August 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


A new era? Iranians erase 'Death to America' graffiti from wall of former US embassy in Tehran (Jerusalem Post, 8/31/15)

Slogans against America are being erased from walls on the street of Tehran, Iranian media has reported in recent days.

Iranian news sites have published pictures of a person wiping off graffiti that reads,"Death to America," also from the walls of where the US embassy was formerly located prior to its closure after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


'Et tu, Brute?' (JAMES V. SCHALL, S. J., Summer 2015, University Bookman)

The drama of Shakespeare is sometimes thought to be really the drama of Brutus, not Caesar. Tyrants were said to have no friends. Because of their bonds of loyalty, friends were said to be more dangerous to tyrants than separate individuals. In this setting, Brutus broke his friendship when Caesar became a tyrant in his view.

The classic question is the relation of duty to friend and duty to country or to God. Whether Caesar was the sort of tyrant that Brutus pictured him to be might be questioned. Caesar was an accomplished man. And the morality of Brutus' deed hinges on this estimate of tyranny, together with the legitimacy of tyrannicide in general. Brutus, along with Cicero, did maintain that the killing of a tyrant was an act of courage for the good of the country.

Given what became of Rome, Brutus and Cicero were prescient, just unsuccessful in saving the Republic.
Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


The real cost of the Iran deal (Roula Khalaf, 8/30/15, Financial Times)

Reassurance, however, comes at a price. In the case of the Iran deal, the administration has allowed the costs to rise unnecessarily, acquiescing to actions that threaten long-term US interests. Indeed, the Arab autocratic order is back in force only a few years after popular revolts swept the region. Security crackdowns are building a new chapter of exclusion and extremism, but soliciting no more than a muted reaction from Washington.
Consider Egypt, where the international rehabilitation of Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, the country's strongman, is well under way, even though his government's relentless repression of dissent exceeds in intensity and scope the clampdowns of Hosni Mubarak, the president ousted in the 2011 revolution.

The US sent the wrong message by resuming military aid to Egypt this year, having suspended it in 2013 when an elected Islamist president was overthrown in a popularly-backed military coup. The only leverage Washington had over Mr Sisi was squandered.

In Bahrain too, the US lifted restrictions on arms sales in June, claiming Manama had made significant progress on human rights. That was two weeks after a court sent Ali Salman, leader of the main Shia opposition party, to jail for four years. Bahrain's Sunni minority regime has been fighting off repeated outbursts of unrest from disgruntled Shia; continued suppression of the political opposition is certain to further radicalise Shia youth and unsettle a country that is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet.

After nearly a decade of isolation Iran has agreed a breakthrough deal with six world powers to wind back the country's progress towards building a nuclear bomb in exchange for a sweeping reversal of international economic sanctions

In both Bahrain and Egypt, the US acted with an eye towards Saudi Arabia, the increasingly assertive leader of the Sunni Arab camp, and backer of the Bahraini monarchy and Egypt's military coup.
But it is in Yemen that the US mollification of Arab allies could have the most destructive impact. At a time when the US priority is -- and that of all its allies should be -- the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis, Washington has supported a Saudi-led military campaign that has spread more chaos.

...for the trouble they're having accepting that Iran is the ally and the Sa'uds the enemy.  An adjustment period is to be expected.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Why the Right Doesn't Win : How blue states and Christian factionalism keep conservatives at bay. (DANIEL MCCARTHY • August 31, 2015, American Conservative)

The blue states hold the keys to victory for establishment candidates: "Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney won every blue-state primary in 2008 and 2012," Cohn notes, "making it all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination." Indeed, "Mr. Romney lost all but one red-state primary held before his principal opponent dropped out of the race"--that opponent being Rick Santorum, who a few months earlier had seemed utterly hopeless. Santorum lost his Senate seat in blue-state Pennsylvania in 2006. But in red-state presidential primaries six years later, he was formidable.

The division between blue-state and red-state Republicans by itself, however, is not enough to account for the party's seeming inability to nominate anyone to the right of Romney or McCain. There remains a mystery: in the past generation, even as the GOP has come to be viewed as more right-wing than ever, conservatives have actually fared worse in its presidential primaries. In just 16 years between 1964 and 1980, conservatives won the Republican nomination twice. In the 36 years since Reagan left office, conservatives have never won it.

There were plenty of blue-state Republicans in the days of Goldwater and Reagan, of course, and even back then the party had distinct factions of conservatives and liberals--"Rockefeller Republicans," as they were called. Why, then, did conservatives succeed in 1964 and 1980 but never again?

The answer lies in a development that appeared for the first time in 1988: the emergence of a distinct religious right or social-conservative candidate. That was Pat Robertson, who carried four states and won a little over 9 percent of the overall primary vote--behind Bob Dole's nearly 20 percent and George H.W. Bush's 68 percent. Robertson's modest campaign, however, was like a hairline crack in the foundations of the political right. Since then in every election there has been a strong social-conservative contender in the Republican contest: Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012.

The gap is filled by George W. Bush, an establishment candidate who, as a born-again Christian himself, was "a uniter, not a divider" in appealing to religious conservatives. And he left nothing to chance: his "compassionate conservatism," inspired in part by the evangelical thinker Marvin Olasky, was pitched directly to Republicans of strong religious sensibilities, and he was eager to accept whatever help Catholics like Fr. Richard John Neuhaus could provide in building interdenominational political alliances. Bush's efforts came up short in November 2000, when he failed to win the popular vote--in part, his campaign believed, because not enough churchgoers went to the polls for him. But his re-election in 2004 was widely credited to success in mobilizing "values voters."

Before 1988, religious conservatives voted with other conservatives. The religious right wasn't yet organized in 1964, but "moral" voters were a significant component of Goldwater's base, sometimes to the candidate's own embarrassment. (He vetoed the distribution a short film, "Choice," intended by his supporters to rally voters with alarming images of race, sex, and crime.) Reagan in 1980 was the first Republican hopeful, and then nominee, to benefit from effectively organized social-conservative groups like the Moral Majority. thisarticleappears copy

The development of the religious right or social conservatives as a bloc discrete from conservatives generally proved to be the undoing of the right in Republican presidential primaries. 

August 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


A revolution comes in layers : The "energy crisis" hit like a locomotive in the 1970s. Today's "energy revolution" didn't happen suddenly. It grew out millions of innovations, processes, and decisions.  (John Yemma, AUGUST 30, 2015, CS Monitor)

A genuine revolution often arrives quietly, barely noticed because it unfolds gradually and cumulatively. That's today's energy revolution. 

Oil prices are tumbling. New extraction procedures have made oil and natural gas abundant. But that hasn't slowed solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative power sources. Conservation hasn't slowed either. LED lights and less-voracious appliances are curbing consumption and forcing the mothballing of carbon-spewing power plants.

And that is only the beginning. The next wave is batteries. As you'll see in David Unger's cover story, better batteries will make solar and wind power effective when the sun doesn't shine and the winds don't blow. As major undertakings such as Elon Musk's Tesla "gigafactory" improve lithium-ion batteries and manufacture them at industrial scale, prices will decrease and use will surge.

When houses, offices, and industrial plants can produce and store energy sufficient for their needs, then power plants, utility companies, and the electric grid - that 450,000-mile network of high-voltage transmission lines strung across the US that is perhaps the most complex and vulnerable installation on the planet - become less important. There will still be a need for always-available, industrial-scale electricity. But power consumption is already diminishing year by year. Ahead lies a shakeout of the 7,300 power plants in the US, especially the dirtier and less efficient ones.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Iran is 'true enemy' of Gulf Arabs -- Kuwaiti MP (AFP, August 30, 2015)

A senior Kuwaiti lawmaker on Sunday described Iran as the "true enemy" of Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states, in a sign of growing tensions with the Shiite power.

"It has become clear to all that Iran is an enemy plotting to swallow up our states and resources and is the true enemy of the region," Hamad al-Harashani, the head of the Kuwaiti parliament's foreign relations committee, said in a statement.

Even formal estimates of the Shi'a population of Kuwait put it at 40%, meaning it's probably 50% or more.  They're going to get self-determination too.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


The Two Billie Holidays (Terry Teachout, 8/25/15, Commentary)

Holiday initially recorded not as a soloist but as a "sideman" on a series of combo recordings led by Teddy Wilson, one of the top jazz pianists of the '30s.

Nevertheless, she had already become a fully formed artist. Her small, slightly raspy voice sounded at once disillusioned and hopeful, with a touch of vulnerability that was remarked on by all who heard her. "There was something about her--not just the torchy quality of her voice--that made you want to try to help her," the lyricist (and singer) Johnny Mercer recalled. She could make even the most trivial Tin Pan Alley ditties seem meaningful, and when she performed the work of such first-class songwriters as Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, she brought their immaculately crafted lyrics to vivid life without falling victim to the temptation to over-dramatize them.

Yet for all the distinctiveness of her performing persona, Holiday's appeal was rooted no less deeply in her natural musicality. Unlike Louis Armstrong, she shunned the "scat" singing that would be adopted by such later jazz vocalists as Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé. In most other ways, though, she followed his example faithfully. She phrased with extreme rhythmic freedom, lagging far behind the beat in a way that occasionally disoriented her accompanists, and decorated the melodies of the songs that she sang with (in Szwed's words) "small but unforgettable turns, up-and-down movements, fades, and drop-offs" that were all the more effective for their subtlety.

In addition to ornamenting melodies, Holiday paraphrased them in an improvisational manner directly modeled on that of Armstrong. To hear her sing such now-familiar ballads as Kern's "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" or the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away from Me" is to grasp at once the nature of her method: She freely altered the songs she sang, often to accommodate the limitations of her untrained voice, whose effective range was barely more than an octave. Sometimes she stuck fairly close to the tune, but just as often she was more venturesome, at times radically so.

Nowhere is Holiday's musical approach more successful than in "I Must Have That Man," a little-known 1928 show tune by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields that she recorded when she was 21. Accompanied by a Wilson-led all-star band whose other members include Benny Goodman and Lester Young, Count Basie's incomparable tenor saxophone soloist and Holiday's favorite musical partner, she sings just one chorus of the cunningly rhymed song ("I need that person?/?Much worse'n just bad?/?I'm half alive and it's drivin' me mad"). On paper the lyric is little more than clever, but Holiday's plaintive voice transforms it into an unforgettably intimate confession of unrequited love.

It was at Café Society that Holiday started adding songs to her repertoire that were different in character from the show tunes and movie songs that she, Wilson, and Hammond had previously favored. The first and best known of them, "Strange Fruit," is a minor-key setting of a poem about a lynching. Sung at a paralytically slow tempo, it is full of melodramatic couplets whose sincerity cannot disguise their staginess: "Pastoral scene of the gallant South,?/?The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth." But Holiday embraced the song, recording it for Commodore in 1939 when Columbia, her regular label, refused to do so.If Holiday had died in 1937, the year in which she recorded "I Must Have That Man," she would still be remembered as a great singer. But she went on performing for two more decades, and in 1939 she embarked on a long-term residency at Café Society, a New York cabaret, in the course of which she changed her style deliberately and dramatically.

"Strange Fruit" would be followed by equally doleful songs such as "Gloomy Sunday," "God Bless the Child," and the quasi-autobiographical "My Man" ("He isn't true?/?He beats me, too?/?What can I do?"), all sung at the languorous, heroin-throttled crawl that Holiday increasingly preferred. Many were recorded with studio orchestras augmented by string sections, an innovation that dismayed jazz purists. Pop-music fans found her new style more accessible, though, and in 1947 she co-starred with Louis Armstrong in New Orleans, a Hollywood film about the history of jazz that might well have put her on the path to pop-culture celebrity. But she was arrested on a narcotics charge that same year, the first in a series of brushes with the law that instead turned her into a figure of scandal.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Leon Bridges, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2015 (RACHEL HORN, 8/26/15, NPR)

Leon Bridges took the stage at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival with a great deal of attendant buzz. Drawing favorable comparisons to Sam Cooke from many corners, he'd released his chart-topping debut, Coming Home, just a month earlier. But the 26-year-old soul singer from Fort Worth, Texas, took it all in stride, delivering a set that lived up to its promise. [...]

"Better Man"
"Brown Skin Girl"
"Pull Away"
"Smooth Sailin'"
"Coming Home"
"In My Arms"
"Twistin' And Groovin'"
"Lisa Sawyer"
"There She Goes"
"Lonely Road"

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


Liberty And Sovereignty (DANIEL JOHNSON, September 2015, Standpoint)

In Britain we have just celebrated two great anniversaries: Magna Carta and the Battle of Waterloo. To us, these two milestones in our history represent two of the most important British contributions to Western civilisation. Magna Carta symbolises liberty under the rule of law; Waterloo symbolises the defence of a free society against tyranny. 

Magna Carta is all about the rights of the "free man": "No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed . . . save by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land." The King too is subject to the rule of law, the integrity and impartiality of which he is also obliged to uphold: "To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice." In much of the world today, including parts of Europe, the rule of law cannot be taken for granted by individuals. Even within the European Union, it is by no means always and everywhere clear that the state is indeed beneath the law, or that the judiciary is impartial and incorruptible. The punishment of Nazi war criminals, for example, has been delayed in some cases for up to 70 years; many escaped justice entirely; others who were put on trial were acquitted or sentenced far too leniently, while their victims and their heirs have in many cases been denied restitution of their property (for example works of art) or adequate reparation for their suffering. 

Waterloo, for the British, is all about the independence of the nation state from the domination of an imperial despot. The British fought Napoleon Bonaparte, not merely to preserve their own freedom, but that of Europe as a whole. In a famous debate in the House of Commons in 1807 George Canning, the Foreign Secretary, justified a resumption of hostilities with France in pragmatic terms: "The single rule for the conduct of a British statesman is, attachment to the interests of Great Britain." But he went on to explain why British and European interests must coincide in the defeat of Bonapartism. "The country has the means, and I am confident it has the spirit and determination, to persevere with firmness in a struggle, from which there is no escape or retreat; and which cannot be concluded, with safety to Great Britain, but in proportion as with that object is united the liberty and tranquillity of Europe."

This refusal to accept any domination of the Continent by one power has been the biggest British contribution to European peace and prosperity: we saw it in both world wars and in the Cold War. [...]

The continuity of British foreign policy means that periods of isolation, splendid or not, are a necessary price to pay for upholding our principles. The EU has its own continuities, but at present it is unclear whether its members are prepared to adapt its rules sufficiently to enable the Union to survive into a new era. The British choice is an unenviable one, but in the past they have always chosen to preserve their own principles and traditions rather than surrender national independence. Just as Churchill felt that appeasement was a betrayal of everything that Britain had stood for, so the British today will not vote for the EU at any price. Just as the British must not expect our partners to give up their vital interests to keep us in, so Europe must not expect Britain to sacrifice principles that we regard as permanent aspects of our national identity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Wisconsin governor calls building northern wall along Canadian border a legitimate issue (KEVIN FREKING, 8/29/15, Associated Press)

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker says that building a wall along the country's norther border with Canada is a legitimate issue that merits further review.

We'll never be safe from racial mongrelization until the Atlantic and Pacific are walled too.

Chris Christie Proposes Tracking Immigrants the Way FedEx Tracks Packages (REUTERS, AUG. 29, 2015)

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Saturday that if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.

Mr. Christie, who is far back in the pack of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, said at a campaign event in New Hampshire that he would ask the chief executive of FedEx, Frederick W. Smith, to devise the tracking system. [...]

He said 40 percent of illegal immigrants are allowed into the United States legally with a visa and then stay longer than their visa allows.

Why wouldn't we just have every American get an frid chip which would replace cumbersome identification, cash, credit cards, etc. as well?

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Health savings accounts: Is an HSA right for you? (Mayo Clinic)

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are like personal savings accounts, but the money in them is used to pay for health care expenses. You -- not your employer or insurance company -- own and control the money in your health savings account. The money you deposit into the account is not taxed. To be eligible to open an HSA, you must have a special type of health insurance called a high-deductible plan.

Why were health savings accounts created?

HSAs and high-deductible health plans were created as a way to help control health care costs. The idea is that people will spend their health care dollars more wisely if they're using their own money. In addition, doctors and other health care providers will have an incentive to lower their rates because they're competing for business.

Is a health savings account right for me?

Like any health care option, HSAs have advantages and disadvantages. As you weigh your options, think about your budget and what health care you're likely to need in the next year.

If you're generally healthy and want to save for future health care expenses, an HSA may be an attractive choice. Or if you're near retirement, an HSA may make sense because the money in the HSA can be used to offset costs of medical care after retirement. On the other hand, if you think you might need expensive medical care in the next year and would find it hard to meet a high deductible, an HSA might not be your best option.

What are some potential advantages of health savings accounts?

You decide how much money to set aside for health care costs.
You control how your HSA money is spent. You can shop around for care based on quality and cost.
Your employer may contribute to your HSA, but you own the account and the money is yours even if you change jobs.
Any unused money at the end of the year rolls over (stays in your account) to the next year.
You don't pay taxes on money going into your HSA.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): A Win-Win-Win (GERRY LEONARD, PRESIDENT, ADP BENEFITS SERVICES, 8/26/15)

An annual census by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) of U.S. health insurance carriers shows that the number of people covered by health savings accounts/high-deductible health plans (HSA/HDHPs) totaled 15.5 million in January 2013. Clearly, a lot of people see the potential benefits of HSAs.

Let's look at three of those "wins" more closely.

WIN #1 - Out-of-pocket spending can be pre-tax using an HSA.

This can be a big win for an employee. In 2014, 72% of U.S. employees enrolled in HDHPs did not spend enough on health care to meet their deductible. That means that all of the money they spent came out of their own pockets, and their insurance provider was not involved in most of those events.

According to, HSA contributions can be:

used to pay out of pocket expenses incurred prior to meeting the HDHP deductible.
tax deductible from gross income.
pre-tax when contributed through a cafeteria plan.
invested tax-deferred.
tax-free when used for qualified medical expenses.
rolled over year after year (Said another way, there's no "use-it-or-lose-it" requirement.).

WIN #2 - Pre-tax contributions employees make to an HSA are pre-tax for the employer.

Employers who encourage their employees to open an HSA can benefit by potentially saving as much as 7.65% in employer tax costs. For example, if an employee puts $1,000 into an HSA, they can save taxes at their own marginal rate, and the client can save as much as $76.50 on those contributions. In addition to the financial wins, there is the additional win of getting the employees even more engaged in managing their health care expenses. Our clients have told us that employees who have an HDHP and an HSA are more likely to ask questions about the cost of health care services and far more likely to research the best value on those services.

WIN #3 - There is no "use-it-or-lose-it" requirement.

I mentioned this briefly above, but it's an important point that bears repeating. Unlike Flexible Spending Accounts, HSA balances can be rolled over and saved, tax-deferred, until age 65 when they can be withdrawn, similar to a 401(k) plan. This is why HSAs are often referred to as "401(k) for health care." Employees can save HSA funds and withdraw them in retirement when health care expenses are likely to be needed the most.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left? : Technology eliminates jobs, not work (Ronald Bailey|Aug. 28, 2015, Reason)

Analyzing technological and employment trends over the past 150 years in the United Kingdom, [Ian Stewart, Debapratim De, and Alex Cole, three economists at the business consultancy Deloitte] find that while machines have eliminated millions of jobs, they have also conjured into existence many more. Even better, living standards dramatically improved as the technological destruction of old jobs proceeded.

How? First, technology substitutes for labor, thus raising productivity and lowering prices. Since 1950, the percent of British incomes spent on food and clothing has fallen from 35 and 10 percent to 11 and 5 percent, respectively. In addition, the real price of automobiles has been halved. In 1948, a television in the U.S. would have cost the equivalent of $12,000 in today's money. Since then, the price of a TV has since fallen by 98 percent. 

Second, the sectors that are the sources of innovation expand, boosting the demand for labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of people working in computer systems design and related fields rose from 400,000 in 1990 to over 1.5 million in 2011. Similarly, the number of people employed in life sciences (biotechnology, pharmaceuticals) increased from 174,000 in 1990 to 1 million in 2012.

Third, technology improves outcomes in areas such as medicine, leading to increased demand for labor in those areas. Consider that the annual death rate for cardiovascular diseases in the United States has fallen from 805 per 100,000 in 1963 to 236 per 100,000 today. Five-year cancer survival rates have risen from 50 percent in 1970 to 70 percent today. Meanwhile, U.S. health-care employment rose from 2 percent of the workforce in 1950 to 9 percent today--that is, from 1.2 million to 13.4 million workers.

Fourth, technology lowers the cost of production and prices, enabling people to shift their spending to other goods and services, thus boosting demand for labor in those areas. For example, the demand for more personal services has greatly expanded. While the percent of their incomes Americans spent on food fell by nearly half since 1960, the percent of their food budgets spent on restaurants more than doubled from 20 percent to 43 percent. Consequently, the number of eating establishments since 1990 in the U.S. increased from 238,000 to nearly 1 million. Jobs in food service grew from 6.4 million to over 15 million now, nearly doubling as a proportion of the labor force. The number of people working as massage therapists has increased from 128,000 in 1996 to over 300,000, also nearly doubling as a fraction of the workforce. According to the Deloitte economists, since 1950 the percentage of the British workforce employed as barstaff has tripled and the percentage working as hairdressers has doubled.

...until the robots learn them.
Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Marc Lewis: the neuroscientist who believes addiction is not a disease (Melissa Davey, 30 August 2015, The Guardian)

Dr Marc Lewis, a developmental neuroscientist - perhaps most famous for detailing his own years of drug addiction and abuse in Memoirs of an Addicted Brain - strongly refutes this conventional disease model of addiction. His new book, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Disease, argues that considering addiction as a disease is not only wrong, but also harmful. Rather, he argues, addiction is a behavioural problem that requires willpower and motivation to change.

Lewis's theory has divided the medical profession and those suffering from addiction. He has been lauded by some for putting the theories challenging the disease model together into one book; others have labelled his ideas dangerous, and him a zealot.

Guardian Australia sat down with Lewis before his appearance at Melbourne writers festival on Sunday and the festival of dangerous ideas in Sydney to talk about the controversy, as well as his theories on how addiction can be treated and overcome. [...]

Why does it matter? Disease, disorder, behavioural problem? Does it affect the way we might think about treating those suffering from an addiction?

It sure does. The whole campaign to see addiction as a disease is that it works against people's sense of empowerment. If you have a disease, you're a patient. If you're a patient, you have to take instructions from your doctor and do what you're told. So people line up for rehabilitation centres and often have to wait for a long period of time, long after they've lost the motivational rush to actually quit.

Then if you do get into rehab, you're putting yourself in somebody else's hands and you're going with the program. But the best way to combat addiction is through setting different goals for yourself and setting your own goals. "I want this for my life, I don't want that, I want to change." That kind of self-perspective change and self-development of future goals and orientation is critical.

That's been an argument against rehabilitation, that it doesn't always set people up to meet personal goals and readjust to society.

That's right. It really hinges on the idea of who is setting the goals here. Who is telling you what to do? Are you telling yourself what to do, or are you being told? If you're being told what to do, you fall into a position of helplessness or disempowerment, which makes it hard to develop this head of steam, this effortful strength and self-control and willpower. I mean really, a lot of it is about willpower to master this thing, to take it in hand and change it. The best way to combat addiction is by setting goals for yourself.

Different types of rehab programs are needed for different types of drugs, for example it might take someone longer to get off ice than say, heroin, and therefore programs should be tailored to recognise that. But given what you're saying, would the model of treatment be relatively the same across all drugs, because it's more about willpower and setting goals than the type of drug being abused?

A good question. I don't think so. Even though it has those goals in common, people are very different and there are many ways to quit. Some people will need to focus more on cognitive tricks to self-program to modify their behaviour, others will need to change their environment to make sure they don't drive home past the liqour store, and for other people it's much more of a motivational thrust, more mindfulness and meditation. For others, it's about deeply connecting intimately and honestly with loved ones. Those are really different ways of getting better, even though what they all have in common is that theme of empowerment of self-motivation.

I can see why people with an addiction resist this way of thinking. No one likes to think of themselves of having a lack of willpower, or being to blame. Some members of the medical establishment are resistant to this idea too. Why do you think that is?

I think it's partly ownership, it's partly they way they've been trained to operate. I don't hate doctors, there are wonderful doctors. But doctors are trained to look at things in terms of categories, diagnoses, which have a certain set of possibilities for treatment or certain sequence of things to try. It's a really strongly inbred way of looking at very serious problems. And it's hard for them to shake it.

...and why all 12 Step programs are spiritually based. Even though they refer to "addiction" the cure is a matter of restoring and building up one's will to stop; it's not a medical treatment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


One country's trash could be Hezbollah's treasure (AVI ISSACHAROFF, August 30, 2015, Times of Israel)

Tens of thousands of young Lebanese: Sunnis, Christians, Druze and others take to the streets of Beirut and demand the removal not only of trash but also of the old political elite.

"Change the system," they call.

It's the same demand that Hezbollah has been making for more than two decades -- a demand long written off by Lebanese, who attributed sectarian intentions to the Shiite organization's call for reform and viewed it as influenced by Tehran.

But the garbage crisis overwhelming the streets of the capital, spotlighted by all those young demonstrators hailing from a broad spectrum of Lebanon's ethnic and religious groups, points to just how bulky and corrupt the old system of governing is.

The system is based on the 1943 National Pact and further propagated by the Taif agreement of 1989 that ended the civil war there.

How Hezbollah helps (and what it gets out of it) (Melani Cammett, October 2, 2014, NY Times)

The provision of social welfare by Hezbollah and other Islamists is not merely founded on a material exchange of services for support. A variety of non-political motivations coexist with more overtly political goals in shaping Islamist welfare activities. A long tradition of charitable work as well as an enduring history of non-state welfare provision in Lebanon have compelled Hezbollah and other Lebanese sectarian and Islamist groups to offer social goods as part of their organizational mission. Visions of social justice undoubtedly also motivate these organizations to provide social assistance. Hezbollah may distribute or facilitate access to social services to fulfill altruistic commitments, present itself as the protector and guarantor of well-being, gain supporters or consolidate control over territory and people. In short, specific political goals as well as charitable motivations likely underlie the provision of social services by Hezbollah and other groups in Lebanon.

"Buying support" through service provision is not necessarily an economic or material transaction, nor does it always occur through direct exchanges. As in-depth interviews with citizens in Lebanon reveal, the receipt of services directly or by family members or neighbors may compel some citizens to vote for the political party associated with the provider or to participate in demonstrations organized by the party. Even for these informants and other citizens, however, service provision is usually more than an instrumental exchange. Welfare engenders a sense of belonging to a community, which has enormous psychological benefits, particularly in the context of underdeveloped and unstable national state institutions. The provider organization establishes itself as a source of social protection or a guardian of the community, however defined, which may garner popular allegiances. "Bricks-and-mortar" welfare programs, which operate from fixed physical locations in specific neighborhoods and villages, are particularly effective in establishing the provider as a community guardian because they signal a long-term commitment to a geographical space and its inhabitants. The provision of social services from bricks-and-mortar agencies as well as long-term relationships of social provision are distinct from cash payments or one-shot food distribution efforts, which predominate during electoral contests.

Welfare programs may also inspire support by individuals and families who have not received services themselves but who have observed or heard about the actions of providers in their communities and beyond. Service provision projects an image of organizational capacity and efficiency as well as a commitment to protect, which may garner the admiration or respect of observers and not just the direct beneficiaries. This is especially valuable for a political organization that aims to build a reputation as a reliable and capable actor - one that is qualified to govern. The importance of building a strong reputation cannot be overstated, particularly because it enables Islamists to cultivate a much broader range of supporters, potentially even among non-supporters or those who are ideologically distant.

The provision of social services is not the sole means that Hezbollah uses to mobilize support, but it plays an important role, particularly in a national context in which alternative sources of social protection are underdeveloped or absent. So does it work? Hezbollah and other sectarian parties in Lebanon clearly calculate that welfare activities engender political support, even if this is not their sole motivation for distributing social goods. Thus far, my own research on the impact of services on the recipients (the demand side) has been far less systematic than my work on the politics of provision (the supply side). However, extensive qualitative interviews with recipients and non-recipients of social services from Hezbollah and other groups, as well as circumstantial evidence from electoral returns, indicate that social welfare has political payoffs. Furthermore, Lebanese citizens have come to expect that officials and political parties distribute social benefits on a discretionary basis. Survey data indicate that voters themselves prioritize the provision of social services by their elected representatives in their voting calculus. In 2001, a national poll asked citizens who voted in the 2000 national elections to list the two most important factors shaping their vote choices. Over 50 percent of the respondents listed the social service activities of the candidate as one of the two most important reasons for their vote.

For Hezbollah, which has largely prioritized non-electoral political mobilization, appropriate data for assessing the political effects of welfare distribution are not readily available. Extra-state political strategies entail forms of political engagement that are inherently difficult to measure, such as participation in demonstrations and riots and service in a militia, and therefore electoral data are less illuminating. That said, a look at electoral returns from the 2005 elections yields some suggestive insights given that Hezbollah stepped up its participation in mainstream, electoral politics and increasingly sought executive offices at this time. In the Lebanese context, shifts in the degree to which sectarian parties attract support from out-group members is an indirect indicator of the political efficacy of welfare outreach for parties that participate in elections. Although data on sectarian trends in voting patterns are difficult to obtain given their political sensitivity, local analysts have generated data on party vote share by sect for the 2005 and 2009 national elections. Thus, it is useful to examine the degree to which parties, including Hezbollah, garnered out-group support in these elections, with the rather large caveats that the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and mounting regional Sunni-Shiite tensions undoubtedly shaped voter behavior. The attendant fear-mongering and intergroup conflict muted the effects of clientelism on electoral trends in recent electoral cycles.

The turnout rates for the 2005 and 2009 elections provide some insights into the political effects of welfare outreach, although the linkages between social provision and electoral behavior are tenuous for the aforementioned reasons. A comparison of the returns of the two elections indicates that Hezbollah increased its share of Christian support substantially in all districts where the party fielded candidates. This is probably due to the alliance between Hezbollah and Michel Aoun's predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) beginning in 2006. Many Christian FPM supporters undoubtedly voted for Hezbollah to express their endorsement of Aoun's decision to ally with the Shiite party; however, the receipt of social benefits from Hezbollah, which placed more emphasis on a state-centric political strategy after 2005, may have reinforced this trend. In particular, in the aftermath of the 2006 war and the alliance with the FPM, Hezbollah embarked on an extensive effort to distribute social assistance to Christian families affected by the conflict. (At the same time, in the context of rising regional and domestic tensions, Hezbollah lost Sunni vote share.) The observable trends are consistent with the claim that state-centric political strategies garnered support from out-group voters for Hezbollah, particularly across Muslim-Christian lines, although other explanations cannot be ruled out.

Anecdotal evidence (and, for the education sector, test score results) indicates that Hezbollah is indeed an effective supplier of social services, as are other Islamist groups. I suspect this is due primarily to features of organizational culture, such as internal discipline and hierarchical structure, rather than to the faith component of their missions per se. Some studies of faith-based contend that religious organizations tend to attract personnel who are committed to their missions on spiritual grounds, making them willing to put in long hours, often for relatively minimal compensation. High levels of motivation among staff members therefore enable faith-based organizations to offer comparatively high quality services at low cost. Although Koranic injunctions to serve the community and engage in charitable works undoubtedly serve as a key motivation for many staff members of Islamist welfare agencies, the alleged Islamist governance advantage likely has less to do with religious commitments. Many religious institutions from Muslim and other faith traditions operate social service programs in the Middle East, yet do not all appear to offer services of equal caliber. Arguably, staff members at non-Islamist institutions are no less committed to religious principles than Islamists, yet do not have reputations for providing high-quality services. Furthermore, Hezbollah offers noticeably higher quality services on multiple dimensions than most other non-profit health networks, even when compared with co-religionist organizations.

Specific features of Hezbollah's organizational culture are amenable to the provision of high-quality social services. In particular, its coherence and hierarchical structure facilitate the dissemination and standardization of practices and protocols as well as procedures for staff training and management.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


No, You Do Not Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day (Aaron E. Carroll, 8/24/15, NY Times)

Many people believe that the source of this myth was a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that said people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. But they ignored the sentence that followed closely behind. It read, "Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods."

Water is present in fruits and vegetables. It's in juice, it's in beer, it's even in tea and coffee. Before anyone writes me to tell me that coffee is going to dehydrate you, research shows that's not true either.

Although I recommended water as the best beverage to consume, it's certainly not your only source of hydration. You don't have to consume all the water you need through drinks. You also don't need to worry so much about never feeling thirsty. The human body is finely tuned to signal you to drink long before you are actually dehydrated.

Contrary to many stories you may hear, there's no real scientific proof that, for otherwise healthy people, drinking extra water has any health benefits. 

August 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


PM: Israel not opposed to a civilian nuke program for Iran (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AP, August 30, 2015)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday said Israel does not object to allowing Iran to have a civilian nuclear program, only a military one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Trumpalooza: We've seen this show before (Matthew Dallek, 8/28/15,  Yahoo News)

Unlike Reagan and Murphy and other entertainers turned pols who sought and won elective office, however, Trump has no clear or consistent ideology, no set of larger conservative ideas about government's role in America's economy and society. He is more akin to single-issue candidates such as Ross Perot, another eccentric billionaire who made deficit reduction his signature issue on his way to winning 19 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election. (Like Trump, Perot also wrote a book dispensing life advice for his admirers.) In Trump's case, though, his issue, immigration, extends and deepens the racism and nativism that has deep roots in our politics. Drawing on strains of venom from the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s to Strom Thurmond's segregationist Dixiecrat presidential run of 1948, Trump has built his campaign on exploiting issues of race, identity and status to blame the country's economic and social woes on immigrants from Latin America. Wittingly or not, he has made illegal immigration the most identifiable crux of his policy agenda, lashing immigrants as rapists and criminals. [...]

His ability to graft nativist appeals onto his anti-media broadsides (another well-trod meme honed by, among others, former Vice President Spiro Agnew), and his TV-fueled, carnival-like showmanship have all enabled him to become a significant, if not wholly unprecedented, force in the presidential campaign. His brand of politics has been fueled by a cultural and media environment that enables him and his followers to broadcast his messages on Twitter and Facebook and in countless television interviews and news conferences instantaneously. Yet Trump, for all his apparent strength in the polls, is such an outsider in Republican Party politics that other than as a media-entertainment phenomenon, his impact is likely to be short-lived. He has damaged the GOP's brand and sucked some of the air from the Hillary Clinton email story. Yet he has little ideological support within the Republican Party's leadership, even less support among the general electorate, and has mainly served to divide the country further along lines of ethnicity and race.

For all his flamboyance, this is one media and political drama that we have seen before. If nobody knows how or when it ends, its origins are rooted in the history of American politics. Trump has come to embody the contemporary popular affinity for wealthy nonpoliticians and other voices of protest that blame immigrants, people of color and politicians for the nation's alleged destruction and claim to be able to fix Washington and restore America's halcyon days.

Of course, those halcyon days ended when we started letting those Scottish wetbacks in....

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM



Particles don't obey the same rules as people. Poke a particle, and another one far away can instantly respond the touch -- without any messages passing through the space between, as if the two particles were one. "Entanglement" is what quantum physics calls the intimate connection.

Einstein called it "spooky." To his dying day, he refused to believe that nature could be so unreasonable.

But a new research paper from the Netherlands might have convinced even the father of relativity that he was wrong. Posted online on August 24, it describes the first experiment that meets the mathematical gold standard for proving entanglement, set down more than half a century ago. The paper hasn't yet gone through peer review; it's currently under review at a scientific journal, but it's already causing a stir in the quantum physics community.

All science eventually reaffirms faith.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


The Lessons of Anwar al-Awlaki : Four years after the United States assassinated the radical cleric in a drone strike, his influence on jihadists is greater than ever. Was there a better way to stop him? (SCOTT SHANE, AUG. 27, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

[A] document from the 9/11 Commission records at the National Archives, declassified at my request, shows that a few days after Ammar's arrival, the manager of an escort service called Awlaki to warn him that he had been interviewed by Wade Ammerman, an F.B.I. agent, who had asked about the imam's visits to prostitutes. It was clear from Ammerman's questions that the F.B.I. knew everything.

Awlaki's panic, his sudden agitation about the course of his life, does not appear to have been triggered by American hostility to Muslims. Rather, he seems to have realized that his own un-­Islamic behavior had put his career success and family comity at risk. If the bureau charged him, or leaked the files, he might instantly lose the moral authority he brought to public arguments over the war in Afghanistan or the dubious roundup of Muslim men. If the F.B.I. chose instead to threaten exposure to coerce his cooperation, that might be even worse. Within a few days, he was gone, and he would never live in the United States again.

Despite the danger that he perceived from the prostitution dossier, Awlaki did not immediately give up on the possibility of resuming his American life. Awlaki was hardly in a position to tell his family about the menacing F.B.I. file, and his father pressured him to return to Washington and resume work on his Ph.D. Awlaki returned for one visit, in October 2002, but uncertain of the F.B.I.'s intentions, he did not dare risk staying. In fact, though he had no way of knowing it, F.B.I. memos from 2002 show that officials were exploring the possibility of charging Awlaki with a prostitution-related offense. A year after his visit, in the fall of 2003, he astonished F.B.I. agents by calling the bureau's Washington field office out of the blue, expressing a desire to meet in London or Sana to clear up any suspicions, possibly as a prelude to returning to the United States. He mentioned media reports tying him to 9/11 because some hijackers had visited his mosques, which he called ''absurd''; presumably he also wanted to find out whether the bureau planned to act on the prostitution file. But the F.B.I. treated the issue as a low priority, and when Awlaki stopped answering emails, plans to meet in London fell through, records show. As late as 2004, when Awlaki returned to Yemen for what would prove to be the remainder of his life, he would sometimes suggest to family members that he might still move back to the United States. ''He would always say, 'Thank God I'm an American citizen and I have a second home to go back to if things go wrong in Yemen,' '' his uncle, Saleh bin Fareed al-Awlaki, told me.

It is a tantalizing period, hinting at an alternate history. What if the F.B.I., recognizing Awlaki's influence and value as a mediator with the Muslim community, had assured him that there was no plan to use the prostitution evidence to charge or embarrass him? What if he had resumed his life in Washington and continued to grow into an important public figure? Might he have become a responsible leader, a voice in the debates over the wars in Muslim countries, the wisdom of drone strikes, the fate of Guantánamo? Might he never have joined Al Qaeda? The contemporary history of terrorism, not to mention his playlist on YouTube, could have unspooled quite differently.

Instead, Awlaki's ambition took a new and more militant path. At first subtly in 2003, while in Britain, and more clearly after 2005, his rhetoric became increasingly ferocious, his embrace of violence more open. After moving on to Yemen, he was arrested in 2006 and held for 18 months without charges at least in part as a result of American pressure. Not long after his release at the end of 2007, angered by the Yemeni surveillance teams constantly following him around Sana, he would depart for his family's ancestral home in Shabwah province, also the hideout for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Within months he would be part of the group and, soon after that, deeply involved in plotting attacks on America.

In 2010, when Obama ordered a legal review and then approved the killing of Awlaki, some civil libertarians objected, saying that he was being denied his constitutional rights as an American citizen. But some Muslim commentators publicly expressed caution for more practical reasons. One was Mohamed Elibiary, a security consultant and a law-and-order Texas Republican. ''It was very clear, at least to me, that if you're trying to fight a martyrdom culture, you don't go make martyrs,'' he said. ''I'm sorry to say, I think I was right.'' In recent years, Elibiary has regularly interviewed Americans charged with terrorism for the federal public defender's office. ''In that world, to the last person, you find that they're convinced that Anwar al-Awlaki is a good guy and a martyr,'' he said. ''What seals the deal for them is that he was killed by the United States.'' [...]

So, was there a better idea of how to deal with Awlaki once he had joined Al Qaeda? Yemeni tribes might have been induced to capture him and turn him over, but a criminal trial would have given a global audience to a mesmerizing orator. Martyrdom would have been avoided, but his YouTube presence would have lived on intact. A more outlandish idea was raised immediately after Awlaki's death by Ed Husain, a former British militant who recounts his journey into and out of extremism in his memoir, ''The Islamist.'' Husain suggested then, and believes now, that a better approach might have been a careful, high-profile public release of the prostitution files on Awlaki. ''He was an imam when he was up to these shenanigans,'' Husain told me. ''Exposing that, I think, would have discredited him and more important undermined the message -- that they are these high and mighty, pious, believing brothers who are declaring jihad on the West. Expose them for what they are.''

The notion that the same people who think Awlaki was a good guy would also have believed US evidence that he was a glutton for hookers is obviously non-sensical, as the failure of his reputation among them to suffer even after Mr. Shane's revelations demonstrates.   Nevermind that al Qaeda has essentially ceased to exist.

The analysis in Mr. Shane's book is even sillier though.  To his detriment, he's a terrific journalist.  So he gives a detailed account of how Awlaki came to make war on his own country, on behalf of al Qaeda, which group Awlaki himself acknowledged the US was at war with. But then Mr. Shane wrings his hands over the legality of killing Awlaki, because he was an American citizen.  Instead, he suggests that the jihadi was entitled to due process.

Can't you just see General Meade bellowing down the hill to George Pickett to stop his charge and surrender so that he and his men could face trial?  And that, of course, was on American soil. Not in some corner of the world that lacked any sovereign power for us to deal with.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


A Cautionary History of US Monetary Tightening (J. Bradford DeLong, AUG 28, 2015, Project Syndicate)

The US Federal Reserve has embarked on an effort to tighten monetary policy four times in the past four decades. On every one of these occasions, the effort triggered processes that reduced employment and output far more than the Fed's staff had anticipated. As the Fed prepares to tighten monetary policy once again, an examination of this history - and of the current state of the economy - suggests that the United States is about to enter dangerous territory.

Unfortunately, there's a long history of new Fed chairmen feeling pressure to demonstrate their hawkish bona fides, even though there hasn't been any inflationary pressure since Thatcher/Volcker/Reagan crushed it in the early 80s.  So you take rates that are already artificially high and then drive them to usurious levels, inevitably triggering at least a wobble, or, even a recession. Even the underlying health of institutions can't withstand such high real rates.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Jeremy Corbyn will have to learn Blairite lessons if I'm deputy, says Caroline Flint (Daniel Boffey, 8/29/15, Observer)

Caroline Flint, a candidate in the Labour deputy leadership contest, has put herself on a collision course with Jeremy Corbyn by claiming that she would use the strength of being directly elected to force the next leader to learn the lessons of the electorally successful Blair years.

The shadow energy secretary said that even if the leftwing candidate were to triumph, she would be in a powerful position to force him to focus on winning support in the wider country if chosen by Labour supporters to be his deputy.

As the Greeks will tell you, electing an apostate doesn't resstart History.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Fact Check: Which Republican candidates actually cut spending? (John Stossel, Maxim Lott,  August 28, 2015,

This chart...shows that Bush was indeed the biggest budget cutter. During his tenure, Florida's spending shrunk by 3.6 percentage points more than the average. He cut spending by 1.39 percent per year in his state, while other states increased theirs by 2.3 percent during that same period. Kasich was also conservative by this measure, cutting spending 1.76 percentage points more than other states did. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


How Netanyahu's threats pushed the US into a flawed deal with Iran (Yossi Melman, 8/29/15, Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu's public warmongering ‒ threatening to bomb Iran since he came to power for his second term in 2009 ‒ and his confrontational and defiant policies unwittingly played a major role in shaping the US strategy against Iran. [...]

Israel's words and actions under the two previous prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, were based on two tenets. First, not to make it appear that Israel was spearheading the campaign ‒ "to be positioned on the rear slope," in Israel military parlance, to stop Iran's nuclear program. This position, recommended by the Mossad, Military Intelligence and the Atomic Energy Commission, derived mainly from fears that if Israel took a leading role in the campaign, it would backfire.

After all, Israel is considered by foreign observers to be the sixth largest nuclear power in the world and questions were bound to be asked why the international community was focusing only on Iran, and not on Israel, too.

"If you have butter on your head, don't stay out in the sun," a former senior Israeli official summarized.

The second reason not to be at the frontline of the struggle was that all major Israeli strategic decisions traditionally are coordinated with the US. On the Israeli side, the overall responsibility for executing the anti-Iranian policy was given to the Mossad. Its chief at that time, Meir Dagan, became the undisputed "czar" of attempts to slow down Iran's progress to a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli policy, which was shared and accepted by US president George W. Bush's administration, was to create the conditions that would cause the Iranian leadership to understand that it was under international siege, which eventually might lead to its collapse. In other words, to make the Iranian leaders realize that their choice was between the continuation of the nuclear project or the regime's survival.

The key error was the failure to recognize that the Iranians had chosen survival.
Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


The doctor is online: Remote video medical exams gain popularity (LISA ZAMOSKY, 8/28/15, LA Times)

Remote video medical exams, also called telehealth or e-visits, are offered by a host of companies, including Teledoc Inc., American Well, MDLive Inc., Healthspot and Doctor on Demand. These consultations are growing quickly and increasingly included as a part of benefits packages offered by employers and insurers.

Typically, you'll pay a fee of roughly $40 to $50 (sometimes less if it's offered as part of your health benefits) for a 15-minute visit with a board-certified, state-licensed physician.

In its most recent annual survey, the National Business Group on Health in Washington found that 74% of large employers plan to offer telehealth services in 2016, up from about half in 2015.

A report last year by consulting firm Deloitte projected as many as 300 million e-visits within a few years, compared with just 800,000 the American Telemedicine Assn. expects in 2015.

"It's being adopted more and more. We're at the beginning of the curve," said Adam Jackson, co-founder and chief executive of Doctor on Demand.

There are a number of reasons for this service's rapid rise, experts say.

E-visits are everything traditional healthcare is not, said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "It's convenient, it's accessible after hours.... It's efficient, and it's efficient from a cost perspective as well," he said.

As high-deductible health plans increasingly become the norm and consumers pay more for healthcare, they are demanding low-cost, convenient options.

Lowering costs will be a function of making consumers pay out of their own pockets--even if we put the cash in those pockets for them.
Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


The Future of Work: Stagnation, Automation ... Frustration : The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace. (STEVEN GREENHOUSE  AUG 27, 2015, Pacific Standard)

For more than a century, economists have maintained that new technologies create as many jobs as they destroy. Think of the auto plants that succeeded the buggy makers. But now robots and artificial intelligence have become so hugely sophisticated--doing more and more work that humans do, doing knowledge jobs and service jobs and no longer just factory jobs--that many economists say automation might begin wiping out far more jobs than it creates. That is one explanation economists give for why some five million workers have dropped out of the U.S. labor force since 2008. Not only does automated checkout replace many cashiers at CVS, but bellhop robots deliver items to hotel guests' rooms, software algorithms write sports articles for newspapers, and self-driving vehicles might someday replace truck and taxi drivers, perhaps even Uber drivers.

In a recent article, Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times wrote that over the "15-year period that digital technology has inserted itself into nearly every aspect of life, the job market has fallen into a long malaise." She noted that more than 16 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working, up from five percent in the late 1960s, while 30 percent of women in that age group are not working, up from 25 percent in the late 1990s.

Automation of course means greater productivity per worker, indeed greater economic output overall. And that's certainly a good thing. But what happens if today's vastly more sophisticated robots and automation lead to fewer jobs overall and millions of workers forced out of the labor market? This raises some weighty questions: How do we as a nation, as a world, share the benefits of automation? Will those benefits go overwhelmingly to the shareholders of the companies that own that automation--the companies that own the bellhop robots and the self-driving cars? (To be sure, automation helps lower production costs, leading to lower prices for consumers.)

If automation means we do not need as many workers, what happens to those displaced? Do we let them languish, do we let them fall into poverty? Or will we as a society figure out a way to spread the work--perhaps by adopting a four-day (or even three-day) workweek, spreading the work to reduce unemployment and giving full-time workers an extra day or two off? Or will we, should we, adopt a broader, more generous social safety net to help those displaced by ever more sophisticated automation? just presents a question of how to redistribute the resulting vastly increased wealth. Given that we're a democracy, we know it will be redistributed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Democrat Donna Brazile says Bush got Katrina right (Bruce Alpert, August 27, 2015,

Veteran Democratic consultant Donna Brazile offered up praise Thursday (August 27) for former President George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina.

 Brazile made the comments aboard Air Force One as it carried President Barack Obama and others to New Orleans for observance of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

 "I'm one of those individuals that believes that under President Bush's leadership we got it right," Brazile said. "It was slow.  Remember the same local government was overwhelmed and the federal government had to step in.  The federal government had to figure out its role, and it took a while for the federal government to really figure out how to help us."

 "And I think once the president made the decision that New Orleans would be rebuilt -- and despite some of the conversation on Capitol Hill that didn't believe that the federal government should invest hundreds and billions of dollars into the recovery effort -- the president made a commitment and I think he kept his word."

Brazile, a Kenner native who served on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, had praised President Bush before, but probably never on Air Force One carrying President Obama. Her praise of Bush is particularly noteworthy given that she helped run the presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, who lost to Bush in 2000 despite winning the popular vote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Rethinking Warren G. Harding (RONALD RADOSH and ALLIS RADOSH, AUG. 27, 2015, NY Times)

Harding's victory was a rejection of the Democrats and President Woodrow Wilson, who had promised, then failed, to keep America out of World War I. During the war, Wilson had greatly expanded the federal government, including intrusive, powerful new agencies like the War Industries Board and a government takeover of the railroads.To pay for it, the Federal Reserve inflated the money supply, causing the nation's debt to grow from $1 billion in 1914 to $24 billion in 1920. To put a lid on dissent, Wilson introduced the nation's first "red scare," when many antiwar dissenters as well as socialists, anarchists and union members were jailed. A Southerner, Wilson also introduced segregation into the federal government.

By the time Harding was inaugurated, in March 1921, the nation was in the doldrums, experiencing a postwar depression. In 1918, four million doughboys came home from the war and many could not find jobs. Unemployment hit African-American soldiers especially hard, and race riots broke out in the Midwest industrial belt.

Harding, much like Ronald Reagan in 1980, brought an upbeat message to Americans. The dour Wilson had ended the public's access to the White House. Harding opened the doors. Before the arrival of the Hardings, wrote The New Republic's Edward Lowry, "The social-political atmosphere of Washington" was "one of a bleak and chill austerity." Now, "the sunny side is up ... The news has gone all over the country that the White House is open again."

Thanks to this openness, Harding -- a former newspaper editor and publisher -- had perhaps the best relationship with the press of any president before or since, and he inspired many newsmen to communicate his message. While Wilson had discontinued his news conferences, the accessible Harding held them twice a week, making him the first president to hold news conferences on a regular basis.

Harding immediately stressed his commitment to equal opportunity for all Americans, men and women, "whatever color, blood or creed." A fiscal conservative, he pledged to right the nation's finances and resuscitate the economy by lowering taxes, reducing the debt, balancing the budget and making government smaller and more efficient.

