October 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


New US-backed Syrian rebel alliance launches offensive against IS (John Davison, OCTOBER 31, 2015, Reuters)

 A newly formed US-backed Syrian rebel alliance on Saturday launched an offensive against Islamic State in the northeast province of Hasaka, a day after the United States said it would send special forces to advise insurgents fighting the jihadists.

It was the first declared operation by the Democratic Forces of Syria, which joins together a US-backed Kurdish militia and several Syrian Arab rebel groups, since it announced its formation earlier this month.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


AIPAC's Devastating Decision (Caroline Glick, October 30, 2015, RCP)

Democratic Senator Chris]  Coons' announcement of support for Obama's nuclear deal was a turning point in the fight to kill the deal in Congress by securing enough Senate Democrats to oppose it. With "pro-Israel" Coons' support in hand, the administration shifted its efforts from securing enough votes to uphold a presidential veto of a Congressional vote to oppose his Iran deal to securing enough senate votes to prevent a vote from even taking place.

During the battle against the deal and in the aftermath of Obama's victory among Senate Democrats, many commentators assumed that the reason Obama was able to convince lawmakers like Coons to vote against their better judgment, against US national security interests, and against their constituents' wishes was because Obama could make them a better offer of future support than AIPAC could.

It was argued at the time that Coons and his ostensibly pro-Israel colleagues like New Jersey senator Cory Booker, could afford to lose AIPAC. The anti-Israel financial backers emblematically represented by financier George Soros and his brainchild J Street, who have become the strongest forces in Obama's Democratic Party, would pick up the slack.

As it works out, Soros won't be needing to ante up. According to a report by Bloomberg reporter Eli Lake, AIPAC has decided to let bygones be bygones.

According to Lake's report, earlier this month AIPAC featured Coons at a luncheon in New York for its members from the real estate industry. [...]

Democrats in general are overjoyed with AIPAC's decision to host a politician who openly admits he sold Israel down the river.

For instance, Democratic political operative and former Clinton White House staffer Steve Rabinowitz told Lake, "We're all waiting to see what the dynamics are going to be since the Iran deal vote and where AIPAC, congressional Republicans and the Israeli foreign ministry are each going to come down. I think this is great sign from AIPAC."

...once even Israeli Intelligence signed on.
Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Too Weak, Too Strong (Patrick Cockburn, 11/05/15, London Review of Books)

The US faces the same dilemma in Iraq and Syria today as it did after 9/11 when George Bush declared the war on terror. It was known then that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and the money for the operation came from Saudi donors. But the US didn't want to pursue al-Qaida at the expense of its relations with the Sunni states, so it muted criticism of Saudi Arabia and invaded Iraq; similarly, it never confronted Pakistan over its support for the Taliban, ensuring that the movement was able to regroup after losing power in 2001.

Washington tried to mitigate the failure of its air campaign, officially called Operation Inherent Resolve, by making exaggerated claims of success. Maps were issued to the press showing that IS had a weakening grip on between 25 and 30 per cent of its territory, but they conveniently left out the parts of Syria where IS was advancing. Such was the suppression and manipulation of intelligence by the administration that in July fifty analysts working for US Central Command signed a protest against the official distortion of what was happening on the battlefield. Russia has now taken advantage of the US failure to suppress the jihadis.

But great power rivalry is only one of the confrontations taking place in Syria, and the fixation on Russian intervention has obscured other important developments. The outside world hasn't paid much attention, but the regional struggle between Shia and Sunni has intensified in the last few weeks. Shia states across the Middle East, notably Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, have never had much doubt that they are in a fight to the finish with the Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, and their local allies in Syria and Iraq. Shia leaders dismiss the idea, much favoured in Washington, that a sizeable moderate, non-sectarian Sunni opposition exists that would be willing to share power in Damascus and Baghdad: this, they believe, is propaganda pumped out by Saudi and Qatari-backed media. When it comes to keeping Assad in charge in Damascus, the increased involvement of the Shia powers is as important as the Russian air campaign. For the first time units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been deployed in Syria, mostly around Aleppo, and there are reports that a thousand fighters from Iran and Hizbullah are waiting to attack from the north. Several senior Iranian commanders have recently been killed in the fighting. The mobilisation of the Shia axis is significant because, although Sunni outnumber Shia in the Muslim world at large, in the swathe of countries most directly involved in the conflict - Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon - there are more than a hundred million Shia, who believe their own existence is threatened if Assad goes down, compared to thirty million Sunnis, who are in a majority only in Syria.

In addition to the Russian-American rivalry and the struggle between Shia and Sunni, a third development of growing importance is shaping the war. This is the struggle of the 2.2 million Kurds, 10 per cent of the Syrian population, to create a Kurdish statelet in north-east Syria, which the Kurds call Rojava. Since the withdrawal of the Syrian army from the three Kurdish enclaves in the summer of 2012, the Kurds have been extraordinarily successful militarily and now control an area that stretches for 250 miles between the Euphrates and the Tigris along the southern frontier of Turkey. The Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim told me in September that the Kurdish forces intended to advance west of the Euphrates, seizing the last IS-held border crossing with Turkey at Jarabulus and linking up with the Syrian Kurdish enclave at Afrin. Such an event would be viewed with horror by Turkey, which suddenly finds itself hemmed in by Kurdish forces backed by US airpower along much of its southern frontier.

The Kurds get a state; Syria gets a representative government; the U.S. and the Shi'a continue to extend and strengthen the Crescent; and the Sa'uds are undermined.  Meanwhile, all of the above--and Russia and Turkey--fight ISIS.  It's all a bit messy and leisurely-paced, but going as one would have hoped on 9-11.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Rigging the Test Against Common Core (Editorial Board, 10/29/15)

Nationwide, students largely scored lower on the Common Core assessments than they had on the hodgepodge of state and national tests they took previously. But this isn't a bad thing. Far too many states and districts used to game their testing results to falsely indicate that students were thriving. In Georgia, for instance, the percentage of fourth graders deemed proficient in reading dropped from nearly 100 percent in 2013 to less than 40 percent in 2015. In New Jersey, the number of high school students passing in English dropped from 93 percent to 41 percent.

The most reliable previous nationwide standard, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has long made clear just how poorly American schools serve children. In 2013, the NAEP indicated that just 26 percent of 12th graders were proficient in math, and 38 percent in reading. Yet many states obscured that reality with their own watered-down assessments. More than half reported state test results that were more than 30 percentage points higher than their NAEP scores.

Which is what Soccer Moms oppose--a universal standardized test that demonstrates how little their kids know.  They love grade inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


What a Russian 'win' in Syria would look like (Josh Cohen, October 28, 2015, Reuters)

Here's how Putin might achieve his ideal outcome in Syria.

To start, a key strength of Russia's Syrian military strategy is its simplicity. Today the Russian bombing campaign seeks only to stabilize the Syrian regime's lines around the key corridor running north from Damascus through Homs and Hama. This approach provides breathing space for Assad, and allows his regime to implement its long-mooted Plan B -- a rump state centered on the Alawite heartland along the Mediterranean coast. While it's unclear whether the Assad regime can re-conquer large portions of Syria, the rebels are now on the defensive and the regime has stopped losing crucial pieces of territory.

Of course, this ends the problem of minority rule in Syria and leaves Russia alone fighting ISIS to try and protect its client.  His ideal outcome is catastrophic.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


Russian airliner crash: was it terrorism or a mechanical fault - and what else do we know? (David Blair, 31 Oct 2015, The Telegraph)

An Airbus A321 operated by a small Russian airline called Kogalymavia crashed in Egypt soon after 6am local time on Saturday.

The aircraft, which carried the brand name "Metrojet", had taken off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh at 5.51am bound for St Petersburg, carrying 224 passengers and crew.

A French plane, flown by Russians over the Middle East...what could go wrong?

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


This Is How Much Donald Trump's Immigration Plan Would Cost America if Mexico Doesn't Pick Up the Tab. : If Trump needs illegal immigrants to go, it's not going to be cheap. (Lauren Fox, 8/18/15, National Journal)

In his plan, Trump de­mands Mex­ico pay for his state-of-the-art bor­der wall, but Mex­ic­an Pres­id­ent En­rique Pena Ni­eto's spokes­man told Bloomberg that the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment has no in­ten­tion of foot­ing the bill. That leaves the cost of build­ing up the bor­der to the U.S., and an im­pen­et­rable wall comes at a mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar price.

The U.S. already has in place more than 650 miles of bor­der fen­cing. That pro­ject was es­tim­ated to have cost $2.4 bil­lion in 2009 and will con­tin­ue to cost bil­lions to main­tain. But Trump's plan calls for a bet­ter bor­der fence. As­sum­ing the ex­ist­ing fence is scrapped and re­placed with one as se­cure as Is­rael's se­cur­ity bar­ri­cade meant to de­ter ter­ror­ists, the cost of build­ing a fence along all 1,989 miles of the south­ern bor­der would come to more than $6 bil­lion. Na­tion­al Journ­al once es­tim­ated it would cost $6.4 bil­lion when all is said and done.

But the price tag of the bor­der wall is pit­tance com­pared to the mass de­port­a­tion Trump would like to see if he were pres­id­ent. While it was not lis­ted ex­pli­citly in his on­line im­mig­ra­tion plan, Trump told Meet the Press's Chuck Todd this past Sunday that im­mig­rants in the coun­try il­leg­ally would be sent back to their home coun­tries.
"We're go­ing to keep the fam­il­ies to­geth­er, but they have to go," Trump said. "We either have a coun­try or we don't have a coun­try."

The ex­plos­ive costs of mass de­port­a­tion have of­ten forced Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial and con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates to find an­oth­er solu­tion. Trump's po­s­i­tion is far out­side the main­stream of many oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans. There are sev­er­al es­tim­ates out there on what it would cost to round up the roughly 11 mil­lion people who are resid­ing in the U.S. without per­mis­sion. The Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, a lib­er­al think tank, es­tim­ated in 2010 (when the il­leg­al pop­u­la­tion was smal­ler) that it would take $200 bil­lion to "ar­rest, de­tain, leg­ally pro­cess and trans­port the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion over a five year peri­od." That did not in­clude the $85 bil­lion it tal­lied for keep­ing up with en­force­ment in the sub­sequent five years.

In 2011, the Hou­s­ton Chron­icle re­por­ted that ICE Deputy Dir­ect­or Ku­mar Kibble told mem­bers of Con­gress that it cost $5 bil­lion to round up and de­port 393,000 im­mig­rants. That comes to a cost of ap­prox­im­ately $12,722 per im­mig­rant. If you had to de­port 11 mil­lion people at that cost, the feds would be dol­ing out about $140 bil­lion.

...because of the manpower that would be required.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


To export or not to export: partisan divide over ban on foreign sales of US oil (Debbie Carlson, 31 October 2015, The Guardian)

Even the Congressional Budget Office has weighed in, with a study suggesting greater tax receipts from federal oil and gas leases would follow a lifting of the ban. A study from Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy forecasts lower gasoline prices and geopolitical benefits, and the centrist Brookings Institute issued a research report citing the economic benefit to exporting US crude oil. [...]

A major Democratic concern with simply lifting the ban is that it will be a gift to the oil industry. Democrats cite a study from Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, which said oil producers may receive $23bn to $29bn over the next few years - if US and global prices remain close.

To lift the ban, Democrats "want something in return; that's politics. They're not going to give something to the industry without exacting some price for it", said Michael Cohen, head of energy research at Barclays.

Rather than just lift the ban, Democrats want to review energy policy in the bigger picture, including investments in clean technology, he said. Republicans aren't going to meet them there.

Lift the oil ban and raise the gas tax, with a corporate tax offset.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


When Luther Shook Up Christianity : He wanted reform but got the Reformation. Will Islam one day be similarly modernized? (JOSEPH LOCONTE, Oct. 29, 2015, WSJ)

On Reformation Sunday, nearly 500 years after Luther published his 95 Theses, Protestants will celebrate his revolution to recapture the meaning of the gospel and the authority of the Bible against that of popes or princes. As Luther told his accusers at the 1521 council known as the Diet of Worms: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God."

Luther is either credited or blamed for shattering Catholic hegemony and plunging Europe into religious wars. But the Reformation is more complex than that, and speaks to today's religious violence and political instability.

Luther owed a debt, for example, to the humanism of the Renaissance. Desiderius Erasmus, a leading classical scholar, emphasized authentic faith over mechanical religion. He called for charity amid religious disagreements, aided by reason and persuasion. Even before Luther, he sought to make the Bible available to laymen. "I would that even the lowliest women read the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles," he wrote.

In 1516--a year before Luther's 95 Theses--Erasmus published his Greek translation of the New Testament, the first of its kind. His text, with commentary and annotations, became a landmark in Biblical scholarship--and, thanks to the printing press, a rival to the Latin translation guarded by the Catholic Church.

Luther also benefited from the era's discontent: The entanglement of church and state had compromised the spiritual aims of the Catholic Church. Pope Leo X, a kingpin of the powerful Medici family--described by historian Roland Bainton as "elegant and indolent as a Persian cat"--embodied the problem. Luther attacked his policy of indulgences, cash payments in exchange for forgiveness for souls suffering in purgatory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Syrian parliamentarian says US decision to deploy troops in Syria is an aggression (Associated Press Oct. 31, 2015)

A Syrian member of parliament says the United States decision to send troops into to Syria is an aggression because it does not have the government's agreement.

Of course it's an act of aggression, but, sadly, Syria has no sovereign government.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Can Rugby Finally Conquer America? : It's the second most-popular sport in the world, but its brutal, class-oriented origins have long made it an unnatural fit for the democratic U.S. (DOMINIC GREEN, 10/31/15, WSJ)

While football flounders in an ethical mire, a sibling game--one with origins in the same medieval brawls over a pig's bladder--is poised to enter the big leagues of American sport. Outside North America, rugby is already the world's second most popular game, behind soccer, and a major money-maker. The 2011 Rugby World Cup attracted a cumulative audience of nearly 4 billion viewers. The 2015 World Cup, which culminates on Saturday in a face-off between Australia and New Zealand, has topped that figure, with television coverage in 207 territories, including Libya and the Scott Station near the South Pole.

And yet rugby's true final frontier and television's biggest prize isn't the South Pole, but the United States. As Tony Collins explains in his new book The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby, rugby is becoming American. The U.S. men's team, defeated in this year's pool matches, is seeded 16th in the world; the women's team is fourth. A Chicago-based consortium is planning a national, all-pro league, modeled on the league that launched American soccer in the 1970s. If the prospect of Americans embracing rugby like they do other major sports seems outlandish, it seems even more remarkable when you consider the game's exclusionary origins, as detailed Collins' groundbreaking book. [...]

Televised rugby just might win an American fan base, but Collins doesn't expect it to eclipse football--at least not in the men's game. ​If the sport turns out to have staying power this time, its core ethos of fairness and balance may face a new kind of challenge with the rise of the women's rugby team. (Even the more developed sport of soccer has seen top-ranked women's players treated like amateurs compared to mediocre men's players.) Now ranked third, the USA Eagles women's team is within sight of winning the World Cup one day. If they do, or if the U.S. men's team ever defeats England at its home base in Twickenham Stadium, the sport's traditionalists may mourn the crushing of amateur ethics by television money, and the sullying of rugby's soul.

Yet the moral value of rugby comes not from amateur ideals, but from the physical courage required to play the game, professionally or not. It's a sport where mutual responsibility is assumed, where every player is the last line of defense. Pared down to its most basic elements, rugby is a kind of moral tutor, teaching "passion, pride, and meaning," Collins says. As the sport deepens its roots in the U.S., his book offers a well-timed and deeply informed global history of the game. From now on, he seems to say, we're all living in the oval world.

...is the opacity of the rules and the arbitrariness of their application, which actually decided at least one of the games in this World Cup, though video review is helpful.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


My year with Arvo Part - he is a man of courage, humility and authenticity : Arvo Pärt is famously media-averse. So how did Günter Atteln make a film about the composer, and what did he learn about him? (Günter Atteln, 30 October 2015, The Guardian)

In order to understand Pärt, one needs to know that he is a religious person. You don't need to be religious to feel his music, just as you don't need to be religious to feel the music of Bach. But if you want to listen to his work structurally then it helps to know of Pärt's faith and the meaning of the texts he has chosen, and that he becomes subordinate to the word in his composition. He has a deep humility, with which he follows the direct tradition of Bach: his music is "in the honour of God".

This requires courage. As a man of faith, an artist makes himself vulnerable. Pärt has been attacked from many sides during his lifetime, whether by party officials in Soviet times or from representatives of the Modern School after his emigration to the west. One bows to a great composer who unflinchingly follows his path, authentic and real. And if we have succeeded in capturing a little of this authenticity in the film, then we have achieved our goal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Why have mammograms failed to reduce breast cancer? (Julia Belluz | October 29, 2015 | Vox)

The whole idea behind cancer screening is that doctors will find the disease earlier -- even before symptoms appear -- and therefore be more likely to successfully treat it and control any spread.

But as the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, shows, the introduction of mass mammography screening has failed to reduce the rate of advanced-stage breast cancers in women.

The incidence of metastatic cancers (or cancers that have already spread and are therefore more deadly) has remained stable since 1975 -- despite the initiation of widespread screening programs aimed at getting all women of a certain age mammograms.

The stubborn trend suggests, lead author and Dartmouth physician Gilbert Welch said, that mammography programs aren't having any impact on the number of women who have serious breast cancers, which means mass screening probably can't detect the most aggressive forms of the disease at an early stage.

Interestingly, the authors of the paper note, the average age at diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer among women 40 and older hasn't changed (remaining 64 years) in nearly 40 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


The latest advance in 3D printing: replacement teeth (Dominic Basulto, 10/31/15, Washington Post)

For the Dutch researchers, the key step in developing the bacteria-fighting tooth was being able to find the right material to put inside the 3D printer. In this case, the researchers embedded antimicrobial quaternary ammonium salts inside existing dental resin polymers. Once this mix is put into a 3D printer, it can be hardened with ultraviolet light and used to print out 3D replacement teeth.

To test the bacteria-fighting tooth in a lab environment, the researchers coated the material with human saliva and exposed it to the bacterium that causes tooth decay. The anti-bacterial tooth killed more than 99% of all bacteria and showed no signs of being harmful to human cells.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Men retire to be with their wives, study says (Suzanne Woolley, 10/30/15,  BLOOMBERG NEWS)

About 60 percent of men cite spending more time with their wives as one of the strongest motivations to retire, according to a new survey based on more than 12,000 defined-contribution plan participants 55 or older. Just 43 percent of women say the same.

October 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


'Probably the largest' al-Qaeda training camp ever destroyed in Afghanistan (Dan Lamothe October 30, 2015, Washington Post)

A multi-day operation in southern Afghanistan this month that involved 200 Special Operations forces and scores of American airstrikes targeted what was "probably the largest" al-Qaeda training camp found in the 14-year Afghan war, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan said on Friday. [...]

The operation, announced by the U.S. military on Oct. 11, hit one training area that sprawled over 30 square miles and another small one that was about one square mile, U.S. military officials said. U.S. and Afghan troops were involved in the ground assault, with 63 airstrikes launched to cover them. Some 160 al-Qaeda fighters were reported killed.

They have to be lucky every day....

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


'Probably the largest' al-Qaeda training camp ever destroyed in Afghanistan (Dan Lamothe October 30, 2015, Washington Post)

A multi-day operation in southern Afghanistan this month that involved 200 Special Operations forces and scores of American airstrikes targeted what was "probably the largest" al-Qaeda training camp found in the 14-year Afghan war, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan said on Friday. [...]

The operation, announced by the U.S. military on Oct. 11, hit one training area that sprawled over 30 square miles and another small one that was about one square mile, U.S. military officials said. U.S. and Afghan troops were involved in the ground assault, with 63 airstrikes launched to cover them. Some 160 al-Qaeda fighters were reported killed.

They have to be lucky every day....

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Japan's TPP Transformation (Yuriko Koike, 10/30/15, Project Syndicate)

On October 5, after years of exhausting - and exhaustive - haggling, a dozen Pacific Rim countries finally signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement that promises everything from more trade to a cleaner environment. The negotiations were such that the hair of Akira Amari, Japan's economic and fiscal policy minister, turned completely grey. His solace, however, is that the TPP will prove to be a key foundation stone of the "Asian Century."

