bread." 

We owe the Jews the conception of canon, a standard set of scriptural texts for use in worship. From them we also acquired the anamnesis of the Eucharist from Passover. Just as the Mah Nishtanah (the four questions) of the Passover Haggadah makes every Jew a fellow traveler in exodus from Egypt, so the verba (Words of Institution in the Lord's Supper) places every Christian in the upper room with Jesus "on the night of his betrayal." 

We owe far less to the pagans than many, especially the critics of Christianity, popularly believe and far more to the Jews than many admit. Yet Christ makes no sense anywhere except within the context of Judaism. Church and synagogue belong close together. [...]

[R]ichard Hays' latest book makes a vibrant case that "Christian" makes no sense unless it is read backward, backward through the Jewish expectations of who and what and how the Messiah appears.

Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness is a series of six lectures delivered at Cambridge in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. His premise: To interpret the event of Jesus the gospel writers, all of them Jewish, were compelled to plumb their own Jewish scriptures to understand what had happened in that event. 

The New Testament is laced with somewhat cryptic references to this thing or another being done or said "in accordance with the scriptures." But to leave it at that is to miss the deep wealth of Jewish scriptural references found in the Gospels. By "reading backward" Hays finds in the four Gospels not only quotations from Jewish scripture sprinkled in the text―sometimes explicit, sometime not―that explain the Christ, but equally Jewish allusion, allegory, and metaphor, all rising from an awareness of Israel's call to be the light of the nations fulfilled in Christ.

Richard John Neuhaus, typically, explained the matter rather well in his essay, Salvation is from the Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Human Brain Has Nearly Ideal Network of Connections, Research Shows (Robert Preidt, July 15, 2015, HealthDay News) 

A new study examining why the human brain evolved the way it did could lead to new ways to treat brain disorders, researchers say.

The brain developed into its present form to speed transfer of information from one region of the brain to another, so people can perform at peak capacity, according to Dmitri Krioukov, an associate professor of physics at Northeastern University in Boston, and colleagues.

The investigators found that the brain's structure contains an almost perfect network of connections.


Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Why America's workforce is shrinking and Europe's isn't (Tami Luhby, 7/15/15, CNN Money)

Americans are dropping out of the labor market in droves while residents of Europe and other developed nations, many of which are economically troubled, are jumping in.

Since 2000, America's labor force has shrunk more than any other advanced nation's, even though the U.S. economy has fared better.

That "even though" is comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Arab world worried boosted Iran will further bloody region (ADAM SCHRECK AND LEE KEATH, July 15, 2015, AP)

The nuclear deal with Iran was met with a profound wariness in the Arab world, where concerns are widespread that the easing of its international isolation could tip the already bloody contest for power in the region toward Shiite-led Tehran.

As in every war America enters, the need in the WoT was to destabilize undemocratic regimes.  The great Shi'a power shared the goal, not least because Shi'a majorities were oppressed in the region.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Iran's Main Enemy Is Within (Robin Mills, 7/15/15, Bloomberg View)

Three pragmatic or reformist governments have held power since the revolution, headed by Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97), Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and Hassan Rouhani (since 2013). Each began with promising economic reforms and improvements in foreign relations, but Rafsanjani and Khatami ultimately failed, defeated by entrenched opposition within the regime. Rouhani could easily share their fate.

Success will depend on Rouhani's ability to ignite growth in the oil and gas sectors, which account for 22 percent of gross domestic product and 27 percent of the 2015-2016 budget (figures that will increase once full-scale oil exports resume). Even before Tuesday's deal on Iran's nuclear program triggered euphoria in the streets of Tehran, oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh had been laying the groundwork.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


The Mythical Connection Between Immigrants and Crime (JASON L. RILEY, July 14, 2015, WSJ)

[N]umerous studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants--regardless of nationality or legal status--are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated. A new report from the Immigration Policy Center notes that while the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled between 1990 and 2013 to more than 11.2 million, "FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48%--which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41%, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary."

A separate IPC paper from 2007 explains that this is not a function of well-behaved high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers. The data show that "for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants," according to the report. "This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population."

It also holds true in states with large populations of illegal residents. A 2008 report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that immigrants are underrepresented in the prison system. "The incarceration rate for foreign-born adults is 297 per 100,000 in the population, compared [with] 813 per 100,000 for U.S.-born adults," the study concludes. "The foreign-born, who make up roughly 35% of California's adult population, constitute 17% of the state prison population."

High-profile incidents, like the recent arrest of a Mexican national in the horrific shooting death of a young woman in San Francisco, can give the impression that immigrants are more likely to commit violent crimes. But the alleged killer is no more representative of Mexican immigrants than Dylann Roof is representative of white people. 

The whole "Silence on Steinle" humturum is indistinguishable from the "Black Lives Matter" shtick.
Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Iranians Party Into the Night as Khamenei Backs Accord (Golnar Motevalli and Ladane Nasseri, July 15, 2015, Bloomberg)

"Rouhani, Obama, congratulations!" some chanted in the streets in a rare public display of pro-U.S. sentiment. The two countries haven't had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution deposed the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was a U.S. ally.

Giti, a 48-year-old engineer who didn't want to give her surname because of sensitivity surrounding speaking to the foreign media, said young people are optimistic the deal will boost the economy and lead to better living and more jobs.

"I moved back from the U.S. three years ago and every business I've tried to set up has just hit a dead end, and I was thinking about going back," she said. "With the news today, I'm definitely staying."

Khamenei met with Rouhani on Tuesday evening and thanked the country's negotiators for their "sincere" and hard work, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The backing will likely strengthen the president, a moderate cleric, in the face of his hardline opponents. The deal will also meet resistance in the U.S. Congress, where lawmakers have 60 days to review it.

It was always amusing when the neocons thought the Grand Ayatollah would save them from the peace deal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Bernie Sanders Parrots the NRA (Cliff Schecter, 7/12/15, Daily Beast)

Bernie Sanders is the tell-it-like-it-is candidate of the left's dreams: He takes on "the billionaire class" and wants Medicare for all. Thousands are drawn to his unapologetically liberal (even democratic socialist) message at events in Iowa and New Hampshire. In both states he's closing in or even tied with Hillary Clinton in presidential polls.

So why on the issue of guns is he parroting wholly inane, sometimes racist talking points from the National Rifle Association?

The GOP could have taken him out in the '94 House race had they realized how big the wave was going to be.  Scared him out of gun-control towards the NRA line.

July 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Republicans seize on Planned Parenthood video (Jesse Byrnes, 7/14/15, The Hill)

The undercover video, which surfaced Tuesday morning, shows a woman identified as Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's senior director of medical services, describing in detail procedures to retrieve body parts.

"A lot of people want intact hearts these days, because they're looking for specific nodes," the woman says in the video released by The Center for Medical Progress, a self-described group of citizen journalists monitoring medical ethics. The video was reportedly recorded in July, 2014 by people posing as representatives from a fetal tissue procurement company.

"Yesterday was the first time she said people wanted lungs," the woman continues. "Some people want lower extremities too, which, that's simple. I mean that's easy."

"I don't know what they're doing with it. I guess they want muscle," the woman adds. "[W]e've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that." [...]

"Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does -- with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards," [Eric Ferrero, the group's vice president of communications] continued.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


The Insane Story Behind Trump's Deleted Nazi Tweet (Tim McDonnell, Jul. 14, 2015, Mother Jones)

Earlier today, Donald Trump tweeted out a campaign poster featuring what appeared to be men in Nazi uniforms, superimposed over the American flag. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Behind the Scenes with Dwight Eisenhower, Billy Graham, and the Makers of American Civil Religion : Kevin Kruse shows the surprising origins of "In God We Trust" and other mainstays of public piety. (John G. Turner, JULY 9, 2015, Christianity Today)

What Under God's book jacket describes as an "unholy alliance" succeeded, but only in part. This coalition of sometimes strange bedfellows helped elect Eisenhower (and later Richard Nixon and Reagan), but the genial man from the Abilene clapboard house ultimately had no interest in dismantling the New Deal. According to Eisenhower, those who attempted to scrap Social Security, unemployment insurance, and labor laws were "stupid." (Contemporary Republicans might be wise to take note).

Eisenhower did, however, preside over a vigorous assertion of the place of religion in public life. He prayed at his own inaugural, was baptized shortly after taking office, opened cabinet meetings with a time of usually silent prayer, and attended a National Prayer Breakfast organized by Abraham Vereide and Senator Frank Carlson (a Republican from Kansas).

With Eisenhower's support, Congress inserted "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance and placed "In God We Trust" on all currency. Very few Americans opposed such steps. Civil liberties groups were far more worried about the actions of Joseph McCarthy. Many Jews felt they could live with Eisenhower's vague public religiosity. Most Americans did not think the government's general promotion of religion conflicted with the separation of church and state. [...]

Most 19th-century and early-20th-century Americans would have affirmed that the United States was a "Christian nation," even if they would have disagreed bitterly about the meaning of that phrase. Nor were public displays of generic (or even Christian) religiosity new, though they took on new forms during the Eisenhower administration. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


700 million humans have moved out of deep poverty in the 21st century. Thank capitalism (James Pethokoukis, 7/14/15, AEI Ideas)

Some astonishing figures from Pew Research. From 2001 to 2011, nearly 700 million people globally moved out of poverty, meaning $2 a day or less. And the share of humans who are either poor or low income ($2.01 to $10.00 a day) fell to 71% from 79% as middle-income nearly doubled to 13% from 7%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The Electric Car (Geoff Ralston, 7/13/15)

The electric car is going to take over the world.  Soon.  Let me explain.

75% of US consumers and over 85% of US millennials own smartphones.  Perhaps more amazing is that 1/4 of people in the world use a smartphone today.  Ten years ago a prediction that this would be the future would have been met with scorn or laughter. In fact, in 2005 few if any of the futurists would have even been able to imagine the kind of device most of us now depend upon.  Naturally, the release of the iPhone in 2007 changed everything, but it is likely that the smartphone era was inevitable. Steve Jobs just ushered it in a few years early.

In June of 2012 Tesla released the Model S and the results will be equally transformative.   Current predictions of the future of electric cars are as wrong as any predictions about the future of mobile phones made in 2005.  It is likely that electric car penetration, at least in the US, will take off at an exponential rate over the next 5-10 years rendering laughable the paltry predictions of future electric car sales being made today [1].  

These predictions are so wrong because they misunderstand the pertinent forcing function. Their assumption is that electric car sales will slowly increase as the technology gets marginally better, and as more and more customers choose to forsake a better product (the gasoline car) for a worse, yet  "greener" version. This view of the future is, simply, wrong. The reason electric cars will take over our roads is because consumers will DEMAND them.  Electric cars will be better than any alternative, including the loud, inconvenient, gas-powered jalopy. The iPhone demonstrated that smartphones are infinitely better than the feature phones which dominated the world in 2007. The Tesla Model S has demonstrated that a well made, well designed electric car is far superior to anything else on the road. This has changed everything.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


The Shadow Commander : Qassem Suleimani is the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East. Now he's directing Assad's war in Syria. (DEXTER FILKINS, 9/30/13, The New Yorker)

Kneeling in the second row on the mosque's carpeted floor was Major General Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force's leader: a small man of fifty-six, with silver hair, a close-cropped beard, and a look of intense self-containment. It was Suleimani who had sent Shateri, an old and trusted friend, to his death. As Revolutionary Guard commanders, he and Shateri belonged to a small fraternity formed during the Sacred Defense, the name given to the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and left as many as a million people dead. It was a catastrophic fight, but for Iran it was the beginning of a three-decade project to build a Shiite sphere of influence, stretching across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Along with its allies in Syria and Lebanon, Iran forms an Axis of Resistance, arrayed against the region's dominant Sunni powers and the West. In Syria, the project hung in the balance, and Suleimani was mounting a desperate fight, even if the price of victory was a sectarian conflict that engulfed the region for years.

Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran's favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. "Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today," John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, "and no one's ever heard of him."

When Suleimani appears in public--often to speak at veterans' events or to meet with Khamenei--he carries himself inconspicuously and rarely raises his voice, exhibiting a trait that Arabs call khilib, or understated charisma. "He is so short, but he has this presence," a former senior Iraqi official told me. "There will be ten people in a room, and when Suleimani walks in he doesn't come and sit with you. He sits over there on the other side of room, by himself, in a very quiet way. Doesn't speak, doesn't comment, just sits and listens. And so of course everyone is thinking only about him."

At the funeral, Suleimani was dressed in a black jacket and a black shirt with no tie, in the Iranian style; his long, angular face and his arched eyebrows were twisted with pain. The Quds Force had never lost such a high-ranking officer abroad. The day before the funeral, Suleimani had travelled to Shateri's home to offer condolences to his family. He has a fierce attachment to martyred soldiers, and often visits their families; in a recent interview with Iranian media, he said, "When I see the children of the martyrs, I want to smell their scent, and I lose myself." As the funeral continued, he and the other mourners bent forward to pray, pressing their foreheads to the carpet. "One of the rarest people, who brought the revolution and the whole world to you, is gone," Alireza Panahian, the imam, told the mourners. Suleimani cradled his head in his palm and began to weep. [...]

Despite all of Suleimani's rough work, his image among Iran's faithful is that of an irreproachable war hero--a decorated veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, in which he became a division commander while still in his twenties. In public, he is almost theatrically modest. During a recent appearance, he described himself as "the smallest soldier," and, according to the Iranian press, rebuffed members of the audience who tried to kiss his hand. His power comes mostly from his close relationship with Khamenei, who provides the guiding vision for Iranian society. The Supreme Leader, who usually reserves his highest praise for fallen soldiers, has referred to Suleimani as "a living martyr of the revolution." Suleimani is a hard-line supporter of Iran's authoritarian system. In July, 1999, at the height of student protests, he signed, with other Revolutionary Guard commanders, a letter warning the reformist President Mohammad Khatami that if he didn't put down the revolt the military would--perhaps deposing Khatami in the process. "Our patience has run out," the generals wrote. The police crushed the demonstrators, as they did again, a decade later.

Iran's government is intensely fractious, and there are many figures around Khamenei who help shape foreign policy, including Revolutionary Guard commanders, senior clerics, and Foreign Ministry officials. But Suleimani has been given a remarkably free hand in implementing Khamenei's vision. "He has ties to every corner of the system," Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, told me. "He is what I call politically clever. He has a relationship with everyone." Officials describe him as a believer in Islam and in the revolution; while many senior figures in the Revolutionary Guard have grown wealthy through the Guard's control over key Iranian industries, Suleimani has been endowed with a personal fortune by the Supreme Leader. "He's well taken care of," Maguire said.

Suleimani lives in Tehran, and appears to lead the home life of a bureaucrat in middle age. "He gets up at four every morning, and he's in bed by nine-thirty every night," the Iraqi politician, who has known him for many years, told me, shaking his head in disbelief. Suleimani has a bad prostate and recurring back pain. He's "respectful of his wife," the Middle Eastern security official told me, sometimes taking her along on trips. He has three sons and two daughters, and is evidently a strict but loving father. He is said to be especially worried about his daughter Nargis, who lives in Malaysia. "She is deviating from the ways of Islam," the Middle Eastern official said.

Maguire told me, "Suleimani is a far more polished guy than most. He can move in political circles, but he's also got the substance to be intimidating." Although he is widely read, his aesthetic tastes appear to be strictly traditional. "I don't think he'd listen to classical music," the Middle Eastern official told me. "The European thing--I don't think that's his vibe, basically." Suleimani has little formal education, but, the former senior Iraqi official told me, "he is a very shrewd, frighteningly intelligent strategist." His tools include payoffs for politicians across the Middle East, intimidation when it is needed, and murder as a last resort. Over the years, the Quds Force has built an international network of assets, some of them drawn from the Iranian diaspora, who can be called on to support missions. "They're everywhere," a second Middle Eastern security official said. In 2010, according to Western officials, the Quds Force and Hezbollah launched a new campaign against American and Israeli targets--in apparent retaliation for the covert effort to slow down the Iranian nuclear program, which has included cyber attacks and assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Since then, Suleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi--at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone. The most notorious was a scheme, in 2011, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States as he sat down to eat at a restaurant a few miles from the White House. The cartel member approached by Suleimani's agent turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (The Quds Force appears to be more effective close to home, and a number of the remote plans have gone awry.) Still, after the plot collapsed, two former American officials told a congressional committee that Suleimani should be assassinated. "Suleimani travels a lot," one said. "He is all over the place. Go get him. Either try to capture him or kill him." In Iran, more than two hundred dignitaries signed an outraged letter in his defense; a social-media campaign proclaimed, "We are all Qassem Suleimani."

Several Middle Eastern officials, some of whom I have known for a decade, stopped talking the moment I brought up Suleimani. "We don't want to have any part of this," a Kurdish official in Iraq said. Among spies in the West, he appears to exist in a special category, an enemy both hated and admired: a Middle Eastern equivalent of Karla, the elusive Soviet master spy in John le Carré's novels. When I called Dagan, the former Mossad chief, and mentioned Suleimani's name, there was a long pause on the line. "Ah," he said, in a tone of weary irony, "a very good friend."

In March, 2009, on the eve of the Iranian New Year, Suleimani led a group of Iran-Iraq War veterans to the Paa-Alam Heights, a barren, rocky promontory on the Iraqi border. In 1986, Paa-Alam was the scene of one of the terrible battles over the Faw Peninsula, where tens of thousands of men died while hardly advancing a step. A video recording from the visit shows Suleimani standing on a mountaintop, recounting the battle to his old comrades. In a gentle voice, he speaks over a soundtrack of music and prayers.

"This is the Dasht-e-Abbas Road," Suleimani says, pointing into the valley below. "This area stood between us and the enemy." Later, Suleimani and the group stand on the banks of a creek, where he reads aloud the names of fallen Iranian soldiers, his voice trembling with emotion. During a break, he speaks with an interviewer, and describes the fighting in near-mystical terms. "The battlefield is mankind's lost paradise--the paradise in which morality and human conduct are at their highest," he says. "One type of paradise that men imagine is about streams, beautiful maidens, and lush landscape. But there is another kind of paradise--the battlefield."

Suleimani was born in Rabor, an impoverished mountain village in eastern Iran. When he was a boy, his father, like many other farmers, took out an agricultural loan from the government of the Shah. He owed nine hundred toman--about a hundred dollars at the time--and couldn't pay it back. In a brief memoir, Suleimani wrote of leaving home with a young relative named Ahmad Suleimani, who was in a similar situation. "At night, we couldn't fall asleep with the sadness of thinking that government agents were coming to arrest our fathers," he wrote. Together, they travelled to Kerman, the nearest city, to try to clear their family's debt. The place was unwelcoming. "We were only thirteen, and our bodies were so tiny, wherever we went, they wouldn't hire us," he wrote. "Until one day, when we were hired as laborers at a school construction site on Khajoo Street, which was where the city ended. They paid us two toman per day." After eight months, they had saved enough money to bring home, but the winter snow was too deep. They were told to seek out a local driver named Pahlavan--"Champion"--who was a "strong man who could lift up a cow or a donkey with his teeth." During the drive, whenever the car got stuck, "he would lift up the Jeep and put it aside!" In Suleimani's telling, Pahlavan is an ardent detractor of the Shah. He says of the two boys, "This is the time for them to rest and play, not work as a laborer in a strange city. I spit on the life they have made for us!" They arrived home, Suleimani writes, "just as the lights were coming on in the village homes. When the news travelled in our village, there was pandemonium."

As a young man, Suleimani gave few signs of greater ambition. According to Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he had only a high-school education, and worked for Kerman's municipal water department. But it was a revolutionary time, and the country's gathering unrest was making itself felt. Away from work, Suleimani spent hours lifting weights in local gyms, which, like many in the Middle East, offered physical training and inspiration for the warrior spirit. During Ramadan, he attended sermons by a travelling preacher named Hojjat Kamyab--a protégé of Khamenei's--and it was there that he became inspired by the possibility of Islamic revolution.

In 1979, when Suleimani was twenty-two, the Shah fell to a popular uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the name of Islam. Swept up in the fervor, Suleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard, a force established by Iran's new clerical leadership to prevent the military from mounting a coup. Though he received little training--perhaps only a forty-five-day course--he advanced rapidly. As a young guardsman, Suleimani was dispatched to northwestern Iran, where he helped crush an uprising by ethnic Kurds.

When the revolution was eighteen months old, Saddam Hussein sent the Iraqi Army sweeping across the border, hoping to take advantage of the internal chaos. Instead, the invasion solidified Khomeini's leadership and unified the country in resistance, starting a brutal, entrenched war. Suleimani was sent to the front with a simple task, to supply water to the soldiers there, and he never left. "I entered the war on a fifteen-day mission, and ended up staying until the end," he has said. A photograph from that time shows the young Suleimani dressed in green fatigues, with no insignia of rank, his black eyes focussed on a far horizon. "We were all young and wanted to serve the revolution," he told an interviewer in 2005.

Suleimani earned a reputation for bravery and élan, especially as a result of reconnaissance missions he undertook behind Iraqi lines. He returned from several missions bearing a goat, which his soldiers slaughtered and grilled. "Even the Iraqis, our enemy, admired him for this," a former Revolutionary Guard officer who defected to the United States told me. On Iraqi radio, Suleimani became known as "the goat thief." In recognition of his effectiveness, Alfoneh said, he was put in charge of a brigade from Kerman, with men from the gyms where he lifted weights.

The Iranian Army was badly overmatched, and its commanders resorted to crude and costly tactics. In "human wave" assaults, they sent thousands of young men directly into the Iraqi lines, often to clear minefields, and soldiers died at a precipitous rate. Suleimani seemed distressed by the loss of life. Before sending his men into battle, he would embrace each one and bid him goodbye; in speeches, he praised martyred soldiers and begged their forgiveness for not being martyred himself. When Suleimani's superiors announced plans to attack the Faw Peninsula, he dismissed them as wasteful and foolhardy. The former Revolutionary Guard officer recalled seeing Suleimani in 1985, after a battle in which his brigade had suffered many dead and wounded. He was sitting alone in a corner of a tent. "He was very silent, thinking about the people he'd lost," the officer said.

Ahmad, the young relative who travelled with Suleimani to Kerman, was killed in 1984. On at least one occasion, Suleimani himself was wounded. Still, he didn't lose enthusiasm for his work. In the nineteen-eighties, Reuel Marc Gerecht was a young C.I.A. officer posted to Istanbul, where he recruited from the thousands of Iranian soldiers who went there to recuperate. "You'd get a whole variety of guardsmen," Gerecht, who has written extensively on Iran, told me. "You'd get clerics, you'd get people who came to breathe and whore and drink." Gerecht divided the veterans into two groups. "There were the broken and the burned out, the hollow-eyed--the guys who had been destroyed," he said. "And then there were the bright-eyed guys who just couldn't wait to get back to the front. I'd put Suleimani in the latter category."

Ryan Crocker, the American Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, got a similar feeling. During the Iraq War, Crocker sometimes dealt with Suleimani indirectly, through Iraqi leaders who shuttled in and out of Tehran. Once, he asked one of the Iraqis if Suleimani was especially religious. The answer was "Not really," Crocker told me. "He attends mosque periodically. Religion doesn't drive him. Nationalism drives him, and the love of the fight."

Iran's leaders took two lessons from the Iran-Iraq War. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. To the regime, the invasion was not so much an Iraqi plot as a Western one. American officials were aware of Saddam's preparations to invade Iran in 1980, and they later provided him with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks; the weapons themselves were built with the help of Western European firms. The memory of these attacks is an especially bitter one. "Do you know how many people are still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons?" Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. "Thousands of former soldiers. They believe these were Western weapons given to Saddam." In 1987, during a battle with the Iraqi Army, a division under Suleimani's command was attacked by artillery shells containing chemical weapons. More than a hundred of his men suffered the effects.