Harding appointed the businessman Charles G. Dawes, who had been President William McKinley's comptroller of the currency, to set up a new Budget Bureau. At the time each federal department submitted its own budget, without any coordination. Dawes worked magic: By the time he left office in June 1922, the federal budget had been balanced, revenues exceeded expenditures and the public debt had been reduced. Spending had been $6.3 billion in 1920; by 1922 it had dropped to $3.3 billion.

Most telling was Harding's veto of the popular so-called bonus bill, which would have given veterans an expensive bonus paid over time through deficit spending. The country, he told Congress in a speech, simply did not have the money. He argued it would also set a precedent to use public funds to pay for anything if it was "publicly appealing."

Oddly, one reason for Harding's continued low reputation was a racist smear during the 1920 campaign, in which opponents charged that he had black ancestry -- a fact that the recent DNA test disproved. Though such a heritage doesn't matter to us today, at the time it demeaned Harding in the minds of millions of Americans. More telling, though, is that while Harding denied the charge, he also told a reporter that for all he knew "one of my ancestors may have jumped the fence."

And indeed, Harding was a racially enlightened president, especially for the time. During the campaign and his presidency, he supported an anti-lynching bill proposed by Republicans. (It passed in the House, but the Southern Democrats in the Senate successfully filibustered it.)

In October 1921, Harding traveled to Birmingham, Ala., where, in a powerful speech to a mixed-race (though segregated) audience, he demanded justice for African-Americans. In the first speech in the South by a sitting president on race, he argued for full economic and political rights for all African-Americans. Pat Harrison, a Democratic senator from Mississippi, was aghast. If Harding's views "were carried to its ultimate conclusion," he said, "that means that the black man can strive to become president of the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Independence from whom? Catalonia's existential elections (KATE SHEA BAIRD 27 August 2015, Open Democracy)

For many in Catalonia, the 'double crisis', national and economic, is really one and the same: a crisis of popular sovereignty, whether it be in the face of "authoritarian" state institutions or the global financial markets. A similar argument was made passionately by many campaigning for a Yes vote in Scotland in 2014.

In the Barcelona mayoral race, Ada Colau (a former grassroots activist) swept to victory calling for "real sovereignty" and "the right to decide on every issue", including independence, and Together for Yes candidate, Raül Romeva, a former European MP coming from the green-left, has said "the elections of 27 September are about the policy tools at the government's disposal. In order to guarantee increased opportunities and social justice we need the tools of a state." The prevalence of this view is reflected by the growing strength of pro-independence radicals, particularly the Popular Unity Candidates (CUP). The CUP's slogan 'independence to change everything' neatly sums up the hopes of many in the movement beyond the party.

However, the increasingly sophisticated debate on the nature of sovereignty in Catalonia has also led the usefulness of independence per se to be called into question. Concerns about the practical effects of independence in a context of the Eurozone crisis were thrown into stark relief by the Greek bailout referendum. After all, here was the government of an independent state, capable of holding a referendum, but ultimately unable to carry out its democratic mandate.

Many have pointed to Greece as a sign that independence may be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for real sovereignty. The manifesto of 'Catalonia Yes We Can', the coalition backed by Podemos, Iniciativa and Equo, and which could come second in the elections, picked up on this idea, saying: "We want a candidature that defends the full social, national and economic sovereignty of Catalonia. We want real sovereignty; not formal sovereignty subjugated to the impositions of the Troika or the TTIP." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


SoCal Couple Says Solar Panels Too Powerful (Randy Mac and Richard Washington, 8/27/15, NBC)

"They're hooked up, but they're not turned on," Hall said. "They're saying that the system that I have will generate 128 percent, that's 28 percent over what they estimated."

SoCal Edison did not allow the Halls to activate their system because it exceeded state standards for residential energy production. [...]

The larger concern for the state is whether a homeowner exceeding standards for energy production could then turn around and sell it.

A rep for SoCal Edison says producing more solar energy than you can use makes you a potential energy retailer, with that title, you become subject to commercial business regulations and you're eliminated from any homeowner rebates that come with going solar.

There's a simple legislative fix.
Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Are there any reasons for hope in the Middle East? Maybe. (Henri J. Barkey and David F. Gordon, August 27, 2015, Reuters)

There is an increasing possibility for new geopolitical alignments throughout the region. The confluence of the growing fear in both Saudi Arabia and Iran of the threat posed by Islamic State; the weakening of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's policy shift to cooperate with the United States in Syria, and Moscow's and Washington's growing shared interests in steering the Saudi-Iran rivalry onto a less escalatory path, while also creating a broad coalition against Islamic State, is creating real political fluidity.

As diplomatic moves accelerate, the United States and its allies look to be preparing a serious onslaught on Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. The opening of Turkish air bases to coalition aircraft, manned and unmanned, will enable the allies to prepare for a major ground offensive by local allies to recapture Mosul. Iraq's third-largest city has been under Islamic State control for more than a year. More inchoate is the parallel jockeying around Syria's political future, and whether a compromise framework can be found to end that country's civil war.

The simple new reality of the Middle East is that new that the Amnerican/Shi'a alliance is explicit there's no point in the Sunni Arabs resisting. Focus can turn to their near enemy instead--the Sunni Arab Salafists/Islamicists in their midst. 9-11 Could hardly have back-fired more completely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


The Myths of Katrina : Ten years after the storm, falsehood about warnings, violence, and recovery persist. Here's the truth. (Marta Jewson and Charles Maldonado, 8/28/15, Slate)

Hurricane Katrina itself was a natural phenomenon, but most of the flooding in and around New Orleans was the result of the poor construction and design of the city's flood-protection system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, causing more than 50 breaches. Researchers estimated that water pouring in through the broken levees may have caused as much as 84 percent of the flooding. The extent of the flooding also made it harder to push the water out of the city because many pump stations were flooded. Some that worked were useless because they were just recirculating water in and out of the breaches.

The other problem: A disaster of this scale had been predicted, and levee failure had been discussed.

A Katrina-like catastrophe was predicted as recently as one year before the storm. In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness conducted the "Hurricane Pam Exercise." The exercise modeled a Category 3 hurricane hitting New Orleans, overtopping the levee system and flooding the city with up to 20 feet of water.

The Pam model showed levees being overtopped, but it did not predict that the levees would break.

That possibility, however, did appear in the Times-Picayune's 2002 series, "Washing Away." That series described a worst-case scenario storm, one even more intense than Katrina, hitting the metro area. Experts interviewed in the series described a scenario where the city's levees, combined with its bowl-shaped geography, would trap storm surge water inside for weeks or months in the event of major overtopping or a breach.

"Hundreds of thousands would be left homeless, and it would take months to dry out the area and begin to make it livable. But there wouldn't be much for residents to come home to. The local economy would be in ruins," reporters Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid wrote.

More troubling, though, were the unheeded warnings of possible levee failure one year before Katrina.

In 2004, residents who lived near the 17th Street Canal, which was breached in the storm, reported water pooling in their yards to the water utility, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. This was a sign that the levees were likely leaking, an early signal of their instability. But the Corps of Engineers was never informed of the problem. [...]

Like the unpredictable natural disaster myth, New Orleans' low elevation has played a role in political debates about whether the city is a worthwhile investment. Some have even asked why the city was built in the first place.

This one is half true: About half of New Orleans is below sea level. But even some areas above sea level, including much of the Lower 9th Ward, flooded after Katrina because of levee failures.

In a 2007 report, Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella found that 51 percent of the urbanized area in metropolitan New Orleans was above sea level. In 2000, 185,000 people in the city lived above sea level.

So if half a city is below sea level, along a major river in a hurricane zone there may be problems?  I missed the myth part.

Isn't the real myth that anyone was to blame but the residents?

Lessons Learned From the Response to Katrina's Havoc : Experts cite overreliance on local and state governments that were overcome by a storm of such historic proportions (VALERIE BAUERLEIN, Aug. 28, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Brown still largely blames former Mayor Ray Nagin and former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco for the fiasco, arguing that the two were at odds and moved too slowly to evacuate New Orleans.

"It was a miserable situation for those people, but I refuse to accept responsibility," he said. "I went on every network that would have me and encouraged people to get out of New Orleans by any way they could. To this day, it truly angers me that the mayor and the governor did not do their jobs."

Mr. Nagin, now serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for wire fraud, influence-peddling and money laundering in crimes that took place before and after Katrina, couldn't be reached for comment. In a 2011 self-published book, Mr. Nagin, a black Democrat, argued that race, class and politics played a role in the delayed federal response, as many of those left behind were poor black people.

Ms. Blanco, a white Democrat, said the state successfully evacuated 1.3 million people from coastal areas, and was relying on FEMA to bring in buses immediately after the storm to help the thousands who either "could not or did not leave."

"If those buses had run on time," she said, "the president would not have been embarrassed, Michael Brown would have kept his job and they wouldn't have had to scapegoat me," she said.

Experts say the nation's disaster-response system relied too heavily on local and state governments that were overwhelmed by a storm of historic proportions and generally ill-equipped to respond rapidly. And FEMA, the agency in charge of marshaling federal resources for disasters, didn't have a direct reporting line to the White House.

Yes, the solution to such storms is to depopulate the city.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


King Arthur Flour: 225 years of baking history (SUSAN REID, August 28, 2015, Burlington Free Press)

The Sands family became the sole owners of the company in 1932, and in 1984, Frank (a Dartmouth alum) and his wife Brinna Sands moved the company to Vermont. Tired of lugging bags of flour to the post office to mail to retirees in Florida who couldn't buy King Arthur outside of New England, Brinna started The Baker's Catalogue in 1990.

She also published the "200th Anniversary Cookbook," which has sold well over 100,000 copies to date.

In a pivotal move, Frank and Brinna decided to sell the company to their employees, launching King Arthurs Employee Stock Ownership plan. The company has seen steady growth since then.

By 1999, the company officially changed its name to King Arthur Flour, and the Baker's Catalogue was mailing six million catalogues per year. Distribution of the flour to grocery stores up and down the East Coast was well established, and expanding steadily westward. In 2000, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was on hand to break an oversized baguette in two to celebrate the opening of the bakery and school in Norwich. In 2004 the company became 100 percent employee-owned.

With all of these changes, the principles that the company began with survived and thrived. In 2007, King Arthur Flour was a founding and certified B Corp. Its bylaws reflect a commitment to all stakeholders, including the community and the environment, as well as shareholders and business partners.

Now a national brand known for its quality, customer service, and expertise in all things baking, King Arthur has grown both the brand and its service programs. Bake for Good: Kids teaches 8-to 12-year olds how to bake bread in a curriculum-based program that provides a community service component of giving a loaf back to someone in need. King Arthur has long had a policy of giving 40 paid hours of volunteer time to all employees, full- and part-time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


A BLACK HERO FOR GUILTY WHITES : Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me offers a disturbing insight into the new racialism. (Sean Collins, 8/28/15, spiked review of books)

One of the more disturbing aspects of Coates' perspective is how he, rather than seeking to overcome racial categories, effectively reinforces them. Whites are inauthentic; they 'think they are beyond the design flaws of humanity'. He walks the streets and sees 'white people spilled out of wine bars with sloshing glasses'. In contrast, black people are authentic; suffering as victims, but beautiful. He writes: 'The physical beauty of the black body was all our beauty, historical and cultural, incarnate.' Coates' constant reference to black bodies recalls the way that racist whites in the past reduced blacks to their physical features.

Coates' prism of race ultimately leads him to dehumanise people. On 9/11, he could 'see no difference' between the officer that shot his classmate Prince Jones, and the police and firefighters who lost their lives trying to save others. 'They were not human to me', he writes.

His mindset also results in him interpreting everyday events in racial terms - as what people today call 'microaggressions'.  In a revealing story, Coates tells of how, at a cinema in New York's Upper West Side (read: upper-class and liberal), a white woman pushed aside his toddler son who was blocking her way on the bottom of the down escalator, saying 'come on!'. Coates sees this as a racist act - the woman was 'pulling rank' and had 'invoked [her] right over the body of my son' - and yells at her. Maybe she was out of line, or maybe she was just a typically assertive New Yorker. 

He then spends pages having an imaginary argument with the woman, who he imagines would deny being a racist (because whites are 'obsessed with personal exoneration'). He goes on to liken her to anonymous lynchers in the South (I kid you not). As Rod Dreher writes, for Coates, 'the penny-ante rudeness of an old woman in the lobby of a Manhattan movie theatre is the showdown at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He connects the grumpy woman's action to Jim Crow and slavery.' And, in doing so, Coates actually minimises the severe injustices of the past.

The fawning, white-liberal praise of Coates is awkward. He is supposed to be, as Michelle Alexander put it in her review, someone who 'speaks unpopular, unconventional and sometimes even radical truths', and yet Coates' acclaim shows that his views are in fact popular and fairly conventional. Coates denounces white supremacy, says he has 'low expectations' of white people, and yet he owes much of his success to whites who lap up his every word. One can't help but be reminded of Tom Wolfe's 1970 essay 'Radical Chic' about Leonard Bernstein and other rich celebrities throwing a fundraising party for the Black Panthers. Once again, white liberals are seeking to expunge their guilt.

At the same time, there are a number of ways in which Coates is more a product of today's prejudices than a throwback to the days of Lenny and the Panthers. One thing that clearly unites Coates and his liberal admirers is a disdain for the masses - the 'Dreamers'. Behind the recent police killings, Coates sees the whites who elect racist politicians. 'The abuses that have followed from these policies - the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects - are the product of democratic will', he writes. 'The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs, but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.' Yes, that's right, he's calling the white masses 'pigs'. You can easily imagine the liberal elite nodding along to this, as it often complains about the majority, too - for not going along with their ideas about gun control, the doomsday scenarios of the climate-change catastrophists, or some other cause.

You can also see agreement between Coates and the liberal elite when it comes to hatred of the people who live in suburbs. Indeed, as Coates concludes in the final pages of his book, he launches into a bizarre green tirade about the 'seductiveness of cheap gasoline' to 'Dreamers'. Apparently, technology is to blame for both racism and environmental destruction: 'Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of the seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.' It is telling that Coates condemns economic growth, given that it is something that could potentially transform poor neighbourhoods and lessen racial tensions over scarce resources.

You can only sell his theories to Malthusians, and only liberal whites are Darwinists in America.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The US Still Runs the World (Simon Johnson, 8/28/15, Project Syndicate)

Reports of the death of American power have often been greatly exaggerated. In the 1950s the Soviet Union was thought to have surpassed the United States; today, the Soviet Union no longer exists. In the 1980s, Japan was widely regarded as on the verge of overtaking the US; today, after more than two decades of Japanese stagnation, no one would take this scenario seriously. And in the 1990s, monetary union was considered likely to propel Europe to greater global prominence; today, the European economy is frequently in the world's headlines, but not in a good way.
Now it is China's turn. [...]

The bigger issue is China's exchange-rate policy. For a long time, China prevented the renminbi from becoming overvalued - and this was good policy, as Subramanian's research confirms. But in the early 2000s, China went too far. For reasons that are still debated, the renminbi became massively undervalued; exports were much higher than imports, and the current-account surplus reached more than 10% of GDP. Instead of letting the renminbi appreciate and gradually reducing their reliance on export markets, the Chinese authorities preferred to accumulate foreign reserves (US Treasury debt).

They sell us stuff cheaper than we're willing to make it ourselves and then lend us back the money we spent at 0% interest.   The only interesting China question is : which backwater country do we move the manufacturing to next or do we just skip straight to automation"

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Tesla's new Model S sedan gets 103 out of 100 points, breaking Consumer Reports record (Peter Weber, August 28, 2015, The Week)
"This is it, the best car Consumer Reports has ever tested," says Jake Fisher, the consumer magazine's auto test director, standing next to the Tesla Model S P85D sedan. "Simply put, the fully electric car is a glimpse into the future of the automotive industry." How impressed was Consumer Reports with the luxury car? It originally gave it 103 out of 100, forcing the magazine to recalibrate its rating system so the P85D got a mere 100 -- still beating the regular Tesla Model S, which scored 99 in 2013, under the old system.

August 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 PM


Trump and the Dangers of Passionate Politics : The billionaire candidate's skill at manipulating emotions may ultimately derail his candidacy. (MICHAEL SIGNER  AUG 27, 2015, Atlantic)

Last week, two men in Boston allegedly beat a Hispanic homeless man. Afterward, one of the two brothers told the police, "Donald Trump was right, all of these illegals need to be deported."  Trump's response?  "I think that would be a shame," he said, adding, "I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that."

And that showed what Trump is really about.  His politics depend on the strategic manipulation of what America's Founding Fathers called "the passions"-- emotions that, when stoked, cause us to literally lose our minds. [...]

The problem of the passions in politics was central to the thinking of America's founders, as well. Take James Madison, the father of the Constitution. As a boy studying with his tutor Donald Robertson, Madison first learned the idea that "our passions are like Torrents which may be diverted, but not obstructed."

In college, Madison was taught by the great Scottish cleric John Witherspoon that passions originated in an object of intense desire. Passions of love included admiration, desire, and delight. Passions of hatred were envy, malice, rage, and revenge. Most important however was the "great and real" distinction between selfish and benevolent passions. A benevolent passion, Witherspoon taught, came from the happiness of others. A selfish passion stemmed from gratification (like Donald Trump's stroking of his own ego)--and was the most dangerous to a republic.

The passions are slippery for anyone seeking to control them, particularly in democracies with free speech. But that doesn't mean they can't be tamed.

One reason the framers designed the Electoral College was so that the electors could put a stop to a candidate who rose to power by playing to the people's prejudices.
America's Founders sought to govern the passions. In Federalist No. 10, Madison recognized the danger of faction, which would "kindle ... unfriendly passions."  That required, in turn, checks and balances and institutions like the Senate to "refine and enlarge the public views." One reason the framers designed the Electoral College, in fact, was so that the electors could put a stop to a candidate who rose to power by playing to the people's prejudices at the expense of deliberation and education.  Over the decades, these ideas became deeply entrenched in American political culture, leading Alexis de Tocqueville to praise American mores--"habits of heart"--that undergird self-governing citizenship. This constitutionalism helped American democracy thrive, and serves to check demagogues.

An optimistic read would be that those cultural factors are contributing to Trump's apparent ceiling in the polls. Although he has found a base of Republicans who relish the out-of-control, others oppose him, many for that reason.

So what's the real danger of the passions in politics today? After all, the U.S. has plenty of checks and balances, and a far more inclusive democracy than at its founding.

Think, for a moment, of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi--at least at first glance, a startlingly similar figure to Donald Trump. Berlusconi became the country's richest man by creating Italian television shows that flaunted near-naked bodies, and stories of lust and betrayal.

Even as prime minister, Berlusconi was rather transparently prisoner to these same passions, holding "bunga bunga" parties, and otherwise launching a debauched festival of greed, through a political culture of bribery, corruption, and tax fraud.

The danger with Trump would seem to be that, like Berlusconi, he would be hoist by his own petard, self-destructing precisely through the agent of his rise, and dragging the rest of us with him.

But consider an alternative hypothesis: Trump himself isn't a creature of the passions; he's instead strategically employing them as a means to his own ends.

Take greed. He's been cited many times for what now has become a chestnut: "The point is, you can't be too greedy." He's also come to be known for his braggadocio about his net worth during his 2016 run. But his approach to money is usually much more nuanced and self aware. In The Art of the Deal, he writes, "Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."

The same could be said of virtually every other element of the Trump show: Trump is playing his base through the passions. That's why, on every supposed "gaffe," he just doubles down, befuddling the pundit class, but tapping into his "very passionate" base.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Little Satan leverages hell : Businessmen sense an opportunity, even if Britain lags behind its rivals (The Economist, Aug 29th 2015)

[N]ow that the two are talking to each other again, the economic opportunities in Iran, with a population of 80m and an entire economy to rejig after years of isolation, might trump lingering distrust and suspicion. To that end Mr Hammond was accompanied by seven senior businessmen, to test the waters, and the message from the Iranian side was clear. As Simon Moore of the Confederation of British Industry, one of the delegates, puts it, "the Iranians want to acquire the technology to rebuild their country and their economy", and they are keen for British companies to help.

Before sanctions were imposed, Britain was one of the top three traders with Iran. But trade has tapered off significantly in recent years, as Britain enforced the sanctions more strictly than others--another sin that the aggrieved Iranians were keen to lecture their British guests about last weekend. The result, says Ali Akbar Ahsan, a consultant at the economic advisory group Magellan Capital, is that Britain lags far behind European rivals such as France, Italy and Germany, which reduced their trade with Iran far less than Britain did. They have also been quicker to send large trade delegations to Iran since the nuclear agreement.

Nonetheless, British expertise in several sectors is much sought after in Iran. In particular, there will be a lot of demand for construction, architectural and engineering companies, as Iran attempts to make good years of neglect of its airports, ports and roads. British companies will also have a role in rebuilding the oil and gas infrastructure. Help in environmental technology, such as desalination, was also mentioned, as was biotechnology.

The Iranians are also keen to regain access to London's capital and insurance markets. This area will be fraught for British banks. They will have to work out whether they can reconcile any new dealings in Iran with the demands of American regulators enforcing that country's financial sanctions. Certainly, in this sector at least expect British companies to proceed with caution.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 11:04 AM


Tomorrow is the 95th anniversary of the birth of alto saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, the most revolutionary and influential instrumentalist in jazz history other than Louis Armstrong. 
Although Bird hasn't been featured prominently in ATJ up to now (his recording of "White Christmas was in my sampling of holiday music), he's been mentioned tangentially in terms of his role in the development of bebop (along with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others); his influence on players such as Phil Woods, Dexter Gordon and Hampton Hawes; and as the inspiration for the group Supersax, which was dedicated to playing harmonized arrangements of his improvised solos.
Musicians and real critics will have their own (and more informed views), but to me Parker was so startling, and so successful in creating the template for the music that remains to this day, because it was so absolutely rooted in the conventions of the music he grew up with.  A native of Kansas City, Parker idolized and emulated the many top-notch swing saxophonists who were part of that city's thriving jazz scene, including the incomparable, laid back tenor man, Lester Young.  And his repertoire was based on the same types of tunes his predecessors played, the blues and songs from the Great American Songbook.  But Parker developed an until-then unmatched technical facility on his horn, which allowed him to play much faster and with more precision than anyone before him, and allowed him to follow his ear through more complex harmonies and substitution chords than the standard changes played by the Swing era musicians.  And, at a time that the model tone for the alto was either the florid romanticism of Johnny Hodges or the bright, just-slightly sweet sound of Benny Carter, Parker's tone was dry, almost brittle...a tone he developed because it allowed him to articulate at the faster tempos he wanted to play.  By the time Parker got to New York and teamed up with Dizzy, Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke, the revolution was on, and jazz began its move from popular dance music to music meant strictly for listening.
A brief survey of some of Bird's greatest hits:
"Koko"- If you want to know what bebop is, this is it.  Based on the standard "Cherokee," Parker rips over chords at breakneck speed, with clarity, unflagging harmonic and rhythmic imagination and, as always, with a great sense of swing. 

"A Night in Tunisia" - Gillespie's great tune, with its opening vamp and Middle Eastern-meets-Latin tinge, and featuring Bird's remarkable solo break after the melody.

"Parker's Mood" - One of the best blues recordings ever.

"Embraceable You" - Parker's take on the well-known, and much-played Gershwin ballad....bittersweet, maybe a touch sentimental, but without self-pity.

There is lots of information about Parker all over the web, and many books about him, including Stanley Crouch's intriguing "Kansas City Lightning", which isn't a traditional biography, but more an extended improvised jazz solo in words, where the "melody" is the first 20 years or so of Parker's too-short life (he died at 34), but like a great jazz soloist, Crouch meanders away from and back to the main theme.  A more straight-ahead recounting of Bird's life and influence can be found in Gary Giddins's extended-essay-with-pictures-in-book-form, "Celebrating Bird".

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


US drone strike in Syria reportedly kills top ISIS online recruiter (, 8/27/15)

A U.S. drone strike in Syria Tuesday reportedly killed a fugitive British computer hacker who had become one of ISIS' top online recruiters.

The Wall Street Journal reported the death of Junaid Hussein late Wednesday, citing two people familiar with the operation. The officials said that Hussein was killed by a targeted airstrike near the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS' self-proclaimed "caliphate".

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Tom Holland interview: Caligula, vampires and coping with death threats : The bestselling historian talks Islam, Twitter storms and the lurid world of the Roman empire (Charlotte Higgins, 28 August 2015, The Guardian)

Holland, 47, is tall, beaky, resplendently nerdy about history and fantastically quick-brained. Over the decade I have known him a little (the world of classics is small) he has also become steeled to a certain kind of battle. Last year, before the Scottish referendum, he threw himself, with fellow historian Dan Snow, into campaigning for the union, organising an open letter to Scottish voters by English celebrities from Tom Daley to David Attenborough. Whether or not this lovebombing had any effect is moot: it certainly annoyed some, who felt patronised by the notion that their vote on a serious constitutional issue would be swayed by the views of, say, Bobby Charlton. More seriously, though, in 2012, a documentary he made for Channel 4 called Islam: the Untold Story - based on his book In the Shadow of the Sword - provoked huge controversy. (The book itself was largely received very well.) The documentary looked at the origins of Islam from a strictly historical perspective, and expressed certain ideas - that Islam may not have originated near Mecca, that there was a lack of Muslim historical evidence relating to the origins of the religion, and that little was known about the circumstances of the Qur'an's composition - that sparked 1,200 complaints to Channel 4 and Ofcom.

Meanwhile, Holland was immersed in the mother of all Twitter storms. "Well, what I was really nervous about was less that someone would come and cut my head off than I would lose caste with fellow liberals - that people would think I was racist. So I went on Twitter to rebut accusations that I had got things wrong in the book, but also to square up to people saying, 'You are doing this because you are racist.' The problem with doing that meant that anyone could send me abusive comments or make threats against my family or me." It must, I say, have been frightening and bleak for them (his wife, Sadie, is a midwife, and they have two daughters). "The experience of being in that storm - for a month or so, every day I would get a multitude of threats - was a bit like when you have a bruise on the lip. You feel that it's enormous, and that everyone is looking at you. But if you look in the mirror, you can barely see it. No one really cares. In the eye of that storm, though, it is quite frightening."

Holland's views on Islam, he says, were affected by the violent opinions he encountered online: "Certainly on Twitter there is a disturbing number of Muslims who do think apostates ought to be put to death, and you can see the effect of that in the Middle East, where Isis is not remiss in putting apostates to death. That's the horror of it: one man's apostate is another's liberal Muslim." I suggest that those who believe such things are in a tiny, tiny minority. Holland's point, though, is that there are enough militants using the Qur'an as "the equivalent of a technical manual" for there to be real concern - and real value in applying historical methodologies to early Islamic history. He almost laughs at the surreal notion that late-antique history has become such an explosive force in modern politics and warfare - he recalls arguing about Sasanian law codes and their possible relationship with certain hadiths on Twitter - but of course we both know it is no laughing matter. The day after we speak the director of antiquities at Palmyra, Khaled al-Asaad, is murdered by Isis.

Holland thinks historical inquiry into early Islam can, in the long term, play a part in neutralising violent fundamentalist groups such as Isis - a position he laid out in the Christopher Hitchens lecture this summer at the Hay festival. While I salute Holland's aims as a historian - surely nothing should be out of bounds as a field of historical inquiry - I am, I admit, less certain of this notion. We briefly argue about whether the movement to historicise the events recounted in the Bible in the 19th century actually had much effect on people's faith, which to my mind is governed by factors beyond the rational. And the radicalisation of a minority of Muslims surely cannot be separated from the effects of western foreign policy. Christian fundamentalism, by way of comparison, furthermore seems to me to be a postmodern phenomenon, not something that was tempered by 19th-century rational historical inquiry. He disagrees: the work of scholars such as Albert Schweitzer "changed the terms of argument in the west: Christians do not take the Old Testament as literally as they did 200 years ago and even creationists accept that evolution is a challenge they have to answer." He becomes animated: "To be honest, I wouldn't care about any of these things were it not for the fact that people are using these [religious] texts to justify the raping of nine-year-old girls."

Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins is very good on the topic. Given what Islam believes about the Koran, it can't withstand historical inquiry without being radically Reformed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


How Common Core Can Help in the Battle of Skills vs. Knowledge (NATALIE WEXLER, AUG. 28, 2015, NY Times)

Skills are important. However, as the cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham and others have demonstrated, you can't improve reading comprehension just by practicing free-floating skills. For students to understand what they're reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.

The education theorist E. D. Hirsch Jr. has argued for 30 years that elementary schools need to focus on knowledge. Mr. Hirsch's ideas were long dismissed as encouraging a reactionary cultural tradition, but they are now beginning to command new respect among education reformers. And that's largely because of the new Common Core education standards, currently in effect in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia.

While critics blame the Common Core for further narrowing curriculums, the authors of the standards actually saw them as a tool to counteract that trend. They even included language stressing the importance of "building knowledge systematically."

But that language has gone largely unnoticed. The standards themselves -- and the Common Core-aligned tests that many students nationwide first took this past spring -- don't specify what knowledge students should learn in each grade, because they're designed to be used across the country. And in the United States, a school's curriculum is a matter of local control. Most educators, guided by the standards alone, have continued to focus on skills.

As Mr. Willingham has argued, all reading comprehension tests are really "knowledge tests in disguise." Rather than assessing kids on material they've actually been taught, the tests give them passages and questions on a seemingly random assortment of topics. The more general knowledge a student has, the better her chances.

The old tests, which varied from state to state, were generally easier to game -- for example, by eliminating obviously wrong multiple choice answers. The new tests ask students to read more sophisticated passages and then cite evidence from them in their answers. That's hard to do if you don't have enough knowledge to understand the passages in the first place.

The advantages of a knowledge-rich curriculum aren't just a matter of speculation. A foundation started by Mr. Hirsch in 1986 has developed just such a curriculum, Core Knowledge Language Arts, that is used in elementary schools across the country. A recent pilot program in New York City public schools showed that elementary students in schools that used C.K.L.A. outperformed their peers in reading, science and social studies.

More recently, we've seen evidence that a knowledge-focused curriculum can lead to better results on Common Core-aligned tests, which New York began using two years ago. Two high-performing charter networks in New York City -- Success Academy and Icahn -- both rely on a content-rich approach.

Some charter schools and traditional public school districts across the country have started to retool their approach. New York State has developed a free online curriculum that has been downloaded nearly 20 million times.

More schools may follow suit if scores from the spring tests, set to arrive this fall, plummet, even for many schools that were previously considered high-achieving. But engineering the switch from skills to knowledge will take real effort.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM

BE THANKFUL... (self-reference alert):

Does belief in God enhance gratitude? (Christopher Kaczor, August 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Does belief in God influence the span, frequency, intensity or density of gratitude?

If we believe in God, we have a greater span of things for which to be grateful. For example, our life is not a mere chance happening, but ultimately the result of a loving God's providential care. Gratitude requires a benefactor who intentionally provides a benefit. Without God, our life is merely a chance accident of reproduction. Given faith, however, our existence is not a chance occurrence, but a divine blessing. Indeed, all the seemingly random good things in life can be seen as gifts from a loving God, for which thankfulness is appropriate.

Since believers have more for which to be grateful, they are also grateful more often. If every good thing in life is ultimately the result of the creation of a loving God, occasions of gratitude abound. In the words of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Flowers, sunsets, warm breezes become gifts of the Creator.

If we believe in a good God, our gratitude intensity is also enhanced. God's benefits are truly gifts given out of love, not bribes meant ultimately to manipulate us. If God is already perfect in every respect, God's blessings are entirely for the good of others. God is a perfectly altruistic First Giver who both models generosity and serves to increase the intensity of the believer's gratitude.

Finally, belief in God increases gratitude density. A lovely meal in a restaurant can lead the believer to be grateful not only to the waiter, the cooks, the truckers, and the farmers, but also to God, who is the ultimate cause sustaining everything and everyone in existence. Behind each of our human benefactors we can also add a heavenly benefactor.

...every day.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Vatican backs plan to name Rome square for Martin Luther (ROSIE SCAMMELL, August 26, 2015, Religion News Service)

The Vatican has given its backing to a central Rome square being named after Martin Luther, a church reformer excommunicated by the pope nearly 500 years ago.

A German Catholic priest and theologian, Luther was a key figure in the Protestant Reformation and sparked considerable controversy by challenging the authority of the Catholic Church. He denounced the corruption he saw among clergy in Rome and believed salvation came through faith alone -- views that did not sit well with Pope Leo X.

Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and was never allowed to return to the Catholic Church, but now the Vatican's views have changed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


How to tell if Jeremy Corbyn is a proper republican (Peter Jones, 29 August 2015, The Spectator)

'Republic' derives from the Latin res publica -- 'people's property, business' (not politicians'). It defined Rome in contrast to its earliest condition as a monarchy, under the control of kings. Romans dated the republican revolution to 509 bc, when the last king, Tarquinius Superbus ('arrogant'), was thrown out after his son Sextus raped the noblewoman Lucretia. From then on, at least in theory, the people could always have the last word through the various people's assemblies. One can be quite sure that Corbyn will welcome popular control of the Labour party -- in theory.

Indeed, as a true republican, Corbyn will also applaud a second Roman principle: power-sharing. For, such was the Roman fear of one-man rule, the king was replaced by two consuls, neither able to propose a course of action without the other's assent. Further, Corbyn will surely welcome two other Roman conditions of service: the limitation on his term of high office -- one year, to be precise -- and the responsibility, with his co-consul, to preside over the election of their successors. True, in the case of a really dangerous situation, Romans could appoint a one-man dictator for its duration; but on seeing the crisis out, the dictator, like Cincinnatus, would at once give up power and return to his plough.

Finally, Corbyn would be committed to the concept of libertas, which meant, for Romans, freedom from the domination of the powerful, and freedom for politicians to shape their careers in any way they felt appropriate.

And not just from domination by the powerful.
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Donald Trump's Napoleon Moment : How America's "fatalists" drive the billionaire's seemingly unstoppable momentum. (DONALD DEVINE, August 27, 2015, American Conservative)

Patrick Buchanan gets right to the core of the phenomenon called Donald Trump with his headline, "The Rebirth of Nationalism."

Because of America's two-party system and the dominance of individualistic libertarians and social conservatives in one party and left-egalitarians and interest-group liberals in the other, we forget the basics. As the late great political scientist Aaron Wildavsky taught us years ago there are four fundamental political types: egalitarians, individualists, social conservatives, and--the ones we forget about--what he called "fatalists."

We tend to forget the fatalists because they tend not to vote. They view the world as foreign, chaotic, ephemeral, dangerous, on the edge of falling into bedlam. He used the analogy that their world is like a marble rolling unsteadily on a glass surface, rolling and pitching who knows where. Government has some control but is run by an untouchable, all-powerful elite acting in its own interest. Such a world can only be tamed by something enormously powerful and masterful, and only during a crisis. Then a strong central government supported by angry, patriotic nationalists and led by a popular Napoleon on his white horse can arrest the anarchy. Trump's autobiography is titled Think Big and Kick Ass.

Buchanan tapped into the same world--although with vastly more intellect and subtlety--but he learned Wildavsky's lesson. Fatalists do not vote, except perhaps enough to win a primary or two, and the elite strike back hard. It is difficult to sustain the anger, although Buchanan came closer than many remember. Trump may turn out to be more fortunate since popular resentment has risen to a boil this time. Bernie Sanders taps into it too, and when fatalists do vote they might go for either party.

The greatest problem facing Donald and Bernie is the economy.  Tough to fearmonger when things are going well.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM

THOSE WHO KNOW HIM BEST (profanity alert):

Anger Management: Sanders Fights for Employees, Except His Own  (PAUL HEINTZ, 8/26/15, 7 Days)

According to some who have worked closely with Sanders over the years, "grumpy grandpa" doesn't even begin to describe it. They characterize the senator as rude, short-tempered and, occasionally, downright hostile. Though Sanders has spent much of his life fighting for working Vermonters, they say he mistreats the people working for him.

"As a supervisor, he was unbelievably abusive," says one former campaign staffer, who claims to have endured frequent verbal assaults. The double standard was clear: "He did things that, if he found out that another supervisor was doing in a workplace, he would go after them. You can't treat employees that way."

Like several others quoted in this column, the campaign worker would speak only on the condition of anonymity, saying that to do otherwise would constitute "career suicide" in a small state such as Vermont. But others echoed the former employee's story, saying the senator is prone to fits of anger.

"Bernie was an a[**]hole," says a Democratic insider who worked with Sanders on the campaign trail. 

He is Donald Trump.
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM



The things that Darryl Dawkins accomplished as a player are not the things for which he is remembered, though, or the reason why he is beloved. It seems worth mentioning that Dawkins led the NBA in true shooting percentage in 1985-86, and that advanced stats rate him as one of the more valuable defensive players in the league during his prime--it's true, after all--but what Dawkins did was, in the moment and in his legend, much less important than how stylishly and distinctively and joyously he did it.

Every bit of what appeared to be nonsense on that mesmerizing poster in Coach's Superstars was part of the myth that Dawkins was deliriously and delightedly building around himself in his every moment. Chocolate Thunder, for instance, was an appropriately musical nickname given to Dawkins by Stevie Wonder, on the occasion of one of Dawkins's acts of wanton backboard destruction. The LoveTron on his uniform, which puzzled me no end--I remember asking my father what LoveTron was, and while I do not recall his answer I promise to call him soon and apologize for putting him in that position--was, Dawkins explained to the legendary good-natured and pro-human Philadelphia sports press, his home planet. During each offseason, Dawkins would return to this planet to practice Interplanetary Funksmanship and spend quality time with his girlfriend, Juicy Lucy.

Dawkins invented this planet in high school, and when he turned pro, at 18, he brought the principles of Interplanetary Funksmanship with him. Foremost among them was the sacred ritual of naming one's slam dunks; he dubbed his first backboard-destroying dunk the Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam. Basketball as Dawkins played it was more about having the most fun possible than the grim end-to-end domination that was emerging as the NBA's prevailing worldview--"I hope you don't expect me to do it every night," Dawkins famously told the owner of the Sixers after a 30-and-15 game--but, as Walter was just saying, at least it was an ethos.

All of which is sort of a long way of saying that he was an incorrigible, uncoachable kidult of a basketball player; Dawkins said it himself, when his playing career was over. "I should have been sent to Cleveland," he told ESPN in 2010, "because that was where all the uncoachables went at the time." As frustrating as this must have been to the various authority figures struggling in vain to make Dawkins something more prosaic and predictable than what and who he was, it was (apparently) thrilling to watch and fun to behold. There is something uncanny about NBA videos from that time, mostly because their dim dinge is so out of keeping with the technicolor NBA we've come to know since. To watch the highlights of Dawkins dunk is to watch lightning strike a bar full of grim gamblers: something weirder and brighter and more ungovernable than usual flashes through the proceedings, lights them up or sets them ablzae, and then is gone.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


From High Taxes To National Health Care, Donald Trump Must Reckon With His Progressive Past (Eric Owens, 08/26/2015, Daily Caller)

Trump has also changed his party affiliation at least four times in the last 16 years -- an average of once for each presidential election.

In 1999, as he geared up for a previous, failed presidential quest, Trump quit the Republican Party to join New York's version of the Reform Party. "I am convinced the major parties have lost their way," he said. "I really believe the Republicans are just too crazy right," he also explained.

In 2001, Trump then publicly switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party and apparently remained a committed Democrat for six years.

In 2007, he quit the Democrats. "I'm very much independent," Trump told Wolf Blitzer. "I really am much more attuned to the people, as opposed to the party."

Two years later, in 2009, the real estate executive decided he'd had his fill with independence. He registered as a Republican, at least in name.

Earlier this month, Trump clarified his desire to run for president as a Republican as long as he is "treated fairly" and wins the GOP nomination. He also said he had been "part of the establishment" until an abrupt departure in June 2015. [...]

Perhaps the strongest evidence that Trump is manifestly not a conservative -- and not even a Republican -- is his dependable history of condemning Republicans and praising Democrats.

In 2004, Trump claimed he identified "more as a Democrat" because "the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans." 

"In many cases I probably identify more as a Democrat," the candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination said on CNN 11 years ago. "If you go back, it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans."

In 2009, Trump enthusiastically endorsed then-newly-minted President Obama.

"We have a young, vibrant, smart president who, I think, is going to do a really good job," he said on Fox News. "And, honestly, he has to do a really good job or this country maybe will never be the same. We had eight years of a horrendous president, a terrible president. You cannot get worse than Bush. And I really believe that Obama will be a great president." 

Trump despises Bush.

"The way I look at it, he cannot do worse than Bush," Trump said of Obama on Fox in 2008.

In 2007, the billionaire real estate developer appeared on CNN to blast George W. Bush as "possibly the worst in the history of this country."

In the same interview, Trump excoriated then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "very sad" and called Hugo Chavez, then president of Venezuela, "a lot smarter than" Bush. "Chavez is obviously very cunning," Trump explained. "I mean, beating our president at every step of the game." 

In 2008, Trump expressed surprise that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not attempt to impeach Bush over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "It just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing," Trump said on CNN.

In the same interview, Trump praised Saddam Hussein because "he killed terrorists."

From Immigration To Guns To Abortion, Donald Trump Must Reckon With His Progressive History (Eric Owens, 08/26/2015, Daily Caller)

As recently as 2012, Trump endorsed a broad pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens that is remarkably similar to President Barack Obama's plan for comprehensive immigration reform.

U.S. immigration policy "must take care of this incredible problem that we have with respect to immigration, with respect to people wanting to be wonderful productive citizens of this country," Trump told journalist Ronald Kessler in the immediate aftermath after the 2012 election.

He condemned Republicans for "mean-spirited" attacks on illegal immigration and for a "maniacal" policy of self-deportation in 2012. He suggested that hostility on the issue partially cost Mitt Romney the presidency.

In 2011, Trump similarly suggested that the way to deal with America's 15 million illegal immigrants is on a case-by-case basis. "You know, it's hard to generalize," Trump told Bill O'Reilly. "You're going to have to look at the individual people." He added that determining citizenship for 15 million people is "going to take a long time and a lot of people."

In 1999, Trump said he supported stringent restrictions on immigration. "I think that too many people are flowing into the country," he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press then. "We have to take care of the people who are here," he also said in a meeting with California Reform Party leaders.

In 2015, Trump has both favored and opposed illegal immigration. While his August policy statement strongly denounces illegal border crossings, he now also believes that certain "outstanding" illegal aliens deserve legal status.

"I'm a very big believer in the merit system," Trump explained in July 2015, a day after a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border. "Some of these people have been here, they've done a good job. You know, in some cases, sadly, they've been living under the shadows," he explained. "If somebody's been outstanding, we try and work something out."

Thus, Trump was a strong immigration opponent in 1999 but a proponent of a generous pathway to legal status in 2011 and 2012. By 2015, he had switched to opposition to illegal immigration except that he supports a merit system for many illegal immigrants.

Beyond a history of incessant indecision on immigration policy, Trump's hiring practices as a commercial real estate developer are perhaps the biggest albatross around his neck relating to the immigration issue.

Records show that Trump's own businesses definitely do not hire Americans first.

An August 2015 analysis by Reuters demonstrates that various companies owned by Trump have imported at least 1,100 foreign workers since 2000.

Since 2006, Trump's genteel Mar-a-Lago Club resort in Palm Beach, Fla. has alone sought to import 787 foreign laborers. The 62,000-square-foot club, which charges $100,000 for membership privileges, sought to import 70 foreign workers as waiters, cooks and low-level cleaning staff just this summer.

During the last 30 years, Trump has employed illegal aliens for his multitude of construction projects.

A worker at the construction site of the posh, soon-to-be-opened $200 million Trump International Hotel near the White House in Washington, D.C. has claimed that Trump currently employs many laborers illegal immigrants.

"The majority of us are Hispanics, many who came illegally," a stone mason working at the site told The Washington Post -- in Spanish -- in July 2015. Several other interviewees admitted that they had entered the United States illegally -- mostly from Central America. Some eventually acquired legal status through various immigration loopholes. Others remain undocumented.

Trump addressed the charge by pointing to a long history of immigration in the United States.

"I mean, ultimately, we were all sort of in the group of immigrants, right?" Trump said this summer in his defense on CNN.

If you want to understand Donald Trump, look to the success of the European far-right (Matthew Yglesias on August 25, 2015, Vox)

[W]hen I read the platform of the French National Front, I found a genuinely extreme and super-right-wing view of immigration combined with a critique of the eurozone and the European Central Bank that would be comfortably at home in a Paul Krugman column. FNF also promised to avoid cuts to France's version of Social Security and to enhance benefits for stay-at-home moms.

The Danish People's Party and the True Finns are both friendlier to the Nordic welfare state than are the more traditional center-right parties they are currently allied with in coalitions.

The UK Independence Party manifesto promises to increase NHS funding and to start an early retirement option for Britain's social security system.

The Freedom Party in the Netherlands blew up a center-right cabinet by refusing to endorse an austerity budget.

These policy positions reflect the social basis of political support for unorthodox right-wing parties. Skepticism of immigrants and immigration tends to be more concentrated among older and working-class voters, and older working-class people are inclined to be worried about things like government funding for retirement programs and health-care programs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


Why Bjorn Lomborg must be silenced (Peter McCloy, 28 August 2015, Online Opinion)

When the Abbott government announced funding for a Bjorn Lomborg Consensus Centre at the University of WA it met with predictable and voluminous protest. Within weeks the University announced that it would not proceed with the proposed Centre.

"The scale of the strong and passionate emotional reaction was one that the university did not predict," UWA vice-chancellor Paul Johnson said.

The UWA Student Guild said the $4 million in "politically motivated" federal government funding should be rejected.

"While Dr Lomborg doesn't refute climate change itself, many students question why the centre's projects should be led by someone with a controversial track-record," Guild president Lizzy O'Shea said. "Students, staff and alumni alike are outraged."

Professor Johnson pointed out that Dr Lomborg was not leading the research and was not being paid as an adjunct professor.

"Lomborg is a contrarian but he is not a climate change denier... His contrary stance is around the use of economic efficiency and effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation strategies... Contrarians are, I think, useful, particularly in a university context."

The students, staff and alumni won the day, of course. The idea of even acknowledging a contrarian view of climate change is simply too threatening.

What is a contrarian? In The Death of Adam Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson defines the term: "In one way or another... the prevailing view of things can be assumed to be wrong, and... its opposite, being its image or shadow, can also be assumed to be wrong... there are other ways of thinking, for which better arguments can be made."

The last thing Lomborg's opponents want is a different way of thinking. You're either with them or against them, and confining the argument to whether you're for 'the science' or are a 'denier'is manageable, rewarding and profitable. To broaden the argument, to question our approach to solving the challenges of climate change is too uncomfortable, intellectually and politically difficult.

Lomborg believes that in a world where 800 million people go to bed hungry every night, where millions die every year from preventable causes, where even achieving the targets argued for by climate 'scientists' will have no immediate effect, we can think of better things to do with our money than is currently envisaged.

Arrayed against Lomborg is a formidable alliance of Greens, the 'big end of town', politicians, climate 'scientists' and academics, all with a vested interest in confining the argument to the well established 'us v them' rut in which they flourish.

The Greens have a different agenda. Their objective is to save the planet, people are the problem, expendable in pursuit of their primary objective. Lomborg's emphasis on the short term benefits to people is anathema to them.

Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, the somewhat discredited former head, for 13 years, of the IPCC, said 'For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.'

At its extreme, Green objectives are starkly presented in remarks attributed to David Foreman, co-founder of the appropriately named Earth First: "My three main goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with its full complement of species, returning throughout the world... The human race could go extinct and I for one would not shed any tears... The optimum human population of earth is zero... Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental... We must all work together in order to save the environment and the world that we live in from further change."

To achieve these goals it will be necessary to abandon our current political system. Bob Brown, founder of the Australian Greens says: "The future will either be green or not at all... For comprehensive Earth action, an all-of-the-Earth representative democracy is required. That is, a global parliament."

Our own Klimate Kardashian and founding member of the Climate Council, Tim Flannery, is even more scary: "We will form a global community with a set of shared beliefs... In an ant colony only a few ants can reproduce... very true in human society as well."

August 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


The Fearful and the Frustrated : Donald Trump's nationalist coalition takes shape--for now. (EVAN OSNOS, 8/28/15, The New Yorker)

To inhabit Trump's landscape for a while, to chase his jet or stay behind with his fans in a half-dozen states, is to encounter a confederacy of the frustrated--less a constituency than a loose alliance of Americans who say they are betrayed by politicians, victimized by a changing world, and enticed by Trump's insurgency. Dave Anderson, a New Hampshire Republican who retired from United Parcel Service, told me, "People say, 'Well, it'd be nice to have another Bush.' No, it wouldn't be nice. We had two. They did their duty. That's fine, but we don't want this Bush following what his brother did. And he's not coming across as very strong at all. He's not saying what Trump is saying. He's not saying what the issues are."

Trump's constant talk of his money, his peering down on the one per cent (not to mention the ninety-nine), has helped him to a surprising degree. "I love the fact that he wouldn't be owing anybody," Nancy Merz, a fifty-two-year-old Hampton Republican, told me. She worked at a furniture company, she said. "But the industry went down the tubes." Her husband, Charlie, used to build household electricity meters at a General Electric plant, until the job moved to Mexico. Now he parks cars at a hospital. Trump, in his speech, promised to stop companies from sending jobs abroad, and the Merzes became Trump Republicans. They are churchgoers, but they don't expect Trump to become one, and they forgive his unpriestly comments about women. "There are so many other things going on in this country that we've got be concerned about," Nancy said. "I've seen a lot of our friends lose their houses."

Trump's fans project onto him a vast range of imaginings--about toughness, business acumen, honesty--from a continuum that ranges from economic and libertarian conservatives to the far-right fringe. In partisan terms, his ideas are riven by contradiction--he calls for mass deportations but opposes cuts to Medicare and Social Security; he vows to expand the military but criticizes free trade--and yet that is a reflection of voters' often incoherent sets of convictions. The biggest surprise in Trump's following? He "made an incredible surge among the Tea Party supporters," according to Patrick Murray, who runs polling for Monmouth University. Before Trump announced his candidacy, only twenty per cent of Tea Partiers had a favorable view of him; a month later, that figure had risen to fifty-six per cent. Trump became the top choice among Tea Party voters, supplanting (and opening a large lead over) Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Governor Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, both Tea Party stalwarts. According to a Washington Post /ABC News poll conducted last month, the "broad majority" of Trump's supporters hailed from two groups: voters with no college degree, and voters who say that immigrants weaken America. By mid-August, Trump was even closing in on Hillary Clinton. CNN reported that, when voters were asked to choose between the two, Clinton was leading fifty-one per cent to forty-five.