The TPP's origins, pre-dating Amari's involvement, go back to a 2006 trade agreement among only Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, and Brunei - the so-called "Pacific 4." The United States, Australia, Peru, and Vietnam, seeing the prospect of a rules-based international order in Asia, joined the talks in March 2010, and in an instant the P-4's small boat became a great ocean liner.

And then it became a convoy, as Malaysia, Mexico, Canada, and finally - in 2013 - Japan joined the negotiations. Combined, the TPP economies account for some 40% of world GDP, outstripping the largest existing free-trade area, the European Union.

..are eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chatreuse micro-bus.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


NFL's Quality of Play Hits Rock Bottom, No One Cares : A litany of penalties, mistakes and backup quarterbacks hasn't stopped captivating America (KEVIN CLARK, Oct. 27, 2015, WSJ)

The average length a pass travels in the air has dropped 7% since 2011--it now stands at just 6.11 yards--and the average length of a completion has dropped 10% in that span. [...]

It's no coincidence that teams have moved toward this style of play. Quarterback accuracy, honed by years of passing-coach gurus and youth football leagues, has created a world in which a short pass is almost certain to be completed. Teams have begun to view short passes as "long handoffs" that can essentially replace their running games. The upshot is that in an era when the boring, old run-first offenses have all but disappeared, they've been replaced by something more frustrating to watch: a passing game that is now as dull as the running game.

Anecdotally, coaches and executives admit that offensive line play has never been worse. That is not backed up by much data--the league's quarterback sack numbers haven't risen dramatically this season--but simply watching on Sundays seems to confirm that something is amiss. Beyond doubt is the fact that referees think teams are more mistake-prone. Penalties have shot up from 12.6 per game in 2011 to 14.80 a game this season. This has created games with endless stops and starts, or worse, for the Buffalo Bills--whose 670 penalty yards are 137 more than anyone else in the league--games that are only stops, no starts.

Coaches point to the collective bargaining agreement that, when signed in 2011, limited practice time, which they say has hurt young players' development. A movement for some sort of off-season league or changes to the practice structure is growing behind the scenes, but it would take more than a couple of extra practices to clean up all the errors seen this season.

It's become the NBA--younger unskilled players make big money, rather than your payday coming once you've learned your craft, as in baseball.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


In Search of the Anti-Politician (Charlie Cook, 10/30/15, National Journal)

You can look at polls and read news ac­counts all day long, but the frus­tra­tion, des­pair--and, in some cases, rage--among a mul­ti­tude of Re­pub­lic­an voters can be lost in the num­bers. Bet­ter to let them just talk. An­ec­dot­ally, you can chat with friends, re­l­at­ives, neigh­bors, cab­drivers, and oth­er reg­u­lar folks. But the an­ti­pathy really comes through when you listen in on Re­pub­lic­an voters gathered in fo­cus groups, such as one con­vened last week in In­di­ana­pol­is by poll­ster P [...]

The com­mon de­nom­in­at­or for par­ti­cipants in the fo­cus group: a de­sire for someone who is un­tain­ted by the polit­ic­al pro­cess. They see policy ex­pert­ise and ex­per­i­ence in pub­lic of­fice as, at a min­im­um, vastly over­rated or--for some par­ti­cipants--down­right dis­qual­i­fy­ing. This is quite a switch for a polit­ic­al party that has tra­di­tion­ally gone for known com­mod­it­ies, for can­did­ates the voters felt they knew and were com­fort­able with. [...]

In what I thought was their most per­cept­ive con­clu­sion about Re­pub­lic­an voters' state of mind, Hart and Hunt ob­served: "Be­hind all of this is a sense that these people have done a bet­ter job of fig­ur­ing out what they are against rather than what they are for. Part of the chal­lenge that emerges for Re­pub­lic­ans is that there ap­pears to be noth­ing pos­it­ive around which they can unite. Much of this dis­cus­sion was spent rail­ing against what is wrong rather than search­ing for a unit­ing vis­ion of what they want in their nom­in­ee.

Once they're done emoting they'll need a leader, which is why Jeb should just ignore the rest of the candidates--the back and forth is quintessential politics as usual--and hammer home what he'll do once he's elected.  Issues, not attacks.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Men With Facial Hair Tend To Value Traditional Gender Roles (Data Freaks, 10/28/15, FORBES)

According to a recent survey we conducted using Qualtrics , and soon to appear in Archives of Sexual Behavior, men who choose to wear facial hair tend to value traditional gender roles more than men who choose to be clean-shaven. [...]

It is most widely believed that facial hair evolved to signal dominance between males, like a silverback gorilla's coat. Research across cultures, from the hills of Papua New Guinea to the streets of New York, confirms that a beard makes a man appear older, more masculine, stronger and more aggressive.

In Victorian times facial hair was common among the male aristocracy. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


ESPN ends Grantland website 5 months after founding editor Bill Simmons leaves (Associated Press, Oct. 30, 2015)

ESPN says Grantland "distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun. We are grateful to those who made it so."

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Netanyahu: Nazis, not Jerusalem mufti, responsible for Holocaust (TIMES OF ISRAEL, October 30, 2015)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday sought to walk back his controversial claim made earlier this month that the idea to eradicate Europe's Jews had not come from Hitler, but rather Jerusalem's then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist widely acknowledged as a fervent Jew-hater.

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Deso Dogg, Ex-Rapper Who Joined ISIS, Is Killed by U.S. Airstrike (CHRISTINE HAUSER, OCT. 30, 2015, WSJ)

The former German rapper Deso Dogg, who abandoned his music career in 2010 and became a recruiter in Syria for the Islamic State, was killed in an airstrike this month, the Pentagon confirmed Friday.

The musician, born Denis Cuspert, toured with the American performer DMX in 2006 but later abandoned rap music and became a well-known singer of nasheeds, or Islamic devotional music, in German. The State Department designated him a terrorist in February after determining he had become a "willing pitchman" for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Measuring the natural rate of interest redux (Thomas Laubach and John Williams, 10/30/15, Brookings)

The equilibrium real interest rate--the rate consistent with stable inflation when the economy is at full employment--has trended downward over the past thirty years, according to Thomas Laubach, Director of Monetary Affairs at the Federal Reserve Board, and John C. Williams, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. And they anticipate it will remain low for "a long time."

According to their model, the decline occurred in two parts: a gradual descent from 1980 to the Great Recession followed by a precipitous drop. They currently estimate the equilibrium rate has been at or below zero since the end of 2010. That contrasts with the 50-year average for the short-term rate controlled by the Fed, adjusted for inflation, of about 2 percent.

The Fed needs to ease our usurious interest rates to trigger dynamic growth, particularly in housing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


Why Is It So Hard To Save? U.K. Shows It Doesn't Have To Be (Chris Arnold, 10/23/15, Morning Edition)

Here's how it works: Employees start putting just 2 percent of their salary into a retirement account. Employers match a portion of that. And the total with the employer match increases over time to at least 8 percent.

So if millions of people can save money and invest for the future, why are we otherwise so bad at saving? It turns out that saving "is at the nexus of just about every behavioral bias we have," says Kate Glazebrook with the U.K.-based Behavioural Insights Team, a nonprofit that's consulting with the government on the program.

In the U.S., many behavioral economists agree. Brigitte Madrian, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, says that often, saving feels like losing if we have to take the money out of our own pocket or checking account and put it into a retirement account. Even though we're just squirreling it away for ourselves, it feels like a loss.

"There's a term in the economics and psychology literature called loss aversion," Madrian says. "The idea is that people experience a loss twice as severely as they experience a gain on the upside."

In other words, our aversion to loss overpowers our desire to gain money by investing, especially since the gain is years down the road.

Automatically enrolling workers into a savings plan and then deducting their pre-tax contribution from their paycheck means workers don't see or feel the loss. It sort of tricks their brains into doing the right thing.

"It takes a task that they want to do but that's hard and makes it easy," Madrian says. "The U.S. government figured this out in the 1950s when it came to income tax collection, that the way to get people to pay their taxes was to do it through payroll deduction."

...automatically put the money into a mutual fund which adjusts risk over time as if they were going to retire at age 70.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Iran hints at compromise ahead of Vienna talks (deutsche-Welle, 10/30/15)

[A]ccording to Reuters news agency, even staunch Assad ally Iran is willing to accept that he may have to eventually step down in order to ensure a peaceful end to the four-year crisis that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

"Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever," Zarif's deputy, Amir Abdollahian, was quoted by Reuters as telling Iranian media. Another official familiar with the situation told Reuters that Tehran was willing to bend on keeping Assad in power, even perhaps accepting that he step down after a 6-month transition period.

"Of course, it will be up to the Syrian people to decide about the country's fate," the official continued.

If you didn't know better, you'd swear the neocons completely misunderstand Iran.
Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


The Establishment Strikes Back (Robert Schlessinger, 10/30/15, US News)

[T]he party's insurgents were brought to heel as establishmentarian Paul Ryan became House speaker, the House passed a budget plan the hard-right reviles and which diminishes its near-term hostage-taking opportunities and, insult to injury, it also voted to revive the Export-Import Bank, which conservatives see as a symbol of Washington crony capitalism. Even Wednesday night saw the outsider presidential candidates - Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina - mostly fade in the presidential debate while the more traditional candidates came to the fore. It's been a heady few days for the GOP's governing class.

Thank You & Congratulations, Misters Speaker! (Conservative Reform Network)

[D]uring his speakership, Speaker Boehner helped save $1.5 trillion from 2011-2015.

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Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Budget Deal Ends Key Social Security Claim Strategies (ANNE TERGESEN, Oct. 28, 2015, WSJ)

The budget bill the White House and congressional leaders hammered out Monday would shut down two popular Social Security claiming strategies that married couples and their financial advisers have come to rely on to squeeze the maximum from their retirement benefits.

The bill, which passed the House Wednesday and now moves to the Senate, would end two strategies that combined can add "tens of thousands of dollars" to a couple's lifetime retirement income, in part by allowing one spouse to claim as many as four additional years of a spousal benefit, said Michael Kitces, director of planning research at Pinnacle Advisory Group Inc. in Columbia, Md.

The strategies under fire--known as file-and-suspend and a restricted application for spousal benefits--attracted interest in the wake of a 2000 law that allowed Social Security beneficiaries to voluntarily suspend their checks after they had applied for benefits. While it wasn't the law's intent, the option to file and suspend made it possible for a worker's spouse to start collecting a benefit based on the worker's earnings record while the worker took advantage of delayed retirement credits. Those credits increase a worker's benefit by 6% to 8% for each year he or she delays claiming between the ages of 66 and 70. [...]

The strategies are valuable for couples who have the financial wherewithal to time the start of their benefits for the maximum expected payoff over their lifetimes. By contrast, many individuals find they need to start collecting at the earliest possible age, usually 62, to pay their bills. According to a 2009 report by Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, if everyone who could benefit from the strategies used both, 45% of the additional benefits earned would be paid out to wealthiest 40% of Social Security beneficiaries.

It's worth just establishing the precedent of targetting the wealthy in entilement reform.
Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Are Evangelicals Losing Faith in Trump? : Many leaders of the church have already denounced the billionaire's non-Christlike antics and now others may be following suit. (RUTH GRAHAM  OCT 28, 2015, The Atlantic)

It's not just that evangelical leaders prefer other candidates. Many have been actively speaking out against Trump, occasionally almost apoplectic in their frustration over his continued popularity. Thomas Kidd, who participated in World's survey, wrote last week that he "will not support Trump under any circumstances, and I would use what little influence I have to stop him from being elected president." Kirsten Powers, a Fox News commentator who was until very recently an evangelical (she converted to Catholicism earlier this month), called Trump a scam artist and "a dangerous megalomaniac with a distorted sense of reality," and called for evangelicals to "wake up." Eric Teetsel, the director of the Manhattan Declaration, has been outspoken against Trump for months. "Now are we done?" he tweeted this summer after Trump said he had never asked God for forgiveness for his sins.

Most notable is the drumbeat of scorn from Russell Moore, the influential head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. With 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is America's largest Protestant denomination. Moore, who generally takes a milder tone than his predecessors, has been sharply critical of the candidate in interviews with CNN, Politico, and NPR ("He's someone who is an unrepentant serial adulterer"), among others. And, in September, he contributed a scathing op-ed in The New York Times that slammed Trump's insults to Hispanics, his "Bronze Age warlord" attitude toward women, and his trivialization of communion as "drink my little wine ... have my little cracker." The op-ed concluded:

Jesus taught his disciples to "count the cost" of following him. We should know, he said, where we're going and what we're leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we've decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist "winning" trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we're applauding.

October 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


A Black Legend Refuted : Mark Riebling's "Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler" is a beautifully written book which not only defends Pius XII but utterly demolishes the Black Legend in intricate and meticulously documented detail (Fr. John Jay Hughes, 10/26/15, cATHOLIC wORLD rEPORT)

At the start of World War II Pius authorized Vatican radio to broadcast reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland. These ceased only at the urgent plea of victims reporting that the broadcasts intensified their sufferings.

In 1942 the Pope's Christmas message spoke of "the hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nationality and race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction." Dismissed by his latter day critics as too vague to be understood, the Pope's words were well understood by the Nazis, who called them "one long attack on everything we stand for. Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews ... and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminal."  The New York Times also understood, commenting: "This Christmas more than ever [Pope Pius XII] is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent."

At the war's end Golda Meier (later Israel's Prime Minister), Albert Einstein, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and many other Jewish voices applauded Pius for doing what he could to rescue Jews: by providing life saving travel documents, religious disguises, and safekeeping in cloistered monasteries and convents, including the Pope's own summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where Jewish babies were born in the Pope's own bedroom. The Israeli diplomat and scholar Pinchas Lapide commented: "No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews." At the Pope's death in October 1958 the New York Times took three days to print tributes to Pius from New York City rabbis alone. [...]

Comes now Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling, a blockbuster of a book which not only defends Pius XII (which others have undertaken with varying success) but utterly demolishes the Black Legend by showing in intricate and meticulously documented detail (107 pages of end notes and sources) that from the very start of the war the Pope cooperated secretly with anti-Nazi forces in Hitler's thousand year Reich who sought, first, to remove the Führer from power; and when that failed, to kill him.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Cuba's semi-untouched markets offer rare opportunity for U.S. businesses (Vikram Mansharamani,  October 29, 2015, PBS Newshour)

[O]il demand has decelerated, in large part due to a global economic slowdown led by China at the same time that fracking has dramatically increased supply. This combination pushed oil prices lower, reducing the compensation Venezuela provided to Cuba. Might the loss of Cuba's economic safety net have played a role in its desire to liberalize and negotiate with its neighbor to the north? I think so.

As the Cuban market opens, there will be many opportunities, and none is bigger, perhaps, than medical tourism. Cuba has one of the most concentrated supplies of doctors in the world, with 6.7 for every 1000 citizens. On this metric it is behind only Monaco and Qatar, according to the World Health Organization. But in Cuba, labor costs are extremely low: general practitioners make $44 dollars per month. Thousands of Canadians and Europeans already travel to Cuba every year for its affordable healthcare, but this may be a drop in the bucket compared to the opportunity.

Let's not forget that a nonstop flight between Havana and Miami would take less than 30 minutes. And with almost 4 million senior citizens in Florida alone, conditions are ripe for a boom in outbound American patients heading to Cuba for medical care.

General tourism from global consumers is also starting to boom. While travel for Americans is still restricted, tourism from the United States rose by more than 50 percent in the first half of this year. Total inbound international tourism to Cuba was up almost 20 percent last year. Not surprisingly, Airbnb recently entered Cuba, and the island became the fastest growing new market launch in the company's history. [...]

It will also need to build out its infrastructure to support the swarms of inbound vacationers that might flock to the island. It currently has 62,000 hotel rooms -- roughly the same as Phoenix -- but already has plans to build 13,600 more by 2016. Cruises to the island have quintupled over the past three years, but its ports need to be upgraded to host the biggest ships. And indeed there are billion dollar plans to upgrade the island's Port of Mariel and set up a special economic zone there, with much of the funding coming from Brazil.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Another proposal for a hidden VAT (Alan D. Viard, October 29, 2015, AEIdeas)

Following Senator Rand Paul's lead, Senator Ted Cruz has released a tax reform plan that includes a substantial value added tax (VAT).

Cruz's plan would abolish the payroll and self-employment tax, the corporate income tax, and the estate and gift tax, and would also slash  individual income tax rates to a flat 10%. The plan would recoup part of the revenue loss by adopting a 16% VAT, slightly larger than Paul's proposed 14.5% VAT.

The difficulty once you've opened this line of argumentlies in explaining why you want to tax income.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


MAN VS. MACHINE: NFL WEEK 8 PICKS (Rufus Peabody and Will Leitch, 10/29/15, Sports on Earth)

Bruce Arians got some flack this week for not being able to run the clock out late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens. I was on a date, so I didn't get to watch the second half of the game, but when I flipped on ESPN afterward, I was surprised to learn that the Cardinals mismanaged the clock, since there is no coach I would rather have salting away a lead than Arians. My reasoning is pretty simple: Arians plays to win, rather than playing not to lose, like most NFL coaches. The version of the so-called "four-minute offense" most NFL teams employ is the ugly stepbrother to the dreaded prevent defense. Most of the time, it involves running the ball three times against an opponent expecting the run, punting, and relying on your defense to stop an offense with nothing to lose. There is a good reason teams behave sub-optimally in these situations, and it's the same reason they punt more than they should: incentives. When a coach makes a decision deviating from the traditional, overly conservative league norms, he's remembered for it if it's unsuccessful, but rarely noticed when it works. And in this day and age of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, coaches do not want to be seen as actively bad.

When I actually looked through the play-by-play of the Cardinals' four-minute offense (well, technically their drive started with 4:26 remaining), it looked like typical Bruce Arians play calling -- some runs, some passes. Of course, nobody in the media mentioned this non-conservative play calling that generated two first downs, took two minutes off the clock and forced the Ravens to burn all three timeouts. What they do remember is Carson Palmer getting penalized for intentional grounding with 2:27 remaining and the Ravens out of timeouts. Sure, the play didn't work out, but it was not due to a flaw in the decision-making process; the play called was a screen pass, and a first down would have ended the game. Arians said after the game "that's the time to go for the throat." He was doing what he's quietly done so well for the last few seasons -- playing to win. -- Rufus Peabody

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Record levels of cash flocking to the U.S. (Patrick Gillespie, 10/29/15, CNNMoney)

A record breaking amount of cash is flocking to the United States.

Foreign direct investment into the U.S. hit $200 billion in the first half of 2015, a record high according to a report published Thursday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It's a sign that global investors are optimistic about the U.S. economy at a time when the rest of the global economy undergoes a slowdown.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Republicans Just Killed Their Own Health-Care Idea (Cass R. Sunstein, 10/29/15, Bloomberg View)

During the early health reform debates, right after Barack Obama was elected president, Republican enthusiasm for automatic enrollment was spurred by the analogy to 401(k) plans. A lot of research shows that if workers are automatically signed up for such plans, participation increases significantly, even if it is easy to opt out. The saving grace of this approach is that people remain free to choose: If they need the money now, they can choose to stop contributing.

For health insurance, you might embrace the same policy: Assume that people want it, but allow them to go their own way. Nudges are fine, but coercion is not.

Of course, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress made a different choice, in part on the theory that the whole system of health care reform could unravel without the broad participation that a mandate would promote. Even so, Obamacare included an automatic enrollment provision, designed to complement, rather than replace, the individual mandate.

Under that provision, employers with more than 200 full-time employees must automatically enroll new, full-time workers in one of the employer's health insurance plans, from which they could opt out. The Department of Labor said it would issue regulations to implement the requirement by the end of 2014 -- but failed to do so.

It's unclear why the department stalled, but any such regulations would not be simple to write. The first problem is that many employees already have health insurance from other sources (typically spouses and parents); for them, automatic enrollment is a waste. True, they can opt out, but behavioral science shows that default rules tend to stick. There's a real risk that even with a right to opt out, a lot of employees would end up in plans they don't need.

The second problem involves this question: What's the right default plan? 