The other lesson drawn from the Iran-Iraq War was the futility of fighting a head-to-head confrontation. In 1982, after the Iranians expelled the Iraqi forces, Khomeini ordered his men to keep going, to "liberate" Iraq and push on to Jerusalem. Six years and hundreds of thousands of lives later, he agreed to a ceasefire. According to Alfoneh, many of the generals of Suleimani's generation believe they could have succeeded had the clerics not flinched. "Many of them feel like they were stabbed in the back," he said. "They have nurtured this myth for nearly thirty years."

Pure nationalism we know how to work with.
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


On streets of Tehran, Iranians celebrate a long-sought opening to the world (Scott Peterson, Staff writer JULY 14, 2015, CS Monitor)

The celebrations provided a snapshot of relief and high expectations, and of a population that voted for President Hassan Rouhani, who pledged to create a "government of hope" after eight years of hard-line rule under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that was marred by mass street protests in 2009.

In Vanak Square, watched by alert policemen, the crowd also chanted in favor of Mr. Rouhani fulfilling another election promise: to lift the house arrest of two former presidential candidates who led those Green Movement protests. [...]
"It's a really big day because it gives us hope for the future, which is something we have been losing a lot," says Amir Tehrani, a young English teacher, adding that all his students planned to hit the streets.

"But I'm not sure; it will take time. The financial pressure the last four or five years was so high," says Mr. Tehrani. "This [nuclear deal] is the thing I really counted on, to make pressure lighter, at least."

Diplomats in Vienna spoke of a "historic" nuclear deal that would strictly contain Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions, and savored the results of more than three years of intensive negotiations that have forestalled the chance of war.

But for many Iranians glued to their television sets - at home, in shops, and in electronics stores selling big screens - the result was a collective sigh of relief.

"The button has been pressed, we are beginning anew," said Narjes Sedaghatfar, a math teacher who voted for Rouhani but has kept expectations in check until now. Sanctions have meant as much as a 30 to 40 percent drop in the quality of life for many Iranians, she reckons, because of high prices. [...]

[U]ntil this deal proved that both Iran and the US ­- and the five other world powers negotiating with Iran - could overcome mutual mistrust, at least on the nuclear file, many were reluctant to count on change.

"We are very happy about it, and I hope the US Congress agrees with this agreement, and we have closer US-Iran relations," says Mohsen, an older physician wearing short sleeves and a plaid tie - an uncommon pro-West statement in the Islamic Republic - while riding the bus home from his ears, nose, and throat practice.

"We are wishing for better relations with the US for many years, but unfortunately hard-liners did not let it happen," says Mohsen, a dual-citizen Iranian-American who trained in Rochester, Minn., and gave only his first name.

"It depends mostly on the extremists and [supreme leader] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," he says. "If he agrees on this matter, as he did in the nuclear talks, everything would be much better. Most Iranians would love to visit the US."

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Is Banning Tourists the Solution to Gentrification? : A 'tourist cap' might be in the works in Barcelona to fight rising costs of living and disorderly behavior. (MARTIN DE BOURMONT, 7/13/15, In These Times)

A 2004 study published by Tulane University sociologist Kevin Fox Gotham in Urban Studies indicates it may be wrong to blame tourists alone. The transformation of a city into a place that caters to tourists over residents is also the result of targeted investments by developers, often supported by city governments.

Cities seeking more economic development partner with these investors to become more attractive to tourists and upper-income residents by building hotels, entertainment venues and upscale housing. Suddenly, traditionally working- and middle-class neighborhoods are inaccessible to residents of modest means.

Gotham's study uses New Orleans's French Quarter as a case study. In the 1980s, for instance, the construction of upscale hotels in the French Quarter provided investors with an incentive to renovate properties on the district's Canal Street and transform Bourbon Street bars into upscale music venues. The resultant expansion of tourist activity in the area would lead to a 50 percent increase in rents on the street between the mid-1990s and 2002, with some properties more than doubling their rental price.

Spurred on by an expanding tourism industry dependent on "an image of nostalgia," Gotham writes, investors bought and renovated properties to reflect a notion of the French Quarter as a neighborhood of "red-brick town houses, cast-iron galleries over public sidewalks and enchanting backyard gardens." By the early 2000s, this process left "few unrehabilitated residential houses for sale," in a neighborhood where "the asking price for single-family homes is far beyond the means of low-income-housing tenants."

Moreover, writes Gotham, the demographic changes caused by skyrocketing rents and increasing tourism coincided "with a dramatic restructuring of the commercial base of the neighborhood." Between 1950 and 1999, he reports, resident-oriented businesses like "barbers, department stores, shoe shops, small groceries and laundry services" decreased by 15 percent, while tourist businesses like T-shirt shops increased by 32 percent.

"Gentrification and tourism," concludes Gotham, "are largely driven by mega-sized financial firms and entertainment corporations who have formed new institutional connections with traditional city boosters (chambers of commerce, city governments, service industries) to market cities and their neighborhoods."

Cities should ban residents and be just for daily tourists/workers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


The Death of Golf (KARL TARO GREENFELD, Aug 2015, Men's Journal)

By any measure, participation in the game is way off, from a high of 30.6 million golfers in 2003 to 24.7 million in 2014, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF). The long-term trends are also troubling, with the number of golfers ages 18 to 34 showing a 30 percent decline over the last 20 years. Nearly every metric -- TV ratings, rounds played, golf-equipment sales, golf courses constructed -- shows a drop-off. "I look forward to a time when we've got the wind at our back, but that's not what we're expecting," says Oliver "Chip" Brewer, president and CEO of Callaway. "This is a demographic challenge."

During the boom, most of those 20-somethings who were out hacking every weekend were out there because of one man: Tiger Woods. Golf's heyday coincided neatly with Tiger's run of 15 major golf championships between 1997 and 2008. If you listen to golf insiders, he's the individual most to blame for those thousands of Craigs­list ads for used clubs. When Tiger triple-bogeyed his marriage, dallied with porn stars, and seemingly misplaced his swing all at once, the game not only lost its best player; it also lost its leading salesman. The most common answer given by golf industry types when asked what would return the game to its former popularity is "Find another Tiger."

But you can't blame one man's wandering libido for the demise of an entire sport. The challenges golf faces are myriad, from millennials lacking the requisite attention span for a five-hour round, to an increasingly environmentally conscious public that's reluctant to take up a resource-intensive game played on nonnative grass requiring an almond farm's worth of water, to the recent economic crisis that curtailed discretionary spending. "Golf is an expensive, aspirational game," says Brewer, "and a lot of millennials are struggling with debt and jobs. If you don't have a job, golf doesn't really fit you very well."

Combine the game's cost with the fact that golf is perceived as stubbornly alienating to everyone but white males -- Augusta National, home of the Masters and perhaps the most famous golf club in the world, didn't accept black members until 1990 and women until 2012 -- and it's no wonder young people aren't flocking to it. "One of the major reasons golf hasn't been growing is because historically, it has not been welcoming enough," says Greg Nathan, senior vice president of the NGF. "We need to make people feel more comfortable."

Not long ago, the game could count on young fathers to hide out on the links, and weekend tee slots are still filled with plenty of off-duty dads. But it takes two to properly helicopter-parent a family these days, and that means parents are spending more of their weekends at the playground than at the country club.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


In New Hampshire With Jeb Bush (Ira Stoll, 7/09/15, Future of Capitalism)

HUDSON, N.H. -- Watch Jeb Bush in action taking questions from New Hampshire voters at a town hall-style campaign event here, and it becomes clear pretty quickly why he's considered a first-tier candidate, maybe even the front-runner, at this stage of the Republican presidential campaign.

The campaign has the little things down. The formal portion of the event takes precisely an hour, and the candidate leaves the event as scheduled at exactly 8 p.m. The sound system works perfectly. As voters leave the event, there's a table with stacks of bright white t-shirts, in a variety of sizes, with the red "Jeb!" logo. When someone asks if they are for sale, the person staffing the table replies with the Granite State motto --"Live Free or Die." Other campaigns sell tchotchkes and apparel to make money; the Jeb Bush campaign is well funded enough to give the gear away to build goodwill.

The candidate himself is no slouch, either. No teleprompter, podium, or formal text for Jeb Bush, who, even on a night the Red Sox are playing, draws a crowd of more than 150 people to a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in this southern New Hampshire town near the city of Nashua and the Massachusetts border.

Bush, the former governor of Florida, shirt open at the collar and sleeves rolled up, portrays himself in his opening remarks as a kind of fix-it-man who can repair a Washington that is "incompetent and corrupt."

"We can grow at 4% instead of this anemic new normal of 2%," he says, a theme he returns to again and again throughout the hour. He speaks of fixing "how we tax," "how we regulate" and "a broken immigration system," and of unleashing a domestic "energy revolution."

He talks about his record as governor of Florida, which, like New Hampshire, had no income tax. "I cut taxes every year," he says. "Cutting $19 billion of taxes in eight years took some doing."

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Iran Deal Raises Prospect of Fresh Oil Glut (BILL SPINDLE,  NICOLE FRIEDMAN and  BENOÎT FAUCON, 7/14/15, WSJ)

The possibility of up to a million new barrels of Iranian oil flooding global markets, the amount Iranian officials aim to deliver within months, comes at a critical time. China's stock-market turmoil in recent weeks could slow an economy that was expected to account for a lot of energy-demand growth.

Meanwhile, U.S. production remains strong, and countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia are pumping record amounts.

On any given day, the world already produced more than two million barrels a day more than there is demand for, according to the International Energy Agency, which monitors oil-and-gas data for industrialized nations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Obama acts to help states expand retirement coverage -- most significant retirement move of the Administration (Joshua Gotbaum, July 14, 2015, Brookings)

Several years ago, the Administration proposed that businesses which did not offer some sort of retirement plan be required to offer their employees a payroll-deduction savings plan.  Importantly, the requirement would be limited to offering automatically-enrolled savings for the employees through payroll deduction - there would be no requirement to establish a traditional plan or undergo the extensive regulation they involve under ERISA.  This "IRA auto-enrollment" proposal was originally bipartisan, but became associated with the rather different employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act and so went nowhere in Congress.  

Various states responded to the inaction in Washington by proposing auto-enrollment programs of their own.  Following the title of the first legislation to be enacted, in California, these are generally referred to as "Secure Choice" programs.  Although there are various models, the most frequently considered one would have the state require a payroll-deduction auto-enrollment program of those employers currently not offering a retirement plan.  Unless employees choose to opt out, a portion of their paycheck would automatically be deposited in a retirement savings plan.  The State of Illinois enacted a secure choice plan into law earlier this year and similar bills been introduced in more than a dozen other states. 

Until recently, DoL opposed these efforts.  In order to obtain the assent of small businesses, states wanted to guarantee that the new programs would not involve businesses in ERISA's fiduciary obligations; as a result, legislation in some states specifically provided that the plans could not be subject to ERISA.  DoL, for its part, took the view that only plans covered by ERISA had satisfactory consumer protections and that even if the state operated the plan and employers were required to participate, contributing employers would nonetheless remain fiduciaries.  This interpretation by DoL has been criticized by some ERISA attorneys[v], but until today there was no evidence the Department would reconsider.   The President's announcement means that DoL will now be an ally of the state efforts - and as a result tens of millions can have more secure retirement. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM

WALKER '18!:

Scott Walker Is Overstating His Blue-State Appeal (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 7/14/15, National Journal)

Walker's political argument is accurate at face value, but it comes with a major caveat: All three of his successful campaigns took place separate from the presidential election, when turnout among many of the Democratic Party's core constituencies dropped off precipitously. Wisconsin has one of the most polarized electorates in the country, and there's a significantly lower midterm turnout in the state's most-liberal counties (most dramatically, in Milwaukee County) compared to the state's conservative base (Waukesha County). The more a county supported Walker, the more likely it was to see strong turnout in an off-year election.

Walker's success had as much to do with the political calendar and the state's polarized electorate as it did with crossover appeal. He won only 6 percent of Democratic voters in his 2014 reelection. Many African-American voters simply stayed home during Walker's gubernatorial campaigns, while a disproportionate number of college students sat out the contentious June 2012 recall election--which took place after campuses' spring semester concluded. That's not likely to repeat itself if he's the GOP presidential nominee.

To wit: According to exit polling, young adults under the age of 30 made up 20 percent of the 2012 presidential electorate, but that number dropped to 16 percent during the recall election. White voters made up 91 percent of the recall vote, but only 86 percent in the last presidential campaign. The African-American percentage of the electorate was nearly twice as high in November 2012 (7 percent) as it was two years prior in 2010 (4 percent). In the Democratic bastion of Milwaukee County, turnout for the 2014 midterm election was only 74 percent of the vote total for the 2012 presidential election. In deeply conservative Waukesha County, that number was much higher: 83 percent.

Indeed, if voters from both parties had turned out at the same rates as in presidential elections in just the state's three largest counties (Waukesha, Dane, and Milwaukee), the resulting surge in Democratic turnout would nearly wipe out Walker's entire margin of victory in the state. Even more fascinating: Nearly all of the drop-off in non-presidential-year turnout in deeply-conservative Waukesha County came from Democrats. (Walker held nearly all--95 percent--of Mitt Romney's Waukesha County vote total in the 2012 recall election. Democrat Tom Barrett managed to retain only 74 percent of President Obama's 2012 support.)

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Bush Represents Tradition and Quiet Competence (Steve Huntley - July 6, 2015, RCP)

In previous columns, I've expressed skepticism about the Bush candidacy. He, like Clinton, reflects the 20th century more than the 21st. A third Bush presidency is a hard sell. Americans don't like dynastic politics.

Yet, he's proved to be impressive on the campaign trail. While he hasn't achieved the "shock and awe" breakout his supporters hoped, he remains at the top of the crowded, strong field of GOP presidential contenders. Polls also show his acceptability is rising among Republicans, some who had worried he's not conservative enough despite his Florida record. And a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll revealed voters just don't seem to care about the dynasty issue.

At this early point in the 2016 contest, Bush has to rank among the candidates best positioned to win the GOP nomination. I'd say the others are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Bush represents tradition and quiet competence. That's not to be discounted as a general election plus since Clinton's record as secretary of state seems thinner by the day.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


U.S. Annual Budget Deficit Remains Near 7-Year Low in June (NICK TIMIRAOS, July 13, 2015, WSJ)

The U.S. budget deficit remained near its lowest level in seven years in June amid a brightening economic outlook that has boosted revenues, the Treasury Department said Monday.

The U.S. reported a $52 billion surplus in June, a month in which the government in recent decades has typically generated a surplus on account of corporate and individual taxes collected at month's end.

The monthly surplus brought the budget deficit over the past 12 months to $431 billion, down nearly 20% from a year earlier.

All before we start cashing in the peace dividend.  The greatest threat to the world economy is the coming decline in US debt.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Less Than 3 Percent of U.S. Population Are Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual (Orthodoxy Today, May 3, 2015)

The National Health Interview Survey, which is the government's premier tool for annually assessing Americans' health and behaviors, found that 1.6 percent of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent consider themselves bisexual.

Roe dependended on the idea that colored peoplde would kill their babies.  When it turned out we were killing whites instead it was doomed. Gay "rights" depend on the notion that the preference is biological and common.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Israel arrests suspects in torching of Church of Loaves and Fishes (Reuters | July 14, 2015) 

As well as extensive fire damage to the church, a verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of "false gods" was spray-painted in red on an outer wall of the church, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible. [...]

After the June 18 fire, the Rabbis for Human Rights group said there had been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions, with police and prosecutors acknowledging that the young age of many of the suspected perpetrators has led courts to show leniency.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


Not here to cause trouble (The Economist, Jul 10th 2015)

America's major cities, and the country as a whole, have seen a significant decline in rates of violent and property crime over the past 30 or so years. Crime has fallen even as the proportion of Americans born on foreign soil has grown, and as rates of unauthorised immigration have gone up, as illustrated by these graphs from the Immigration Policy Center.

This is not to say that rising immigration caused crime to go down, though some criminologists think the two trends are related. No one knows for sure what combination of factors led to America's happy slide in crime rates. But there is little indication that the surge in immigration from the 1990s to the late 2000s, largely from Mexico and Central America, contributed to an increase, or retarded the decrease, in crime. According to Jörg Spenkuch, an economist at Northwestern University, increased immigration may have been associated with a barely statistically significant uptick in property crime, but crunching the numbers turns up "essentially no correlation between immigrants and violent crime".

Indeed, Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, has found that "increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates in the late '90s and up to 2006." An eight-year study of violence in Chicago led Mr Sampson to conclude that Mexican immigrants are less prone to violence than native-born Americans, whites or black, of comparable age and socio-economic status. In recent years, El Paso, Texas has had the lowest murder rate of any American city with a population of 500,000 or more, despite sitting directly across the Rio Grande from Juarez, a Mexican city plagued with horrific gang violence. Other metropolitan magnets for new arrivals from south of the border, such as San Diego, San Antonio and Phoenix, are similarly pacific. "Cities of concentrated immigration are some of the safest places around," Mr Sampson observes.

These patterns are reflected, as one would expect, in data on incarceration rates. White men born in America are twice as likely to end up in prison as men born abroad, while American-born black men are many times more likely to land in jail than their immigrant counterparts. As a general matter, individuals with less education are more likely to get locked up. Nevertheless, immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, who tend to be relatively unschooled, are put behind bars at lower rates than white Americans who didn't make it to graduation. In fact, American white guys with high-school diplomas are more likely to get tossed in the can than Guatemalan or Honduran fellows without them.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


AncientBiotics - a medieval remedy for modern day superbugs? (Emma Rayner, The University of Nottingham)

A one thousand year old Anglo-Saxon remedy for eye infections which originates from a manuscript in the British Library has been found to kill the modern-day superbug MRSA in an unusual research collaboration at The University of Nottingham.

Dr Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon expert from the School of English has enlisted the help of microbiologists from University's Centre for Biomolecular Sciences to recreate a 10th century potion for eye infections from Bald's Leechbook an Old English leatherbound volume in the British Library, to see if it really works as an antibacterial remedy. The Leechbook is widely thought of as one of the earliest known medical textbooks and contains Anglo-Saxon medical advice and recipes for medicines, salves and treatments.

Early results on the 'potion', tested in vitro at Nottingham and backed up by mouse model tests at a university in the United States, are, in the words of the US collaborator, "astonishing". 

July 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Hedge Funds Reassess China After Market Free Fall (ALEXANDRA STEVENSON, JULY 13, 2015, NY Times)

Over the last month, trillions of dollars of value were wiped from the domestic market as stocks plunged by more than a third. The Chinese government has stepped in, issuing a series of increasingly aggressive moves to prop up the market.

Hedge funds are now reassessing their positions and questioning the role of the government in China's stock market.

O'Connor, a $5.6 billion hedge fund owned by UBS, is one such investor. The Chinese government's moves have left the firm unsure about how to maneuver.

"The intent is clearly to restore investor confidence and market stability, but this is a huge setback for Chinese capital market liberalization," Dawn Fitzpatrick, the chief investment officer of O'Connor, said by email. The government's moves, she added, "will materially impact their ability to attract foreign capital, which has been a key policy initiative."

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Crude Estimate: How Ending Iran Sanctions May Impact Oil Markets (Alan Neuhauser July 13, 2015, US News)

The country holds the fourth-largest oil reserves in the world, and it is sitting on another 20 to 40 million barrels in storage on-shore and in more than a dozen tankers floating off its coast - oil that could immediately flood a market already awash in cheap crude if and when sanctions are lifted.

But any major change in price may come not from that influx of oil, but the fears of shaky investors.

"You will probably see the greatest price response before any oil barrels actually flow, similar to what you had when the barrels from Iran were taken off the market," says Jamie Webster, senior director at the consulting firm IHS.

Nonetheless, he adds, "This is quite bearish obviously for oil markets. We're still in a very oversupplied situation."

...and our enemies lose.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


The menacing wolf-coyote hybrids invading America's cities (The Week, 7/13/15)
Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Tom Tancredo to Donald Trump: Tone it down (ADAM B. LERNER, 7/13/15, Politico)

Tom Tancredo thinks Donald Trump has taken his anti-immigrant rhetoric a bit too far.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Iraq launches Iranian-backed offensive to oust Isis from Anbar (Jack Moore, 7/13/15, Newsweek)

Iraqi troops supported by Iranian-backed Shiite militias have launched a military operation to recapture the country's biggest province, Anbar, from Isis, the military announced on state television.

The military announced that the operation against Isis would see the Shiite-majority Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) mainly carry out the operations on the ground, but also included Iraqi troops, special forces, police and a number of Sunni tribesmen.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Greece Blinks (Mark Gilbert, 7/13/15, Bloomberg View)

After months of deadlines that turned out not to matter and final demands that weren't met, the threat of a one-way ticket from the euro seems to have finally persuaded Greece to capitulate to its creditors. For all of France's diplomatic scrambling last week to help Greece craft a settlement, it also turned out that there's really only one voice that matters in Europe -- and it speaks from Berlin. Once Germany raised the possibility that Greece could be unceremoniously ejected from the common currency project, the situation quickly became binary for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Now, it looks as if he'll have to sell his electorate an even more demanding deal than the nation's voters recently rejected.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


As Scott Walker enters 2016 fray, he feuds with both parties at home (Jenna Johnson, July 13, 2015, Washington Post)

[F]or months here in the state capital, Walker has pushed hard to use $250 million in taxpayer money to pay for a new professional basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks -- confusing and angering the fiscal conservatives who usually support him.

"The stark political reality is that the proposal is a $250 million taxpayer subsidy for the Bucks and their billionaire owners in a budget rife with cuts for other programs," Charlie Sykes, a popular and influential conservative radio show host in Milwaukee, wrote in a column that listed 10 reasons the deal "is a hot mess."

The proposal nearly derailed passage of Walker's two-year state budget and is just one in a series of chaotic local controversies that he has had to navigate in preparation to his White House bid.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


If You Take the King's Shilling... (John Steele Gordon, 07.13.2015, Commentary)

[L]ast week, Investor's Business Daily wrote about a sweeping new mandate from the Obama administration that will require cities and counties across the country to conform their zoning codes to what the Department of Housing and Urban Development thinks is a good idea. That idea is a social engineering scheme of monumental proportions.

Since the Constitution, in which the sovereign states gave the federal government certain, limited powers, is utterly silent on the subject of both education and zoning (zoning codes date back only to 1916), what gives the federal government the power to closely regulate both higher education and local zoning? The answer, of course, is money: If you take the king's shilling, you become the king's man.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


The thing Bernie Sanders says about inequality that no other candidate will touch (Jim Tankersley July 13, 2015, Washington Post)

There are very few unspoken rules among major-party candidates for president, and Bernie Sanders is breaking one of them. He's saying that America's leaders shouldn't worry so much about economic growth if that growth serves to enrich only the wealthiest Americans.

"Our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount of [wealth] back from the top 1 percent," Sanders said in a recent interview, even if that redistribution slows the economy overall. [...]

Sanders's position inverts decades of orthodoxy among liberal and conservative candidates alike, by prizing redistribution above all else.

Socialists believe it is better for everyone to be poorer, provided that the margins are narrower.  Americans don't.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


IT'S SURPRISINGLY HARD TO MAKE A FUNNY ROBOT (Alexandra Ossola, 7/13/15, Popular Science)

Artificial intelligence can do a lot of things, like recognizing your face or identifying good art. But it still can't tell a joke. 