In Hampton, I dropped by Fast Eddie's Diner for the breakfast rush. "He has my vote," Karen Mayer, a sixty-one-year-old human-resources manager, told me. Already? "Already," she said. Her husband, Bob Hazelton, nodded in agreement. I asked what issue they cared about more than any other. "Illegal immigration, because it's destroying the country," Mayer said. I didn't expect that answer in New Hampshire, I remarked. She replied, "They're everywhere, and they are sucking our economy dry." Hazelton nodded again, and said, "And we're paying for it."

When the Trump storm broke this summer, it touched off smaller tempests that stirred up American politics in ways that were easy to miss from afar. At the time, I happened to be reporting on extremist white-rights groups, and observed at first hand their reactions to his candidacy. Trump was advancing a dire portrait of immigration that partly overlapped with their own. On June 28th, twelve days after Trump's announcement, the Daily Stormer, America's most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: "Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it's time to deport these people." The Daily Stormer urged white men to "vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests."

Ever since the Tea Party's peak, in 2010, and its fade, citizens on the American far right--Patriot militias, border vigilantes, white supremacists--have searched for a standard-bearer, and now they'd found him. In the past, "white nationalists," as they call themselves, had described Trump as a "Jew-lover," but the new tone of his campaign was a revelation. Richard Spencer is a self-described "identitarian" who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes "white racial consciousness." At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is "dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world." The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer "a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old." Spencer told me that he had expected the Presidential campaign to be an "amusing freak show," but that Trump was "refreshing." He went on, "Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We're moving into a new America." He said, "I don't think Trump is a white nationalist," but he did believe that Trump reflected "an unconscious vision that white people have--that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren't able to articulate it. I think it's there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon. I think he is the one person who can tap into it."

Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance, a white-nationalist magazine and Web site based in Oakton, Virginia, told me, in regard to Trump, "I'm sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


How the Iran Deal Will Pass--and Why It Should (Fred Kaplan, 8/27/15, Slate)

It's looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

If current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists--mainly AIPAC--are set to lose this fight. It's politically risky for Israel's head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it's catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it's a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn't so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

That's a rare trifecta, losing to Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Trump the Conservative Budget-Buster (Albert R. Hunt, 8/27/15, Bloomberg View)

He's not one for offering lots of policy specifics and it may be too much to ask for a populist firebrand to exhibit fiscal responsibility. Still, Trump makes plenty of proposals. It's fair to wonder how much they'd cost.

The most detailed Trump plank is on immigration, including plans to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to erect a 1,900-mile wall along the Mexican border. Jeb Bush has said those would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Some analysts say that's a conservative estimate.

Trump has also vowed to build up the U.S. military, charging that enemies know America "is getting weaker." That's big-ticket budgeting. He boasts he'll exceed the efforts of President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain to help veterans. In New Hampshire, he promised to build "a full-service, first-class VA hospital." Not cheap. Other early caucus or primary states probably can expect similar promises of largesse.

The money apparently won't come from trimming entitlements. "I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid," Trump insists.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM



One of the pillars of scientific research--perhaps the one that makes science as definitive as it is--is that any study should be capable of being repeated under the same methods and conditions and if the research holds true, the same result will be found every time the experiment is performed--something known as a study's reproducibility.

A group of researchers found that when they actually tried to reproduce 100 psychology studies, they managed to replicate the results in less than half the cases. Their results were published today in Science, and online as a resource for other scientists at The Reproducibility Project.

These new results piggyback on previous studies that attempted to replicate study results already published in scientific journals.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Leaked emails show new Trump aide used to scorn him (Jennifer Jacobs,  August 26, 2015, Des Moines Register)

Leaked emails show that the Iowan who is Donald Trump's new national co-chairman was throwing bombs at him as recently as last month, expressing grave misgivings about the authenticity of Trump's religious faith and his conservatism.

"(Trump) left me with questions about his moral center and his foundational beliefs. ... His comments reveal no foundation in Christ, which is a big deal," evangelical conservative activist Sam Clovis said in an email just 35 days before he quit his job as Republican Rick Perry's Iowa chairman and signed on with Trump's campaign.

In the emails, shared by Perry backers Wednesday with The Des Moines Register, Clovis castigated Trump for his past liberal positions and admission that he has never asked for God's forgiveness for any wrongdoing.

In an interview Wednesday, Clovis verified that he'd written the sharply worded criticisms of Trump, including one email in which he praises Perry for calling Trump a "cancer on conservatism."

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Pew Study Finds Orthodox Similar to Evangelical Christians -- Not Other Jews (Nathan Guttman, August 26, 2015, Forward)

The snapshot of the Orthodox community provided by the Pew report portrays a group made up of two separate communities -- the Modern Orthodox, who are involved in secular American life, and the more numerous Haredim, also referred to as ultra-Orthodox, who are more insular. Among the many aspects these two groups share is their rapid growth, their emphasis on marriage and families, their relative political and social conservatism, and their preference for Jewish education for their children.

When it comes to beliefs and practices, the differences between Orthodox Jews and all others -- including Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and those who consider themselves Jewish with no religion -- become stark.

Asked about the importance of religion in their lives, 83% of Orthodox Jews say it is a very important factor, while only 20% of non-Orthodox Jews say so. By contrast, 86% of white evangelicals replied positively to this question.

There are other ways in which Orthodox Jews are more similar to evangelicals than to their non-Orthodox co-religionists. Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals attend religious services frequently (74% and 75%, respectively), while only 12% of non-Orthodox Jews go to synagogue at least once a month. The report shows that 89% of Orthodox Jews and 93% of Christian evangelicals believe in God with absolute certainty, while only 34% of all other Jews share this belief.

On Israel, 84% of Orthodox Jews and 82% of evangelicals believe Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, while only 35% of non-Orthodox Jews hold this view.

This pattern also plays out on the political level. Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals share an affinity with the Republican Party (57% and 66%, respectively, support or lean toward the GOP), as opposed to a mere 18% of non-Orthodox Jews who back Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


'Major step' towards universal flu vaccine, studies say (AFP, 25 August 2015)

Scientists have long known that the stem of haemagglutinin - a spike-like protein, known as HA, on the surface of the virus - remains largely the same even when the tip, or "head", changes.

But until now, they have not been able to use the stem to provoke an immune reaction in lab animals or humans that would either neutralise the virus, or allow the body to attack and destroy infected cells.

To make that happen, a team led by Hadi Yassine of the Vaccine Research Center at the US National Institutes of Health grafted a nano-particle-sized protein called ferritin onto a headless HA stem.

The next step was to immunise mice and ferrets, then injecting them with the H5N1 "bird flu" that has a mortality rate of more than 50% among people but is not very contagious.

The mice were completely protected against the flu, the researchers found.

And most of the ferrets, the species that best predicts the success of influenza vaccines on humans, did not fall ill either.

Moreover, when a new batch of mice was injected with antibodies from the rodents which had survived the previous round, most of them also shook off what should have been a lethal dose of bird flu.

The other study, led by Antonietta Impagliazzo of the Crucell Vaccine Institute in Leiden, the Netherlands, took a similar approach - also creating an HA "stem-only" vaccine.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


RIP Chocolate Thunder: Former NBA star Darryl Dawkins dead at 58 (Matt Bonesteel August 27, 2015, Washington Post)

Dawkins bestowed nicknames on his dunks. The first backboard-shatterer was dubbed "The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam." There were other nicknames: "In Your Face Disgrace," "The Go-rilla," "Earthquaker Shaker," "Candyslam," "Dunk You Very Much," "Look Out Below," "Yo Mama," "Turbo Sexophonic Delight," "Rim Wrecker," "Greyhound Bus" (for when he went coast-to-coast), "Cover Your Head," "Spine Chiller Supreme," "Slam Bam Thank You Ma'am" and "Walk Away From Love."

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


How Jeremy Corbyn's Coup Hijacked Labour (NICK COHEN, September 2015, Standpoint)

The malaise on the modern Left becomes evident only when you remember what century you are living in. Russia does not pretend to be socialist now. It is a dictatorial kleptocracy, whose oligarchs stash their stolen money in Mayfair, Saint-Tropez and Palm Beach, and whose leader sends his armies over Russia's borders to grab the territory of neighbouring states. Putin boasts to the world that he wants to be the leader of its reactionary and illiberal forces. He is committed to adventurism and the repression of minorities, particularly homosexuals. Modern Russia is the heir to the Tsarist empire, which 19th-century liberals and socialists feared above all other powers. 

Corbyn, like so many on the far Left, does not fear Russia. Nor does he care that UKIP and the French National Front defend Putin because they admire a regime that loathes the European Union as much as they do. The far left has never been comfortable with the EU either. However, it indulges Putin because, as Corbyn explained in the old Communist daily, the Morning Star, "the EU and Nato have now become the tools of US policy in Europe". From this, it follows that all attempts by the former occupied nations of Europe to protect themselves from their old imperial master are American-backed provocations which goad a justly affronted Russia. Or as Corbyn put it, "The expansion of Nato into Poland and the Czech Republic has particularly increased tensions with Russia."

We have a politician at the forefront of one of Europe's great parties telling Poles that their country has no right to defend itself against an expansionist Russia. The man I suppose I now have to call the leader of the British Left is defending a classically reactionary power. Those who have kept their eyes open won't be shocked. Opposition to the West is the first, last and only foreign policy priority of many on the Left. It accounts for its disorientating alliances with movements any 20th-century socialist would have no trouble in labelling as extreme right-wing.

Not just Corbyn and his supporters but much of the liberal Left announce their political correctness and seize on the smallest sexist or racist "gaffe" of their opponents. Without pausing for breath, they move on to defend radical Islamist movements which believe in the subjugation of women and the murder of homosexuals. They will denounce the anti-Semitism of white neo-Nazis, but justify Islamist anti-Semites who actually murder Jews in Copenhagen and Paris. In a telling vignette, Corbyn himself defended a vicar from the supposedly liberal and tolerant Church of England who had promoted the conspiracy theory that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Opponents who called for the church authorities to discipline him were not anti-racists fighting an ideology that had led to the murder of millions. On the contrary, said Corbyn, the vicar was the victim, "under attack" because he had "dared to speak out against Zionism".

When the far Left shades into the far Right, I am tempted to hug the centre and treat it as our best protection against the poisonous and the deranged.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Meeting God as an American (DAVID PAUL DEAVEL, 8/24/15, Liberty Law)

"When I meet God," wrote Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009), "I expect to meet him as an American. Not most importantly as an American, to be sure, but as someone who tried to take seriously, and tried to get others to take seriously, the story of America within the story of the world."

This statement is from American Babylon, Neuhaus' last book, which came out the year after his death. The book's argument was

that God is not indifferent toward the American experiment, and therefore we who are called to think about God and his ways through time dare not be indifferent to the American experiment. America is not uniquely Babylon, but it is our time and our place in Babylon. We seek its peace, in which, as Jeremiah said, we find our peace, as we yearn for and anticipate by faith and sacramental grace the New Jerusalem that is our pilgrim goal. It is time to think again--to think deeply, to think religiously--about the story of America within the story of the world.

Such a take on America and Christianity is controversial for many. And yet it was a view that Neuhaus, Lutheran pastor-cum-Catholic priest, largely held over a career that ran the gamut not merely from Protestant to Catholic, but from Left to Right, antiwar protester to defender of the Iraq invasion.

August 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


U.S. stocks poised for gains despite new China fall (Ivana Kottasova, 8/26/15, CNN Money)

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Ashley Madison was a bunch of dudes talking to each other, data analysis suggests (MATT ROSOFF, 8/26/15, Business Insider)

The Ashley Madison hack has revealed a lot of interesting things about the men who used the extramarital affair-finding site, like which cities, states, and universities they're from.

But what about the women?

Turns out, there may not have been very many women. As in, almost none.

Gizmodo writer Annalee Newlitz analyzed the data from the site's user database and found a lot of suspicious stuff that suggest nearly all the female accounts were fake, maintained by the company's employees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


As Oil Prices Fall, Putin's Russia Faces a Long, Cold Winter (Colin Chilcoat, August 26, 2015, Fiscal Times)

Its surprise run as the world's number one performing major currency is long gone and the ruble has collapsed nearly 25 percent since the end of May, and 11 percent alone in August. For optimists and pessimists alike, speculation on the ruble's future is an exercise in futility. To be sure - on its current path - it's not a very fun activity either.

On a micro level, the ripple effects have hit hard. Real wages, or purchasing power, fell 4.8 percent in July and dropped 9.2 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Disposable income is also down 2.9 percent on the year. Unemployment remained steady, but an increasing number of workers are not getting paid; the amount of salary in arrears climbed 6.2 percent in July. Further, there is talk of delinking pension hikes from inflation, a move that would condemn a growing number of the population to abject poverty should the economic trends continue.

More broadly, the recession is in full swing. Russia's gross domestic product slipped 4.6 percent year-on-year in the second quarter - a fall that makes it the worst performing mid-sized economy in the world, ahead of Iraq and Venezuela. Negative growth in 2016 is looking more and more possible and Bank of Russia economists estimate that western sanctions have lowered the GDP ceiling by as much as 0.6 percent this year.

Earlier this year the Right was lauding him as a strong leader...kind of like Donald Trump.
Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Africa's democratic road to economic unity : With the launch of an ambitious project to form a free-trade zone, Africa must also realize that trade is best enhanced when states are democratic. (Monitor's Editorial Board AUGUST 26, 2015, CS Monitior)

This week, the United Nations began training officials from 19 African countries on how to negotiate a trade deal. Their bargaining skills are crucial right now to complete an ambitious project launched in June by the African Union: the creation of a free-trade zone from Cairo to Cape Town in the next two years.

The continent's dream of economic integration, dating back at least 35 years, is hardly new. But the urgency is. With free-trade pacts in the works between Europe and the United States, and among 12 countries of the Pacific Rim, African nations realize they must boost trade among themselves.

Only 10 to 12 percent of Africa's trade is across its internal borders, far lower than in other regions and a sure sign of protectionism. And tariffs between African states are far higher than on goods imported from outside the continent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Univision's Jorge Ramos' confrontation with Trump over immigration is a case of deja vu (STEPHEN BATTAGLIO AND KATE LINTHICUM, 8/26/15, LA Times)
Every four years, the English-speaking TV world rediscovers Jorge Ramos. [...]

Ramos confronted President Obama in 2012 about his failure to deliver on a promise to enact immigration reform in his first term. He made Obama's Republican opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney, squirm as well after pressing him on his plan for deportation of undocumented immigrants. "He wanted the Hispanic vote and at the same time he was promoting deportation," Ramos said in a 2013 interview. "It was like he was saying 'Vote for me, but I don't want you in this country.'''

Ramos pushes candidates on the issue because he believes that Latino voters are largely ignored until campaign time rolls around.

"I call it the Christopher Columbus syndrome," he said after the 2012 campaign. "They rediscover us every four years." [...]

Ramos, 57, has been called the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language television. His Univision broadcast, "Noticiero Univision," which he co-anchors with Maria Elena Salinas, is watched by an average of 2 million viewers a night. That represents a much larger audience than what CNN's Wolf Blitzer pulls in the hour.

The Mexican-born Ramos has been the dominant figure in Spanish-language TV news since he joined Univision in 1986. The network's ratings success with telenovelas imported from Mexico has spilled over to his program in the last 30 years.

But he's chosen to use his platform as an advocate for immigration reform, which separates him from traditional TV news anchors.

"I think he sees himself as a voice and someone who can get attention and get answers to certain key questions," said Joe Peyronnin, a former news executive for Univision's competitor, Telemundo.

Peyronnin added that Ramos' independence and fearlessness date back to his work as a TV journalist in Mexico.

"When he worked in Mexico, he quit because his bosses tried to dictate to him what he should say and not say about the government," Peyronnin said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Since President Obama took office, 85 of 98 state legislative bodies got more Republican (Philip Bump, August 26, 2015, Washington Post) 

The NCSL's annual breakdown of the composition of each state's Senate and House or Assembly goes back to 2009, when President Obama was inaugurated. Since then, the ratio of Republicans to Democrats has tilted to the right in nearly every Senate and nearly every legislature.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Trump's immigration plan could spell doom for the GOP (George F. Will, August 21, 2015, Washington Post)

It has come to this: The GOP, formerly the party of Lincoln and ostensibly the party of liberty and limited government, is being defined by clamors for a mass roundup and deportation of millions of human beings. To will an end is to will the means for the end, so the Republican clamors are also for the requisite expansion of government's size and coercive powers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


A $4 minimum wage can get people back to work (Michael R. Strain, February 14, 2014, Bloomberg)

Because of the federal minimum wage, the company knows that it has to take at least a $7.25-an-hour chance on a worker. If we knocked the minimum wage down to, say, $4 an hour, we would significantly mitigate employers' risk from hiring a long-term unemployed worker. Allowing employers to pay this group of people 45 percent less than other minimum-wage workers provides a strong incentive for businesses to give the long-term unemployed a shot.

Of course, we can't just lower the minimum wage for the long-term unemployed to $4 an hour and leave it at that. Society must have as a goal that no one who works full time and heads a household lives in poverty. This policy would have to be paired with an expanded earned-income tax credit, or with more straightforward wage subsidies -- federal transfer programs that supplement a worker's labor market earnings with tax dollars.

How much will this cost? Let's say that the government decided to give a minimum wage worker an additional $4 for every hour he worked. This wage subsidy effectively increases the financial rewards from an hour of work above what is required under current law, and will induce some workers to take jobs they wouldn't otherwise take. Let's assume that 20 percent of the long-term unemployed take a $4-an-hour job, and that each of them works full time for a year. Under this plan, the annual cost of the wage subsidy would be about $6 billion. Even given this (probably extreme) overestimate, the program would be relatively cheap.

A suggestion for paying for it: Take some money the federal government spends on the highest-earning households and divert it to this program. For example, the government spent $70 billion on the mortgage-interest deduction in fiscal year 2013, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. This spending overwhelmingly benefited households in the top quintile by income. A better use for some of that money would be to help the long-term unemployed make a transition into jobs.

You can still pay for it out of just that one tax credit.
Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM



[W]hile androids make for a powerful literary device through which to explore our fear that technology might one day surpass us, the human form isn't always best for the job. Take, for example, the synth telephone operator. Why create a physical robot for this job which has to receive audio through a wired earpiece and then respond via speaker into a microphone? Couldn't synth software do the trick without complex parts that mimic the functions of ears and a mouth?

Furthermore, wouldn't it make better economic sense to distribute artificial intelligence across multiple hardware platforms, instead of clustering so much precious technology into a single body? Wouldn't it make more sense to have a dog-like Roomba, a wireless home operating system, and a self-driving car, since each component could be upgraded and replaced?

In our own world, this diversified approach to robot morphology is already the norm. Rather than build androids with broad intelligence and skill sets, manufacturers have been developing highly specialized robots for specific tasks.  Many are modeled after existing creatures, and so it would be more accurate to call them "theroids," or "animal-like" robots. For underwater spying the U.S. Navy built a drone that looks and swims like a Bluefin tuna; Boston Dynamics' "Big Dog" is a tireless pack mule that will walk alongside soldiers in the field; and robotic swans might soon be testing water quality near you, which makes sense since swans are well designed for floating along lakes.

Visit Japan's first robot-staffed hotel, and you'll interact with a number of theroids, including a robotic dinosaur. If the dinosaur accidentally hurts you, and you're elderly, you might be taken care of by a bear. This cuddle bot is a patch of interactive fur, in case that's your thing. Of course animals aren't always the best shape for tasks, either. Hotels around the world are buying room service robots that happen to resemble floating trashcans.

In our own world we're also seeing white-collar jobs outsourced to intelligent machines. Instead of being shaped like humans, however, ours are shaped like computers. In Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford details a number of white-collar careers that have been threatened, or outright replaced, by clever software. The process of legal discovery, for example, was once the job of trained lawyers and paralegals as it took a human mind to discern whether a certain document or fact had potential relevance to the case at hand. Today, "e-Discovery" software can analyze millions of electronic documents and isolate the relevant ones. They go beyond mere keyword searches, using machine learning to isolate concepts, even if specific phrases aren't present.

Androids can't replace pharmacists on their own, but pharmacists can be replaced by a complex automated system like the University of California San Francisco's robotic pharmacy, which is capable of producing hundreds of thousands of labeled doses of medicine without error. This is part of the growing trend within large-scale manufacturing to replace teams of people with customized, automated systems. As John Markoff recently detailed, robotic arms are now picking the lettuce we eat, operating the grocery distribution systems that bring that lettuce to our neighborhoods, and building the cars that get us to the store.

Of course, we'd like to think that only a machine that's just like us could replace us on the job.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Trump may be 'impossible to take down,' top Republican pollster says (Claude Brodesser-Akner, 8/25/15,

On Monday night, the group of mostly college-educated Trump supporters -- 17 women, 12 men -- was largely Republican, but also featured some Democrats and independents. What united them was a willingness to trust Trump whether or not they fully agreed with his policies, or in some cases, regardless of whether he even had articulated any. Twenty-three of the 29 participants said that they were more persuaded by his persona, while just six said it was Trump's policies that sold them on him.

"I want to vote for a person," emphasized one participant, a middle-aged man identified as 'David.' "I believe in his ability to make decisions. I trust him to make decisions more than I trust Obama or George W. (Bush)."

The group was similarly unfazed by Trump's reversals of opinion or lack of ideological purity that so often defines primary election contests. 

Luntz said this shows "nothing disqualifies Trump" in the eyes of his supporters: "If you wanted to take him down, I would not know how to do it."

For example, the single biggest reason Trump supporters gave for backing him was his branding of Obamacare as a catastrophe that the GOP must repeal and replace with "something much better." But moments later in the same session, participants in the Trump focus group noted that the thing that made them least likely to vote for Trump was his prior support for a "single payer" or entirely government-funded healthcare system.

The same is true of Trump's flip-flopping over who is best qualified to manage the U.S. economy. Eighteen of the 29 pointed to Trump's promise to restore balance to the nation's trade deficit with Japan and China as a reason they would be most likely to vote for him. However, moments later nearly half of the 29 said that what made them least likely to vote for Trump were his past statements that the U.S. economy does better under Democratic rather than Republican leadership.

By a large measure, the Trump supporters in Luntz's focus group were very pessimistic about the future of the U.S.: Twenty-one of 29 said that they believed the nation's best days were in the past.  Nineteen of the 29 said they believed their kids would have a lower quality of life than they enjoyed unless an outsider intervened.

"They're 'mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,'" Luntz said.  "And (Trump) personifies it: Each sees in him what they want for the country. They want him to fix what makes them mad, and they believe he will."

It is Trump's ability to reflect back to voters their most fervent wishes for the nation, Luntz said, that makes the political outsider so dangerous to the rest of the 16 other GOP 2016 hopefuls. The main reason for this, Luntz found, was what he termed a willingness of Trump supporters to live in "an alternative universe" in which any attempt by the media to point out inconsistencies in Trump's record or position was seen as a politically motivated conspiracy.

"When the media challenges the veracity of his statements, you take his side," Luntz asked of his focus group.  Only one person sat quietly, her hands in her lap, as 28 other arms shot up in agreement.

America doesn't elect angry men.
Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Deploys Army to Deport Colombians ( KEJAL VYAS And  SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ, 8/26/15, WSJ)

 Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro, struggling with falling approval ratings and a deepening economic crisis, has found what critics say is a convenient scapegoat for his country's woes: neighboring Colombia.

In recent days, Venezuela deported more than 1,000 Colombian citizens and closed key border crossings in the frontier state of Táchira, where Mr. Maduro declared martial law in several municipalities.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Donald Trump: A 21st Century Protectionist Herbert Hoover (Stephen Moore & Larry Kudlow, August 26, 2015, Real Clear Politics)

Here's a historical fact that Donald Trump, and many voters attracted to him, may not know: The last American president who was a trade protectionist was Republican Herbert Hoover. Obviously that economic strategy didn't turn out so well -- either for the nation or the GOP.

Does Trump aspire to be a 21st century Hoover with a modernized platform of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff that helped send the U.S. and world economy into a decade-long depression and a collapse of the banking system?

We can't help wondering whether the panic in world financial markets is in part a result of the Trump assault on free trade.

...his nativism and protectionism are just pandering to the Right.  As president he'd implement amnesty and the trade deals. 

Unlike the governors, who have proven records of governing to run on, his positions are for sale.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


This Ingenious $20 Lamp Gets All Its Energy From Gravity (Ben Schiller, 8/25/15, Co.Exist)

It provides free light (after you've bought it). It's cheap. And it has none of the environmental or health side-effects as do other light alternatives in the developing world. But even all those things aren't necessarily enough if it's to reach its potential. If the company and foundation behind the device are to make it a success, they need a reliable product; they need to distribute it in places where distribution can be difficult; and, more fundamentally, they need to explain why someone should buy a GravityLight when there's plenty of good, cheap solar on the market today.

Thankfully the company seems to have most of the questions answered, as least so far.

The light has a gear-train and DC generator. As a heavy object pulls down on one side, it creates a force that's converted into electricity. The lamp can last for hours on a single lift to one side, and, of course, that lift is renewable: When one side drops to balance, you just hoist it up again. With a string of mini-lights attached, it can illuminate a small room. And, importantly, without the problems that come with kerosene lamps (fumes, fire), which are still widely used in off-grid places.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


In Iran, a Women's Soccer Revolution : In a country where women aren't allowed to attend soccer games, the sport is taking off at the youth level--in part thanks to an Iranian-American (BILL SPINDLE, Aug. 24, 2015, NY Times)

[Q]uietly, there is something of a women's soccer revolution going on here. And one of its leaders, of all people, is an Iranian-American.

Katayoun Khosrowyar, 27, moved here at age 17. She has captained the Iranian women's national soccer team, lived through a battle over the wearing of head scarves on the field and, last year, evacuated a team of young Iranian girls from earthquake-ravaged Nepal.

Khosrowyar--Kat to friends and fans--now holds a seat on the sport's national oversight board, in addition to coaching the national under-14 team. While the women's national team has struggled in top-level international competition and is currently in the process of being reconstituted, the sport is taking off at the youth level. Four thousand Iranian girls now play soccer in Iran's women's and girls' leagues, up from none in 2005, according to the country's soccer association.

"The biggest challenge we have is the lack of leader coaches," said Elahe Arabameri, who recently took over as the national head of Iran's women's soccer programs. "She's just one, but she's got a great future."

Khosrowyar and Arabameri hope the nuclear deal recently struck between Iran and six world powers will open Iran to the world again, ushering in a new era for women's sports that includes foreign corporate sponsorship deals and cooperative arrangements with European and perhaps even American soccer programs.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


The Coming Age of Slaughter (Timothy Snyder, 12/06/2010, New Republic)

The age of mass killing, the 1930s and 1940s, was also a moment of environmental panic. World War I had disrupted free trade, and the new Europe was divided between those who needed food and those who controlled it. By the 1960s, improvements in seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides would make surpluses rather than shortages the problem. But, during the crucial 1930s and 1940s, when the decisions were made that sealed the fate of millions, European leaders such as Hitler and Stalin were preoccupied with mastering fertile soil and the people who farmed it.

World War I, in which both Hitler and Stalin played a role, had seemed to show that conquest of cropland meant security and power. It ended in 1918 during a failed German attempt to colonize Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe. To us, the "Ukrainian breadbasket" is a strange notion--perhaps as strange as the concept of "Saudi oil fields" will be 70 years from now. In the 1930s, however, it was at the center of strategic discussions in Moscow and Berlin. The Soviets held Ukraine and wanted to exploit its black earth; the Nazi leadership, ruling a country that was not self-sufficient in food, wanted to take it back.

Both Hitler's Holocaust and Stalin's Terror took place during an interval of environmental risk: between the identification of a critical environmental problem and the introduction of the technologies that would solve it. National Socialism and Stalinism both identified enemies to be eliminated, of course; and today, when we talk about Nazism and Stalinism, we understandably emphasize the hatred--the racial hatred of Hitler and the class hatred of Stalin. But there was an economic and environmental side to their ideologies as well: Both Hitler and Stalin made killing seem to serve a vision of economic development that would overcome environmental limitations. Perhaps we today tend to ignore this dimension because noting environmental limitations smacks of making excuses for horror. Or perhaps we see the economy as a realm of rationality and so assume that economic thought must not be implicated in apparently emotional projects such as mass killing. Or perhaps we have simply forgotten the environmental constraints of an earlier period, so different from those of our time.

We face our own environmental limitations and so have very good reason to recover this history.

Only Darwinists ignore the fact that they were Applied Darwinists.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM



It is worth remembering, however, that Netanyahu has said much of this before. Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, "If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind," adding that, "the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close."

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was "three to five years" away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S."

In his 1995 book, "Fighting Terrorism," Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in "three to five years," apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Trump Says He Didn't Know He Employed Illegal Aliens (DEAN BAQUET, July 13, 1990, ny tIMES)

Donald J. Trump took the witness stand yesterday to deny seven-year-old charges that he knowingly used 200 undocumented workers to demolish the old Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, the glittering centerpiece of his real-estate empire.

To hire construction workers is to know you're hiring illegals.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Iran reformists implore Congress: Approve nuclear deal to boost human rights (Jerusalem Post, 8/26/15)

Dozens of prominent figures, many of whom have spent time in jail and faced travel or work bans, have recorded short video clips on social media sites this week praising the July 14 accord that will lift international sanctions from Iran in exchange for strict curbs on its nuclear program.

"These video messages show that those who have paid the highest prices for the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran are supporting the deal," Mohammadreza Jalaeipour, a pro-democracy activist who organized the campaign said.

Many of the videos implored the U.S. Congress to approve the deal in a vote due next month, arguing that it offers the best hope of promoting democracy in Iran and is not a capitulation to Iranian hardline factions to which they, too, are opposed.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Marcy Borders, the Dust-Covered Woman in the Iconic 9/11 Photograph, Has Died of Cancer (Nash Jenkins, 8/26/15, Time)

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Borders was one month into a new job as a legal assistant on the 81st floor of One World Trade Center. When American Airlines Flight 11 struck the building a few stories above her office, she fled, making it onto the street just as the adjacent tower collapsed. A stranger pulled her into a nearby lobby, where Agence France-Presse photographer Stan Honda took her picture: her face distraught; her body covered in ash. In the weeks and years following 9/11, the world would thusly know her as the "Dust Lady."

Meanwhile, she found herself haunted by her experiences that morning, ultimately struggling with depression and substance-abuse issues.

"My life spiraled out of control. I didn't do a day's work in nearly 10 years, and by 2011 I was a complete mess," Borders told the New York Post in June 2011. "Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked. If I saw a man on a building, I was convinced he was going to shoot me."

She checked herself into rehab in April 2011, eight days before President Obama appeared on television to announce the death of Osama bin Laden.

"The treatment got me sober, but bin Laden being killed was a bonus," she told the Post. "I used to lose sleep over him, have bad dreams about bin Laden bombing my house, but now I have peace of mind."

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Immigration experts: Jeb Bush had a point on 'anchor babies' : He was referring to 'birth tourism' largely among Chinese women. (SEUNG MIN KIM 8/25/15, Politico)

In recent months, federal authorities have been increasingly scrutinizing "birth tourism," which has been most recently tied to Chinese women who come to the United States and intend to return home with a child who has U.S. citizenship, which confers significant health care, education and civic benefits.

In March, federal agents raided multiple locations in Southern California -- part of an investigation that authorities say showed evidence of birth-tourism businesses specifically catering to the Chinese. The following month, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California charged 10 Chinese nationals with violating court orders in connection with a birth-tourism investigation.

August 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Anchor Jorge Ramos Thrown Out of Trump Event, Told to 'Go Back to Univision' (ABC NEWS, 8/25/15)

News anchor Jorge Ramos, who works for Univision and Fusion, was thrown out of an event for Donald Trump after he asked a question without being called on.

Trump told Ramos, who was trying to ask about immigration during the event in Dubuque, Iowa, repeatedly to "sit down."

"You haven't been called...go back to Univision," Trump can be heard saying.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Hispanics Frown on Trump, but Not Rest of GOP Field (Lydia Saad, 8/24/15, Gallup)
Hispanics' Views of GOP Presidential Contenders, July-August 2015
Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Moneyball 2.0: Keeping players healthy (Rick Maese August 24, 2015, Washington Post)

By combining a variety of metrics and risk factors, David Tenney, the sports science and performance manager for MLS's Seattle Sounders, feels his team has a strong understanding of probabilities. For example, he says the two biggest risk factors for injury are a previous injury and a player's age.

"So you build those two things into your model right away," he said.

...are that results are to some considerable degree a function of luck (BABIP) and health is a skill.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Robots Learn to Make Pancakes from WikiHow Articles (Will Knight, August 24, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

If you've ever needed to know how to tie a bowtie or fix a strawberry daiquiri, you likely ended up on a website like WikiHow for step-by-step instructions. Surprisingly, some robots are now doing the same.

A robot called PR2 in Germany is learning to prepare pancakes and pizzas by carefully reading through WikiHow's written directions. It's part of a European project called RoboHow, which is exploring ways of teaching robots to understand language. This could make it easier for people to communicate instructions to robots and provide a way for machines to figure out how to perform unfamiliar tasks. Instead of programming a robot to perform precise movements, the goal is for a person to simply tell a robot what to do.

And the articles are written for free.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM



What if on your next rail journey, the train not only sped along the countryside fast as the wind, it was actually powered by the breeze? If you travel on a train in the Netherlands in 2018, that might just be your reality.

Under a deal written up in 2014, starting this year about half of the electric trains in the Netherlands run on wind power. But the contract between railway companies and power suppliers aims to push that number higher. As Railway Technology reports, the agreement will see the trains running on completely on wind power by 2018. The energy will be generated from wind farms within the country but also in Belgium, and nearby Scandinavian countries.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Goals of the Common Core Are as American as Apple Pie (Allison Preiss, 8/18/15, Center for American Progress)

Key takeaways from the survey include:

90 percent of voters agree that we should raise our nation's academic standards so that the United States can be more competitive with other countries, with 71 percent strongly agreeing with this statement

82 percent of voters agree that the United States should develop academic standards with the input of teachers, school districts, and states, with 65 percent strongly agreeing with this statement

79 percent of voters agree that we should create a set of high-quality academic standards or goals in English and math and let communities develop their own curricula and strategies, with 52 percent strongly agreeing with this statement

78 percent of voters approve of annual tests in English and math to see if their schools are adequately serving their populations.

"Parents across the United States all want their children to succeed in school and to be ready for the challenges of college or career. That's why the fundamentals of the Common Core--stronger academic standards in English and math--are popular with voters across America," said Catherine Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at CAP.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


One Bush gets praise for his handling of hurricanes -- including Katrina (Ed O'Keefe August 25, 2015, Washington Post)

Later, Barack Obama campaigned against Bush's poor handling of natural disasters. But as president, he hired Craig Fugate, Jeb Bush's emergency management chief, to run the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bush says that if he wins the White House, he wants to keep Fugate on the job to help him again. Fugate -- who will travel with Obama to New Orleans this week to mark the 10th anniversary of Katrina -- said in an interview that he is open to sticking around.

"I learned a long time ago you never say never," he said. "Governor Bush gave me my shot and allowed me to do my job and he supported me. I could not ask for a better boss in that role."

Over two years, the storms caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and plunged millions of Floridians into darkness for months. Airports, businesses, highways and millions of homes had to be rebuilt. Bush spent most of his time commanding the state's response from a conference room at an emergency management operations center in Tallahassee.

"We didn't anticipate that he would be there for a couple of months, but that's kind of what happened," said Deirdre Finn, one of Bush's deputy chiefs of staff for emergency management.

Bush, a self-professed policy wonk, talked at length in the Post interview about the nitty-gritty details of storm management -- what he learned about residential building codes, how to reverse the flow of interstate highways, how gasoline is pumped into Florida, and how to open and close seaports. He noted that he was one of the first public officials in the country to lead news briefings in English and Spanish.

"I was all in and everyone who worked for me was equally all in. And we got better and we took on more than anyone could imagine," he said.

"We didn't rely on the federal government for anything, except money, which was huge, because we would have gone bankrupt," he continued.

August 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Hilton to pull on-demand pornography from hotel rooms (Heather Clark Aug 24, 2015, The Christians)

An international hotel chain has announced that it has decided to pull on-demand television access to pornography in its guest rooms, generating applause from Christians and other morality-focused groups.

Hilton Hotels and Resorts, run by Hilton Worldwide, will no longer contract with "adult" program providers after September of this year, and all hotels must phase out on-demand access by July of next year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Donald Trump's nativist bandwagon (Fred Hiatt, August 23, 2015, Washington Post)

Trump would abolish birthright citizenship: the principle, embedded in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, that anyone born in the United States is an American, no matter the legal status of his or her parents. Sen. Ted Cruz promptly claimed he'd always opposed birthright citizenship, too, a claim the Houston Chronicle quickly disproved. Bobby Jindal and Ben Carson joined in, as did Scott Walker, though he didn't seem entirely sure. Jeb Bush stayed admirably aloof from the mob.

Other conservatives pushed back, but often half-heartedly, arguing that the law would be too hard to change, or that it shouldn't be the focus of anti-immigration sentiment because it isn't the biggest problem.

But that's wrong, too. Birthright citizenship isn't a problem at all. It's one of the things that makes America great.

For many countries, what is in your blood, or your DNA, defines whether you can belong. I was shocked that people who had been born in Japan, and in some cases whose parents had been born in Japan, were not Japanese citizens, though they knew no other country. The fact that their ancestors had come (or been brought) from Korea disqualified them from automatic citizenship at birth.

Americans, by contrast, are bound together by a civic ideal.

"Birthright citizenship is much more about us, a nation formed and held together by civic values, than it is about immigrants themselves and an incentive or disincentive to come here legally or illegally," says Doris Meissner, who ran the U.S. immigration agency under President Clinton and is now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

"What's the belief system, the social cohesion that binds us?" she continues. "A commitment to democracy, participation, equal rights, opportunity, due process, government by the people -- people have to be full members of the society for that to be real and flourish."

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Israel abuzz over reports that attacks on Iran were planned, abandoned (BATSHEVA SOBELMAN, 8/24/15, LA Times)

On Friday, Israel's Channel 2 news broadcast excerpts from a taped interview that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak gave to the authors of his upcoming biography. Barak, who served as defense minister in Netanyahu's second government during 2009 and 2013, described three occasions from 2010 to 2012 when plans to strike Iran fell through for different reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Rouhani, Hammond stress promotion of Tehran-London ties  (MNA, 8/24/15) 

Iranian president and British foreign secretary Hammond stressed on Mon. the need for promoting political relations and developing cooperation based on mutual trust and resolving difficult history.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made the remarks here on Monday in a meeting with British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, adding "in current situation, both countries' officials have a greater responsibility to rebuild bilateral relations based on mutual trust."

Noting that Iranian people remember and are wary of the foreign interference in their country's affairs, the president added, "while one cannot quickly change a nation's deep legacy of distrust in a short span of time, we are of the opinion that we should not linger in the past mistakes and should rather plan our moves with a look toward the future."

"Iran and Britain must think about mutual interests of both nations as well as the region and expand their trade relations into bilateral and fruitful economic ties based on the available resources in both countries," said Rouhani. [...]

Philip Hammond, for his part, expressed his gratitude toward Iran's warm hospitality, saying "the two countries' relations have steadily improved and the recent nuclear agreement will allow more forward steps to deepen the relations."

Noting that Iran and the 5+1 nuclear deal can rebuild the cultural and historical relations between Iranian and British people, Hammond added "the reopening of embassies in Tehran and London was an important symbolic step that has led to effective and trust-building dialogues between the two countries, providing an opportunity for a better understanding of each other's positions."

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Shouting Nazi slogans, Germans riot against asylum-seekers (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, August 24, 2015)

German neo-Nazis have fought battles with police, and at least one government shelter for asylum seekers has been burned down, in three days of rioting in eastern Germany.

Local reports Monday said the protesters chanted "Heil Hitler" and neo-Nazi slogans and sang the Horst Wessel Song, a banned Nazi anthem.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Relationship Between Spending, Winning Remains Low (Craig Edwards, August 24, 2015, Fangraphs)

As the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates race toward the playoffs with payrolls in the bottom 20% of Major League Baseball and the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers falter with top-five payrolls, we are reminded that money cannot buy success in all cases. The Dodgers, with their $300-plus million payroll and a luxury tax bill that will add on another $40 to $50 million, have not guaranteed themselves a berth in the playoffs. We have seen billion-dollar television deals grant enormous benefits to large-market clubs and teams like the New York Yankees and the Red Sox have long wielded their financial might to buy wins. Financial parity does not exist in baseball, but even without it, single-season payroll has played a lesser role in team success over the past few years compared to a decade ago.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Christian Missions And The Spread Of Democracy (Greg Scandlen, AUGUST 21, 2015, The Federalist)

It has long been evident to me that the most successful societies in the world are former British colonies - the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and to a lesser extent India and South Africa. I have usually attributed this to the British embrace of capitalism, merit-based civil service, and widespread education.

As long as these nations followed that model they prospered, but when they went off the tracks and experimented with socialism (as India did for a while) or dictatorship (as Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is still doing) they failed.

Now comes Robert Woodberry of the National University of Singapore to argue that I have missed the point. In 2012, The American Political Science Review published a breathtaking article by him, "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy." I say breathtaking because of the comprehensive statistical analysis underlying his argument. He doesn't just correlate missions with democracy, but he accounts for most other plausible explanations and he looks at conditions in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceana, and also considers regional differences within many of these countries.

What Woodberry finds is that wherever "conversionary Protestant" (CP) missionaries went, they laid the roots for modern democracy. Often, but not always, these were associated with British colonies. There were British colonies that had few missionaries and these areas were not especially well equipped for democracy, but when missionaries went to places untouched by the British, they had the same democratizing effects.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Want More Heroes? Bring Back the Draft (Marc Champion, 8/24/15, Bloomberg View)

Europe's media is still abuzz with the extraordinary story of three Americans who tackled a suspected terrorist on Friday on a train in Northern France. The question being asked is this: Were they displaying a distinctly American can-do spirit?

That's probably inevitable, but a better question would be: Should Western countries consider reintroducing compulsory military service to spread some can-do spirit around?

An article published Monday by the French newspaper Le Monde focused on the attitude of the three Americans, exemplified when one, 22-year-old Oregon National Guard specialist Alek Skarlatos, said to his 23-year-old friend, U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, "Let's go."

"Will these three words become a hashtag?" the daily asks, describing the bravery and decisiveness of the men as an argument against passivity in such situations.

There's obviously no need for more soldiers, but following a period of universal training kids could fulfill their national service obligation in things like teaching jobs, the park service, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


The Game-Changing Iran Report That Bibi Fears (J.J. Goldberg, August 21, 2015, The Forward)

Israel's military intelligence corps has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a surprising report assessing the opportunities and threats that the Iran nuclear deal poses for Israel.

What's startling about the report is not its substance, which is mostly a predictable mix of standard arguments presented for and against the deal: No nukes for 10 years, which gives Israel time to develop new countermeasures, but then a quick path to a nuke after a decade; an accelerated regional arms race, plus new legitimacy for pariah Iran, but also (surprisingly) a reduced likelihood of Iran attacking Israel. The upsides aren't perfect. The downsides aren't unmanageable.

No, what's remarkable about the report is the fact that it exists. Netanyahu has ordered every level of Israeli officialdom to muzzle any discussion of the deal's possible upsides. Central to his strategy is his insistence that the deal is an unmitigated catastrophe. Orders are to depict it as so ruinous that no outcome is acceptable short of its absolute defeat.

The prime minister and his allies insist Israel is united behind his unequivocal rejection of the deal. The cowering silence of the political opposition has helped him nurture the myth. But it's a myth.

Now comes word that his intelligence community is defying the gag order and telling him otherwise. The deal offers Israel both advantages and disadvantages, the spooks say. The disadvantages are not too calamitous for anyone to cope with them. For an outside observer, the logical conclusion is that Netanyahu's fiery confrontation with the Obama administration is unnecessary. And destructive.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


No time for an interest rate hike (Lawrence Summers, August 23, 2015, Washington Post)

The Fed, like most central banks, has operationalized price stability in terms of a 2 percent inflation target. The dominant risk of missing this target is to the downside -- a risk that would be exacerbated by tightening policy. At present, more than half the components of the consumer price index (CPI) have declined over the past six months for the first time in more than a decade. Core CPI (excluding volatile food, energy and difficult-to-measure housing) is rising at less than 1 percent, and the most recent comprehensive measure of inflation costs rose at an annual rate of 0.7 percent over the past quarter. Critically, market-based measures of inflation expectations over the next decade suggest that it will be well under 2 percent. If, as now seems likely, the currencies of China and other emerging markets further depreciate, downward pressure on U.S. inflation rates will increase.

The Fed is under pressure to hike rates just to prove that Ms Yellin would raise rates, not because underlying economic conditions support a hike.  Indeed, the deflationary conditions suggest a rate cut is more appropriate.
Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Stabenow sides with Obama on Iran (Karoun Demirjian, August 24, 2015, Washington Post)

Her decision puts Republicans opposed to the deal precariously close to losing their fight to block the Iran deal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Editor's Note A note to readers (LA Times, 7/28/15)'

In a May 11 post on The Times' OpinionLA blog, Ted Rall -- a freelance cartoonist whose work appears regularly in The Times -- described an incident in which he was stopped for jaywalking on Melrose Avenue in 2001. Rall said he was thrown up against a wall, handcuffed and roughed up by an LAPD motorcycle policeman who also threw his driver's license into the sewer. Rall also wrote that dozens of onlookers shouted in protest at the officer's conduct.

Since then, the Los Angeles Police Department has provided records about the incident, including a complaint Rall filed at the time. An audiotape of the encounter recorded by the police officer does not back up Rall's assertions; it gives no indication that there was physical violence of any sort by the policeman or that Rall's license was thrown into the sewer or that he was handcuffed. Nor is there any evidence on the recording of a crowd of shouting onlookers.

In Rall's initial complaint to the LAPD, he describes the incident without mentioning any physical violence or handcuffing but says that the police officer was "belligerent and hostile" and that he threw Rall's license into the "gutter." The tape depicts a polite interaction.

In addition, Rall wrote in his blog post that the LAPD dismissed his complaint without ever contacting him. Department records show that internal affairs investigators made repeated attempts to contact Rall, without success.

It took them this long to fire him because the stuff he writes is fictional?

August 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Just how much media coverage is Donald Trump getting? (Brian Stelter and Lee Alexander, 8/23/15, CNNMoney)

Since the first Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump has received more attention on the nightly news than his 16 rivals -- combined.

In fact, Trump coverage alone almost doubled all the other GOP candidate coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Alabama tried a Donald Trump-style immigration law. It failed in a big way. (David Weigel, August 22, 2015, Washington Post)

In 2011, a new Republican legislature and governor enacted HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Chief sponsor Micky Hammon warned the undocumented population that he would "make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves." Renting a house or giving a job to an "illegal" became a crime. Police were empowered to demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looked as if he or she might lack it. School administrators were instructed to do the same to children.

The backlash was massive -- a legal assault that chipped away at the law, and a political campaign that made Republicans own its consequences. Business groups blamed the tough measures for scaring away capital and for an exodus of workers that hurt the state's agriculture industry. After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, strategists in his own party blamed his support for the Alabama attrition policy. Those critics included Donald Trump.

"He had a crazy policy of self-
deportation, which was maniacal," Trump told reporter Ronald Kessler after the election. "It sounded as bad as it was."

Asked about the law, Alabama voters rarely say that it worked. Large farms spent millions training new workers. The Byrds conceded that the agriculture sector suffered after some immigrants fled the state. "Most of them left and didn't come back," said Terry Darring-Rogers, who works at a Mobile law firm specializing in immigration.

The debate seemed to be over -- nice try, lesson learned -- until the summer of Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Garoppolo's sharp game vs. Saints should soothe Patriots' worries (Sean Wagner-McGough, August 22, 2015, CBS Sports)

Garoppolo consistently and methodically completed passes, leading the Patriots on five scoring drives. By the time the game ended, Garoppolo had racked up 269 yards. He also completed 28 of 33 passes, threw one touchdown pass, and accumulated a passer rating of 98.1. Despite tossing one interception, his accuracy and comfort in the Patriots' offensive system shouldn't go unnoticed.

Garoppolo's day started with 1:50 left in the first quarter, replacing Brady, who went 2 of 5 for 13 yards. 

Roger Goodell's insistence on acting as emperor makes the NFL vulnerable to a legal smackdown (Sally Jenkins, August 21, 2015, Washington Post)
In DeflateGate there has been a weird inversion: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell set out to expose Tom Brady, and instead he has exposed himself and the entire league. It was at first baffling to watch Goodell commit such acts of overreach. It has since become merely revealing of a catastrophic arrogance. In going after Brady and the New England Patriots on such a flimsy premise as the inflation of footballs, Goodell has steadily etched out his real character and attitudes, and in doing so he has bared himself and the league to searing judicial review. [...]

What they didn't count on was a judge who refuses to accept the premise that he is supposed to shut up and rubber stamp. And who has decided to pour some sunshine on the entire process and give us a delightful lesson in the labor principles at stake. Berman's scathing questioning of the NFL in a hearing this week demonstrated that arbitration is not meant to preclude judicial review or to force an employee to surrender to the whims of power-crazed managers.

While Goodell has sweeping powers to issue player discipline under the CBA, Berman made it clear he does not have the right to willfully misstate and mislead, gin up phony investigations based on pseudo-science and then issue draconian four-game suspensions simply because he's furious Brady and the New England Patriots don't say, "All hail to the emperor."

"There has to be some basic process of fairness that needs to be followed," Berman said.

Time after time, Berman issued observations from the bench that made the NFL attorneys' shoulders curl. He called the league's lack of proof that anything was deflated in the AFC championship game "a conspicuous absence."

Perhaps most embarrassingly, he publicly busted Goodell for his irrational twisting of highly equivocal evidence into the assertion that Brady masterminded an illegal "scheme" that was on par with steroids. "A quantum leap," Berman scoffed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Belief growing in Koch-backed group that winning presidency beats finding perfect Republican (THOMAS BEAUMONT, 8/23/15, Associated Press)

The head of the conservative Koch brothers' flagship political organization is saying a Republican winning the presidency in 2016 is becoming a higher priority for more of its members than finding an ideologically pure one.

Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips tells The Associated Press, there is "a sense of urgency about the future," unlike he has seen since the group started a decade ago.

August 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


The Robot Roughnecks: Out Of The Oil Bust Comes A Golden Age Of Drilling Technology (Christopher Helman, 8/21/15, Forbes)

Rather than drillers using intuition and experience to seek oil, today a core part of NOV's business is selling technology that lets machines do the heavy lifting. "We are in the golden age of oilfield technology," says Williams.