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Marco Rubio's Debate Takedown of Jeb Bush, by the Numbers (Andre Tartar, October 29, 2015, )

Rubio received nine direct questions or rebuttal invitations to Bush's six, and spoke for more than 10 minutes while Bush squeaked out less than seven minutes of air time. The audience engagement gap proved even wider. Rubio landed at least nine applause and laugh lines throughout the two-hour debate, compared to just one recorded laugh for Bush, according to an analysis of a Federal News Service rush transcript conducted by Bloomberg Politics in partnership with Adam Tiouririne (@Tiouririne) of Logos Consulting Group. 

The point of being a governor is that you have a record of accomplishment to run on.  Why even mention a junior senator?

Election Betting Odds

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


55-45 Politics in a 50-50 Country (THOMAS SCHALLER, OCTOBER 28, 2015, The American Prospect)

A series of characteristics of the American electoral system, including the structure and procedures of the Senate and House as well as the electoral calendar, are now working for the Republicans.

The U.S. Senate was designed to over-represent small states, but only recently has that bias been a Republican advantage. During the mid-20th century, the GOP regularly elected senators from large states such as California, Illinois, and New York. But during the past half-century, as a result of the GOP's dominance of small states and loss of big states, the party has consistently held a higher share of Senate seats than the share of American citizens who vote for its candidates.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, Republicans have also been able to outperform their share of the vote. In 2012, House Speaker John Boehner maintained his majorities even though Republican House candidates received a million-plus fewer votes nationwide than Democratic House candidates captured. As Hacker and Pierson correctly note, despite losing the national popular vote in that year's presidential race, Mitt Romney carried more House districts than Barack Obama did. This gap between national totals and district outcomes reflects two developments, one demographic and the other political. Democratic voters are now "inefficiently" distributed because they have become increasingly concentrated in cities, and the GOP has been able to capitalize on population patterns through the strategic use of partisan gerrymandering.

Procedural rules in the Senate and House also favor Republicans. In neither chamber is a mere majority required to pass legislation--in the Senate, because of the filibuster, and in the House, because of the Republican leadership's so-called "Hastert Rule" (named after the former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, though he was neither the rule's inventor nor the first speaker to employ it). Under the Hastert rule, legislation is not allowed to go to a vote without the support of a majority of the majority party--a rule that effectively provides a veto to an electoral minority.

The bottom line is that the constitutional design of the Senate, population geography and the use of strategic gerrymandering in the creation of House districts, and procedural rules for both chambers all combine to exaggerate contemporary Republican influence on Capitol Hill. Leaving aside all the usual factors influencing elections--state of the economy, issues, public opinion, candidate quality, and campaign finance--the GOP begins every congressional election cycle with a built-in head start, and every session of Congress at representational levels that exaggerate the party's underlying popular support.

The timing of American elections also magnifies Republican clout. The majority of state and local elections are conducted during low-turnout, non-presidential cycles. Of the 48 American governors elected for four years--New Hampshire's and Vermont's governors serve two-year terms--only nine are chosen at the same time as the president. The remaining 39 are chosen in midterm elections or in odd-numbered years. The vast majority of American state legislators are also elected in non-presidential elections. Although they did not create the electoral calendar, Republicans benefit from it because of the party's second set of structural advantages. When turnout is low, more-affluent Americans typically represent a higher proportion.

October 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Can this online vision test replace your eye doctor? (Jessica Hullinger, October 27, 2015, The Week)

For those of us with less-than-perfect eyesight, making time for regular appointments with the eye doctor can be a pain. The hassle of finding an office that takes your insurance, creating space in your schedule, taking time off work, and paying for your appointment is enough to prevent some people from getting regular check-ups at all, which is why so many of us are walking around with old prescription glasses and contact lenses that are well beyond their expiration date.

A company called Opternative saw a need for innovation in this arena, and created an online eye test, all but cutting out the eye doctor entirely. "The eye exam has evolved," the company touts. All you need to take the test is a computer, a smartphone, and 12 feet of space to put between you and your computer screen. A series of shapes, numbers, and letters will appear and your smartphone guides you through questions and serves as a remote control for selecting answers.

Once the test is over, your results are sent to a licensed ophthalmologist for review. If everything looks normal, he or she writes you a prescription for glasses or contact lenses, which you can have filled anywhere. The process costs $40 for glasses or contacts, $60 for both. No copays or unexpected appointment fees. It's quick and convenient.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Ben Carson Puts Spotlight on Seventh-Day Adventists (ALAN RAPPEPORT, OCT. 27, 2015, NY Times)

Unlike members of other Christian denominations, Adventists honor the Sabbath on Saturdays instead of Sundays. They tend to be vegetarians, and they continue to wait patiently for the Second Coming and the end of the world.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church counts more than 18 million members globally and 1.2 million in North America, but some skeptics see it as a sect out of touch with mainstream Christianity. While the church avoids involvement in politics, Mr. Carson's emergence as a prominent political figure has presented an opportunity for it to gain credibility.

"We do not endorse any candidates, and we do not use our church for political reasons," Alex Bryant, the secretary of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said of Mr. Carson's candidacy. "But we do look at it as an opportunity to tell the world, tell this country about Seventh-day Adventism, our beliefs and our desire to lift up Jesus Christ."

A twice-baptized Adventist, Mr. Carson has become one of the church's biggest stars. In his autobiography, "Gifted Hands," he recounts his mother's conversion, which began in the ward of a mental hospital.

It was not until he was 14 that Mr. Carson became truly captured by his faith. Known for having a temper back then, the young Mr. Carson let a petty dispute turn into a tantrum that ended with his knifing a friend. The episode could have been deadly had it not been for a belt buckle that blocked his blade. From that time on, Mr. Carson prayed away his anger.

"My temper will never control me again," Mr. Carson wrote in his book. "Never again. I'm free." [...]

For theological reasons, Adventism has faced tensions with the Roman Catholic and Baptist Churches over the years. Last spring, Mr. Carson was invited to speak at a Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference in Ohio, but he faced opposition because of his beliefs and eventually backed out.

"Dr. Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist," a group of pastors from the Baptist organization B21 wrote in protest of his visit. "Their official theology denies the doctrine of hell in favor of annihilation," they wrote, "and believes that those who worship on Sunday will bear the 'mark of the beast.' "

The church has also had a strongly anti-Catholic strain, and when Mr. Carson decided to attend Pope Francis' visit to Congress last month, Adventist message boards lit up with questions about his presence with the pontiff. Some questioned his referring to the pope as the "Holy Leader" and wondered, "How do such words come from the mouth of a Seventh-day Adventist?"

On the other hand, some Adventists have been disappointed in a perceived lack of tolerance regarding Islam from Mr. Carson, who said recently that he did not think a Muslim should be able to be president. His fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which he has compared to slavery, has also rankled some in the community who say the law is in keeping with the religion's focus on promoting health.

"It was certainly disappointing for me," Sam Geli, a retired Adventist chaplain who considers himself an independent, said of Mr. Carson's remarks about Muslims. "It was very sad."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


The transformation of David Brooks (Danny Funt, 10/27/15, CJR)

DAVID BROOKS WAS STRUGGLING WITH SIN. More precisely, he was seeking a way to translate the Christian understanding of sin into secular terms for millions of readers. His emerging specialty, whether in his New York Times column or best-selling books, is distilling dense concepts for the mainstream. An ugly word for that, he notes, is popularizing. On religious topics, some might say proselytizing. He calls it reporting. "He's the master," says Princeton professor Robert George, a onetime adviser to Brooks. "Nobody is better at that than David."

Explaining Christian theology has bedeviled Brooks for several years now, in writing his latest book, The Road to Character, and in recent columns, much to the bewilderment of readers. It's strange partly because Brooks was raised Jewish, but also because the opinion pages are generally reserved for current events and politics. For counsel on political punditry, Brooks used to make a practice of interviewing three elected officials a day. To flesh out his sense of sin, he sought a different sort of expertise.  

He consulted Pastor Timothy Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and one of the country's most prominent evangelicals. There are many explicitly Christian descriptions of sin: fallenness, brokenness, depravity. Keller suggested Brooks try a more neutral phrasing: "disordered love." When we blab a secret at a party, for example, we misplace love of popularity over love of friendship. [...]

Brooks, 54, also now occupies a lonely journalistic space. When he began using his column several years ago to philosophize about personal morality, he says, "I felt like I was wandering off the map into weird territory." Where to, exactly, remains mystifying. Brooks thinks a tradition of journalists fluent, or at least conversant, in moral concepts dissipated in recent decades. Theologians were walled off within their denominations, and public discourse about values grew dysfunctional. A life of "meaning" by today's standard, he wrote in his Times column to begin 2015, "is flabby and vacuous, the product of a culture that has grown inarticulate about inner life."

In general, Brooks contends, journalists balk at sharing moral viewpoints, and readers bristle upon receiving them. His critics find him an insufferable scold, a pompous sermonizer. "I think there is some allergy our culture has toward moral judgment of any kind," he reflects. "There is a big relativistic strain through our society that if it feels good for you, then who am I to judge? I think that is fundamentally wrong, and I'd rather take the hits for being a moralizer than to have a public square where there's no moral thought going on." There is at least marginal evidence that this is changing. His book, published in April, spent 22 weeks on the Times best-seller list.

For Brooks, studying sin (and other moral categories) has been transformational. His political views have shifted before, quite publicly, but this is closer to an intellectual rebirth. Whether it is also a religious one, he won't say.  

On his book tour over the summer, Brooks committed to a mission for the rest of his career: to restore comfortable, competent dialogue about what makes a virtuous life. If that is truly an area of cultural illiteracy, then journalists have neglected it. Like Brooks, their values have been out of order.

The journey from neocon to theocon has served him and his readers well.
Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


This Is the Worst Budget Deal GOP Has Negotiated Since George H.W. Bush Violated No New Taxes Pledge (Stephen Moore, October 28, 2015, Daily Signal)

It's the worst budget deal to be negotiated by the GOP since George H.W. Bush violated his no new taxes pledge in 1990 at Andrews Air Force Base.

And what did that do for us besides triggering the best economic period in human history?

October 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Battle of Agincourt: 10 reasons why the French lost to Henry V's army (Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Isabelle Fraser, 23 Oct 2015, The Telegraph)

In the longbow, the English had perfected an extraordinary weapon that gave them a considerable advantage over the French crossbow. A trained archer could shoot six aimed arrows a minute which could wound at 400 yards, kill at 200 and penetrate armour at 100 yards.

From thence to democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Turkey says nine dead in clash with Isis suspects (Associated Press, 26 October 2015)

Turkish police say they have raided a house used by a suspected Islamic State cell in the south-east of the country, triggering a clash that killed up to seven militants and two police officers, according to local media.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Cheap oil forces Saudi Arabia to consider cutting gas subsidies (Mark Thompson and John Defterios, 10/27/15, CNNMoneyy)

Drivers in Saudi Arabia get massive discounts on gas, paying less than 10% of average prices in Europe, according to the International Energy Agency.

But that perk costs the Saudi government enormous amounts each year.

A report by the International Monetary Fund last year estimated that Saudi Arabia spends about 10% of GDP -- roughly $60 billion -- subsidizing gasoline, diesel, electricity and natural gas.

A Saudi government source confirmed reports that domestic energy prices could rise.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


New results on preschool from a Tennessee RCT (Tyler Cowen, October 26, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

By the end of kindergarten, the control children had caught up to the TN‐VPK [preschool] children and there were no longer significant differences between them on any achievement measures. The same result was obtained at the end of first grade using both composite achievement measures.

In second grade, however, the groups began to diverge with the TN‐VPK children scoring lower than the control children on most of the measures. The differences were significant on both achievement composite measures and on the math subtests.

In other words, after some period of time the children who had preschool actually did worse.  I found this interesting too:

First grade teachers rated the TN‐VPK children as less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school.

To attend school is to hate it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


KILLER HEAT WAVES COULD CONSUME THE PERSIAN GULF BY 2100 (Mary Beth Griggs, 10/27/15, Popular Science)

In a paper published this week in Nature Climate Change researchers found that in the next century, weather conditions in the countries bordering the Persian Gulf could reach absolutely deadly levels during the height of summer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Harsh conditions are foiling Russian jets in Syria (Tom Vanden Brook, 10/25/15, USA TODAY)

Russian warplanes sent to Syria to back the regime of Bashar Assad are breaking down at a rapid rate that appears to be affecting their ability to strike targets, according to a senior Defense official.

Nearly one-third of Russian attack planes and half of its transport aircraft are grounded at any time as the harsh, desert conditions take a toll on equipment and crews, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive intelligence matters. [...]

"For deployed forces, that's a hideous rate," said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Morocco poised to become a solar superpower with launch of desert mega-project : World's largest concentrated solar power plant, powered by the Saharan sun, set to help renewables provide almost half the country's energy by 2020 (Arthur Neslen, 26 October 2015, The Guardian)

When the full complex is complete, it will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world , and the first phase, called Noor 1, will go live next month. The mirror technology it uses is less widespread and more expensive than the photovoltaic panels that are now familiar on roofs the world over, but it will have the advantage of being able to continue producing power even after the sun goes down.

The potential for solar power from the desert has been known for decades. In the days after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 the German particle physicist Gerhard Knies, calculated that the world's deserts receive enough energy in a few hours to provide for humanity's power needs for a whole year. The challenge though, has been capturing that energy and transporting it to the population centres where it is required.

As engineers put the finishing touches to Noor 1, its 500,000 crescent-shaped solar mirrors glitter across the desert skyline. The 800 rows follow the sun as it tracks across the heavens, whirring quietly every few minutes as their shadows slip further east.

When they are finished, the four plants at Ouarzazate will occupy a space as big as Morocco's capital city, Rabat, and generate 580MW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. Noor 1 itself has a generating capacity of 160MW.

October 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Death to Capitalism? Visitors to Marx's Grave Balk at Fee (ALISTAIR MACDONALD and  ESE ERHERIENE, Oct. 25, 201, WSJ)

On a summer visit to the grave of Karl Marx, Ben Gliniecki found that he would have to pay £4, or about $6, to pay respects to the man who sounded the death knell for private property.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Comfortably alone in the Universe (Alan Finkel, 10/26/15, Cosmos)

Some people hate to be alone. They like to think there must be somebody or something out there, beyond the limits of the Solar System. I see it otherwise - the possibility that we are the first intelligent species makes me feel special.

I've been contemplating the status of humankind because of two recent announcements. First, the Kepler Space Telescope team announced that they found an Earth-like planet named Kepler-452b in our galaxy, a mere 1,400 light-years from Earth.  

Second, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, SETI (now in its 55th year of listening to resounding silence), received a boost with the announcement that Yuri Milner, a wealthy Russian technology investor, will donate $100 million to give the program a makeover.

As a species we are naturally curious about whether we are alone. Milner believes the reason we've not found extra-terrestrial life is because haven't searched hard enough. As he put it: if you put a cup in the ocean and draw it out empty, that doesn't mean there are no fish.  

But it could mean no fish.

At the end of the day, all of us are certain that we hold the cup.  No one thinks they're a fish.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Shiite Saudi cleric to be executed for criticizing monarchy (ADAM SCHRECK October 26, 2015, AP)

A high court in Saudi Arabia has upheld on appeal a guilty verdict and death sentence against a widely revered Shiite Muslim cleric who galvanized young activists with his outspoken criticism of the Sunni monarchy, his brother said Sunday.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a central figure in Shiite protests that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, and any decision to carry out his execution would likely spark new unrest among the OPEC powerhouse's Shiite minority.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Congress and White House Near Deal on Budget (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, OCT. 26, 2015, NY Times)

Congressional leaders and the Obama administration are close to a crucial budget deal that would modestly increase domestic spending over the next two years and raise the federal borrowing limit. The accord would avert a potentially cataclysmic default on the government's debt and dispense with perhaps the most divisive issue in Washington just days before Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to turn over his gavel to Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

While congressional aides cautioned that the deal was far from certain, and the Treasury Department declined to comment, officials briefed on the negotiations said the emerging accord would call for cuts in spending on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


U.S. Navy to send destroyer within 12 miles of Chinese islands (ANDREA SHALAL AND DAVID BRUNNSTROM, 10/26/15, NY Times)

The U.S. Navy plans to send a guided-missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands built by China in the South China Sea, in the start of a series of challenges to China's territorial claims in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

A U.S. defense official said the patrol by the USS Lassen would occur early on Tuesday local time near Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly archipelago, features that were formerly submerged at high tide before China began a massive dredging project to turn them into islands in 2014.

The patrols would mark the most serious U.S. challenge yet to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit China claims around the islands and are certain to anger Beijing, which said last month it would "never allow any country" to violate its territorial waters and airspace in the Spratlys.

Leave the ship, send the missiles.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


How Paul Ryan Went From Wingnut to RINO (Matt Lewis, 10/26/15, Daily Beast)

The surprising reasons why the one-time conservative wunderkind is now considered a traitor by many on the right. ()he GOP is at a crossroads. This is not entirely new. But once the conservative battle against the "establishment" was about ideology; the "Rockefeller Republicans" really were liberals. Today, the fight isn't about political philosophy. It's not about right versus left, but us versus them. Being an institutionalist (someone who doesn't want to figuratively burn everything down) is tantamount to being a liberal. Believing in prudence, experience, and wisdom once defined being a Burkean conservative; today, those values label you a RINO.

We have also seen a shift in terms of issues. In some cases, this isn't a matter of certain issues taking on a higher priority, but a compete reversal of which issues constitute as "conservative." Free trade and entitlement reform were once pretty important for conservatives. Today, Donald Trump--the new Mr. Conservative?--loudly opposes both. Being against tax hikes and abortion used to make one a conservative in good standing. Today, Trump wants to raise taxes on the rich, and Ann Coulter says Trump can perform abortions in the White House--so long as he deports all the illegal immigrants.

Which brings us to the obvious point. Much of this boils down to Paul Ryan's past support for immigration reform--and the fact that this has become the one and only litmus test for populist conservatives.

There's a reason you can't tell the difference between Bernie and Donald : the Right and the Left, throughout the Anglosphere, are both necessarily opposed to elective government as it exists at the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Cheniere expects to ship first U.S. LNG export cargo in Jan (Florence Tan, Oct 26, 2015, Reuters) 

Cheniere Energy expects to start receiving natural gas to convert into super-chilled liquid fuel at its first U.S. LNG export terminal before the end of the year, with shipments to start in January, its chief executive said on Monday. [...]

Once Cheniere's first LNG plant starts up, the company will have a new production train starting up every six months until mid-2019, leaving it with seven total lines of gas liquefaction at its Sabine Pass project in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, and at another terminal in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The seven trains will account for almost half of the 65 million tonnes per year (tpy) of LNG export capacity under construction in the United States.

Cheniere has sold most of its 31.5 million tpy of LNG via long-term contracts, with about 4 million tpy remaining for sale in spot markets, Souki said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Peronist setback in Argentina may mark breaking of Latin America's 'pink wave' (Jonathan Watts,  26 October 2015, The Guardian)

If there were any remaining doubts that progressive governments in Latin America are on the defensive, they were shattered last night with the poor result of the ruling Peronist camp in the Argentinian presidential elections [...]

When the preliminary results were announced the previous midnight, swaths of the Argentinian chattering classes were stunned into silence. In the press room at the Scioli bunker, journalists exclaimed in disbelief at the numbers flashing up on the screen. Macri was initially ahead, and although his lead slipped as the count came in, he ended less than 2.5 points behind a favourite who had been forecast to win comfortably. Polls had suggested that Scioli was within striking distance of the 10-point lead needed for an outright first-round win. Only hours earlier, TV exit surveys had predicted he would be ahead by a "wide margin". They were laughably wrong.

Instead, he carries a far slimmer than expected majority into the second round and knows that he has a fight on his hands in key battlegrounds. Chief among them is Buenos Aires - a formerly Peronist stronghold that Scioli had run as governor. In arguably the greatest shock of the night, the race for his replacement was won by Macri's opposition camp. The victor, María Eugenia Vidal, was ecstatic: "Today, we made the impossible possible. We are making history," she said.

This was largely due to a misjudgment by outgoing president Fernández, who had imposed her unpopular cabinet chief Aníbal Fernández, no relation, as the ruling bloc candidate. As a result, the Peronists lost the most populous state in Argentina. They were also hammered in Córdoba, where Macri won almost half of the vote.