Only Rationalists are surprised.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Scott Walker's jobs record falls short of most of other GOP governors running (Philip Bump July 13, 2015, Washington Post)

If you compare the job creation of each to the national change in jobs each month, you can see how much better or worse each state did than the country on the whole. Perry and Jeb Bush did much better. Bobby Jindal did slightly better. Everyone else -- including Walker -- did worse.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Big winner in Greece deal? The U.S. dollar (Paul R. La Monica, 7/13/15, CNN Money)

Time to book a trip to Paris, Rome or Athens? The U.S. dollar rallied on the news of the "Agreekment" Monday -- and some experts think the greenback should strengthen even further.

There's even talk once more about the euro, which is currently worth a little more than $1.10, potentially hitting parity with the dollar at some point in the near future.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


With no clear base of support, Marco Rubio gambles on a broad approach (Sean Sullivan July 11, 2015, Washington Post)

 It's been nearly three months since Rubio launched his presidential campaign amid lofty expectations from many Republicans, who view the youthful Cuban American senator from Florida as the party's best hope for a rapidly changing electorate.

But polls show he hasn't made a dent in the leads enjoyed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida governor Jeb Bush in the first four primary states. Bush, meanwhile, just announced a massive $114 million fundraising haul, while Walker is set to officially kick off his campaign Monday.

So Rubio has embarked on a strategy to compete in each of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The hope is to strike it big in at least one by cobbling together a diverse coalition of Republican voters. It is perhaps the best option for a contender who, unlike Bush and Walker, has neither an obvious path to the nomination nor a clearly defined base of support.

Having never governed nor passed any legislation, he's not a serious candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


'Mini ice age' coming in next fifteen years, new model of the Sun's cycle shows (ALICE HARROLD, 12 July 2015, Independent)

There will be a "mini ice age" in 2030, solar scientists have said.

We are now able to predict solar cycles with far greater accuracy than ever before thanks to a new model which shows irregularities in the sun's 11-year heartbeat.

The model shows that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent between 2030 and 2040 causing a "mini ice age".

The conditions predicted have not been experienced since the last "mini ice age" which lasted from 1645 to 1715, called the Maunder Minimum.

It may already be too late for man-made global warming to save us from the climate.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Obama wants to help California create more retirement-savings accounts (JAMES F. PELTZ, 7/13/15, LA Times)

"I've called on the Department of Labor and [Labor Secretary] Tom Perez to propose a set of rules by the end of the year to provide a clear path forward for states to create retirement-savings programs," Obama said during a White House conference on aging.

"We want to do everything we can to encourage more states to take this step," he said. "We've got to make it easier for people to save for retirement."

Under the California plan, written by state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), eligible workers would be automatically enrolled, and have their contributions automatically deducted from their paychecks, unless they opted out of the plan.

The plan, called the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, would apply to businesses with five or more employees that do not offer an employer-sponsored plan. Employees who participate would have about 3% of their wages withheld for the plan.

The goal is to provide workers with an added retirement benefit beyond Social Security and Medicare.

The Third Way is the only way.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Sanders slams Trump (Mary Jordan, July 13, 2015, Washingston)

Sen. Bernie Sanders got a standing ovation Monday when he criticized Donald Trump and "the stain of racism" in America during an address to the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group.

"Let me tell you that no one - not Donald Trump, not anyone else - will be successful if dividing us based on race or our country of origin, said Sanders, so thunderous applause.  "We say 'no" to all forms of racism and bigotry."

These two could tour as a circus freakshow.

July 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


PA Dems' Disarray Could Boost GOP in 2016 (Salena Zito - July 12, 2015, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review )

With the exception of two county officials on either side of the state -- Montgomery's Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro, Allegheny's Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald -- the Democrats' statewide bench is weak, and so is their morale.

Consider the following four factors:

Down-ballot bench -- Last year's midterms and a special state House election in the spring boosted the Republicans' lower-chamber ranks to 120, a 36-seat advantage over Democrats. Republicans also expanded their majority to 30 members in the state's 50-seat Senate.

Pennsylvania Democrats led the nation in trouncing Republicans in 2006's historic wave election, but their power didn't last long. By 2010, their majority in Pennsylvania's congressional delegation was wiped out; by 2012, Republicans held 13 seats to Democrats' five.

Scandals -- Two statewide-elected Democrats, darlings of the party just 18 months ago, have fallen from grace rather abruptly.

Former state Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty to extortion earlier this year in federal court; his forced resignation came less than a year after his unsuccessful campaign for his party's nomination for governor.

Then there is Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

The first Democrat and first woman to be elected as the state's top cop has run her office like a script for a really, really bad soap opera.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Diplomats: Iran announcement planned Monday (GEORGE JAHN and MATTHEW LEE, Jul. 12, 2015, AP)

Diplomats familiar with the talks said most of the nuts and bolts of implementing the deal have been agreed upon. But over the past week, issues that were previously on the back burner have led to new disputes. Among them is Iran's demand for a lifting of a U.N. arms embargo and its insistence that any U.N. Security Council resolution approving the nuclear deal be written in a way that stops describing Iran's nuclear activities as illegal.

A diplomat familiar with the negotiations said disagreements also persist on how long some of the restrictions on imports of nuclear technology and other embargos outlined in any new Security Council resolution will last. The diplomat, who demanded anonymity because the diplomat wasn't allowed to discuss the confidential talks, said restrictions will last for years, not months.

Meanwhile, Iranians were preparing to celebrate in the event of an agreement. Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported that deputy police chief Brigadier General Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi said the authorities are fully prepared for such celebrations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


The End of Federally Financed Ghettos (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JULY 11, 2015, NY Times)

Last week, the Obama administration took an even more important step -- one that has already changed the decades-long discussion about how to combat residential segregation. It rewrote the rules under the provision of the act that requires state and local governments to "affirmatively further" housing goals by making real efforts to cope with the cumulative results of the discrimination that confined black Americans to ghettos in the first place.

For the new rules to be effective, federal officials need to make clear that local governments can lose federal housing aid if they persist in dumping subsidized housing into depressed, racially isolated communities instead of putting more of it in integrated areas that offer better schools and job opportunities.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Modern Doctors' House Calls: Skype Chat and Fast Diagnosis (ABBY GOODNOUGH, JULY 11, 2015, NY Times)

One night, when her face turned puffy and painful from what she thought was a sinus infection, Jessica DeVisser briefly considered going to an urgent care clinic, but then decided to try something "kind of sci-fi."

She sat with her laptop on her living room couch, went online and requested a virtual consultation. She typed in her symptoms and credit card number, and within half an hour, a doctor appeared on her screen via Skype. He looked her over, asked some questions and agreed she had sinusitis. In minutes, Ms. DeVisser, a stay-at-home mother, had an antibiotics prescription called in to her pharmacy.

The same forces that have made instant messaging and video calls part of daily life for many Americans are now shaking up basic medical care. Health systems and insurers are rushing to offer video consultations for routine ailments, convinced they will save money and relieve pressure on overextended primary care systems in cities and rural areas alike. And more people like Ms. DeVisser, fluent in Skype and FaceTime and eager for cheaper, more convenient medical care, are trying them out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


An opportunity gamed away : For a county in the Deep South that reaped millions from casino business, poverty is still its spin of the wheel (Chico Harlan,  July 11, 2015, Washington Post)

Her one-story house was slumping inch by inch, day by day, into the wet ground of the Mississippi Delta. Rot climbed up the wooden beams and mildew crept across the ceiling. Soft spots spread across the damp and buckling plywood floor. Holes opened up that led straight to the soil.

Linda Fay Engle-Harris, 60, had always tried to manage on her own, and so when she found new openings in the floor, she crumpled paper into tight wads and jammed them into the gaps. When she awoke to find slugs oozing across her living room, she fetched a dustpan, opened the front door, and gently ushered them back into what she called "their natural ecosystem." One night, when she grew particularly panicked about the future of her home, she handwrote four pages in a notebook left over from her teaching days, trying to gather her thoughts.

"My biggest fear," she wrote, "is that our house will collapse."

For two decades, ever since her county of plantations and shotgun shacks had struck it rich, she'd been awaiting the prosperity. Great jobs for all, she'd imagined. Improved living standards. Perhaps no place in America's Deep South had ever received a better chance to create new economic opportunities for its people. Starting in the early 1990s, Tunica had become a neon-lit casino destination. The county had since raked in $759 million, a fortune for a county with 10,000 people.

But as she worried about her house, Engle-Harris -- like many in Tunica -- was beginning to sense that the greatest windfall in the history of the rural South had failed to lift up a community where many African Americans still lived in crumbling shacklike homes.

Despite all the casino money, a county that ranked in the 1980s among the nation's poorest today had one of Mississippi's highest unemployment rates. A county lashed 30 years ago in a CBS News "60 Minutes" segment for its "apartheid" schools still had a mostly white private academy and a public school system that was 97 percent black and was given a "D" grade by the state. A county that the Rev. Jesse Jackson once described as "America's Ethiopia" had changed little in its poorest neighborhoods, even as riverfront casinos and other lavish development had sprouted up along the farmland hugging the Mississippi River.

Tunica's strike-it-rich narrative is a rarity in the Deep South. But the disappointing way it played out shows how fundamental -- and possibly intractable -- the problems are in an area that lags behind the rest of the country as the poorest region with the least economic opportunity. A major research study last year on upward mobility, measuring a poor child's chances of climbing the economic ladder, found that Tunica had less opportunity than all but six other counties in the United States -- scattered across Alaska, South Dakota and Virginia. The Deep South itself is home to more than half of the most punishing counties.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Gaudí's Great Temple (Martin Filler, JUNE 25, 2015, NY Review of Books)

In Sagrada Família--the book of the illuminating exhibition recently held at the City College of New York's architecture school, curated by George Ranalli and Fabian Llonch--the architectural historian Judith Rohrer writes that the expiatory temple (originally meant to house pharos-like searchlights in its pinnacles) was intended to "serve as a beacon of faith, proclaiming the revived piety of the Spanish people, while atoning for the sins, both public and private, of a modernist, materialist age." The strain of deep conservatism implicit in that formulation--which brings to mind the militant antimodernism of Pope Pius IX, who died shortly before the Sagrada Família's inception--makes one understand why proletarian radicals did not necessarily view this costly exercise in spiritual advertisement as a social improvement program.

The new church was dedicated to the Holy Family because Saint Joseph was a carpenter with whom the city's laborers might personally identify. But empathetic feelings among that target audience were perhaps undermined when the architect's iconography for the Temptation portal (one of several thematic groupings that in addition to the Nativity include the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, and the Crucifixion) revealed a figure of a demon proffering a workman a spherical Orsini bomb--the handheld weapon favored by fin de siècle anarchists.

Thus despite the populist appeal of the Sagrada Família's exuberant forms and idiosyncratic decoration, a severely critical undertone lodged in some people's minds. Lingering resentment took a violent turn when in 1936, during the Spanish civil war, Republican rioters broke into Gaudí's old studio and destroyed his plaster models for the church. (The CCNY show included twenty-one newly made plaster maquettes, some of them full-scale renderings of building details.) Indeed, as late as the 1960s, when my wife, Rosemarie Haag Bletter, a graduate student of Collins's, did research in Barcelona on Gaudí's lesser-known contemporary Josep Vilaseca, she was habitually quizzed by different factions about her attitude toward the completion of Gaudí's building, a political litmus test under the Franco regime, which looked upon gaudísme as a seditious cover for Catalan dissidents.

This was a tricky question to answer in any case, because Gaudí certainly realized that no one designer could live long enough to see such a grandiose endeavor through to completion. And although he left detailed instructions for parts of the structure still unbuilt during his lifetime, he expected (and accepted) that other designers would put their own, likely quite different, stamp on the structure, as happened with cathedrals such as Chartres, with its mismatching Early Gothic and Flamboyant spires.

"Great temples were not the work of one architect," Gaudí observed, but as the CCNY exhibition and catalog indicate, those in charge at the Sagrada Família today have drawn on his work to the exclusion of all other possibilities. To be sure, a highly skilled, deeply dedicated group of architectural, engineering, and decorative arts professionals has been directed since 2012 by the Barcelona architect Jordi Faulí (who spent the preceding two decades as an associate on the project). The team is hewing as faithfully as possible to the letter of Gaudí's vision, but one wonders about the spirit.

As a visit to the Sagrada Família today indicates, there is such a thing as being too conscientious, an impression confirmed by the excellent color photos in the recent New York show. Employing the most advanced computer imaging technology, it has been possible to reconstitute elements once thought irretrievably lost after Gaudí's models were shattered. Yet the newest portions of the Barcelona landmark utterly lack the tactile quality of the parts of the Sagrada Família carried out while Gaudí was alive. The sense of an artist being physically involved is conspicuously missing from the most recent additions there.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


...consider that Hanover, NH is a town of 10,000, the center of a micropolitan region of 100,000 and this event just raised $3.15 million:

WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-
Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Understanding Tyranny and Terror: From the French Revolution to Modern Islamism (Waller R. Newell, PhD, 6/30/15, Heritage)

The third type of tyranny--and the one of most interest to us--is millenarian. These rulers are content neither to be mere garden-variety tyrants nor to be reforming tyrants who make constructive improvements. They are driven by the impulse to impose a millenarian blueprint on the world that will bring about a society of the future in which the individual is submerged in the collective and all privilege and alienation will forever be eradicated.

The French Revolution began in 1789 as a Lockean revolution patterned on the Glorious and American Revolutions. It was led by students of the Enlightenment like Lafayette and Talleyrand who were bent on establishing the rights of man, limited government, and economic opportunity. In 1793, however, the Jacobins, led by Robespierre, turned it into a Rousseauean revolution aiming to return to an alleged Golden Age of pure collective equality without private possessions or individual self-interest, to be achieved through the destruction of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie and anyone else who was loyal to them.

This was the first millenarian tyranny. After Robespierre, the league of millenarian tyrants includes Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, and today's Jihadists.

The gruesome paradox of their revolution is that the coming world of perfect harmony requires prodigious excesses of mass murder and warfare in the present. We can term it utopian genocide. As Robespierre put it: "We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with them.... Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue."[3] While garden-variety and reforming tyrants have existed from earliest times to the present, millenarian tyranny is strictly modern, with no precedents before the Jacobin Terror of 1793.

Millenarian tyrants sometimes do things for their countries that overlap with reforming tyranny--Stalin and Hitler both contributed to their respective countries' economic and technological modernization--and they are capable behind closed doors of some of the twisted excesses of the garden-variety tyrant. At bottom, however, their goal is beyond politics: They want to destroy today's world in order to bring about the nirvana of "Communism," "the thousand-year Reich," or "the worldwide Caliphate."

Millenarian tyranny is driven by a utopian vision in which society and human nature are to be completely transformed from being unjust, materialistic, and selfish in the present to being spiritually pure, selfless, and communal in the future. This transformation is a night-and-day difference: Virtually nothing can be salvaged from the corrupt present in order to bring about this spiritually cleansed new world. Foremost among its guiding ideals is the return of "the people" to the simplicity of its origins, a collective of pure duty, submission, and self-sacrifice that is stripped of all sources of alienation including individualism, class status, religious faith, and property rights.

Beginning with the Jacobins, this return to the origins is sparked by an intense loathing for the modern age of the Enlightenment and its alleged vulgarity, selfishness, and materialism. Paradoxically, returning to a past that is so distant requires a leap into the future that will destroy all intervening, ordinary, and received traditions, including those of patriotism and religious custom. As composer Richard Wagner said of anarchist Mikhail Bakhunin: "The annihilation of all civilization was the objective on which he had set his heart.... It was necessary, he said, to picture the whole European world ... transformed into a pile of rubble."[4]

All millenarian revolutionary movements have a common set of genocidal aims. They all envision a return to what the Jacobins called "the Year One," a grimly repressive collectivist utopia in which individual freedom is obliterated in the name of the commune, purging people of their vices, including property, freedom of thought, and the satisfactions of family and private life.

The second aim that all of these revolutionary movements share is the identification of a class or race enemy whose extermination is the crucial step needed to bring about the utopian community in which all alienation and vice will end forever. The class or race enemy becomes the embodiment of all human evil, whose destruction will cleanse the planet.

For the Jacobins, it was the bourgeoisie and the aristocrats.

For Stalin, it was the "kulaks," the so-called rich peasants.

For Hitler, it was the Jews.

For the Jihadists today, it is the "Great Satan" (America) and the "Little Satan" (Israel), along with Christians and those who are deemed insufficiently pure Muslims.

Needless to say, the demonology identifying these classes or peoples as the source of all evil in the world is a complete delusion that is required to justify genocide and endow its violence with a supposedly absolute moral justification.
A consistent paradox of millenarian tyranny is that the slate has to be wiped clean of all traditional authorities and customs in the future in order to recapture an alleged Golden Age of the most distant past: the return to the Year One (the Jacobins); "the community of destiny" (National Socialism); "the Year Zero" (the Khmer Rouge); or the alleged original community of Islam.

Revolutionary action reshapes the present in order to bring about a future guided by a past behind the past, behind all received tradition. However deeply rooted and long-established a people's past traditions might appear to be, they too are tainted by corruption and vice from the ground up and must be entirely jettisoned, along with more recent Enlightenment influences, in order to transport us back to the collective bliss and purity of our mythical and primeval origins. Hence, the Jacobins aimed to destroy not only the remnants of the ancien régime, but also the fledgling modern society of Lockean individualism that was beginning to displace it.

To get us there, a revolutionary Messiah is needed--Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Khomeini, al-Baghdadi--to lead a corrupt and fallen world, against its will if need be, into this shining new day. His absolutely tyrannical power in the present is justified as being necessary to end all tyranny and inequality forever.

Another way in which millenarian tyranny differs from even the most brutal of previous tyrannies, whether reforming or garden-variety, is the scale of the methodically applied violence needed to bring about the apocalyptic passage from today to the shining future. Before 1793, history was no stranger to violence, war, civil strife, bloodshed, torture, and mass murder, but not until then was murder used in a dispassionate and methodical way to surgically remove entire designated classes and races from existence--the forces who embody all vice and evil and who therefore stand in the way of the coming collectivist Golden Age.

As early as the Jacobins, the use of mass firing squads and cannons to mow down men and women was already established, anticipating the Nazis' Einsatzgruppen or the recent mass killings in the self-proclaimed Caliphate of ISIS. The numbers liquidated mounted from upwards of 250,000 across France during the Jacobin Terror to tens of millions under the 20th century's millenarian dictatorships with their vastly improved technology of "industrialized murder" in the Gulag and Auschwitz and in Mao's and the Khmer Rouge's re-education camps.

Whereas past tyrannies killed people for challenging their power through uprisings at home or military opposition from without, millenarian tyrannies commit genocide collectively against entire classes and races, whether they oppose them or not. Their victims must be annihilated to the last member before nirvana can come about. It is, so to speak, nothing personal.

Millenarian revolutionaries have no interest in the tangible, moderate aims of a liberal-democratic revolution like the Glorious or American Revolutions for establishing individual rights and enabling every citizen to improve his lot. For the millenarians, individual rights are a part of society's disease and must be purged to create a pure collective in which every individual is interchangeable with every other and submerged in a monolith ruled by the revolutionaries themselves--former terrorists now victorious as godlike masters.

It is all or nothing: As Lenin put it, "the worse, the better." The more oppressive the revolution's enemies are in the present, the more necessary it will be to sweep them away through annihilating violence. True millenarian revolutionaries do not want things to improve; they do not want concrete concessions like higher wages, economic development, or social welfare programs. Such reforms only threaten to corrupt "the people" further by turning them into petits bourgeois.

Their fatal flaw is that it doesn't take very long to realize that the Revolution not only didn't profuce Utopia but made matters worse.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


The Unsoundness of Judicial Supremacy (Paul R. DeHart, July 7th, 2015, Public Discourse)

Decisions of the Supreme Court that go beyond power delegated to the judicial branch or are contrary to the Constitution are null and void. To protect our constitutional republic, citizens, states, and the other branches of the federal government must resist any such decision.

The Supreme Court looms large in American politics. In fact, many accept the claim--made by the Court and others--that the Supreme Court gets the final say as to what counts as law under our system of government. Judicial review is now bound together with the doctrine of judicial supremacy, crafted by Chief Justice Roger Taney in Ableman v. Booth--the case that infamously upheld the Fugitive Slave Act.

Together with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Carson Holloway, and Robert George, I dissent from this view. Judicial supremacy is contrary to republicanism (that is, to popular sovereignty) and to constitutionalism (that is, to the rule of law rather than men). Indeed, the doctrine of judicial supremacy unravels the entire fabric of our constitutional order.

...before a Court which has no legitimate say on the matter.
Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


THE ANSWER MY FRIEND : Denmark's wind farms generated 140% of the country's electricity needs yesterday (Svati Kirsten Narula, July 10, 2015, Quartz)

An unusually windy day gave Scandinavia another chance to show off its global superiority in clean energy yesterday. On July 9, Denmark's wind farms generated more than enough power to meet nationwide electricity demands--with a 16% surplus of energy during the day and a whopping 40% surplus overnight.

The extra energy didn't go to waste; it was exported to Germany, Norway, and Sweden via interconnectors between the countries' electricity grids.

July 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Book Review: The Runes of Evolution:the runes of evolution :How the Universe Became Self-Aware by Simon Conway Morris  (Steve Donoghue, 7/09/15, Open Letters)

The book's subject is one that has preoccupied the author for a long time but which tends to get only glancing references in other works on evolution: convergence, the phenomenon observed countless times in nature where specific body forms or other adaptations (everything from specialized noses to infrared light detection) are arrived at independently by the forces of environmental pressure and natural selection at unconnected times in unconnected species: fish and oceangoing mammals streamlining in many of the same ways, for instance, or echolocation being developed by many species, or the most spectacular example, flight itself, which has been independently achieved four different times in the history of life on Earth, although often through the same means:

In the case of birds, the path to the skies is clearer [than that of the Pterosaurs], but at first sight the convergences between at least the birds and the bats might seem to be superficial. Both flap their wings, and that is the end of the story? Not quite, when it comes to digestive physiology they show some intriguing similarities. The intense metabolic demands for flight are evidently also linked to a striking decrease in the size of the genome. This not only occurred independently in the birds and bats, but tellingly also in the extinct pterosaurs.

"The prospect of a more general theory of biology will depend on teasing out what unites form rather than divides it," Morris writes (noting, winningly, that "In the history of life, things not only change but they get decidedly more interesting"), and although The Runes of Evolution ranges into every detail of living things, one of the main unifying themes in these pages is the convergent evolution of minds, of higher cognition, which is always a dire gamble in evolutionary terms, since big brains take longer to grow than small brains and tend to gobble up enormous amounts of metabolic energy while being far less obviously useful than, say, bristling muscles or sharp fangs. Morris seems interested in all instances of convergence in the natural world, but the convergent development of intelligence seems to fascinate him particularly - even though (or because?) it leads mankind, in his view, into isolated territories. 

There are no Darwinists.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Immigration reviving Christianity in Britain - Cardinal (John Bingham, 07 Jul 2015, The Telegraph)

Immigration is helping to bring Britain back to its Christian roots and reviving religion in a "weary, western" culture, the country's most senior Roman Catholic cleric has insisted.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said an influx of new arrivals was not simply boosting flagging congregations but encouraging the British-born population to rediscover its own "wellsprings of faith".