NOV has been working to perfect its automated drilling techniques for more than three years. At one of the company's nerve centers in Houston, sensors embedded behind drill bits cutting through rock miles underground feed real-time data to charts and squiggles on giant screens. Engineers talk over headsets, using the data to advise workers on board rigs across the country and the Gulf of Mexico. A handful of wells don't get nearly as much human attention, because artificial intelligence is doing the work on some sections. Software sucks up real-time data on well conditions, runs it through painstakingly designed algorithms and immediately adjusts operations-much faster than humans can. Now that NOV has drilled automated wells for the likes of Hess HES -1.85% Corp., ConocoPhillips COP -3.55%, Chesapeake Energy CHK -4.08% and more, the verdict is in: Computers can do it 40% faster than humans.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Change the World 2015 (Fortune)

The world's inaugural mass-market hybrid, the Toyota arrived as a half-gas, half-battery-powered carriage that could reach a startling 40 miles per gallon, and promptly made everyone believe. Hybrids now account for about 3% of new car sales in the U.S.; in Japan that number is around 30%, with Toyota accounting for 40% of the world's hybrid market. And in September, Toyota speeds into the unknown once again as it launches the Toyota Mirai, the world's first mass-produced fuel-cell vehicle. Powered by hydrogen and emitting nothing but drops of water, it could be even more eco-friendly than its electric-vehicle peers. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Carbon nanofibres made from CO2 in the air (Jonathan Webb, 8/20/15, BBC News)

Scientists in the US have found a way to take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and make carbon nanofibres, a valuable manufacturing material.

Their solar-powered system runs a small current through a tank filled with a hot, molten salt; the fluid absorbs atmospheric CO2 and tiny carbon fibres slowly form at one of the electrodes.
It currently produces 10g per hour. [...]

[T]he approach offers a much cheaper way of making carbon nanofibres than existing methods, according to Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University.

"Until now, carbon nanofibres have been too expensive for many applications," he told journalists at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Carbon nanofibres are already used in high-end applications such as electronic components and batteries, and if costs came down they could be used more extensively - improving the strong, lightweight carbon composites used in aircraft and car components, for example.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Conservatives should stay far away from Trump's ethnic polarization (Michael Gerson, August 20, 2015, Washington Post)

Here is Trump explaining his proposal to Bill O'Reilly on Fox News: "We're losing so much to so many," including the jobs they're "taking" and "a literal crime wave." "We have to do something about it," Trump explained, because "we're losing our country." The plain meaning of the 14th Amendment -- which states that anyone born in the United States is a citizen -- won't be an obstacle to deportations because "many lawyers are saying that's not the way it is."

And then there was this exchange: "Do you envision federal police kicking in the doors in barrios around the country and dragging families out and putting them on a bus?" asked O'Reilly. "We have to start a process where we take back our country," responded Trump. "Our country is going to hell. We have to start a process . . . where we take back our country."

It is all fun and games until the mass roundups begin. [...]

It is not easy, but now necessary, to start examining Trump's joyful, spontaneous combination of ignorance and malice. Lawyers, of course, can be made to say anything. But they can't prove the 14th Amendment means something other than what it says. In the debates surrounding the amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Republican sponsors of these transformational measures affirmed that citizenship covered "children begotten of Chinese parents" as well as the children of "Gypsies" -- the hated immigrants of their time.

Radical Republicans embraced the principle of jus soli -- the grant of citizenship to those born on our soil -- for a reason. They wanted to constrain future political majorities from stealing the rights of children of any background. It is one of the most radical and wonderful things about the United States. If a desperate, impoverished, undocumented Guatemalan woman has a baby in Dallas today, that baby, when it comes to citizenship and the right to run for president, is Donald Trump's exact equal. And Trump can get two-thirds of the House and Senate, and three-quarters of state legislatures, to change it -- or he can lump it.

The essence of Trump's nativist politics is exactly the sort of hatred of America that animates the leftwing.
Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Employees Working Long Hours Face Increased Risk of Stroke, Study Finds (GILLIAN MOHNEY, 8/20/15, ABC News)

A long work week doesn't just mean less time for fun or friends, it can also mean an increased risk for certain cardiac events such as stroke or heart attack, according to a new study.

The large study published this week in the Lancet Medical Journal studied up to 603,838 individuals and found those that worked past a 40 hour work week faced increased health risks.

And there was a 33 percent increased risk of stroke for workers who spend more than 55 hours a week at the office, even after controlling for certain behavioral risks such as smoking and alcohol consumption, according to researchers at University College London and Umeå University in Sweden who looked that people chosen from largely the same pool of study subjects.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Common Core is here to stay (Jan Brewer, August 21, 2015, Fox News)

"I'm for higher standards, measured in an intellectually honest way," Bush said. "I don't believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards, directly or indirectly." Rubio articulated the same sentiment, adding, "[Reform] should happen at the state and local level. That is where educational policy belongs."

Those are principles any conservative voter can support. They're also the foundation of the Common Core State Standards. And while the term "Common Core" may still needle some critics who would like to return to the old model of education -- even though we know it wasn't working -- the conversation finally seems to be moving past semantics to focus on rigorous, comparable college- and career-ready education standards.

That may be because after two national elections in which opponents avowed the Common Core would be a litmus test for conservatives, voters demonstrated they support higher classroom expectations. Or it may be that the standards are showing early success in states like Kentucky and Tennessee, which have achieved steady, sizeable gains after implementing the tougher standards.

Whatever the case, most leaders are looking past the activists that still use the Common Core as a rallying cry and embracing the need for education standards that adequately prepare our students. This year no state legislatures passed legislation to repeal their Common Core standards, despite nearly 50 bills nationwide aimed at doing so. Instead, three states -- Louisiana, Tennessee and New Jersey -- launched reviews to hone and build on the standards further. And this is exactly what they were designed to do.

Educational standards, like the health mandate, are a conservative victory that the Right can't stand because a Democrat is president. It's a matter of partisanship, not policy nor principle.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Israel's Other Existential Threat Comes From Within (HILIK BARAUG. 20, 2015, NY Times)

Successive right-wing governments have adopted the mantra "there is no partner for peace." Of course, the Palestinians have not been the perfect partner -- and, of course, there is no such thing. You make peace with your enemies, as Yitzhak Rabin used to say.

In place of negotiations toward a two-state solution, however, the increasingly radicalized Israeli right has developed a strategy of "conflict management." The results are in: endless operations in Gaza, Israel's southern residents living under impossible conditions, Jerusalem on the verge of a third intifada, weakened Israeli deterrence and an Israel increasingly isolated in the world.

The only way for Israel now to remain both Jewish and democratic -- that is, for Israel to remain a democracy and retain its Jewish majority -- is to separate from the Palestinians via a two-state solution. Without such a settlement, Israel is drifting ineluctably toward becoming a binational state. And make no mistake: The logic of the binational state means an end to the Zionist project. This threat to Israel is so grave partly because it is happening at a slow enough pace that our leaders can essentially ignore the problem without facing electoral catastrophe.

A non-democratic Israel is neither Western nor an ally.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM

...AND CHEAPER... (self-reference alert):

Preparing for Life After Cable (THE EDITORIAL BOARDAUG. 21, 2015, NY Times)

American cable and satellite companies collectively lost more than 600,000 subscribers in the second quarter of this year, the biggest decline the industry has ever seen. Analysts expect the trend to accelerate as more people replace cable with Internet-based services like Netflix, HBO Now and Amazon, which are much cheaper than the traditional TV package offered by companies like Comcast and DirecTV.

On the whole, cutting the cord with cable should benefit consumers. It will help people save money and gain more control over their entertainment by allowing them to pay only for what they want to watch. Many Americans chafe at having to pay about $67 a month for dozens of TV channels they never use so they can watch a handful of shows. The price of cable and satellite TV service has roughly doubled over the last 20 years, rising about twice as fast as inflation, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We cancelled cable in March and (thanks in part to haven't missed it.  We'll get an HD-TV antenna for football season.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


The Heritage of Ta-Nehisi Coates : review of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates  (HELEN ANDREWS, 8/21/15, University Bookman)

Since the end of Jim Crow, authors who have asserted that white America is not just misguided but actively wicked in its dealings with black America have tended to grow hazy when it comes to what benefit, exactly, white America derives from this villainy. Here we see why: Generally it is the least plausible link in an already tenuous logical chain. In Baldwin's case, one can only say that if there was a conspiracy to make diligent worker bees of black urban males, it has not gone to plan. In the annals of cui bono, this ranks with the time the head of SNCC said we were in Vietnam "for the rice supplies."

With Coates, the central weakness of his argument is that everything always comes back to the violence of "the streets." School, to him, is just a meaningless hurdle designed to furnish a pretext for white indifference to that violence. The "daily everyday violence that folks live under" puts the April 2015 riots in Baltimore beyond condemnation. What "daily everyday" violence, and at whose hands? That the perpetrators are mostly young and black can be surmised from the list of little violence-avoiding choices that, Coates says, tyrannized his mental life as a child--what to wear, where to sit at lunch, what route to take to and from school, with what friends from what neighborhoods. Then there is this story he tells about his mother:

When your grandmother was sixteen years old a young man knocked on her door. The young man was your Nana Jo's boyfriend. No one else was home. Ma allowed this young man to sit and wait until your Nana Jo returned. But your great-grandmother got there first. She asked the young man to leave. Then she beat your grandmother terrifically, one last time, so that she might remember how easily she could lose her body.

And here the weakness becomes plain, because the connection that Coates keeps trying to insinuate into existence between the black violence he has observed and the white menace he has postulated just snaps. White supremacy did not invent the rule that young women should generally keep male callers on the doorstep when they are home alone. The danger against which this rule is a precaution is not a racial one.

Once the reader pulls on this string, the whole web starts to unravel, because the connection between white supremacy and the other violence Coates describes is not very well substantiated either. If suburbia is to blame for young Ta-Nehisi getting beat up on his way home from school, it is only in the most abstract, cosmic sense. And at what metaphysical remove does it become fair to write, as Coates does, that the Baltimore street toughs of his youth "in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats and full-length fur-collared leathers ... their armor against their world," were "girding themselves against the ghosts of the bad old days when the Mississippi mob gathered round their grandfathers"? A damned rarefied one--the same one from which Baldwin blamed white people for the assassination of Malcolm X because "whoever did it was formed in the crucible of the American Republic."

...such polemicists simply overestimate their own importance. White mistreatment of blacks has been harmful to the former as well as the latter, not beneficial, and has not contributed at all to the Republic's greatness.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Mashaal confirms Hamas holding truce talks with Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL,  August 21, 2015)

Hamas's political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal said Friday that talks to mediate a truce between Israel and the terror group are progressing "positively" but an agreement has yet to be reached, according to a report in a London-based Arabic paper.

The report, in al-Araby al-Jadeed, was published on Friday as an excerpt of an interview with Mashaal ahead of a full interview that will be available on the paper's website on Saturday.

In the interview, Mashaal enumerated five obstacles standing in the way of a long-term ceasefire with Israel -- reconstruction of the Gaza Strip; removal of the blockade on Gaza and opening of the border crossings; solving an employment crisis involving some 50,000 unemployed residents of the Strip; allowing the construction of a seaport and airport in the Strip; and building water and electricity infrastructures in the territory.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Change the World 2015 (Fortune)

Earlier this year, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon kicked off his company's biannual sustainability milestone meeting by showing off a new, improved bottle of detergent: the Purex PowerShot. Developed by Walmart with the manufacturer, Henkel, the product uses less water and is 30% more efficient and 50% more effective than the old version, but costs the same, McMillon said. Partnering to create a better product is a process Walmart can replicate "hundreds of thousands of times over again," he said. Indeed, the world's largest retailer does sustainability on a massive scale. It has been 10 years since former CEO Lee Scott kicked off a new era of corporate responsibility at Walmart by establishing three goals: to be 100% supplied by renewable energy, to eliminate waste from its massive system, and to create a more sustainable supply chain. Walmart today gets 26% of its electricity from renewable sources and operates with 9% less energy intensity than in 2010. Nearly 1,300 of its suppliers now use its Sustainability Index--and by the end of 2015 the company will have eliminated 20 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions from its supply chain. The company estimates its suppliers will increase the recycled content in their packaging by 1 billion pounds by 2020. Walmart set another example in 2015 when it raised the minimum wage for all workers, spurring rivals like Target and TJX to boost pay as well.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


3 American friends tackle and hogtie gunman aboard European train (Michael Birnbaum, August 22, 2015, Washington Post)

The three Americans were on a weeks-long tour through Europe, enjoying time together after Alek Skarlatos, 22, a National Guardsman from Roseburg, Ore., had been deployed to Afghanistan. Stone, an Air Force serviceman, is based in the Azores. Anthony Sadler is a student at Sacramento State University, according to their families.

The shooter emerged from a train bathroom with what the Americans believed to be an AK-47, according to family members whom they spoke with shortly after the incident. The men saw a train employee run down the aisle of the train, followed by the attacker.

"Alek said that they were about 30 feet away and ran for him, and Spencer, the friend, got him down, and Alek took the gun and knocked him a few times with the butt of the gun," said Skarlatos's stepmother, Karen Skarlatos, by telephone. "Then the shooter grabbed for a handgun, which they took away from him as well, and then he grabbed for a cutter, a box cutter or a knife or something."

After the attacker was overpowered, a fourth man, British national Chris Norman, helped tie him up.

In the struggle, Stone was injured by the knife, she said. But the men managed to hogtie the assailant and subdue him, she said. A shaky cellphone video of the outcome showed the subdued man, shirtless and in white pants, lying with his front on the floor of the train car, his legs tied up in the air.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Barak: Netanyahu wanted to strike Iran in 2010 and 2011, but colleagues blocked him (TIMES OF ISRAEL, August 21, 2015)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities in 2010 and 2011, but was prevented from doing so, first by his army chief of staff and then by ministerial colleagues, Netanyahu's former defense minister Ehud Barak said.

Barak, who supported Netanyahu's desire to hit Iran, was speaking in recordings broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 on Friday night. The material apparently comes from conversations related to a new biography of Barak being written by Danny Dor and Ilan Kfir. The former defense minister, who was also previously prime minister and chief of staff, attempted to prevent the broadcasting of the recordings, but Israel's military censors allowed Channel 2 to play them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Sweden to boost military ties with US (The Local, 22 Aug 2015)

In the interview with the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Hultqvist called the Russian government under Vladimir Putin authoritarian and nationalistic and said closer military ties with the US could help preserve peace and security.

The announcement comes in the wake of a visit to Stockholm last Wednesday by US Senator John McCain, during which he met he met Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, Defence Minister Hultqvist and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Sverker Göranson. Discussions about Russia were high on the agenda.

"John McCain as chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services plays a central roll in American policy, even if he's not part of the administration," Hultqvist told the paper. "His coming to Sweden was not only a courtesy call, but part of a process that is about deepening and developing our cooperation with the US."

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Decades of Data Fail to Resolve Debate on Treating Tiny Breast Lesions (GINA KOLATA, AUG. 21, 2015, NY Times)

In an era when there has been so much study of how to treat more advanced cancer, it might seem odd that there is so much uncertainty about these minute sprinklings of abnormal cells, often called Stage 0 cancer, which some say are not cancers at all.

The latest round of controversy was set off by a paper published Thursday in JAMA Oncology that analyzed 20 years of data on 100,000 women who had the condition, which is also known as ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C.I.S. The majority had lumpectomies (with or without radiation) and most of the others had mastectomies. The death rate from breast cancer of these patients, regardless of their choice of treatment, over the next 20 years was about the same as the lifetime risk in the general population of women, 3.3 percent.

The study's authors and other leading researchers in the field said the data indicates that treatment has not made much of a difference, if any, for the tens of thousands women a year who are told they have this condition. (Last year about 60,000 in the United States got a D.C.I.S. diagnosis.) One piece of evidence is that the women who had mastectomies had their entire breast cut off and so if D.C.I.S. was, as many had thought, a precursor to cancer or an early cancer, their death rate should have been lower than it was for women who had lumpectomies that could have left D.C.I.S. cells behind.

Another major clue is that though tens of thousands of cases of D.C.I.S. were being diagnosed and aggressively treated each year, there seemed to be no substantial impact on the incidence of invasive breast cancers found annually in the general population. About 240,000 were diagnosed with it last year. If treating D.C.I.S. was supposed to fend off invasive breast cancer, the incidence of invasive breast cancer should have plummeted once D.C.I.S. was being found and treated, the experts said.

That has intensified questions about what D.C.I.S. really is -- cancer, precancer, a risk factor for cancer?

Before mammography, only a few hundred women a year were diagnosed with D.C.I.S. It was a condition almost always noticed only on autopsies. 

Another cancer you die with, not from.
Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


The Scarlet Letter and Ashley Madison (GRACY OLMSTEAD • August 22, 2015, American Conservative)
Many people had no idea Ashley Madison, a "dating website marketed at would-be adulterers," existed before this week. Now, they're not likely to forget it. The site's hacking has resulted in the release of information from 32 million users of the site. As these users' emails--and thus, their identities--have come to light, a manhunt has begun.

The site's very existence seems rather odd, at least at first glance: who would give their personal information to a website publicly set up to help you cheat on your spouse? It seems the risk is hardly worth taking. It seems some, at least, would fear that their membership would come back to haunt them.

But while it's impossible to know exactly why so many signed up for Ashley Madison accounts--with their work emails, no less--one can imagine that there was an extent to which the website's mere existence, its promise of a sheltering and complicit community, soothed many consciences.

Because that's what Ashley Madison did: it organized and fostered a community around cheating. We speak of the importance of private associations, their ability to inculcate habits of virtue. But here, we see the opposite: we see an association fostering and even facilitating vice. And this is the dark side of community that we forget about: we forget that peer support and approval will motivate us to do things we may otherwise have avoided--or at least felt guilty about.

But in the past several days, in the massive manhunt for guilty parties, we see a social ethic of truth and moral indignation (tinged by revenge and a lust for sensationalism) engulf Ashley Madison's community of complicity. 

Privacy only ever guards evil.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


There's Rising Potential for a Tactical Military Clash on the Korean Peninsula (Bruce Klingner, August 20, 2015, Daily Signal)

North Korea has increased artillery and anti-aircraft training along the DMZ, including practicing "rolling out artillery cannons from bunkers to aim at South Korean posts."

Seoul resumed the broadcasts after North Korean soldiers infiltrated and planted a landmine that maimed two South Korean soldiers. South Korea also responded to the landmine attack by changing its military rules of engagement for infiltrations by eliminating the requirement to provide shouted warnings and warning shots prior to directly firing upon the enemy.

Previously, in response to two North Korea naval attacks in 2010, Seoul similarly loosened its maritime rules of engagement by removing restrictions on returning fire. At that time, South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that it would respond to a North Korean attack by "forcefully and decisively striking not only the point of origin of provocation and its supporting forces but also its command leadership."

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo vowed last week to expand the broadcasts "to full-scale" and indicated Seoul is also considering resuming balloon flights of anti-Pyongyang leaflets into North Korea. In October 2014, the two Koreas exchanged machine gun fire across the DMZ after the North attempted to shoot down propaganda balloons.

Less constrained South Korean rules of engagement, combined with President Park Geun-hye's exhortation to the military to deal "sternly" to any North Korean provocation raises the potential for a military clash along the DMZ or the West Sea.

The incident occurred during the annual U.S.-South Korean Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise which always elicits North Korean threats of military attack.

Pyongyang has often claimed that allied military exercises--such as those currently underway--are provocations that justify North Korean attacks. 

The US has stepped in to help the other peoples of the Axis of Evil, but we leave the North Koreans abandoned to the predations of their regime. It's long past time to decapitate the DPRK.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Why Progressives Are Wrong to Revere Margaret Sanger (Paul Kengor, August 21, 2015, Daily Signal)

The love by liberals for Planned Parenthood and its founder seems to know no bounds. A professor, blogging at the New York Times, has argued for placing Margaret's mug on the $20 bill.

And alas, even the Smithsonian, America's museum, boasts a handsome bust of Sanger in its stately National Portrait Gallery.

Margaret is there enshrined in the Smithsonian's vaunted "Struggle for Justice" exhibit.

This brings me to my reason for writing here today: a group of angry African-American pastors are demanding the removal of Sanger's bust from the Smithsonian.

The letter from Ministers Taking a Stand states:

"Perhaps the Gallery is unaware that Ms. Sanger supported black eugenics, a racist attitude toward black and other minority babies, an elitist attitude toward those she regarded as 'the feeble minded;' speaking at a rally of Ku Klux Klan women; and communications with Hitler sympathizers. Also the notorious 'Negro Project,' which sought to limit, if not eliminate black births, was her brainchild."

The pastors quote an infamous December 1939 letter from Sanger to Dr. Clarence Gamble of the Eugenics Society, where, in the context of discussing the Negro Project, Sanger wrote: "We do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out the idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members."

The succinct, powerful statement from the pastors adds: "Despite these well-documented facts of history, her bust sits proudly in your gallery as a hero of justice. The obvious incongruity is staggering!"

August 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


Homes Make as Much Energy as They Use : Will zero-net-energy homes be the wave of the future? (Brittany Patterson, August 21, 2015, Scientific American)

Mutual Housing, the Sacramento-based nonprofit housing developer that operates the Spring Lake development, a ZNE complex of townhomes and apartments specifically for agricultural workers and their families, began by asking its future residents what qualities they wanted to see in their homes. The group sent its Spanish-speaking employees into the farm fields as well as packing and processing plants nearby to conduct a survey and get to know its constituency better.

Top of the list was lower rents, said Vanessa Guerra, a project manager with Mutual Housing, but the second most important desired trait surprised her.

"The rising costs of utilities was a big thing that was impacting their ability to be able to make it by day by day," she said. "That's when we decided for sure that zero net energy was a goal we were going to make for this property."

Across the United States, but especially in California, ZNE residential and commercial buildings are growing in number. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of buildings achieving ZNE doubled, according to the New Buildings Institute, which tracks this industry trend. In a way, it makes sense because buildings are a major consumer of power, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of all energy used in the country.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using less energy--a tangible sell for residents and developers trying to get local governments on board for ZNE projects--is the allure of hugely reduced utility bills. To achieve such high levels of efficiency, homes must be built more airtight, which reduces indoor air pollution levels.

"I've heard amazing stories from many homeowners that they've throw away their inhalers after living in homes like this and amazing stories of negative utility bills," said Sam Rashkin, chief architect of the Building Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy with the Department of Energy. "This is where we think the industry is going."

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Credit Scores Are Rising, and Becoming More Visible (ANN CARRNS, 8/20/15, NY Times)

Consumers appear to be better these days at managing their use of credit: Average scores have reached new highs and delinquent payments have dropped.

The national average FICO score is now 695 -- the highest it has been in at least a decade, according to the latest analysis from Fair Isaac Corporation, the score's creator. Nearly 20 percent of consumers now have scores above 800.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Americans Foil Gunman on French Train, Officials Say (ADAM NOSSITER, AUG. 21, 2015, NY Times)

A heavily armed gunman opened fire aboard a packed high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris late Friday afternoon, wounding several passengers before he was tackled and subdued by two Americans, French officials said, describing the pair as heroes who may have averted a mass killing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


White House confirms key Isis leader killed in US air strike (Reuters,  21 August 2015)

The second-in-command of the Islamic State militant group was killed during a US air strike in Iraq on Tuesday, the White House said on Friday, dealing a blow to the group that has sought to form a caliphate in the Middle East.

"Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Hajji Mutazz ... was killed in a US military air strike on August 18 while traveling in a vehicle near Mosul, Iraq, along with an Isil(Isis) media operative known as Abu Abdullah," White House spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM



Looking ahead to possible general election preferences of Wisconsin voters:

Clinton 47, Bush 42.
Clinton 52, Walker 42.
Clinton 50, Cruz 38.
Clinton 51, Trump 35.

His purple state appeal was his entire sales pitch.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Jimmy Carter: The Man from Plains Who was a Man of Faith (Joseph McAuley, Aug 20 2015, America)

When he was sworn in as president on that very cold day on January 20th, 1977, Jimmy Carter said and did things that were unexpected, yet so gracious and so American at the same time: after taking the oath of office, he turned to his presidential predecessor (whom he had defeated the previous November) and, with outstretched hand, he said: "For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land," to Mr. Ford's embarrassment, yet obvious pride and gratitude. And in acknowledging his grade-school teacher, Miss Julia Coleman, he appreciated all those who guided him who set him on his life's path. And later, when getting out of the presidential limousine with Mrs. Carter, he walked for a time along Pennsylvania Avenue in a gesture of solidarity with his fellow Americans, something that hadn't been done since the time of Thomas Jefferson, when he simply walked from his boardinghouse to the Capitol for his swearing in.

However, the most important thing to say about Jimmy Carter is what he himself said on that Inauguration Day so long ago. As is usually tradition in presidential inaugurals, a passage from Scripture is quoted and reflected upon. Facing his countrymen, Mr. Carter spoke the words of the prophet Micah: ""He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

Jimmy Carter is now about to embark on another journey. He does not know when it will end; but he does know how it will end, and that it will end. It is one which will require everything that he has; but because of faith, he believes he is ready for it. His whole life has prepared him for that moment. In a sense, the title of his presidential memoirs summarizes the kind of life he has tried to lead: Keeping Faith. He has done his best to adhere to those words of the prophet Micah, and he is ready once again "to walk humbly with thy God."  And for him, those words might just be the best epitaph that can be given for the man from Plains who was a man of faith. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Recolonising international law: Israel's naval blockade against Gaza (AZEEZAH KANJI, 20 August 2015, Open Democracy)

In 2007, Israel imposed a policy of land closure on the Gaza Strip, severely restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory as a punishment for Hamas's 2006 electoral victory. A naval blockade followed in 2009, tightening the vice on the besieged population.

Under the land-and-sea blockade, Israel has deprived the population of food, medical supplies, and building equipment--not to mention a long, sundry list of other basics items (light bulbs and baby formula, mattresses and blankets, shampoo and conditioner). The naval blockade is Israel's legal justification for the interception of successive Freedom Flotillas carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza: interceptions which would otherwise contravene the freedom of the high seas in international law.

Legal experts have decried the unlawfulness of Israel's blockade under international humanitarian law (the technical term for the laws of war): because it violates the restriction on blockades with the purpose or effect of civilian starvation; because it violates the prohibition on collective punishment of civilian populations during war; because it violates Israel's obligation as an occupying power to ensure adequate supply of food and medicine to the occupied. (Israel denies that it occupies Gaza, because it formally withdrew from the territory in 2005. However, due to Israel's continued exertion of multiple forms of power in the Gaza Strip--including control of the territory's land crossings, territorial waters, airspace, telecommunications, and electricity; deployment of military incursions, rocket attacks, and sonic booms; management of the Palestinian Population Registry; and regular exercise of its capacity to invade Gaza, and arrest and prosecute its residents--multiple authorities have concluded that Gaza is still occupied.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Want 'sustained happiness'? Get religion, study suggests (Sarah Pulliam Bailey August 14, 2015, Washington Post)  
Chad Mizelle sits in silent meditation during service at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington. (Erin Schaff/For The Washington Post)
A new study suggests that joining a religious group could do more for someone's "sustained happiness" than other forms of social participation, such as volunteering, playing sports or taking a class.

A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology by researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that the secret to sustained happiness lies in participation in religion.

"The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life," Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at LSE and an author of the study, said in a statement. "It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated."

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Law in the Time of Endless War (Robert Golan-Vilella, 8/21/15, National Interest)

 In May 2013, President Obama gave a landmark speech [10] at the National Defense University on his counterterrorism policy. Afterward, Benjamin Wittes remarked [11] that the "unifying theme" of that speech was that "it was an effort to align himself as publicly as possible with the critics of the positions his administration is taking without undermining his administration's operational flexibility in actual fact."

The use of the 2001 AUMF as the legal basis for Operation Inherent Resolve represents a classic example of this approach. Obama stated in his NDU speech that he wanted to engage "Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF's mandate." He has reiterated [12] this pledge as recently as this year. His administration, however, has done exactly nothing toward this end. Indeed, it has since expanded the AUMF's mandate by using it as the legal basis for its military actions in Iraq and Syria. And it has even been reported [13] lately that Obama has authorized using force against the regime of Bashar al-Assad as well if it were to come into direct conflict with U.S.-backed forces in Syria. At Cato, Healy said that the AUMF has become "an all-purpose enabling statute for presidential wars." It would be hard to disagree.

Or consider the prison at Guantánamo Bay. In his first week in office in 2009, Obama issued an executive order calling for the facility to be shuttered within a year. Six and a half years later, the prison remains open, with 116 detainees [14] kept there as of this writing. Obama continues to decry the prison as a moral outrage, saying [15] this March, for example, that "it's not who we are as a country." But his administration still embraces the practice of indefinite detention that is Guantánamo's most notable characteristic. Even if Congress were to drop all of its objections and the prison were to be closed, under the administration's own stated plans, 32 of the prisoners [16] would still be designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Or consider the U.S. intervention in Libya. In 2007, on the campaign trail, Obama said, in response to a questionnaire [17] from reporter Charlie Savage, that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Then, in 2011, he did precisely that, ordering the use of military force for roughly half a year to help overthrow the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. His administration argued at the time that, as the New York Times summarized [18], the president "had the authority to continue the military campaign without Congressional approval because American involvement fell short of full-blown hostilities."

Or, finally, consider the war in Afghanistan. Last December, Obama issued a statement [19] in which he declared that "our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion." This year, on Memorial Day, he said [20] that day was the first Memorial Day "since our war in Afghanistan came to an end." But roughly ten thousand U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, conducting counterterrorism operations [21], among other things. And the pace of America's planned drawdown has been delayed [22], with that number to remain there through the end of 2015.

You are what you do, not what you say:

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


Debt Is Good (Paul Krugman, 8/21/15, NY Times)

[The power of the deficit scolds was always a triumph of ideology over evidence, and a growing number of genuinely serious people -- most recently Narayana Kocherlakota, the departing president of the Minneapolis Fed -- are making the case that we need more, not less, government debt.


One answer is that issuing debt is a way to pay for useful things, and we should do more of that when the price is right. The United States suffers from obvious deficiencies in roads, rails, water systems and more; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at historically low interest rates. So this is a very good time to be borrowing and investing in the future, and a very bad time for what has actually happened: an unprecedented decline in public construction spending adjusted for population growth and inflation.

Beyond that, those very low interest rates are telling us something about what markets want. I've already mentioned that having at least some government debt outstanding helps the economy function better. How so? The answer, according to M.I.T.'s Ricardo Caballero and others, is that the debt of stable, reliable governments provides "safe assets" that help investors manage risks, make transactions easier and avoid a destructive scramble for cash.

Now, in principle the private sector can also create safe assets, such as deposits in banks that are universally perceived as sound. In the years before the 2008 financial crisis Wall Street claimed to have invented whole new classes of safe assets by slicing and dicing cash flows from subprime mortgages and other sources.

But all of that supposedly brilliant financial engineering turned out to be a con job: When the housing bubble burst, all that AAA-rated paper turned into sludge. So investors scurried back into the haven provided by the debt of the United States and a few other major economies. In the process they drove interest rates on that debt way down.

And those low interest rates, Mr. Kocherlakota declares, are a problem. When interest rates on government debt are very low even when the economy is strong, there's not much room to cut them when the economy is weak, making it much harder to fight recessions. There may also be consequences for financial stability: Very low returns on safe assets may push investors into too much risk-taking -- or for that matter encourage another round of destructive Wall Street hocus-pocus.

What can be done? Simply raising interest rates, as some financial types keep demanding (with an eye on their own bottom lines), would undermine our still-fragile recovery. What we need are policies that would permit higher rates in good times without causing a slump. And one such policy, Mr. Kocherlakota argues, would be targeting a higher level of debt.

I was once talking to a member of the Dartmouth Econ faculty and he was venting about the debt.  I reminded him that there was no economic basis for his rage.  He responded that he knew that, but that deficits are unsightly.  That's the crux of the matter.  Debt is good policy, but bad aesthetically.  And aesthetics matter.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


What Behavioral Science Reveals About the Iran Debate (Cass R. Sunstein, 8/20/15, Bloomberg View)

Of all the findings in behavioral science, the most significant may be "loss aversion," the idea that people dislike losses a lot more than they like equivalent gains. Loss aversion can create big trouble for businesses and investors. And it can badly confuse political debate -- as it seems to be doing in the current discussions of the nuclear deal with Iran. [...]

In the case of the Iran agreement, both supporters and critics are appealing to people's loss aversion. But they use radically different reference points to warn about radically different losses. 

For supporters, the reference point is what the world would look like without the deal. If Congress rejects it, they say, multinational sanctions against Iran will unravel, allowing the country to advance its nuclear capabilities. 

More concretely, President Barack Obama argues that "our closest allies in Europe, or in Asia -- much less China or Russia -- certainly are not going to agree to enforce existing sanctions for another five, 10, 15 years according to the dictates of the U.S. Congress." If it forbids the deal, he says, "Congress would not merely pave Iran's pathway to a bomb, it would accelerate it."

For the deal's critics, on the other hand, the reference point is the status quo -- a world in which Iran lives under crippling sanctions and has no nuclear weapon. The deal, then, by offering sanctions relief, would eventually make Iran "stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program," according to Senator Charles Schumer, an opponent of the agreement. 

Sure, partisans in Iran, Israel and America stand to lose a bogeyman, but America stands to gain an ally against Salafism; further relief from oil prices and a trade partner.

August 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


The End of Iran's Islamic Revolution  (Saïd Amir Arjomand, AUG 20, 2015, Project Syndicate)

 After Khomeini's death in 1989, the pragmatic Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani became President, followed by the reform-minded Mohammad Khatami. But the hardliners struck back. When Khatami's reform program was ineffective, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an obscure officer of the Basij militia, was elected Mayor of Tehran in 2003 (after just 12% of the city's voters turned out), and then defeated Rafsanjani in 2005 to become President.

Ahmadinejad, a fanatical devotee of Khomeini, the revolution's first imam, was a reminder of the revolution's populist inception. To promote an aggressive nuclear policy was to vindicate Khomeini's battle against America, "the Great Satan." Only when Iran's voters lost patience with Ahmadinejad's incompetence and elected Hassan Rouhani in 2013 could the Islamic Revolution be said to be over. [...]

But there is a deeper reason for the success of the nuclear negotiations: Khomeini's Islamic revolution of 1979 has finally ended - and Khamenei knows it. He must also know that the export of Islamic revolution from Shia Iran has lost its allure, replaced in the Sunni world first by the global jihad of al-Qaeda and now by the so-called Islamic State and caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

For Iran, what counts now is no longer ideology but national interest and realpolitik. That is why it finds itself currently backing the opponents of revolutionary Islam: Bashar al-Assad against the Islamists in Syria and the Houthis against al-Qaeda in Yemen. And it is why it finds itself not only signing a nuclear accord with the Great Satan but also tacitly cooperating with it against the Islamic State, their common enemy. Now that the revolution is over, cooperation in other areas is likely to become equally appealing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


On nuclear deal, not all Israelis are with Netanyahu (DAN PERRY AND JOSEF FEDERMAN August 21, 2015, Times of Israel)

Some officials even see positive aspects in the deal, since it seems to sideline a critical issue for the next few years. "There are those in the Intelligence Corps, including those in the research division dealing with Iran, who have a very positive view of the nuclear agreement," wrote defense specialist Amir Oren in Haaretz.

Active officials can be prevented from speaking out, but some former security chiefs have raised their voices.

Efraim Halevy, a former head of the Mossad spy agency, said the deal forced Iran to accept an "unprecedented" system of inspections.

"Anyone who has followed events in Iran in recent decades or has studied the matter has to admit truthfully that he never believed Iran would ever agree to discuss these issues, let alone agree to" some of the deal's terms, he wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily after the deal was announced.

Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, has called the deal "the best option."

In its recent long-term assessment, the Israeli military did not include a nuclear Iran among the country's most pressing threats, focusing instead on Iranian-backed proxies along Israel's borders.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Greek bailout: Alexis Tsipras steps down to trigger new elections (Jon Henley, 20 August 2015, The Guardian)

Seven months after he was elected on a promise to overturn austerity, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced he is stepping down to pave the way for snap elections next month.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


The NBA Dunks on Taxpayers (WSJ, Aug. 19, 2015)

Last week Gov. Scott Walker helped dish a combined $250 million in state and local funding to help finance a new arena for the club. On the receiving end of this bundle of taxpayer cash are the three New York financiers who are the Bucks' principal owners-- Jamie Dinan, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. Each has appeared on the Forbes list of the world's richest people. Along with former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, they have graciously agreed to cover half the cost of housing their team.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Jeb Bush doesn't think Donald Trump is conservative enough to win (Catherine Garcia, August 19, 2015, The Week)

"Mr. Trump does not have a conservative record," Bush said. "He was a Democrat longer than he was a Republican. He's given more money to Democrats than he's given to Republicans. We're a conservative party, aren't we, the Republican party?" Trump's signature issue has become his hardline approach to immigration, which calls for immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants and the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, paid for by Mexico. Bush said that this wasn't truly conservative. "The language is pretty vitriolic, for sure, but hundreds of billions of dollars of cost to implement his plans is not a conservative plan," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Bush, Kasich Find Some Common Ground on Common Core (BETH REINHARD, Aug. 19, 2015, WSJ)

Steadfast support for the Common Core academic standards help make Jeb Bush and John Kasich the odd men out among their GOP presidential rivals.

"I'm not going to change my position because there's four people in the front row yelling at me," Mr. Kasich, the Ohio governor, said at an education summit Wednesday in this early-primary state, referring to conservative opposition to the education-accountability program. "I'm looking at all the facts and not getting all my information from the Internet."

Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, gave some ground to critics while insisting that holding students to rigorous benchmarks should be a priority. "If people don't like Common Core, fine, just make sure your standards are much higher than the ones you had before. We can't keep dumbing down standards," he said Wednesday. "If you don't measure, you basically don't care."

Two of the older political hands in the crowded, chaotic Republican race, Messrs. Bush and Kasich also differ from most of their 2016 rivals in emphasizing ways to help the underprivileged and backing legal status for undocumented workers.

All Republicans want education standards, some just want to call them something else.
Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Did Religious Fanaticism Cause the Civil War? : review of A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, by Thomas Fleming (Stephen Klugewicz, 8/20/15, Imaginative Conservative)

The title of this engaging analysis of the cause of the American Civil War comes from James Buchanan's reaction to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, which the president claimed stemmed from "an incurable disease in the public mind." Historian Thomas Fleming agrees with Buchanan that it was hysteria over the issue of slavery, generated by wild-eyed, intolerant, and impractical Yankee abolitionists, that sparked the tragic conflict between North and South. 

All American wars are a function of our fanatic devotion to the notion that all men are Created equal. We are intolerant of those who believe some are less equal than others or that man was not Created.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Biden Tops Trump In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll Finds (Quinnipiac University, 8/20/15)


Clinton has 48 percent of Florida Democrats, followed by 15 percent for Sanders and 11 percent for Biden, with 17 percent undecided. 

Among Republicans, Trump gets 21 percent, with 17 percent for Bush and 11 percent each for Rubio and Ben Carson. No other candidate tops 7 percent, with 8 percent undecided. 

In general election matchups in Florida:
Bush tops Clinton 49 - 38 percent and Rubio leads 51 - 39 percent while Trump gets 43 percent to Clinton's 41 percent.
Bush leads Biden 51 - 38 percent, with Rubio up 48 - 42 percent. Biden gets 45 percent to Trump's 42 percent.
Sanders trails Bush 54 - 35 percent and loses 52 - 36 percent to Rubio and 45 - 41 percent to Trump.
Clinton gets a negative 37 - 55 percent favorability rating and voters say 64 - 32 percent she is not honest and trustworthy. Biden gets a split 44 - 43 percent favorability rating and voters say 52 - 40 percent he is honest and trustworthy. 

Trump gets a negative 36 - 50 percent favorability rating and voters say 53 - 39 percent he is not honest and trustworthy. Bush gets a 53 - 39 percent favorability and voters say 64 - 28 percent he is honest and trustworthy. Rubio gets a 52 - 35 percent favorability and voters say 58 - 30 percent he is honest and trustworthy. "In the battle of Floridians, former Gov. Jeb Bush is holding off U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and the former mentor to Rubio scores higher when voters rate the two men's personal qualities," Brown said.  [...]


 In general election matchups: 

Bush gets 43 percent to 40 percent for Clinton. Rubio tops Clinton 47 - 40 percent while Clinton beats Trump 45 - 40 percent. 

Bush is at 43 percent to Biden's 42 percent. Rubio has 44 percent to Biden's 41 percent. Biden beats Trump 48 - 40 percent. 

Sanders trails Bush 44 - 36 percent and loses 45 - 33 percent to Rubio. Sanders gets 44 percent to Trump's 41 percent. 

Pennsylvania voters give Clinton a negative 38 - 55 percent favorability rating and say 63 - 32 percent she is not honest and trustworthy. Biden gets a split 46 - 43 percent favorability rating and voters say 61 - 31 percent he is honest and trustworthy. 

Trump gets a negative 34 - 55 percent favorability rating and voters say 53 - 40 percent he is not honest and trustworthy. Bush gets a divided 41 - 43 percent favorability and voters say 54 - 36 percent he is honest and trustworthy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to $80 Oil (A. Gary Shilling, 8/20/15, Bloomberg View)

Me? I'm sticking with my forecast of $10 to $20 a barrel. The logic behind that February projection still seems valid. Cartels exist to keep prices above equilibrium. But that encourages cheating, as cartel members want more than their allotted share and outsiders sell more to take advantage of the artificially elevated price. So the job of the cartel leader -- in OPEC's case, Saudi Arabia -- is to cut its production to accommodate the cheaters and prevent a price collapse. The Saudis had been doing that for decades, and as a result, OPEC production over the last 10 years has been flat, with all the growth instead enjoyed by non-OPEC producers, including U.S. frackers and Canadian oil-sands companies.

The Saudis got tired of seeing their market share shift to others, so they and the other financially strong Persian Gulf producers decided to play a high-level game of chicken. They figured, in that Nov. 27 OPEC meeting, that they could withstand low oil prices longer than the cheaters. So they effectively abandoned quotas. OPEC production last month was 31.5 million barrels a day, the highest since May 2012 and up 1.5 million barrels a day from the previous ceiling. The Saudis themselves are producing a record 10.35 million barrels a day.

In this war, the chicken-out price isn't what's needed to meet budget requirements, which ranges between $40 a barrel in Kuwait and $125 a barrel in Venezuela. It isn't the cost of drilling, pipeline laying and other overhead expenses, either. No, it's the marginal cost of getting the oil out of the ground once the wells are drilled, the pipelines laid and the overhead covered. It's the price at which cash flow for an additional barrel drops to zero. In Texas's Permian Basin and in the Persian Gulf, the marginal cost is $10 to $20 a barrel, and even lower for some Saudi oil fields.

As long as prices exceed marginal cost, more (not less) production is encouraged to make up for lost revenue.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Marco Rubio asked about 'anchor babies,' responds with 'human beings' (Sean Sullivan August 20, 2015, Washington Post)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declined to use "anchor babies" in a television interview published online Thursday, instead calling children born in the United States to parents who did not enter legally "human beings."

"When I talk about 13 million people in this country [illegally], I say 13 million human beings," Rubio said in an interview with CNBC's John Harwood published Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Overcoming 'Anti-Foreign Bias' in Trade and Immigration (Joseph Sunde, 8/20/15, Acton)

Many conservatives exhibit a peculiar tendency to be pro-liberty when it comes to business, trade, and wages, but protectionist when it comes to the economic effects of immigration.

It's an odd disconnect, and yet, as we've begun to see with figures like Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, one side is bound to eventually give way. They'll gush about the glories of competition, but the second immigration gets brought up, they seem to defer to labor-union talking points from ages past.

It's the political silly season, so folks are discussing a Trump third party run, but there's a much more interesting hypothetical to contemplate.  Suppose that the two major parties nominated atheist candidates who oppose immigration and trade and favor national health : Trump & Sanders.

You'd have no one for religious voters, economic voters or Latinos to vote for.  And neither party could turn out black voters in any number. 

It would be a situation begging Jeb--along with another Third Way governor (Democrat or Republican)--to mount a third party challenge.  A Bush/Kasich ticket, in particular, would be a powerful alternative.

August 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


This Low-Cost 3-D Printer Can Produce Human Organs And Bones (adele Peters, 8/19/15, Co.Exist)

At a lab in Philadelphia's Drexel University, a desktop 3-D printer is cranking out miniature samples of bones. In Toronto, another researcher is using the same printer to make living tumors for drug testing. It looks like an ordinary 3-D printer, but instead of plastic, it squirts out living cells.

BioBots, the startup behind the device, wants to change how researchers do biology. "We've been doing experiments on cells in a dish since 1905, and that's still what we're doing today to learn about how things work inside of our body," says Danny Cabrera, CEO of BioBots. "But the body is a three-dimensional structure. Cells in our body are used to interacting with the world in 3-D. The fact that we've been doing biology in 2-D for over 100 years now is sort of limiting."

In the past, the researcher with the 3-D printed tumors would have tested new tumor-fighting drugs in a dish or on an animal--neither of which really represents how the drug would actually work in the human body. The 3-D printed version gets much closer to the real thing. "It mimics the tumor micro-environment really well," says Cabrera. "So when you pass drugs to it, it really is a much better predictor of what the effects of those drugs is going to be." [...]

While biofabrication--building fake structures out of living tissue--has been around for a while, existing machines were expensive (some running half a million dollars), huge, and out of reach for most researchers. "Only a small number of institutions had the ability to use them," he says. "We set out to democratize that technology and to innovate build better tools."

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Mary MacLeod Trump Philanthropist, 88 (NY Times, August 9, 2000)

Mary MacLeod Trump, a philanthropist who supported charities near her home in Jamaica, Queens, and elsewhere, died on Monday at 88 at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, her family said.

Mrs. Trump was born Mary MacLeod on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland on May 10, 1912. On a visit to New York City in the 1930's, she met Fred C. Trump. They married in 1936 and settled in Jamaica Estates, and Mr. Trump went on to become one of the city's biggest developers.

They come temporarily and never return to their homes...
Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Iran Deal Is Shaping the Iraq War (Noah Feldman, 8/19/15, Bloomberg View)

[B]eyond an interest in the Byzantine manipulations of Iraqi politics, why should the rest of the world care about Abadi's move or Maliki's displacement?

The answer lies in the effects of the U.S.-Iran deal, which is now before Congress but is being treated by regional actors as a fait accompli. Abadi's move on Maliki reflects, through a glass darkly, the realignment of regional politics in light of the Iran deal. Where once Maliki was perceived as pro-Iran by Iraqi Sunnis and the U.S., today Abadi is pursuing a new approach in which, he is betting, U.S. and Iranian interests will be closely aligned, and maintaining a multi-sectarian, unified Iraq is no longer an inviolable goal. And the Iranians, having abandoned Maliki to his fate, seem to be on board.

There was always going to be a Shi'a state and a Kurdistan.  The interesting question was always whether the Sunni Arabs could pull themselves together enough to be a minority in the Shi'a state or declare an independent Sunni state.  Or whether they prefer a chaos in which they reside in a free-fire zone.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM

THE BOOK IS TERRIFIC (profanity alert):

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Catalonia: a new country in the making? (JORDI SOLE I FERRANDO 19 August 2015, Open Democracy)

How did we reach the point of being just a step away from an independent Catalan state when only a few years ago independentists were a parliamentary minority?

Firstly, because Catalonia's strong sense of nationhood is shared by the majority of the population and rooted in a history of having its own language and cultural traditions. This is inextricably linked to the collective willingness of its people to build a common future.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Iran may drop Palestinian cause, Hamas official says (TIMES OF ISRAEL, August 19, 2015)

The nuclear agreement signed between Iran and world powers may have negative effects on the Palestinians, as Tehran may choose to focus its efforts on interests its shares with the US, a senior Hamas official said Wednesday.

In a Twitter post, Moussa Abu Marzouk hinted that in light of the deal, Iran may no longer want to be regarded as a supporter of terror, and will thus drastically decrease its aid to groups such as the Gaza-based Hamas. "After the nuclear deal, Iran will become a major player in all crises in the region," Abu Marzouk offered, and will likely drop the Palestinian cause, "given the relations between Iran and Hamas at this time."

Last month, Abu Marzouk said that while Iran's aid "greatly helped the resistance in Palestine," funds designated to Hamas from Tehran have seen a sharply decline.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


In Jerusalem, Huckabee says West Bank not occupied, two-state solution unworkable (Julie Wiener, 8/19/15, JTA) 

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said Israel has as much right to the West Bank as the United States has to Manhattan.

Speaking at a press conference at Jerusalem's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Wednesday, the former Arkansas governor, who gave a speech in the West Bank settlement Shiloh on Tuesday said, according to The Guardian: "I don't see it as occupied, that makes it appear as if someone is illegally taking land. I don't see it that way."

He added: "In America, we have about a 400-year relationship to Manhattan. It would be as if I came and said we need to end our occupation of Manhattan. I'm pretty sure most Americans would find that laughable."

The one-state solution removes Israel from the West and from the brotherhood of democracies.
Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


For Hispanic Conservatives, Alarm Over Immigration Debate (AARON ZITNER, 8/19/15, WSJ)

When Donald Trump used the word "criminals" to describe illegal immigrants from Mexico, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly called his comments "extremely counterproductive."

Now, listen to the more personal language that Gonzalo Ferrer, the national chairman of the group, uses to describes Mr. Trump's most recent contributions to the immigration debate: "Extremely bigoted, offensive to all Hispanic-Americans, unconstitutional . . . and self-defeating."

Mr. Trump, he said, shows "reckless disregard for the harm he is causing to Republican Hispanic-American families and to the Republican cause."

These are troubling days for many people trying to promote the Republican Party and conservative ideals to Hispanic voters. Concern over the tone adopted by some GOP candidates has turned to alarm.

Trump Takes GOP Down the 14th Amendment Rabbit Hole (Jonathan S. Tobin, 08.19.2015, Commentary)

Last month the debate about illegal immigration shifted sharply against those who believed indifference or even resistance to attempts to enforce the rule of law. The murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant who had been released by authorities acting on the authority of a sanctuary city law highlighted a serious problem. Liberals, including Hillary Clinton, found themselves on the defensive with no way to explain why Democrats had backed such clearly dangerous proposals. But today Americans woke up to a new immigration debate and the 14th Amendment that has given the left back the moral high ground and put Republicans in the soup. Donald Trump has wrongly claimed credit for putting illegal immigration back on the nation's front burner. But it must be acknowledged that he deserves all the blame for this one. By proposing an end to birthright citizenship and wrongly claiming that the courts have never ruled on whether it applies even to the children of foreigners born in the United States, he has led the GOP down a rabbit hole from which there may be no escape. Thanks to the Donald, Americans have stopped worrying about sanctuary cities or even how best to secure the border and instead are the astonished onlookers to a sterile debate about stripping native-born Americans of their citizenship and fantasies about deporting 11 million illegals.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


The Credential Is Killing the Classroom : Don't Get a Degree: Get an Education Instead (ISAAC M. MOREHOUSE, August 12 2015, The Freeman)

"I wish college were like this!"

I hear this exclamation over and over at the seminars put on by organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education and the Institute for Humane Studies.