Ahead of the second round on 22 November, the momentum is now clearly with Macri, the son of Italian migrants, who went on to make a fortune in the construction industry and become the most successful president of Boca Juniors football club. "What has happened on this day changes the politics of this country," he told cheering supporters, promising to work "morning, noon and night to earn [voters'] trust and demonstrate they made the right decision".

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


No joke: Guatemalan comedian wins presidency in landslide (ALEXANDRA ALPER AND ENRIQUE PRETEL, October 25, 2015, Reuters)

Jimmy Morales, a former TV comedian who has never held office, swept to power in Guatemala's presidential election on Sunday after milking public anger over a corruption scandal that deepened distrust of the country's political establishment.

The 46-year-old Morales overwhelmingly beat center-left rival and former first lady Sandra Torres in a run-off vote despite his lack of government experience and some policy ideas that strike many as eccentric.

The headquarters of Morales' center-right National Convergence Front (FCN) party erupted in celebration as official returns showed he had around 68 percent support in a landslide victory. [...]

The election is a wake-up call to the impoverished Central American country's established parties, which have been shaken by investigations led by the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the U.N.-backed anti-corruption body.

The CICIG's probe toppled Perez and has prompted calls for similar bodies elsewhere in Central America.

Morales, a former theology student with socially conservative leanings, has applauded CICIG's work and vowed to extend its remit. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Only four presidential candidates are viable, says poll of Republican voters (Steve Peoples and Emily Swanson, 10/26/15, Associated Press)

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is viewed as the strongest. Seven in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say he could win in November 2016 if he captures his party's nomination. Six in 10 say the same for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who, like Trump, has tapped into the powerful wave of antiestablishment anger defining the early phases of the 2016 contest.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tops the field of experienced political leaders on the question of electability. Six in 10 Republicans say Bush could win the general election, followed by 54 percent who view Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a potential winner. None of the other candidates is viewed as electable in a general election by more than half of Republican voters.

...and one has a weak organization.

Does Ben Carson Believe Most Evangelical Voters Are Going to Hell? : Social conservatives backing his campaign may want to ask him a few questions. (David Corn, Oct. 26, 2015, Mother Jones)

Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist who has publicly voiced his commitment to this church and championed its core beliefs, most notably the view that God created the world in six days (literally) and that evolution is bunk (and encouraged by the devil). He has spoken at Seventh-day Adventist events. In a 2013 interview with the church's official news service, he was asked, "Are there ever any times when you feel it's best to distinguish yourself from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and what it teaches?" Carson replied, "No, I don't."

In this interview, Carson went on to say that he was "proud of the fact that I believe what God has said...that I believe in a literal, six-day creation."

Carson did not explicitly mention other Seventh-day Adventist tenets. But a central belief of the church is that most other Christian denominations will end up working with the devil. Seventh-day Adventists hold that the Sabbath should be worshipped on Saturday and that religions that observe the Sabbath on Sunday have been corrupted by Satan. The church's early prophet Ellen White cast much of the blame for this supposed perversion of the Sabbath on the Roman Catholic Church.

White's prophecies--rendered in the 1800s--are regarded as sacrosanct by the church. She predicted that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, per the Book of Revelation, and triggers the final and cataclysmic clash between God and the Antichrist, a paramount battle will be over the Sabbath. She foresaw the government, doing the devil's bidding, outlawing the Saturday Sabbath, locking up Seventh-day Adventists, and even threatening them with death. And she prophesized that other Christian denominations would hold fast to the Sunday Sabbath and become handmaidens of Satan. Ultimately, Jesus Christ would vanquish Beelzebub, and only Seventh-day Adventists, because they stuck with the Saturday Sabbath, would join him in the kingdom of God. The other Christians? Well, they would be forever condemned.

In a 2014 talk at a Seventh-day Adventist church in Australia, Carson signaled that he believed this is indeed what's coming. He cited "prophecy"--which is how Seventh-day Adventists routinely refer to Ellen White's predictions--and noted that the "persecution" of the Sabbath was on the horizon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


'Fire Paul Ryan'? Rebel PACs Hit Republicans, and It Pays (ERIC LIPTON and JENNIFER STEINHAUEROCT. 23, 2015, NY Times)

[T]hese politically charged appeals to conservatives around the country were often accompanied by a solicitation for money, and the ultimate beneficiaries, records suggest, are the consultants who created the campaigns rather than the causes they are promoting. [...]

Larry Ward, the founder of Constitutional Rights PAC, defended the move to derail the ascension of Mr. Ryan, calling it a worthy goal.

"Politics is supposed to be bloody. It is supposed to be a battle of will," Mr. Ward said. "And the one who can get the American people siding with them is the one who wins."

But Mr. Ward also has a financial stake in the fight. He runs Political Media, a Washington-based firm that will charge Constitutional Rights PAC a fee for sending out the blast email with the dual purpose of asking conservatives to help dump Mr. Ryan and to donate to Mr. Ward's political action committee.

"Help us fund the fight by making an emergency donation of $30, $50 or even $100 today," the email said, even though records show that Mr. Ward's PAC spends every dollar it gets on consultants, mailings and fund-raising -- making no donations to candidates. Mr. Ward defended his use of his own firm, saying he gave his PAC a discount on his company's regular service charges.

Mr. Ward has plenty of competitors. Groups including the Tea Party Leadership Fund, the Madison Project and the Tea Party Patriots have in the past year turned the attack on the Republican leadership into a fund-raising tool, records show.

Tea Party support dwindles to lowest level yet (Jeva Lange, 10/26/15, The Week)

Only 17 percent of Americans now consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party, while a record 54 percent say they are neither supporters nor opponents.

October 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Saudi Arabia to run out of cash in less than 5 years (Matt Egan, 10/25/15, CNN MOney)

Huge budget surpluses are quickly swinging to massive deficits as oil prices have crashed to around $45 currently from over $100 last year. Many of these countries are being forced to tap into rainy day funds to weather the storm.

"Oil exporters will need to adjust their spending and revenue policies to ensure fiscal sustainability," the IMF wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Donald Trump: 'It's Possible' Medicare Could Be Replaced by Health Savings Accounts (ALI DUKAKIS  Oct 25, 2015, ABC News)

Donald Trump says he agrees with fellow Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, who has suggested that Health Care Savings Accounts (HSA) could render Medicare unnecessary.

"Well, it's possible," Trump told George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" Sunday.

"You're going to have to look at that, but I'll tell you what, the Health Savings Accounts, I've been talking about it also. I think it's a very good idea and it's an idea whose probably time has come," Trump said.

The Republican presidential frontrunner has echoed his closest competitor's call for reforming health care using the accounts, which would shift funds from Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs to individual health savings accounts.

Now a "path to citizenship" and free trade and he's an establishment candidate.
Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Could a Hezbollah offensive test Russia-Iran alliance in Syria? (Nicholas Blanford, Correspondent OCTOBER 22, 2015, CS Monitor)

While most of the attention on Syria is focused on a wave of regime-led and Russian-backed campaigns in the north, a smaller offensive led by Lebanon's Hezbollah organization is underway in the south adjacent to Israel's front line.

The offensive in Quneitra province, in part intended to reverse recent rebel gains in the area, underlines the importance Shiite Hezbollah and its patron Iran attach to the strategic territory near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The operation could cast light on whether Russia and Iran, the two main powers supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have agendas that coincide or diverge. 

Iran is in Syria to aid the Shi'a, not Assad.
Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Donald Trump Won't Apologize to Ben Carson Over Religion Comments (ALI DUKAKIS, Oct 25, 2015, ABC News)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won't apologize to Ben Carson for comments he made about his religion.

Trump, who trails Carson in two polls released in Iowa last week, said he "just didn't know" about Seventh-Day Adventists while speaking in Florida on Saturday. Some conservatives claim Seventh-Day Adventists - a Protestant sect that believes Christ's return to Earth is imminent and observe Sabbath on Saturdays -- are not Christian.

Their religious views make both unlikely to contend.
Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Mitt Finally Admits: Romneycare Gave Us Obamacare (Andrew Kirell. 10/23/15, Daily Beast)

At the center of Romneycare was an individual mandate for Massachusetts residents to purchase health insurance or face fines. While that is also a crux of the Affordable Care Act, the former Republican nominee has repeatedly dismissed the comparison by suggesting his law was never meant to be applied nationwide.

However, while memorializing the recently deceased Staples founder Tom Stemberg on Friday, Romney finally admitted the similiarities: "Without Tom pushing it, I don't think we would have had Romneycare," he confessed. "Without Romneycare, I don't think we would have Obamacare. So, without Tom a lot of people wouldn't have health insurance."

A campaign taking credit for the signal conservative achievement of a universal mandate and the assertion that he was uniquely qualified to fix the problems with a plan that didn't imitate his closely enough would have resonated better than repudiating his own record.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


The next battle begins : Iran starts to dismantle its nuclear facilities--and fight over its future The Economist, Oct 24th 2015)

AS IRAN'S reformists see it, the noise from the country's hardliners has grown because they are in their death throes. Take, for example, the threat to kill and bury Ali Akhbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear energy agency, "under the cement at Arak", a nuclear reactor now to be converted to produce much less plutonium. The Majlis, Iran's parliament, passed the nuclear deal by 161 to 59, as did the more powerful Guardian Council. On October 18th it was officially "adopted" by all its international signatories and the UN Security Council.

Yet negotiating the deal between Iran and six world powers may turn out to have been the easy part. Between now and "implementation day", probably in several months' time, Iran is required to dismantle much of its nuclear programme, decommissioning two-thirds of its uranium centrifuges and selling or diluting 96% of its stockpile of enriched uranium. [...]

The reformists, bolstered since President Hassan Rohani was elected in 2013, hope the agreement will usher in a broad economic opening, transforming a faltering, socialist-style economy into more of a capitalist one. Business delegations currently trekking through the capital will soon be investing and tourists will flock in. Cultural and social change, they reason, will follow. "It is the biggest, most significant event in recent years," says Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, a reformer these days who was among the students who took American's diplomats hostage in 1979.

From northern Tehran's chichi café-lined streets to the poor in its provincial towns there is widespread support for the idea of a more modern, open Iran. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Tony Benn's granddaughter delivers blow to Corbyn by calling for policy chief to go (Toby Helm and Henry Zeffman, 24 October 2015, The Guardian)

Emily Benn, the granddaughter of Tony Benn and a former parliamentary candidate, has asked the Labour party to consider expelling Jeremy Corbyn's new head of policy, Andrew Fisher, for supporting the anarchist Class War party at the general election.

As recriminations grow over Fisher's appointment, Benn - who stood for Labour in Croydon South in May - has written to Labour's general secretary, Iain McNicol, saying that Fisher's previous behaviour "contradicts Labour party rules", which state that supporting a non-Labour candidate will lead to automatic expulsion.

Her dramatic intervention is a severe embarrassment to Corbyn, who was a close friend and political ally of the late Tony Benn. It reflects deep dismay across much of the party at the Labour leader's choice of a hard-left and notoriously outspoken individual to fill such a key role in his inner circle.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


If A Computer Can Diagnose Cancer, Will Doctors Become Obsolete? (ANDREW FLOWERS, 10/25/15, 538)

The "computational pathologist," a computer software program known as the C-Path, can examine thousands of tissue scans at lightning speed to diagnose patients with breast cancer and even predict their survival rates. Some believe the C-Path, which is built on digital imagery, is as good as or even better than a human doctor.

Quickly advancing technologies like the C-Path raise all sorts of questions for economists about the future of the U.S. workforce. Labor economists have long expected computers to displace workers who perform routine tasks -- for example, file clerks, cashiers and bank tellers -- but these days, economists are in a debate with techno-optimists over whether technology will also displace higher-skilled, professional jobs, such as doctors, lawyers and (yes) writers.

See also under Dilbert

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


The Dangerous Motivation Behind Netanyahu's Holocaust Revisionism (Jeet Heer, 10/25/15, New Republic)

Husseini hoped to work with the Nazis to thwart the creation of a Jewish state in Israel. To that end, he raised an army of 6,000 Arabs. This stands in contrast to the tens of thousands of Arabs who fought against the Nazis, including the 9,000 Palestinians who fought with the British. As Hussein Ibish,  senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, noted in an article for The National, "The record is a complex, mixed and nuanced one, but the overarching fact is that Arab and Muslim involvement in the war was overwhelmingly on the Allied side, and was a significant factor in fighting on the ground. The overwhelming majority joined the cause voluntarily, despite British and French colonialism." [...]

Reviewing a biography of Husseini in The New York Times, historian Tom Segev acutely described the problem of over-emphasizing Husseini's importance in the history of the Holocaust.

    [O]ne can question whether Husseini "played an important role" in the Holocaust. For as Bernard Lewis wrote in "Semites and Anti-Semites": "It seems unlikely that the Nazis needed any such additional encouragement from outside."...

    The mufti's support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister.

The second thing to say about Netanyahu's statement is that he's trying to smear Palestinian nationalism as being intrinsically anti-Semitic, indeed genocidal. Netanyahu's fanciful excursion into Holocaust historiography comes in the context of the larger argument of his speech: that the current outbreak of violence in Israel has nothing to do with Israeli management of the Temple Mount or the on-going occupation.

October 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Donald Trump Has a Bad Week -- His First (REID J. EPSTEIN and  HEATHER HADDON, 10/24/15, WSJ)

The New York real estate developer and reality television star, who rode a series of controversial, at times offensive, comments to the front of the GOP primary race for months, fell eight points behind Ben Carson in a Quinnipiac poll of Iowa Republicans released Thursday and nine points behind Mr. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, in a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Friday.

On Thursday Mr. Trump retweeted a supporter's suggestion that Iowa voters have "issues in the brain" that push them to support Mr. Carson. [...]

Despite Mr. Trump's insistence he is funding his bid on his own, his own campaign website, not to mention federal campaign finance records, show he is indeed raising campaign cash.

His campaign's website features a large "DONATE" button and Mr. Trump's Federal Election Commission report shows that in the three months ending Sept. 30 he spent only $100,800 of his own money while raising $3.8 million from what his campaign called "unsolicited" donors, 119 of whom gave the maximum $2,700 contribution. He received 317 checks for $1,000 or more.

The biggest recipient of Trump campaign funds was Mr. Trump himself. The Trump-owned private aircraft company that flies his 747 was paid $723,400. The next-largest vendor was the company that produces Trump-branded hats and T-shirts, which was paid more than $500,000.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Jon Cruddas: Osborne 'more in tune with north of England than Labour' : Senior Labour MP says his party needs to wake up to the existential challenge of the chancellor and his northern powerhouse (Daniel Boffey, 24 October 2015, The Guardian)

Jon Cruddas MP - who on Sunday launches a new grouping of MPs, party members and council leaders called Labour Together - said the party needed to wake up to the existential challenge that Osborne and his vision of devolution presented.

The chancellor recently took Labour council leaders to China to attract investment for his concept of a northern powerhouse.

He has also openly appealed to Labour voters who feel left adrift by the election of Corbyn as Labour leader to consider the Conservatives as a viable alternative "workers' party".

...in opposition to a Third Way party is the definition of an existential crisis in the modern Anglosphere. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Jeremy Corbyn and his crew don't want to win elections - they want to discredit them : The hiring by Labour's leader of Seumas Milne, an ultra-Left spin doctor, proves that his aim is to destroy public faith in our democratic system (Janet Daley, 24 Oct 2015, The Telegraph)

When the Labour leadership was in the throes of one of its recent shambolic policy re-alignments - it may have been the volte face on support for the Government's fiscal charter, or the contradictory announcements on renewing Trident - a colleague of mine said: "Is this too serious to be funny, or is it too funny to be serious?" I think we have the answer to that question now. With the announcement last week of Seumas Milne's appointment as head of Labour strategy and communications, there can no longer be scope for doubt. This is deadly serious.

Time to stop laughing - even if you are a Tory politician who thinks all his birthdays have come at once. (This means you, George Osborne.) The damage that is about to be done is not going to be limited to the present leaders of the Labour Party. They are, at any rate, beyond damage because they are uninterested in electoral success and that, bizarrely enough, is the source of their strength and their preternatural capacity to wreak havoc.

This brings us back to the matter of the Milne appointment. Mr Milne's views are way, way beyond what is regarded as Left-wing in the North London circles where endless hours are spent talking half-baked anti-capitalist rubbish. He is a supporter of terrorist organisations, an undaunted apologist for the defunct Soviet system and a declared enemy of governments that support free markets.

Because neither the First Way nor the Second Way appeal to electorates at the End of History then there must be something wrong with self-governance itself. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Uniting Behind the Divisive 'Cadillac' Tax on Health Plans (N. GREGORY MANKIW and LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS, 10/24/15, NY Times)

Let's start with the basics. Health insurance should be an ingredient of every family's financial plan. Medical expenses are necessary and unpredictable, and they can be large. When a family receives an adverse health surprise, the emotional toll is unavoidable, but the risks of financial insecurity, personal bankruptcy and forgone essential care are not. Health insurance solves these problems by protecting people from the cost of expensive treatments.

But as with a glass of red wine with dinner, too much of a good thing creates new problems. If people have insurance that pays for too much, they don't have enough skin in the game. They may be too quick to seek professional medical care. They may too easily accede when physicians recommend superfluous tests and treatments. They may not try hard enough to buy services from the lowest-cost provider. Such behavior can drive national health spending beyond what is necessary and desirable.

An optimal insurance policy strikes the right balance. It protects people against large financial risks but still has them pay enough to be smart consumers. That's why most insurance policies include deductibles and co-payments.

Here is where the tax code enters the story. Compensation in the form of wages and salaries is subject to the income tax and the payroll tax. But compensation in the form of employer-provided health insurance is not subject to either. If a firm gives a dollar in wages to a typical worker, the worker keeps only about 65 cents; if the firm gives a dollar in health coverage to the same worker, the worker keeps the full dollar.

This asymmetry tilts the playing field in favor of paying workers in insurance rather than in cash. As a result, people end up with insurance that is excessive and wages that are too low. The nation ends up spending too much on health care.

The Cadillac tax helps level the playing field by curbing this subsidy for the most generous insurance plans, which do the most to drive up health costs.

The key to health care reform is reducing consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The Desperation Behind Netanyahu's Holocaust Blunder (Daniel Gordis, 10/23/15, Bloomberg View)

The Wall Street Journal quoted Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who offered the obvious Palestinian explanation. "Netanyahu hates Palestinians so much that he is willing to absolve Hitler of the murder of six million Jews," he said. Netanyahu "should stop using this human tragedy to score points for his political end."

Many Israelis couldn't help but agree with Erekat -- the absurdity of Netanyahu's accusation appeared nothing less than the flailing of a desperate leader out of moves. If he refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians under fire, the violence will likely increase, perhaps spiraling out of control. (YNet posted a video interview with the head of the Tanzim, a militant Palestinian faction, threatening much more violence -- that Abbas will not be able to quell -- if Netanyahu does not give the Palestinians more cause for hope.) If Netanyahu does show flexibility, however, he knows that just as the First Intifada led to the Oslo accords and the Second Intifada to the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, he will be rewarding Palestinian violence and setting the stage for more.

Many Israelis think that Netanyahu ignored the Palestinian issue for years because he believed that the status quo could be maintained and he was singularly focused on Iran. He lost the Iran battle -- the approval of the deal he vigorously opposed is no longer in doubt.

It was thus particularly noteworthy that Israel's Atomic Energy Commission came out in favor of the Iran deal this week, saying that it would probably prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb. That announcement was another symbolic stab at the prime minster. Israelis, tired of the violence and worried about what may lie ahead, are increasingly muttering that Netanyahu fought the wrong battle and then lost it. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


The Myth­ of Putin's Strategic Genius (MICHAEL A. McFAUL, OCT. 23, 2015, NY Times)

In Ukraine, though, the crackdown on protesters failed. By the time Mr. Yanukovych tried to clear the streets by force, as the Kremlin advocated, his halfhearted attempt at strongman tactics backfired, compelling him to flee.

Angered by what he saw as another C.I.A. operation to overthrow a Russian ally, Mr. Putin struck back: He annexed Crimea and attempted an even bigger land grab in eastern Ukraine, called Novorossiya by expansion enthusiasts.

Again, the costs of these brief gains piled up. As a result of sanctions and falling energy prices, the Russian economy has shrunk to $1.2 trillion from $2 trillion in 2014. And NATO, once an alliance in search of a mission, is now focused again on deterring Russia.