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Financial crises are nothing new in Greece -- they go back at least to the Peloponnesian War : In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Josiah Ober finds that, for all their sophistication, the Ancient Greeks were useless economists : a review of The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Josiah Ober (Tom Holland 11 July 2015, The Spectator)

Financial crises are nothing new in Greece. Back in 354 BC, at a time when Frankfurt was still a swamp, the Athenian general Xenophon wrote a briefing paper designed to help his city negotiate the aftermath of a disastrous war. His proposals mixed supply-side reform with Keynesian stimulus. The regulatory powers of Athenian officials, so Xenophon suggested, should be streamlined and enhanced; simultaneously, the city should invest in increasing its commercial and housing stock. The economy, boosted by these measures, would also benefit from encouraging foreign investment. 'Imports and exports, sales, rents and customs': all would then surely flourish.

Traditionally, the reputation of classical Greece among economists has tended to be almost as low as that of the modern Greek finance ministry. 'So far as we can tell,' wrote Joseph Schumpeter, 'rudimentary economic analysis is a minor element -- a very minor one --in the inheritance that has been left to us by our cultural ancestors, the Ancient Greeks.'

Nevertheless, it is not only the relative sophistication of Xenophon's analysis that might give a historian pause. There is also, as Josiah Ober makes manifest in his ground-breaking new book, The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, the sheer plenitude of Greek wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


The case for Daesh (The Spectator)

Sir: For once the admirable Rod Liddle has got it completely wrong ('You can't take the Islam out of Islamic State', 4 July). We absolutely shouldn't call the homoerotic, narcissistic death cult 'Islamic State' -- not because it offends ordinary Muslims, nor because it has nothing to do with Islam (it has everything to do with Islam) but because it legitimises and validates the preposterous project. [...] Let us take our lead from the Arabs, who understand the Middle East rather better than we do, and call them Daesh -- precisely because the terrorists don't want to be called by this pejorative word. We don't need to be doing the terrorists' work for them.

Justin Marozzi
London NW3

July 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Why Scott Walker's presidential campaign could be over before it's even begun (Michael Brendan Dougherty, July 10, 2015, )

First there was his performance at CPAC, which revealed that Walker is almost entirely untutored in foreign affairs. Remember when he said that if he could take on 100,000 protestors in Wisconsin, he could take on ISIS? In which direction is that comparison more idiotic? He's been reading a few books on the subject, though. So there's that.

Walker also slipped into near self-parody when he hailed Reagan's conflict with the air-traffic controllers union as a major foreign policy victory. What's next, fixing entitlements by defeating the electrician's union?

Donors noticed these slip-ups. But Walker also hurt his reputation with less wealthy supporters. Despite portraying himself as a fearless man of the political battle, he engaged in some embarrassing pandering by firing an adviser merely because she had expressed some coherent views on Iowa's pathetic reliance on ethanol subsidies. The supposed fighter caved before the corn lobby, since he sees Iowa as his best shot at establishing himself in the race. The former opponent of ethanol is now a friend of the stuff.

Muddying his positions has been Walker's modus operandi since the beginning of the 2016 campaign. He's made a mess of his stance on immigration. He told Fox News he opposes amnesty, then went to New Hampshire and said he supports granting citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants. He reconciled these positions by saying he wanted to secure the border first, then naturalize those 11 million. And back in 2006 he was for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that had a path to citizenship. So really, who knows?

He's created a similar mess on education. Gearing up to be the conservatives' conservative, Walker is now opposed to Common Core standards, which are often labeled "ObamaCore" by the policy's most active conservative opponents. But as governor, Walker mostly let Core standards come into place, and offered only the most token opposition to them. His approach to this issue is much worse than that of Jeb Bush, who frames his unapologetic and occasionally unpopular support for Common Core in conservative terms of accountability. In the past week, a diverse ideological coalition demanded that Walker stop giving "excuses and half truths" about this issue.

Bad Polls, Big Egos (Robert Schlessinger, 7/10/15, US News)

The latest measures of his popularity came in April, when Wisconsinites gave their governor a 41 percent approval rating in a pair of polls with 55 or 58 percent disapproving, depending upon which poll you looked at. (Adding insult to injury, one poll had Walker losing to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by double digits while the other had 60 percent of Badger State residents saying that he would make a "not so good" or "poor" president.)

And if anything, the passage of time has probably hurt his standing as he's pushed controversial budget cuts that even brought resistance from Republicans in the state legislature. "If anything, [Walker's job approval is] probably even lower since then as state budget is more controversial," one long-time observer of Wisconsin politics says.

Incredibly, Walker's upside-down approval numbers will only make him the third most unpopular governor in the field. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in in May with a 32 percent approval rating, which is 10 percentage points behind President Barack Obama's rating in the state. And the once-formidable Chris Christie takes the prize as most unpopular governor in the race, with only 30 percent of his constituents approving of his performance according to a poll taken last month.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Turns out Americans work really hard...but some want to work harder (Chris Isidore and Tami Luhby, 7/10/15, CNNMoney)

productivity vs income growth 2

Liberating productivity from labor costs is the great economic revolution of our times.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Israel bars Palestinian-funded TV channel from operating (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL,  July 10, 2015)

An Israeli cabinet minister signed an order Thursday barring a Palestinian TV channel geared toward Israel's Arab citizens from operating inside the Jewish state for the next six months.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Big loser in any nuclear deal with Iran may be Russia (Agnia Grigas and Amir Handjani, July 10, 2015, WSJ)

As Iran and six world powers edge closer to solidifying an accord that puts limits on Tehran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, a unique opportunity presents itself for the West. The United States and its European partners could begin to decouple the unnatural Iranian-Russian alliance to reign in Moscow's hegemonic ambitions, as well as bring Iran back into the global economic fold. Competition between Moscow and Tehran would reduce Russia's influence in the Middle East, unlock Iran and may even serve Europe's future interest as it looks for alternatives to Russian gas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM

WE CAN'T MAKE IT THIS TIME, BUT... (profanity alert):

The good folks at Northern Spy Records let us know that Shilpa Ray, is playing in South Burlington on the 12th of July. She recently appeared on the WNYC show Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson.

And really, how often do you get to hear Hindu-American punk rock featuring a harmonium?

Shilpa Ray
July 12th, 2015 @ Higher Ground Showcase Lounge
Burlington, VT7:30pm
$15 advance / $18 door
w/ Murder by Death
Ticket Link

Shilpa Ray Continued Her Rise to Power at Northside Festival 2015 (MARIA SCHURR, 8 July 2015, Pop Matters)

Ray has been a standalone talent in the bustling Brooklyn scene for years, cutting her teeth in countless small-to-mid-sized venues before landing a touring spot with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and releasing her full-length, Last Year's Savage, last month. Last Year's Savage consists mostly of songs Ray has been developing in those Brooklyn and Manhattan clubs, material that sounded more potent than ever in Rough Trade's pristine acoustics. Sandwiched between label mates PC Worship and the Sun Ra Arkestra (on loan from El Ra Records), both of whom gave similarly immersive sets, Ray's performance held sway in its largely minimal presentation, captivating many a weary festivalgoer on Northside's closing Sunday night.
The set began with a sleeping figure wearing the same baboon mask featured on the Last Year's Savage album cover. This eerie character rose and danced in a silky white dress to album opener "Burning Bride" before drifting off into the audience. After that, blistering song followed blistering song, with a couple of breathers granted in the form of instrument changes and well-placed banter. Despite a set that wasn't quite an hour, Ray touched on a couple of periods throughout her career, including a song from her mid-'00s band Beat the Devil and a few cuts from her 2013 EP It's All Self-Fellatio Shilpa Ray. The Last Year's Savage single "Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp" gets special mention for its pounding singalong quality and its ability to feel even shorter than its 2:30 run time. It's the sort of song you wish were twice as long, although it still manages to stick in the head for days despite its brevity. It would be easy to say that "Johnny Thunders" is the strongest song on the album, but tracks such as "Oh My Northern Soul", "Moksha", and "Pop Song For Euthanasia" make such convincing cases that it's impossible to state such a thing with much assurance.

Ray's impassioned and titanium-strength voice and harmonium-pounding is the star of any show, but a few words of praise are also due her backing band, dubbed the Rayettes at one point in the set. These musicians include the multi-instrumentalist talents of guitarist / bassist Alistair Paxton and pedal steel player / bassist Jon Catfish Delorme, plus the invigorating drumming of Russ Lemkin.

July 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


Reports: ISIL leader in Afghanistan killed in U.S. drone strike (Jane Onyanga-Omara and Gregg Zoroya, 7/09/15, USA TODAY)

A senior leader for the Islamic State in Afghanistan, currently embroiled in a feud with the Taliban over who will conduct the insurgency there, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, local media reported Thursday.

The strike killed Shahidullah Shahid and more than two dozen militants in eastern Afghanistan south of the city of Jalalabad. It was in that city where Islamic State militants conducted their first major attack against Afghan civilians in April, killing 35 in a suicide bombing.

The drone strike was Tuesday, the same day Taliban officials met for the first time with an Afghanistan delegation in Islamabad, Pakistan, to open peace negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job : Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can't really talk about it. (JOHN H. RICHARDSON, Esquire)

For more than thirty years, climate scientists have been living a surreal existence. A vast and ever-growing body of research shows that warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted. The physical evidence becomes more dramatic every year: forests retreating, animals moving north, glaciers melting, wildfire seasons getting longer, higher rates of droughts, floods, and storms--five times as many in the 2000s as in the 1970s. In the blunt words of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, conducted by three hundred of America's most distinguished experts at the request of the U. S. government, human-induced climate change is real--U. S. temperatures have gone up between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees, mostly since 1970--and the change is already affecting "agriculture, water, human health, energy, transportation, forests, and ecosystems." But that's not the worst of it. Arctic air temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the world--a study by the U. S. Navy says that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice by next year, eighty-four years ahead of the models--and evidence little more than a year old suggests the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is doomed, which will add between twenty and twenty-five feet to ocean levels. The one hundred million people in Bangladesh will need another place to live and coastal cities globally will be forced to relocate, a task complicated by economic crisis and famine--with continental interiors drying out, the chief scientist at the U. S. State Department in 2009 predicted a billion people will suffer famine within twenty or thirty years. And yet, despite some encouraging developments in renewable energy and some breakthroughs in international leadership, carbon emissions continue to rise at a steady rate, and for their pains the scientists themselves--the cruelest blow of all--have been the targets of an unrelenting and well-organized attack that includes death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defense fund, all amplified by a relentless propaganda campaign nakedly financed by the fossil-fuel companies. Shortly before a pivotal climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, thousands of their e-mail streams were hacked in a sophisticated espionage operation that has never been solved--although the official police investigation revealed nothing, an analysis by forensics experts traced its path through servers in Turkey and two of the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia. 

Among climate activists, gloom is building. Jim Driscoll of the National Institute for Peer Support just finished a study of a group of longtime activists whose most frequently reported feeling was sadness, followed by fear and anger. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth slide-show training, calls this "pretraumatic" stress. "So many of us are exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic disorder--the anger, the panic, the obsessive intrusive thoughts." Leading activist Gillian Caldwell went public with her "climate trauma," as she called it, quitting the group she helped build and posting an article called "16 Tips for Avoiding Climate Burnout," in which she suggests compartmentalization: "Reinforce boundaries between professional work and personal life. It is very hard to switch from the riveting force of apocalyptic predictions at work to home, where the problems are petty by comparison."

Most of the dozens of scientists and activists I spoke to date the rise of the melancholy mood to the failure of the 2009 climate conference and the gradual shift from hope of prevention to plans for adaptation: Bill McKibben's book Eaarth is
a manual for survival on an earth so different he doesn't think we should even spell it the same, and James Lovelock delivers the same message in A Rough Ride to the Future. In Australia, Clive Hamilton writes articles and books with titles like Requiem for a Species. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, the melancholy Jonathan Franzen argued that, since earth now "resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy," we should stop trying to avoid the inevitable and spend our money on new nature preserves, where birds can go extinct a little more slowly.

At the darkest end of the spectrum are groups like Deep Green Resistance, which openly advocates sabotage to "industrial infrastructure," and the thousands who visit the Web site and attend the speeches of Guy McPherson, a biology professor at the University of Arizona who concluded that renewables would do no good, left his job, and moved to an off-grid homestead to prepare for abrupt climate change. "Civilization is a heat engine," he says. "There's no escaping the trap we've landed ourselves into."

The most influential is Paul Kingsnorth, a longtime climate activist and novelist who abandoned hope for political change in 2009. Retreating to the woods of western Ireland, he helped launch a group called Dark Mountain with a stirring, gloomy manifesto calling for "a network of writers, artists, and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself." Among those stories: progress, growth, and the superiority of man. The idea quickly spread, and there are now fifty Dark Mountain chapters around the world. Fans have written plays and songs and a Ph.D. thesis about them. On the phone from Ireland, he explains the appeal.

"You have to be careful about hope. If that hope is based on an unrealistic foundation, it just crumbles and then you end up with people who are despairing. I saw that in Copenhagen--there was a lot of despair and giving up after that."

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Marco Rubio's Education Plans Echo Some Obama Ideas (Alan Rappeport, 7/09/15, NY Times)

Mr. Rubio, the Republican from Florida, called for overhauling the college accreditation system, creating a pay scale for student loan repayment and expanding investment in vocational training.

Many of the details from those ideas sounded strikingly similar to policies that President Obama has called for during his time in office.

Mr. Rubio called for creating "a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers" that would allow new competitors into the education marketplace. In 2013, Mr. Obama proposed establishing "a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results."

On Tuesday, Mr. Rubio proposed a progressive scale for student loan repayments to ease burdens on people who take lower wage jobs when they graduate. "The more they make, the faster they pay back their loans; and the less they make, the less strain their loans cause," he said.

Last summer, Mr. Obama made a similar appeal, devising a "pay as you earn" plan that give Americans who were repaying loans the chance to cap those payments at 10 percent of their incomes.

The senator also said that if he is elected president he would expand apprenticeship programs and make vocational training more easily accessible. While the idea came without specifics of how this would be achieved, it did echo a proposal that Mr. Obama put forward at the end of his first term that to ramp up spending on vocational training at the high school and college level.

While Mr. Rubio has worked with Democrats on education legislation in the past, not all of his ideas are popular with the opposing party. 

...by delivering a Rubio/Obama bill to the President's desk.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


The Case of the Pro-Life Movement: On Demography and Marriage (Michael J. New, July 7th, 2015, Public Discourse)

After Obergefell v. Hodges, do these circumstances warrant despondency among those remaining supporters of marriage as the union of husband and wife? Not at all, for the same situation faced pro-lifers during the 1970s. Old laws and mores were overturned, and people seemed to like it. Then, too, analysts doubted the pro-life movement's life expectancy, for a couple of reasons.

First, as the post-Roe abortion rate increased, so did the number of people who knew someone who had an abortion. Some thought that such people would be motivated to keep abortion legal, for the more abortions there were that occurred, the more the reality of abortion would confront people. As people became acquainted with the pressures facing women in difficult circumstances, it was supposed, they would become more sympathetic with those who found a solution in abortion.

But even though the abortion numbers dramatically increased, people never really became desensitized. Many physicians did not want to perform abortions, and in fact some abortion advocates are worried about the decreasing numbers of physicians willing to perform them. But more importantly, many women who obtained abortions regretted their experience, and many men who were involved regretted their involvement. Ultrasound technology would quickly develop, and vivid pictures of unborn children would start to appear on refrigerators and bulletin boards. All in all, even though the incidence of abortion increased, many Americans simply never accepted Roe v. Wade the way they accepted previous Supreme Court decisions involving privacy and contraception.

Secondly, there were the facts to deal with. A number of 1970s opinion surveys revealed growing support for legal abortion, especially among young people. Of these, the General Social Survey (GSS) was and continues to be the most detailed, having collected the public's opinions on abortion since the early 1970s. Nearly every year, the GSS asks respondents whether or not abortion should be legal in each of six circumstances, ranging from hard cases involving rape or incest to easier ones concerning relatively unrestricted elective abortions.

Someone analyzing the GSS in 1975 might have gotten the impression that in the pro-choice position lay America's future. In fact, countless surveys showed that young adults were far more likely to support legal abortion than the elderly. But someone analyzing the GSS forty years later could be excused for drawing a very different conclusion. Indeed, the GSS shows that young adults are actually the most pro-life age demographic. Supporters of traditional marriage should take comfort in this fact; it is reasonable to hope that the marriage situation--both culturally and legally--will improve, grim as the present outlook might seem.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Who Benefits from Iran Sanctions Relief? : Sanctions relief will mean "more mansions and Ferraris on Tehran's streets." (Alireza Nader, July 2, 2015, National Interest)

So who would benefit from the post-deal sanctions relief? There is no easy answer to this, as all parties concerned--the Rouhani government, the Iranian people, and the Revolutionary Guards in control of Iran's regional policies­--are likely to benefit. Nevertheless, much of the economic boost from sanctions relief is likely to be consumed internally by the Rouhani government, the political-economic elite, and to some extent the Iranian people. Those responsible for Iran's foreign policy, including the Revolutionary Guards, will have more resources, but Iran's regional influence is not as much dependent on money as it is on Tehran's ability to exploit the growing instability around it. And that takes less funding than often assumed.

Upon taking power, the Rouhani government expressed shock at the economic disarray former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had left behind. Ahmadinejad had presided over the highest oil prices in Iran's history. Yet much of the nearly $700 billion in oil money earned under him was spent on projects with little benefit for the average Iranian. Quite a bit of it was spent on subsidies meant to gratify Ahmadinejad's lower class constituency. For example, Ahmadinejad sunk billions into the Mehr subsidized housing program, but it has been deemed unsuccessful and wasteful by many in Iran. Many of the houses built are poorly constructed or remain unfinished. The Rouhani government has blamed Mehr for causing much of the inflation faced by the country. Billions of dollars also disappeared due to corruption--several members of Ahmadinejad's government have been charged or are under investigation for corruption, and more cases will likely emerge after a nuclear deal.

In addition, Ahmadinejad provided billions of dollars in loans and no bid contracts to Revolutionary Guards affiliated companies. A substantial amount appears to have been gobbled up by Iran's influential clerics and wealthy foundations (bonyads). During Ahmadinejad's presidency, Tehran's streets were flooded by luxury cars driven by the children of wealthy Guards and clerics. Iran no doubt provided money to Hezbollah and Hamas in addition to a number of other allies. But the amounts provided (estimates range in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year) pale in comparison to the billions spent and squandered on Ahmadinejad's domestic ambitions. It is therefore not surprising that Rouhani, once in office, discovered government coffers to be nearly empty and national debt nearly reaching $100 billion.

Much of the money repatriated to Iran will have to be spent on addressing the government's inherited problems. In addition, Iran needs an estimated $200 billion in investments for its dilapidated energy sector. But perhaps more importantly, at least some of the economic benefit from sanctions relief has to trickle down to the average Iranian. Rouhani was able to win his election because Iranians were desperate for change, especially economic relief.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The Mysterious Columba Bush : Who is Jeb's wife, what effect will she have on his campaign--and what effect will his campaign have on their marriage? (HANNA ROSIN  JUNE 2015, The Atlantic)

"She had the most limited role of any spouse I've ever worked with," a strategist on Jeb's 2002 reelection campaign told me. Columba would participate in events now and again, but everyone understood that a public role "was not in her comfort zone." Her influence was felt on the campaign mostly because members of the staff knew that they often had to make sure Jeb ended his days early enough to be home for dinner. Those who know her well paint her as the anti-Claire Underwood, the political spouse on House of Cards. You could also describe her as the anti-Bill Clinton, her possible counterpart in next year's general election. "She is not somebody who is reading any political reporting or interested in being in the room to strategize tactics. She is completely uninterested in that," says Jim Towey, a friend of the couple's who served in George W. Bush's administration. "In politics you get a lot of clone people. And she is so not the clone."

Who she is is a harder question, due in part to her reluctance to develop a public persona or talk to the press. (She wouldn't talk to me, even with campaign season heating up, although Jeb and I corresponded.) Bush loyalists bristle at the idea that Columba would have trouble fitting into the role of first lady in the White House. One scolded me that the press was just being "stupid" and "lazy" by saying that she hates public life and failing to recognize all the causes she has taken up over the past 15 or so years.

It's true that she has adopted first-lady-worthy causes, working with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, and Arts for Life, a group that gives scholarships to young artists. By all accounts, she advocates earnestly and effectively, visiting shelters, studying reports on addiction in adolescence, putting together exhibitions, and connecting donors with charities. Everyone I interviewed who's worked with her says she doesn't seek the limelight, nor even any recognition for her actions--which is admirable. It's admirable, too, that she's been able to remain, well, normal, despite her marriage into such a high-powered political clan. But as a modern first lady, she'll be expected to come out from behind the scenes. And whether she likes it or not, what she does and how she feels will affect her husband as a person and as a candidate--and that interplay will be endlessly dissected.

These days, Columba's distaste for public life, historically a source of volatility for Jeb, is being reframed as a balm. "What he loves about Columba is that she's an emotional anchor for him," Ana Navarro, a family friend and a Republican strategist, told me. "She lives outside the political bubble and brings his focus back to the really important things in life, like family and friends and faith."

"Everyone seeks emotional refuge," Al Cardenas, another family friend and a former head of the Florida Republican Party, told me. "And that's what she provides. She brings sanity into a world filled with politics." But even Cardenas seemed to sense that it can be hard to conceive of them as a couple, like Bill and Hillary or Brad and Angelina, because she's so absent from the publicly visible parts of Jeb's world. So at the end of our conversation, he felt the need to make it explicit to me, about Jeb's wife of 41 years: "Look, he loves her unconditionally. She is a major, integral part of his life.""

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Redeeming Shawshank (FATHER DWIGHT LONGENECKER, 7/09/15, CERC)

Based on a novella by Stephen King, the film recounts the story of uptight banker Andy Dufresne, who is locked up for life in Shawshank State Prison for the murder of his wife and lover despite his claims of innocence.  With a spell binding plot and a tight twist in the tale, the film has a mysterious power to draw audiences back for repeated viewings.

...would be for Morgan Freeman to find the murder weapon when he digs up that box.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Religious Pluralism is a Strategic Problem for Israel (Jonathan S. Tobin, 07.09.2015, Commentary)

When Israel's current government was formed this spring after the March Knesset elections, there were a number of clear winners and losers in terms of the country's political rivals. But one of the big losers from the reshuffling of Prime Minister Netanyahu's cabinet was the overwhelming majority of American Jews who do not identify with Orthodox Jewry. Since then, a number of incidents have occurred in which government officials have made statements that have further alienated the many Diaspora Jews who bitterly resent the way their denominations are treated as non-Jewish religions rather than equal partners in the Jewish future. To date, Netanyahu, like his predecessors in both Likud and Labor, have tried to mollify American Jews with conciliatory statements. But after the latest such insult, it is clearly time for him to do more. Israelis on the left and the right, secular as well as religious need to come to grips with the fact that attacks on pluralism are more than an annoying public relations problem. They constitute a strategic problem for the Jewish state that needs to be addressed.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:33 AM


Book: They Call Me Stein on Vine by Gary Chen

As a teenager getting hooked on jazz in the 1970's and living in northern New Jersey, the Los Angeles jazz world seemed an amazing place.  Although there was certainly a thriving jazz scene in the NY metropolitan area, because so many LA-based jazzmen not only were featured on the jazz albums I was buying, but were paying their bills working pop and rock recording sessions and playing on film and TV soundtracks, the names and sounds of guys like Conte and Pete Candoli, Pete Christlieb (ATJ #26), Don Menza, Ernie Watts, Lou Levy,  Dick and Ted Nash (the father and uncle of the Ted Nash in ATJ #4),  Jack Sheldon, Frank Rosolino, Buddy Collette, and Plas Johnson became familiar to me even though the farthest west I had ever travelled was Gettysburg.   