Attendees are blown away by the excellence of the content, the professors' willingness to engage students even in free time, and the intelligence and interest level of the other participants.

And it's not just the students who see a difference. Faculty also talk about how these seminars are far better than typical college classes.

What causes this distinction?

One obvious explanation is self-selection. Faculty and students who choose to give up a week of their summer to discuss ideas are high caliber and highly engaged.

But college has self-selection, too. Shouldn't it be full of professors and students who are earnest truth and knowledge seekers of the finest quality?

With the rare exception of one or two classes, college is nothing like this. Why does the self-selection only produce quality learning in these seminars?

It's because college offers an official credential -- a degree. Educational experiences outside of college do not.

That's it. Every other difference is insignificant.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Christie's Shift on Common Core Turns Off Some Donors (HEATHER HADDON, Aug. 18, 2015 , WSJ)

Mike Lilley, a former Goldman Sachs bond trader who supported Mr. Christie in the past, said the governor's denunciation of Common Core was one of a number of reasons he is now backing Mr. Bush. "The fact that he's stood there firmly while Walker, Jindal and Christie have walked back, matters more," Mr. Lilley said of Mr. Bush. "You should like people who stand up for their principles."

The Common Core standards were developed by state leaders to establish a uniform set of academic benchmarks in English and mathematics for each grade level. The program became controversial after President Barack Obama linked federal funding to the adoption of them or similar measurements.

"Business leaders have always been for higher standards and comparable standards," said Chester Finn, an assistant secretary of education under former President Ronald Reagan. "If those are the same people that Republican candidates are turning to for campaign funding, there is going to be an issue."

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Supermarket own-brand gins beat expensive rivals in Which? taste test (Rebecca Smithers, 18 August 2015, The Guardian)

Budget price supermarket gins - some a snip at less than a tenner a bottle - have trounced their more expensive and established rivals in a consumer taste test.

The supermarkets' own-label crisp dry white wines were also rated more highly on taste than popular high street brands. 

Drinks experts from the consumer group Which? rated 12 standard-range gins and 10 crisp dry white wines from a selection of supermarket own-label products and popular brands.

Own-brand gin was the resounding winner. Gins from Morrisons, Lidl and Waitrose were all rated higher than established brands Greenall's and Beefeater, while market leader Gordon's - which accounts for half of all gin sales in the UK - trailed behind in a disappointing ninth position.

August 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Fading in the polls, Scott Walker aims to attract Trump voters (Jenna Johnson and Sean Sullivan August 18, 2015, Washington Post)
Scott Walker has sought to reassure jittery donors and other supporters this week that he can turn around a swift decline in the polls in Iowa and elsewhere by going on the attack and emphasizing his conservatism on key issues.

In a conference call, one-on-one conversations and at a Tuesday lunch, the Wisconsin governor and darling of anti-union conservatives told backers that the campaign is shifting to a more aggressive posture and will seek to tap into the anti-establishment fervor fueling the rise of Donald Trump and other outsider candidates.

Abandoning the one thing he has going for him, that he's governed a swing state.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Nixon-era documents show US sought to curb Israeli nuke ambitions (MARISSA NEWMAN August 19, 2015, Times of Israel)

Documents from the Nixon administration, recently declassified, indicate the US was concerned about Israel's nuclear program and sought to convince Jerusalem to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a document that Israel, to this day, has not signed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Strange Death of the Center-Left (Michael Barone, August 18, 2015, RCP)

A third explanation applies specifically to center-left parties, including Dangerfield's Liberals a century ago. They were bedeviled by demands from different constituencies -- Irish Catholics, feminist suffragettes, militant union leaders -- which their compromising tendencies could not assuage. Liberal Britain faced internal violence, Dangerfield argues persuasively, when it unexpectedly went to war in August 1914.

Parties that are uneasy coalitions of self-consciously divergent groups with varying agendas, groups that consider themselves out of line with (or oppressed by) the national majority, are prone to splinter. It's hard to keep everyone happy and onboard.

In May's election, the Labour Party lost Scottish seats to Scots Nationalists who won 56 of 59 seats; lost working-class votes to the anti-immigration UK Independence Party; and lost upwardly mobile Hindus and Sikhs to the lower-tax Conservatives.

Democrats face competing demands from teacher unions and poor parents; Black Lives Matter protesters and environmental cultists; and from skeptics about the Iran deal and pacifist-leaning doves.

What these constituencies have in common is an angry rejection of the center-left political formula that only recently produced impressive party victories. The first black president was able to corral 51 percent for re-election and retains enough loyalty to keep most Democrats from grumbling about his performance.

But the leftward lunge so visible at Sanders rallies and Corbyn hustings pushes their parties to extreme positions and splinters what were majority coalitions. The strange death of the center-left threatens to make Britain solidly Conservative again and consign the Democratic Party to unanticipated minority status. 

For ideologues of both parties, being the governing party in the modern Anglosphere is a lothsome experience.  It requires that you accept the Third Way and eschew ideology.  So, for progressives, 8 years of the clandestinely Republican president is more than they can stand, just as the Right was infuriated after 8 years of W.  

But Labour is already getting its collective butt whipped.  This is the point where major parties generally turn to a Third Way leader--Blair, Clinton, Harper, Howard, Key, W, Jeb--but they're going hard Left instead.  Democrats will presumably just draft someone to take on Hillary--Al Gore or whoever--and give themselves a choice of Third Wayers instead of Sanders.

The Labour experiment will be fascinating.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Street Lights Don't Make Us Any Safer--And May Even Be Harming Our Health (Charlie Sorrel, 8/18/15, Co.Exist)

The aversion to dimming or switching off the lights is a subjective one. People feel safer on well-lit streets, even though light levels make little difference to their actual security. Police like blanket white lighting because their surveillance cameras work better. But even if safety isn't affected by fewer lights, the social impact is there. Street lighting might be viewed in the same light (pun intended) as benches or other street infrastructure. People may be less likely to use public spaces at night, or during dark winter afternoons and evenings, if there is no lighting.

But all-night light might be harming us. Research has shown that electric lighting at night can increase the risk of breast cancer, and we've seen that blue light, like that in our tablets and phones, as well as modern LED bulbs, interrupts our circadian rhythms and stops us from sleeping.

The AMA even recognizes that "exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents." It also recommends "developing and implementing technologies to reduce glare from vehicle headlamps and roadway lighting schemes."

Why would you need a public space at night in the snow?

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Starting Over : Many Katrina victims left New Orleans for good. What can we learn from them? (MALCOLM GLADWELL, 8/24/15, The New Yorker)

The first time that David Kirk visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was at the end of 2005. His in-laws were from the city. Kirk and his wife visited them at Christmas, just four months after the storm hit, and then went back again on several more occasions throughout 2006. New Orleans was devastated. Thousands had fled. "I'll admit I'd drive around the Lower Ninth, taking it all in, feeling a little guilty about being the gawking tourist," Kirk said not long ago. "It made an impression on me. These neighborhoods were gone."

Kirk is a sociologist at the University of Oxford. He trained at the University of Chicago under Robert Sampson, and, for Sampson and the small army of his former graduate students who now populate sociology departments around the world, neighborhoods are the great obsession: What effect does where you live have on how you turn out? It's a difficult question to answer because the characteristics of place and the characteristics of the people who happen to live in that place are hard to untangle. As Kirk drove around the Lower Ninth, however, he realized that post-Katrina New Orleans provided one of those rare occasions when fate had neatly separated the two variables. In the course of bringing immeasurable suffering to the people of New Orleans, Katrina created what social scientists call a "natural experiment": one day, people were in the neighborhoods where they had lived, sometimes for generations. The next day, they were gone--sometimes hundreds of miles away. "They had to move," Kirk said. What, he wondered, were the implications of that?

"I worked my connections to see who would talk to me," Kirk went on. "It turned out that one of my colleagues at the University of Maryland had done research on boot camps in Louisiana. Ultimately, I got in touch with someone who is now the head of the prison system, a guy named James LeBlanc." Kirk's idea was to look at convicted criminals from New Orleans who had been released from prison after Katrina. As a group, they were fairly homogeneous: largely black, largely poor. For years, their pattern was to return to their old neighborhoods after they were released: to their families, homes, social networks. But for some, by the most random of circumstances, that was now impossible. Their neighborhoods--the Lower Ninth, New Orleans East--had been washed away. How did the movers compare with the stayers?

"This was December, 2006," Kirk recounted. "I asked for a few things. I wanted information on where prisoners were living prior to Katrina. And I also wanted information on where they were living after release. I basically got an address file from the Department of Corrections for everyone who came out of prison from 2001 to 2007. It was extremely messy. They don't necessarily collect data in a way that makes it easy to geo-code. There would be notes like 'This is grandma's telephone line.' I went line by line to clean it up." He wound up with a list of three thousand individuals. His interest was recidivism: Were those people who came out of prison and found their entire world destroyed more likely or less likely to end up back in prison than those who could go home again? Kirk looked first at the results one year and three years after release and has since been working on an eight-year study. The results aren't even close. Those who went home had a recidivism rate of sixty per cent. Those who couldn't go home had a rate of forty-five per cent. They moved away. Their lives got better.

"This spring, I was on a radio talk show in Houston, Sunday morning," Kirk said. "This guy was listening. He called me up. He is a crack addict, with multiple incarcerations for burglary and theft. This is a guy who grew up in Arkansas, didn't have a very good childhood. He went down to Louisiana, and spent his entire adult life in New Orleans. Then he moved to Houston. I don't know his exact age, maybe a fifty-year-old black male. And this is what he told me: 'Now, I hate that the storm came because a lot of people died in the storm, but, guess what, that was probably the best thing that could have happened to a lot of people, because it gave them the opportunity to reinvent themselves if their life wasn't going right.' "

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Hillary Clinton Breaks With Obama Administration on Arctic Drilling (LIZ KREUTZ, 8/18/15, ABC News)

Hillary Clinton has made a rare policy break from the White House, coming out in opposition of off-shore drilling in the Arctic Ocean just one day after the Obama administration gave Shell the go-ahead to drill for oil and gas there.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


These roads will charge cars as they drive (Ivana Kottasova and Alanna Petroff, 8/18/15, CNNTech)

The British government is getting ready to test out new road technology that would allow electric cars to charge as they drive. The goal is to help drivers with electric and hybrid cars avoid frequent stops to recharge their vehicles.

Most electric cars get charged via plug-in chargers at home or while parked on the streets. Wireless power charging "pods" are also available, but they too require the car to stop to get more juice.

The new charging roads proposed by the U.K. government will work kind of like wireless phone chargers, using magnetic induction technology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


How Iran's Jews Survive in Mullahs' World (Larry Cohler-EssesAugust 18, 2015, the Forward)

[T]hose who live in Iran today are choosing to do so. Even cash bonus offers from Israel ranging from $10,000 for individuals to $61,000 for families have failed to move those now living there to leave.

According to Moreh Sedgh, those who have stayed are primarily members of the middle class -- shop owners, small businessmen and professionals. "The rich had the money to move to America and re-establish themselves there," he said. "The poor, who had nothing to lose, moved to Israel." But Najafabadi assured me that a strong contingent of the poor remained among Iran's Jews.

"We have people who receive charity from the community, including meat, rice and fruit," he said.

Those making the choice to stay, even as their leaders bristle with hostility toward Zionism and the State of Israel, live under an umbrella of government protection.

And Jewish life in Iran can be rich. In Tehran alone there are 13 active synagogues, five Jewish schools, two kindergartens and a 100-bed Jewish hospital, where Moreh Sedgh serves as director. There are active communities in several other cities, including Shiraz, Isfahan and Kermanshah, with institutions of their own.

But living as protected second-class citizens under a Shiite Islamist regime is complicated.

As Najafabadi put it: "There is no oppression. But there are limitations."

Working in the Jews' favor is the deeply embedded nature of their presence in Iranian society, where they have never been ghettoized, and in which they are seen -- and see themselves -- as pre-eminently Iranian, woven into 2,700 years of

Iranian history. This facilitates the rigid compartmentalization the government maintains between Zionists, who are seen as a malign outside force, and the unquestioned indigenous character of their own Jewish citizens.

But implicitly, this also means Iranian Jews must take care not to be seen as interested or involved in Israel, though it is an open secret that many have family there, and that many have even visited Israel themselves via third countries.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe : Intuition can encourage opinions that are contrary to the facts (Stefaan Blancke | August 18, 2015, Scientific American)

I recently published a paper, with a group of Belgian biotechnologists and philosophers from Ghent University, arguing that negative representations of GMOs are widespread and compelling because they are intuitively appealing. By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture our attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.

In the paper, we identify several intuitions that may affect people's perception of GMOs. Psychological essentialism, for instance, makes us think of DNA as an organism's "essence" - an unobservable and immutable core that causes the organism's behaviour and development and determines its identity. As such, when a gene is transferred between two distantly related species, people are likely to believe that this process will cause characteristics typical of the source organism to emerge in the recipient. For example, in an opinion survey in the United States, more than half of respondents said that a tomato modified with fish DNA would taste like fish (of course, it would not).

Essentialism clearly plays a role in public attitudes towards GMOs. People are typically more opposed to GM applications that involve the transfer of DNA between two different species ("transgenic") than within the same species ("cisgenic"). Anti-GMO organizations, such as NGOs, exploit these intuitions by publishing images of tomatoes with fish tails or by telling the public that companies modify corn with scorpion DNA to make crispier cereals.      

Intuitions about purposes and intentions also have an impact on people's thinking about GMOs. They render us vulnerable to the idea that purely natural phenomena exist or happen for a purpose that is intended by some agent. These assumptions are part and parcel of religious beliefs, but in secular environments they lead people to regard nature as a beneficial process or entity that secures our wellbeing and that humans shouldn't meddle with.

What Megan McArdle said.
Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Did Republicans Just Give Up on Killing the Iran Deal? (Martin Matishak, August 18, 2015, The Fiscal Times)

It looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may have thrown in the towel on the GOP's effort to stop the Iran nuclear deal from going into effect.

To reject the pact designed to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions, a majority of Congress would need to vote against it. But a two-thirds majority would be required to overcome the president's promised veto of the resolution of disapproval, including at least 13 Democrats in the Senate, something McConnell admitted looks unlikely.

The whole point of the deal was that it would allow them to vent rhetorically but not to have any impact on the agreement with Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Iran widens media charm offensive with access to BBC following nuclear deal (Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan,  18 August 2015, The Guardian)

Iran's media charm offensive following last month's landmark nuclear deal has crossed a new frontier with a visa for a reporting trip and and high-level interview granted to a BBC correspondent for the first time in six years.

Kim Ghattas, the BBC's Washington-based State Department correspondent, was allowed to spend a week in Iran and interviewed one of the country's vice-presidents, Masumeh Ebtekar, despite the deep hostility of Tehran hardliners to the corporation.

Ebtekar, a reformist, said that Iran's agreement to limit its nuclear activities in return for the end of sanctions represented a step forward. "It means a new era of working with the world in terms of different dimensions of trade, cultural exchanges," she said. "It means that Iran is going to be a more prominent player in this part of the world."

The BBC interview was the latest sign of a concerted effort by Tehran to ease access for international media and to improve the image of the Islamic Republic following the Vienna deal, the result of months of intensive negotiations with the US and five other world powers.

The opening of the Soviet Union was supposed to help reform the regime but vindicate the Revolution.  Instead the dissidents demonstrated that the Revolution had been rotten from the start. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Why oil prices could sink to $15 a barrel (Matt Egan, 8/18/15, CNN Money)

Oil prices have already taken a dramatic fall that's saved consumers big time at the pump. Last week, crude tumbled below $42 a barrel, down from $100 last year.

One big-name investor is predicting an even sharper drop.

"There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest we have bottomed. You could have $15 or $20 oil -- easily," influential money manager David Kotok told CNNMoney.

A further decline to $15 a barrel would be huge. Oil hasn't traded that low since early 1999, when gasoline at the pump was selling for under $1 a gallon.

The cartel is broken and the petrostates have nothing else but oil to offer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


George Zimmerman, 'Muslim-free' zone, Confederate flag: 3 divisive symbols, 1 fundraiser (Sarah Caspari, AUGUST 18, 2015, CS Monitor)

George Zimmerman, whose acquittal after fatally shooting black teen Trayvon Martin in 2012 sparked the #BlackLivesMatters movement, is raffling off an original painting of the polemical Confederate flag emblem to raise money for himself and for Andrew Hallinan, who last month proclaimed his gun shop a "Muslim-free zone" after a Muslim man attacked two military sites in Chattanooga, Tenn.

August 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Ben Bernanke: Being In the Military Won't Actually Help You in the Real World (JOHN HUDSON, AUGUST 17, 2015, Foreign Policy)

"The evidence appears to be that there really is not an advantage," Bernanke told a crowd at a Brookings Institution event in Washington. "If you go into the military at age 18 -- versus an identical person who stays in the private sector and takes a private sector job -- 10 years later, if you leave the military, your skills and wages are probably not going to be quite as high on average as a private sector person."

Bernanke specifically called out the U.S. Army for using misleading advertising and noted that for veterans who left the military after 2001, the unemployment rate is just above 7 percent, as opposed to the national average of 5.3 percent.

"The military takes our younger people and uses them for good purposes, but it's not really adding much to the private sector through training or any other experience," Bernanke said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Turkish-Israeli detente contingent on Gaza ceasefire, official says (ELHANAN MILLER, August 17, 2015, Times of Israel)

In the extensive al-Resalah interview, held on the heels of a visit by Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal to Ankara last week, Aktay said Turkey is discussing with the government of Greek Cyprus the establishment of a waystation sea port, meant to deliver goods to the Gaza Strip under international supervision. He predicted that an agreement would be reached early next year.

Aktay said that in addition to Turkey's demand for an official Israeli apology and financial compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims' families, it expects "a lifting of the Gaza siege in all its forms."

He noted that Turkey has committed itself to building Gaza's seaport and airport once Israel agrees to their construction.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Minimum-wage offensive could speed arrival of robot-powered restaurants (Lydia DePillis, August 16, 2015, Washington Post)

Crowded. That's how Ed Rensi remembers what life was like working at McDonald's in 1966. There were about double the number of people working in the store -- 70 or 80, as opposed to the 30 or 40 there today -- because preparing the food just took a lot more doing. [...]

The industry could be ready for another jolt as a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour nears in the District and as other campaigns to boost wages gain traction around the country. About 30 percent of the restaurant industry's costs come from salaries, so burger-flipping robots -- or at least super-fast ovens that expedite the process -- become that much more cost-competitive if the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is doubled.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Is Iran deal a threat to Israel? New signs military is at odds with Netanyahu. : An overview of Israel's strategic doctrine authored by its military chief of staff, and the first ever made public, barely mentions Iran or its nuclear program. (Joshua Mitnick, AUGUST 17, 2015, CS Monitor)

Entitled simply, "IDF Strategy," and authored by the chief of staff, Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot, the paper is a dry, dispassionate assessment of changing threats, military goals, and guiding principles for warfare. It marks the first time the army has ever released such a report to the public.

"It's not a secret that some high-ranking people in the Israeli security establishment, including the IDF, view this deal more favorably than the prime minister,'' says Amir Tibon, diplomatic correspondent for "Walla!," an Israeli news website.  "On the one hand, they think that the deal does indeed push Iran away from the bomb, which is a good thing. On the other hand, they share Netanyahu's concern about Iran using sanctions relief money to increase its support for terror proxies across the region.''

Netanyahu argues that Iran's nuclear program is the top destabilizing factor in the Middle East, on par with Nazi Germany's march to war in the late 1930's. By contrast, the IDF document mentions Iran by name only once. Missing from a section providing an overview of threats to Israel is the word "nuclear" or any other reference to Iran's atomic program, notes Mr. Tibon.

Writing in the liberal Haaretz newspaper, veteran defense commentator Amir Oren said that the IDF paper reflects a view that the threat of a nuclear Iran "has gone on vacation until 2025.''

Asked to comment on the strategy document, a senior Israeli military official cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the army's positions on the Iran deal. However, other Israeli defense analysts say the omissions weren't a coincidence.

The military reality is that Israel has nuclear weapons pointed at Iran, not vice versa.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Feds allow Shell to drill for oil in Arctic Ocean off Alaska (DAN JOLING, Aug. 17, 2015, AP) 

The federal government on Monday gave Royal Dutch Shell the final permit it needs to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska's northwest coast for the first time in more than two decades.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced that it approved the permit to drill below the ocean floor after the oil giant brought in a required piece of equipment to stop a possible well blowout.

U.S. Allows Limited Oil Exports to Mexico (CLIFFORD KRAUSS, AUG. 14, 2015, NY Times)

The Obama administration on Friday gave oil companies temporary permission to export a limited amount of oil to Mexico at a time when a glut is cutting into domestic petroleum profits and employment. [...]

"Trade with Mexico is a long overdue step that will benefit our economy and North American energy security, but we shouldn't stop there," said Louis Finkel, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Don't Forget Obamacare (JEFFREY H. ANDERSON, 8/24/15, Weekly Standard)

It is not just any conservative alternative that can lead to full repeal. In addition to lowering costs and helping people get health insurance, a winning alternative must be designed so as to cut off the three easiest liberal lines of attack. 

First, a conservative alternative must provide an answer to the problem of preexisting conditions--one that, unlike Obamacare's, doesn't undermine the very nature of insurance. This requires commonsense protections that allow people to do things like move from employer-based insurance to individually purchased insurance without being charged more for a "preexisting condition" that was previously covered. Similarly, when they turn 18 (or first leave their parents' insurance) people should have a grace period of a year or so to buy insurance without being charged more for a childhood condition that might or might not have been covered under their parents' plan. 

Second, an alternative shouldn't alter the tax treatment of the typical American's employer-based insurance. About 170 million people have--and usually like--such insurance.

Third, a conservative alternative must provide an answer for the poor and near-poor who have become newly insured under Obamacare. This means providing refundable tax credits to all people who are not offered insurance by their employer but instead purchase it on their own. These tax credits should not be income-tested and should go directly to individuals and families--not to insurance companies, like Obamacare's subsidies.

It's a rather straightforward replacement system:

(1) Folks with chronic catastrophic conditions would have their treatments paid directly the government. 

(2) Employers would be required to provide all employees with an HSA/catastrophic plan, with the funding of same being tax free. Employers would be allowed to offer more generous plans which would be taxed as regular income.

(3) The unemployed/uninsured would receive a government funded HSA/catastrophic plan starting at birth. [This is what employers would subsequently pay into.]

(4) Medicare would be means tested.

(5) HSAs would be heritable.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Oil war could backfire on Saudi Arabia as price plummets (Ravender Sembhy, August 17, 2015, IB Times)

Saudi Arabia's attempt to crush the US shale industry is backfiring. Brent crude is trading at about $48.52 (£31) per barrel, compared with $107 (£69, €98) in June 2014, largely due to massive overproduction by Riyadh, which is pumping out 10.6 million barrels per day.

The Gulf state's response to the rise of shale oil and gas fracking in the US - which threatens to reduce global reliance on Saudi oil - has been to ramp up production, deflate prices and hope to drive American shale producers out of business.

The US shale industry has not only held up by utilising technological efficiencies and cutting costs but is churning out 9.6 million barrels per day, a 43-year high. Saudi Arabia's central bank even acknowledged recently: "It is becoming apparent that non-OPEC producers are not as responsive to low oil prices as had been thought." The repercussions are now having a detrimental effect on the Saudi economy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Republicans Say They Are Happier With Their Marriages (David Leonhardt, 8/17/15, NY Times)

Self-identified Republicans are more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced than self-identified Democrats, he writes, based on an analysis of the General Social Survey, an oft-studied national poll. Republicans also report being more satisfied with their marriages on average than Democrats.

Among married people between the ages of 20 and 60, 67 percent of Republicans report being "very happy" with their marriages. Among Democrats, the share was 60, as it is among independents, write Mr. Wilcox and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah. [...]

The findings are broadly consistent with previous work, also based on national surveys, finding that Republicans are happier with their lives than Democrats on average and also more likely to be married.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


For Kurdish youth in Turkey, autonomy is no longer enough (Dominique Soguel, Correspondent AUGUST 17, 2015, CS Monitor)

What sets this new generation apart - analysts, parents, and teachers warn - is that they are less fearful and far more ambitious than their predecessors. Their nationalist resolve has been forged on the front lines against IS and boosted by social media.

"Today the positions of the Kurds in the Middle East made the younger generation more self-confident and made them think about separation," says Mehmet Alkis, a political lecturer at Dicle University. "They say we don't belong to Turkey psychologically and politically."

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Iranians Dare to Hope (HOOMAN MAJDAUG. 17, 2015, NY Times)

What Iranians were celebrating on the evening of July 14 was their version (and perhaps as significant for them) of the storming of the Bastille -- a potential break with an order that included sanctions, isolation, vilification of their country, and, more importantly, their own 36 years of struggle for normalcy. From the congratulatory text messages that Iranians sent to each other, and the anxious wall-to-wall television, radio, Internet and newspaper coverage of the nuclear deal reached in Vienna, to the spontaneous street celebrations in big cities that evening, Iranians were breathing a sigh of relief that maybe, just maybe, things can get better for them economically, socially and politically.

Another friend, a successful businessman whose affairs suffered progressively as sanctions tightened over the past six years, said to me numerous times since negotiations began that he and fellow Iranians were being driven crazy by the false starts, the alternating good and bad news coming out of various locations in Switzerland, Vienna, New York or Oman, and that despite the fact that the talks hadn't ever broken down, they were hostages to watching a horror movie but not knowing if it will, like in the movies, end well. Knowing that I had attended almost all the sessions as a reporter, he didn't call the day the deal was announced (as he usually did during the talks). On my phone, though, there was a simple message from him: tabreek -- congratulations -- with no exclamation point. None needed.

Few Iranians were ever on the side of the delvapassan -- the self-proclaimed and self-named "worried" group, who made it known in ads and public statements that the country was about to give away the farm to hegemonic enemies. Not only did most Iranians not believe that, they also realized that if the status quo continued for very much longer, there might not be much of a farm left for them to give away.

The excitement with which most Iranians greeted the nuclear agreement was not an anti-revolutionary cry, nor a verdict on the deal itself. It was merely an expression of hope -- sorely lacking among so many Iranians who could see none -- that the Revolution with a capital R might finally be permitted its maturity. The deal was simply good news for them after years of bad, even if the promised results would not, most knew, be realized overnight.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


A way for solar cells to capture more sunlight : Researchers find a more efficient method of converting solar rays into electricity. (Viviane Richter, 8/17/15, Cosmos)

When a light photon hits a solar cell, it knocks free an electron that drives an electrical "photovoltaic" circuit. But only energetic, short-wavelength photons carry enough punch to do this. Almost 20% of the sunlight striking a silicon solar cell passes straight through because the wavelengths are too long and their energy is too low to budge electrons.

But Bardeen and colleagues have figured out how to turn low energy infrared rays into a higher energy form. Theoretically, this approach could broaden the proportion of sunlight that can be captured, so that only 5% is missed, he says.

August 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Automation angst : Three new papers examine fears that machines will put humans out of work (The Economist, Aug 15th 2015)

Modern techno-pessimists argue that the ground is shifting because so many more jobs can now be handed over to machines. Another of the three papers suggests that advances in machine intelligence may be revolutionary rather than evolutionary. Gill Pratt, an expert on robotics, highlights two techniques that could cause such a breakthrough. One is "cloud robotics", in which robots learn from one another, leading to a rapid growth in competence. The second is "deep learning", in which robots process vast amounts of data to expand their capabilities, forming associations that can be generalised. Enhancing these two approaches are some more general trends, such as the exponential growth in the availability and capacity of wireless internet access, data storage and computational power.

If this potential were to be realised, robots could march off the production lines where they carry out specific tasks and take over a far more diverse set of roles in large parts of the economy, including manual occupations. One much touted example would be driverless vehicles, which could endanger the livelihoods of legions of taxi drivers and couriers. Moreover, suggests Mr Pratt, the advances could be so rapid that unlike previous waves of automation robots might displace a much bigger share of the workforce in a much shorter time.

...that getting rid of work is cause for pessism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Iran to hold direct talks with Gulf countries 'in September' (Gulf News, 8/14/15)

Iran is to hold talks with the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Syria and Yemen in September, a high ranking Iranian foreign ministry official has said.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African Affairs Hossain Amir-Abdollahian told ISNA on Friday that the initiative to hold a common meeting between Iran and Arab nations about the regional crisis came from Qatar and Oman, Trend news agency reported. The meeting will be held on September 22.

There have been no comments from the GCC in this regard so far, but Oman's foreign minister Yousuf Bin Alawi said in an interview on state television after Iran signed a nuclear agreement with world powers last month that a meeting between Iran, Gulf states "and other countries" could take place before the end of the year.

"It is possible that by the end of the year, there will be direct talks between the states of the GCC and Iran, as well as other parties ... to entrench the idea of security and stability in the region. This can be achieved with a clear agreement in which no one [comes out] defeated...," he had said.

..what other choice do the Arabs have?

Posted by orrinj at 11:56 AM


'Hamas-Israel deal imminent,' to the dismay of Palestinian factions (ELHANAN MILLER August 16, 2015, Times of Israel)

Hamas is about to sign a "comprehensive" agreement with Israel for the lifting of an eight-year blockade placed on the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term ceasefire, a senior Turkish official said on Sunday.

But the agreement is facing domestic opposition from without, as Palestinian factions consider it a potential danger to the political unity of Gaza and the West Bank as stipulated by the Oslo Accords.

In an interview with Hamas daily al-Resalah, Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that Hamas's political leader Khaled Mashaal came to Ankara last week to update the Turkish leadership on the details of an agreement reached with Israel and mediated by former British prime minister Tony Blair.

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


Will an Undiplomatic Appointment Hurt Israel? (Jonathan S. Tobin, 8/16/15, Commentary)

A lot of people in Israel are both shocked and outraged. The response from some American Jews as well as the U.S. foreign policy establishment could best be described as dumbfounded. By appointing Danny Danon, a harsh opponent of the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, as Israel's new ambassador to the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has seemingly validated criticisms that claim he doesn't care about peace. The thought of putting Danon, a man best known for his hard-right politics, shoot-from-the-hip style and ferocious ambition seems just about the opposite of what Israel or any nation needs representing it at the United Nations. [...]

Danon has spent the last few years being a thorn in Netanyahu's side. He has been telling anyone who will listen -- including the readers of Politico -- that he and the rest of the Likud would never accept a two-state solution imposed on the nation by Secretary of State John Kerry. That contradicted Netanyahu's efforts to demonstrate a willingness to negotiate even if he was not willing to make the kind of concessions that the U.S. wrongly felt would convince the Palestinians to make peace. In fact, Netanyahu fired Danon as deputy defense minister last year during the war with Hamas for mouthing off about what he felt was an insufficiently tough approach to the Islamist terror group. That Danon was willing to criticize the government that he was himself part of at a time of war was shocking. It demonstrates that he is a loose canon with poor judgment that is always in business for himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Study Finds Illegal Immigrants Pay $11.8B in Taxes (Eric Pianin, April 16, 2015, Fiscal Times)

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

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

The group's analysis estimated that illegal immigrants' combined nationwide state and local tax contributions would increase by $845 million under full implementation of Obama's 2012 and 2014 executive actions and by $2.2 billion under comprehensive immigration reform.

Every illegal on our geoseismic crew in Texas, all the Russian compuer techs at our company in Chicago and all our academic neighbors here in Hanover have had taxes withheld from his paycheck, reflecting the fact of corporate complicity.  The only illegals I ever worked with who didn't pay these taxes were fellow caddies. They were children.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


As States Battle New EPA Rules, Some Make Surprising Progress on Emissions (Eric Pianin, August 16, 2015, Fiscal Times)

Long before the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power rule last week demanding a 32 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, many states were whittling away at the pollution that contributes to global warming by closing old coal-fired power plants, switching to cleaner renewable energy sources and improving industrial energy efficiency.

While the efforts differed greatly from one state to another - and lacked the uniformity that can be achieved through a national standard like Clean Power - the states nonetheless demonstrated what could be accomplished without direct prodding from Washington.

The detailed analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a premier environmental group that supports the Obama administration's new regulation, found that 31 states have already made commitments that will significantly reduce their carbon outputs and 21 are on track to actually surpass the EPA's first benchmarks for 2022.

Moreover, 20 states are effectively more than halfway toward meeting their 2030 Clean Power Plan target, with 16 set to surpass those targets.

Related: Which States Get Hit Hardest by Obama's New Energy Rule?

"What it tells us is that this clean energy transition is already underway, and a lot of states have already made decisions that have started them down this path," Jeremy Richardson, Senior Energy Analyst with the UCS, said in an interview. "Our analysis shows that those states that have been leaders are actually really well positioned to comply with the goals that are set forth by the final rule."

What's more, some of the states that are in the forefront of trying to block the new EPA rules - including Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama - are well along in meeting the new federal targets, according to the UCS analysis.

...federal rules just force universality. Simply taxing the emissions though would be a better option.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


John Kasich's Moment (David Shribman, August 16, 2015, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

[T]the Ohio governor, suddenly in double digits here and running third in the 17-candidate pack -- only a point behind former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida in the Boston Herald/​Franklin Pierce University Poll released only days ago -- is having his, and his campaign staff knows that the goal for the next few weeks must be to transform an ephemeral moment into a formidable movement.

The raw materials of that effort filled the chairs in the hall, just off Broadway with its yarn shop, its music store and its breakfast-forever diners. In baseball caps and T-shirts, holding fat handbags and slender handbills, they filed in and signed on, the freshly minted crusaders-for-Kasich. One man, an elected official from a neighboring town, was in shorts that showed off the state's "Live Free Or Die" motto stitched into his black socks. He's leaning toward Mr. Kasich, too.

To this crowd, Mr. Kasich delivered his unscripted, deeply personal performance, touching, as he did in his congressional and gubernatorial campaigns in Ohio, on his childhood in McKees Rocks and on the lessons he learned from the hard work of his father, who he said "carried mail on his back." He married these biographical bursts with calls for deficit-reduction progress, entitlement fairness and foreign-policy toughness -- a political cocktail swirled with a swizzle-stick of political independence.

"The Republican Party is my vehicle and not my master," he said, which would be an unusual riposte for a GOP primary but for the fact that Independents can vote here and very likely will hold the margin of victory in the Feb. 9 balloting. "I'm in politics to bring about improvement in society."

Standing in the crowd were two pros whose allegiance was sought by a dozen Republican candidates.

One, former Sen. John E. Sununu, is part of a family that has been elected to the state House, the governor's office, the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and, most recently, the New Hampshire Executive Council, an odd institution that, consistent with the Sununu ethos, is a check on political power. He is leading the campaign effort here.

The other, Thomas D. Rath, is a veteran of, among others, the campaigns of Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

The base of an isosceles triangle of New Hampshire attorneys general that includes his two direct predecessors, future Sen. Warren Rudman and future Supreme Court justice David Souter, Mr. Rath, who as a Dartmouth student helped organize New Hampshire for Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1964, is regarded as perhaps the state's premier political strategist.

His decision to be Mr. Kasich's state co-chair was big enough news that three television networks rushed stories onto the web.

These men will run Mr. Kasich's campaign as if he's running for the state Senate, which he did before he turned 30. That is congruent with the nature of presidential politics here, where voters shop for candidates to support, trying them like the samples at Costco before deciding which is to their taste. That's what brought former Sen. Gordon Humphrey, a longtime Kasich admirer, to Derry. He wasn't the only shopper here.

"I'm here to see what he's like," said Larry Jordan, a retired Marine. Added Sunne Coleman, a part-time accountant: "I'm evaluating many of these people but I like his fairness, his ability to listen, his vision."

...though the Ohio governor would be more useful as Chief-of-Staff--for the very reasons he'd be a lousy president--not that there's any reason you couldn't combine the two.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Indonesia's Secret: In the Kingdom of Gentle Islam : Nowhere in the world are there more Muslims living in one place than in the Southeast Asian island nation of Indonesia, which will be a guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall. Can a cosmopolitan faith assert itself against Islam? A journey. (Erich Follath, 8/15/15, Der Spiegel)

He rocks, in the truest sense of the word. He plays bass guitar and is both a fan and friend of Metallica. Early in the morning, or sometimes late at night, he likes to spontaneously go out and mingle among the people. He listens to the problems of the poorest living in the slums, promising them swift relief. Indonesia's President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, 54, is a pious Muslim who doesn't speak publicly about his faith. "That's private," he says. His countrymen call him "Jokowi Superstar." For many, he is a source of inspiration and hope.

Few politicians have had such a career. Jokowi was born a carpenter's son and went on to become a forestry student and furniture dealer. Indeed, his humble beginnings make him something of a phenomenon in a country dominated by wealthy families and the military. His first public office was as mayor of his provincial hometown of Surakarta, followed by his great leap to the governor's office in Jakarta. In October 2014, he was elected president of Indonesia.
The country he leads is a leading global economy, a member of the G-20 and boasts more than 250 million inhabitants. Only China, India and the United States have more people. But there's something else about this country that leaves the world in awe: No other country in the world has as many Muslims as Indonesia. Almost 90 percent of the population follows Islam -- more than in the Maghreb, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states combined.

There have, to be sure, been sporadic attacks by Islamist fanatics, the worst leaving more than 200 people dead on the vacation island of Bali in 2002. There are also signs of growing Islamization: The sale of alcohol has been restricted and headscarves are becoming more prevalent. Since 2009, however, there have been no more major attacks. News of Islamic State terror sounds like it's from another world. The Islam of the Far East is proof that the strict rules of the Koran and the freedoms of democratic society are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

...most of the world's Muslims live in democracies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Low pay, low inflation and low interest rates? This is not 1975 (Larry Elliott,  16 August 2015, The Guardian)

There's nothing the US Federal Reserve would like more than to be able to announce in September than the first increase in the cost of borrowing in nine years. The Bank of England feels the same way.

The reasoning is simple. The end of ultra-low interest rates would be a sign that life was back to normal. When central banks cut their policy rates virtually to zero it was as an emergency measure. Raising rates would symbolise that the emergency is now over.

But the process of interest-rate normalisation is taking much longer than expected. Last month, Mark Carney tested the water when he said the Bank would be considering a rate rise around the turn of the year. But he appears to be struggling to persuade a majority of the nine-strong monetary policy committee to share his view. The Fed looks closer to a rate rise, but in neither the US nor the UK is the economic data conclusive.

Indeed, the latest set of figures for the UK labour market would argue for Threadneedle Street to be cautious. Unemployment rose for the second month in a row, there was a fall in employment that would have been bigger had it not been for an increase in non-UK citizens in work, and earnings growth either stalled or fell, depending on the measure used.

When the latest set of inflation figures are released on Tuesday, they are expected to show no change in the cost of living as measured by the consumer prices index over the past year. Recent falls in oil and commodity prices, coupled with the cheapening of imports more generally due to a stronger pound, will probably result in inflation turning negative again over the coming months. 

Had the Fed understood that we were in a deflationary cycle in the first place, it never would have prompted the Recession. Rates should have been at zero (or lower) since the '90s.

August 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


Breast Cancer Panel May Force Women To Pay for Mammography Screenings (Karen Iris Tucker, August 13, 2015, Forward)

An April 20 draft of the guidelines, which the task force is slated to finalize sometime this year, assigns a C grade to mammography for women ages 40 to 49. Under the Affordable Care Act, heath plans typically cover preventive services at no additional cost to the patient -- but only if the service receives a grade A or B recommendation from the USPSTF. If the USPSTF's draft is finalized as is, it could mean women in their 40s will lose guaranteed mammography coverage and may face the burden of out-of-pocket costs.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


How Big Data is Driving the Consumerization of Health Care (Girish Navani, Aug. 14, 2015, US News)

Big data can help physicians understand patient behavior, which in turn impacts care delivery and their practice. For example, by offering empty appointment slots online, people can book appointments at their convenience, and the practice will have fewer open spots. Patients, as consumers of health, want flexibility.

In conjunction with mobility, big data is changing the way patients engage with their doctors and experience their treatment. Research has found that three out of five patients would choose telehealth visits over in-person appointments for minor check-ups and follow-ups. In PwC's survey, more than 50 percent of respondents would feel comfortable sending a digital photo of a rash or skin problem to a dermatologist for an opinion. Not only is the technology for "virtual treatment" available, but 64 percent of surveyed patients expressed their willingness to adopt new, non-traditional ways of seeking medical attention. In a world where services are available in an instant, doctors must start treating their patients as a customer to continue to meet their needs. That includes opening the line of communication or easier visits and quicker treatment.

Similarly, wearable devices and fitness trackers, such as FitBit or Jawbone, track activity as well as sleep patterns, heart rate and diet. Integrating a patient's electronic health record with this type of technology, and going one step further to make it accessible to doctors, has the potential to streamline a patients' medical experience and more accurately predict health problems. Compiling all of this data in one place gives doctors a goldmine of information on their patients. It also allows for a more personalized medical experience, as poor sleep patterns and weight gain could mean something different for a diabetic than it does for someone who might have a thyroid issue.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Samsung's record-breaking flash drive fits 16 terabytes into a 2.5-inch SSD (Napier Lopez, 8/13/15, Next Web)

Samsung's big news today may have mostly involved huge phones, but that's not all the hardware giant is unveiling today: The company today announced a 16 terabyte flash memory drive.

The announcement is particularly significant because though flash memory is known for its speed, it doesn't generally produce the highest capacity drives. By comparison, the largest magnetic spinning drives typically top out around 8-10 TB.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Trumpismo and its limits (The Economist, Aug 12th 2015)

It may be working for now, but it's doubtful that Trumpismo can prevail in America's peculiar two-party primary system. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Mr Trump is most popular among less-educated Republican voters, but does poorly with those with college degrees. A standard finding of political scientists who study public opinion is that the views of well-educated, "high-information" voters tend to closely mirror those of agenda-setting party elites. By comparison, the views of less-educated, "low-information" voters are all over the map.

The evidence that Mr Trump is a "fake" conservative will hurt him among well-educated Republicans who stay on top of current events. But the voters to whom the famous Mr Trump owes his success in the polls are those least likely to know or care about his lack of consistency with the standard party line. This gives Mr Trump a great deal of room to say whatever he likes, so long as he promises vaguely to make America great again and comes down hard on the Hispanic immigrants low-skilled white voters worry are suppressing their wages and taking "their" jobs.
The problem for Mr Trump is that he's unlikely to prevail in the long run with so little support among better-educated primary voters. Trumpismo is an excellent way to ignite enthusiasm among angry, low-information voters and grab a commanding early lead over a huge, fractured field. But a political party is a coalition of interest groups, and a party platform is the negotiated consensus of the party's vital constituencies. Candidates neglect that consensus at their peril.

The support of party elites is currently divided among an unusual surfeit of strong candidates. By winter, establishment power brokers and party activists will have begun to coalesce behind two or three durable and well-financed prospects who have proven loyal and effective defenders of the party's platform, at which point the real contest will begin. August front-runners usually drop toward the back of the pack by December.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional) (MOTOKO RICH, AUG. 9, 2015, NY Times)

In a stark about-face from just a few years ago, school districts have gone from handing out pink slips to scrambling to hire teachers.

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education -- a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

At the same time, a growing number of English-language learners are entering public schools, yet it is increasingly difficult to find bilingual teachers. So schools are looking for applicants everywhere they can -- whether out of state or out of country -- and wooing candidates earlier and quicker.

Some are even asking prospective teachers to train on the job, hiring novices still studying for their teaching credentials, with little, if any, classroom experience.

Meanwhile, paying the current crop less needs to include dropping costly credentialing nonsense. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace : The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions. ( JODI KANTOR and DAVID STREITFELDAUG. 15, 2015, NY Times)

On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon's singular way of working.

They are told to forget the "poor habits" they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they "hit the wall" from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: "Climb the wall," others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, "I'm Peculiar" -- the company's proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon has rented Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort and Spa in Santa Fe for Campfire, a literary gathering, this year.A Writerly Chill at Jeff Bezos' CampfireSEPT. 20, 2014
At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another's ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are "unreasonably high." The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another's bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: "I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.")

Amazon is building new offices in Seattle and, in about three years, will have enough space for about 50,000 employees. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years. The company's winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff -- "purposeful Darwinism," one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.

Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable. The company, founded and still run by Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr. Bezos' ever-expanding ambitions.

"This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren't easy," said Susan Harker, Amazon's top recruiter. "When you're shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn't work."

Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. "You walk out of a conference room and you'll see a grown man covering his face," he said. "Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk."

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Iran gives U.N. watchdog information about past nuclear activities (Reuters, 8/15/15)

Iran has given the U.N. nuclear watchdog information regarding its atomic past, a milestone in potentially meeting a condition for sanctions relief under an accord reached with world powers last month.

Alongside the July 14 agreement to curb its nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions, Iran signed a deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to resolve outstanding questions about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its past nuclear activities.

"Iran today provided the IAEA with its explanation in writing and related documents as agreed in the road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear program," the IAEA said on Saturday, confirming Iran had met a deadline.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Labour always lurches left when it loses. But this time is worse : Ed Miliband fuelled the left's 'great betrayal' myth - and his changes to the party's voting system look disastrous (Robert Philpot, 15 August 2015, The Spectator)

Miliband not only provided the intellectual groundwork for the Corbyn insurrection, he also, albeit unwittingly, provided the organisational opening. Desperate to placate the increasingly truculent unions that had helped elect their boss, Miliband's team, says one observer, 'gave a free rein and turned a blind eye' as the unions tried to squeeze their favoured candidates into parliamentary seats.

This had two results. First, the unions managed to ensure left-wing loyalists were picked in a swath of constituencies so safe that not even Miliband could lose them. MPs elected for the first time in May figure disproportionately among those who nominated Corbyn.

Second, in the wake of revelations in 2013 about an alleged union stitch-up in the Scottish seat of Falkirk, Miliband sought to change the party's rules for electing its leader. His aim was to give the appearance of reducing the unions' influence but to do so in a way that their bosses would go along with.

This is not a system designed to encourage the kind of mass participation seen in US primary elections. Instead, the compromise Miliband forged -- abolishing the old electoral college in which the unions held a third of the votes, but allowing party 'supporters' to register for £3 and union members to do so for free -- flung Labour's doors wide open to Corbyn's growing army of hard-left activists and starry-eyed youthful idealists. The parliamentary party, which under the electoral college system controlled a third of the votes and used them to keep such barbarians outside Labour's gates, is now reduced to a bystander.

The left's strength has been augmented in the leadership contest by the support Corbyn is generating from far-left campaign groups such as the People's Assembly Against Austerity and the Stop the War co-alition, as well as the efforts of Len McCluskey's Unite union to encourage its members to support him. Many terrified Labour MPs fear the impact could be as politically catastrophic as the Militant entryism of the 1980s. Of the 190,000 new members and supporters who have signed up to the party since May, it's estimated that two thirds have done so to back Corbyn.

It's like letting CPAC pick the GOP nominee.
Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


The new "industrial revolution" : A conversation with Adrian Wooldridge : The ongoing revolution in knowledge and service economies is every bit as dramatic as the revolution in the industrial economy during the nineteenth century, says Adrian Wooldridge. And it is displacing or disorientating workers in the same way too, but probably at an even faster rate. (Lukasz Pawlowski, 8/11/15, Eurozine)

LP: The other problem is, critics say (and in my view they do have a point) that the companies using the sharing economy model are violating employees' rights. They are taking us back to the nineteenth century by undermining the structure of the welfare state we have created over the last decades. For example Uber does not take any responsibility for its drivers and does not provide them with any assistance if they can't do their job.

AW: If you have a regular job as a taxi driver, pay a certain level of taxes, and enjoy a stable relationship with you employer, you may see your rights threatened by the arrival of Uber. If, however, you're somebody who's excluded from the taxi market, because you don't have a job with a regular taxi company, then suddenly you have a chance to get a job. And if you're somebody who wants to work just a few hours a week then you should have the option to do that. So one group of workers are right to feel threatened by this flexible economy, but lots of other people get may benefit from it.

On the other hand Uber tries to abuse the system, by avoiding paying taxes and insurance for its employees. There's a danger that if you allow that to go on, you'll have a whole class of workers not paying for pension and insurance systems and working only on short term contracts. We therefore need to adapt our legislation to the arrival of the flexible economy, in which the 40-hour-work week is disappearing.

LP: This type of business model shifts much of the risk to employees. In case of Uber if you lose your car, crash it, if you have any health problems - you're on your own. If, however, you're making money, you have to share it with the company. It's not flexibility, it's exploitation.

AW: Definitely the trend of the flexible economy is to put most risks on the employee and remove them from the employer. We definitely need to address this issue. In this case one solution might be to allow Uber drivers to team together in order to get collective insurance. In other words we could use old fashioned nineteenth-century methods such as mutual benefit societies in collaborating for cheaper insurance. [...]

LP: Many economists claim that today work has become less and less secure, which leads to the creation of a new social class, the precariat.[1] Job insecurity is also thought to be one of the major reasons behind social unrest and impatience with capitalism. And here we have another substantial chunk of economy that provides insecure jobs. Maybe we should simply ban such companies as Uber as the French did?

AW: It's important to remember that the shift to a much more precarious economy predates the sharing economy. The number of part-time and precariously employed workers rose sharply in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The arrival of the sharing economy is introducing much more efficiency into a part-time economy that already exists.

LP: Which makes it even more difficult to deal with.

AW: This is a sort of essential paradox of capitalism: sometimes what looks like security actually creates insecurity and what looks like insecurity actually creates more security. In France, for example, there are vast numbers of people in their 20s employed on short term contracts. Companies are too afraid of employing people on permanent contracts, because it's so hard to get rid of them once they are employed. If you actually use a more flexible approach and make it easier to fire people, it will make companies more willing to take people as full-time employees. Britain, which has taken a more flexible approach to jobs, could be used as an example of a precarious economy. Yet it has also created a lot more jobs than France over the last decade.

LP: But there's also the question about the type of jobs that are created.

AW: It's better to have a short-term job or a precarious job than no job at all.

If one of the essential functions of capitalism is to drive down the cost of goods and services via increased effeciencies and one of the main drivers of cost as always been the labor input, then to be an advocate for captalism is to be an opponent of labor.  Until we reconcile that reality with some sort of plan to replace the resuulting lost wages, we have a political problem.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Welcome to Liberland, the World's Newest Country (Maybe) : Travels with Vit Jedlicka, the would-be founding father of a libertarian paradise. (GIDEON LEWIS-KRAUS, AUG. 11, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

Along the western bank of the Danube, more or less halfway between Zagreb and Belgrade, there rests in historic obscurity a three-square-mile teardrop of no man's land. It is an artifact of a border dispute of long standing, and neither Serbia nor Croatia expresses a desire to rule over this unprepossessing Gibraltar-size property. The land, marshy and prone to seasonal inundation, is choked with unregulated scrub, with here and there the lone tongue of a poplar or the gentle shag of a willow. The only road is a rutted single-lane dirt track, the only existing dwelling a flimsy hunting hovel, its provenance unknown.