Mr. Putin has also been compelled to abandon the Novorossiya project: His proxies in eastern Ukraine neither enjoy popular support nor run an effective government. And his actions have guaranteed that Ukraine will never join his Eurasian Economic Union or line up with Russia again.

His policy toward another ally, Mr. Assad, has failed, too. Despite blocking Security Council resolutions against Mr. Assad's government, providing weapons to Damascus and encouraging Syria's allies to come to the regime's defense, Mr. Putin's efforts have done little to strengthen Mr. Assad's rule. After four years of civil war, Mr. Assad governs less territory and faces more formidable foes. That's why Mr. Putin had to intervene -- to save his autocratic ally from defeat.

In the short term, Russia's Syrian bombing campaign has energized the Syrian Army and its allies to launch a counteroffensive against opposition rebels -- that is, against everyone except the Islamic State. But in the long run, Russian airstrikes alone cannot restore Mr. Assad's authority over the whole country.

Mr. Putin is adept at short-term tactical responses to setbacks, but less talented at long-term strategy. Even with no response from the West, Mr. Putin's foreign adventures will finally fail, especially as domestic economic problems continue to fester.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Most religious Zionists want Arabs out of Israel, study finds (BEN SALES October 23, 2015, Times of Israel)

During the previous wave of terror in Israel, 11 months ago, Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett said in a speech, "99.9 percent of Arab-Israelis are loyal to the State of Israel, and there's a very small minority that acts against it."

Apparently, his religious Zionist constituency disagrees.

A new poll by the Miskar agency, which surveys Israel's religious Zionist population, found high levels of antagonism and mistrust toward Arab-Israelis. Contrary to polls of Arab-Israelis themselves, most religious Zionists believe that Arab-Israelis are hostile to Israel. A large majority see Arab-Israelis as a threat and would like to see the government push them to leave the country.

"The religious Zionist sector takes very extreme and unequivocal positions in terms of Israeli Arabs' loyalty to the state, their posing an immediate and long-term security danger, and the need, therefore, for declarations of loyalty and a prepared plan for [population] transfer," the poll's analysis section read.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Top Iranian Commander Killed in Syria (Adam Kredo, October 23, 2015, Daily Beacon)

Brig. Gen. Reza Khavari, a senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is actively working to combat rebels seeking to depose President Bashar al-Assad, "was martyred in clashes" with opposition forces, some of which are being armed by the United States.

Khavari was "fulfilling his duty as a military advisor," according to Iran's state-controlled Fars News Agency.

At least seven other IRGC members part of the country's Ansar Corps, which carries out clandestine activities outside the Islamic Republic's borders, have also been killed in Syria in the past two days.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Second peer abandons Labour benches in Lords over Corbyn's leadership (Nicola Slawson, 24 October 2015 06.The Guardian)

Lord Grabiner has become the second peer to abandon Labour's benches in the House of Lords because of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the party, saying "I can't square [staying] with my conscience".

His decision comes five days after former junior health minister Lord Warner resigned the Labour whip, saying it was no longer "a credible party of government-in-waiting".

A third peer, the former cabinet minister Lord Adonis, left the Labour benches last month after being recruited by the chancellor, George Osborne, to head the new national infrastructure commission.

October 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM

60-40 NATION:

Americans Aren't That Interested In Benghazi (LEAH LIBRESCO, 10/20/15, 538)

Five investigations by standing House committees haven't been enough to recapture the country's interest.

By May 2013, Gallup found that 53 percent of Americans were following the Benghazi story "somewhat or very" closely. That bare majority represents a lower level of engagement than Americans usually have with the news. Gallup says its surveys on current events typically find that about 60 percent of Americans are paying attention to the major stories Gallup asks them about.

A little more than a year later, in June 2014, Gallup's survey revealed that Americans' interest had dropped even further. Only 43 percent of Americans said they followed Benghazi "somewhat or very" closely. That places Benghazi in the bottom 20 percent of all news stories Gallup has measured since 1991 (189th out of 224 news events).

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


The Ryan Revolution (Matthew Continetti, October 23, 2015, Free Beacon)

The story begins in 2008. The GOP was approaching a nadir--unpopular, exhausted, in the minority. What did Ryan do? He authored the first version of his budget, the Roadmap for America's Future. He called for spending and tax cuts, changes to Social Security and Medicare.

He became the unofficial GOP spokesman for free markets and fiscal restraint. No one ordered him to do this. He alone among House Republicans took the initiative, much like his hero Jack Kemp had done in the 1970s.

You might disagree with Ryan's ideas--Lord knows I have my differences--but you can't deny his courage to stand in the public arena, his commitment to his program, his readiness to defend it.

The GOP moved toward Ryan. In 2010 he updated the Roadmap and submitted it to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis. His colleagues were curious about the plan, how to discuss it with their constituents. Ryan taught them the details. His dissection of Obamacare as Obama sat glaring before him made Ryan a viral video star.

Everyone on the left, from President Obama to the most insignificant troll on the most obscure DailyKos comment thread, went after him. Indeed, it was the left that made Ryan the figurehead of the GOP.

But the attack backfired. GOP gains in 2010 were historic. The Mediscare tactic didn't work. And when Republicans took control of the House in 2011, Ryan turned the roadmap into a budget plan, the Path to Prosperity. The House passed it. Republicans were on record. The GOP was the party of spending restraint, tax cuts, entitlement reform.

There have been two elections since. The Republican House majority is now larger than it was in 2010. The Republicans hold the Senate. Remember the ad where a Ryan lookalike pushes grandma off a cliff? A big fail.

So gripping did Republicans find this vision that the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, chose Ryan as his running mate--an implicit endorsement of the Path to Prosperity. In the space of four years, a relatively unknown congressman from Wisconsin had become the chief ideologist and spokesman for the GOP.

Paul Ryan Can Save the House Republicans (Reihan Salam, 10/23/15, Slate)

Earlier this year, the political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins published an article on the fundamental asymmetry in U.S. party politics. Grossmann and Hopkins observe that while the GOP is best understood as "the agent of an ideological movement whose supporters prize doctrinal purity," the Democratic Party is "a coalition of social groups seeking concrete government action." To oversimplify matters, Democrats are far more inclined to believe that half a loaf is better than none while Republicans tend to fixate on questions of principle. Ryan's central challenge as speaker is that he fully appreciates something that many of his colleagues do not, which is that only a minority of Americans are committed ideological conservatives. To win elections and pass legislation, you must persuade at least some people who don't share your ideological priors. Ryan's pragmatic streak is why he has spent much of the past few years trying to craft bipartisan proposals to fight poverty and trim the budget deficit, despite the fact that doing so has lost him at least some friends on the right.

Several of Ryan's supposed heresies reflect an understanding that, as he said to the conservative journalist Philip Klein in 2010, "Sometimes you have to take votes you don't want to take, but they're the best of two choices." As an example, Ryan explained to Klein that the reason he backed the Wall Street bailout is that he feared the alternative would have been an economic collapse, which in turn would have paved the way for a massive expansion of government. Similarly, Ryan is lambasted by conservatives for backing the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, a sprawling, expensive proposal that established a new Medicare prescription drug benefit. He defends his vote by saying that had Congress not passed the Medicare Modernization Act, it would have passed some other Medicare-expanding legislation that would not have included its various free-market reforms. Judging by the growing popularity of Medicare Advantage, the optional Medicare private insurance plans that were one of the chief fruits of that legislation and which many conservatives see as the basis for future Medicare reform, it seems that Ryan was right. Over the long term, the Medicare Modernization Act has left conservatives in a better position to advance their goals than another bill that would have just established a new prescription drug benefit and left it at that. Half a loaf really did prove to be better than none. The question is whether Ryan can persuade his fellow House Republicans that incremental progress is worth fighting for.

The greatest danger facing Republicans in the coming months is what you might call the politics of wishful thinking. Paul Ryan's job will be to convince Republicans, including Freedom Caucus Republicans, to face certain realities.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


School Choice Video Riles Education Community ( Lauren Camera, Oct. 23, 2015, US News)

The video is the brainchild of Bob Bowdon, founder of Choice Media, who says he was looking to call out "status-quo apologists" in the education community.

So he did what anyone would do: He hired actors, dancers and a choreographer, rented out a studio for a one-day video shoot, and mixed an actual rap song. [...]

Under the ridiculousness of it all, however, is a legitimate argument that many in favor of school choice policies like expanding charter schools and private school voucher programs often make. Namely, that wealthier families can afford private school tuition, hire tutors or move to a district with better schools, while most families in the U.S. don't have the resources to do so.

"Why do millions of parents keep opting for charter, voucher, tax credit scholarship and education savings account programs to get their kids out of district schools," Bowdon asks. "The underlying absurdity of the joke is pretending that public education is actually designed to serve families, and that they'd actually prefer one-size-fits-all warehouse schools, rather than varied, unique, innovative schools that could specialize in serving different kinds of kids.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Israel's nuclear energy authority said to endorse Iran deal (RAOUL WOOTLIFF October 23, 2015, Times of Israel)

Running counter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vehement opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, Israel's Atomic Energy Commission has endorsed the controversial deal which aims to curb the Islamic Republic's nuclear aspirations, according to a Haaretz report published Thursday.

Unnamed sources "familiar with the commission" told the paper that the panel was convinced the accord reached in July between world powers and Iran will keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, and that the agreement contains sufficient limitations on the country's nuclear program.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


How Turing's Controversial $750 Pill Could be Eclipsed by a $1 Rival (Eric Pianin, October 23, 2015, Fiscal Times)

While he has been roundly ridiculed by presidential candidates, health care advocates and others as the poster child for corporate greed and bad behavior, Shkreli may have just taken an even bigger hit - to his wallet.

Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based company, said this week that it could make a "close, customized version" of the drug for $1 a pill, according to NBC News. If Imprimis makes good on its threat, then Shkreli probably wasted $55 million in acquiring the rights to the drug from Impax Laboratory last August.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


The Insiders: Bush, Kasich and Rubio are stronger than you think (Ed Rogers October 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Are Republicans suddenly gullible? In what universe does Donald Trump seem like any of these Republican leaders? He is a Manhattan billionaire who has no credible claim to any real Republican roots. His positions are all contrived for the day and they lack substance. He has a long history of contributing to Democratic candidates and causes. What does a RINO look like, if not that? Unless the Republican faithful have completely changed their stripes or a bunch of new voters are going to show up in the GOP primaries to elect someone like Donald Trump against a field of credentialed, serious candidates, I think it is very unlikely Trump will be our party's nominee. Republicans are going to nominate a Republican they can count on.

Anyway, could Trump win some primaries with a plurality? That is, even with such a divided field, could he win with, say, 24 percent? Again, I think that is unlikely because of the Republican culture. The Republican front-runner may have to contend with an anti-establishment or far-right candidate, but, again, as recent history shows, at the end of the day Republicans consistently vote for good Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Rand Paul's support among Republican men plummets : Earlier this year, the senator from Kentucky saw his support from women slipping. Now men, too, are walking away. (Maddy Crowell, OCTOBER 23, 2015, CS Monitor)

According to a recent CNN poll released on Wednesday, Mr. Paul's support among women hasn't budged. (He is still the choice of 2 percent.) But now, he is the choice of only 5 percent of Republican men.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Not Even Paul Ryan Can Bridge The House GOP's Divisions (DAVID WASSERMAN, 10/23/15, 538)

House GOP factions in 2015

51 "Dependables": voted with leadership all five times
39 "Allies": voted with leadership four of five times
51 "Helpers": voted with leadership three of five times
53 "Skeptics": voted with leadership two of five times
25 "Agitators": voted with leadership one of five times
11 "Rebels": voted with leadership zero of five times
Note: 17 Republicans didn't cast enough votes to be counted in one of the above groups.

Most House Republicans aren't simply "establishment" backers or "tea party" rebels. In fact, the plurality in the middle belongs to what The New York Times has dubbed the "Vote No, Hope Yes" caucus. These Republicans vote strategically with the leadership just enough of the time to jockey for plum committee assignments, but they voted against Boehner enough to shield themselves from a tea party primary back home.

However, Ryan has been a rare "Dependable," just like Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who folded his speaker bid after the House Freedom Caucus opposed him. He's one of only 51 members (21 percent of the conference) who have voted with leadership all five times, including on the continuing resolution last month that kept the government open, despite the conservative push to shut it down over federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The 36 "Rebels" and "Agitators," who overlap almost perfectly with the membership of the House Freedom Caucus, hold a fundamentally different perspective: 72 percent were elected after President George W. Bush left office, and most won their primaries by running against not only President Obama, but also the Bush-era bailouts and the GOP "status quo" of tax and spend. They almost all hail from safe GOP seats.

By contrast, the 51 "Dependables" skew toward veteran members who were first elected in a different era, when earmarks and accumulated clout were tickets to political security. A majority -- 55 percent -- were first elected before Bush left office. Many hail from swing districts outside the South where bipartisanship pays political dividends. Ryan is Exhibit A: he was first elected in a Wisconsin swing district in 1998 and voted with Democrats to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout in 2008.

The party needs to give the leadership more power, so that putative Republicans who oppose having the party govern can be punished.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Evangelical Vote Points to Donald Trump's First Drop in Iowa (Maggie Haberman, 10/23/15, NY Times)

It is only a single poll, and it will require other surveys to make clear whether the numbers are trending away from Mr. Trump. But the state's Republican base includes a large number of evangelical voters, a group Mr. Trump has had difficulty courting.

"Here is a reason Trump is not doing as well in Iowa as he is in New Hampshire: New Hampshire is more secular," said the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. "Carson, the moral outsider, beats Trump, the secular, business outsider."

Neither can withstand scrutiny of the former and Mr. Carson doesn't have the latter.
Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


The Rise and Fall of the Job (BETHANY MORETON  OCT 22, 2015, Pqacific Standard)

Since 2000, rising American productivity has become de-coupled from job growth: Despite sizzling profits and the ever-receding horizon of a brighter future for all--just on the other side of endless "disruption"--the celebrity industries of Silicon Valley and Wall Street are hollowing out middle-class jobs. [...]

Indeed, if there is anything to be celebrated in the current jobless recovery, it is this opportunity at last to assess the job as a social contrivance, not a timeless feature of the physical universe. A dose of historical perspective helps: the job, it turns out, has only recently been considered fit for polite company, let alone transformed into one of the chief desiderata of public life. In contrast to its more venerable cousins "work" and "labor," "job" is the red-headed stepchild in the family of human action: Prior to the 20th century, in English the term connoted fragmented, poorly executed work--odd jobs, piece-work, chance employment.

The universakl desire to redistribute wealth ought not raise the final cost of goods and services.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Carrie Brownstein Doesn't Want to Be Famous (NY Times Magazine, OCT. 22, 2015)

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Why are placebos getting more effective? (William Kremer, 10/20/15, BBC World Service)

When new drugs are being trialled in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands that the researchers factor in the placebo effect. They do this by engaging in controlled trials in which some participants are given the real drug and some are given a placebo - participants are generally not told whether their treatment contains the drug being tested or not.

The drug's effectiveness is then determined by subtracting the placebo response - the extent to which patients in the placebo group get better - from the drug response. Before allowing a drug to go on the market, the FDA demands that it has been shown to outperform a placebo by a significant margin.

It seems, though, that this is happening less and less, because the placebo response has been steadily strengthening. Tests reveal that some well-known drugs for depression and anxiety would struggle to pass their clinical trials if they were re-tested in 2015.

This trend has become a huge concern for the pharmaceutical industry. A slew of drugs have flopped at these final clinical trials, by which time drugs companies have typically spent more than $1bn in research and development.

No-one knows why the placebo response is rising but a fascinating new study in the journal Pain might help experts pin it down.

Drawing on data from 80 trials for drugs to treat neuropathic pain, the researchers led by Dr Jeffrey Mogil at McGill University in Montreal found that the trend was being driven by studies conducted in the US. Americans seem to be getting better merely by taking part in studies these days, regardless of whether they have been given real drugs or not. [...]

Drug companies were probably hoping that larger, more ambitious trials would be better at showing the real effect of drugs, Mogil thinks, but in fact the big budgets may have made things worse, he suggests.

A well-funded trial would be reflected in lots of small ways that might come together to increase patients' confidence that they were engaged in a clinically beneficial process. Just adding a snazzy logo to a research trial could make people feel more optimistic.

Mogil believes that US companies are more likely than others to use contract research organisations (CROs) to conduct trials (though since the companies don't have to declare this, it is hard to know for sure). It may be that the staff who work at these service organisations are friendlier than the busy researchers who conduct academic trials. That in itself could make people feel better.

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Economist Raj Chetty's Proposals on Inequality Draw Interest on Both Sides of the Political Aisle : Plans for increasing upward mobility appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike in presidential campaign (BOB DAVIS, Oct. 20, 201, WSJ)

In a presidential campaign where candidates from both parties are blaming globalization for a shrinking middle class, a 36-year-old India-born economist has a different explanation: Bad neighborhoods and bad teachers rob poor children of the chance to climb into the middle class.

His solution? Help the children and their families move to better neighborhoods. [...]

Mr. Chetty and the economists he works with tackle problems that seem intractable, and offer hopeful prescriptions. Consider economic inequality--the income spread between rich, middle-class and poor. Mr. Chetty addresses the issue indirectly. He examines income mobility, which he defines as the ability to rise from the lowest 20th percentile of income distribution to the top 80th percentile in one generation. Climbing that ladder is more important than ever, he says, because the distance between the economic classes is greater than in the past

By analyzing tax records of families in 741 geographic districts, he pinpoints hotbeds of opportunity. Poorer children in Salt Lake City, for example, are twice as likely to reach the top fifth in income as those in Atlanta, though personal income in the cities is about the same.

High-mobility metro areas have a combination of greater economic and racial integration, better schools and a smaller fraction of single-parent families than lower-mobility areas. Integration is lagging in Atlanta, he said. "The strongest predictors of upward mobility are measures of family structure," Mr. Chetty said.

His proposal: move poor children to high-mobility communities... 

Over Soccer Moms' dead bodies...

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Economist Raj Chetty's Proposals on Inequality Draw Interest on Both Sides of the Political Aisle : Plans for increasing upward mobility appeal to Democrats and Republicans alike in presidential campaign (BOB DAVIS, Oct. 20, 201, WSJ)

In a presidential campaign where candidates from both parties are blaming globalization for a shrinking middle class, a 36-year-old India-born economist has a different explanation: Bad neighborhoods and bad teachers rob poor children of the chance to climb into the middle class.

His solution? Help the children and their families move to better neighborhoods. [...]

Mr. Chetty and the economists he works with tackle problems that seem intractable, and offer hopeful prescriptions. Consider economic inequality--the income spread between rich, middle-class and poor. Mr. Chetty addresses the issue indirectly. He examines income mobility, which he defines as the ability to rise from the lowest 20th percentile of income distribution to the top 80th percentile in one generation. Climbing that ladder is more important than ever, he says, because the distance between the economic classes is greater than in the past

By analyzing tax records of families in 741 geographic districts, he pinpoints hotbeds of opportunity. Poorer children in Salt Lake City, for example, are twice as likely to reach the top fifth in income as those in Atlanta, though personal income in the cities is about the same.

High-mobility metro areas have a combination of greater economic and racial integration, better schools and a smaller fraction of single-parent families than lower-mobility areas. Integration is lagging in Atlanta, he said. "The strongest predictors of upward mobility are measures of family structure," Mr. Chetty said.

His proposal: move poor children to high-mobility communities... 

Over Soccer Moms' dead bodies...

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


Only Half in Fun: William F. Buckley's NYC Mayoral Campaign, 50 Years Later (Thomas E. Lynch, October 19, 2015, Intercollegiate Review)

The campaign began with a promise of low effort and high art. Buckley, who had warned the Conservative Party that the race would not disrupt his already crowded schedule, had privately committed no more than a day a week to the effort. To the assembled press, he noted that he expected to campaign when he had time.