For many decades, the Stein on Vine music store (conveniently located across the street from the Musician's Local office in Hollywood) was a gathering place for top LA musicians...especially jazz musicians.  The store was started by Maury Stein, a Chicago-born reed player who, in the late 40's, took a 16-year old Stan Getz under his wing when both were in the sax section of Jack Teagarden's band.  When the days of big bands came to an end, Stein found his way out west and opened the store.  He quickly became a larger than life character on the LA music scene, running his shop not as an efficient, money-making business, but as a place where musicians could swap stories and drinks, share a joint, hold informal jam sessions and, if down on their luck, borrow a horn or get one on a generous layaway plan.    

In the late 70's or early '80's (the book is a little hazy on dates), Gary Chen, a Taiwanese guitar player who had come to the States to study jazz at the Berklee school in Boston, decided to pass through LA on his way home and visit friends for a few weeks.  Needing some money and hoping to find a part-time job at a music store, he opened the Yellow Pages and called the number of the first ad he saw, not knowing it was the famous Stein on Vine or that he was about to embark on the adventure of his life.  

They Call Me Stein on Vine is Chen's memoir about his years working at (and, after Maury's death, eventually owning) Stein on Vine.  The book starts with a chronological retelling of Gary's life story and how he ended up at the store.  He then gives short (ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages) reminiscences of dozens of the musicians who have walked through his door.  

I can't remember the last book I enjoyed as much as They Call Me Stein on Vine.  Sure it's politically incorrect, with its references to Jews and Chinamen, gamblers and philanderers, and drug and alcohol use (and occasional abuse), but at its heart is the story of many of the great jazz men of the mid to late 20th and early 21st centuries, and the Taiwanese immigrant who was lucky enough to become their friend, confidant and supporter. Even if you've never set foot in Gary's store...or aren't even a jazz fan...you will be by turns amused, touched and delighted by these stories.  (Just one example: the legendary Benny Goodman, a notorious, Jack Benny-level cheapskate, comes into the store to get some reeds.  He opens box after box, trying and rejecting reed after reed...thus making them unsellable.  He's not even really properly testing them; instead of affixing the reeds to his mouthpiece with the ligature, he's just holding them in place with his thumb, tooting a note or two and tossing them on the floor.  He finally declares one to be acceptable, and Maury asks Benny to at least pay for that one.  Benny responds by saying that was the reed he came in with in the first place.)  

I appreciated Gary's inside looks at famous musicians such as Stan Getz, Ray Brown, Wayne Shorter and Benny Carter...but really loved the stories about guys I knew less about such as the Candoli brothers, Al McKibbon and Lou Levy...especially Lou Levy...he deserves his own full-length biography.

When I lived in Los Angeles in the 80's and 90's, Stein on Vine is where I went to buy reeds and other supplies, have my sax adjusted, try out used horns or just stare at the autographed head-shots that covered the walls of all the great musicians who had frequented the store...and who I had admired from afar as a teenager.  I knew Gary as the guy who was always behind the counter, but never imagined the stories he could have told if I had ever struck up a conversation.  After reading his book, I am now kicking myself.

July 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


U.S., 11 Partners Set Gathering in Hopes of Finishing Pacific Trade Deal (WILLIAM MAULDIN, July 7, 2015, WSJ)

The Obama administration will host a high-level trade meeting in late July in an effort to conclude a sweeping Pacific trade pact, after winning key legislation in Congress last month to expedite U.S. approval.

U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman will join trade ministers from Japan, Vietnam and nine other countries around the Pacific on Hawaii's island of Maui from July 28-31, Mr. Froman's office said in a statement Tuesday. Other officials will gather earlier for lower-level talks on the trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Ten years after 7/7, al-Qaeda has been routed (Con Coughlin, 08 Jul 2015, The Telegraph)

It will come as little comfort to the victims of the July 7 bombings in London, whose terrible ordeal was remembered yesterday with quiet dignity in ceremonies marking the atrocity's 10th anniversary. But al-Qaeda, the Islamist terror group that planned and carried out the suicide attacks against the capital's transport system, has today been reduced to a state of near irrelevance as a result of the West's relentless counter-terrorism campaign.

At the time of the suicide bombings in the summer of 2005, which killed 52 people and injured more than 700, al-Qaeda had established itself as the world's pre-eminent terrorist organisation. Having masterminded the September 11 attacks against the United States in 2001, it claimed responsibility for a string of other outrages, such as bombings in Bali, Riyadh and Istanbul. [...]

[L]ooking back, the July 7 attacks turned out to be the high point of al-Qaeda's attempts to terrorise the British mainland. Subsequent efforts to carry out similar outrages in the UK, such as blowing up a number of US-bound transatlantic flights in mid air and bombing high-profile shopping malls, were thwarted by the improved intelligence on al-Qaeda's operations available to UK officials.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Reform Jews 'stab Torah in the back'  (ADIV STERMAN, July 8, 2015, Times of Israel)

An ultra-Orthodox Knesset member waded into a new "who is a Jew" furor Wednesday, saying that while he does consider Reform Jews to be Jewish, they are "stabbing the holy Torah in the back."

...you generally don't use language that makes you sound like Hitler.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


War Veterans Lead the Way in Reconciling Former Enemies (THOMAS FULLER, JULY 5, 2015, NY Times)

Over the past several years, Vietnam and the United States have come together so quickly that even the architects of the reconciliation call it breathtaking. That will be highlighted on Tuesday when Nguyen Phu Trong, the head of Vietnam's Communist Party, the symbol of what America was fighting, visits the White House for the first time.

"It's really the exclamation point on the establishment of diplomatic relations," Antony J. Blinken, the deputy United States secretary of state, said in an interview. "One Vietnamese senior official said to me, 'With this visit there is no going back on the relationship.' " [...]

"Among all the choices, Vietnam chooses Pax Americana," said Le Van Cuong, a retired general who five decades ago was fighting America.

Like many other Vietnamese officials, he is outspoken in his mistrust of China, which he calls a common enemy of the United States and Vietnam. There has been a longstanding antipathy in Vietnam toward China, with which it fought a border war in 1979 and has clashed over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"The main goal of the Chinese is to kick out the United States from the geopolitical stage and to become the No. 1 power," he said.

Vietnam and the United States are two of a dozen countries negotiating a wide-ranging free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The agreement does not include China. The Vietnamese see the agreement as a way, among other things, of having more direct trade with the United States that is not routed through China.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Saudi star of hit TV show poking fun at Islamic State group says this is the real "jihad" (AYA BATRAWY, 7/08/15, Associated Press)

A new TV satire program has become a hit in the Arab world by mocking some of the region's most serious issues, from the intractable Sunni-Shiite divide and religious extremism to the brutality of militants like the Islamic State group.

The show, "Selfie," has also brought a backlash. Islamic State group sympathizers have made death threats against its Saudi star and top writer on social media. One mainstream Saudi cleric denounced the show of heresy for mocking the country's ultraconservative religious establishment. That has made it the buzz of the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is the peak television viewing season in the Middle East.

Naser al-Qasabi, the series' star, and its writer Khalaf al-Harbi told The Associated Press in their first interview with foreign media that they expected the backlash, but weren't prepared for the popularity. It's one of the top shows on MBC, the privately owned Saudi network that airs it, and has been the talk of the Gulf press.

Mockery is an underutilized weapon in what is basically just a culture war.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Post-sanctions Iran 'could be the best emerging market for years to come' (Ian Black, 6 July 2015, The Guardian)

 "We are like a pilot on the runway ready to take off," a bullish Mansour Moazami told the Wall Street Journal. "This is how the whole country is right now."

Oil matters. But Iran's economy is far more diverse than that of Saudi Arabia, its great rival in the region. It is the world's largest exporter of cement, as well as pistachios, saffron and caviar. Shipping is another big earner. State-owned Iran Shipping Lines has been badly hit by sanctions and stands to benefit significantly when they go, analysts say.

The single most urgent change business wants is the end to the ban on bank transfers under the international Swift system. "That has been the biggest blow," said Rouzbeh Pirouz, chairman of Turquoise Partners. "But it's not just that. Iranian companies have had difficulty trading and participating in global markets." Yet interest from European countries has grown "exponentially" since the interim nuclear agreement was signed in Lausanne in April. Iran's financial sector, food and beauty products are of special interest, he added. And French investors are looking closely at investment in hotels in the expectation of a leap forward in tourism. [...]

If there is an agreement, there will be plenty of business opportunities, but no bonanza for foreigners. "We are ready to use the potential of foreign investment," said banker Majid Zamani. "But this is not Russia in the 1990s. Some people make it sound like a gold rush. There won't be one because there is already a free market and free trade here. For people who want to add value Iran is the place to be. It could be the best emerging market for years to come."

What is true for a growing giant like Digikala is true for traders in Tehran's legendary and famously conservative bazaar. "I am optimistic about the future," beamed Mostafa, surveying his little stationery shop in one of the labyrinth of alleys around the Masjid Shah (Shah mosque - still referred to thus despite having being renamed Masjid Khomeini long ago.) "If sanctions end people will be in a better mood and buy more. And if the dollar is reasonably stable we can buy the paper we import from Indonesia at a decent price."

On all sides there is a recognition of the clear link between resolving the nuclear issue and economic prosperity. "In business we talk about win-win," quipped Saeed Rahmani, founder of Sarava Pars venture capital and chairman of the Digikala board. "Countries are no different."

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM



Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California say another advantage exists -- an environmental one. If a fleet of autonomous electric taxis were to replace everyone's gas-powered, personal cars, we could see more than a 90 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and almost 100 percent decrease in oil consumption from cars, all while saving money in the long run. Right now that may seem like a long shot, but a study earlier this year said that 44 percent of Americans would consider buying a driverless car in the next 10 years, even if it would cost $5,000 more.

Now this may seem obvious: if you started to only build electric cars, emissions and oil consumption will fall. But what surprised Berkeley researchers was how most efficient such a system would actually be, even with the relatively high cost of electric vehicles today.

"You don't often find that, where the cheapest is also the greenest," said Jeff Greenblatt, co-author of the study.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Jeb Bush Lays Out His Foreign Policy Vision (Jamie Weinstein, 07/05/2015, Politico)

Talking to TheDC, Jeb Bush seemed to place less emphasis on democracy promotion than his brother did and some of the other 2016 Republican presidential contenders, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have. While Bush said liberal democracy is "one of the values that we need to promote," he added it is hardly the only, or even most important, one.

"It has to be tempered with the realization that not every country is immediately going to become a little 'd' democratic country," Bush said. "Iraq would be a good example of that I think."

But, Bush argued, a focus on security can ultimately lead to liberal democracy.

"I think ultimately security will lead towards democracy and having an engaged America will help make that so, but you cannot have democracy without security," Bush said when asked if he could imagine considering America's missions in Afghanistan and Iraq as successes if those countries don't end up as liberal democracies.

Democracy without security isn't worth having, but nor is security without democracy.  We get iimpatient with these places, but they work it out eventually.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Can 5-Year-Olds in Mississippi Conquer the Common Core? : Standards are becoming harder and Mississippi kindergartens start school behind their peers in other states (Jackie Mader, 7/05/15, Washington Monthly)

Nationally, more than 40 states have adopted or adapted Common Core, with ensuing questions about how well they were suited for each K-12 grade. However, the changes to kindergarten have garnered special outrage. While some supporters say young learners are fully capable of mastering these new standards, early childhood experts insist some standards are too tough and will further pull kindergarteners away from traditional, play-based learning.

Often it's parents who are flummoxed by the changes to what used to be a softer, more relaxed introduction to school.

"I was just blown away that they wanted a kindergartener to know that much," said Mississippi parent, Kathy Glover, referring to noticeable instructional changes for her second child.

"I was thinking, 'Does second grade now start in kindergarten?'" she said.

Message to parents: 'Days of naps and unstructured play are long gone!'

In Mississippi, where a 2013 survey of teachers found that 40 percent of students in the state arrive unprepared for kindergarten, the new standards are truly daunting. Teachers surveyed said that some students were unable to hold crayons or identify colors.

These are the kids the opponents of a core want to leave behind.
Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Scott Walker's Flip-Flop Problem (Jonathan S. Tobin, 07.07.2015, Commentary)

During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker's decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker's office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker's willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


Why Uber wants Tesla Motors' self-driving cars (Stephen Edelstein, JULY 8, 2015, CS Monitor)

If Tesla can build a fully-autonomous car by 2020, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says his company would buy it. In fact, he'd buy every one Tesla builds.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


Reform Jews can die for Israel, but not all would be buried as Jews (AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN, July 8, 2015, Times of Israel)

At age 13, Seth fulfilled a lifelong dream and celebrated his bar mitzvah atop the ancient Jewish fortress Masada. The intense July heat was made barely bearable by an infrequent desert breeze. But to the group, singing Israeli folk songs and ancient prayers under a canvas tent on the poignant historic site overlooking the Dead Sea, the experience was joyous and meaningful.

Seth was raised in a Charleston, South Carolina, Reform synagogue, where he went to Hebrew school every week. His father is Jewish, his mother is not. And although he was converted by a rabbinical court in a ritual bath as a baby and raised as a Jew, he's not considered Jewish by the Israeli chief rabbinate.

Were Seth to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, this proud Reform Jew and Zionist would not be allowed to marry -- or be buried -- in Jewish ceremonies. And naturally for Seth, like for the majority of Diaspora Jews who do not practice Orthodox Judaism, this is puzzling -- and insulting.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Pentagon Set to Announce Massive Army Cutbacks (DAN DE LUCE, JULY 7, 2015, Foreign Policy)

The reductions will shrink the Army to 450,000 troops by October 2017, down from the current level of 490,000, defense officials said.

The Army provided the bulk of the troops in the grinding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the force rose to a peak of 570,000 in 2012. But the Defense Department is under pressure to contain military spending, and cutting back the largest branch of the armed services offers big savings.

A few hundred thousand left to go...

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


New York bar tackles gender pay gap by charging women 77% of bar tab (Jana Kasperkevic,  8 July 2015, The Guardian)

On Tuesday night, The Way Station, a bar in the Prospects Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, gave a whole new meaning to ladies' night. This 7 July - 7/7 - the local watering hole was drawing attention to the gender pay gap by charging women just 77% of their bar tab.

Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Why you put on an American accent when you sing : Alesha Dixon has been accused of singing in an American accent at the Grand Prix. Why do British singers end up sounding like they're from the States? (Olivia Rudgard,  06 Jul 2015, The Telegraph)

Even while singing that most British of songs, her own country's national anthem, it seems Hertfordshire-born Alesha Dixon couldn't resist the temptation to slip into an American accent.

The pop star was ridiculed after performing God Save the Queen at the British Grand Prix on Sunday with a distinctly US twang.

She claimed it was 'soul', and deliberately done. But she wouldn't be the first to fall foul of an urge to put on the voice. It's pretty common for non-American singers to sound like they're from across the pond while singing. [...]

So why do proud Brits lapse into an American voice when singing?

What accent?

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Project Fi review: The most remarkable feature of Google's new cell service (Brian Fung July 8, 2015, Washington Post)

I'll say it upfront: The most remarkable thing about Project Fi is how much it feels like every other cellphone carrier.

That may sound plain and boring, but it's no small achievement for Google and its attempt to undercut Verizon, AT&T and other wireless companies. [...]

Google is leaping into the wireless business with a brand-new technology, one that lets you jump from WiFi to Sprint's network to T-Mobile's, without ever hanging up your call. This type of seamless handoff is what allows Google to charge subscribers as little as $30 a month for unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data. Whenever possible, calls are routed over WiFi, which costs Google (and therefore you) practically nothing.

July 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Greece's Vote for Sovereignty (Dani Rodrik, 7/07/15, Project Syndicate)

In a vote on July 5, the Greek electorate resoundingly rejected demands for further austerity by the country's foreign creditors: the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the other eurozone governments, led by Germany. Whatever the economic merits of the decision, the Greek people's voice rang loud and clear: We are not going to take it anymore. [...]

When the Greeks voted "no," they reaffirmed their democracy; but, more than that, they asserted the priority of their democracy over those in other eurozone countries. In other words, they asserted their national sovereignty - their right as a nation to determine their own economic, social, and political path. If the Greek referendum is a victory for anything, it is a victory for national sovereignty.

Much as we conservatives prefer to ignore the reality, globalization requires some surrender of sovereigny. It's a surrender we assent to because it increases wealth.  Nationalists refuse that surrender in preference for sovereignty and disregard of poverty.   

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Carnival could set sail to Cuba next year (Kathryn Vasel, 7/07/15, CNN Money)

"There is a huge pent-up demand," Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation (CUK) told CNNMoney.

He said the company is in conversations with Cuba's government. "We have no idea how long it is going to take; we assume we are going to be successful and be able to sail in May."

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


PGA Pulls Grand Slam Tourney From Trump Course (MICHAEL WARREN, 7/07/15, Weekly Standard)

The Professional Golfers' Association of America will move its annual Grand Slam of Golf tournament from a Los Angeles-area golf course owned by New York businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The tournament, which features the winners of the four major championships, was scheduled to be held at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes this October. According to a release from the Trump organization, Trump and the PGA of America "mutually agreed that it is in everyone's best interest" not to hold the tournament at the course.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Road kill : Despite improvements, driving in America remains extraordinarily dangerous (The Economist, Jul 4th 2015)

Drunk-driving is just one of the perils of American roads. In 2014 some 32,675 people were killed in traffic accidents. In 2013, the latest year for which detailed data are available, some 2.3m were injured--or one in 100 licensed drivers. These numbers are better than a few decades ago, but still far worse than in any other developed country. For every billion miles Americans drive, roughly 11 people are killed. If American roads were as safe per-mile-driven as Ireland's, the number of lives saved each year would be equivalent to preventing all the murders in the country.

In most of the rich world, far fewer people die in road accidents these days; cars are much safer than they were, with crumple zones, airbags, anti-locking brakes and adaptive cruise control. Use of seatbelts is widespread. But compared with other countries, America has not improved much. And in some ways things have been getting worse. For example, between 2009 and 2013 pedestrian deaths jumped by 15% as the economy recovered. In Britain, over the same period, the number fell by a fifth.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Religious Services Minister: I cannot say that Reform Jews are Jews (JEREMY SHARON, 07/07/2015, Religion News Service)

Minister for Religious Services and Shas MK David Azoulai has made incendiary comments once again about non-Orthodox Jews, saying that he could not describe them as Jews. 

Speaking on Army Radio on Tuesday, Azoulai said that only people who follow Jewish law can be described as Jewish and described non-Orthodox streams as "people who try and falsify" the Jewish religion.

"Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew...A Reform Jew, from the moment he does not follow Jewish law I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew," said the minister. 

Note that observance is not sufficient either, unless you are already a "Jew".

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


The Rubio Jobs Plan : Empowering American Innovation (Marco Rubio)

[T]oday, many jobs like the ones my parents held no longer provide a viable path to the middle class.

Their jobs assembling lawn chairs, or even the cashier job my mother held, have likely been replaced by machines. Other similar positions have been outsourced or have paid the same wage for a decade or more. Most of those impacted lack the qualifications to move into better-paying positions, and the higher education they need is too expensive or requires too much time away from work and family.

The result is that the path to the middle class is narrower today than it has been for generations, and the American Dream so many achieved in the last century is in peril.

This hardship is not the result of a cyclical economic downturn that will naturally correct itself. It is born of a fundamental transformation to the very nature of our economy, the disruptions of which have been prolonged and compounded by the failure of our leaders, our policies, and our institutions to transform accordingly.

There are two primary forces behind this transformation. The first is radical technological progress - including the development of the Internet, information technologies, wireless and mobile capabilities, robotics, and more. The second has risen partly from the first, and that is globalization. From where you sit, you can sell a product to someone on the other side of the world almost as easily as to the person on your left or right. This has pulled us into competition with dozens of other nations for businesses, jobs, talent, and innovation.

Over the last two decades, not a single industry has been untouched by these forces, and the disruptions have triggered a cascade of anxiety. Fewer Americans believe in the viability of the American Dream today than during the worst of the financial crisis in 2009. Many pundits and media outlets stoke these fears, painting a dreary picture of the future in which automation and outsourcing continue to shatter the American workforce.

But history is not silent on this subject. It tells us the future is swayed by the actions we take, not the predictions we make. Generations of Americans before us have faced equally disruptive periods of transformation. In the Industrial Revolution, machines suddenly automated tasks people had built their lives around for centuries.

Like today, the beginning was rough: jobs were lost, wages were static, and new wealth was concentrated at the top. Doubts and fears about the future were widespread. But then something changed. When our children learn about the Industrial Revolution today, they learn it was a period of progress. Yes, jobs were lost - but even more were gained, and the middle class expanded, thrived, and laid the cornerstone of the American Century.

So how did that generation overcome its challenges? It wasn't through resistance: pushing back against new technologies or trying to resurrect old jobs. It was through adaptation: businesses integrating new technologies, workers learning new skills, and leaders leading in a new direction.

Today's Technological Revolution carries extraordinary opportunities - even more, I believe, than the Industrial Revolution ever did. But we have not yet seized these opportunities, nor is it guaranteed that we will. Whether we do or do not will depend on the actions we take, the leaders we choose, and the reforms we adopt. [...]

As our technological capabilities grow, it is true that we will see more low-paying jobs replaced by machines. But that's only part of the story. With the innovation economy I just discussed, we will also see the creation of higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs that only humans can perform.

History backs this up. When the power loom was invented, for example, many feared it would eliminate all textile jobs. The truth turned out to be the opposite. The loom increased production, and as production increased, so did demand, and as demand increased, so did the need for skilled laborers who could operate the machines and manage the factories. Jobs in the textile industry actually increased for 100 years.

But these jobs did not immediately pay higher wages. Before that could happen, workers needed to learn marketable skills that could be standardized across the industry. Only then could the methods learned in one factory become useful in another, which increased the need for experienced labor and gave workers leverage to demand higher wages.

The lesson of history is clear: to empower today's workers, we must equip them with today's skills. And to do that, we need our higher education system to innovate at the same rate as our economy.

In the next ten years, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created, but if our higher education system stays stuck in the past, 2 million of these jobs will be left unfilled. 

The coming Technological Revolution does indeed carry an extraordinary opportunity, the opportunity to produce greater wealth while decreasing the input of human labor.  It is not a matter of jobs going unfilled, just of jobs being filled by non-human actors.  We are not like the humans who lost jobs weaving by hand, but like the horses who served as draft animals.

Mr. Rubio deserves credit though for at least recognizing that the two main forces mitigating against American jobs are Globalization and Technology.  The reality is that no Republican is going to oppose either. So the candidates need to start talking about how they'd deal with a post-labor world.

July 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


New Study: Icelanders More Anglo-Saxon than Nordic (EYGLÓ SVALA ARNARSDÓTTIR,  July 06, 2015, Iceland Review)

Icelanders seem to have more in common with Canadians, Brits, Australians, New-Zealanders and U.S. Americans than the Nordic nations, according to a new study carried out by three professors at the Faculty of Business Administration at the University of Iceland.

The study, by associate professor Þórhallur Guðlaugsson, associate professor Gylfi Dalmann Aðalsteinsson and assistant professor Svala Guðmundsdóttir, compares the 'Icelandic National Culture' to the national cultures of 25 OECD member states. [...]