The absence of governmental authority on this land is due to the manipulated course of the Danube itself. By the late 19th century, the Danube was accepted as the natural border between the regions -- at that point still under Austro-Hungarian control -- that would become Croatia and Serbia. There, however, the river's path was tortuous and difficult for larger boats to navigate, so engineering work was undertaken to smooth the snaking flow. The straightened Danube was a vast improvement for international riverine transport, but in the process, four large uncontiguous bulges of Croatia became stranded alone on the Serbian side, and one small pocket of Serbia, on what was now the far bank, became attached to the Croatian mass.

This latter pocket, which local residents call Gornja Siga, is the no man's land in question. When the two countries were neighboring republics of Yugoslavia, these orphaned riverbank plots were of little concern, but since the 1990s they have presented an intractable problem. The stranded pieces of Croatia now contiguous with Serbia are some 10 times larger, in aggregate, than the rather trifling portion of Serbia now joined to Croatia; Serbia has been all too glad to assume ownership of its expanded territory, but Croatia sees the situation as unacceptable. In light of this ongoing disagreement, for Croatia to accept Gornja Siga would constitute a de facto recognition of the Serbian view of the border and a relinquishing of Croatia's claim to the more considerable, though equally mosquito-infested and uninspiring, portions of Serbian bank.

And yet Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many -- not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States. Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation. All the most recent states -- South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea -- were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars. Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant? Such were the thoughts that had for some time inflamed the spirit of Vit Jedlicka, a 31-year-old Czech politician who traveled to the land earlier this year and, in broad daylight, planted a new flag in its unstable soil.

It was not the first tract he had considered. Previously, Jedlicka had rejected as too small a plot on the Slovenian-Croatian border, and as too inconvenient, dangerous and arid a dominion between Sudan and Egypt, which was subsequently declared the Kingdom of North Sudan by an American named Jeremiah Heaton, who traveled there by caravan to declare his daughter a princess, though his nation remained unrecognized by any other world government. What instantly differentiated Jedlicka's aspirations from the minor follies of Heaton and other micronational leaders -- of Flandrensis, the Dominion of Melchizedek, North Dumpling Island -- is that he had stumbled upon acreage of what may genuinely be unclaimed land.

And so, on April 13, 2015, he and his exploratory committee read, in English and Czech, the following proclamation:

We, the members of the Preparatory Committee of the State of the Free Republic of Liberland, issue this proclamation:

We, by virtue of the right to self-determination, right of discovery and the right of self-governance, proclaim the existence of the Free Republic of Liberland. The Free Republic is a free and independent country; and that as a free and independent state, the Free Republic of Liberland shall have the full power to defend itself, conclude peace, form alliances, establish commerce, and enjoy any other rights which sovereign states have. As a member of the family of nations, we pledge to abide by international laws that bind all states in existence. [...]

Within just a few weeks, he had received, via the Internet, more than 330,000 applications for citizenship. He had posted the citizenship application online in two parts, an initial registration and a subsequent questionnaire. The questionnaire asked if the applicant had a criminal history; if he or she was in debt; was respectful of the property of others; was interested in investing money in Liberland; was a member of an extremist group; if he or she wanted to reside in Liberland itself, and, if so, how. About 40,000 of the initial registrants filled out the entire questionnaire. Final citizenship, for the moment, remained in Jedlicka's hands, and by June he had awarded only about 130 of what he was referring to (pending constitutional confirmation) as honorary citizenships, mostly to those who showed the greatest commitment to the cause. Liberland was, after all, a tiny nation; he feared his experiment would implode under the weight of too many citizens right away.

The President imagined that the majority of freedom-loving interest would come from those seeking greater freedom in general, as opposed to political freedoms in particular, so he had not necessarily expected that the overwhelming interest in his nation would come from North Africa and the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


The Peril to Democrats of Left-Leaning Urban Centers (Joel Kotkin - August 10, 2015, RCP)

[A] cadre of modern mayors is minting a host of ideologically new urban politics that put cities at odds with millions of traditional urban Democrats. This trend is strongest on the coasts, but is also taking place in many heartland cities. Bill de Blasio is currently its most prominent practitioner, but left-wing pundit Harold Meyerson says approvingly that many cities are busily mapping "the future of liberalism" with such policies as  the $15-an-hour minimum wage, stricter EPA greenhouse gas regulations, and housing policies intended to force people out of lower density suburbs and into cities.

For the Democrats, this urban ascendency holds some dangers. Despite all the constant claims of a massive "return to the city," urban populations are growing no faster than those in suburbs, and, in the past few years, far slower than those of the hated exurbs. This means we won't see much change in the foreseeable future in the current 70 to 80 percent of people in metropolitan America who live in suburbs and beyond. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill  notes that the vast majority of residents of regions over 500,000--roughly 153 million people--live in the lower-density suburban places, while only 60 million live in core cities.  

This leftward shift is marked, but it's not indicative of any tide of public enthusiasm. One-party rule, as one might expect, does not galvanize voters. The turnout  in recent city elections has plummeted across the country, with turnouts 25 percent or even lower. In Los Angeles, the 2013 turnout that elected progressive Eric Garcetti was roughly one-third that in the city's 1970 mayoral election.

Bolstered by this narrow electorate, liberal pundits celebrate the fact that 27 of the largest U.S. cities voted Democratic in 2012, including "red" state municipalities such as Houston -- but without counting the suburbs, where voter participation tends to be higher. An overly urban-based party faces the same fundamental challenges of a largely rural-oriented one--for example, the right-wing core of the GOP--in a country where most people live in neither environment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Liberals Can't Admit to Thinking Like Conservatives (Megan McArdle, 8/06/15, Bloomberg View)

The second issue is a simply a perennial problem for surveys that look at political and moral reason: What questions did you ask? If you give people a quiz on global warming, conservatives may look more ignorant and ideologically motivated than liberals. On the other hand, if you ask that same group how many prisoners are in jail for non-violent drug offenses, you may "prove" that liberals ignorantly and/or willfully underestimate the number. Another way of saying that is that liberals may indeed resort to reasoning from sanctity, group loyalty, and authority -- but the questions Haidt has asked simply may not capture that tendency.

This problem occurred to Jeremy Frimer, who did a paper on how conservative and liberal attitudes towards authority shift when you shift who the authority is. "Together with my collaborators Dr. Danielle Gaucher and Nicola Schaefer, we asked both red and blue Americans to share their views about obeying liberal authorities (e.g., "obey an environmentalist"). In an article that we recently  published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we found that liberals were now the ones calling for obedience. And when the authorities were viewed as ideologically neutral (e.g., office manager), liberals and conservatives agreed. Only when people perceived the authority to be conservative (e.g., religious authority) did conservatives show a positive bias."

Now Frimer has a new paper, co-authored with Haidt, on sanctity. And again they find liberals arguing from a broader range of moral foundations than Haidt's work initially suggested. When it comes to desecrating the purity of a mountain, instead of, say, the American flag, it turns out that liberal mountain climbers care a lot, even though no sentient being is harmed by the action. [...]

But if this result holds up, it brings us back to the first point I raised: It may not be so much that liberals don't care about sanctity, authority, and so forth, as that they are culturally encouraged not to admit that they do. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, of course, but I don't think that it is, because our stubborn moral intuitions about what is right and wrong are much more powerful than our logic when we make decisions. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Men Need Friends : Male friendships often center on groups and activities. But without strong one-on-one ties, men are more likely to feel isolated when romantic partnerships fail or don't happen at all. (ALANA MASSEY,  AUG 12, 2015, Pacific Standard)

A study published in PLoS One in March revealed that, while women prefer intimate one-to-one friendships, men are more likely to experience friendship in larger groups. The study was based on how men and women appeared in social media profile photos and, overwhelmingly, men appeared in large groups while women preferred to appear with another female friend. (The researchers acknowledged that these photos might not represent real-life social relationships but noted: "[N]o existing research suggests that profile pictures would include imagined or random social relations to any significant extent [not least because the other person is likely to object].") Though they ruled out the prospect that men do not appear with one another for fear of homophobic suggestions, the language we use around male friendship suggests that it is abnormal. No one would automatically assume that there was a romantic interaction if a woman said she was going out with a "girlfriend," but a man spending time with a "boyfriend" is unheard of outside romantic contexts. When men do have especially close relationships, we teasingly call them "bromances," as if there must be something amorous between two men who choose to spend time together one-on-one.

When men do have especially close relationships, we teasingly call them "bromances," as if there must be something amorous between two men who choose to spend time together one-on-one.

Studies have consistently found that male friendships often center around activities rather than conversations, meaning self-disclosure and intimacy are not prioritized. While some might dismiss self-disclosure as a matter of taste, there is evidence to suggest that it helps people become better at resolving conflicts and at feeling empathetic.

The major difference, of course, is that any two of the men in those photos can sit at a bar and talk sports amicably for hours, while the two women pictured probably aren't even talking anymore because of some imagined slight.

August 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


The 'good old days' are now: Home appliances today are cheaper and more energy efficient than ever before (Mark J. Perry, 8/14/15, AEI)

In 1973, the 8,000 BTU room air conditioner pictured above was advertised in the Sears Spring/Summer catalog at a price of $216.75. At the average hourly wage in 1973 of $4.15, the average American would have had to work more than a week -- 52.2 hours or 6.5 eight-hour days -- to earn enough pre-tax income to purchase the room air conditioner from Sears.

Fast forward 40 years to 2015. The Kenmore 8,000 BTU room air conditioner pictured below is available today for $219.99, so the retail price at Sears has barely changed in more than 40 years, even though the overall CPI has increased 5.4 times since 1973, and the average hourly wage has increased 5.1 times. At the current average hourly wage of $21.01, the work time necessary to purchase today's Sears 8,000 BTU room air conditioner is only 10.4 hours, or a little more than a day of work.

Measured in what is ultimately most important -- our time -- the cost of a standard room air conditioner at Sears has fallen by more than 80% over the last 40 years, bringing the cost of what was likely a high-priced luxury item in 1973 down to a price that is affordable by even low-income Americans today.

The hours worked surveys are a particularly good illustration of the deflation levels of the past 35 years. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian Democratic Realist (HARRY CLOR, 8/10/15, Liberty & Law)

Niebuhr's social outlook may be considered pessimistic, though he never gives way to an unqualified pessimism. To the passage just quoted, he adds this:

Where it (the selfishness) is inordinate, it can be checked only by competing assertions of interest, and these can be effective only if coercive methods are added to moral and rational persuasion.

Quite a bit of Niebuhr's argumentation looks like an effort to persuade his socialist and liberal-leaning colleagues that coercion is endemic to political life--and so they should desist from looking forward, naively, to a social transformation by which it would be eradicated or rendered unnecessary. Among the naïve are those who fail to see that even democratic movements are, and more or less need to be, coercive. Hence, despite his periodic denigration of the balance-of-power concept, Niebuhr ends up depending upon it to a considerable degree.

The distinctively Niebuhrian project is the reconstruction of democracy's philosophic foundation, especially its view of basic human nature. Central to that enterprise is his remarkable recourse to and utilization of the traditional Christian doctrine of Original Sin. (I say remarkable because of Niebuhr's general reputation as a liberal.)

Niebuhr maintains that modern liberal thought has been infected with two erroneous attitudes: an excessive individualism and a virtually boundless optimism about human beings and relations. Writing against "doctrinaire libertarianism," he makes this striking observation:

No democratic society can survive if it acts upon the assumption that [personal] liberty is the only principle of democracy and does not recognize that community has as much value as liberty.

How many of our contemporaries would affirm, publicly, what this passage clearly implies--that the claims of individual liberty must be balanced against, and limited by, the equal claims of community? (Ask contemporary Americans what this country stands for; you will hear "liberty" far more often than "community.") The trouble with doctrinal libertarianism is its refusal to acknowledge consequences of the fact that we are "social animals," not just individuals, and that some of our problems are much in need of public, that is governmental, attention.

Niebuhr's writings suggest that our excessive optimism is as deeply erroneous as our excessive individualism. Here is the root of it: "The conception of human nature which underlies the social and political attitudes of a liberal-democratic culture is that of an essentially harmless individual," who simply desires to stay alive in peace and security. But we fail to see how easily the will-to-live is transformed into a will-to-power. Even our ideals and idealists are inevitably infected with an egoistic corruption. "No matter how pure the aspirations of the saintliest idealist may be," he writes, "there is no level of human moral or social achievement in which there are not some corruption of inordinate self-love." not individualist.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Almost 1 Million Signed Up for Obamacare After Open Enrollment (HealthDay, Aug. 14, 2015) 

Close to 1 million Americans signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, after the open enrollment period ended earlier this year, U.S. health officials reported.

The new customers signed up with the federal health insurance exchange after they became eligible due to changes in their circumstances, such as losing work-provided coverage or having a baby, according to a Thursday statement from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

With these new sign-ups, it's likely that the federal government will meet its target of 9 million to 10 million people who have paid for coverage through insurance exchanges by the end of the year.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


North Korea says America just declared war (Jeva Lange, 8/14/15, The Week)

Perhaps even more than they hate Seth Rogen and James Franco, North Korea does not find it amusing when Seoul and Washington buddy up for military exercises. This time, though, the DPRK has accused the U.S. and South Korea's upcoming drill as being "a declaration of war."

With progress being made in Cuba, Syria, Venezuela and Iran, and the PRC falling apart, all t's a perfect time to decapitate the regime in Pyongyang. The hard part is provoking them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Danny Danon, dismally, is the true face of Netanyahu's Israel (DAVID HOROVITZ August 14, 2015, Times of Israel)

In an interview with The Times of Israel in June 2013, Danny Danon, serving at the time as deputy minister of defense, asserted that his Likud party and the governing coalition of the day were staunchly opposed to a two-state solution. Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's professions of support in principle for a two-state deal, the government, said Danon, would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote.

His comments caused an uproar. Taking the highly unusual step of contacting The Times of Israel during Shabbat, sources in the Prime Minister's Office insisted that Danon's remarks did "not represent the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government of Israel." Quite the contrary. The sources went on to say that the prime minister "is interested in a resumption of negotiations without preconditions," and that his positions regarding support for a two-state solution remained in force.

On Friday, Netanyahu announced the appointment of Danon as Israel's next ambassador to the United Nations -- the representative of Israel, that is, who is charged with arguing Israel's case at the UN Security Council.

Israel needs to decide whether it wants to be part of the West or the East.

August 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


A Poverty-Buster That's No Liberal Fantasy (Cass R. Sunstein, 8/13/15, Bloomberg View)

What would you think if a presidential candidate -- Republican or Democrat -- proposed a new federal program claiming to reduce poverty, boost employment, improve the health of infants and mothers, and increase the likelihood that people would graduate from college? You'd probably think the candidate was blowing a lot of smoke.

Yet the earned income tax credit is doing every one of these things. In recent years, a growing body of research has shown that unlike many antipoverty efforts, the EITC is not only achieving its primary goals but also having unexpected secondary benefits. And a new paper, released last month, demonstrates that the news is even better than the program's advocates thought.

The operation of the EITC is fairly simple. If you're in the labor force, but don't make much money, you get a tax credit at the end of the year. The amount depends on how much you make and how many children you have. In 2014, the maximum for someone with no qualifying children was $496. For someone with three or more qualifying children, the maximum was $6,143.

The original goals of the EITC were simple: reduce poverty while also increasing employment. The credit would provide help to the working poor, and by making work more remunerative, it would also increase people's incentive to join the labor market. Last month's research, by Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, and the Treasury Department's Ankur Patel, offers the most comprehensive assessment of the credit's effects on both counts.

Much of the authors' analysis explores the consequences of Congress's 1993 decision to increase the credit. Focusing on families led by single women, they find that a $1,000 increase produced major reductions in the poverty rate -- specifically, a 9.4 percentage-point reduction in the share of families below the poverty line.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


Spending Battle Looms Even as Deficit Shrinks (NICK TIMIRAOS, Aug. 12, 2015, WSJ)

The Congressional Budget Office last week slashed its deficit forecast for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 by more than 12%. It now expects the U.S. will run a deficit of $425 billion, the lowest since 2007 in both nominal terms and as a share of the economy. [...]

The budget outlook has improved this year due to economic growth boosting revenue. Revenue for the 12-month period ended July is nearly 9% higher than the year-earlier level, while spending is up 6%.

Since the start of the fiscal year last October, the deficit reached $428 billion in July after adjusting for calendar differences, down from $460 billion for the same period through July 2014.

The situation will only get worse as the Peace Dividend kicks in.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Oil Falls to a Six-Year Low (Mark Shenk, August 12, 2015, Bloomberg)

Oil sank to a six-year low as rising crude output and signs that China's economy is weakening increased concern that a global surplus will worsen.

West Texas Intermediate futures tumbled 2.5 percent as the deteriorating outlook for Chinese growth follows the highest production from OPEC in three years in July. Iran's nuclear deal with world powers last month fueled speculation that it will pump more crude, adding to the glut.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


RESEARCHERS CREATE ROBOTS CAPABLE OF EVOLVING (Mary Beth Griggs, 8/13/15, Popular Science)

 At the University of Cambridge, scientists have created a "mother robot" that can not only build smaller robots, it can also select the fittest among them for survival, and re-arrange the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Israel would lift Gaza blockade for truce (Elhanan Miller, 8/13/15, Times of Israel)

A leading Arab daily reported on Thursday that Israel has agreed to "entirely" remove its blockade on the Gaza Strip and establish a naval passageway between the Hamas-controlled territory and Cyprus, in return for a long-term ceasefire lasting seven to 10 years.

August 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


They Voted 'No' to Austerity. They Got 'Yes' Anyway. What Do Greeks Think About Tsipras Now? : We asked Athenians on the street how they feel about the Syriza leader's acceptance of the EU's terms and the lean times ahead. (TOMÁS LYNCH, 8/12/15, In These Times)

In January, the Greeks elected Alexis Tsipras and his radical Syriza party on a wave of defiance and hope. Since then, as the anti-austerity party fought for debt relief from the European Union, the hardline negotiations between Syriza and the financial institutions of the EU made weekly international headlines. On July 5, an overwhelming majority of the Greek electorate voted "no" to the conditions demanded by the European institutions in exchange for a third bailout. Yet, two weeks later, Tsipras pushed the same conditions through the Greek Parliament over the opposition of many members of his own party.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Europe's Ayatollah Gold Rush : The business sprint to Iran means sanctions will never 'snap back.' (WSJ, 8/12/15)

The U.S. Congress still hasn't voted on the nuclear deal with Iran, but European companies are already rushing to invest in the Islamic Republic. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni last week led a business delegation to Tehran, where he told his hosts that "our two countries can work together in the fields of trade, commerce and economy," according to Iranian media.

The congressional vote is a sideshow.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Miracles of productivity hidden in the modern home (John Kay, 8/11/15, Financial Times)

I can tap my smartphone and a cab will arrive almost immediately. Another tap will tell me the latest news, value my share portfolio or give me route directions to my next meeting. I can instantly find the time of a train to Margate, the weather in Majorca, download a rail ticket and receive a boarding pass for my flight. As a result, I do not need to stand on a street corner vainly trying to hail a taxi to the theatre, lose myself in London streets, miss my train or queue at a check-in desk. I can chat to friends, or arrange a loan, while appearing to pay attention to a dull meeting.

The changes that have occurred in the past decade have, from an economic perspective, increased at virtually no cost the efficiency of household production. Trying to account for this kind of development is the considerable challenge that George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, has given Sir Charles Bean, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, in asking him to review how the UK's official statistics are compiled.

The data framework within which economic analysis is conducted is largely the product of the second world war. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


US jets launch first anti-IS Syria strikes from Turkey (FULYA OZERKAN AND STUART WILLIAMS August 13, 2015, AFP)
US warplanes Wednesday carried out their first air strikes on Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria after taking off from a Turkish base, kicking off a key new phase in the campaign against the jihadists.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Cuba Sees Christianity Boom as Bibles Pour into Communist Nation (Carrie Dedrick, 8/05/15,

Cuba experiencing a Christian revival, as tens of thousands of Bibles pour into the communist-ruled nation. 
Christian Today reports 83,000 copies of the Bible were sent to Cuba last month alone by the International Missions Board. Additionally, the American Bible Society has a goal of sending one million Bibles to Cuba by 2017. So far, 60,000 copies have been distributed in the nation. 
According to the American Bible Society website, Christianity is booming in Cuba. 
"With a population of 11 million, a literacy rate of nearly 100 percent and an unprecedented growth in Christianity thanks to social, economic and political reforms, many Cubans are seeking guidance and hope found in God's Word. As a result of this unprecedented spiritual and cultural shift, demand for Bibles has outpaced supply. In addition, many Cubans cannot afford to import high-quality Bibles," the American Bible Society said. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


A Jewish Journalist's Exclusive Look Inside Iran (Larry Cohler-Esses, August 12, 2015, The Tablet)

Thirty-six years after a vast and diverse movement of Iranians coalesced around the elderly Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to overthrow the shah's corrupt rule, the unique, theocratically controlled electoral polity he established sits today on the precipice of a huge change. After decades of isolation, many (though not all) of the international sanctions imposed against it are slated to be dropped in exchange for Shi'ite Tehran submitting to a nuclear inspection regime of unprecedented scope. American sanctions will also be lifted if Congress does not veto the deal negotiated by the United States and the five world powers. Iran consequently stands to reap a huge windfall of unfrozen assets, foreign investments and ramped-up trade that will eventually bring in hundreds of billions of dollars.

At the same time, this opening up threatens to bring with it -- the world.

That afternoon at Cyrus's tomb, the Iranian expatriate, a gemologist from New York City's Upper East Side, with her suspect reverence for ancient Persia's founder, was just an early sample of the flood of people that will come.

And so was I. My visit, coming after two years of seeking a journalist's visa to report from Iran, represented something special: I was the first journalist from a Jewish, pro-Israel (if not always pro-Israel government) publication to be granted a journalist's visa since the 1979 Revolution. Whether this was a reflection of increased openness by the government I cannot say. My visa came only after a former representative of Iran's Jewish community in the country's parliament wrote a letter on my behalf.

But for me, my visit was special for another reason. I had lived in Iran for almost two years in the late 1970s, just before the revolution. There, shortly after having finished college, I taught English as a second language in Shiraz and Isfahan, two of the country's most beautiful cities. In many ways, that time in Iran, coming soon after my academic education, constituted my real education. [...]

During the course of my conversations with several senior ayatollahs and prominent political and government officials, it became clear that there is high-placed dissent to the official line against Israel. No one had anything warm to say about the Jewish state. But pressed as to whether it was Israel's policies or its very existence to which they objected, several were adamant: It's Israel's policies. Others, notwithstanding their ideological objection to a Jewish state, made it clear they would accept a two-state solution to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians if the Palestinians were to negotiate one and approve it in a referendum.

Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel; their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle. Official government statistics estimate the unemployment in Iran at around 10%. But unofficial sources estimate it as twice that -- and this in a context in which only 36% of the population participates in the workforce. An estimated 150,000 Iranians with college educations leave the country yearly.

But among ordinary Iranians the sense that something is now opening up in the country is pervasive. It began with the election of the reformist presidential candidate Rouhani in 2012, long before the recently negotiated nuclear agreement introduced the prospect of crippling sanctions being lifted. And the impact of this mood on people's willingness to speak out is clear.

In Iran today, freedom of the press remains a dream. But freedom of tongue has been set loose. I was repeatedly struck by the willingness of Iranians to offer sharp, even withering criticisms of their government on the record, sometimes even happy to be filmed doing so.

"The people of Iran want in some way to show the world that what's going on in the last years is not the will of the Iranian people but of the Iranian government," Nader Qaderi told me as I filmed him with my phone outside his butcher shop in North Tehran's Tajrish Market. [...]

One thing is for sure: Iran's rulers are aware of the two-edged nature of the opening to the world that the lifting of sanctions would bring -- and they appear to be divided over it.

When Rouhani came to the United Nations, soon after his surprise election victory he made it clear that the nuclear agreement he sought was not just about unfreezing financial sanctions in exchange for nuclear transparency.

"Within a very short period of time there will be a settlement of the nuclear issue," he told the New York press corps then . "And step-by-step [this will] pave the way for Iran's better relations with the West, including the expansion of economic ties, the expansion of cultural ties and the expansion of relations between the Western nations and Iran."

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Head of group fighting Iran nuclear deal quits because he supports the deal (pETER wEBER, 6/12/15, tHE wEEK)

On Monday, the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) announced a new chairman, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at sinking the Iran nuclear deal agreed to by Tehran and six world powers, including the U.S. More quietly, the group said that its president and co-founder, Gary Samore, was stepping down, replaced by David Ibsen.

The reason Samore resigned, he told The New York Times, is that after carefully studying the deal, he found he supports it. "I think President Obama's strategy succeeded," he said. "He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions." Samore isn't exactly a dove on Iran -- he helped launch UANI in 2008 to promote tougher sanctions on Tehran, which he believed was secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. He later served as an adviser to Obama on nuclear issues.

You can't both be an activist and pay attention to substance.

August 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Deflation Stalks the Euro Zone (Mark Gilbert, 8/11/15, Bloomberg View)

The economist Paul Krugman has argued that even though deflation -- commonly defined as a sustained period of falling prices -- is relatively rare, a "price stability trap" can fool central banks into thinking all is well just because prices aren't actually declining:

As the inflation rate goes toward zero, it seems to become 'sticky': In the modern world, rapid deflation doesn't happen, and in fact slight positive inflation often persists in the face of an obviously depressed economy.

Consumer price gains have averaged just 0.1 percent so far this year in the euro bloc, and July saw a gain of just 0.2 percent after the first three months of the year all posted price declines. So while Friday's growth figures will show the euro region has successfully dragged itself out of recession, the inflation backdrop suggests there's still work to be done to dispel the threat of deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Which medical tests are worth doing? (Michael Mosley, 11 August 2015, BBC Magazine)

Prostate cancer kills 10,000 men every year in the UK but screening is even more controversial than breast cancer screening. This is because of the well-known inaccuracies of the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test. When I was at medical school we were told that PSA stood for Promoting Stress and Anxiety.

As with breast cancer, the problem is you don't know which of the tumours you detect will grow aggressively, and which won't. [...]

Dr Vincent Gnanapragasam, who runs a watchful waiting programme at Addenbrokes hospital in Cambridge, tells me: "There was a study which took men with all kinds of prostate cancer and randomised them to having nothing done or radical surgery and at the end of 10 years there was actually no difference in the overall survival. Most importantly the men with low risk cancer had absolutely no evidence of benefit from radical treatment."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


What the Iran-Deal Debate Is Like in Iran : The agreement has divided Iranians into camps that could shape the future of the country. (ABBAS MILANI AND MICHAEL MCFAUL, 8/11/15, The Atlantic)

Those supporting the deal include moderates inside the government, many opposition leaders, a majority of Iranian citizens, and many in the Iranian American diaspora--a disparate group that has rarely agreed on anything until now.

First and most obviously, the moderates within the regime, including Rouhani and his close friend and political ally, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, negotiated the agreement, and are now the most vocal in defending it against Iranian hawks. Rouhani crushed his conservative opponents in the last presidential election in 2013 in part because he advocated for a nuclear deal. This agreement is his Obamacare--his major campaign promise now delivered. Former Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, as well as moderates in the parliament and elsewhere in government, have also vigorously endorsed the accord. During the negotiations, Rafsanjani, for example, celebrated the fact that Iran's leaders had "broken a taboo" in talking directly to the United States. Since the agreement was signed, he has said that those within Iran who oppose it are "making a mistake."

Second and somewhat surprisingly, many prominent opposition leaders also support the deal. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a popular presidential candidate in 2009 who is now under house arrest for his leadership of the Green Movement protests against Ahmadinejad's reelection, backed the pursuit of the agreement, albeit with some qualifications. He's joined by other government critics, some only recently released from Iran's prisons. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human-rights activist and Nobel laureate now living in exile, expressed the hope after an interim agreement was reached in April that "negotiations come to a conclusion, because the sanctions have made the people poorer"; she labeled as "extremists" those who opposed the agreement in Iran and America. Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist who spent more than six years in prison in Iran, also praised the agreement, writing that "step-by-step nuclear accords, the lifting of economic sanctions and the improvement of the relations between Iran and Western powers will gradually remove the warlike and securitized environment from Iran."

Polls show that most Iranians agree with these positions, and public opinion is apparent not just in the Iranian government's numbers but also in the results of earlier surveys conducted by the University of Maryland and Tehran University. The sentiments of many ordinary Iranians were manifest in the spontaneous demonstrations of joy that took place in many Iranian cities after the agreement was announced. 

A new poll also indicates that two-thirds of Iranian Americans favor the agreement, and our own conversations with members of the Iranian diaspora bear this out. The Islamic Republic has long enjoyed some defense from a handful of non-governmental organizations in the West, but support for the nuclear deal stretches much deeper into the diaspora and includes those who despise Tehran's theocracy. For instance, many prominent Iranian American business leaders have told us they approve of the accord. Iranian American foundations and community-service organizations have issued statements backing the deal, while also calling for renewed focus on political reforms inside Iran. Even many of those who had to flee the country after the 1979 revolution, and have since helped fund projects to encourage democracy inside Iran (including, in the past, our own Iran Democracy Project at Stanford's Hoover Institution), support it. There are exceptions. Some in the diaspora still believe that only more pressure, and if need be a military attack, will bring down the Islamic Republic. But the number of Iranian Americans who are at once critical of the regime and supportive of the nuclear deal is striking.

This coalition has multiple motivations for favoring the deal. A number of Iranians simply want sanctions lifted. Some moderates within the regime may want to reduce international pressure on Iran as a means to preserve the power structure. And it's safe to assume that a few Iranian American business leaders see new trade opportunities in the diplomatic achievement. But the agreement could also serve as a first step in alleviating the problems of ordinary Iranian citizens. If the deal represents the beginning of Iran's reengagement with the outside world--more trade, more investment, more space inside Iran for the private sector, more travel, more normalcy--all of these trends would undermine the ideological, emotional, and irrational impulses of the theocracy. Especially in the context of an aging supreme leader, a newly elected reformist president, and a young, post-revolutionary population, the nuclear deal offers an opportunity for Iran to modernize politically and economically. Even dissidents sitting in jail or exile have expressed these views. Ganji, for instance, argued that "if there are friendly relations between Iran and Western powers, led by the United States, the West will be able to exert more positive influence on Iran to improve its state of human rights." Conversely, members of this coalition have voiced fears that a collapse of the deal would only reaffirm the United States as the enemy of Iran--the Great Satan--and thereby strengthen the hardliners internally. Issa Saharkhiz, a journalist who spent four years in prison, recently warned that such a collapse could bring "Iranian versions of ISIS"--a reference to Shiite conservatives and their militant allies--to power in the country.

And that's exactly why the most militantly authoritarian, conservative, and anti-Western leaders and groups within Iran oppose the deal. This coalition is formidable and includes former President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader who denied the Holocaust and called for the elimination of Israel. Fereydoon Abbasi, who directed Iran's nuclear program under Ahmadinejad, and Saeed Jalili, the former nuclear negotiator, have repeatedly sniped at the deal. In a biting interview, Abbasi ripped into every facet of the talks, saying that the negotiators, "especially Mr. Rouhani ... have accepted the premise that [Iran] is guilty." Several conservative clerics and IRGC commanders have expressed similar sentiments. One prominent critic of the deal claimed that of the 19 redlines stipulated by the supreme leader, 18 and a half had been compromised in the current agreement. Many publications considered close to Khamenei--including most noticeably the daily paper Kayhan--have been unsparing in their criticism.

Conservative opponents of the deal tend to emphasize its near-term negative security consequences. They point out that the agreement will roll back Iran's nuclear program, which was intended to deter an American or Israeli attack, and thereby increase Iran's vulnerability. They have denounced the system for inspecting Iranian nuclear facilities as an intelligence bonanza for the CIA. And they have issued blistering attacks on the incompetence of Iran's negotiating team, claiming that negotiators caved on many key issues and were outmaneuvered by more clever and sinister American diplomats.

And yet such antagonism appears to be about more than the agreement's clauses and annexes. The deal's hardline adversaries also seem concerned about the same longer-term consequences that the moderates embrace. For instance, IRGC leaders must worry that a lifting of sanctions will undermine their business arrangements for contraband trade. In a not-too-discreet reference to these concerns, Rouhani declared them to be "peddlers of sanctions," adding that "they are angry at the agreement" while the people of Iran pay the price for their profiteering. Over time, more exposure to the wider world of commerce is likely to diminish if not destroy the IRGC's lucrative no-bid government contracts for infrastructure and construction projects.

Perhaps more threatening for this coalition is the loss of America as a scapegoat for all domestic problems.

The loss of the Iranian bogeyman is especially threatening for Bibi and the neocons, because it shifts attention back to Israeli domestic politics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


A Trump-Sanders Ticket? (IRA STOLL, 8/10/15, NY Sun

On issues, there's more overlap between the Republican billionaire Mr. Trump and the socialist anti-billionaire Mr. Sanders than one might expect.

On immigration, both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders sound restrictionist notes. Mr. Trump rose to political prominence in part with his comments accusing Mexico of sending criminals and rapists to the United States. Mr. Sanders warns that immigration depresses American wages and contributes to youth unemployment.

On trade, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump both oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement that was one of President Clinton's great achievements. Mr. Trump called NAFTA a "disaster" and Mr. Sanders described it as a scheme to allow "multinational corporations" to "exploit desperate third world workers." They also oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Hillary Clinton helped to craft that agreement as Secretary of State (though she has been noncommittal about it as a candidate). Governor Jeb Bush, by contrast, is a big supporter of free trade.

On guns, Senator Sanders was initially elected to Congress with the support of the National Rifle Association. Pro-gun-control journalists denounce him as a "gun nut." Mr. Trump, likewise, has been running on what he describes as a strong pro-Second Amendment stance.

Even the personal lives of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump have certain similarities.

Both are from the outer boroughs of New York City. Mr. Sanders is from Brooklyn; Mr. Trump, from Queens. Both are children of immigrants. Mr. Sanders' father was born in Poland; Mr. Trump's mother is from Scotland.

Neither candidate served in the Vietnam War. Mr. Trump had student deferments and a medical deferment. Mr. Sanders reportedly applied for conscientious objector status; by the time the application was rejected he was "too old to be drafted." Mr. Trump is on his third marriage. Mr. Sanders is on his second marriage and has a son from a relationship with a third woman.

Most importantly, they're both atheists.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


China devalues yuan in shocking move (Charles Riley, 8/11/15, CNN)

The People's Bank of China allowed the yuan to depreciate by nearly 2% against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday, the result of a surprise policy change that roiled international currency markets.

The sudden devaluation is the largest in two decades, and comes amid slower economic growth and increased stock market volatility in China.

Are there really people shocked that China is a dumpster fire?

August 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Ikea to sell only energy-saving LED lightbulbs (Adam Vaughan, 8/10/15, The Guardian)

Ikea will no longer sell halogen and 'energy-saving' compact fluorescent bulbs from September, when it switches all its lighting sold globally to super efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

The move affects over 2.3m bulbs sold by the Swedish furniture chain each year in the UK and an undisclosed number in its markets elsewhere in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

All it took was banning the bulb we didn't want.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Where's the Affordable Carbon Fiber Automobile? (Bradley Berman, August 10, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

Carbon fiber is a flexible fabric-like material that, when combined with a polymer, can be molded into the shape of a car part that is stronger and lighter than today's steel and aluminum parts. The higher cost is based on the fiber material itself, as well as longer production times. Metal parts can be stamped in seconds, but it can take several minutes for a carbon fiber part to be molded and cured.

BMW is using carbon fiber in key roof elements, supporting roof pillars, and door frames--essentially anything that's high off the road. Meanwhile, steel and aluminum are employed for the chassis. "We're saving weight, but we're saving weight up high," says Paul Ferraiolo, head of product planning and strategy for BMW North America. "It allows our engineers to design a car with a lower center of gravity."

BMW's use of carbon fiber on the 7-series leverages investments and experiences in using the material on its i3 and i8 plug-in electric cars. Carbon fiber makes more economic sense for electric cars, because lithium-ion batteries are expensive. Less weight means a smaller battery pack, a worthwhile trade-off. The shift from the i3 to the 7-series is a kind of migration of carbon fiber from one limited application to another--to offset investments that might not reach everyday products for a decade or more.

The same intra-company migration of technology explains the liberal use of carbon fiber on the $75,000 Alfa Romeo 4C sports car, manufactured by Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. "Fiat-Chrysler has a vast resource of experience and expertise in carbon fiber technology, including lesson learned from Ferrari and Maserati," says Fabio Migliavacca, a senior product planner for Fiat-Chrysler (which also owns those high-end Italian brands).

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Democrats Are Not Socialists, and Neither is Bernie Sanders (SAMUEL GOLDMAN, August 10, 2015, American Conservative)

Historically, the essential feature of socialism is the demand for public ownership or direct government control of major sectors of the economy. A bit more abstractly, socialists have aimed to eliminate considerations of profit from as many areas of life as possible. They used to the describe this goal as "revolution", which didn't necessarily mean violence.

The modern Democratic Party isn't about revolution. Since FDR, Democrats have consistently supported regulated competition and redistributive policies that direct private profits toward the relative losers in market exchange. These strategies are better understood as "welfarism" than socialism. A concrete example? Compare Britain's NHS before Thatcher's reforms to Medicare...or Obamacare, for that matter. one really questions that free enterprise maximizes profits in a way that government ownership can't compete with.  And the fact is, the more profitable business is the more wealth we have available as a society to redistribute.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director Explains the Tissue Donation Process (Kelsey Harkness, August 10, 2015, Daily Signal)

For eight years, Abby Johnson, who used to work for a branch of Planned Parenthood, didn't just witness the fetal tissue donation process--she participated in it.

During her tenure at a southeast Texas clinic--the same location featured in the fifth undercover video shot by the Center for Medical Progress--Johnson said she would "coerce" women to sign up for studies, then reap the financial benefits.

In 2009, a year after being named "Employee of the Year" at her clinic, Johnson, 35, said she witnessed a doctor performing an abortion on an ultrasound and quit her job. [...]

What would you say?

We would tell the client that we are participating in a study and she has an opportunity today to donate the tissue that's removed from her uterus to a research laboratory where they will be working on life-saving treatments for various diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or other types of medical studies. We would tell her this is an opportunity for her to possibly save the life of someone else by donating this tissue. By creating this altruistic scenario, women would almost always consent and say, "Yes, absolutely."

Was there a strategy behind the way you phrased that question?

We never discussed, "They may want just a leg, or an arm, or these specific organs." That would create a sense of humanity in their unborn child. And really, we would even shy away from calling it fetal tissue research because just calling it tissue sanitizes it--the women don't necessarily think about the body of their baby, they're just thinking about blood and tissue.

Did Planned Parenthood officials train you on what language to use?

They did. In the fifth video that was released, that was actually my affiliate, where I worked. Missy Ferrell--Melissa, we call her Missy--she was head of the research department when I worked there as well. Anytime we would embark on a research project, someone from the research team would come in and say, "This is what we're doing, this is how you need to talk to the clients about it."

I Don't Know If I'm Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos (Ruben Navarrette Jr., 8/10/15, Daily Beast)

David Daleiden, head of The Center for Medical Progress, issued an unsurprisingly stronger statement: "Planned Parenthood's system-wide conspiracy to evade the law and make money off of aborted fetal tissue is now undeniable. Anyone who watches these videos knows that Planned Parenthood is engaged in barbaric practices and human rights abuses that must end."

I agree with that assessment, and I'm pro-choice. At least I thought I was until recently. These days, each time, I express concern, outrage, disgust, or horror over another video--which should come with warnings that they may produce nightmares--some supporter of the organization responds by attacking me and insisting that I was never really pro-choice to begin with. 

Defenders of Planned Parenthood are trying to deflect criticism away from the organization and onto those who produced the videos. In the minds of true believers, those are the real culprits--guilty of releasing illegally obtained and "heavily edited" videos with the intent of destroying a valuable organization that provides essential health services to millions of women. The organization has hired an expensive Washington, D.C.-based PR firm to do damage control, and the firm quickly tried to pressure television networks to stop airing the videos. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


The President's Mohsen Makhmalbaf: 'There's a little Shah in all of us' (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 10 August 2015, The Guardian)

His latest film, The President, which premiered at Venice last year and is out in the UK next week, is a dark satire following the life of a despot and his six-year-old grandson as they flee from revolutionaries. Disguising himself as a street musician, the president, played by Misha Gomiashvilli, begins to learn about the people he oppressed.

Although it was shot in Georgia, the film is meant to depict an unnamed country: this dictator could come from any part of the world. As Makhmalbaf says: "You can see Iraq, Libya, Syria, Central Asia and even Cuba in it." The idea came to Makhmalbaf nine years ago when he was visiting the ruins of Darul Aman palace outside Kabul, once the home of former Afghan president Mohammad Najibullah. "I initially based the script on Najibullah," he says, "but after the Arab spring, I rewrote it many times, with help from my wife, deleting any signs that could reveal which country it was."

"At last we had a president - but is it clear whether their president came to power with or without an election? He could be either a shah or a president. Was he overthrown by a revolution or a military coup? It could be both. You could see Iraq's Saddam Hussein in him, or Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. You could also see Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or even our own former Shah of Iran and his wife Farah Pahlavi, who fled the country before the revolution."

Makhmalbaf, 58, has first-hand experience of revolution. As a 15-year-old, he set up his own guerrilla-style political group to overthrow the Shah. Jailed at 17 for attempting to stab a soldier, he was only released five years later when the Shah fled during the 1979 revolution. In prison, he shared cells with some of Iran's most famous revolutionaries; some became leaders, others were hanged as traitors.

After the revolution, Makhmalbaf quit politics and began a career as a writer and film-maker. Three decades later, however, he became a high-profile supporter of Iran's pro-reform Green movement, which took to the streets in 2009 to protest at the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is now persona non grata in Iran, where his works are banned.

Iran will be mature when its leaders can laugh at themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


HOW MILITARY R&D CREATED THE FOOD WE EAT  (Nicola Twilley, 8/10/15, Popular Science)

Faced with the challenge of feeding millions of men, scattered across the globe, the U.S. Army invested its not insubstantial resources into the development of lighter, longer-lasting rations, either in the army's own R&D labs in Natick, Massachusetts, or in collaboration with universities. The military shared its findings with American food corporations, who were both eager for lucrative government vendor contracts and loathe to invest their own capital in primary research--a dynamic that ensured that the U.S. Army's combat-feeding objectives underlie an astonishing number of grocery store staples. Wartime innovations in blood plasma transport paved the way for instant coffee, the McRib is descended from military research into "fabricated modules of meat," and the finger-staining dust on Cheetos can be traced back to a dehydrated, compressed "jungle" cheese invented by government scientists in 1943.

But the path from the Department of Defense to Piggly Wiggly is frequently far from direct. Take the PowerBar, whose origins Marx de Salcedo traces back to the Second World War-era Logan bar, or emergency D ration, a fortified, meal-replacement chocolate bar that was deliberately designed to melt less easily and taste less good, so that soldiers wouldn't be tempted to eat it before they truly needed it.

Following the war, non-melting chocolate spun off into a separate research project (M&Ms aside, it is still an unsolved problem), while the meal-in-a-bar idea was given a boost by the 1969 development of a mathematical model to map water activity in different foods under different conditions--research that was carried out by MIT scientists but funded by the Natick Center. The amount of available water in food determines, to a large extent, how quickly it spoils, and the ability to accurately model it meant that scientists could begin to reformulate foods to lower their water activity. The result? An explosion of enticingly named "Intermediate Moisture Foods," including all those cookies, bars, and pastries that combine the previously incompatible ideals of a soft and chewy texture and a near eternal shelf life.

The military hired Pillsbury to make the first IMF bars--Space Food Sticks, introduced in 1970--with the explicit hope that industry would adopt the technology and then invest their own resources to develop improved recipes and production techniques. Within a decade, dieters and outdoor enthusiasts became the early adopters for the first fortified energy bars, meal replacement bars, and chewy granola bars. Today, the category takes up an entire aisle in most grocery stores, contributing to the comprehensive snackification of the American diet. In turn, the former director of the Combat Feeding Directorate at Natick tells Marx de Salceda that the military is now considering replacing the outmoded concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner with "more of a grazing event."

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Future of Work: A Nightmare Scenario--and Three Things That Might Prevent It (ANDREW SCHRANK, 8/10/15, Pacific Standard)

What worries me most about the future of work and workers is the possibility that the technological determinists are right, or that scientific innovation will outpace social adaptation and wreak political and economic havoc. Skilled as well as unskilled workers would be replaced by robots and computers.

The species' eternal dream is to be liberated from work.  But some cold feet as the moment approaches are understandable.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


Gas prices poised for a steep drop (Chris Isidore, 8/10/15, CNNMoney)

Gas prices are down, and they are about to fall even further -- perhaps to less than $2 a gallon.

"There will be thousands, even tens of thousands of stations below $2 by the time we're into football season," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks retail prices for AAA.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


US deploys F-16s to Turkey to fight Islamic State (AFP August 9, 2015)

The United States for the first time Sunday deployed half a dozen F-16 warplanes to Turkey to help operations against the Islamic State group, US officials said.

The deployment marks the first time since an international coalition began bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria a year ago that US jets will launch strikes from Turkey, following an accord signed with Ankara late last month.

At some point, folks recognize it's everyone against the Sunni Arabs...

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 9:03 AM


Sorry this is late, but Saturday (August 8) would have been Benny Carter's 108th birthday, and I couldn't let the occasion pass without adding to my previous posts about Benny (ATJ #2, and ATJ #14,).  Although I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say we were friends, Benny and I were more than acquaintances, and his artistry, intelligence, humor, dignity, warmth and exacting standards made a deep and lasting impression on me.  I think of him, and miss him, often (and not just when I'm listening to his music).

ATJ #2 presented Benny's virtuosity on the alto sax, and ATJ 14 featured two of his great Swing Era arrangements.  So today we'll look at Benny the composer, by presenting one of his loveliest tunes, the lush, haunting and bittersweet "People Time."  Originally written for the soundtrack to a 1975 animated film by John and Faith Hubley, Carter resurrected the melody as "People," the third movement of the Central City Sketches suite that he wrote for his 1987 performance with the American Jazz Orchestra.  (Alas, there is no YouTube clip of this, but the entire wonderful CD is still available on Amazon, and Lew Tabakin's solo, on flute, of the melody to "People" is worth the price of the whole album.)

Phil Woods (ATJ #16), Benny's fellow alto player, and great admirer, has recorded "People Time" a few times.  This version features a relatively subdued, but still smoldering, Phil with the Barcelona Jazz Orchestra.   

Singers have also taken on "People Time," both without words (Roberta Gambarini) and with (Grace Kelly, with Phil Woods).   (The lyrics were written by Deborah Pearl for her wonderful CD Souvenir of You: New Lyrics to Benny Carter Classics ).   

If a great melody can be described as "lush, haunting and bittersweet," one can only hope that it would come to the attention of Stan Getz, and thankfully, People Time" did.  This is the title track on the same duet album with pianist Kenny Barron featured in last week's ATJ.  Stan's sound is typically gorgeous, and his musical statement is passionate and yearning.  Kenny's solo, while no less romantic, is leavened by an ever-so-slight lilt. 

Benny, of course, also recorded his own tune.  Reminiscent of the sax/piano duet of Getz and Barron, Carter (on alto sax) played "People Time" with his fellow octogenarian, pianist Hank Jones, on Benny's Legends album.  And, he picked up his trumpet for his My Man Benny, My Man Phil encounter with Phil Woods

More than 100 years after Benny's birth and more than 85 years after he made his first recordings, Benny's contributions to jazz as an instrumentalist, band leader, composer and arranger remain vital and ever-present.  If you tune into a jazz radio station anywhere in the world and listen for even a little while, you're likely to hear someone playing or singing one of his great melodies or to hear five saxophones swinging in close harmony.  Or, if you're really lucky, you'll hear Benny himself, playing one of his own tunes.  And this will continue to be so for as long as we are listening to jazz.

Happy birthday, Benny.

August 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Bernie Sanders sidelined in Seattle as Black Lives Matter activists invade stage (Associated Press, 9 August 2015)

The Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was shoved aside by several Black Lives Matter activists and eventually had to leave an event in Seattle without giving his speech. 

Sanders was just starting to address several thousand people gathered shoulder to shoulder at Westlake Park when two women took over the microphone. Organizers could not persuade the two to wait and agreed to give them a few minutes.

As Sanders stepped back the women spoke about Ferguson and the killing of Michael Brown and called for four minutes of silence.

When the crowd asked the activists to allow Sanders to speak, one activist called the crowd "white supremacist liberals", according to event participants.

Of course, every Black Lives Mater sign is next to a Bernie sign on lawns across America.

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


New model army: Iranian fashion revolution moves above ground (Saeed Kamali Dehghan,  9 August 2015, The Guardian)

"If I say that fashion in Iran has gone through a revolution in the past year, I haven't exaggerated," Sharif Razavi, Behpooshi's director, told the Guardian. "In around 30 years since the revolution, we saw around 10 to 15 catwalks in the country," he said, "but in the last year alone, we've seen more than a hundred."

Behpooshi began seven years ago but like many others involved in the fashion industry in Iran, the agency operated underground.Then two and half years ago, Razavi wrote to the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and asked for a religious edict to find if Islam forbade fashion and modelling. To his delight, it didn't.

He pursued the matter with the authorities at the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance. And this effort opened doors. "Before this if I were to mention to the authorities that I wanted to found a modelling agency nobody would listen to me but things changed," Razavi said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


Civil Whites : Why are critics so deferential to the radicalism of Ta-Nehisi Coates? (CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, 8/17/15, Weekly Standard)

The key concept is "plunder." White Americans did not, as the heroic narrative of civil rights would have it, move from enslaving blacks to excluding them, and then, starting in the 1950s, steadily break down the exclusion until we reached the more equal world of today. No--Coates's argument is one of "structural racism." To this day, society is structured so that whites can continue to rip off blacks. Indeed, they cannot do without blacks, whose exploitation is their main source of prosperity. America's entire democratic Constitution was built on goods robbed under color of law and still rests on that robbery. "By erecting a slave society," Coates writes, "America created the economic foundation for its great experiment in democracy." Reparations are owed because today's system is the same system in essence, and all whites participate in it. "White supremacy," he writes, "is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it."

Coates does not address such questions as whether the Constitution, unsubsidized by plunder, is something the country can still afford, or whether democratic verdicts passed under conditions of plunder--including the decision to wage war against the slaveholding South in 1861 and the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s--are to be thought legitimate or illegitimate. But he does come up with a basis for a "bottom line": the difference between black and white per capita income, multiplied by the population of blacks, to be paid each year for "a decade or two." It is a figure that would today come to between $4 and $9 trillion (between a quarter and half the U.S. GDP), to be supplemented perhaps by "a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races." 