From the first press conference, it was clear that he would be running on his own terms. The candidate read his statement of principles in a tone Murray Kempton described as that of "an Edwardian resident commissioner reading aloud the 39 articles of the Anglican establishment to a conscript assemblage of Zulus."(8)

Buckley was as committed to enjoying himself as he was to fulfilling his objectives:

Press:  Do you want to be mayor, sir?
Buckley:  I have never considered it. . . .
Press:  How many votes do you expect to get, conservatively speaking?
Buckley:  Conservatively speaking, one.(9)

Within days of launching the campaign, Buckley would make his most lasting contribution to American campaign lore by telling the press that if he were elected, his first action would be to "demand a recount."(10)

Joking aside, Buckley had at his disposal one powerful advantage, namely that he "did not expect to win the election, and so could afford to violate the taboos."(11) From the start, his campaign sought to undermine the basic vocabulary of New York City politics: ethnic-group and other bloc voting.

For most of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party's dominance was rooted in the hundred or so local ethnic clubs--Irish, Italian, Jewish, black, Puerto Rican--that enfranchised recent immigrants and traded votes for municipal jobs and petty graft. By the early 1960s, reform movement Democrats--often from the left wing of the party--had taken over many of the old clubs. But the habits of political affiliation were ingrained in the political culture; ethnic-bloc voting was reality in New York City political life.

Buckley launched a frontal attack on these patterns. Bloc voting of all kinds, he argued, was the enemy of good governance. There was "marginal disutility" involved in appealing to voting blocs; the politician's desire to satisfy the needs of the largest and most powerful blocs ultimately undermines the welfare of the individual members of those blocs. The taxi driver might enjoy the enforced oligopoly that government provides, but political concessions to other blocs result in higher taxes, greater congestion, weaker schools, and hundreds of problems that ultimately outweigh the value of the oligopoly.

The city's problems, Buckley claimed, were rooted in maladministration and the capitulation to special interests. Much of the latter could be resolved if politicians engaged voters as individuals, "depriving the voting blocs of their corporate advantages" and "liberat[ing] individual members of those voting blocs."(12) Buckley committed to this idealistic form of campaigning: "I will not go to Jewish centers and eat blintzes," he declaimed, "nor will I go to Italian centers and pretend to speak Italian."(13)

THROUGH the summer, Buckley's campaign barely qualified as back-page news. The leading local political story was the September Democratic Party primary, in which City Comptroller Abraham Beame emerged the victor. Other stories occupied the city's attention: the drought and the New York World's Fair continued through the summer, and many working-class Catholics were buying televisions so they could witness the pope's first visit to New York (and America) in early October.

Buckley's program was scarcely registering with voters until, on September 17, the campaign caught a huge break: the Newspaper Guild called a general strike. The city newspapers, largely in the thrall of the Lindsay campaign, would not publish for twenty-three days. The mayoralty campaign now would be waged on television: in four televised forums, Buckley's wit, manners, and mercilessly adept debating style transformed him into the central figure in this campaign. "Love him or hate him, TV fans found it difficult to turn off a master political showman," wrote one scribe,(14) while famed campaign chronicler Theodore White deemed Buckley a "star" who would be "Oscar Wilde's favorite candidate for anything."(15)

The effect in the field was even more surprising, especially to those inside the campaign. Television was allowing Buckley's seemingly academic attack on voting blocs to gain traction not among the intellectual or business class but with the ethnic voters themselves. The largely Catholic ethnic vote--increasingly alienated from both the old and the new reformist clubs--was warming to Buckley's conservative message of low taxes, individual accountability, and law and order.

"I can tell you that it surprised me," campaign aide Neal Freeman recalled. "I suppose that I was expecting our supporters to be National Review types--car dealers, academic moles, literate dentists. . . . As soon as we hired halls, though, we learned that [Buckley] was speaking for the people who made the city go--corner-store owners, cops, schoolteachers, first-home owners, firemen, coping parents."(16)

The polls showed Buckley rising to 16 percent of the vote--one poll put him at 20 percent--mostly with support from largely disaffected and strongly Catholic voters. Any sense of the campaign's being a "lark" quickly disappeared, and Buckley, instead of limiting his political activity to a day a week, began to campaign every day.

One of the best aspects of the book is WFB's surprise with--and annoyance at--himself as he begins to take his own candidacy seriously even though he has far too little political experience to campaign effectively.    

The Unmaking of a Mayor : The following is the prologue from William F. Buckley's now-classic memoir of his campaign for mayor of New York City, The Unmaking of a Mayor, just reissued in a fiftieth-anniversary "deluxe edition."  (William F. Buckley, October 21, 2015, Intercollegiate Review)

Q. Why haven't you availed yourself of the two-party system in New York and fought your fight with John Lindsay in the primaries?
A. Because if I had entered the Republican primary and lost to John Lindsay I'd have felt obliged to support him in the election. Party loyalty demands that sort of thing. Since I could not in good conscience have endorsed Mr. Lindsay, I could not in good conscience have accepted the implicit discipline of a Primary contest. To avoid this dilemma, I am running as a Republican but on the Conservative ticket, whose platform is wholly congruent with the Republican National Platform of 1964.

Q. If the Republican Party in New York City is oriented toward Democratic principles, then isn't that because New York Republicans wish it to be so, and don't New York Republicans have the right to shape the character of their own Party?
A. (1) John Lindsay got 135,000 votes in New York in 1964, having repudiated the national candidacy of Barry Goldwater. (2) Barry Goldwater, in 1964, got 800,000 votes in New York City. Granted that Lindsay ran only in a single Congressional District. But grant, also, that he won a lot of Democratic votes. If there are 800,000 people in New York City willing to vote for Barry Goldwater, you have to assume that the Republican Party, understood as a party reflecting an alternative view of government to that of the Democratic Party, isn't dead in New York. The question, then, is whether the Republican Party should have tried, by evangelizing the Republican faith, to double that 800,000 votes, sufficient to win an election, or do as John Lindsay is doing, which is to unsex the Republican Party and flit off with the Democratic majority--which effort would ultimately convince the voters that the Republican Party, as commonly understood, offers no genuine alternative.

Q. Isn't John Lindsay engaged in revitalizing the Republican Party?
A. No, he is engaged in devitalizing the Republican Party. A party thrives on its distinctiveness. John Lindsay's decision, made years ago, to bestow himself upon the nation as a Republican rather than as a Democrat was clearly based on personal convenience rather than on a respect for the two-party system, let alone a respect for the Republican alternative. The two-party system, if it is meaningful, presupposes an adversary relationship between the parties. John Lindsay's voting record, and his general political pronouncements, put him left of the center of the Democratic Party. As such he is an embarrassment to the two-party system.

Q. Does the Conservative Party's position in New York bear on the struggle for power within the Republican National Committee?
A. It appears to me obvious that it does. Mr. Bliss, understandably hungry for any victory by anyone who, off the record, concedes a formal affiliation with the Republican Party, has shown enthusiasm for Mr. Lindsay's campaign. That enthusiasm is not shared by an important wing of the Party, probably the dominant wing of the Party, some of whose spokesmen have directly encouraged me to run for office and thereby uphold nationally authorized Republican principles.

Q. Granted John Lindsay is running for Mayor of New York alongside a Democrat and a Liberal. He has said that the problems of New York require a fusion approach. What do you think of that?
A. It is a relief when John Lindsay rises from banality, if only to arrive at fatuity. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


Is this the end of the two-state solution (as we know it)? (Dany Bahar, 10/23/15, Times of Israel)

This is the scenario where the Palestinian Authority (PA) officially endorses the one state solution. Back in 2012, I met Saeb Erakat, the chief negotiator of the PA. He said something that worries me up until today: "It is not Hamas who will take over the PA. It is a new generation of secular and 'westernized' young Palestinians who will." This new generation of Palestinians is not motivated by Islamist values, nor it supports Hamas, ISIS or any other Islamist group.

But the Palestinians that belong to this generation do not support the PA leadership either, who has been promising for over 20 years that the way out is through negotiations. They have accumulated frustration about the unfulfilled promises made by the PA and the older generation. Thus, they see in the PA a corrupt body that does not represent their interest anymore. Even worse, they see in Israel no partner and they are against negotiations and normalization with Israel. They know that time is on their side.

I've encountered some of this people. They are smart, talented, well educated and with very international backgrounds. They do not like violence. On the contrary, they profess a message based on human rights and democracy. They want a "one man one vote" state: they want a one state solution. But both they and we know that a one state solution means the end of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Thus, this is why this wave of violence is scarier than anything else we've seen before: it might be the beginning of the end of the two-state solution. Of course, Israelis are also responsible for this. We've had a government that for 6 years has focused all of its diplomatic efforts on delegitimizing the moderates in the PA (such as Abu Mazen), and have -- ironically enough -- chosen to negotiate with Hamas every time there is the need for a cease-fire.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Gold's Role as Safe-Haven Investment Wanes (ALISTAIR MACDONALD and  TATYANA SHUMSKY,  Oct. 19, 2015, WSJ)

The price of gold, which typically swings with political, economic and inflationary threats, these days moves in step with a different force: the Federal Reserve. [...]

"Gold is trading as a proxy for expectations of U.S. interest rates," said Kevin Norrish, who heads commodities research at Barclays. "People have looked at gold and expected it to act as a safe haven, and it hasn't."

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


This Year's Patriots Are Almost On Pace To Be The G.O.A.T. (NEIL PAINE, 10/23/15, 538)

We can measure this using Elo ratings, one of our favorite metrics for ranking football teams. You can read the fine details of how they work here, but in a nutshell, Elo assigns each team a strength rating based on how likely it thinks that team is to win games in the future. The ratings are simple -- their only inputs are the score, strength of opponent and location of each game -- but they're also predictive and self-correcting, so a team's strength estimate is constantly evolving.

And in the case of the 2015 Patriots, that rating is ridiculously good. Through the first six weeks of an NFL season,2 only three teams have ever possessed a higher Elo rating than New England's current mark of  1736:
Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Plastic bag charge cuts use 80% in Scotland (Press Association, 20 October 2015, The Guardian)

The number of plastic carrier bags handed out in stores was slashed by at least 650 million in the first year of Scotland's 5p charge.

New figures released on the anniversary of its introduction indicate the levy has cut usage by around 80%, equivalent to 650 million fewer bags than in previous years.

The charge for single-use carriers has also raised around £6.7m for good causes in the past 12 months.

The Self-Defeating Corporate Income Tax (Jay S. Fishman, 10/21/15, Bloomberg View)

For many years, policy makers have criticized the strategies that American corporations use to reduce their taxes by shifting income and capital offshore. The impetus behind these strategies is the U.S. corporate income-tax rate -- at 35 percent, the highest of any industrialized nation, easily surpassing countries such as the U.K. (20 percent) and Canada (15 percent).

Reducing this rate would end a self-defeating policy that distorts corporate behavior, weakens domestic companies and ultimately harms the U.S. economy.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


'This change will be the end of the Open University as we know it' : Staff are balloting for strike action as OU plans to close seven of nine regional centres in England amid competition from free online courses such as Moocs (Harriet Swain, 20 October 2015, The Guardian)

When the Open University announced last month that it would be closing seven of its nine regional centres in England, it said it was a response to the changing demands of students, rather than funding. [...]

But, as a leader in distance learning, the university is also vulnerable to the seismic changes brought about by technology. "The OU is struggling to find its place in a world that has moved on," says Mike Boxall, higher education expert at PA Consulting Group. "Most universities now have substantial online offerings, especially in business and areas like that. [The OU] haven't got the field to themselves in the way they had."

October 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


U.S. Soldier Is Killed in Raid to Free Prisoners of ISIS in Iraq (MICHAEL R. GORDON, OCT. 22, 2015, NY Times)

The raid, near the town of Hawija, freed 70 prisoners, including more than 20 from the Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon said in a statement. Five Islamic State fighters were detained and several killed, and American officials said important intelligence about the terrorist group was recovered.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Mufti Bests Bibi (Walter Russell Mead, 10/22/15, American Interest)

The irony here is that the Grand Mufti was a political failure who failed to marshal virtually any sympathy for the Palestinians during his ruinous tenure. A close ally of Hitler and Eichmann (the Nazis liked him so much that they thought he must have Aryan roots), al-Husseini led the Palestinian national movement starting in 1921. Needless to say, his Nazi affiliations helped convince critical players in postwar politics--including American progressives, and, even more critically, Joseph Stalin--that the movement was essentially a fascist militia. He also obstructed the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of a Jewish State.

The bottom line: al-Husseini was an ineffective leader who did more than almost any other leader to generate animosity and distrust for the Palestinian cause.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


An estimated $520 billion to $530 billion left the country in the first eight months of the year, according to a semi-annual report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Outflows remain high despite government efforts to reassure investors who are worried about the country's economic slowdown, wild swings in the stock market and a sudden devaluation of the yuan earlier this year.

According to the Treasury, capital outflows totaled $200 billion in August alone. In 2014, only $26 billion left China in the first six months of the year.

China already limits the amount of money an individual can move out of the country to $50,000 per year. But last month, Beijing even clamped down on the amount of cash its citizens can withdraw from ATMs overseas, another attempt to stop money from leaving the country.

October 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


The Road Ahead: Toyota Sees Gas Engine Cars Gone By 2050 (Tesla's Already There) (Brooke Crothers, 10/21/15, Forbes)

This past week Toyota said it plans to all but eliminate gasoline-based cars by 2050. Tesla is about 35 years ahead of that goal.

The Japanese automaker laid out it goals on Wednesday, according to a report in Nikkei, Japan's largest business daily.  The plans call for a 90 percent reduction in the company's new-car CO2 emissions by 2050. "You may think 35 years is a long time," said Senior Managing Officer Kiyotaka Ise, according to a separate AP report. "But for an automaker to envision all combustion engines as gone is pretty extraordinary."  While Toyota has been a leader in mass-produced hybrid cars (think: Prius) for almost 20 years, the company has a new sense of urgency: "the environment is deteriorating by the day," Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada explained at a briefing, according to the Nikkei report. As a result, Toyota decided that it needed to a set a "new, tougher challenge looking 20 or 30 years ahead."

Oslo aims to make city center car-free within four years (Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik, 10/22/15, Reuters)

Cars will be banned from central Oslo by 2019 to help reduce pollution, local politicians said on Monday, in what they said would be the first comprehensive and permanent ban for a European capital.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Eighty years after the physicist dismissed as "spooky" the idea that simply observing one particle could instantly change another far-away object, Dutch scientists said on Wednesday they had proved decisively that the effect was real.

Writing in the journal Nature, researchers detailed an experiment showing how two electrons at separate locations 1.3km apart on the Delft University of Technology campus demonstrated a clear, invisible and instantaneous connection.

Importantly, the new study closed loopholes in earlier tests that had left some doubt as to whether the eerie connection predicted by quantum theory was real or not.

Einstein famously insisted in a 1935 scientific paper that what he called "spooky action at a distance" had to be wrong and there must be undiscovered properties of particles to explain such counter-intuitive behaviour. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Hi-tech agriculture is freeing the farmer from his fields : Robots to pick, drones to survey crops and satellites to drive tractors - experts predict a fully automated farm in five years. (John Vidal, 20 October 2015, The Guardian)

Robots will become common on farms, says Simon Blackmore, head of engineering at Harper Adams university in Shropshire, who is developing an autonomous strawberry harvester which could make redundant many in the army of Eastern Europeans who come to Britain each year for casual work.

"I think automated logistics will open up many things in agriculture that could never be done before. Little robots will be used to weed and spray fields. Drones could pick up canisters of spray and resupply them. Robotics will replace the seasonal workforce and the new workforce will need new skills.

"Big tractors have displaced much of the rural population already. It used to be 20 men and 20 horses. Then it was 20 men and one tractor. Now it's one man and 20 tractors."

Blackmore sees big data, machinery, climatology and agronomy all combining to increase productivity and reduce labour costs. "The technology is all here now. What was developed for very big farms is now applicable to mid-sized ones. But farmers don't want decisions to be made by machines. They want help making decisions," he says.

He thinks the era of giant machines on the British farm may be passing. The problem, he says is the weight of the machines which are compacting the land so much that bigger tractors are needed.

"Up to 90% of the energy going into cultivation is there to repair the damage caused by machines. If we do not damage the soil in the first place, we do not need to repair it. Horsepower does not help when weight is the problem."

Precison farming will become more sophisticated, he says. "Machine vision will recognises the leaves of the plant in real time and record the position. Micro dot sprayers put chemical only on the leaf of the plant, saving 99.99% of the volume used."

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


GM earnings hit a record (Chris Isidore, 10/21/15, CNNMoney)

The largest U.S. automaker posted a record profit in the third quarter, as strong U.S. sales helped it overcome huge recall costs and a slump in China.

Considered purely as an investment decision, we taxpayers should have held our stake.  But it's bad policy for the feds to own companies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


The obscure data that suggests US profits are surprisingly strong (Sofia Horta e Costa, Inyoung Hwang and Lu Wang, 10/05/15, Sydney Morning Herald)

Buried deep in a routine Federal Reserve report notable mainly for its numbers-heavy presentation is a data point that threatens to upend the notion that Corporate America is struggling to boost earnings. The Fed's measure of income, which happens to have moved in unison with profits for Standard & Poor's 500 Index companies 83 per cent of the time since 1992, just posted its biggest quarterly increase since 2012.

Strength in the Fed data contrasts with earnings viewed through the benchmark equity measure, where analysts are predicting the largest quarterly contraction since 2009, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. The divergence highlights what bullish investors have said is an illusion of weakness in profit signals flashed by stocks, where the biggest drop in oil-company earnings since the financial crisis is drowning out strength elsewhere.

"I simply don't see US corporate earnings peaking - quite the contrary," said Ross Yarrow, director of US equities at Robert W. Baird & Co in London. "The S&P 500 is too narrow to show the true health of corporate America; it's too skewed. Lower oil prices feed into so many raw-material costs, and that is very, very good for the rest of US corporates."

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates (Matt Viser, OCTOBER 20, 2015, Boston Globe)

 When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, he decried the lack of intelligence of elected officials in characteristically blunt terms.

"How stupid are our leaders?" he said. "How stupid are they?"

But with his own choice of words and his short, simple sentences, Trump's speech could have been comprehended by a fourth-grader. Yes, a fourth-grader.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


How Putin's Ukrainian Dream Turned Into a Nightmare (ADRIAN KARATNYCKY, ALEXANDER J. MOTYLOCTOBER 20, 2015, Foreign Policy)

The Kremlin's war in Ukraine is turning into a quagmire.The Kremlin's war in Ukraine is turning into a quagmire. Militarily, it is a stalemate -- which, given the vast imbalance between Russian and Ukrainian capabilities, amounts to a Ukrainian victory. Ideologically, the war is a bust, as the Kremlin's hopes of converting southeastern Ukraine into "New Russia" have been effectively, and perhaps permanently, shattered. Economically, the war and occupation of both Crimea and the Donbass have imposed ruinous costs on Russia, whose economy has already been battered by declining global commodity prices and Western sanctions. Socially, both regions are on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe for which Russia would be blamed. In sum, Putin's plans of weakening Ukraine have backfired. Ukraine is slowly getting stronger, while Russia is getting weaker.

Time is, therefore, on the side of Ukraine and the West. They should avoid offering Putin any relief as long as Russian and proxy troops continue to occupy Ukrainian territory; on the contrary, they can and should press for additional concessions. Given Ukraine's strengthened military and the threat of further sanctions, Putin will be unable to escalate the confrontation. Ironically, Putin's self-defeating aggression in eastern Ukraine is now limiting his scope of action more effectively than anything the West could have devised.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority -- 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state -- are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won't lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.

Not only have Republicans won most elections, but they have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House. But Democrats have nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot. Democrats aren't even talking about how to improve on their weak points, because by and large they don't even admit that they exist.

Instead, the party is focused on a competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over whether they should go a little bit to Obama's left or a lot to his left, options that are unlikely to help Democrats down-ballot in the face of an unfriendly House map and a more conservative midterm electorate. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Merkel sets Netanyahu straight on German culpability for Holocaust (AFP, AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, October 22, 2015)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday emphasized her nation's inherent responsibility for the Holocaust, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stirred controversy by claiming that a Palestinian leader gave Hitler the idea of exterminating Jews.

...Bibi somehow cedes the moral high ground to the Hun.

October 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


In a globalised world the French have been slow to jump on the expat train that has long seen thousands of young Australians or Brits flit across continents and put down roots abroad.