Five dimensions of national cultures defined by Dutch professor Geert Hofstede--power distance index; individualism vs. collectivism; uncertainty avoidance index; masculinity vs. femininity; and long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation--were measured using scales developed by Hofstede.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Donald Trump deletes offensive tweet about Jeb Bush's wife (Becca Stanek, 7/06/15, The Week)

Donald Trump just can't seem to learn his lesson. Just last week, the Republican presidential candidate and business mogul landed himself in a heap of trouble for making racist comments about Hispanic-Americans, which cost him contracts with Macy's, Univision, and NBC. But Trump seems to be having a tough time containing himself, tweeting Monday that Jeb Bush likes "Mexican illegals because of his wife." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


The Euro: Monetary Unity To Political Disunity? (Milton Friedmam, 6/28/97, Project Syndicate) [via Greg Mankiw]

The United States is an example of a situation that is favorable to a common currency. Though composed of fifty states, its residents overwhelmingly speak the same language, listen to the same television programs, see the same movies, can and do move freely from one part of the country to another; goods and capital move freely from state to state; wages and prices are moderately flexible; and the national government raises in taxes and spends roughly twice as much as state and local governments. Fiscal policies differ from state to state, but the differences are minor compared to the common national policy.

Unexpected shocks may well affect one part of the United States more than others -- as, for example, the Middle East embargo on oil did in the 1970s, creating an increased demand for labor and boom conditions in some states, such as Texas, and unemployment and depressed conditions in others, such as the oil-importing states of the industrial Midwest. The different short-run effects were soon mediated by movements of people and goods, by offsetting financial flows from the national to the state and local governments, and by adjustments in prices and wages.

By contrast, Europe's common market exemplifies a situation that is unfavorable to a common currency. It is composed of separate nations, whose residents speak different languages, have different customs, and have far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to the common market or to the idea of "Europe." Despite being a free trade area, goods move less freely than in the United States, and so does capital.

The European Commission based in Brussels, indeed, spends a small fraction of the total spent by governments in the member countries. They, not the European Union's bureaucracies, are the important political entities. Moreover, regulation of industrial and employment practices is more extensive than in the United States, and differs far more from country to country than from American state to American state. As a result, wages and prices in Europe are more rigid, and labor less mobile. In those circumstances, flexible exchange rates provide an extremely useful adjustment mechanism.

...but liberalism can do a lot of damage in the short.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Regular Mamograms Might Lead to 'Overdiagnosis' of Breast Cancer (Dennis Thompson, July 6, 2015, HealthDay News) 

Regular mammogram screening for breast cancer might be causing "widespread overdiagnosis," with some women treated for tumors that would not have caused sickness or death, a new study contends.

Doctors tend to find more small tumors and precancerous lesions in areas where more mammograms take place, researchers found after analyzing county-level data collected by U.S. health officials.

However, the death rate from breast cancer did not appear to drop in the face of increased mammogram rates in those areas, wrote the researchers from Harvard University and Dartmouth.

"The simplest explanation is widespread overdiagnosis, which increases the incidence of small cancers without changing mortality," the authors argue in the July 6 issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Just How Stagnant Are Wages, Anyway? (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 7/06/15, WSJ)

But this analysis ignores one of the major shifts in the labor market in recent decades: Employers have paid larger and larger health insurance bills for their employees. "From the employer's standpoint, the costs of each worker is the total package of cash wages and benefits," Mr. Rose writes. And from the standpoint of many employees, too, receiving good health insurance is a valuable part of a compensation package.

When the cost of employee benefits is included in Mr. Rose's chart (using a definition of total compensation from the Congressional Budget Office), suddenly workers are doing quite a bit better. Real median compensation, adjusted for the consumer-price index, is up 25% from 1979. For women, it's up 56% and for men-even after the losses of the recession-compensation is 3% higher than in 1979. That's still a pretty stagnant set of decades for men.

But Mr. Rose argues that one more change is important: using the right inflation index. The personal consumption expenditures price index has generally shown inflation to be lower than the CPI. And many economists believe the PCE is the more accurate index, since it better accounts for the ways that consumers' consumption behavior changes over time. The Federal Reserve, for example, prefers the PCE price index.

When Mr. Rose looked at real compensation, adjusted for the PCE price index, the median worker has seen a gain of 38%. The median woman has gained 73% and the median male 13%.

When a meme seems like it must be wrong, it is.
Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Oil prices dive below $54 as Iran deal looms (Matt Egan, 7/06/15, CNN/Money)
American drivers may have even lower prices to smile about in the future, especially if an Iran nuclear deal is in place by this week's deadline. The national average gas price could return to nearly $2 a gallon later this year, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. The national average is currently sitting at $2.77.

For now all eyes are on Iran, which has the fourth biggest oil reserves in the world. A big part of the nuclear deal is that the West will lift sanctions on Iran, allowing it to increase its oil exports. That could be a game changer by deepening the oversupply of oil and sending prices down even further.

"You could have a bunch of crude hitting the market in 2016 -- probably when it needs it least," said Kloza.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Why Iran's Supreme Leader Wants a Deal : Ayatollah Khamenei is appeasing his hard-liners with tough rhetoric, but he keeps reviving the talks for a reason. (OMID MEMARIAN July 05, 2015, Politico)

When Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was about to leave Tehran for Vienna last week, the Twitter handler for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted a tweet in English to show strong support for the negotiation team: "I recognize our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful," the tweet said. It was clearly another attempt by the supreme leader to protect Zarif and his team from attacks by hard-liners in Tehran.

Despite his image as a hard-liner--and his occasional fulminations against Western perfidy--it is Khamenei who has been the guardian angel for Iran's nuclear negotiators for the past 18 months. And if the negotiations end in a final agreement by July 7--the new deadline set as the original June 30 deadline expired last week--it will be Khamenei who makes the deal. Or breaks it.

Thus, as we head into the final stages, it's important for the West to see beyond the supposed "red lines" that Khamenei has laid out in his remarks to understand the tricky domestic politics his comments are meant to navigate. In a recent speech, Khamenei staked out tough positions that seemed to be at odds with or draw back from the framework agreement reached between Tehran and the "P5+1" countries (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) in Lausanne on April 2. In contrast to the April understanding calling for a gradual lifting of sanctions, Khamenei declared that "economic, financial, and banking sanctions, whether related to the Security Council, the U.S. Congress, or the U.S. government, must be immediately lifted at the time of the agreement signature."

Khamenei also expressed his assertive disagreement with unconventional inspections, interviewing Iranian officials and scientists by International Atomic Energy Agency's officials, and inspecting military locations. And finally, Khamenei insisted on the continuation of research and development of the country's nuclear program during the 10- to12-year limit discussed during the talks. 

Yet all of these statements were very likely mainly intended for Iranian domestic consumption, and all these demands can be finessed in the language of a final agreement. As an economist close to the Rouhani circles told me last week from Tehran, "Iran has not been in the talks for 18 months to blow it, but to make a deal."

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM



[L]ack of evidence so far of racist intent has not inhibited incendiary warnings and claims, many of them tweeted under the hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches. An activist with the liberal religious advocacy group Sojourners told Huffington Post: "Whenever you have African Americans in history pushing back against white supremacy, you inevitably have church burnings," adding, "In light of Confederate flags being taken down off of government buildings, this is a true threat to the dominance of whiteness in America."

But an official for the Southern Poverty Law Center cautioned in the same HuffPo piece against assuming the burnings were racial.

Some coverage has taken the time to point out that about 1600 churches in the U.S. suffer fires every year, 16 percent of them due to arson, which means on average at least five churches suffer arson every week. There are believed to be about 340,000 religious congregations in the U.S., and about 20 percent are believed to be black, although about 40 percent in the South are thought to be predominantly black.

Much of the recent coverage has cited the black church arson story of the 1990s, when there was a reputed upsurge in burnings. Few articles back then noted that church arsons averaged about 500-600 annually, according to the insurance industry, and that if 20 percent were black there would be on average about 100-120 burned black churches, which no study ever found to be the case.

Yet the black church arson story of twenty years ago became an established narrative, which President Clinton referenced to political effect, and which some on the left linked to an upsurge in white racism that supposedly crested with the 1994 Republican congressional win, facilitated by four million "angry white men."

The 1990s story was heavily promoted by the now defunct Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta and the National Council of Churches in New York, which raised over $14 million for its Burned Churches Fund, some of which helped forestall the council's own financial crisis.

It is understandable that many today have accepted the premise of a racially motivated upsurge in attacks on black churches, without realizing the lack of available facts. All church destruction, whether deliberate or accidental, merits condolence and assistance. One of the more admirable efforts to undergird the understandable dismay with hard facts came on July 1 when the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission circulated a fact sheet on the burnings that cited the wider national numbers placing the story in context.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


The world's nicest, most law-abiding generation (MARGARET WENTE, 7/04/15, The Globe and Mail)

By almost any measure you can find, people across the developed world today are the least violent, most law-abiding, hardest-working and most tolerant generation who ever lived.

The biggest measurable change is in violent crime. After peaking in the 1990s, crime rates have plummeted across the developed world, even in the famously violent United States. In Canada, crime rates are now back to where they were in the 1960s. Although theories abound, nobody really knows why. What's clear is that Northern European countries now have the lowest homicide rates in all of recorded history. Homicide has become a lower-class phenomenon, and a middle-class citizen's chance of dying violently is virtually zilch. Even places that used to be hotbeds of crime are now peaceful. The murder rate in Medellin, Colombia - once a nest of violent drug lords - has fallen 80 per cent since 2000. Today, Medellin is a popular destination for northern retirees.

Public disorder of the nuisance variety is also at an all-time low. Spitting, littering, queue-jumping, smoking, urinating and picking your nose in public are all regarded as disgusting, lower-class behaviours. Even "manspreading" is now frowned upon.

It's also awfully hard to complain about kids today. Most are conscientious and well-behaved. They don't rebel the way the boomers did. They get along with their parents and other adults. They do their homework. They play organized sports and build orphanages in poor parts of the world. They practise safe sex, and seldom get pregnant. Alcohol and cigarette use among adolescents has generally declined. So has binge drinking. The motto of kids today could be Born to be Mild.

What if wealth and leisure really do make us better people?
Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Why Truck Drivers Could Be The First Casualties Of The Robot Age (Ben Schiller, 7/06/15, Co.exist)

There are 3.5 million truck drivers in America, 5.2 million people who have non-driving roles in the trucking industry, and millions more who depend on trucking for a living, including people who work at truck stops and gas stations. Why is this important particularly? Because that's an awful lot of people who depend on an industry that's likely to employ far less people in the future.

This future is already upon us. Trucks are already going autonomous. Just this May, Daimler launched the "Inspiration Truck," the first self-driving 18-wheeler licensed to be tested on the open road. Other manufacturers are working on similar products, notably Volvo, which has tested "platooning," a practice in which groups of unmanned vehicles are led by one lead vehicle. Also, truckers are relatively expensive, earning an average of $40,000 a year, which makes their jobs a juicy target for automation. And, trucks often drive on long, relatively empty roads, which makes them easier to automate than vehicles that have to navigate city environments.

...fast enough.

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


Critics decry Israeli cabinet vote rejecting measure to ease Jewish conversion (Michele Chabin, July 6, 2015, Religion News Service)

This week's cabinet vote was the first of what promises to be a string of attempts by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers to reverse progressive legislation introduced by the last government, whose cabinet included no ultra-Orthodox parties.

These parties joined Netanyahu's coalition after the March 2015 election on condition that he support their efforts to roll back the recent reforms.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have also vowed to overturn a groundbreaking draft law that stripped adult yeshiva students of their automatic military exemptions and hope to reinstate lost funding for their institutions.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency and a longtime advocate for a more moderate Orthodox conversion process, said the agency "deeply regrets" the cabinet's decision.

"The establishment of the local courts sought to address the needs of tens of thousands of immigrants and their children who require conversion due to their desire to join the Jewish people in a more complete and recognized manner," he said.

The Jewish Agency has facilitated the immigration of Russian immigrants eligible for Israeli citizenship but whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

July 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Iranians ready for new chapter as nuclear talks approach conclusion (Ian Black, 5 July 2015,l The Guardian)

"It is a big moment," said Sadegh Zibakalam, a prominent reformist academic. "In years to come people will refer to this agreement as a landmark in modern Iranian history. It is of crucial importance that Iran has said: 'OK, we are going to trust the west.' If we reach an agreement with the US - the Great Satan - on an issue that divided us for more than a decade, it will be a huge transformation."

The impending deal looks like a triumph for Hassan Rouhani, elected president two years ago in place of the divisive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who ransacked government coffers to fund populist projects at home and outraged the world with his Holocaust denial. Still, everyone knows that Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have the blessing of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that the government desperately needs the agreement. [...]

"This is so big that the timing is just a detail," said Majid Zamani, an investment banker. "We are at the point of no return in terms of even a limited peace between this country and the west. It is so big that it doesn't matter whether it takes another year or two to be able to resume business."

Zibakalam acknowledged there was a danger of wishful thinking as the moment nears in Vienna. Yes, first the deal has to be done. That will indeed be the end of a long and difficult chapter, full of historic resonances for Iranians and Americans alike. But a new one will open at once.

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Reproducibility: Don't cry wolf (Jan Conrad, 01 July 2015, Nature)

The past few years have seen a slew of announcements of major discoveries in particle astrophysics and cosmology. The list includes faster-than-light neutrinos; dark-matter particles producing γ-rays; X-rays scattering off nuclei underground; and even evidence in the cosmic microwave background for gravitational waves caused by the rapid inflation of the early Universe. Most of these turned out to be false alarms; and in my view, that is the probable fate of the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


The Latest Sign That the Robot Uprising Is Nigh? Camel Racing (Amy Crawford, July 2015, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

Camel racing on the Arabian Peninsula dates to the seventh century, but not long ago the sport underwent a MacGyver-like upgrade: robot jockeys, retrofitted from cordless power drills and dressed in uniforms. British photojournalist Andrew Testa captured this race in Abu Dhabi. As the camels galloped at up to 40 miles per hour, he heard the whoosh of the robots' remotely controlled whips, two-foot strips of plastic attached to the drills' motor. The animals' owners sped alongside in SUVs, muttering encouragement through two-way radios. Camel racing has a troubled past. Child slaves often served as jockeys until the UAE outlawed their use in 2002, which led to robots becoming the industry standard, and though some critics might object to the whips, defenders argue that the practice is no different from horse racing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


16 charts that illustrate America's global dominance (ANDY KIERSZ , Jul. 4, 2015, Business Insider)

It'll be fun to listen to the 2016 candidates bemoan our decline.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Pakistani military says it achieved major victory in mountain assault (Tim Craig July 4, 2015, Washington Post)

Pakistan's military says it achieved a major strategic victory over Islamist militants hiding in the Shawal Valley, a thickly forested area bordering Afghanistan thought to be among the last few refuges here for al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited the area on Friday to congratulate troops for clearing "all peaks" that surround the valley. Now, Sharif said, the army will begin a final assault on the lower elevations.

"We will not stop unless we achieve our end objective of a terror-free Pakistan," Sharif said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


The U.S. Is Producing a Record Amount of Milk and Dumping the Leftovers (Lydia Mulvany, July 1, 2015, Bloomberg)

There's so much milk flowing out of U.S. cows these days that some is ending up in dirt pits because dairies can't find buyers.

Domestic output is set to be the highest ever for a fifth straight year. Farmers are still making money as prices tumble because of cheaper and more abundant feed for their herds. Supplies of raw milk are topping capacity at processing plants in parts of the U.S. and compounding a global surplus even with demand improving.

Seems like the industry should be doing a better job of getting people to replace their energy drinks with milk:

Milk as an Effective Post-Exercise Rehydration Drink [Shirreffs SM et al. Milk as an effective post-exercise rehydration drink.  Br J Nutr (2007)]

The effectiveness of low-fat milk, alone and with an additional 20 mmol/l NaCl, at restoring fluid balance after exercise-induced hypohydration was compared to a sports drink and water. After losing 1·8 (SD 0·1) % of their body mass during intermittent exercise in a warm environment, eleven subjects consumed a drink volume equivalent to 150 % of their sweat loss. Urine samples were collected before and for 5 h after exercise to assess fluid balance. Urine excretion over the recovery period did not change during the milk trials whereas there was a marked increase in output between 1 and 2 h after drinking water and the sports drink. Cumulative urine output was less after the milk drinks were consumed (611 (SD 207) and 550 (SD 141) ml for milk and milk with added sodium, respectively, compared to 1184 (SD 321) and 1205 (SD 142) ml for the water and sports drink; P,0·001). Subjects remained in net positive fluid balance or euhydrated throughout the recovery period after drinking the milk drinks but returned to net negative fluid balance 1 h after drinking the other drinks. The results of the present study suggest that milk can be an effective post-exercise rehydration drink and can be considered for use after exercise by everyone except those individuals who have lactose intolerance.

And like a difficult time for Coke to be introducing a premium milk.

Heck, I just buy the shelf-stable stuff at Dollar Tree.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


'Neglected Prophet' of Economics Got It Right (Leonid Bershidsky, 7/03/15, Bloomberg View)

[Silvio] Gesell was  born in Germany, made a modest fortune as an importer in Argentina. After he returned to Europe, he became finance minister of the short-lived Soviet Bavarian Republic in 1919, was arrested and charged with treason but acquitted. He kept publishing his works in Berlin until his death in 1930. John Maynard Keynes called Gesell "a strange, unduly neglected prophet" and described his bold idea as follows:

According to this proposal currency notes (though it would clearly need to apply as well to some forms at least of bank-money) would only retain their value by being stamped each month, like an insurance card, with stamps purchased at a post office. The cost of the stamps could, of course, be fixed at any appropriate figure. According to my theory it should be roughly equal to the excess of the money-rate of interest (apart from the stamps) over the marginal efficiency of capital corresponding to a rate of new investment compatible with full employment. The actual charge suggested by Gesell was 1 per mil. per week, equivalent to 5.2 per cent per annum. This would be too high in existing conditions, but the correct figure, which would have to be changed from time to time, could only be reached by trial and error.

This amounts to a tax meant to prevent money-hoarding. Cash would still be used as a medium of exchange, but it would lose its significance as a store of value. In a way, that's what central banks are trying to achieve when they keep lowering interest rates, sometimes breaching what is called the "zero bound." They want money to get out and work rather than languish in bank accounts, with the idea that spending will increase demand and thus inflation rather than deflation.

The Gesell tax has a side effect that is particularly relevant today: Those who still try to use "melting" money would be open to buying negative-interest bonds, as long as the interest they have to pay the issuer is lower than the stamp tax. That, apparently, is already beginning to happen in France. In a Bloomberg article, Alexandre Akhavi, chairman of the French Association of Corporate Treasurers' legal committee, said some institutional investors are still buying bonds with negative coupons because they offer security. That means these investors can't find a secure way to park their money that would offer even zero interest.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Born On The Fourth Of July: How Louis Armstrong Taught Us to Swing (Nat Hentoff, 7/04/15, Daily Beast)

There has been no jazz musician so widely, deeply, durably influential as Louis. And no trumpet player who could do all he could do on the horn. Once, Louis told journalist Gilbert Millstein, "I'm playin' a date in Florida, livin' in the colored section and I'm playin' my horn for myself one afternoon. A knock come on the door and there's an old, gray-haired flute player from the Philadelphia Orchestra, down there for his health. Walking through that neighborhood, he heard this horn, playing Cavalleria Rusticana, which he said he never heard phrased like that before. To him it was as if an orchestra was behind it." 
And that reminded me of what happened one night in the early '30s, when a delegation of top brass from the Boston Symphony Orchestra--all of them unfamiliar with jazz but brought there by rumor of genius--stood in Louis Armstrong's dressing room and asked him to play a passage they had heard in his act. Louis picked up his horn and obliged, performing the requested passage and then improvising a dazzling stream of variations.

Shaking their heads, these "legitimate" trumpet players left the room, one of them saying, "I watched his fingers and I still don't know how he does it. I also don't know how it is that, playing there all by himself, he sounded as if a whole orchestra were behind him. I never heard a musician like this, and I thought he was just a colored entertainer." [...]

Before Louis Armstrong came to his blazing maturity in the '20s there had, of course, been other notable jazz soloists. Some, like Buddy Bolden in New Orleans, are forever misted in legend because they never recorded. Others, like King Joe Oliver and players in Chicago, New York, and then Southwest were often forcefully, pungently distinctive. But none had the sweep, the extended melodic imagination, and the rhythmic inventiveness of Louis. None could make simplicity so profound or high-register fireworks so dramatically cohesive. And none, above all, had ever before so dominated the jazz ensemble, whether small combo or big band. The first fully liberated jazz soloist, Armstrong hugely influenced soloists on all instruments, and he helped free all who followed. They were still part of a collectively swinging group, but they had a lot more space in which to stretch out for themselves.

Gunther Schuller, an instrumentalist and a composer, emphasized in Early Jazz the four salient elements which set Louis apart from all the jazz musicians who had preceded him: "... (1) his superior choice of notes and the resultant shape of his lines; (2) his incomparable basic quality of tone; (3) his equally incomparable sense of swing, that is, the sureness with which notes are placed in the time continuum and the remarkably varied attack and release properties of his phrasing; (4) and, perhaps his most individualistic contribution, the subtly varied repertory of vibratos and shakes with which Armstrong colors and embellishes individual notes. The importance of the last fact cannot be emphasized enough, since it gives an Armstrong solo that peculiar sense of inner drive and forward momentum. Armstrong was incapable of not swinging."

Back in New Orleans, when he was still a boy--who had learned to play trumpet in a waifs' home where he had been sequestered for celebrating New Year's Eve by shooting off a gun--Louis had already shown unmistakable signs that he was becoming a soloist unlike any New Orleans had ever heard or even imagined. Trumpeter Mutt Carey, known as the "Blues King of New Orleans" when Louis was a lad, once let the teenager take his chair in Kid Ory's band, one of the city's most crisply proficient combos.

"That Louis," Carey recalled, "played more blues than I ever heard in my life. It never had struck my mind the blues could be interpreted so many different ways. Every time he played a chorus it was different, and yet you knew it was the blues." [...]

It also took a lot of self-fortification for Louis to keep on coping with the Jim Crow that was an obbligato to his life. For many, many years, famed as he was in Europe, when he'd go on the road in his own country, only certain places, black places, would house and feed Louis and his band. All black jazz musicians, no matter how lauded for their contributions to America's "indigenous art form," were pariahs on the road until comparatively recent times. A member of the Count Basie band, which had just come off the road in the early '50s, told me: "Can you imagine what it feels like to begin pulling up to a gas station and see the attendant running like the hell to lock the men's room. No, you can't imagine it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Tesla S: car review : The electric Tesla S is a pure spark of inspiration. But how did it get so far ahead of the competition? (Martin Love, 5 July 2015, The Guardian)

The future doesn't arrive gently: it comes at a leap - a great galumphing jump that leaves you laughing with disbelief. I drove the Tesla S last week and it offers such revolutionary solutions to so many of the oily problems that bog most manufacturers down that you wonder what on earth they've all been doing. While they've been dozing, Elon Musk, the polymath gigabillionaire who invented PayPal, has set about changing the cars we drive - and the way we drive them. [...]

The car doesn't have a fuel tank, exhaust pipes, petrol cap or any of the other gubbins associated with an internal combustion engine. Being purely electric it only has one gear. Hit the throttle and the car accelerates in a soaring, totally silent, endless swoosh - it essentially does 0-140mph in first. It also doesn't have an ignition. There is no on or off. The car wakes up when you approach it (it detects that tiny Tesla in your pocket). You get in, select D, press the throttle and off you slip. When you stop, you just get out and walk away.