One more element in this view of reparations should detain us, and it is the key element: The reparations under discussion will not discharge the debt whites owe to blacks. "We may find," Coates writes, "that the country can never fully repay African Americans." What he is proposing is ultimately less a regime of reparations for blacks (since nothing can be fully "repaired") than a program of infinite penance for whites. To judge from the reaction to Coates's book, white intellectuals are ready to endorse this idea almost unanimously.

Between the World and Me uses this plunder-based model of the American race problem as a way to understand the recent wave of highly publicized incidents involving police violence against young black men. It repeats many themes from the reparations article. But it is written in a very different idiom--as a rambling, reminiscent, repetitive, hortatory, easily distracted letter of advice to Coates's teenage son. The evidence mustered in the reparations article was tendentious, but there was a good deal of it. Coates cites historians Thomas Sugrue and Kenneth Jackson and the late Tony Judt's discussion of Israeli controversies over German reparations. This new book doesn't use evidence at all. It is a performance, an oration, an affirmation: a cri de coeur for those who are well-disposed to it, a harangue for those who are not. 

Violent confrontations between youth and law enforcement are invoked, not explained. When Coates alludes, for instance, to his son's shock at finding out on television one night last autumn that "the killers of Michael Brown would go free," he presents the episode as a self-evident miscarriage of justice. That night, which ended in riots in St. Louis, was certainly a tense one, and a politically engaged person can be forgiven for getting angry or downcast in front of a TV set. But months have passed, and the best evidence we now have is that the policeman who shot Brown should indeed have walked free. Not even former attorney general Eric Holder thought there was enough evidence for an indictment. And Holder is a man whose attentiveness to the very questions of police prejudice that preoccupy Coates led the historian and activist Michael Eric Dyson to call him a "straight-up-and-down race man." 

Someone who has not read Between the World and Me may have the sense that reviewers are dodging the nitty-gritty of Coates's argument about police violence. They are not. There is no argument. It is no part of Coates's project to weigh the evidence in the varied cases of, say, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray; to consider whether high crime rates in black neighborhoods may provoke, and even justify, more aggressive policing there; or to ask whether the vividness and efficiency of our new information technology might not be causing us to overreact to a handful of incidents among the millions of encounters between police and suspects each year. (That is, we might assume we're seeing the tip of the iceberg when what we're seeing is the iceberg.) Coates assumes police guilt in each instance. It is part of the "structure."

The book, in fact, develops no arguments of any kind.

...has to call into question whether the plunder had any actual value. That is, if we were looking at the evidence...
Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


The innovators: cheaper batteries could help electric cars hit the mainstream : Sheffield-based Faradion has developed a sodium-ion battery that looks and performs in the same way as a regular lithium-ion battery but is 30% cheaper (Shane Hickey, 9 August 2015, The Guardian)

Sheffield-based Faradion believes it has found a solution through a new type of battery technology, the development of which has been spearheaded in the UK.

"For an electric car, the cost of a battery is crudely the same as the cost of the rest. That is quite the wrong proportion for it to take off. So people are desperate to find ways to supply cheaper batteries," chairman Chris Wright said.

In 2010, Wright and some colleagues pondered why large batteries used for electric cars and for energy storage from solar panels in the home were so expensive. The problem lay in the materials used to make them - specifically, those that contain lithium, of which there is a scarcity that drives up price. Wright said "we would be on to a winner" if his team could find a material which contained a comparable but less expensive material to make the equivalent of lithium-ion batteries like those used in mobile phones.

The answer, they thought, was by using sodium which has a similar chemistry to lithium. The base materials needed to produce a sodium-ion battery are significantly easier to source than those for lithium-ion batteries.

The market for systems which use large-scale batteries is expected to blossom in coming years as demand grows for home storage units for the energy generated from solar panels as well as in electric cars. This in turn has led to the pursuit within the industry of ever cheaper alternatives in battery technology.

"We set out to make sodium materials that worked in a simple electrochemical [battery] cell that behaved as well as if not better than some of the lithium systems. We were able to produce material which outperformed lithium-ion phosphate, which has until recently been the workhorse in automotive batteries."

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Dr. Johnson: Man of Letters, Christian Moralist, Clubbable Man, and Noble Hero (MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN, 8/06/15, Crisis)

Johnson distinguished himself in other areas of life besides his achievements as a writer. His personal life and moral character earned the same respect as his published works. The essays that appeared in The Rambler on topics like the follies and vices of mankind all defended traditional Christian morality and perennial wisdom, earning Johnson the reputation of "great moralist." He frequently satirized thinkers ("Projectors") who fantasized about utopian schemes and imaginary ideas of happiness like the cult of the noble savage. Johnson's impeccable love of truth never wavered in precision or exactness of detail, to such a degree that "The knowledge of his having such a principle and habit made his friends have a perfect reliance on the truth of everything that he told, however it might have been doubted by many others."

This virtue of "strictness to truth" made Johnson quick to expose exaggeration and cant in all its forms. When Johnson heard anything far-fetched or utterly improbable, he reacted instantly: "It is not so. Do not tell this again." Johnson not only exemplified integrity but instilled it in others--so much so that, as Boswell reports, "Sir Joshua Reynolds observed to me . . . that all who were of his school are distinguished for a love of truth and accuracy, which would not have been possessed in the same degree, if they had not been acquainted with Johnson." Johnson always made clear his dislike of cant, pretension, and high-sounding nonsense. Boswell had informed Johnson of David Hume's boast of fearlessness before death: "he was no more uneasy to think he should not be after this life, than that he had not been before he began to exist." Johnson replies that Hume is mad, disturbed, or lying: "He may tell you, he holds his finger in the flame of a handle, without feeling pain; would you believe him?" Johnson frequently advises Boswell to measure his words: "Don't cant, sir."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Federal Aid's Role in Driving Up Tuitions Gains Credence : View long held by conservatives is being adopted by more mainstream economists; New York Fed study faults government aid for letting colleges boost prices (JOSH MITCHELL, Aug. 2, 2015, WSJ)

The federal government has boosted aid to families in recent decades to make college more affordable. A new study from the New York Federal Reserve faults these policies for enabling college institutions to aggressively raise tuitions.

The implication is the federal government is fueling a vicious cycle of higher prices and government aid that ultimately could cost taxpayers and price some Americans out of higher education, similar to what some economists contend happened with the housing bubble.

Conservatives have long held that generous federal-aid policies inflate higher-education costs, a viewpoint famously articulated by then-Education Secretary William Bennett in a 1987 column that came to be dubbed the Bennett Hypothesis.

Now, more mainstream economists and academics are adopting that view, or at least some variation. And while college institutions reject the notion that they game the federal student-aid system to jack up prices, many higher-education officials concede there is a pricing problem, and changes are needed.

Don't subsidize them tax them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Rivlin too minor to assassinate, says far-right activist (TIMES OF ISRAEL, August 9, 2015)

Daniella Weiss, who served as the mayor of the settlement of Kedumim from 1996 to 2007, dismissed the online threats against the president in an interview aired Friday on Channel 1.

"You can pass along a message to Rubi Rivlin: 'You can sleep well at night.' No one is thinking of killing him. He's not nearly important enough to deserve it," she said.

Rivlin has been the subject of repeated online death threats following his sharp criticism of Israeli society and its perceived tolerance for Jewish extremism. Rivlin has been especially outspoken in the wake of two hate attack last week that saw 16-year-old Shira Banki stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Gay Price Parade by an ultra-Orthodox man, and Palestinian toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha burned to death in the West Bank when arsonists, thought to be Jewish terrorists, firebombed his family home. The toddler's father, Saad Dawabsha, died of his wounds Saturday, and his mother and big brother are still hospitalized in critical condition.

Lapid: Netanyahu has made Israel a Republican cause (STUART WINER, August 9, 2015, Times of Israel)

Knesset member Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, said Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's unprecedented clash with US President Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal has turned Israel into a cause associated exclusively with the Republican party and damaged ties with the US to the point where the country's security is under threat.

August 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


A group of Harvard scientists have built a 3D printer that's actually useful (Mike Murphy, July 24, 2015, Quartz)

"3D printing fails when it's asked to do the same thing that a traditional manufacturing process already does," co-founder Dan Oliver told Quartz. He said the company was born out of Harvard's material science lab and the research of Professor Jennifer Lewis. Oliver said the name Voxel8 is a combination of "voxel"--which is a pixel with volume--and a play on the word "pixelate," meaning to digitize an image. And that's basically what its printer will let you do: make physical objects with digital elements.

Voxel8's first printer comes with two printing heads--one prints standard 3D printer plastic, and the other spits out its proprietary material that's electrically conductive. Oliver said it has the consistency of peanut butter and allows you to print circuits right into an object. The company used its printer to build a working quadcopter drone in one sitting. Oliver said that it's possible to print a computer's motherboard with the Voxel8: "We're there, we can do that."

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


The 70-year itch  (The Economist, Aug 8th 2015)

What appear to be the main remaining bones of contention are varied and tricky. Canada, where an election has just been called for October, does not want to open up its market for dairy products--a priority for New Zealand, one of TPP's originators a decade ago. Liberalising Japan's agricultural market, notably for rice, remains acutely sensitive politically. Mexico objects to the amount of content from countries not in the TPP that Japan wants allowed into its exports of lorries. America protects its sugar producers. And it wants its pharmaceutical firms to enjoy 12 years of patent protection on new biologic drugs, which most of the other 11 countries find several years too long.

Yet hopes had been high that the Hawaii talks might bring this marathon negotiation to the finishing line. They were the first between ministers since the American Congress narrowly voted to give the president "fast-track" Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), meaning that Congress could no longer unpick a trade agreement clause by clause, having to approve or reject it as a whole. Without TPA, other countries had been unwilling to make their best offers. Now, however, some speculate that, in the intense haggling to secure passage of TPA through Congress, the administration made promises that have hamstrung its negotiators. Another reason for believing the Hawaii round might be crucial was the pressure of the American political calendar. The administration has to give Congress at least 90 days' notice before signing a trade agreement. So time is already running out if TPP is to be sealed before becoming embroiled in next year's presidential election campaign. Even some of the most optimistic TPP supporters think a deal may now not happen until 2017 at the earliest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


6,000 Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria: A Look At the Numbers (LUIS MARTINEZ, 8/07/15, ABC News)

Saturday marks the one year anniversary of the start of U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS. Since then, the military coalition against ISIS has launched nearly 6,000 coalition airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria and the cost of U.S. military operations has risen beyond $3.2 billion.

The airstrikes first began a year ago to prevent a humanitarian disaster in northwestern Iraq where ISIS fighters had surrounded thousands of Yazidi refugees trapped on Mount Sinjar.

They evolved into a broader effort to slow an ISIS advance towards Baghdad and Erbil in northern Iraq. By late September the airstrike campaign was expanded into Syria to check the terror group's flow of supplies and manpower into Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


The Saboteurs box set review - 'how wartime adventure should be done' : This ripping Norwegian yarn skates across second-world-war Europe as commandos and academics combine to sabotage the Nazi race for the bomb (Andrew Collins, 6 August 2015, The Guardian)

While Denmark and Sweden dominate the Scandi-drama market, here's a ripping yarn generated in Norway that sidesteps slate-grey contemporary angst and instead shows how oldfangled, true-life wartime adventure should be done, while reminding us that not all people with blond hair in the second world war were baddies.  [...]

[I]n a saga that delights in moving around the map of war-torn Europe (the dialogue toggles between Norwegian, German, French and English), we follow another academic who is more at home in tanktops than tanks: chemistry professor Leif Tronstad, played with dashing, bilingual ease by Espen Klouman Høiner. He zooms to London to work alongside British intelligence, represented by Anna Friel and a stiff-upper-lipped colonel played by Pip Torrens.

Their target is a huge mountainside hydroelectric plant in occupied Norway, pressed into Nazi service to beat the Allies to nuclear fission. A crack squad of 10 mostly fair-haired soldiers are parachuted into the snow to sabotage the manufacture of heavy water; then, after two episodes of mostly faffing around in rooms with maps, the team is go go go. If these events seem familiar, it may be because they were dramatised in the 1965 film The Heroes of Telemark, with Kirk Douglas playing a Norwegian physics professor.

While series director Per-Olav Sørensen brings comparable cinematic tension, sweep and on-location scale to the ski-based sabotage sequences, the 270-minute running time allows the writers (including Borgen creator Adam Price) to explore moral conundrums, such as a controversial attack on a passenger ferry that's also transporting heavy water. I could, however, have lived without the will-they-won't-they flirtation between Tronstad and agent Friel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Labour centrists like me aren't cynics: we're the truly ethical wing of the left : Corbynites are kidding themselves if they think that 'pure' socialism is the path to hope and change (Jonathan Jones, 8 August 2015, The Guardian)

What some people are pleased to call "hope" ended for me in a Moscow taxi in the early 1990s. I was in the front and reached for my seatbelt, but the driver stopped me because seatbelts were just another bit of unmourned communist authoritarianism. Hurtling through Moscow in that rickety car I suddenly understood the incredible desire for freedom that had recently smashed the Berlin Wall.

I was witnessing the death of a monstrous lie in which I had somehow, through a mixture of idealism, anger, alienation and intellectual pride, managed to implicate myself. Not long before the Berlin Wall was overwhelmed, I was invited to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the Cambridge branch of Sainsburys. I said yes. It was the culmination of my student years as a serious and committed Marxist.

Now here I was in Russia, eating soup swimming with sausage fat in the decaying hostel of the Komsomol - the international communist youth league founded in Moscow in 1918 - realising that I had subscribed to a world view whose actual existing, concrete and cardboard reality was one of the most inhuman and murderous follies ever dreamed up in the fevered minds of zealous thinkers.

Karl Marx was a gentle man, but his ideas would lead to human suffering almost unequalled in the history of the world. On the best current figures, about 6 million Russians were murdered in the era of Joseph Stalin - and that's before you factor in the sufferings of eastern Europe from 1945 onwards, or the other revolutions from China to Cuba.

Today, the terrifying reality of Marxism in power has been consigned mercifully to the history books, but it has strange echoes. Clearly, Jeremy Corbyn is no Stalin, or Lenin, or Mao Zedong, just a long-serving British MP, but Marxist ideas live again in some spectral form in Corbyn's runaway campaign and the enthusiasm of his supporters for a truly socialist Labour party. In one of the unspun answers that makes him appear authentic to supporters, Corbyn called Marx "a fascinating figure who observed a great deal and from whom we can learn a great deal".

Thus far--since Maggie brought the Third Way from Chile/the Chicago School--the two major parties throughout the Anglosphere have managed to avoid nominating party leaders of the pure First Way or Second Way.  But in Bernie Sanders and  Jeremy Corbyn we see the temptation.  One doubts their parties are that suicidal, when push comes to shove, but it would be interesting to see if they'd ever recover.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


How Saudi Arabia exports radical Islam (The Week, August 8, 2015)

Why do the Saudis proselytize?

To combat the spread of Shiite Islam and ensure that the Islamic world is primarily Sunni. In recent years, the ancient Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq, Yemen, and throughout the Middle East has grown more overt, bitter, and violent. Now that Iran has agreed to rein in its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions, Riyadh fears a newly enriched Tehran will be more aggressive in spreading its Shiite doctrine and promoting Shiite-led revolutions. A trove of Saudi diplomatic documents covering 2010 to 2015, recently released by WikiLeaks, shows a Saudi obsession with Iranian actions and Iranian influence. Saudi government agencies monitor Iranian cultural and religious activities, and try to muzzle Shiite influence by shutting down or blocking access to Iranian-backed media. Saudi diplomats keep close tabs on Iranian involvement everywhere, from Tajikistan, which has strong historical Persian ties, to China, where the tiny, beleaguered Uighur population -- which is Muslim -- is growing more religious.

How do the Saudis promote their religious views?

By investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural centers across the Muslim world. Indian intelligence says that in India alone, from 2011 to 2013, some 25,000 Saudi clerics arrived bearing more than $250 million to build mosques and universities and hold seminars. "We are talking about thousands and thousands of activist organizations and preachers who are in the Saudi sphere of influence," said Usama Hasan, a researcher in Islamic studies. These institutions and clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Sunni Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Gross Sees Global Economy Dangerously Close to Deflation (Sabrina Willmer and Mary Childs, August 7, 2015, Bloomberg)

Bill Gross, money manager at Janus Capital Group Inc., said the global economy is "dangerously close to deflationary growth."

Once there is a "whiff of deflation, things tend to reverse and go badly," Gross said Friday in a Bloomberg Radio interview with Tom Keene. Gross pointed to how the CRB Commodity Index isn't just at a cyclical low, but lower than in 2008 when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. went bankrupt.

In a world of less labor, more globalized trade and falling populations, where is inflationary pressure ever going to come from.
Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


California Has a Plan to End the Auto Industry as We Know It : Mary Nichols, the California regulator who showed the world how to clean up smog, is pushing for all cars to be electric. (John Lippert, August 3, 2015, Bloomberg)

So who's forcing Marchionne and all the other major automakers to sell mostly money-losing electric vehicles? More than any other person, it's Mary Nichols. She's run the California Air Resources Board since 2007, championing the state's zero-emission-vehicle quotas and backing Pres­ident Barack Obama's national mandate to double average fuel economy to 55 miles per gallon by 2025. She was chairman of the state air regulator once before, a generation ago, and cleaning up the famously smoggy Los Angeles skies is just one accomplish­ment in a four-decade career.

Nichols really does intend to force au­tomakers to eventually sell nothing but electrics. In an interview in June at her agency's heavy-duty-truck laboratory in downtown Los Angeles, it becomes clear that Nichols, at age 70, is pushing regula­tions today that could by midcentury all but banish the internal combustion engine from California's famous highways. "If we're going to get our transportation system off petroleum," she says, "we've got to get people used to a zero-emissions world, not just a little-bit-better version of the world they have now." [...]

Even if most people outside California have never heard of Mary Nichols, she's the world's most influential automotive regu­lator, says Levi Tillemann, author of The Great Race, a book on the future of automo­bile technology. "Under her leadership, the Air Resources Board has been the driving force for electrification," Tillemann says.

Nichols, who drives a tiny electric Honda Fit, acts as if she's an unstoppable force. California's goals for the adoption of elec­tric vehicle technology are the most strin­gent in the nation, but Nichols thinks they need to be even tougher. Regulations on the books in California, set in 2012, require that 2.7 percent of new cars sold in the state this year be, in the regulatory jargon, ZEVs. These are defined as battery-only or fuel-cell cars, and plug-in hybrids. The quota rises every year starting in 2018 and reaches 22 percent in 2025. Nichols wants 100 percent of the new vehicles sold to be zero- or almost-zero-emissions by 2030, in part through greater use of low-carbon fuels that she's also promoting.

The 2030 target is what's needed to meet Governor Jerry Brown's goal, set in an ex­ecutive order, of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century, Nichols says. The conven­tional internal combustion engine needs to be off the road by 2050 and, since cars last many years, on its way out of new-car showrooms around 2030.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Saudi Reserves Drop for Fifth Straight Month to $664.4 Billion (Vivian Nereim, August 6, 2015, Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia's net foreign assets fell 1.2 percent in June as the government of the biggest Arab economy continued to spend down reserves for the fifth month in a row.

Net foreign assets fell to $664.4 billion, bringing their decline since an all-time high in August last year to $72.6 billion, the Riyadh-based Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency said in its monthly report.

Saudi Arabia's reserves have shrunk for nine out of the last 10 months as the oil-price rout, war in Yemen and a boost in domestic spending pressure state finances. The International Monetary Fund forecast that the kingdom will post a budget deficit this year equal to 20 percent of its GDP.

August 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 PM


Iranian ports come back to life after nuke deal (Beatrice Gitau, AUGUST 7, 2015, CS Monitor)

International ship containers made an eagerly awaited return to Iranian ports this week. 

On Thursday, the UK-flagged CMA CGM Andromeda container ship arrived in Iran's Shahid Rajaee port. The day before, Taiwanese container line Evergreen, the world's fifth largest container line, vessel resumed services to the country, Reuters reports.

The world's third largest container shipping group, France's CMA CGM, said on Monday it would restart services to Iran in early August.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 PM


Jewish terror state already upon us, ex security chief warns (JUDAH ARI GROSS August 7, 2015, Times of Israel)

Yuval Diskin, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, warned a rising right-wing and religious country is de facto coming into existence, dubbing it the "State of Judea," using the biblical term for the southern West Bank, and describing efforts to staunch Jewish terror as too little too late.

Judea is a "nation of Jewish law, of terror, of hatred against the other, or racism. Today, even the rabbis who gave birth to these delusional ideologies, have become too moderate and soft in the eyes of some of their flock," Diskin wrote. [...]

"Now and forever there has been a total lack of interest and a lack of will to tackle this issue at the political level," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


The rise of nudge - the unit helping politicians to fathom human behaviour : The government's behavioural insights team has won over sceptics in Whitehall and it is now 'nudging' behaviour across the world (Tamsin Rutter, 23 July 2015, The Guardian)

Set up by David Cameron in 2010 to try to improve public services and save money, the nudge unit still gets most of its work from government, though it has expanded to take on a wider range of projects, including work for foreign governments, the World Bank and the UN. "Essentially we respond to the priorities of government," said Halpern, explaining how the unit chooses its projects. "The key point is that it has to be social purpose."

The team would refuse to help a major drinks company improve sales, for example, but might help with a project to reduce sugar consumption.

Most of the changes applied by the nudge unit are tiny: a text message, rewording a letter, a personalised email. One of Halpern's favourite projects was on improving police diversity. Although around 60% of applicants from a white British background were passing the situational judgment capability stage of Avon and Somerset constabulary's recruitment process, only 40% of black and minority ethnic (BME) applicants passed it. Halpern's team reworded the email sent to all candidates that congratulated them on passing the previous stage to include a request for them to "take some time to think about why you want to be a police constable" before moving on to the next test.

This change had no impact on white applicants' performance in the next stage, but 50% more BME candidates passed after the email was adjusted. Some BME candidates could previously have been trying to respond to the test in a way they thought a white applicant would, said Simon Ruda, the team's head of home affairs - but the new email encouraged them to trust their gut instincts.

Reducing fraud and debt is one of the team's longest-running and most successful projects; the unit previously claimed to have nudged forward the payment of £30m a year in income tax by introducing new reminder letters that informed recipients that most of their neighbours had already paid.

But these letters had little impact on the 1% to 5% of people who owed the most tax. Interestingly, the team has discovered the message that works best for this group: "Not paying tax means we all lose out on vital public services like the NHS, roads and schools". This could be because because their money could credibly make a big difference to these services, the report says.

A similar project in Guatemala was also successful, despite the country's deeply entrenched tendency towards tax avoidance and mistrust of its government. Letters sent by the nudge unit more than tripled tax receipts.

Many nudge techniques play on reciprocity and a personal touch. Another project cut the high dropout rate on government-subsidised adult literacy classes by 36%, simply by sending students a personalised text message every Sunday night that read: "I hope you had a good break, we look forward to seeing you next week. Remember to plan how you will get to your class. Manchester College."

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


THE LEGEND OF PAT O'DEA : Pat O'Dea, an Australian who joined the Wisconsin football team in the 1890s, later coached Notre Dame and worked as a lawyer in San Francisco. (B. David Zarley, 8/02/15, Sports on Earth)

Thanksgiving Day 1898 was cold and clear, Lake Michigan lying flat just beyond Sheppard Field, and the promise of champagne was with Wisconsin's exotic star fullback, Pat O'Dea. An entire crate was the bounty being offered by University of Wisconsin coach Philip King to keep his Badgers hungry and focused against a lackluster Northwestern squad. But they would need to score in the first two minutes of the game to collect the prize, which was next to impossible back then.

Turn-of-the-century football was vastly different from the modern game. The nascent gridiron game looked something more like rugby, a brutal, mauling contest wherein gangs of men forced the ball carrier through the line like linens through a mangle. It would often take three tries to even get five yards, and there was no forward pass to speak of. With every play a running play, fumbles and miscues were frequent, so the punt was the most effective method of gaining yards. Rather than take any risk on your own side of the field, it was always more prudent to drop the other guy back deep, hoping your opponent would be forced to kick it again, this time getting your side close enough that to try for a dropkick goal or a touchdown would not be considered suicide.

It was fortunate, then, that the Badgers had O'Dea. An Australian expat, he was long and lean, handsome with a brushed sweep of hair, considered de rigueur in the day not only for fashion's sake, but safety's; the footballer's locks were cultivated to serve as headgear, of sorts, to help prevent concussions or riven skulls. O'Dea had an equally perfect athlete's body, shockingly tall but somewhat slight, and all leg -- in the way a model is all leg -- with perfectly developed, powerful muscles allowing him an incredible speed and the ability to blast sky-splitting punts and dropkicks that must have reminded the Midwestern boys, with their Scandinavian heritage, of Thor himself.

Wisconsin and Northwestern began the Thanksgiving game by trading punts, with the Badgers eventually getting the ball back right around midfield. A good starting place established, Wisconsin prepared the long, hard process of moving the ball upfield, getting close enough for their mighty kicker to nail the five-point dropkick goal.

That is, all the Badgers prepared for that except O'Dea. The Boomer was about a dozen yards behind center, calling for a dropkick formation. Wisconsin end Slam Anderson believed O'Dea must have made a mistake -- attempting to score a goal from 60 yards out? He figured O'Dea must have meant to punt, and so Anderson streaked downfield as a gunner, leaving the Boomer unprotected in the backfield.

O'Dea sidestepped a Purple defender, dropped the fat football to the ground and made tremendous contact, swinging those powerful legs forward -- so hard that both his feet, at the apex of the kick, left the ground -- and the ball screamed skyward, toward five points and champagne and myth.

...than their eagerness to kick the ball despite open field in front of them.
Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Is Andreessen-Horowitz right that software's poised to eat health care? (David Shaywitz, August 4, 2015, Forbes)

A16z's high level thesis - with which I strongly agree- is that there are profound opportunities at the confluence of biology and technology, especially as more undergraduates emerge who are trained in both (apparently the majority of Stanford students take at least one computer course, even though most don't wind up in computer science or engineering). It's also true that the new opportunities aren't simply being able to do existing activities faster or at larger scale - rather, it's the opportunity to ask and pursue questions you couldn't have even conceptualized in an earlier era. [...]

The central arguments of a16z:

(1) Digital therapeutics. Many healthcare problems are behavioral, and digital health companies might address these challenges more effectively, and less expensively, than drug companies. Representative (and portfolio) company: Omada Health (my 2012 post on the company is here; our recent Tech Tonics interview with founder Sean Duffy is here).

(2) Cloud Biology. The arrival of highly automated labs will revolutionize biology startups in the same way the arrival of cloud computing revolutionized technology startups. These lab facilities will enable biotech startups to do the experiments they need with greater reliability and without the capex spend; scalable research facilities will be available when needed, and you only pay for what you use (again, like cloud computing). Representative companies in this space: Emerald Cloud Labs; Transcriptic.

(3) Computational Medicine. Physicians and researchers must contend with an overwhelming and ever-increasing amount of data. For instance, a key challenge in oncology is matching many potential cancer drugs to the exact characteristics of the tumor in question. These sorts of problems can be solved with software, which is continuing to get better and cheaper.  Representative companies: Foundation Medicine cited as company in the oncology diagnostics space.

Collectively, a16z says, these three trends will lead to an "explosion" of experimental biology and digital health startups, offering the opportunity to develop clinically impactful products for a fraction of the cost of a traditional life science startup, and representing a pointed contrast to the ever-increasing cost of traditional biotech drug development, which seems to follow so-called Eroom's Law (Moore's Law in reverse). that it will enable the citizenry to capture plummeting health care costs in their savings accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


RETHINKING THE SCANDINAVIAN MODEL (Nima Sanandaji, 08/04/2015, New Geography)

Nordic societies are uniquely successful. Not only are they characterised by high living standards, but also by other attractive features such as low crime rates, long life expectancy,  high degrees of social cohesion and even income distributions. Various international rankings conclude that they are amongst the best, if not the best, places in the world in which to live. One example is the "Better Life Index", complied by the OECD. In the 2014 edition of the index Norway was ranked as the nation with the second highest level of well-being in the world, followed by Sweden and Denmark in third and fourth position. Finland ranked as the eighth best country.

The OECD "Better Life Index"
1. Australia
2. Norway
3. Sweden
4. Denmark
5. Canada
6. Switzerland
7. United States
8. Finland
9. Netherlands
10. New Zealand

If one disregards the importance of thinking carefully about causality, the argument for adopting a Nordic style economic policy in other nations seems obvious. The Nordic nations - in particular Sweden, which is most often used as an international role‑model - have large welfare states and are successful in a broad array of sectors. This is often seen as proof that a "third way" policy between socialism and capitalism works well, and that other societies can reach the same favourable social outcomes simply by expanding the size of government. If one studies Nordic history and society in‑depth, however, it quickly becomes evident that the simplistic analysis is flawed.

To understand the Nordic experience one must bear in mind that the large welfare state is not the only thing that sets these countries apart from the rest of the world. The countries also have homogenous populations with non-governmental social institutions that are uniquely adapted to the modern world. High levels of trust, strong work ethic, civic participation, social cohesion, individual responsibility and family values are long-standing features of Nordic society that pre-date the welfare state. These deeper social institutions explain why Sweden, Denmark and Norway could so quickly grow from impoverished nations to wealthy ones as industrialisation and the market economy were introduced in the late 19th century. They also play an important role in Finland's growing prosperity after the Second World War.

The key homogeneity of those 10 states is cultural conformity.
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The 'Netflix effect': an excellent example of 'creative destruction' (Mark J. Perry, 8/07/15, AEI)

Netflix is an amazing digital success story. Starting out almost 15 years ago as a predominantly DVD subscription service, Netflix was able to pivot along the way and take advantage of rapidly evolving mobile technology and ever-improving internet speeds to become one of the largest video distribution networks on the planet.

The success of Netflix is an excellent example of "creative destruction," a term originated in the 1940s by economist Joseph Schumpeter, who described it as the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new structure. This process of creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism." In fact, Netflix has been so disruptive to existing industries, that its impact is now being referred by some as as the "Netflix effect." Here are a few examples of the "Netflix effect" and the industries that have been "Netflixed."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


The Moral Conservatism of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

Hawthorne disliked snobbery and commercial appetites; he wanted to be proud of America; and his very fascination with the dead past occasionally tempted him into an uneasy expression of sympathy for the present and hope for the future. Yet few other Americans have been so congenitally conservative as Hawthorne, steeped in tradition and suspicious of alteration.

His democracy was the democracy of his friend President Franklin Pierce, an intelligent, moderate, and honest gentleman of considerable talents with whom partisan historians have dealt brutally. Like Pierce, Hawthorne knew that the curse of Southern slavery could not be dispelled by punitive legislation or Northern intimidation. He detested slavery, but he understood that, its existence being contrary to the trend of economic forces and moral convictions throughout the world, with the passage of time it would pass away without interference. Fanaticism could imperil the Union, but it could not resolve social questions like this. No man ever was more justly hanged than John Brown, he declared in contempt of Emerson and Thoreau and Lowell. If his moderation had been more widely emulated, North and South, America might have kept to the path of tradition which, he knew, was the secret of English political tranquillity. Yet all this is of small importance now; it is his underlying social and moral principles that possess enduring significance. He influenced American thought profoundly by her perpetuation of the past and by his expression of the idea of sin.

The survival of a conservative spirit depends upon reverence for dead generations. The incessant movement and alteration of life in America, the absence of true family continuity, even the perishable fabric of American building, unite in tempting the United States to ignore the past. All Scott's genius was required to remind nineteenth-century Britain that any generation is only a link in an eternal chain; and the problem of persuading Americans to look backward to their ancestors was still greater. Irving, Cooper, and Hawthorne (with historians like Parkman) succeeded in waking the American imagination; they created, out of rude and fragmentary materials, a vision of the American heritage which still helps to direct the amorphous mass of the American people into a national ideal which originated among a few English-speaking folk along the Atlantic shore. Among these writers Hawthorne's work possesses the most enduring strength. In the solitude of his haunted chamber in Salem he learned how hard was the task of a romancer in a land without the mystery of antiquity; he taught himself to conjure up the ghost of old New England, and his necromancy gave to American letters a bent still discernible.

...we turned to Hawthorne.

N.B. It was the hysterical reaction of the transhumanist right that lead to this blog.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


A 'media meltdown'? Disney remark on TV viewing sends industry into tailspin (MEG JAMES, 8/07/15, LA Times)

"One sentence from Disney and nearly $60 billion in market value gets wiped out," Doug Creutz, media analyst with Cowen & Co., said Thursday. "Can you say panic?"

It may have been panic, but signs of trouble have been building for more than a decade as the longtime American tradition of gathering in the living room after dinner to watch TV seems to be going the way of bowling leagues and barn dances.

Viewership changes are most dramatic among younger people, the most coveted audience for advertisers. Many are watching TV shows on their tablets and smartphones or recording them for viewing later (and skipping the commercials). That is, if they watch television at all. Sitcoms and police dramas face increased competition from video games, YouTube videos, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media.

Some investors have concluded that owning media stocks is too risky amid dramatic changes in how viewers consume entertainment, analysts said. Viewership changes are beginning to prompt studio chiefs to reassess how they manage their businesses and even which shows and movies get the green light.

"This is exactly what happened to the music industry," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "If you liked two songs you had to spend $16 on a CD. And if you liked three TV channels, you would have to subscribe to more than 100 channels -- but now you don't."

August 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Time-tested model says a Democrat will win in 2016 (Heather Long, 8/06/15, CNN MONEY)

Moody's says the Democratic nominee will get 270 electoral votes -- the minimum number of votes needed to win -- while the Republican nominee will accumulate 268 votes. The model correctly predicted every state in the 2012 election and has a nearly 90% success rate in forecasting each state accurately since 1980.

It will all come down to Virginia and Ohio this time because Moody's predicts that Republicans will win Florida. At the moment, Moody's says Virginia will go Democratic and Ohio will swing Republican, but that could change.
"If President Obama's approval rating falls by any more than 2 percentage points by Election Day, Virginia will swing and the Republicans will win the president," the report says.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Robert Conquest: Revealing the horror of Stalin (Stephen Evans, 6 August 2015, BBC  Magazine)

At my grandfather's dinner table in Bedlinog, south Wales, debate was intense but futile. It was like arguing with the most devout of religious believers. Whatever came down as the line in Soviet Weekly or the Morning Star stood as gospel.

He had the collected works of Stalin on his shelf (not obviously worn with reading). When my grandmother opined at the dinner table that there must be at least some crime in the Soviet Union, her husband told her to "stop her bloody lies".

My father remembered the relief he felt as a young boy in the mining village when Hitler turned on Stalin in 1941 and invaded the land of his former partner-in-crime. Before that, the family had feared internment. But now the Red Army suddenly became allies of Britain and communists became the most vociferous supporters of the cause. According to his son, my grandfather, a communist councillor, received extra petrol rations to tour the Valleys drumming up support for the war effort.

This religious atmosphere continued, and it was not un-typical during the Cold War. Any doubt cast on the achievements of the Soviet Union was simply dismissed as "Cold War propaganda". When a notable dissident was imprisoned in a mental hospital, the view was that he must be mad if he doubted the merits of Soviet socialism.

So for those of us who did have doubts, Robert Conquest's The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties was an extraordinary work.

It was a book which changed minds and dispelled doubt (mine included) when it was published in 1968, the year of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in response to the liberalisation of the Prague Spring.

It laid out facts without adornment so they could speak for themselves, spelling out in clear language the detail of the purges and the executions. Fellow travellers of the Soviet Union sneered - and perhaps still sneer - but they couldn't find factual errors because Conquest's research was so meticulous.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


How Jeb Bush Spent His Years on Wall Street : Former governor's time at Lehman and Barclays sets him apart from other presidential hopefuls (JUSTIN BAER, Aug. 4, 2015, WSJ)

Bankers and trading executives described Mr. Bush's contributions as "rich in content," which on Wall Street translates to having the kind of timely expertise that clients expect from top firms on topics essential to their investments.

"I spent a lot of time, I probably spent about 40% of my time working for Barclays," Mr. Bush told reporters in June. "I did a lot of their conferences where I spoke and I interacted with their clients."

Mr. Bush received a warm welcome on Wall Street, where financial firms often seek former political figures to help open doors. At least six firms offered Mr. Bush a position when he finished his second term as governor in January 2007, according to people familiar with the matter.

When he joined Lehman in June that year, Mr. Bush was the brother of a sitting U.S. president, George W. Bush, and already had ties with the investment bank, known for its scrappy culture and aggressive management team led by chief executive Richard Fuld, a longtime Democrat.

Mr. Bush would spend most of his time at Lehman working under Steve Lessing, who had been a "Ranger" for George W. Bush, a title for supporters who raised at least $200,000 for Mr. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign. Mr. Lessing headed client-relationship management and was the face of the firm to many money managers, hedge funds and insurance companies.

Mr. Bush soon drew the attention of Lehman's senior investment bankers, who looked for ways to put him in front of clients. He appeared at conferences for health-care clients and corporate directors, and joined a ski junket for bankers, people familiar with the matter said. He crisscrossed the country and flew commercial, often alone.

In late 2007, Lehman executives who spotted him striding past in midtown Manhattan-- BlackBerry pressed to his ear--said they recalled thinking that Mr. Bush, in a matter of months, had completed his transition from governor to harried bank executive. "This guy is the brother of the president, just walking by himself, no security," a former Lehman manager said.

Mr. Bush said he spent most of his time at Lehman "dealing with their customer base, providing insights in things like the madness of Washington, D.C."

More than a dozen of Mr. Bush's former colleagues and clients described him as focused, blunt and often opinionated. Unlike most former politicians in finance, Mr. Bush was seen as "commercial," almost a term of endearment on Wall Street meaning he understood how bankers prepared for meetings, advised clients and made money. He frequently reminded clients he was part of a team and ended meetings with a "thank you for letting us work for you," or a direct appeal to hire the bank, recalled one former Barclays banker.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


The evidence is in: Solitary confinement is unconstitutional torture (Ryan Cooper, 8/06/15, The Week)

The evidence is unequivocal: Solitary confinement is unconstitutional torture. It should be immediately abolished.

The report is by psychology and law professor Craig Haney from University of California, Santa Cruz, entered as expert evidence for an ongoing lawsuit against solitary imprisonment practices in California. It makes for grim reading. Many of his subjects have been in solitary for years on end, and some for decades. They have been cruelly harmed.

The scientific literature on isolation, as well as my own research and experience, indicate that "long-term" exposure to precisely the kinds of conditions and practices that -- based on the extensive number of documents that I have reviewed and many prisoner interviews I now have conducted -- clearly currently exist in the [Pelican Bay solitary unit] and clearly place prisoners at grave risk of psychological harm. This is true whether or not those prisoners suffer from a preexisting mental illness. [Craig Haney]

Haney also notes that the "long-term" cases in the social science literature include solitary stints that last four weeks -- not just years or decades.

The decent thing to do is to put them out of their misery.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Oil at multi-month lows; hunt for new bottom as gasoline piles up (Barani Krishnan, 8/06/15, Reuters) 

Oil set multi-month lows on Thursday as investors and traders sought clues about the market's next bottom after a large drop in U.S. crude inventories failed to boost prices.

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Mortgage giant Fannie Mae posts $4.6B profit in 2Q; paying $4.4B dividend to government (MARCY GORDON, 8/06/15, AP)

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae reported net income of $4.6 billion from April through June, up from $3.7 billion a year earlier. Rising interest rates enabled Fannie to post gains on the investments it uses to hedge against swings in rates.

The second-quarter results released Thursday marked the 14th straight profitable quarter for the government-controlled company.

Washington-based Fannie said it will pay a dividend of $4.4 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month. With that payment, Fannie will have paid a total $142.5 billion in dividends.

Fannie received $116 billion from taxpayers during the financial crisis in September 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Trump's Mass Deportation Wouldn't Be Cheap (The Editors, 8/05/15, bLOOMBERG vIEW)

A "federal dragnet" capable of snaring all the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. over five years would cost about $200 billion, according to the pro-immigration (and liberal) Center for American Progress -- assuming that 20 percent of them would depart voluntarily once the effort got started.

The pro-immigration (and conservative) American Action Forum is less sanguine. It reported that a combination of forcible and voluntary deportation would cost $420 to $619 billion over 20 years. Meanwhile, real gross domestic product would decline by 5.7 percent, or almost $1.6 trillion.

Provided that most Americans become willing to see the economy shrink and to shoulder hundreds of billions in additional government spending, deportation policy makers could move on to the logistics of removal. Along with funding, this is an excellent topic for Thursday's Republican presidential debate. What other candidates support mass deportation? How do they propose to address questions such as:

Considering that about 3.5 million undocumented immigrants reside in the U.S. with at least one U.S. citizen child under age 18, what should happen to these children when their parents are sent across the border?

Removing millions of largely Hispanic residents will ruffle the sensitivities of some foreign nations and human-rights groups; how should the U.S. handle the diplomatic fallout?

Some undocumented immigrants don't just work in the U.S.; they employ others. How should ownership of their enterprises be awarded? Or should the businesses simply be shut down and their employees dispersed?

And we'd need to reinstate the draft to have the manpower to patrol just the Mexico border, nevermind the Canadian and the coastlines.  

Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Jeb Bush Causes a Stir on Women's Health Issues (Michael Barbaro, 8/04/15, NY Times)

Mr. Bush, a former governor of Florida, said the federal government should stop financing Planned Parenthood. He then veered off course, into a discussion of what could be done instead with the $500 million in federal funds the organization receives annually.

"You could take dollar for dollar -- although I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues," he said, "but if you took, dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinary fine organizations, community health organizations, that exist, federally sponsored organizations, to provide quality care for women on a variety of health issues."

He shouldn't have apologized.  There's no reason to spend that $500 million.

August 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


 Why is Marco Rubio sliding in the polls? (BYRON YORK, 8/4/15, Washington Examiner)

"Rubio has an even bigger challenge," said Castellanos. "Jeb Bush is beer, and Rubio is lite beer. [Bush] has a more mature brand in his category. Many voters see Rubio, charismatic as he is, as Jeb Bush without the experience. In NASCAR terms, Rubio is drafting behind Jeb's car and only has a chance if Jeb's car hits the wall and clears the way ahead, so voters can pay attention to him."

If that is the case -- if Bush is the biggest obstacle to Rubio's rise -- then Rubio has a lasting problem. The candidate who is in his way is the candidate likely to stay in the race the longest.

Mr. Rubio needs to govern something/somewhere before he can be taken seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


President George W. Bush reports for jury duty (Deena Zaru, August 5, 2015, CNN)

Just call him Juror Number 43.

A group of potential jurors in Dallas Wednesday morning who reported to fulfill their civic duty were joined by a most unexpected fellow citizen: former President George W. Bush.

"President Bush received his jury summons and reported for service this morning at the George Allen Courts Building in Dallas," Freddy Ford, a Bush spokesman, told CNN in a statement. "He sat through the jury selection panel for a case in Judge Eric Moye's court on the 14th civil district but -- surprise! -- was not picked to serve as a juror. He was there for about three hours and posed for photos with other jury candidates, judges, and court staff."

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Robert Conquest, historian - obituary : Historian who played a leading role in stiffening western resolve in the Cold War by chronicling the horrors of Soviet communism (The Telegraph, 8/04/15)

Robert Conquest, the writer on Soviet Russia who has died aged 98, was a polemicist and a serious, published poet; but above all he was an historian, one of the outstanding scholars of his time, whose books did as much as any other man's to alter our view of the communist experience.

Conquest personified the truth that there was no anti-communist so dedicated as an ex-communist. His career illustrated also what the Italian writer Ignazio Silone, another former communist, meant when he said to the communist leader Palmiro Togliatti that "the final battle" of the 20th century would have to be fought between the two sides they represented.

An ardent Bolshevik as a young man, Conquest became a bitter foe of Soviet "Socialism". He had first visited Russia in 1937 as a youthful devotee of the great experiment. It was a half century before he returned in 1989, having spent his life between chronicling the horrors the country had endured, and emerging, in the view of the Oxford historian Mark Almond, as "one of the few Western heroes of the collapse of Soviet Communism". "He was Solzhenitsyn before Solzhenitsyn," said Timothy Garton Ash.

Of his many works on the subject, perhaps the most important was The Great Terror, published in 1968 and detailing the full enormity of what Stalin had done to the Russian people in the 1930s and 1940s. The Mexican writer Octavio Paz paid the most succinct tribute to this book when he said in 1972 that The Great Terror had "closed the debate" about Stalinism.

...that he is the father of the Anglosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


How Washington Has Inflated the Iran Threat (Justin Logan, 8/04/15, Washington Examiner)

"Regional hegemony" is a term in international relations popularized by the University of Chicago's John J. Mearsheimer. (The term hegemon draws etymologically from the Greek word meaning "to lead.") Mearsheimer said a regional hegemon "must be considerably wealthier than its local rivals and must possess the mightiest army in the region." The consequence of meeting this condition is that the regional hegemon attains outsized influence in its region. As Mearsheimer goes on to argue, the only state in the modern era to attain regional hegemony is the United States in the Western hemisphere.

Claims that Iran is poised to achieve regional hegemony in the Middle East should be evaluated in light of what the term means. Does Iran look like it has a shot at becoming considerably wealthier than its local rivals? Does it look likely to possess the mightiest army in the Middle East?

The answer to all of these questions is a decisive no. Take, first, the agreed upon exemplar of regional hegemony: the contemporary United States. Its gross domestic product comprises roughly 68 percent of the Western hemisphere's GDP, and its military expenditure constitutes roughly 86 percent of defense spending in the region. Its influence there is hard to overstate. For example, its commitment to fighting a war on drugs has produced disastrous results across the region, including more than 50,000 deaths since 2007 and billions of dollars in economic damage per year, just in its neighbor to the south. On matters of high politics, no country in the Western hemisphere would dare defy Washington's desiderata.

Compare this with contemporary Iran. Even before sanctions took full effect, Iran comprised only about 11 percent of the Middle East's GDP. Israel comes in at 8.6 percent, Iraq at 6.8 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 22.3 percent. Iran's share of the region's military expenditures is similarly unimpressive at 9 percent. Israel accounts for 11.1 percent of the region's military spending, Iraq 10.4 percent, and Saudi Arabia 44.6 percent. While American client states in the region like Saudi Arabia certainly complain about Iran, it does not and cannot influence its neighbors in the way a regional hegemon would. But this isn't just about misapplying an academic definition of regional hegemony. Even to suggest that Iran has a shot at dominating the region defies both history and logic.

As Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has shown, Iran is "anything but the hegemon of the region." As a recent CSIS report documented in great detail, the Gulf states' militaries possess nearly a half-century technical advantage over Iran. Iran's military doctrine is based around defense in depth, which is premised on fighting defensive wars while yielding territory in the hope the aggressor becomes vulnerable over time. The poor quality of its land forces, which would be at the center of any claim to regional hegemony, negatively influence its ability to project power anywhere in the region.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


AP Interview: Qatar foreign minister calls for 'serious dialogue' with Iran after nuclear deal (ADAM SCHRECK, 8/04/15, Associated Press)

The Gulf states have welcomed the deal despite deep-seated mistrust of Iran, a non-Arab, Shiite power that they see as increasingly assertive across the Middle East.

Al-Attiyah said a "firm agreement between the major players and Iran" was the best way to resolve the nuclear issue. And he suggested there was now scope to work with Iran on other topics too.

"We should have a serious dialogue with our neighbor, the Iranians, and ... lay down our concerns from both sides, and solve them together. Iran is our neighbor in the region," he said.

With the US/Iran alliance formalized, you'd better be scared when 10% of your population is oppressed Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


The military operation in Gaza that still haunts Israel 1 year later (William Booth, 8/04/15, The Washington Post)

Black Friday began in the flat fields east of the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli troops were searching for a tunnel to destroy when they were ambushed by Hamas fighters. Lt. Hadar Goldin was pulled into a hole in the ground.

Radio communications, alongside video mounted on a soldier's helmet, portray the chaotic events, with Israeli commanders initially not sure who was dead or alive.

Within minutes, senior Israeli commanders shouted the order to declare a "Hannibal Directive," a classified protocol understood by many Israeli troops to mean "better a dead soldier than a captured soldier."

Israeli soldiers dropped grenades into the tunnel and then went searching for their comrade in the darkness, firing bursts into the gloom.

Lt. Eitan Fund, 24, rushed forward to thwart the capture of his friend. "If I'm not back in five minutes -- I'm dead," he said, according to Israeli accounts. He did make it back, and was later awarded a medal for heroism.

Fund found bloody pieces of Goldin's uniform; Goldin was declared dead the next day based on the forensic evidence found in the tunnel, even though his body is still missing and still sought by Israel and his family.

Col. Ofer Winter was the commander of the Givati Brigade who issued the Hannibal Directive, which led to multiple strikes on tunnel openings, crowded intersections and a central hospital, all to stop Hamas from spiriting Goldin away, according to Amnesty.

The Amnesty report suggests that Winter also wanted to teach Hamas a lesson, and the group quoted the colonel telling an Israeli newspaper: "Anyone who abducts should know that he will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade."

Palestinian witnesses to the events on Black Friday describe chaos and terror -- as civilians returning to their homes during the cease-fire were suddenly subjected to intense shelling.

Yussef Abed, a surgeon at the al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, said he arrived at work at noon by ambulance that day. He was too scared to drive his own car because Israelis had ordered everyone off the streets.

In his office, the window glass exploded as an Israeli bomb destroyed a home a few hundred meters away. The hospital was packed with wounded; the morgue was filling with bodies. Frightened residents crowded into the hallways, hoping the hospital was safe.

"It was like the last scene in that movie about the Titanic before the boat sinks," Abed said. "Then people began to panic."

Doctors' cellphones began to ring with calls from Israeli soldiers from intelligence units, warning the staff not to leave and threatening them, saying that Israel suspected Goldin was being treated or held captive in the hospital, Abed said. "Then everyone went nuts."

An ambulance crew that left earlier was struck by a missile, the medics incinerated, Abed said. Patients fled the hospital, still attached to intravenous bottles.

Abed said that Goldin never arrived at his hospital and that the shelling around the building kept the wounded from being treated.

Nearby, according to the Amnesty report, Israel dropped one-ton bombs in the al-Tannur neighborhood.

Rateb Bilbisi, whose family owns the grocery there, said Palestinians from east Rafah were seeking shelter from the sun under trees and awnings when huge explosions toppled the building across the street, leaving more than 16 dead, all of them civilians.

"We found a head a block away," Bilbisi said. "That's how big the bomb was."

He said bodies remained on the streets for a day because no ambulances could enter the area.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Affordable Care costs may rise in N.J. (LINDY WASHBURN, 8/03/15, THE RECORD)

Requested premium increases in 10 other states and the District of Columbia, where more complete information is already available, have been modest, though higher than they were for 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit that analyzes health care issues.