But "a greater openness to the world, better language skills and more international study options" have lured more French to explore the globe, said Jean-Christophe Dumont, head of international migration at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

France's stagnating economy, high taxes and soaring unemployment have also been cited as factors.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


And as they stroll through Manhattan, what issues are America's 1% struggling with? There is guilt over being rich in the first place, he said. There is the feeling that they have to hide the fact that they are rich. And then there is the isolation - being in the 1%, it turns out, can be lonely. It seems F Scott Fitzgerald was right, the very rich "are different from you and me". Especially in 2015.

From the Bible to the Lannisters of Game of Thrones, it's easy to argue that the rich have always been vilified, scorned and envied. But their counsellors argue things have only gotten worse since the financial crisis and the debate over income inequality that has been spurred on by movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Fight for $15 fair wage campaign.

"The Occupy Wall Street movement was a good one and had some important things to say about income inequality, but it singled out the 1% and painted them globally as something negative. It's an -ism," said Jamie Traeger-Muney, a wealth psychologist and founder of the Wealth Legacy Group. "I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but ... it really is making value judgment about a particular group of people as a whole."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Don't Look Back in Anger at Bailouts and Stimulus : Without the emergency measures of 2008-09, the U.S. economy would be far worse off today. (ALAN S. BLINDER And  MARK ZANDI, Oct. 15, 2015, WSJ)

TARP, fiscal stimulus, quantitative easing and auto bailout remain dirty words to many people who increasingly blame them for prolonging the Great Recession and the slow pace of recovery. But in a study released Thursday for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, we found the reverse to be true: These extraordinary policies ended the crisis and jump-started an economic recovery that is stronger in the U.S. than in most countries.

Specifically, we estimate that:

• The peak-to-trough decline in real gross domestic product, which was barely more than 4%, would have been close to a stunning 14%.

• The contraction would have lasted three years, more than twice as long as it did.

• More than 17 million jobs would have been lost, about twice the actual number.

• Unemployment would have peaked at just under 16%, rather than at 10%.

• The federal budget deficit would have ballooned to $2.8 trillion, equal to 18% of GDP, compared with its actual peak of 10%.

• Today's economy would be far weaker than it is--with real GDP about $800 billion lower, 3.6 million fewer jobs, and unemployment still at 7.6%.

The overwhelming nature of the fiscal and monetary policy responses is the main reason we didn't suffer a much-worse fate. 

The U.S., indeed the world, was fortunate that W was president when the credit crunch hit and that Ben Bernanke, though he bears some responsibility for triggering it, was at the Fed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


The False Rise and Fall of Rand Paul : He was supposed to embody a new libertarian moment. But there never was one. (MICHAEL LIND, October 20, 2015, Politico)

[T]he libertarian moment was momentary indeed. The Republican presidential primary was upended not by Rand Paul but by Donald Trump, whose agenda is the exact opposite of libertarianism in almost every way. Libertarians want open borders; Trump promises to build a wall with Mexico and deport millions of illegal immigrants. Libertarians want to privatize Social Security; Trump has defended Social Security and Medicare. Libertarians want to cut defense spending; Trump wants a big military, though he promises not to use it unwisely. And, among Republicans, Trump is a relative dove. The others in the GOP field compete to be more bellicose than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Paul, meanwhile, has all but disappeared from view. Humiliated in the first Republican debate, when he challenged Trump to promise not to run an independent campaign, Paul alienated many of his noninterventionist fans and looked like just another politician instead of a principled libertarian when he came out against the Iran deal. His newfound hawkishness has not helped him. His poll numbers among Republican candidates have collapsed from 10 percent last April to between 2 percent and 3 percent now. It remains to be seen whether his polling numbers will be high enough to let him be onstage at the next Republican debate. On October 15, Paul's campaign staff released a memo declaring that he is not dropping out of the race, never a good sign.

Whether Paul stays in the race or not, the libertarian moment he symbolized is over. To be more precise, it never existed.

Libertarians, like neoconservatives, are overrepresented among op-ed writers and TV talking heads and think-tank wonks on the right. But neither the Club for Growth wing nor what conservative writers Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat call the Sam's Club wing of the GOP is libertarian, except when it suits them.

Unlike ideological libertarians who fantasize about the replacement of fiat money with gold or bitcoin, most Wall Street Republicans object to regulations they dislike, such as Dodd-Frank, while remaining content with a system that gives capital-gains income preferential tax treatment and socializes the cost of bank bailouts while privatizing the benefits.

For their part, white working-class conservatives--nativist, protectionist and often religious--are to libertarians what matter is to antimatter. Over the years, Rand Paul's father, Ron Paul, managed to attract a variety of right-wing extremists who were not consistent libertarians, like gold bugs and racists. Since the Nixon era, the small number of actual Republican libertarians have been fleas hitching a ride on the dog of George Wallace-style populism--and in the Time of Trump, the fleas have fled the dog.

What holds together the donor class and populist wings of the GOP is not libertarian philosophy, but a policy: deficit spending. The Republican rich want lower taxes and lower spending. Many Republican populists want middle-class entitlements, if not spending on the poor, to be maintained. The only way to cut tax rates on rich Republicans while maintaining spending on the entitlements of middle-class Republicans is to run perpetual deficits. The fact that all of the economic plans of leading GOP presidential contenders, including Trump's plan, would blow holes in the federal budget by slashing rates on the rich without cutting middle-class benefits is not a mistake; it's a feature.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Is a genuine market in health insurance even possible? (Jeff Spross, October 16, 2015, The Week)

In 2013, a firm shifted 52,000 employees and a number of their dependents onto a new health plan. The old plan was extremely generous, with lots of providers and covered services, and no deductibles. The new plan kept the providers and services, but added a $3,750 deductible. Since a deductible is a form of cost-sharing -- you and your insurer share the cost of your care -- fans of markets in health care are generally fans of high deductibles. The idea is that if your insurer covers all of your costs, you won't shop for care in any meaningful way, and then competitive market pressures can't do their thing. But if you share your costs, you'll be price sensitive, and you'll shop.

More importantly, the insurance plan also provided everyone with $3,750 in cash in a health savings account. So while the consumers were made more price sensitive, their own financial security wasn't threatened by the price sensitivity. They could spend the $3,750 on care, or they could save it for a rainy day, all without fear of encountering a price they couldn't shoulder.

The people on this plan were given a price-shopping tool "that allowed them to search for doctors providing particular services by price as well as other features (e.g. location)." That's also really important, because price transparency in the American health care system is wretched. Price tags for the same procedure vary all over the map, and it's next to impossible to get hospitals, doctors, and other providers to quote you a price upfront for major procedures.

The system is so sclerotic that the basic institutional and cultural infrastructure for just telling people the price of something was never put in place. And you can't really shop without that.

Finally, it's worth noting the employees on this plan were "relatively educated, high-income consumers" -- i.e. white-collar folks with the know-how to sift through complex ideas and paperwork.

So this looks like a pretty good test of whether we can get markets in health care. Sophisticated consumers were made price-sensitive but not put at financial risk, and were given a tool to shop for providers and procedures. So did it work?

Not really.

Per-patient spending definitely fell -- about 15 percent in one year -- but not because anyone shopped. People just...didn't go to the doctor. 

People deciding to keep their money instead of consuming health care is how you drive health care spending down--and build retirement wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Get Used to It. Low Rates Are Here to Stay.  (Noah Smith, 10/20/15, Bloomberg View) 

There are reasons to think that central banks are not the big driver of low rates. First of all, it isn't just nominal rates that are historically low, but real inflation-adjusted rates as well. Most economists believe that real interest rates can't be affected by monetary policy for very long. Second, most economists think that if central banks are holding rates below what private markets want, we should be seeing high inflation. We're not.

Indeed, applying the same theory, the fact that we continue to have deflation or disinflation suggests that real rates are too high, not too low.

October 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


A Way Forward for Traditional Marriage : a review of Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom by Ryan T. Anderson (DONALD DEVINE • October 19, 2015, American Conservative)

Ryan T. Anderson has written what will become the standard argument for traditional marriage. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom is his rational explanation of what marriage is, why it is essential to society, and why it is necessary to enshrine the traditional position in law.

His most important contribution is to identify the two fundamentally competing views of marriage that uncomfortably co-exist in America today. The first is the traditional view of the permanent, exclusive union of one man and one woman inherently aimed at the rearing of children. The competing "consent" version of marriage, in contrast, does not require monogamy, exclusivity, or permanence--only deep consensual romantic attachment.

The foundation of Anderson's argument for traditional marriage is that it is natural, based in human nature, and required for the procreation and development of children within a protective environment. The second type of union puts the "emotional commitment" of the partners before all else and could characterize a heterosexual, homosexual, or other relationship. [...]

The traditional or "comprehensive" view of marriage is not anti-gay but is conceived as the natural means of most effectively raising children from ancient times until today. Anderson argues that limiting marriage to one man and one woman does not violate anyone's rights. Same-sex relationships have been legal for a decade everywhere in the U.S., may even be consecrated by a religion, and most employers will grant them equal benefits. [...]

Anderson sets a fourfold mission for his most important institutions in this battle, the churches: they must frame an appealing case for traditional sexuality; create ministries and meaningful non-marital relationships for those with same-sex attractions; defend their own and others' religious liberties; and provide guidance for those forced to choose between following their faith and the law. Church members must find ways to "live out the truth about marriage and human sexuality" in mutual faithfulness for themselves, their children and their religion.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Since he began his campaign for the presidency, Senator Bernie Sanders has sought to build his base of support beyond the overwhelmingly white supporters he has in his home state of Vermont, whose backgrounds hew closely to some voters in the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He has met with activists from the Black Lives Matter group and has appeared at a question-and-answer session with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

But Mr. Sanders could face continuing questions about his vote against a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill in 2007, as he did during the first Democratic presidential debate last week. And while he has recently presented that vote in humanitarian terms, his language at the time was starkly economic about guest-worker visas, which were viewed skeptically by organized labor.

...it would have been useful to note that the UR wasn't that helpful in 2007 either.  He escaped okay.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Rubio's Underwhelming Campaign (DANIEL LARISON,  October 19, 2015, American Conservative)

Perhaps if Rubio hadn't been considered a "top-tier" candidate from the very start, his modest fundraising totals might not seem that low, but because he was incorrectly elevated so early his campaign seems that much more underwhelming. His campaign is probably performing about as well as one would expect from a one-term senator making a long-shot bid for the presidency. The problem for Rubio is that he isn't perceived this way. On the contrary, he is routinely presented as a leading candidate for the nomination and sometimes as the likely nominee. That has never made sense, but the belief that Rubio is a major contender for the nomination has set him up to fall short of the unreasonably high expectations that have been created for him.

Maybe the most interesting detail in the story is the amount of time that Rubio has spent in Iowa and New Hampshire combined: three weeks. Rubio has been a declared candidate for over six months, and he has missed 30% of Senate votes so far this year. For the most part, he hasn't been spending that time in the first two states that will determine which candidates last long enough to compete in the rest of the primaries and caucuses, and evidently his campaign isn't doing much of the spadework to organize in those states, either. Unless that changes fairly soon, that suggests that Rubio will end up with relatively little support when people in those states start voting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Not only did the placebos induce a biological response, but those patients reacting most strongly to the placebos also reacted most strongly to the real drug. Placebo response predicted a good part of whether individuals would find the real treatment effective.

The study has several implications says an editorial in JAMA Psychiatry. First, it provides "additional rationale for the use of open-label placebo as a possible first-line treatment for depression." In other words, before handing someone some mind-altering drugs, give them the dummy version first. It will have some of the same impact, at least some of the time.

The research also shows that some of our reaction to drugs is in a sense self-induced. "Nested within the response to the antidepressant therapy, there is a substantial placebo response," the editorial says. Testing people with placebo first could allow clinicians to pre-screen responsiveness to actual drugs and then perhaps amplify the effects.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Gowdy appears to accidentally release CIA source's name (JOSH GERSTEIN,  10/19/15, Politico)

House Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy appears to have accidentally released the name of a CIA source in the midst of a back-and-forth with Democrats about how sensitive the information was and whether its presence in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email account constituted a security breach.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


This Hot New Technology Can Save Medicare (Michael Hodin, 10/19/15, The Fiscal Times)

With 77 million aging American Baby Boomers, Medicare must find innovative ways to improve care and reduce costs. Telehealth--where patients consult with doctors via Skype or some other Internet service--is one good solution

Pharmacy giant Walgreens is on board. But will Congress pass the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015? The value of telehealth is indisputable and America could lead the world in showing how it saves time and expense. [...]

Telehealth would yield multiple benefits:

Improve care through rapid response, especially for those older citizens who might be less mobile.

Lower health expenses by avoiding unnecessary doctor visits.  

Drive economic growth by redirecting resources. 

The key to reforming health care is increasing access to coverage in exchange for reducing access to doctors.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


As if the play wasn't already mind-blowing enough, Patriots broadcaster Scott Zolak said New England running back Brandon Bolden -- who made the tackle -- told him Colt Anderson was screaming at Whalen to not snap the ball.

A classic case of Bill Belichick getting in the opponent's head. He has the power to cloud men's minds.

DUMB FOOTBALL WITH MIKE TUNISON, WEEK 6 [profanity alert] (Mike Tunison, 10/19/15, Vice)

There is just so much Dumb Football out there--entire teams full of it. Every once in a while, though, there's Transcendentally Dumb Football. That's the gift that Chuck Pagano and the Colts lavished upon the world on Sunday night. They gave us football so dumb, it negated all the dumb football that came before that day, washed it away in a cleansing tide of duh. It made the entire sport a little more dumb, and all of us dumber for having watched it. Our imaginations were stoked by the possibility of what stupidity could do. It showed us how to dream new and more idiotic dreams.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Stop swooning over Putin (Fareed Zakaria, 10/15/15, Washington Post)

Washington's foreign policy elites have developed a mind-set that mistakes activity for achievement. They assume that every crisis in the world can and should be solved by a vigorous assertion of U.S. power, preferably military power. Failure to do so is passivity and produces weakness. By this logic, Russia and Iran are the new masters of the Middle East. Never mind that those countries are desperately trying to shore up a sinking ally. Their clients, the Alawites of Syria, are a minority regime -- representing less than 15 percent of the country's people -- and face deadly insurgencies supported by vast portions of the population. Iran is bleeding resources in Syria. And if Russia and Iran win, somehow, against the odds, they get Syria -- which is a cauldron, not a prize. The United States has been "in the driver's seat" in Afghanistan for 14 years. Has that strengthened America?

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM

ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE (profanity [or something] alert):

Why I won't date another 'male feminist' (Kate Iselin, 19 October 2015, The Guardian)

It's not that I don't think men can be feminists. There are several men in my life who have approached feminism with respect and considerate thought, who have used feminism to examine their own privilege and experiences within the world and have become better people for it.

But these men are in a disappointing minority compared to the rest of the male feminists I, and many other women, have encountered: men who use the term "feminist" as either bait or an alter-ego, assuming that their opt-in respect for women will entitle them to legions of adoring lovers - really the most anti-feminist act of all.

When it comes to dating and relating, I don't care who opens the door for whom, or who picks up the bill. I simply want to be in a relationship where my politics aren't sexualised, where I can look at my partner and see more than a "Hey girl!" meme come to life and know that they, in turn, see me as a three-dimensional being: a feminist, yes, but not one who will perform on command.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Masoud Soltanifar, who is also Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization chief, said President Hassan Rouhani's moderate policies and the easing of visa rules are opening the door for the return of foreign tourists to Iran.

A country rich in historical and cultural treasures largely unseen by Western eyes, Iran will unveil an investment package of 1,300 projects in the coming days to attract foreign investment and boost the badly-hit tourism industry. Iran is home to 19 UNESCO-registered sites.

Even before sanctions are lifted, the number of foreigners visiting Iran has grown 12 percent in each of the past two years. In 2014, Iran hosted over 5 million tourists, bringing in some $7.5 billion in revenue.

About half were Shiite Muslims, the same religious denomination as most Iranians, and the other half were tourists from Europe, North America and east Asia.

"In the post-sanctions era, tourism is an industry that will get a boost more than any other sector," Soltanifar told the AP. "Tourism is certainly the driving engine to get Iran's economy out of recession. Iran's tourism sector is a flourishing market for investors. We are anticipating a tsunami of tourists after sanctions are lifted."

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Black Monday Really Did Look Like 1929 Again (Barry Ritholtz, 10/19/15, Bloomberg View)

As in most complex matters, there were many forces that drove the events leading up to the crash. But some stand out more than others. Here are two of the biggest:

Bull market froth: The Dow industrials kissed 1,000 in 1966, then tumbled in the horrific bear market of the 1970s and didn't surpass that number on a permanent basis until 16 years later in 1982. Then, between 1982 and 1986, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index more than doubled. But things really heated up in 1987. In the first eight months of the year the index gained more than 38 percent. A correction was overdue. While many people were afraid that markets were overheated, no one -- no one -- had envisioned a  one-day drop that would wipe out almost a quarter of the market capitalization of the major indexes. That had a different cause.

Portfolio insurance: The technique, invented by Hayne Leland and Mark Rubinstein in 1976, was an attempt to hedge volatility by shorting index futures to protect a long equity portfolio. As market prices fell, the index puts would be executed, locking in a small loss, and shifting the risk of more losses to the party on the other side of that trade. It was an academic concept, one that hadn't been stress-tested yet.  The working assumption was that a ready buyer would be there to take the other side of the trade, getting paid to assume additional risk. Not so much, as it turned out. Buyers eventually were willing, but only at much lower prices. This created a selling spiral that got out of control. The lack of liquidity was also a problem, as index futures were a relatively new product with modest volume and not a very deep trading history. 

The creaky New York Stock Exchange trading structure -- it was dated, and human traders were unable to keep up with the volume -- was another related issue.

There were other factors as well. Broader geopolitical concerns included Iran (it had attacked U.S. merchant vessels) and collapsing oil prices (by 1986, crude oil prices had dropped by about 50 percent). But the most commonly cited political issue was Treasury Secretary James Baker, who made some inauspicious public comments the prior weekend. He disagreed with his European counterparts about the strong dollar and foreign-exchange rates. Some observers point to his comments as the spark in a room filled with gas vapors.

All that really mattered was that a new Fed Chairman had to try and prove his inflation hawk bona fides and hiked rates despite disinflation (see also under 2008).  Chairman Greenspan implicitly acknowledged the error when he dropped rates the day after Black Monday, not that it stopped him from making the identical error in 2000.

October 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


ESPN's Ben Baumer slotted MLB teams into four categories regarding their use of analytics in scouting and game mangement: All-in/Believers/One Foot In/Skeptics/Nonbelievers.

Of the 10 teams that made the playoffs, nine of them fell into the first two categories.

The Cubs, Astros, Cardinals, Yankees and Pirates  were rankes "All-In," while the Royals, Dodgers, Mets, and Blue Jays feel not far behind, considered to be "Believers" by  Baumer. The Texas Rangers, who were eliminated by the Blue Jays in the division series, were middle-of-the packers when it came to crunching numbers.

And the faces will be familiar to those who read Michael Lewis's best-seller. Theo Epstein, who took the Red Sox GM job after Beane declined it, has rebuilt the Cubs from the ground up, employing the tools he used in Boston to create one of the most exciting young teams in baseball on the North Side of Chicago.

The Mets are run by Sandy Alderson, Beane's mentor, and he's been joined by two former GMs,  JP Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta (played by Jonah Hill in the movie), who got their start in Oakland's front office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Air strikes on Islamic State convoy in Syria kill 40 : Jihadist group now faces combined air campaigns of Russia, US-led coalition and Assad regime (AFP October 19, 2015)

Air strikes on a convoy of the Islamic State group killed at least 40 jihadists in central Syria at the weekend, a monitoring group said Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Trump's candidacy is also useful to the extent that is has brought to light another very important phenomenon, one perhaps related to the first: the moral bankrupcty of a certain kind of contemporary intellectual conservatism. His electoral star might burn out, as his rivals hope, but for the time being, it sheds light on the inadequacies of not only conservatism's men of action but also its men of reflection.

We encounter such a morally vacuous conservatism in the recent remarks of George Will, one of America's most celebrated conservative commentators and one of Trump's most vigorous critics. Reacting to Trump's economic nationalism, Will declares that Republicans must be "the party of growth, or they are superfluous." Democrats, he suggests, exist to redistribute wealth--"allocating scarcities" through the "administrative state." In contrast, Republicans should avoid such thinking and instead simply focus on growing the nation's economy.