They just installed a Tesla charging station at the shopping mall in West Lebanon, NH.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Japan joins US-Australia war games in NT and Queensland amid China dispute (Agence France-Presse, 5 July 2015)

The US and Australia kicked off a massive joint biennial military exercise on Sunday, with Japan taking part for the first time as tensions with China over territorial rows loom over the drills.

The two-week "Talisman Sabre" exercise in the Northern Territory and Queensland involves 30,000 personnel from the US and Australia practising operations at sea, in the air and on land.

About 40 personnel from Japan's army - the Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) - will join the American contingent, while more than 500 troops from New Zealand are also involved in the exercise, which concludes on July 21.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Why your smartphone takes better photographs than the Hubble space telescope (Monica Grady, 5 July 2015, The Guardian)

For those who keep up with the latest developments in space exploration, the last couple of years have offered a rich feast of images: from close-up pictures of water-worn pebbles on the surface of Mars to the views of galaxies at the edge of the visible universe, by way of the cratered surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We are becoming almost blase with the seemingly daily occurrence of a fresh view of a star or planet.

Back on Earth, we are also no longer amazed by the instant communication of social media or the ability to watch films in high definition on our smartphones. Rather, we tend to complain if our mobile signal drops out when going through a tunnel on a train journey or the internet speed slows because it can't cope with the 10GB film you are streaming at the same time your kids are playing an online fantasy game ported through a server some thousand miles away. The latest developments in hi-tech communications incorporate 64bit architecture, 1GB RAM, 1.4 GHz speed, 20 megapixel cameras and so on. How does all this relate to the wonderful images produced by space instruments?

Looking at the technical specifications for the camera on the Hubble space telescope (HST), you are immediately in a different world. One of 16bit architecture. One of 48k memory and a speed of 1.25MHz. How antiquated! How ancient! How slow! How does the HST manage to produce anything at all? How come it isn't using the latest technology?

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


US-led coalition carries out series of deadly strikes targeting IS militants in Raqqa (Associated Press July 5, 2015)

In a statement issued early Sunday, the coalition said it had conducted 16 airstrikes throughout Raqqa, destroying vital IS-controlled structures and transit routes in Syria.

An IS-affiliated militant website confirmed the strikes on the center of the city. It said 10 people were killed and dozens wounded. [...]

Raqqa is the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic caliphate declared a year ago by the Islamic State group in territories it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Conversion reforms struck down by cabinet (ADIV STERMAN, July 5, 2015, Times of Israel)

The cabinet repealed Sunday an initiative that would recognize conversions to Judaism conducted by a wider circle of rabbis, and separately approved the transfer of authority over the country's rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Religious Services.

The cancellation of the two initiatives will ultimately strengthen ultra-Orthodox oversight of Jewish-religious affairs in the state.

July 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Marco Rubio's Donor Obstacles: A Limited Base and Another Floridian (JEREMY W. PETERS and ASHLEY PARKER, JULY 3, 2015, NY Times)

Mr. Rubio has a notable disadvantage in the congested, fragmented field of Republican candidates: He has no natural national base of support to draw on, the way Senator Ted Cruz does with evangelical Christians or Senator Rand Paul does with libertarians.

And Mr. Rubio has been cut off from some of the financial support he received in his home state, Florida, when it elected him to the Senate in 2010: Many of the wealthy donors who propelled him to national political fame are sticking by Jeb Bush, the former governor.

It would help if he'd at least accomplished something in his career.
Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


NASCAR will not return to Donald Trump resort (Jeff Gluck, 7/03/15, USA TODAY)

NASCAR will not return to the Trump National Doral Miami resort for its postseason award banquets after Donald Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants this week.

NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said the decision was made Friday to hold the sport's Xfinity and Camping World Truck series banquets at another location, as well as the Sprint Cup Series' championship weekend news conference event.

That location has not been determined.

NBC, which is owned by the same company as Xfinity, severed its business relationship with Trump this week and Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis vowed not to attend the banquet if it was held at a Trump property.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Why July 4 is the birthday of American exceptionalism (Gary J. Schmitt, July 3, 2015, NY Post)

As was obvious to both the Founders who drafted and approved the Declaration, and the monarchies and despotisms that ruled the vast majority of the rest of mankind, the American declaration of these principles was a revolutionary moment not only for a sliver of the North American continent but, potentially, for the rest of the world.

The United States, initially weak relative to the other great powers in the world and, as such, disinclined to involve itself in the their conflicts, set itself inevitably on a course that is aptly captured in the title of Robert Kagan's history of early American statecraft, "Dangerous Nation."

Here, for the first time in history, was a government whose legitimacy explicitly rested on the claims of human nature and not on common blood, soil, language, religion or ancient tradition.

This is the true root of American exceptionalism and why it is more apt that we celebrate Independence Day on July 4 rather than July 2. It is the creed, the principles, of the Declaration that define the United States -- not our successful break from British rule.

President Obama was surely right when he said that other nations, such as the Greeks, no doubt "believe in Greek exceptionalism" just as Americans believe in American exceptionalism. But this is to confuse and conflate "exceptionalism" with day-to-day "nationalism" and to overlook just how revolutionary and transformative the American experiment in liberal self-government was, and has been.

Up to that moment, republican rule was an exception, and an exception that occasionally but rarely dotted the landscape of political rule through the centuries.

Today, through the growth of American power to support those universal principles -- and, lest we forget, through our own bloody test of a civil war to ensure their survival -- the world truly has been transformed, with exponential growth in liberal, democratic regimes.

...than the fact that our exceptionalism applies universally.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


What Did Lincoln Really Think of Jefferson? (ALLEN C. GUELZO, JULY 3, 2015, NY Times)

Lincoln, who was born less than a month before Jefferson left the presidency in 1809, had his own reasons for loathing Jefferson "as a man." Lincoln was well aware of Jefferson's "repulsive" liaison with his slave, Sally Hemings, while "continually puling about liberty, equality and the degrading curse of slavery." But he was just as disenchanted with Jefferson's economic policies.

Jefferson believed that the only real wealth was land and that the only true occupation of virtuous and independent citizens in a republic was farming. "Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people," Jefferson wrote. He despised "the selfish spirit of commerce" for feeling "no passion or principle but that of gain." And he regarded banks with special suspicion as the source of all commercial evil. "Banks may be considered as the primary source" of "paper speculation," and only foster "the spirit of gambling in paper, in lands, in canal schemes, town lot schemes, manufacturing schemes and whatever could hit the madness of the day."

Lincoln, who actually grew up on a backwoods farm, saw little there but drunkenness, rowdyism and endless, mind-numbing labor under the rule of his loutish and illiterate father. He made his escape from the farm as soon as he turned 21, opened a store (which failed) and finally went into law, that great enforcer of commercial contract. "I was once a slave," he remarked, "but now I am so free that they let me practice law."

As an Illinois state legislator, Lincoln promoted a state banking system and public funding for canals and bridges. As a lawyer, according to colleagues, Lincoln was never "unwilling to appear in behalf of a great soulless corporation" -- especially railroads -- and had no compunction about recommending the eviction of squatters who farmed railroad-owned land.

As president, he put into place a national banking system, protective tariffs for American manufacturing and government guarantees for building a transcontinental railroad. Lincoln was Jefferson's nightmare.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Finding hope in a trash can: How a North Korean boy kept himself from starving and made it to America (Elizabeth Tenety, July 1, 2015, LA Times)

It's hard to believe what Joseph Kim, then Kwang Jin, endured in the late-1990s and early 2000s, while here in America we were living through a tech boom, blasting songs from the Spice Girls and soaking in episodes of American Idol. But after the Great Famine hit in 1994, Kim, who was only four at the time, was left to spend most of his childhood living in near-starvation.

"Hunger is humiliation. But hunger is also evil," he writes after fantasizing about stealing food from a baby. "The weaker we grew, the less terrifying death seemed," he explains in the book.

[More inspiration: The surprisingly simple way Utah solved chronic homelessness and saved millions]

It's truly remarkable that Kim was able to live, surviving not through one particular act of heroism or generosity, but through a thousand small triumphs: a handful of stolen kernels of corn, a few calories from weed soup, the scraps of a meal left behind from a traveler. At points his belly swelled from hunger; at others his eyes bulged from starvation. Through years spent begging, stealing, hustling and trading, Kim found a way to survive, although many others did not. His father did not make it. 

Kim's devoted father, once a government official, died of starvation when Joseph was 13. His mother and sister, who would sneak him food, ultimately fled to China; they have not been heard from in 10 years. Now an American citizen and living in Brooklyn, Kim says in an interview that when he wonders why he survived, he thinks of the affection his family always showed him; love that gave him the hope to carry on.

"My definition of hope is not something philosophical or deep," Kim explains. "To me, hope is what kept me going and what still keeps me going."

"What I mean by hope can also mean resilience or 'don't give up.' For example, when I was homeless, I was digging through trash cans to look for food, but because there were so many other homeless kids doing the same thing, it was really difficult for me to tell myself I'd have to go to the next trash can, too. I knew that even to get to the next one, there is a probability that there wouldn't be anything. But I had to keep myself believing that there was hope in the next one. That was the only option that I had."

How can otherwise decent people believe this would be a better country if we kept such folk out until they won a green card lottery?

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


How not to write about Iran (Ishaan Tharoor July 2, 2015, 

In a write-up published in January 1952, Time magazine named Iran's democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh  as "Man of the Year." The recognition was not particularly flattering. It sneeringly described Iran as "a mountainous land between Baghdad and the Sea of Caviar." And it went on to attack both Mossadegh's plan to nationalize Iran's oil -- at the expense of British and American energy interests -- and the leader's character.

Time actually called the Iranian politician "a strange old wizard."

A year later, the Ivy League buddies of Time's editors in the C.I.A. helped engineer a coup that ousted Mossadegh, scrapped Iran's fledgling democracy, and re-installed the country's monarchy as an American client. Memory of that event still informs the political conversation within Iran, but is rarely recognized in the West.

"In American media, it seems that either those wily Persians are calculating 'chess masters' outwitting the well-meaning Westerner," says Karami, "or they're bumbling idiots" who resent how "the West rules the Middle East."

To be sure, there are many negative things that should be said about Iran's political status quo -- where a repressive theocratic government curbs dissent, jails journalists and actively supports armed proxies elsewhere in the Middle East. But you don't need to start quoting Xenophon or Morier to get there.

"If you're writing about a country of more than 77 million people," says Kia Marakechi, news editor at Vanity Fair, "and the metaphors or signifiers you draw on come more from 'Aladdin' than a serious understanding of that nation's politics and culture, you should probably hand the assignment to someone else."

The Iran of the neocons' imagination isn't a real place.
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Early criticism of Jill Ellis turns to awe as U.S. reaches World Cup final (KEVIN BAXTER, 7/04/15, LA Times)

This is the largest and longest Women's World Cup in history. And it's being played across a continent-sized country on artificial turf. So Ellis planned for all that, sacrificing early results for later success.

She held the injury-plagued Alex Morgan out of the starting lineup in the first two games, for example, to have her available for the seventh. And she substituted liberally in the early going to prepare her bench for the late going.

"Those are little things," Wambach said. "But the smallest details can make a difference."

Nor was Ellis above throwing a feint in now and again, experimenting with half a dozen formations and starting the same lineup just twice in six games. By the time the U.S. arrived for its semifinal against top-ranked Germany, no one outside the locker room had any idea how the Americans would attack the game.

So when Ellis rolled out a lineup with Morgan as the lone striker in front of a five-woman midfield, it caught the Germans off guard.

The U.S. won, 2-0. [...]

Next, Ellis inserted 22-year-old Morgan Brian as a holding midfielder in the quarterfinal against China, confident she wouldn't melt under the pressure. She didn't, allowing captain Carli Lloyd -- the player who appeared most frustrated with Ellis' early decisions -- to push forward and join the attack.

So Ellis used Brian again in that role against Germany, and Lloyd scored the winning goal in both games -- by far the two best games the U.S. has played in the tournament.

The Americans, it seems, are peaking at the right time, just as Ellis said they would.

Once you get the defense organized in soccer, you allow the whole team to attack with confidence.  This team has allowed just one goal, and that early in their first game. They looked like they could have beat Germany 6-0.
Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


The Declaration of Independence: Translucent Poetry (Eva Brann, 7/04/15, Imaginative Conservative)

When American schoolchildren first discover that they have a place in the world they sometimes give their addresses a wonderful form. Transformed for our case, it would be: "Proper Name, St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland, the United States of America, the North American continent, the Earth, the Solar System." That is the containing sequence of places in which we live and have our being. The effects of the document with which we are to concern ourselves tonight have pervaded or invaded each of them: "space," our planet, this land, this nation, this state, this city, this school. I might say right now that this diffusion of its power would not have astonished its author very much.

I shall not try to trace its influence on the largest realms, which began with its acknowledged role in the early, as yet innocent, days of the French Revolution. That attempt, I am convinced, would be tantamount to that of giving an account of modem politics. But I do want to point to its relation to the smallest realm, this college, whose immediately post­-revolutionary foundation was assisted by the four Maryland signers: by Paca, Carroll and Stone with subscriptions of money, and by Chase and Stone as members of the first Board of Visitors and Governors. We may therefore imagine that the college was conceived in a spirit much like that which later informed Jefferson's University of Virginia. And indeed it was originally to be the Western branch of the University of Maryland, committed by its charter to admitting students "according to their merit without requiring or enforcing any religious or civil test" and to preparing them "upon a most liberal plan" for discharging "the various offices of life, both civil and religious." But even if these original conditions and aims were to have to be termed "post-Revolutionary" rather than specifically Jeffersonian, it would still be demonstrable­--though not here and now--that our present program, a very pure realization of the founding intention, has more Jeffersonian elements than any other well-known college plan.

Now at Jefferson's university, the Declaration of Independence was to be the first of the "textbooks" prescribed by him as the "teaching norm" for the political education of young Americans. In this one instance Jefferson was the unashamed advocate of indoctrination--he intended the Declaration as a teaching tool for combatting certain anti-Republican "heresies." It is probably not necessary to be more liberal than Jefferson. Nonetheless let us say that the Declaration should not so much be taught as talked of at every American college, and above all, at this one.

It is consequently my ambition and my project for tonight to persuade those of you not already so convinced that this text must be to you, as students and as human beings in the world, a near and dear, a most personal concern.

I., B.

You may well be wondering--I would in your place--why a person audibly not native born should presume to have such an ambition. But consider: a naturalized citizen, like myself, is a citizen by a second, acquired nature, by deliberation and choice. Therefore, just as it is a natural stance for young natives to foster alienation in themselves so it may well be the proper business of those whose youth was alien to feel at home--and to reflect on that feeling.

Forgive me then if I began with a personal apology and continue with a personal prologue--it is after all my argument that the founding tradition should be a personal concern.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


The Detection Club : Review: Martin Edwards, 'The Golden Age of Murder' (Joseph Bottum, July 4, 2015, Free Beacon)

[W]hat Agatha Christie found was the formula for it all. Like a miniature blown up on to a larger canvas, she took the Arthur Conan Doyle-approved pattern of a 5,000-word Sherlock Holmes story and opened it up to an 80,000-word Golden Age novel. She developed the pleasant and deliberately unremarkable prose the new turn in the genre needed--"invisible prose," we might name it: a style that never rises or sinks enough for the reader to be distracted by becoming aware of the act of reading it. And she figured out how to set in the foreground the rule-bound logic of detective fiction, convincing readers that the author is playing fair.

The formula seems obvious now, but once upon a time it was new, and surprisingly few authors in the 1920s actually got it. Agatha Christie herself didn't understand at first what she'd achieved, and she followed The Mysterious Affair at Styles with a few spy stories, in the already fading mode of E. Phillips Oppenheim, thinking that thrillers would lead to popular sales. Even by the late 1920s, the British writers awake to the new formula numbered only in the dozens, and the most successful and professionally admired of them banded together to form a London dinner society called "the Detection Club." Such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, the Baroness Emma Orczy, Ronald Knox, R. Austin Freeman, and E.C. Bentley were among them, and they elected G.K. Chesterton as their first president.

It's here that Martin Edwards takes up the story in The Golden Age of Murder, his delightful new book about the Detection Club. Edwards traces the existence of the club from a crackpot idea of Anthony Berkeley's through the death of Dorothy Sayers in 1957. [...]

Edwards's deepest purpose, however, is to refute the charge of "cozy" that has hung over the Golden Age writers since a rebellious Englishman named Raymond Chandler moved to California and took to the pages of the Atlantic Monthly to denounce the whole project of British detective fiction in a famous 1944 essay called "The Simple Art of Murder." Chandler singled out A.A. Milne's 1922 The Red House Mystery, which is in truth an awful little book: Trent's Last Case rewritten without E.C. Bentley's gentle humor or the genre-busting twist of the final pages. But Chandler intended Milne to stand in for all the rest of the authors who he thought were being surpassed by the new, hardboiled style practiced by the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Chandler himself.

If The Golden Age of Murder has an enemy in its sights, Chandler is it, and Edwards relates all the haunted, naughty, and desperate biographical details of the Detection Club's members to show that they weren't prissy, namby-pamby people. They were well aware of the intricacies of sin and human deception, and their personal knowledge was echoed in the psychology and settings of their books.

Which might even be true. To the British Golden Age authors ("The crime novel, like the world itself, is ruled by the English," as Bertolt Brecht complained at the time), Chandler was unfair in any particular instance. Christie is darker than readers remember. Chesterton more profound. Berkeley wittier. Sayers more peculiar. But there really was a general tone to it all. Insofar as any tale of murder can be cozy, these books were cozy. They downplayed the dark horror of murder in order to play up the bright logic of detection. And it's on those grounds that the authors of the Detection Club should be defended--not, I think, on Edwards's grounds that their work had its own form of hardboiled realism.

...Hercule Poirot is well worth the time.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Panic wipes £2tn off Chinese shares (Phillip Inman, 3 July 2015, The Guardian)

China's efforts this week to stem the tide of losses on its main stock market failed on Friday when the Shanghai Composite index plunged a further 5.8%, taking the drop in share values to 28% since their June peak.

Panic selling wiped more than £2tn off the value of Chinese-listed companies and traders signalled the rout would extend into next week.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


 Baseball's greatest pitching duel (Chris Haft, July 2nd, 2015, MLB)

The mention of the San Francisco Giants' encounter against the Milwaukee Braves on July 2, 1963, seemed to amuse Willie McCovey.

"You're bringing it back to life?" said the Hall of Fame first baseman.

Resuscitation isn't necessary. That game endures in all its glory 52 years later, and it most surely will remain as singular as long as baseball exists. Hall-of-Famers Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn saw to that with their pitching mastery.

On a typically cool night at Candlestick Park, the Giants prevailed 1-0 on a 16th-inning home run by Willie Mays. That in itself made the game suitable for framing. But Marichal and Spahn shaped it into a true historical keepsake. They recorded complete games, with Spahn throwing 201 pitches and Marichal totaling 227.

"I think that was way too many," Marichal said in a telephone interview, still a perfectionist 40 years after his final game.

It's safe to assume that this game never will be duplicated. Pitchers are treated differently than when Marichal and Spahn roamed the earth. Customs are unlikely to revert to that flannel jersey era when starters were expected to complete their assignments. The term 'seven-inning pitcher' was a pejorative one.

"I was my own middle reliever, my own set-up man and my own closer," Spahn said, who completed 382 of his 665 starts.

July 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Syrian mosque blast kills at least 25 with al-Qaida links (Reuters, 3 July 2015)

An explosion at a mosque in Syria's Idlib province on Friday killed at least 25 members of the al-Qaida linked al-Nusra Front, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Just 14 years later, Al Qaeda is at greater risk from Islamicist terror than America is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Iran to US: Nuke deal could result in joint cooperation (GEORGE JAHN AND MATTHEW LEE July 4, 2015, Times of Israel)

Suggesting that Islamic extremism is a far greater threat to the world than his country's atomic activities, Zarif called for an end to "unjust economic sanctions" and for the West to join Iran in common cause against "the growing menace of violent extremism and outright barbarism."

"The menace we're facing -- and I say we, because no one is spared -- is embodied by the hooded men who are ravaging the cradle of civilization," Zarif said. He called for realignment from Iran's nuclear activities, saying it was time to "open new horizons to address important, common challenges."

Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry have taken the lead in the negotiations. In comments echoed by Zarif ahead of their renewed meeting on Friday evening, Kerry said the talks "are making progress." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Many New Teen Drivers 'Crash' in Simulated Driving Task (Carrie Myers, JULY 3, 2015, HealthDay News) 

Around four in 10 newly licensed teen drivers "crashed" in a simulated driving test, suggesting that many adolescents lack the skills they need to stay safe on the road, according to a new study.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Europe's soft underbelly (Scott Sumner, 6/19/15, EconLog)

In one important respect southern Italy is different from Greece. Like eastern Germany, southern Italy is part of a larger and more prosperous fiscal union. For many decades, Italy has been doing the things that American progressives would recommend, pouring lots of fiscal stimulus into the south, to build up the economy. But nothing seems to work. Indeed from Greece to Italy to southern Iberia, the entire southern tier of Europe is doing quite poorly. But why? And what can America learn from the failure of Italian policies aimed at boosting the mezzogiorno?

American progressives will sometimes argue that we have much to learn from the successful welfare states in northern Europe. Perhaps that's true. But I'd have a bit more confidence in that claim if they could explain what we have to learn from the failed welfare states in southern Europe. Indeed I'd have more confidence in progressive ideas if they even had an explanation for the failed welfare states of southern Europe. But I don't ever recall reading a progressive explanation. Indeed the only explanations I've ever read are conservative explanations, tied to cultural differences.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Japan launches fresh cash and diplomacy push to woo Mekong states (Michael Peel in Bangkok and Robin Harding in Tokyo, 7/02/15, Financial Times)

Shinzo Abe, prime minister, will play host at a summit in Tokyo this weekend to leaders of the "Mekong five" states, named for the river that flows through them from Japan's arch-rival China.

The premier's courting of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos is part of a more active brand of diplomacy he is promoting in search of new export markets and an Asia governed by international laws.

Kuni Miyake, president of the Foreign Policy Institute think-tank in Tokyo, said Japan was aiming to counter Chinese diplomacy in the region by uniting the Mekong countries behind universal values such as freedom of the seas, at a time when Japan and other countries are in maritime territorial disputes with China. "By doing so we can counterbalance the Chinese push," Mr Miyake said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Whistle-blower: How doctor uncovered nightmare (Laura Berman, 6/10/15, The Detroit News)

From the blue yarns tucked in a woven basket to the earth-tone carpeting and the solidity of the stone fireplace, every detail of the Crittenton Hospital Cancer Center's waiting room helps anxious patients feel embraced by warmth and comfort. Even the vaulted ceiling, crafted of gleaming cherry wood, suggests a religious sanctuary, not a medical clinic.

Two years ago, before St. John Health System acquired it, this was the foyer to Dr. Farid Fata's clinic, a tasteful yet grand reception area linking his private clinic to the hospital. It was an arrangement that lent Fata seemingly special status and enhanced his reputation with patients.

Yet at 10 a.m. on July 1, 2013, Monica Flagg felt dread as she entered this space, a full year after a routine urine test showed an M protein spike that led her physician to refer her to Fata, a well-known oncologist and hematologist. She was 51, the executive director of a state-licensed nonprofit -- a competent woman facing the stress of a life-threatening illness.

She would wait close to two hours before being called for this, her first chemotherapy session.

A nurse opened the door for her. "Monica."