Some of these states -- which run their own marketplaces instead of relying on, as New Jersey does -- actively negotiate with insurers to secure lower rates for their residents.

Here, it's still too early to tell what the big picture ultimately will be.

The proposed rate hikes are being reviewed by state insurance regulators, and the numbers "will not be finalized and publicly available until November," said Marshall McKnight, an insurance department spokesman. That's when the third open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act -- lasting three months, through the end of January -- begins.

The review by state regulators is intended to assure that the proposed rates are reasonable, based on accurate assumptions about trends in the cost of medical care, and that they comply with the law. For example, insurance companies are required to spend 80 cents of every premium dollar on health care and quality improvement.

Consumers who are willing to shop around and switch from one insurance company to another still may be able to hold the line on price increases.

"Marketplace consumers are price sensitive and shop for the best deal," said Meena Se­sha­ma­ni, director of the office of health reform of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Nationwide, she said, "29 percent of those who reenrolled for 2015 shopped and chose different plans."

August 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Technology is driving Amazon delivery times to near zero (DOMINIC BASULTO, 8/03/15, THE WASHINGTON POST)

Technology continues to make it possible to optimize every aspect of business, meaning that "zero" as a business goal -- zero excess capacity, zero waste, zero errors -- is now theoretically possible. Just think of how the rise of the sharing economy has led to the success of the zero marginal cost business model. And now Amazon could be on the cusp of introducing another zero into our business lexicon: zero delivery time. As in, the time required to get a product from store to consumer is being whittled down to zero.

Amazon's latest attempt to reach zero delivery time could be a drive-through grocery store for Silicon Valley's tech workers. As first reported by Silicon Valley Business Journal, Amazon users would pick up their grocery items in a physical store after first ordering online and scheduling a pickup time at a nearby facility.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


The Future of Work: Machines Pulling Ahead, Quickly (SEBASTIAN THRUN  AUG 3, 2015, Pacific Standard)

Because machines can learn faster than people, it would seem just a matter of time before we will be outranked by them. Today, about 75 percent of the United States workforce is employed in offices--and most of this work will be taken away by AI systems. A single lawyer or accountant or secretary will soon be 100 times as effective with a good AI system, which means we'll need fewer lawyers, accountants, and secretaries. It's the digital equivalent of the farmers who replaced 100 field hands with a tractor and plow. Those who thrive will be the ones who can make artificial intelligence give them superhuman capabilities.

But if people become so very effective on the job, you need fewer of them, which means many more people will be left behind. That places a lot of pressure on us to keep up, to get lifelong training for the skills necessary to play a role.

The ironic thing is that with the effectiveness of these coming technologies we could all work one or two hours a day and still retain today's standard of living. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


New Chevy Volt drives way longer on a charge (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 8/04/15, CNN Money)

The redesigned 2016 Volt will go about 53 miles after a full charge without burning gasoline. That's considerably better than the 38 mile electric range that today's Volt has. If you need to drive farther, the car's 4-cylinder gasoline engine will turn on, generating electricity to keep the electric motors running.

Even then, there will still be notable improvements. When the new Volt is powered by the gasoline engine it will get about 42 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. That's up from 37 miles per gallon for the current Volt. For comparison, a non-hybrid Honda Civic gets about 33 miles per gallon combined.

Just keep improving by 40% each time and sooner or later it adds up.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


The Future of Work: A Future Like the Past : The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace. (MARGARET LEVI  AUG 3, 2015, Pacific Standard)

Those who held the old industrial jobs had a significant advantage over today's workers. They came together on the factory floor or worked together as they shifted cargo. But that kind of manufacturing has largely disappeared in the United States and other highly developed economies. Technological change makes the once bustling ports a site with no workers except the occasional engineer required to fix the machines and those invisibly on computers in offices directing the flow of cargo. The new industries tend to separate rather than congregate workers. Moreover, in the past, employees celebrated being working class. Today's employees tend to be outside class categories. They are often better educated, but even those with low skills seem more individualistic in their attitudes and more libertarian in their politics.

Today's workers are an increasingly complex category. Some sit together in large spaces and gather regularly in the lunch and meeting rooms. Think Google or Uber. Some work in teams to create a product. Think Apple or Microsoft. But many have little or no actual contact with each other. Think Uber drivers or the "Turkers'' of Amazon who browse online to find work a computer still can't do. Many of the new tech and transportation companies define a lot of their workers as independent contractors or temporary employees hired through an employment agency. The workers thus have few rights; there are limits on collective bargaining and even access to benefits provided to others doing comparable jobs. And when jobs reduce face-to-face interactions and interdependencies among the employees, trust and solidarity, the stuff of effective organizing, is harder to achieve.

The inability of workers to express voice has significant consequences for the nature of our societies. Political parties and elected officials are likely to be less and less responsive to workers who neither mobilize in labor organizations nor vote. We have already witnessed, in numerous sectors, a decline in occupational health and safety, health-care benefits, and social insurance. We are witnessing an increase in inequality and insecure employment. Employers now have more power over their workforce. While some may argue that this enables the companies to be more efficient and wealth enhancing, there is far more evidence that unconstrained employer power leads to job dissatisfaction, lowers productivity, and passes off to the society the costs of care of those who work multiple jobs or none at all.

The first two are solved by doing away with more jobs, the third by redistributing the enhanced wealth generated by the greater efficiency. 
Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


No Joke: Jon Stewart became what he once denounced (KONRAD YAKABUSKI, 8/03/15, The Globe and Mail)

The truth, however, is that it really is time for Mr. Stewart to go. During his 16-year stint at The Daily Show, he morphed from an earnest but impartial comedian railing against the polarization and phoniness of American politics and cable news into a funnyman-activist who skewered only one-half of the political spectrum. He became what he once denounced.

He could still be incisive and funny. But his rants became increasingly self-righteous and contemptuous toward anyone who didn't share his elite liberal world view.

Self-caricature is always funny.

August 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM

70-30 NATION:

Majority of Republicans Backs a Legal Status for Immigrants -- WSJ/NBC Poll (LAURA MECKLER, 8/03/15, WSJ)

Poll participants were given three options for policy regarding illegal immigrants living in the U.S. Among Republicans surveyed, the poll found 36% support a pathway that eventually allows people in the U.S. illegally to become citizens, and 17% favoring a legal status short of citizenship, for a total of 53%.

It found 43% of Republicans saying the U.S. should work to find and deport people who have come to the U.S. illegally.

Among all adults, support for a path to citizenship was the most popular choice, even when respondents were given the chance to choose legal status instead. The poll found that 47% of all adults support a pathway to citizenship. Another 17% support giving this group the right to a legal status short of citizenship, meaning a total of 64% support some sort of legal status.

By contrast, 32% of all adults said they should be deported.

Nativism can't withstand meeting the electorate. Americans are too decent a people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


FDA clears first 3-D printed prescription drug to treat seizures (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/03/15)

The FDA has previously approved medical devices -- including prosthetics -- made with 3-D printing. An agency spokeswoman confirmed that the new drug is the first prescription tablet approved that uses the process.

Aprecia said in a statement that it plans to develop other medications using its 3-D platform in coming years, including more neurological drugs. The company is privately owned.

Doctors are increasingly turning to 3-D printing to create customized implants for patients with rare conditions and injuries, including children who cannot be treated with adult-size devices. The FDA held a workshop last year for medical manufacturers interested in the technology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


When the sanctions come off (The Economist, Jul 25th 2015)

IF THE lobbies of Tehran's more expensive hotels are any guide, the rush is already on. Six months ago they sported only the odd Chinese businessman. Now they are alive with Westerners jostling for deals. Trade delegations have started to arrive. First off the mark after Iran struck a nuclear deal with world powers earlier this month was Germany's vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, who took a group of executives to Iran's capital on July 18th.

In Havana, too, hotels are bustling. Even before America and Cuba opened embassies in each other's countries on July 20th, bookings were up. Ever since the two announced a rapprochement late last year, Cuban-born American lawyers have been arranging business trips to the Cuban capital for their best clients, with the added promise of fine rum, cigars and tropical nostalgia. American businesses are eager to catch up, having long watched Canadian, Spanish and other firms steal a march.  

This unusual conjuncture of two long-isolated countries heading back into the commercial mainstream is good for consultants, too. At the start of the year ILIA Corporation, a Tehran advisory firm jointly run by a German and an Iranian, had no foreign companies on its books. By April it had three; it now claims 18. At American law firms, meanwhile, experts on other areas are being drafted into the Cuba teams to handle the workload. Pedro Freyre of Akerman, one of those firms, sums up the mood: "Oh my gosh. My phone has not stopped ringing. It's been insane."

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


How Single-Payer Health Care Failed in Progressive Paradise (GEOFFREY NORMAN, July 31, 2015, WSJ)

What killed single-payer was a combination of sticker shock and political expediency. When Gov. Shumlin ran for a third term in 2014, Republicans nominated a virtually unknown challenger named Scott Milne. Yet the governor beat his GOP opponent by little more than one percentage point, and won only 46.6% of the electorate. The Vermont Constitution provides that if no gubernatorial candidate wins a majority of votes, the election is settled by the legislature, scheduled to meet in January 2015.

The ultimate result was never in doubt, since Democrats control the statehouse. But Mr. Shumlin recognized that something had to give. Before the drama could unfold, the governor called a December press conference to announce that, after four years of study costing slightly more than $2 million, single payer was dead. "The bottom line," he said, "is that, as we completed the financing modeling in the last several days, it became clear that the risk of economic shock is too high at this time to offer a plan I can responsibly support."

Where the governor had once estimated such a system might cost $2 billion annually, calculations now suggested $2.59 billion, rising to $3.17 billion in five years. Paying for it would require an 11.5% payroll tax and a sliding-scale income tax with a top rate of 9.5%. Even then, the system would run in the red by 2020.

The legislature, operating in a vacuum left by the collapse of single payer, had to contend with a deficit of more than $100 million--which happens when lawmakers increase spending by 5% annually during a recession. One of its solutions was a tax on "sugary drinks," which went into effect July 1. It is fiendishly complicated: nonalcoholic drinks with either natural or artificial sweeteners are taxed, while those containing milk or soy are not. Shoppers who buy their soft drinks with food stamps do not pay the tax.

Property taxes continue to rise as the state grapples with an education system that spends, per pupil, 80% more than the national average, according to one estimate. The results are not noticeably better than in similar jurisdictions, meaning ones that do not have to deal with the challenges of inner-city schools.

On the other hand, our HSA at work is excellent.
Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Scalia Gets It Pretty Much Right (Stanley Fish, 07/27/2015, Huffington Post)

Scalia's complaint against the Obergefell majority -- although he doesn't put it this way -- is that once again a moral perspective has been allowed to displace the process of patient legal analysis. This time the morality is different; not the stern old testament morality that ruled in Bowers and was overruled in Lawrence, but the morality of love, identity, intimacy, spirituality, aspiration, dignity, self-expression and respect -- all words Kennedy uses and words that bear the mark of the vaguely new age sensibility Scalia derides when he refers to the "opinion's showy profundities" that are, in fact, "profoundly incoherent." What exactly, he asks, is the legal import of intimacy and spirituality, and "who ever thought" that they were "freedoms" of a kind that merited constitutional protection? How can this claim be traced by a legal analysis to clauses in the Constitution? How can the court justify the creation of "'liberties' that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention?"

There may be answers to these questions, but, Scalia insists, the court doesn't really answer them. It instead proclaims the virtues of the moral perspective it "really likes" while heaping scorn on the moral perspective it "really dislikes."

Once the court's preferred morality is in place, it is hard to see what stands in the way of deriving from it a case for the protected constitutional status of polygamy, also a form of intimacy that could be said to express the dignity, identity and self-expression of those who engage in it. The legal judgment against polygamy was established in an opinion that cited as its chief support the older morality the court has now rejected. In Reynolds v. United States (1879), a Mormon's claim that he had a right to engage in plural marriage because his religion commanded it was disallowed. Polygamy, the court declared, "has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe... and was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people." In short, we white Protestants just don't do that kind of thing. "It is impossible to believe," the court continued, that the "constitutional guaranty" of the free exercise clause "was intended to prohibit legislation" criminalizing plural marriage.

Now it would seem to be impossible to believe anything else. With the prohibition against interracial marriage struck down, the prohibition against g[**] sex struck down and now the prohibition against gay marriage struck down, the prohibition against plural marriage cannot be far behind. To be sure, there are some problems that would have to be thought through or re-calibrated, such as community property laws, inheritance laws, custody laws, probate laws, tax laws and the like. But that's just a matter of tinkering with the details. The main principle -- the protection of "our most profound aspirations" (Kennedy) -- demands its extension to polygamy.

That is exactly what Scalia predicted in his dissent to Lawrence when he responded to the majority's insistence that its decision had no implications for the issue of gay marriage. "Don't you believe it," Scalia retorted. "If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is 'no legitimate state interest'... what justifications can there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples?" He was right, and there is no reason that the logic of his argument should stop there. The Obergefell majority says as much when, after noting the expansion of freedom in Lawrence, it declares, "It does not follow that freedom stops there."

Let people have whatever private contractual relationship.
Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


When a Doctor Is Always a Phone Call Away : Many of the 136 million ER visits in 2011 could have been replaced with a $50 telemedicine consultation. (RICHARD BOXER, Aug. 2, 2015, WSJ)

When it comes to health care, "efficient" is a word that frightens people, calling to mind a soulless bureaucracy with an eye on the company's bottom line. But it is inefficiency that is overburdening the medical system. Consider a woman with a urinary-tract infection who has to leave work to obtain a prescription from a doctor for a drug she already knows she needs. Or a man with a fever and hacking cough who has good health insurance, but who goes to the emergency room because his doctor's office is closed. [...]

But there is an untapped resource: the many doctors leaving their practices, fed up with the regulations and other hassles, but who love their patients, and the older physicians eyeing retirement because they no longer want to maintain an office. Why not let these doctors offer their expertise to patients by smartphone?

Doctors who contract with a telemedicine company can opt for a specific block of time when they are "on call" to patients, picking up the phone and answering questions in 10- to 15-minute intervals. The doctor is paid and the patient gets a prompt and inexpensive answer to a concern.

Home care of individuals with major chronic conditions would also substantially benefit from telemedicine. Millions of houses have cable and satellite connections that can be used to monitor patients wearing wireless devices, allowing health professionals to intercede at the first sign of trouble. This can reduce rates of hospitalization by half or more, some studies suggest.

Next, just let computers field the calls. They're better diagnosticians anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


The end of coal? Alpha Natural bankruptcy points to industry troubles. (Henry Gass, AUGUST 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

One of America's largest coal companies filed for bankruptcy Monday, striking the latest blow to an industry that, by its own admission, is struggling to adapt to the ongoing global conversion to clean energy.

Alpha Natural Resources (ANR), based in Bristol, Va., is the country's biggest miner of coal used in steelmaking. In a bankruptcy filing, Kevin Crutchfield, the company's chairman and CEO, described "unprecedented changes" for the coal industry.

"The US coal industry as currently structured is unsustainable," he said. "Multiple major producers ... have been, and will continue to be, driven to the brink of insolvency."

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


Report: US to defend Syrian rebels from Assad with air power (Deutsche-Welle, 10/03/15)

US President Barack Obama has decided to allow airstrikes in Syria to defend US-backed rebels, claims a Wall Street Journal report. The move could bring the US military into direct conflict with the Syrian government.

The president's decision is aimed at protecting the rebels trained by US forces from attacks, including those from the forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad's regime, Reuters news agency also reported Monday.

According to "The Wall Street Journal," which quoted anonymous US officials, the move would deepen American involvement in the Syrian conflict and could see the US military fighting against Assad's forces.
The rebels, armed and trained by the United States, are battling the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group in Syria and not Assad's army.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Defending Their Homes : How crime-terrorized African-Americans helped spur mass incarceration (Marc Parry, 08/03/15, Chronicle Review)

Fortner also remembers the "constant and subtle terror" of living in the 15-story, red-brick housing project that occupied the now-vacant lot near where we're standing. Drug dealers loitered out front, making him scared to enter and leave. Addicts knocked on his door peddling stolen goods, like radios or an uncooked chicken. He kept his wallet with him in bed at night to hide it from addicts in his own family. Lying there, he flinched at the sound of gunshots.

At the age of 13, assisted by scholarship money, Fortner escaped to boarding school at Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass. But the experience of Brownsville stayed with him as he built a career as an expert on racial politics, earning a Ph.D. at Harvard and a position as assistant professor in the City University of New York's School of Professional Studies. His past fed a sense of dissatisfaction with the literature on mass incarceration in the United States. Scholars and activists had rallied to help the prison population, Fortner felt, highlighting racism in a criminal-justice system that maintains an incarceration rate five to 10 times greater than other liberal democracies and locks up African-Americans at almost six times the rate of whites. But, as he saw it, that scholarship discounted the experience of working- and middle-class black people who cope with the consequences of drugs and crime. It overlooked the power of their activism. It obscured the important role they played in bringing about mass incarceration.

"The idea that black folks played a role in mass incarceration sounded ludicrous to most people."
In September, Fortner will publish a book that tries to correct that narrative. The study, Black Silent Majority (Harvard University Press), focuses on black activism and narcotics-policy development in New York in the decades leading up to passage of the Rockefeller drug laws in 1973, which Fortner identifies as a turning point in the spread of punitive sentencing practices. The book looks at how growing disorder and addiction drove many working- and middle-class people in Harlem and elsewhere to mobilize for tougher crime policies. When Nelson A. Rockefeller staged a news conference promoting his antidrug proposals, Fortner writes, the New York governor was joined by five leaders from the country's most famous black neighborhood.

One of the reasons it's so easy for liberal Democrats to advocate deinstitutionalization is that the guys being released won't be moving back to their neighborhoods.

August 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Who Was Maureen Dowd's Source? (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 8/01/15, Weekly Standard)

Here's part of Maureen Dowd's interesting and moving column in tomorrow's New York Times on Joe Biden:

When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk.

"Of course, honey," the vice president replied.

At the table, Beau told his dad he was worried about him.

My kid's dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he's making sure I'm O.K.

"Dad, I know you don't give a damn about money," Beau told him, dismissing the idea that his father would take some sort of cushy job after the vice presidency to cash in.

Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.

Hunter also pushed his father, telling him, "Dad, it's who you are." [...]

Ask this question: Who gave Maureen Down the details of the conversations between Joe Biden and his sons? The details are, after all, pretty ... detailed: There are direct quotations from Beau, Hunter, and Joe; a sentence capturing the thought process of Joe; a brief description of Beau's physical state. It's great reporting, and it's a story well-told; but we can ask, how did Maureen Dowd know this? Who was willing and able to give her this level of detail?

Somewhere, Richard Ben Cramer is joyful, because that's exactly the kind of phoney-baloney nonsense that Joe loves to make up.  The rest of us just have to wonder if Neil Kinnock had a son die young...

Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


Conservative donor Charles Koch urges end to 'corporate cronyism,' 'welfare for the wealthy' (JULIE BYKOWICZ, 8/01/15, Associated Press)

Billionaire industrialist and conservative political donor Charles Koch welcomed a group of roughly 450 like-minded fundraisers to one of his twice-annual conferences Saturday by challenging them to advocate for ending "corporate cronyism" - even if those policies help their businesses.

Koch, who along with brother David has long pressed for a federal government that collects fewer taxes and issues fewer regulation, said cutting back special treatment for business is the first step to ending a "two-tiered society" and encouraging "principled entrepreneurship"

"Where I believe we need to start in reforming welfare is eliminating welfare for the wealthy," Koch said. "This means stopping the subsidies, mandates and preferences for business that enrich the haves at the expense of the have nots."

Subsidies are always bad policy.
Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


A tourist in the land of the ayatollahs : From ayatollahs railing against the Great Satan (aka the United States) to whip-wielding policemen on motorbikes, Iran hasn't presented the most inviting face to the outside world over the last few decades. But a few days ago the UK Foreign Office stopped telling travellers to avoid non-essential trips. So what's it like for a visiting foreigner? (Amy Guttman, 7/31/15, bbc mAGAZINE)

I'm fairly fearless in far-flung places, but arriving in Tehran made me nervous. As a single, white female, I stuck out. I scanned the hall for my guide Amin, and didn't relax until I spotted his placard with my name on it.

British, American and Canadian tourists must be accompanied at all times by a guide. This meant Amin, short in stature, but long in kindness, would spend the next eight days with me - many of them stretching from dawn until late at night. Amin, with his warm smile, sharp sense of humour, and gentle nature became like a brother to me. He also became my accountant. Hotels, food and souvenirs are roughly on a par with American prices, but for an outsider working this out can be tricky - Iran uses the rial, but prices are often in toman, which equal 10 rials... Let's just say there are several zeros to contend with, and long-division skills are a necessity. [...]

All women, including foreign tourists, must wear a headscarf and manteau, a loose robe covering neck to knee, including elbows. Only the most religious are cloaked in black. Most women embrace colours and patterns.

An entire cottage industry has emerged to supply this mandatory uniform. At one end of the scale you find bespoke interpretations from design studios in sophisticated styles such as a pale-blue linen duster coat, or fabric overlays in contrasting shades. Some are casual, others elegant.

But there is a manteau for everyone. I wore a shirt dress over trousers, which was totally acceptable, but visited Tehran's Friday Market to buy more manteaux for the rest of my trip. There were rooms and rooms of vendors selling antiquities, handicrafts, jewellery, household goods, rugs and clothing, all crowded with local people. Most tourists head to the Grand Bazaar, but it's the Friday Market where the bargains are - and haggling is a must.
Women shop at the Grand Bazaar

I wandered through it with Sarah, another guide, who watched me admire an inexpensive, vintage pendant and instructed me not to buy it. "I have one just like it at home. I will give it to you," Sarah said. The legendary Persian hospitality was in full swing, with no expectation of anything in return. I was relieved she was by my side, when I received a warning from the religious police - my headscarf had slipped to the back of my neck and needed to be returned to the top of my head.

One long road, Vali Asr, divides the east and west of Tehran, charting the personalities of the city as it snakes from south to north. The south is home to the more religious and traditional, working and middle classes. The north is home to Tehran's elite, successful business owners and the Alborz Mountains. In the south you find affordable dress shops selling conservative styles - further north, these turn into boutiques, which wouldn't be out of place in a European capital.

The streets are quiet in Tehran in the early morning - until the rush-hour begins. Then they become choked with traffic, and it stays that way all day and into the night. Apart from that it's easy to get around Tehran, and the rest of the country too. Most tourists travel by car, often with a guide who is also a driver. The roads seemed perfectly safe to me.

I also took a short, domestic flight to the city of Yazd, famous for its 15 different cookies and a Fire Temple, containing a flame kept alight since 470 AD.

In the departures hall, before the flight back to Tehran, men and women were quite casual about mixing in public. A friendly man in his mid-thirties, carrying a box of cookies for his family back home, struck up a conversation with me. 

We joked about everyday topics and his geniality didn't stop once we boarded the plane. After we landed, he saw me waiting for Amin while family members and taxi drivers came to meet others. "Are you OK? Is someone coming for you?" he asked. I assured him my guide was probably delayed by traffic, but he insisted on waiting with me until Amin arrived.

I also met women who made a big impression. Fatemeh Fereidooni established her own travel agency two years ago. She's a strong, single woman and the first to offer culinary tours in Iran - as good a sign as any, that Western tourism is on the up. With eight different kinds of bread in Tehran alone and each region of the country producing its own unique watermelon, there is no shortage of stops. Dishes like lamb with pomegranates and walnuts, herb stew with beans and turmeric-seasoned beef or jewelled saffron rice with slivers of almonds and dried fruit read like an Ottolenghi menu - an imaginative reinvention of Middle Eastern cuisine - except they are Persian classics.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


A Former Ally Says Bernie Sanders Has Changed (MARK DAVIS, July 29, 2015, 7 Days)

Sanders quit the Liberty Union Party and, while remaining a "democratic socialist," went on to support Democratic Party candidates. He rose to become a respected leader in Vermont and is now a presidential contender.

Meanwhile, Diamondstone hasn't budged an inch politically. He has entered every Vermont state election since the early 1970s and never won more than 7 percent of the vote. He is known as much for his antics and unconventional appearance -- bushy beard and thick, curly hair -- as for his socialist views.

As Sanders has been jetting around the country this summer, speaking to adoring crowds, Diamondstone has been recuperating from complications from heart and liver failure. He's been confined to his Dummerston home since Medicare stopped paying for his stay in a respite facility. Clad in compression socks, he uses a walker to get around.

When he looks at his old friend, does Diamondstone ever think, "That could have been me?"

Sitting in his living room, the 80-year-old Socialist paused but couldn't summon a direct answer. He noted that it has been decades since he and Sanders have exchanged a friendly word.

"There's no 'friends' there for me," said Diamondstone. "There's nothing, from my point of view. He went in a certain direction, and that was the opposite of mine. Sanders and I suffered a hostile divorce. He was moving to the right, and I was moving to the left."

Diamondstone did admit feeling annoyance that Sanders gets credit, in Vermont and nationally, for an unwavering dedication to his beliefs -- as the guy who has been saying the same thing for years, no matter how unpopular.

If that were true, Diamondstone said, Sanders' career would look an awful lot like ... Diamondstone's. He views Sanders as just another sellout who moderated his image and compromised his beliefs to win elections.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds return to original Slough production site (BBC, 30 July 2015)

Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds are set to return to the site where they were originally created to mark the show's 50th anniversary.

Three new episodes, starring the show's iconic puppets, including Lady Penelope and Parker, will be produced at Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire.

The children's TV programme was written and filmed at the site of the estate between 1964 and 1966.

The project will use audio recordings of the original voice cast.

As well as these recordings, which were first released in 1966, the Thunderbirds 1965 project will feature recreated puppets and sets.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Getting It Write : a review of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris (JOHN R. COYNE JR. • July 9, 2015, American Conservative)  

Mary Norris, a copy editor charged with helping the magazine enforce its high standards, and the author of this splendid book, is an admirable woman totally immersed in and loving her work with words, writing, and writers--in no way pedantic and only mildly prescriptive, her own writing easy and unpretentious, touched throughout with genial good humor. In a wonderful introduction, she retraces her early work history, probably not quite the career path we'd imagine for a typical New Yorker employee--at 15, for reasons of sanitation, "checking feet at a public pool in Cleveland"; after graduation from Douglass College at Rutgers, a job at the Cleveland Costume Company, where "I learned to repair big papier-mache animal heads and not to paint the panther's eyes blue."

"I called a local dairy and asked whether there were any openings for milkmen." She fantasized about owning a dairy farm, she tells us. And she liked cows. "'We've never had a lady drive a milk truck, but there's no reason not,' a man said...." She mastered driving a dual-transmission truck, survived a crash, and was given her own milk-delivery route. 

You put the milk in a chute, she tells us, and shouted "Milkman!" But she wasn't a man, and she didn't like "lady"--"it seemed not feminist"--so she settled for "milkwoman, which was a bit too anatomically correct and made me sound like a wet nurse. I muffled the last syllables."

She gave up her milk route to accept a fellowship in English at the University of Vermont, where there was also an agricultural school. She learned to milk cows there and later got a job "packaging mozzarella on the night shift in a cheese factory," where she "had a secret yen to operate the forklift truck."

Somewhere along the line, on the road to The New Yorker, she became a member of the Brotherhood of Teamsters. She maintains her chauffeur's license.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Book review: Enemy on the Euphrates : a review of Ian Rutledge's book, Enemy on the Euphrates: The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt, 1914-1921  (WILLIAM EICHLER 8 July 2015, Open Democracy)

Its main focus, as the subtitle suggests, is "The Battle for Iraq, 1914-1921", but it deals in great detail with the byzantine negotiations and deals, the backstabbing and fighting, and the betrayals and murder that characterised the carve up of "Asiatic Turkey". It also vividly captures how the ground was prepared for much of the violence in today's Middle East.

Throughout the 19th century the Ottoman Empire--the so-called "sick man of Europe"--struggled to stay in one piece under the twin pressures of Great Power politics and separatist nationalism. The 600 year-old Muslim autocracy suffered repeated military defeats and new ideas about national self-determination were becoming attractive to its various Christian minorities.

Seeking to arrest its apparent decline it adopted technical innovations from its competitors, further centralised power in the hands of the Sublime Porte and promoted a new Ottoman identity that sought to unite Muslims and Christians. This had very little effect, as did later attempts at promoting pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism. The empire was finished and it was its entrance into WWI that sounded the final death knell.

The Allied powers did all they could to finish it off. They attempted to rally the Arabs against their Turkish overlords by promising Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, a rather ill-defined "independent Arab Kingdom". This proved only marginally effective and, despite the myths that surround the adventures of T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia (who comes across as a clown in Rutledge's telling), most of the region's population preferred to support the Sultan-Caliph in Istanbul.

This was probably just as well because the European powers had no serious intention of allowing the creation of a genuinely independent Arab Kingdom. Sir Mark Sykes, who was now in the War Office and a protégé of arch-imperialist Lord Kitchener, and the French diplomat François Georges-Picot had secretly divided up the Middle East into "spheres of influence" for Britain and France in what would become the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Iraq fell within Britain's "sphere of influence". There had been much deliberation in London about Britain's "economic and commercial interests" in the region and there was no question that Iraq, or at least a part of it, would have to stay under British control.

London's main concern was in defending the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's (APOC) oil fields and pipelines in Abadan in southwest Iran. The government owned majority shares in this corporation but, more importantly, the British navy was changing over to oil-fired ships and so control over oil fields was going to be a major strategic factor in the future. In order to guarantee this control they took over Basra and then moved north to Baghdad and, as it became clear that there was more oil to be had further north, Mosul.

In the end, the only Pioint that Wilson cared about was the least important.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


What does the future of work look like? (Abhimanyu Ghoshal , 8/02/15, Next Web)

"The new sharing economy and the way millennials think, have combined to create a new collaborate work culture. We're now working on the same files together and messaging each other all in one place. It's more about real-time teamwork and transparency than individual effort," [Google for Work president Amit Singh ] said. [...]

How is the way we work going to change in the next five years?

Singh predicts that AI-based assistants will play a big role in increasing human productivity:

We've been thinking a lot about the the increasing importance of mobility at work. We're currently taking traditional data and tools and unlocking them from your desk. But creating an intelligent assistant that goes where you do and helps you out by surfacing data when you need it, in context, cognitive in real-time -- I believe that's the future.

The search giant acquired machine learning firm DeepMind last year to boost its AI efforts, so it'll be interesting to see how Google follows up on Singh's vision.

Mathrubootham articulated it quite simply: "90 percent of the world consumes while only 10 percent creates. Consumption of content has moved steadily into the cloud and onto mobile devices, while the tools for creation remain tied to desktops. That's all going to move away from traditional computing devices to more personal, portable solutions by 2020."

And there's no reason that creative collaborators need be employees.
Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


The Dreadful Saviors: Feared Shiite Militias Battle Islamic State in Iraq (Christoph Reuter, 8/02/15, Der Spiegel)

What happens in Baiji and elsewhere is not a battle between unequal forces, but a tough, intense struggle between militias aided by snipers, explosives and homemade cannons.

"And we're the elites among the Shiite groups," says radio operator Abbas. His group, the League of the Righteous, was created in 2006 as a radical spinoff of the Shiite Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr and includes thousands of well-trained fighters. Abbas is crouching in their quarters in Baiji, where men doze between ammunition crates in a living room, under pictures of children on the walls, with the booming sound of nearby mortar shells in the air. "That's why we always go to the front line. We have experience."

They certainly do. The League of the Righteous committed thousands of attacks against American soldiers and members of the Iraqi armed forces. They kidnapped and murdered civilians, most of them Sunnis. Now the collapse of the Iraqi army has provided them with a new reputation, as saviors of the nation.

Somehow it used to be easier, says Abbas. "We would conduct an operation against the Americans, and then we would go home. But this full-time war we are in now, we're not used to this. After all, we all have civilian jobs." Abbas is an elementary school principal, but his deputy is doing his job at the moment.

Abbas says he has respect for their opponent, IS. "They are professionals, too. They find the best positions for their snipers, who can wait for hours without moving an inch. When they withdraw, they mine everything -- houses, bridges, gardens. Sometimes we don't see a single one of them for weeks, and yet we still lose men. They are actually fighting for the first time here in Baiji."

A day earlier, the men put 19 bodies of IS militants on display on the militia-run TV channel. But that was an exception. Normally they don't find any bodies. Most of the 19 dead were from Saudi Arabia, says Abbas. They even shot a Chinese man recently, he adds. "A Chinese! Why here?" he shouts. "Did I kill Jackie Chan?"

The comment is slightly ironic given that radio operator Abbas himself has also fought abroad. His unit recently returned from Aleppo, where they fought for the Syrian regime, as contract fighters for President Bashar Assad. Abbas pauses as the irony dawns on him. "Perhaps this is no longer about countries. We Shiites must defend ourselves everywhere."

Commander Rasan and his men return to headquarters from the front line, bringing along two bodies in black bags: the young cameraman and one of their snipers. At first, Rasan and his men had tried to retrieve the sniper in a Humvee, but they were forced to pull back when they came under a barrage of fire from IS. "First they shoot at the tires, then at the windows," explains the shaken commander. "And they have armor-piercing ammunition." His men eventually manage to pull out the body by climbing through the ruins and carefully avoiding the enemy's lines of fire.

The offensive has come to a standstill. After several hours, additional fighters arrive from Baghdad as reinforcements, traveling in SUVs, taxis and pickup trucks. Despite the seemingly makeshift nature of their operation, the men agree that they are more capable of driving back IS than the Iraqi army. "The army can't do it," says Rasan. "It no longer has any real leadership, and it has no fighting spirit and no faith. This is a war between Sunnis and Shiites. The army has no place here."

Our occupation of Iraq just prevented this from happening in a more timely fashion.
Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


A shameful day for Israel (David Horovitz, 8/02/15, Times of Israel)

"We have been lax in tackling Jewish terrorism," President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged Friday, and he was right. "Price tag" attacks, hate crimes, acts of Jewish terrorism -- call them what you will, Israel's authorities have failed to prevent them, and failed overwhelmingly to apprehend those responsible for them.

Condemnation across the spectrum is not sufficient. Israel needs to act -- to catch the killers who targeted the Dawabsha family and the gangs who have carried out dozens of other attacks, and to work a great deal harder to prevent future such crimes.

Israeli intelligence and security are not perfect. Just witness the utter fiasco of Yishai Schlisser, who attacked participants at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2005, being released three weeks ago, making plain in interviews and statements that he was determined to repeat his crime, and yet being able to do so, to devastating effect, on Thursday afternoon. But the accumulation of unsolved hate crimes in the weeks, months and years before the Dawabsha attack would strongly suggest that Jewish terrorism has not been a top priority for Israel's security establishment. It needs to be. (Israel's Channel 2 reported Friday night that there have been 15 fire-bombings of Palestinian homes in the West Bank since 2008 by suspected Jewish terrorists; none of the assailants has been caught.)

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


A Paper-Thin Solar Panel Can Charge Your Phone on the Go (Bryan Lufkin, 7/17/15, Gizmodo)

Solar panels keep getting lighter and tinier--good news for rugged on-the-go types who can charge their devices on the trail with sun-fueled chargers. And this particular solar charger on Kickstarter is so thin, you can slip it in your Lonely Planet while it feeds your phone battery.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


RACHEL YEHUDA --How Trauma and Resilience Cross Generations (On Belief, 7/31/15, NPR)

Genetics describes DNA sequencing, but epigenetics sees that genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior. Rachel Yehuda is a pioneer in understanding how the effects of stress and trauma can transmit biologically, beyond cataclysmic events, to the next generation. She has studied the children of Holocaust survivors and of pregnant women who survived the 9/11 attacks. But her science is a form of power for flourishing beyond the traumas large and small that mark each of our lives and those of our families and communities.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Canada prime minister Stephen Harper set to call October election (Reuters, 2 August 2015)

Polls indicate that Harper's right-of-center Conservative party, which has been in office since 2006, could lose its majority in the House of Commons.

That would leave Harper at the mercy of the two main centre-left opposition parties, who could unite to bring him down. Minority governments in Canada rarely last more than 18 months.

Harper, 56, says only he can be trusted to manage an economy that is struggling to cope with the after-effects of below-par global growth and a plunge in the price of oil, a major Canadian export.

The Conservatives are trailing slightly behind the left-leaning New Democrats (NDP), who have never governed Canada. The Liberals of Justin Trudeau are well behind in third.

Both parties say Canada needs a change from Harper, who has cut taxes, increased military spending, toughened the country's criminal laws and streamlined regulations governing the energy industry.

Five of Canada's last six election campaigns have lasted the minimum length of just over five weeks.

The Conservatives have deep pockets and the campaign - the longest in modern Canadian history and the third longest on record - will allow them to run a wave of attack ads. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


How the Iran Deal Complicates Israel's Approach to Iran (James Carafano, August 02, 2015, Daily Signal)

Israel, like all nations, has the inherent right of self-defense. The crucial question is: How will Israeli choose to exercise that right?

The right of self-defense does not demand that a country wait until it is physically attacked before taking steps to protect itself. But there are rules--and they mark the difference between preventative war and pre-emptive action.

Preventative war is when a country strikes another first because it perceives a potential future threat. Early in the Cold War, there was serious debate in U.S. policy circles about launching a preventative nuclear strike on the Soviet Union--before Stalin had a chance to build up his nuclear arsenal. It never happened, partly because such action would have been unethical, immoral and illegal.

While preventative war is beyond the pale, pre-emptive war is not. If a nation believes that it is under threat, it has the inherent right to protect itself. That requires judiciously weighing two factors: intent and actions.

Hiroshima's fate, 70 years ago this week, must not be forgotten (Andrew Anthony, 8/02/15, The Guardian)

In numbers of people killed, the second world war is uncontested in its claim to be the most murderous six years in human history. About 60 million perished in a global conflagration of total warfare. But amid this remorseless carnival of death and destruction, two very different events stand out for their grotesque novelty and their coldly efficient slaughter of civilians: the Holocaust, the world's first industrialised genocide, and Hiroshima, the world's first atomic bomb attack, which took place on 6 August 1945, 70 years ago this week.

Both cast long shadows over the 20th century and on into the present day. And both raise complex questions about the nature of humanity - that we have within us the capability to organise over several years the systematic extermination of a whole race of people, and also the obliteration of a large populated city in the blink of an eye.

While there's a natural tendency to overstate the number of casualties--on both sides--that would have resulted from an Allied invasion of the home islands, it is indisputable that the atomic bombs saved Allied lives and you can pick your own number of how many Japanese would have been killed had the war been won by "conventional" means.  It seems fairly certain that continued fire-bombing (after all, those two cities had been saved for nukes so we could measure the results) and an assault would have killed some considerable portion of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki toll, if not more.

So we get a fairly simple question, not whether the atomic bombs were morally justified, but whether the war was. Do the world's democracies--chiefly England, America and our Anglospheric partners--have the right to replace undemocratic regimes, especially those involved in exterminating populations, their own and others.  

The past hundred years suggest that, despite some feeble demurs, we all agree that we have not only the right but the obligation.

So, having determined that the Axis regimes could not stand, atomic weapons ought only have been a part of the calculus of how to end them quickest and with the least deaths--our own and theirs. 

Their use inarguably ended the regime, irrepective of the possibility that it might have been ended by other even less destructive means. 

Now, Mr. Anthony expresses horror at the Holocaust, with its seven million dead, but let us also add the millions of others who died in Hitler's wars.  

So, here's a simple question, why would it have been morally wrong to use an atomic weapon--had they been developed sooner--to destroy a German city where the Nazi Party was rallying in the years before the Holocaust reached full swing and before we'd had to invade the Continent?  By what moral calculus could say 100,000 deaths in such a bombing not justify saving ten million and more?

Likewise, how many holocausts occured--in the USSR, China, Cambodia, Korea, Iraq, Syria, etc.--because we failed to strike Stalin's regime immediately upon developing nukes?  How many lives would have been saved had the second demonstration  bomb been dropped on Moscow instead of on Nagasaki?

If the calculus we're engaged in concerns only, or mainly, the costs in lives, then the great sin of the 20th century was not using the bomb, but failing to do so.


August 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Iranian Dissidents Explain Why They Support the Nuclear Deal : We know what politicians from the U.S. to Israel think about the Iran nuclear deal. How about asking some opponents of Iran's regime? (DANNY POSTEL, 7/22/15, In These Times)

"All of the individuals interviewed felt sanctions and Iran's international isolation have profoundly hurt Iranian society," the report's authors note, "negatively affecting all spheres of economic, political, and cultural life, with especially dire consequences for the lower socioeconomic strata."

"We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure."
--Shahla Lahiji (Publisher, Roshangaran and Women Studies Publishers)

"Problems caused by the sanctions are palpable in every home right now."
--Ahmad Shirzad (university professor and former member of Parliament)

"[M]any of our patients have problems obtaining their medication and medications are expensive. ... [M]any of our passenger airplanes have ... no repair facilities ... and we can't [get] spare parts."
--Abbas Ghaffari (film director)

"[An agreement] will have its first impact on society's collective mental state. While many predict this might be short-lived ... the psychological impact of this victory in the different sectors of the society will definitely not be short-lived. Such a positive impact can even move people to take action to improve their conditions."
--a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

"If we reach an agreement, good opportunities in every area will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings." 
--Mahmoud Dolatabadi (author)

"[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities. The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups." 
--Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour (civil society activist and wife of a political prisoner)

"[Failure to reach a deal will result in] an intensification of anti-West political tendencies in Iran [which] will help the overall anti-Western currents in the region, even if indirectly."
--a civil rights lawyer in Tehran (anonymous)

"Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through]. People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. ... The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. ... The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. ... [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode ... [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent." 
--a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

This last comment echoes the sentiments of Akbar Ganji, one of Iran's leading democratic dissidents who almost died on a hunger strike behind bars. "As a former Iranian political prisoner who spent six years in the Islamic Republic's jails and whose writings have been banned in Iran, I support the [nuclear] agreement," he has written. Reaching a nuclear deal, he argued, would "gradually remove the warlike and securitized environment from Iran." The Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam recently made a similar point.

"We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure" said tranlator and publisher Shahla Lahiji. (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

61 percent of the respondents believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue "should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties" and that "the nation's attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran," according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

That is, on the real issues in Iran. Or, to use an old-fashioned phrase, removing the nuclear issue--and the concomitant economic sanctions and threats of external military action--could "heighten the contradictions" within the Islamic Republic. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


When a Boy's Life Is Worth More Than His Sister's (VALERIE HUDSON, ANDREA DEN BOER, JULY 30, 2015f, Foreign Policy)

The list of countries where girls are culled from the population -- either actively (through sex-selective abortion) or passively (through inadequate nutrition and healthcare) -- is growing and has been for well over a decade. The phenomenon, previously concentrated in Asia, is now increasingly common in countries in southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Unless aggressively addressed, cultural diffusion will spread the practice even further, with disastrous consequences not only for women, but also for the stability of the nations in which these practices become normative.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


The Opportunity Debate Heats Up (WSJ, July 31, 2015)

In early July former Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered a strong speech in Washington, bluntly asserting that Republican policies would produce better results for black Americans than what Democrats long in political control of big U.S. cities have produced. On Friday attendees at the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale heard Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton speak. They were not singing from the same hymnal.

The former Florida Governor said that the decades-long War on Poverty effort, which has spent trillions of dollars, "while well intentioned, has been a losing one." He talked about his theme of a "right to rise" in America, which he said requires a much faster rate of economic growth and greater opportunity for all income groups. Mr. Bush also pushed school choice and charter schools, pointing to the gains in educational achievement when he was Governor. Mr. Perry pointed to similar performance in Texas. that it's not important that the nominee win more of the black vote; because simply courting it will tend to repress black turnout and make white women view him as moderate enough for them to be comfortable.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


U.S. Labor Costs Rise at Slowest Pace in Three Decades ( JOSH MITCHELL,  July 31, 201, WSJ)

U.S. labor costs rose at the slowest pace in at least three decades in the spring, a sign of persistently sluggish wage growth that could weigh on the Federal Reserve's decision to raise short-term interest rates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Ascendant Kurds emerge from Syrian civil war as major power player (Martin Chulov, 1 August 2015, The Guardian)

Now though, with some kind of safe haven seemingly on the table, it is the Kurds, not Isis, who control much of the north. The YPG-Syrian Kurds allied to the PKK in Turkey have influence from just north-east of Aleppo to the Iraqi border. They also control Irfin in north-western Syria. Isis controls the area between the Kurds - and it is here that the Turks want to enforce a safe haven, one effect of which would be to deny the Kurds in the north-east to link up with the north-west.

"The Turks' move last week is not about Isis," said one senior Kurdish official in Irbil. "It's about us." As Syria has crumbled, Syria's Kurds have quietly built an arc of influence that Turkey believes advances the broader Kurdish project of an eventual sovereign state carved from north-eastern Syria, south-eastern Turkey, parts of western Iran and what is now Iraqi Kurdistan.

This has raised an unprecedented alarm in Ankara, which wants nothing less than an emboldened and spreading Kurdish enclave just across its border, which could link up with the semi-autonomous Kurdish north of Iraq.

Turkey's fear over the Kurds has led it to ignore its anger at what it sees as US prevarication in moving against Bashar al-Assad. It has done little to convince Washington, however, that it is serious about tackling Isis.

Turkey's approach to the group had until recently been to contain rather than confront. And, since the jihadist group gathered momentum, the US has been pressuring Turkey to seal its borders and to stop interactions with Isis officials, such as buying smuggled oil, which keep the terror organisation's economy rumbling.

Throughout the past four years, all stakeholders in the Syrian war, then the war against Isis in Iraq and Syria, have been trying to avoid one outcome - a breakdown of unitary borders that had bound together the centre of the region for much of the past century.

A de facto partition already exists in Iraq, where the Kurds of the north and the Sunnis of Anbar are drifting ever further from central government control. Now, with Syria's Kurds ascendant, hopes that the country as it is now may again be controlled from Damascus are also falling.

The creation of Kurdistan is a function of U.S. violence against internationally recognized regimes and a great achievement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Pope Francis has chosen social media star Robert Barron for Los Angeles auxiliary bishop (Sarah Pulliam Bailey July 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Pope Francis has named Chicago priest Robert Barron one of three new assistant bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a move some insiders are calling noteworthy because of his wide social media presence.

Barron is well known among church-going Catholics, since his video series on Catholicism is regularly shown in churches across the U.S. His appointment is both surprising and not surprising, said James Martin, editor at large of America magazine.

"It's surprising because bishops aren't normally people who are so media savvy," Martin said. "But given his talent and profile, I thought this was just a matter of time."

We'd always liked his movie reviews and cultural commentary, but the Catholicism series is a tremendous sustained statement of the faith with A League production values.  It's Chesterton/Lewis-worthy and marked, in particular, by a tremendous generosity of spirit.  Father Barron's is a religion of love.

New Video Series Contemplates the "Mystery of God" (MATTHEW BECKLO, 7/31/15, Aleteia)

 Merton wrote. ]"I had never had an adequate notion of what Christians meant by God."
The problem is a familiar one to Fr. Robert Barron, the YouTube evangelist and recently elected auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. What is (and what isn't) the 'God' of Christianity? How do we know? Arguments about God's existence and non-existence all seem to hinge on a more critical question: namely, what is it we're all talking about when we talk about God?
This recurring theme of Fr. Barron's ministry has culminated in a six-part video series titled "The Mystery of God: Who God Is and Why He Matters," which puts the enigma of the meaning of "God" front and center.
The first talk, "Atheism and What We Mean By 'God'," is a longer, more polished video in keeping with Word on Fire's minimalist aesthetic. With typically deft and sweeping insights, Fr. Barron brings us from Christopher Hitchens back to the great giants of modern unbelief, most notably Feuerbach. The upshot is this: when any of these atheists recasts God as the ruler of a kind of "celestial dictatorship," scaling back human freedom or demanding credit for this or that natural process, they pivot on a "Yeti theory of God," which thinks of God as a kind of supreme being that's either "out there" in the universe or not.
You can hardly blame them. Christians everywhere loudly profess the God atheists are busy deconstructing. But there is a lively classical alternative to this false dilemma, one that continues to revolutionize the way people approach the question to begin with. Drawing on Augustine, Aquinas, and other giants of Catholic theology, Fr. Barron returns to the notion that flipped a switch in Merton's mind all those years ago: ipsum esse, the infinite wellspring of the universe that, to borrow from Gilson, lies "beyond all sensible images, and all conceptual determinations... the absolute act of being in its pure actuality."
That wellspring is not a problem for us to solve, but a mystery in which "we live and move and have our being." 

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


No interviewers are asking Tom Cruise about Scientology. Here's why that's not surprising. (Emily Yahr, July 31, 2015, Washington Post)

It's the extremely obvious elephant in the room and it's impossible to overlook. Earlier this week, TheWrap reported that reporters are banned from asking Cruise about his dating life or Scientology. "At the very least, Cruise is the highest-profile advocate for an institution that's been repeatedly charged with human-rights abuses over the past few decades," The Atlantic's Sophie Gilbert wrote. "If [accounts] are accurate, he's the second most-powerful person in Scientology, and he's completely insulated from even the most irreverent television personalities in the country asking him questions about it."

Gilbert points out the strangeness of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, a master at calling out hypocrisy, interviewing Cruise this week and completely gliding over the topic, instead bantering about workout routines. 

(A) What could be funnier than Mr. Speaking-truth-to-Power being cowed by a cult?


(B) I'm in the middle of Lawrence Wrigh't book, Going Clear, and it is, predictably, a great read.  However odd you think Hubbard and his followers are, multiply that by googleplex.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


China's Naked Emperors (Paul Krugman, 7/31/15, ny tIMES)

China's leaders appear to be terrified -- probably for political reasons -- by the prospect of even a brief recession. So they've been pumping up demand by, in effect, force-feeding the system with credit, including fostering a stock market boom. Such measures can work for a while, and all might have been well if the big reforms were moving fast enough. But they aren't, and the result is a bubble that wants to burst.

China's response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. These are things you might do for a couple of days to contain an obviously unjustified panic, but they're being applied on a sustained basis to a market that is still far above its level not long ago.

What do Chinese authorities think they're doing?

In part, they may be worried about financial fallout. It seems that a number of players in China borrowed large sums with stocks as security, so that the market's plunge could lead to defaults. This is especially troubling because China has a huge "shadow banking" sector that is essentially unregulated and could easily experience a wave of bank runs.

But it also looks as if the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it's ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.

Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves.

Contra Mr. Krugman, the Chinese economy was built on nothing but cheap labor and "stability."  If you share the wealth with the masses you can't get them to work cheap.  If you don't, you provoke instability.  It's a lose/lose, which is why the PRC has no future.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Spin to separate : Sweating on purpose is becoming an elite phenomenon (The Economist, Aug 1st 2015)

Jobs no longer involve labor and we're so wealthy we all have nearly unlimited access to calories.  One of the bases of future wealth transfers could be fitness.