Inside the clinic, the designer surroundings faded as human chaos seeped in. The infusion nurses argued among themselves, uncertain about whether to deliver the treatment by injection or a slow drip. In the end, Flagg was given a single shot. By the time she returned home, she was exhausted and upset.

Later that day, she and her husband Stephen retreated to the deck outside their Rochester home, trying to relax. When a few raindrops splattered, she went upstairs to close the bedroom window. Turning back around, Flagg stumbled and fell on an open suitcase she had been unpacking.

Almost two years later, she still recalls the crunch of bone and her own anguish as she began to cry.

That sweltering Fourth of July week, Dr. Soe Maunglay, then 41, a Burmese-born oncologist newly settled in southeastern Michigan, was making hospital rounds for Fata, his employer. Soft-spoken and meticulous, Maunglay was wearing a suit jacket rather than a white lab coat, a habit he'd adopted from a Mayo Clinic-trained mentor.

An accident of timing, personal history, and incredible luck -- good and bad -- was about to unfold in Flagg's hospital room. The result would save lives and unleash a federal investigation into a long-esteemed physician, collapsing his elaborate medical empire, even as details about who uncovered the doctor's web of deceit, fraud and suffering remained unexplained.

Next month, before Fata is sentenced in a Detroit federal courtroom, Fata victims will describe the toll of being prescribed toxic medication and testing they didn't need. They will explain how their misplaced trust in a doctor they once revered tore apart their families, cost them the power to make choices about living or dying, and created lingering mental anguish and illness.

But it was Flagg's stumble over a suitcase, and Soe Maunglay's determined follow-through over the next weeks, that precipitated Fata's own fall.

Making Fata's rounds that July day, Maunglay checked for the first time on Flagg, hospitalized with two fractures in her left leg. Because Maunglay is a cancer doctor, he paid heed to her multiple myeloma diagnosis, the Velcade injection, and the medical record before him. It all triggered an internal alarm. .

"Who told you that you have cancer?" he asked her.

Fata's Michigan Hematology and Oncology Inc. (MHO) was the state's largest private cancer practice in 2013, with clinics in seven cities, its own pharmacy and diagnostic center, and 1,700 patients, virtually all of them assigned to Fata, the tireless physician. Those who needed proof of Fata's dedication could look to the doctor's work ethic -- he often labored past midnight -- or to the Swan for Life Foundation, a charity Fata established to help cancer patients and their families.

Today, MHO is gone and Fata is behind bars, awaiting sentencing for at least $34 million in fraudulent Medicare billings and a kickback scheme with a hospice. The criminal counts only hint at the human suffering behind the financial damages and raise questions about how Fata's schemes could go undetected so long, despite his many contacts, doctors, and huge roster of patients. As Brian McKeen, the malpractice lawyer now representing Flagg, says with outrage: "The one place a person should be safe is a hospital or doctor's office. [...]

Maunglay was stunned by what the hospital chart suggested. A cancer-free patient being given chemotherapy wasn't negligence; it was an atrocity. "It's oh my God, if he can do this to a person who has nothing. ..." he said one recent Saturday afternoon. "For me, one case like this was enough. How could a doctor do this? My father died of cancer. For most of us" -- he waved his arms -- "cancer is personal."

As a cancer specialist, he had a special understanding of the horror he was witnessing, its cruelty. Fata's choice of myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, bespoke a certain shrewdness, because of the subjectivity of diagnosis. It was a clever niche for false doctoring. "You cannot fake lung cancer," he says. "You cannot fake a tumor ..." But with this disease, a malevolent doctor could plausibly use the treatment itself as a smokescreen to obscure future questions.

Myeloma's early "smoldering" stage is signaled by relatively minor changes in blood chemistry. Maunglay and Dr. Craig Cole, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan and myeloma specialist, say someone with an elevated M protein level is properly monitored through blood and urine testing. Flagg's was high enough to qualify as MGUS -- an entry-level condition that can be precancerous, but often is not.

Flagg was instead diagnosed for the more serious smoldering myeloma and singled out for Fata's brand of aggressive, unorthodox -- and very expensive -- treatment: she was subjected to three bone marrow biopsies and prescribed monthly intravenous immunoglobin injections (IVIG) that cost $4,000 each. Flagg despaired before every test, even fighting the diagnosis. "People would ask me how I was feeling. I felt fine. I had no symptoms!" she said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Obama administration scales back deportations in policy shift (Jerry Markon, July 2, 2015, Washington Post)  

The Obama administration has begun a profound shift in its enforcement of the nation's immigration laws, aiming to hasten the integration of long-term illegal immigrants into society rather than targeting them for deportation, according to documents and federal officials.

In recent months, the Department of Homeland Security has taken steps to ensure that the majority of the United States' 11.3 million undocumented immigrants can stay in this country, with agents narrowing enforcement efforts to three groups of illegal migrants: convicted criminals, terrorism threats or those who recently crossed the border.

...focussing on the undesirables.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


A Disney World Vacation in One Day (MEKADO MURPHY, 7/02/15, NY Times)

Orlando: So much excitement, so little time.

Universal Orlando, Sea World and Disney World all compete for your attention. It seems within the realm of possibility to visit all of them over the course of a (very long) weekend until you realize the Disney World problem.

The complex includes the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, four equally appealing options. Most people have to choose between Disney World and the rest, but roller coaster enthusiasts like me (and very ambitious family travelers) refuse to make a decision. We can do it all.

Fortunately, Disney World offers a one-day park hopper ticket for the four parks. You may not see it advertised in packages because there's no discount for it. Also, some may think it crazy to attempt to traverse these four parks in a day. Each has rides that a thrill lover wouldn't want to miss. But visiting all four in a day is possible with patience, stamina, a solid pair of walking shoes and a few tips.

Here is some advice on experiencing the thrills at the parks while still having time later for refreshments at Downtown Disney. [...]

5:30 p.m.

Our first Fast Pass reservation in the Magic Kingdom was around 6:30 p.m. We left Epcot to get to Magic Kingdom (which involves parking, a monorail ride through a hotel and across water to the park entrance) and have dinner. We used the Fast Pass at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a steel roller coaster, before our 9 p.m. reservation on Space Mountain.

We checked the app to see the wait time because I felt it essential to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the newest roller coaster in the park, regardless of the wait, which was listed at 60 minutes; we went for it.

...if they'd just taken Walt Disney World Railroad from dinner to Big Thunder Mountain they'd have had the four train set.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Osborne's devolution plans signal English revolution (Sarah Neville, Jim Pickard, Chris Tighe and Andy Bounds, 7/03/15, Financial Times)

George Osborne will next week signal a sweeping transfer of powers to the regions, from Cornwall to Yorkshire, presaging the biggest shake-up for decades in the way England is run.

The chancellor will use his Budget speech to maintain momentum from last year's devolution of powers to Manchester, as he aims to redraw the boundaries of the historically centralised UK state, the Financial Times understands.

Cornwall is in discussions over gaining powers to shape its own economic destiny, with sway over transport, energy and housing, according to people involved in the talks. This breaks new ground, extending the devolution agenda for the first time to one of Britain's most rural counties.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Goodbye Washington, hello Moscow? Saudi Arabia finds friendly face in Putin. (Fred Weir, JULY 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

Some experts perceive signs of an "emerging partnership" driven by shifting global winds, in which Saudi cash helps Moscow dodge Western sanctions, while Russian arms, engineering expertise, and diplomatic support assist the energetic new Saudi king to wean his country from dependency on an increasingly uncooperative US.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


CVS arson suspect faces federal charges (WBAL TV, Jul 02, 2015)

The man who law enforcement officials said is responsible for intentionally setting fire to the CVS in west Baltimore during the recent unrest had his initial appearance Thursday in federal court.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Big Corn vs. Big Sugar could have a sweet outcome for taxpayers (Charles Lane, July 1, 2015, Washington Post)

 The Corn Refiners Association, headed by giant grain processors such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, is taking aim at the federal sugar subsidy program -- which shares both Ex-Im's birth year, 1934, and its propensity for wasting resources and distorting markets.

Perhaps you did not know that it is unambiguously in the public interest for the United States' sugar farmers and refiners to make a profit, even though many other countries produce this fungible, but dietarily dubious, commodity at a lower cost.

Well, Congress, well-lubricated by the sugar lobby, believes that it is, and hasn't really revisited that conclusion for decades. And so we have country-by-country quotas on imports, buttressed by domestic price supports.

The net effect is to soak U.S. consumers every time they buy sugar-containing products, from soda to Snickers bars. The industry used to boast that its government protection does not cost taxpayers anything directly, but that claim has been exploded due to recent market developments that forced the federal government to, in effect, buy up tons and tons of sugar and sell it to ethanol refiners at a loss -- so as to prop up prices. Taxpayers took a hit of some $258 million in fiscal 2014.

So now the Corn Refiners Association is throwing its high-powered lobbying operation behind a bill that would, for the first time, cap taxpayer exposure to sugar-market ups and downs, with votes on the floor of the House looming later this summer.

There's actually a chance that sugar program reform, a cause heretofore supported by the candy and cake makers, plus a few hardy environmentalists, will finally have enough muscle to prevail.

Perhaps the best sign that the Corn Refiners' position has already made an impact is that Big Sugar's backers are resorting to the same old specious arguments that rent-seekers, and their friends in Congress, always trot out. The sugar program, which subsidizes cane growers in the Florida Everglades and sugar-beet growers in Minnesota, is "critical to jobs and economic development," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Tell that to the candy-factory work force, which shrank from 70,500 to just under 55,000 between 1998 and 2011, due in large part to the high cost of sugar inputs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


The sadist who wrecked New York, and the last of the great biographers (John R. MacArthur, 4 July 2015, The Spectator)

It is something of a mystery why the Bodley Head has decided to publish Robert Caro's The Power Broker in Britain more than 40 years after the initial appearance in the US of this classic work -- but better late than never. Caro's remarkable portrait of New York City's master planner Robert Moses merits publication in any language, at any moment in time. For its scope extends beyond Moses, fascinating though he was as a person, builder, wrecker, and manipulator of men and money.

Caro's ambition -- in a journalistic sense equal to Moses's ambition in architecture, park creation, and road and bridge construction -- is greater than conventional biography. Over 1,200-odd pages, with immense precision and considerable verve, Caro aims to describe the essence and pathology of Moses's political power, not just the uses to which he put it or how he got away with the worst of his bulldozing, both physical and political. So we learn as much about the intoxication and addiction of power as we do about the bureaucratic titan whose imprint on New York bears comparison with his only modern equivalent, the smasher and rebuilder of Paris, Baron Haussmann.

Unfortunately, New York today remains ugly, congested, and harsh compared with Paris, and the tactics Moses employed to transform the city, adjacent Long Island, and upstate New York to suit his tastes were uglier still. Thus any assessment of Moses's legacy, or potential revision of Caro's devastating critique, must include the question: did Robert Moses make New York a better or a worse place to live?

There's nothing wrong with New York that tearing down all the highways and high-rises wouldn't fix.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Christian activist decries 'evil' gay marriage with a honey-smooth voice (TINA SUSMAN, 6/30/15, LA Times)
In a state where 86% of voters cast ballots for a ban on gay weddings in 2004, and where opposition is fierce to last week's Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, Meeke Addison stands out from the fire-and-brimstone preachers and politicians usually associated with the fight against gay marriage.

Her view of marriage came from divorce. It was her mother's divorce, and according to family lore, it came after Addison's father handed his wife a pearl-handled pistol, told her to use it on anyone who tried to break into their apartment, and walked out.

Despite being left with five children to raise, Addison said, her mother trumpeted the value of marriage and instilled in her a passion for the institution that has turned Addison into one of Mississippi's most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.

Addison is a 36-year-old black woman. She is not a preacher or a politician. Her views are as hard-line as theirs, and her words can be as harsh, but her voice is honey smooth, whether she is speaking on her weekday radio show, "Airing the Addisons," on a Christian-based network, or speaking on behalf of the American Family Assn., a national Christian group based in Tupelo.

One of the things that rile Addison most about the same-sex marriage issue, which peaked in Mississippi on Friday when the state attorney general directed court clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, is the idea that same-sex marriage is a civil right.

"I'm a black woman, so when I think of a civil right and the fight for freedom, it kind of strikes a chord for me that your sexual preference is not equal to the color of my skin, an immutable characteristic," Addison said in an interview Saturday, a day after the Supreme Court's ruling.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world (Hari Kunzru, 3 July 2015, The Guardian)

In 1959, if you were walking the sand dunes near Florence, Oregon, you might have encountered a burly, bearded extrovert, striding about in Ray-Ban Aviators and practical army surplus clothing. Frank Herbert, a freelance writer with a feeling for ecology, was researching a magazine story about a US Department of Agriculture programme to stabilise the shifting sands by introducing European beach grass. Pushed by strong winds off the Pacific, the dunes moved eastwards, burying everything in their path. Herbert hired a Cessna light aircraft to survey the scene from the air. "These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave ... they've even caused deaths," he wrote in a pitch to his agent. Above all he was intrigued by the idea that it might be possible to engineer an ecosystem, to green a hostile desert landscape.

About to turn 40, Herbert had been a working writer since the age of 19, and his fortunes had always been patchy. After a hard childhood in a small coastal community near Tacoma, Washington, where his pleasures had been fishing and messing about in boats, he'd worked for various regional newspapers in the Pacific northwest and sold short stories to magazines. He'd had a relatively easy war, serving eight months as a naval photographer before receiving a medical discharge. More recently he'd spent a weird interlude in Washington as a speechwriter for a Republican senator. There (his only significant time living on the east coast) he attended the daily Army-McCarthy hearings, watching his distant relative senator Joseph McCarthy root out communism. Herbert was a quintessential product of the libertarian culture of the Pacific coast, self-reliant and distrustful of centralised authority, yet with a mile-wide streak of utopian futurism and a concomitant willingness to experiment. He was also chronically broke. During the period he wrote Dune, his wife Beverly Ann was the main bread-winner, her own writing career sidelined by a job producing advertising copy for department stores.

Soon, Herbert's research into dunes became research into deserts and desert cultures. It overpowered his article about the heroism of the men of the USDA (proposed title "They Stopped the Moving Sands") and became two short SF novels, serialised in Analog Science Fact & Fiction, one of the more prestigious genre magazines. Unsatisfied, Herbert industriously reworked his two stories into a single, giant epic. The prevailing publishing wisdom of the time had it that SF readers liked their stories short. Dune (400 pages in its first hardcover edition, almost 900 in the paperback on my desk) was rejected by more than 20 houses before being accepted by Chilton, a Philadelphia operation known for trade and hobby magazines such as Motor Age, Jewelers' Circular and the no-doubt-diverting Dry Goods Economist.

Though Dune won the Nebula and Hugo awards, the two most prestigious science fiction prizes, it was not an overnight commercial success. Its fanbase built through the 60s and 70s, circulating in squats, communes, labs and studios, anywhere where the idea of global transformation seemed attractive. Fifty years later it is considered by many to be the greatest novel in the SF canon, and has sold in millions around the world.

...it was hard to believe the same guy had written the incoherent follow-ups.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Sunny weather sees Britain break solar power record, estimate says (Press Association, 3 July 2015)

An increase the amount of solar panels, with the latest statistics showing there are more than 709,000 solar installations across UK, and the glorious sunshine means solar arrays from large farms to home roof panels are believed to be supplying 16% of power needs this afternoon.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Orthodox Jews Can't Protest Gay Pride Parade, Hire Mexicans Instead (Alex Griswold, June 29th, 2015, Mediate)

A (actually Jewish) member of the political action committee readily admitted they had paid the protesters, and claimed they were filling in for younger men who would normally protest. "The rabbis said that the yeshiva boys shouldn't come out for this because of what they would see at the parade," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


The Quiet Crisis Of America's Disappearing Workforce (IBD, 07/02/2015)

Will the last worker in America please raise your hand? We ask this because Thursday's Labor Department report for June found yet another record collapse in the number of working Americans. [...]

The labor force participation rate for those 16 and over dropped from 65.7% at the start of the Obama presidency to just 62.6% last month.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Jihadist From Tunisia Died in Strike in Libya, U.S. Official Says (CARLOTTA GALL and ERIC SCHMITT, JULY 2, 2015, NY Times)

Tunisia's most wanted jihadist, who masterminded a campaign of assassinations and terrorist attacks, including one against the United States Embassy in Tunis, was killed in an American airstrike in Libya in mid-June that had targeted another Al Qaeda leader, a senior United States official said on Thursday.

The jihadist, Seifallah Ben Hassine, also known as Abu Ayadh, was one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants and the leader of the outlawed group Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia. He had been based in Libya since 2013, according to reports, and ran training camps and a network of militant cells across the region.

His death, if confirmed, would be an important victory for Tunisia in its struggle to contain a persistent insurgency in its western border region and a growing threat to its urban centers. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Arnold Schwarzenegger: five best moments : Highlights from the action-packed and dialogue-light career of the bodybuilder turned actor turned governor turned actor (Benjamin Lee, 7/03/15, The Guardian)

...from the otherwise godawful Raw Deal:

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Who is burning black churches? Twitter activists think they know (BBC Trending, 7/03/15)

A co-ordinated effort on Twitter earlier in the week turned the hashtag "Who is burning black churches?" into a worldwide trend, and it's since been mentioned more than 300,000 times. The phrase, however, is slightly misleading - instead of trying to get to the bottom of who might have been behind the fires, most of the messages Tweeted under the hashtag criticised mainstream US media outlets, claiming that they were ignoring or downplaying the story.

"I live in knoxville [in Tennessee] and had to hear about a black church being burned IN MY CITY from twitter thanks local news," one man tweeted.

The campaign was the brainchild of a relatively small group of activists, many of whom identify themselves on their Twitter profiles as supporters of Black Lives Matter, a movement that originally sprung up to protest alleged police brutality and the shootings of African-Americans.

It became a political force last year during protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer. One of the activists who rose to prominence after live streaming events in Ferguson, Palestinian-American and St Louis native Bassem Masri, was also one of the main Twitter users behind the "Who is burning black churches?" hashtag.

"We circulated the idea through [direct messages] so that at a specific time, everyone would to go hard on the hashtag, and encouraged everyone to keep at it," he told BBC Trending.

July 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Church fires in the US are very common, but usually not arson or racially motivated (BRUCE SMITH and RAY HENRY, 7/0/15, Associated Press)

More than half of fires at houses of worship from 2007 to 2011 were blamed on cooking equipment and heating and electrical systems, according to estimates by the National Fire Protection Association. [...]

While church fires have declined significantly in recent decades, they are not infrequent: Blazes at houses of worship happened, on average, 31 times a week across the nation, according to the data collected during the five-year period ending in 2011. If those trends still hold today, an average of five church fires could be intentionally set each week. [...]

[T]he task force formed by President Bill Clinton found that 37 percent of the people arrested for bombing or burning black churches in the 1990s were black themselves.

The same task force reported that many arsonists appeared to have non-racial motives, such as covering up other crimes, pyromania and other mental illness.

Local and federal investigators said Wednesday that they haven't ruled out any potential cause for the fire at Mount Zion, which started late Tuesday as lightning storms rolled through the area.

Churches may face special fire risks. For example, insurers have cautioned that church spires may attract lightning strikes, and churches may pose an easy target for arsonists, since many are vacant outside of weekly worship services. 

Still, the estimated number of intentionally set fires at houses of worship and funeral homes has trended downward, falling 71 percent from 1,320 in 1980 to 380 in 1998, according to an NFPA analysis. That coincides with a general decrease in all fires at those structures.

July 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Saudi Officials Linked to Jihadist Group in WikiLeaks Cables (SAEED SHAH, June 28, 2015, WSJ)

Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, had high-level contacts with America's most deadly adversary in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network, according to purported Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM



One day after the 51st anniversary of the murder of Schwarner, Chaney and Goodman, nine African Americans were shot down in cold blood in the sanctuary of Emmanuel AME church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.

Seven black churches have burned since that day, with conflicting reports on whether or not these churches burned because of arson, lightning or other causes. Meanwhile, several African American female pastors in South Carolina have had threatening letters sent to them, stating, "You and your children will die."

When it comes to racism in America, and specifically acts of violence against black Christians and black churches, the past is not even the past--it is a very present danger. 

One would have thought Michael Fumento had debunked this meme permanently. If I recall the old New Yorker piece correctly, an unlikelihood, churches burn often generally : they're old, wooden buildings that aren't maintained very well and often aren't up to code.  They're also prey to arson frequently because they have little security, they burn well, and nuts hate God.

It's certainly possible that a black church fire could be a racist attack, it just isn't likely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Start Your Transition to LED Lighting for $4 Per Bulb (Shep McAllister, 7/01/15, Kinja)

If you're still using ugly CFL bulbs, or heaven forbid, energy-hogging incandescents, it's time to transition to LED. Philips' unique SlimStyle 60W equivalents are only $4 each today on Amazon, which is within a few cents of an all-time low. At that price, they'll pay for themselves in the short term with energy savings, and in the long term with a lifespan that could stretch over multiple decades. Plus, many utility companies will pay you a buck or two for each bulb, if you submit a receipt.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Near to a nuclear deal, Iran grapples with bigger headaches (Matthew McInnis, July 1, 2015, AEIdeas)

The Iranian leadership appears quite content with waiting until July 7 to conclude a comprehensive agreement with the P5+1. All the angst over Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's reiteration two weeks ago of old redlines (immediate sanctions relief, no military inspections) and seemingly new ones (uranium enrichment will not be restricted for ten to twelve years) appears to have been unwarranted, as expected.

The mostly upbeat reports coming out of the Vienna negotiations do not indicate Tehran has shifted from the basic parameters in the April 2 Lausanne agreement to restrict enrichment for at least ten years, contrary to Khamenei's new 'redline'. The negotiators appear to concede that sanctions will be lifted in some sequence tied to the deal's implementation even if that sequence is still undetermined. Tehran should find the eventual arrangements for a new inspections regime and for answering the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) questions about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons research manageable, especially given indications that the US and other P5+1 members are willing to bend on these issues. Khamenei tweeted he "recognized our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful" on the original deadline date of June 30. The Supreme Leader is seeing a favorable deal and his satisfaction is showing.

...and alliance with us helps with both.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Jeb Bush's education foundation releases donor list a day after his tax returns (Ed O'Keefe July 1, 2015, Washington Post)

A nonprofit education foundation established by Jeb Bush has released a full list of donors dating back to its founding in 2007. The list comes a day after the former Florida governor released 33 years of tax returns. [...]

News of the release of the foundation's donors was first reported by the Associated Press.

The nonprofit received donations from 191 organizations over the eight-year period. Four entities have donated more than $1 million at least once: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (in 2013); the GE Foundation (2012 and 2013); the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust (2014); and the Walton Family Foundation (2014). All four entities have given six-figure sums in other years.

Other backers include Bloomberg Philanthropies -- the charitable entity of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg; Exxon Mobil; BP America; Target; Publix Supermarkets; the Florida Lottery; State Farm Insurance; and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Just think how much easier W's presidency would have been if he'd released his arrest record in July 1999.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Jeb Bush is surging in a new GOP poll (Colin Campbell, 7/01/15, Business Insider)

"The findings suggest Bush is making progress toward being seen as the frontrunner in a field that has long lacked a clear leader," wrote CNN's polling director, Jennifer Agiesta. 

"He holds a significant lead over the second-place candidate Trump, is seen as the candidate who could best handle illegal immigration and social issues, and runs about even with Trump and well ahead of the other candidates when Republicans are asked which candidate can best handle the economy."

Brianna Keilar, a CNN political correspondent, further called Bush "the humble front-runner." 

He is the base's candidate.