In Will's view, apparently, the Republican Party should have no domestic policy agenda beyond an economic one, and that agenda should involve nothing beyond promoting economic growth. This, surely, is the import of his use of the word "superfluous," which implies that in the absence of an economic growth platform there would be no important difference between the Republicans and Democrats. This in turn is as much as to say that the only real political issues are economic issues.

Will's vision is utterly unworthy of a great political party and wholly inadequate to the politics of America or any other nation. It is a vision on the basis of which no party could successfully govern or even win elections in order to get the chance to govern. The basic purposes of a political party are to win power and then use that power with a view to the common good. A party that followed Will's advice would be able to do neither.

Democrats' calls for redistribution of wealth may be misguided. They may in some cases even be cynical--mere means of appealing to the self-interest of voters under a moralistic guise. Such calls do, however, require the Democrats to make appeals to essential public principles such as justice, and the obligations of the citizen to the community and the community to the citizen. Will's approach, on the other hand, eschews such principles entirely. This is a strange approach for a conservative, since questions about these principles--and the moral vision of politics on the basis of which such questions can arise--have been characteristic of the politics of all civilized communities.

A party single-mindedly committed to Will's politics of growth would not even be adequate in the realm of economic policy. Anyone can see that economic growth, which is certainly to be desired, may not benefit the whole community. A nation may enjoy even very robust economic growth while some regions or classes of people continue in a state of economic backwardness, stagnation, or decline. No decent or competent ruling political party would ignore such phenomena and boast that its economic policy was a pure success merely because the economy of the whole had grown. In general, economic growth, while important, is a rather lowest-common-denominator way of measuring a country's well-being. Communist China, for instance, has enjoyed impressive economic growth over the last thirty years.

A political party concerned only with economic growth would have nothing to say about the great moral questions that have agitated American politics for years. What is marriage? What lives should be protected by law? No country can ignore these questions, nor can it answer them with reference only to their impact on economic growth.

Pressed on the deficiencies of a shallowly materialistic politics of economic growth, Will might respond that his public philosophy's moral content is supplied by the principle of personal autonomy or individual liberty. Thus Will denounces the Supreme Court's rulings upholding the Affordable Care Act, but embraces the Court's decision to redefine marriage for all fifty states. More recently, Will has come out in favor of a "right" to physician-assisted suicide. Will, once the most traditionalist of all conservative commentators, is now simply a libertarian ideologue. This is a remarkable transformation for the popularizer of Burke who once wrote a book to instruct conservatives that "statecraft" is and must be "soulcraft."

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Actually, Everyone Benefits From Free Trade (Adam Ozimek, 10/18/15, Forbes)

[C]onsider three counterfactuals.

Counterfactual #1 is we somehow freeze trade with China at 1990 levels, when Autor, Dorn, and Hanson's investigation starts. How is this done? Through strict import quotas or high tariffs? What are the deadweight losses associated with this, and what is China's response? Presumably they would make a similar move, and it seems likely this kind of behavior would set off a global trade war. Tell me: would those communities that were subsequently made worse off by more trade with China be better off if we started a global trade war? Let's say I'll grant that it's possible that some communities who had the most harm from increased trade with China might still be net beneficiaries from this shutdown of China trade, but it's far from clear.

And this isn't even the most appropriate counterfactual. Instead, consider Counterfactual #2 where we shut down all trade in 1990 and went to full autarky. After all, if our claim is that the local economies are hurt by trade then turn trade off entirely should benefit them. But you'd be hard pressed to find an economist who thinks the move to full autarky would make anyone better off on net. Which means we agree that even these harmed communities are still net beneficiaries of free trade.

Of course, the full impacts of free trade accumulate over time as countries specialize further. So to understand free trade's true net effect you'd have to examine Counterfactual #3, which would examine the effects of going back in time and having the U.S. institute autarky in full way back in the 1700s and staying there forever. Not even the most anti-trade economist in the world would claim that this would make any part of the U.S. better off today.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Pius XII, co-conspirator in tyrannicide (George Weigel, October 13, 2015, Catholic Difference)

When Italy declared war on the Allies - after the initial, swift success of the German invasion of the Low Countries and France seemed to suggest who was going to win World War II - Allied diplomats accredited to the Holy See but living in Rome fled into the Vatican and were housed there throughout the war. So did democratically-minded Italians on Mussolini's hit list - like Alcide de Gasperi, who would become Italy's first post-war Christian Democratic prime minister.

Another boundary of consequence was defined by the walls surrounding the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo. Thousands of Italian Jews were hidden there, and dozens of babies were born in Pope Pius XII's bedroom, some of them given the names "Eugenio" or "Eugenia" in honor of the pontiff who saved their parents's lives.

These facts of Pius's actions, like his quiet orders to hide Roman Jews in Catholic facilities, are reasonably well-known, if often ignored in the polemics that surround the debate over Pius XII's and the Holy See's actions (or inactions, or silences) during the war. A new book by intelligence specialist Mark Riebling, Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler (Basic Books), adds a mass of new evidence to what we know, now, about what the Pope and the Church did to deal with the mortal threat to civilization posed by Hitler and German National Socialism.

In a word: Pius was complicit in a variety of plots, initiated by patriotic, anti-Nazi Germans, to assassinate Hitler and replace the Nazi regime with a government that would make peace with the West.

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


The 'Un-Mosquing' of American Muslims : Some Muslim leaders are pursuing more inclusive ways to experience the faith. (MIRANDA KENNEDY, 10/18/15, The Atlantic)

Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion. In the United States, the number of Muslims has doubled over a span of seven years, according to a Pew study. But generational changes are presenting a challenge to Muslim leaders in the U.S. Some say Millennials and Generation X-ers are less likely to stay affiliated with the mosque they grew up in than their parents because they feel hemmed in by the expectations, rules, and practices. This is especially the case for immigrant Muslims, who make up 63 percent of America's Muslim population.

Latif's parents are from India, and growing up in Rhode Island, she spent a lot of time at their South Asian-run mosque, where her father was on the board. There, she learned to dress modestly, and to always cover her hair while praying. Those habits continued into adulthood, but when she started exploring new places to pray, she worried that she'd be criticized for the ways in which she is more liberal than other Muslim women: wearing pants rather than skirts while visiting the mosque, and not covering her hair outside of the mosque. As a just-divorced adult, Latif hoped to find a community where people were more focused on the broad principles of Islam than on the modern-day application of the Koranic dress code. [...]

The ideas behind the un-mosquing movement first surfaced in the Bay Area in the early 2000s, and gained more momentum among Muslim Americans in 2012. A 2014 film called UnMosqued documents some of the reasons that these Muslims want to leave their mosques, such as a lack of democracy, transparency, and equality. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


Where new cooperation could lead : The history of Iran and America is full of bitter memories on both sides. Could that ugly history ever give way to a sunnier view? (Marshall Ingwerson, OCTOBER 18, 2015, CS Monitor)

One of the ironies of our time is that the people of Iran are among the most pro-American in the greater Middle East. Sure, Americans may find it hard not to take those "Death to America" chants at least a bit personally. But Americans who have been to Iran find that on the streets and in shops and restaurants, they are greeted with enthusiasm.  [...]

The mild and methodical Mr. Rouhani is himself a change from the flaming, holocaust-denying, anti-American provocateur Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he succeeded only two years ago. Rouhani argues that the importance of the recent nuclear deal he reached with the United States and five other countries could be the beginning of a whole different relationship that will, in the long run, matter much more than the deal itself.

If trust can grow between Iran and the US, if people in both countries can see - even over the next few months - that dialogue can work, then that new atmosphere opens many possibilities for cooperating around common interests, Rouhani said. He added that even Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - the chief keeper of the conservative, anti-American flame - is open to this possibility. "So this path is not closed."

Rouhani suggested that Iran and the West could find common cause in the "existential fight against terrorism," and against Islamic State in particular. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Canadians gripped by close election battle (Anna Nicolaou, 10/18/15, Financial Times)

Canada, the biggest oil exporter in the G7, has been hit by the dive in commodity prices, prompting the Bank of Canada to cut interest rates twice this year and dragging its economy into five consecutive months of contraction. Mr Harper, who was commended for his economic credentials after Canada emerged from the 2008 financial crisis relatively unscathed, saw his pro-oil policies come under attack as he kick-started an election race in August.

In a campaign in which two-thirds of the population appear to want the incumbent party out, success for the Conservatives' opponents has hinged on which candidate could make themselves the face of change, with many voters calling for "anything but Harper".

Basing an economy on Malthusianism wasn't sensible.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


A Harvard Economist. A Coup Plot. A Career Forever Changed. (Marc Parry OCTOBER 16, 2015, The Chronicle Review)

Taraf, a feisty upstart newspaper with an avid following among the country's liberal intellectuals, had begun to publish what purported to be secret military documents from 2002-3. These revealed an operation, code-named Sledgehammer, to destabilize and overthrow the newly elected government of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party. The plot, though never carried out, was packed with grisly details: Mosques were to be bombed, a jet downed, journalists arrested. It was also consistent with Turkey's long history of military coups.

When Rodrik and his wife spoke with Cetin Dogan, though, the general told them he'd never heard of Sledgehammer. They believed him. But that only deepened the mystery. Were the coup plans genuine? Had Dogan's name somehow been added to them? Rodrik and Pinar Dogan began to investigate the coup documents, which eventually became the centerpiece of a landmark court case that targeted hundreds of military officers. Many called it Turkey's "trial of the century." The two economists called it a fraud.

As a social scientist, Rodrik had always believed in the power of evidence to change people's minds. His Sledgehammer investigation revealed the coup plans to be forgeries. The evidence was clearer than anything he had ever encountered in economics. But it didn't matter. People clung to the story regardless.

To his bafflement, Rodrik found himself in a battle with Turkey's intellectual establishment: fellow liberals, many of whom he was friendly with, who shared his hopes for a more democratic country. Critics accused him of supporting militarism, of disgracing Harvard's reputation, of manipulating the facts to save his father-in-law. Once a favorite son, the Turkish economist with the highest global profile, he was forced to avoid his homeland for fear of detention.

It's a personal ordeal that still wakes Rodrik up at night. But it has also become more: the springboard for a new way of studying politics.

Dani Rodrik sat down to tell that story in April in his bright, roomy office at Princeton, N.J.'s Institute for Advanced Study, which he and Pinar Dogan joined in 2013. Rodrik's writing can be shrill, but in person his vaguely foreign voice rarely rises. He is a tall, graceful man with gray hair, a slight smile, and a modest demeanor -- generally. This morning he can't help mentioning that his Twitter profile, open on his desktop computer, has just hit 50,000 followers. He is describing that social-media audience -- about 40 percent of it comes from Turkey -- when four quick knocks at the door announce the arrival of Dogan, who works nearby in a much smaller space that is decorated with Radiohead album art. "I told Dani that I want to have a tent over here," she jokes. "Just give up my office."

Though Rodrik and Dogan share a discipline, in background, personality, and research focus the two are not much alike. Rodrik, 58, hails from Turkey's small Jewish community, the son of a self-made pen manufacturer who managed to send his son to Harvard. Dogan, 42, grew up moving among Italy, London, and southeastern Turkey, the migratory life of a military daughter. Rodrik is reserved. Dogan is animated. Rodrik is a public figure whose accessible books, columns, and blog posts speak to policy issues debated around the globe. Dogan is a more narrowly focused researcher who specializes in industrial organization, competition policy, and regulation.

By the time Rodrik got to know Dogan's father in 2004, the four-star general had already retired from the military, as the economist recalls in a long personal essay about Sledgehammer. Rodrik expected an authoritarian character; he found a soft-spoken man who doted on his daughter. But there was no chance he could win the general over to his political views. Cetin Dogan, like many Turks of an older generation, viewed the military as an essential backstop against Turkey's sliding into an Islamic state. Rodrik, like other liberals, wanted to see the military's role diminished.

Until the late 1990s, Turkey's intensely secular military had dominated politics in the mostly Muslim nation. It clashed with Islamist-rooted political movements like the Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leading figure in Turkish politics since he become prime minister in 2003 and president in 2014. The military also repeatedly stepped in to oust governments. General Dogan himself had played an important role in what is known as the "postmodern coup" of 1997, as Rodrik describes in his essay. The military, he writes, had "tightened the screws" on Erdogan's Islamist forerunner, Necmettin Erbakan. "There had been a purge of suspected Islamists in the bureaucracy and universities," Rodrik writes. Erbakan eventually had to resign.

"A lot of people hate my father-in-law in Turkey," Rodrik says, "because they associate him with a hardline view that has done much damage to the deepening of democracy."

But was he the murderous putschist depicted in the Sledgehammer plans? Soon after the coup story broke, Rodrik and Pinar Dogan began to spot odd inconsistencies. The first glaring anachronism concerned a well-known nationalist youth organization that had been named as a Sledgehammer collaborator in the core coup document, dated December 2002. The group turned out not to have been founded until 2006. For Rodrik and Dogan, that suggested a way forward. They weren't military experts. But they could search for further inconsistencies. "If they made one mistake," Dogan told her husband, "they must have made more."

Many more. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


How Tom Wolfe Became ... Tom Wolfe : .Michael Lewis delves deep into the archives of the legendary reporter turned novelist to discover what made the man in the white suit the voice of a journalistic generation. (MICHAEL LEWIS, November 2015, Vanity Fair)

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. was born on March 2, 1930, and grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the son of a conservative, God-respectful southern editor of an agricultural trade magazine. Home was never something he was looking to get away from; it was never even something he was looking to pretend he was looking to get away from. He was accepted at Princeton but chose to attend Washington and Lee, to remain close to home. Every now and then one of his teachers would note that he had a way with words, and some artistic talent, but artistic ambition, for a conservative southern male in the 1950s or really any other time, was too vague and impractical to indulge. After college, he took the advice of his professor and went to Yale, for a doctorate in American studies--and right up to this point in his life there isn't a trace of institutional rebellion in him. He pitches for the baseball team, pleases his teachers, has an ordinary, not artistic, group of pals, and is devoted to his mother and father.

The moment he leaves the South, something comes over him. Whatever it is, the feeling seems to be heightened by the sight of a blank sheet of paper. For instance, he creates (while he's meant to be writing a Yale dissertation) an elaborate parody of a Beat poet, "Jocko Thor," complete with a small book of poems and a short biography. Jocko Thor has given birth to a "new poetic genre called Bonkism." In his preface he explains: "Most of these poems were composed beneath a Coca-Cola sign in the town of Accident, Maryland, in February of 1956. They are dedicated to my childe bride whom I first met on that very spot." There follows what is essentially a book of short poems written, it seems, purely for Wolfe's own amusement--he never mentions them to anyone.

"Regular Fellows 
We walk the sidewalk brick by brick 
We climb the brass-clapped stairs 
We spit into each other's faces 
And never put on airs."

"The Martyr 
... A Freudian Poem 
In a moment I'll resume my martyrdom 
In a moment, ready to trick myself, 
Goad myself, to vex myself 
With expert taunts, 
I'll exhale and open my eyes. 
Small designs will writhe 
Behind my eyelids 
Like bullwhips."

And so on. For the first time in his life, it appears, Tom Wolfe has been provoked. He has left home and found, on the East Coast, the perpetual revolt of High Culture against God, Country, and Tradition. He happens to have landed in a time and place in which art--like the economy that supports it--is essentially patricidal. It's all about tearing up and replacing what came before. The young Tom Wolfe is intellectually equipped to join some fashionable creative movement and set himself in opposition to God, Country, and Tradition; emotionally, not so much. He doesn't use his new experience of East Coast sophisticates to distance himself from his southern conservative upbringing; instead he uses his upbringing to distance himself from the new experience. He picks for his Ph.D. dissertation topic the Communist influences on American writers, 1928-1942. From their response to it, the Yale professors, who would have approved the topic in advance, had no idea of the spirit in which Wolfe intended to approach it:

"Dear Mr. Wolfe:

I am personally acutely sorry to have to write you this letter but I want to inform you in advance that all of your readers reports have come in, and ... I am sorry to say I anticipate that the thesis will not be recommended for the degree.... The tone was not objective but was consistently slanted to disparage the writers under consideration and to present them in a bad light even when the evidence did not warrant this." [Letter from Yale dean to T.W., May 19, 1956.]

To this comes appended the genuinely shocked reviews of three Yale professors. It's as if they can't quite believe this seemingly sweet-natured and well-mannered southern boy has gone off half cocked and ridiculed some of the biggest names in American literature. The Yale grad student had treated the deeply held political conviction of these great American artists as--well, as a ploy in a game of status seeking. This student seemed to have gone out of his way to turn these serious American intellectuals into figures of fun. "The result is more journalistically tendentious than scholarly.... Wolfe's polemical rhetoric is ... a chief consideration of my decision to fail the dissertation." To top it all off ... he'd taken some license with the details. One outraged reviewer compared Wolfe's text with his cited sources and attached the comparison. Sample Wolfe passage: "At one point 'the Cuban delegation' tramped in. It was led by a fierce young woman named Lola de la Torriente. With her bobbed hair, leather jacket, and flat-heeled shoes, she looked as though she had just left the barricades. Apparently she had. 'This is where our literature is being built,' exclaimed she, 'on the barricades!' " Huffed the reviewer: "There is no description of her in the source, and the quotations do not appear in the reference."

Which is to say that, as a 26-year-old graduate student, just as a 12-year-old letter writer, Tom Wolfe was already recognizably himself. He'd also found a lens through which he might view, freshly, all human behavior. He'd gone to Yale with the thought he would study his country by reading its literature and history and economics. He wound up discovering sociology--and especially Max Weber's writings about the power of status seeking. The lust for status, it seemed to him, explained why otherwise intelligent American writers lost their minds and competed with one another to see just how devoted to the Communist cause they could be. In a funny way, Yale served him extremely well: it gave him a chance to roam and read and bump into new ideas. But he didn't immediately see that:

"These stupid fucks have turned down namely my dissertation, meaning I will have to stay here about a month longer to delete all the offensive passages and retype the sumitch. They called my brilliant manuscript 'journalistic' and 'reactionary,' which means I must go through with a blue pencil and strike out all the laughs and anti-Red passages and slip in a little liberal merde, so to speak, just to sweeten it. I'll discuss with you how stupid all these stupid fucks are when I see you." [T.W., aged 26, letter to a friend, June 9, 1956.]

He re-writes his thesis. He lards it up with academic jargon and creates a phony emotional distance from his material (he refers to "an American writer E. Hemingway"), and it is accepted. Then he flees Yale as fast as he can. He's entering his late 20s with only the faintest idea of what he might do to earn a living. But he's ambitious, eager to find his place in the world. His father introduces him to business associates. Wolfe writes to the head of a sales institute and sends "excerpts from work I have done on the subject of Communist activity among American writers and other 'intellectuals.' " He applies for jobs in public relations. He writes to American Airlines to inquire about a post. He even considers, briefly, a position teaching economics.

In short, he doesn't have any clear idea of what to do, although he has long liked the notion of being a writer or an artist. In May of 1955 he had written to the dean of Washington and Lee University, "I am thinking very seriously of going into journalism or a related field," but he was slow to pursue it, as he was sure it would disappoint his parents. He writes to one of his father's friends and confesses what he really wants to be is a sportswriter. Finally, he sends letters and curricula vitae to newspapers, offering his services as either a journalist or a graphic artist. (As a child he had enjoyed drawing and still seems at this point in his life as interested in drawing as in writing.) Only one newspaper writes back to express interest: the Springfield Union, in eastern Massachusetts. In 1956, at the age of 26, he takes the job.

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


The state, already home to a large Middle Eastern population, has accepted about 75 Syrian refugees this year and is making the case that it's ready for more of about 10,000 that the Obama administration has pledged to take in.

Unlike places where people have been wary about Syrian refugees, Michigan sees them as a societal and economic boon, one solution to population loss. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is bucking some party leaders and working with federal officials on resettlement plans.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Four Israeli cities ban Arab workers from schools : Tel Aviv and the nearby cities of Rehovot and Hod Hasharon avoided using the word "Arab" in announcing that maintenance workers and cleaners - many of whom are Arabs - would not be allowed into schools. ( Jeffrey Heller, 10/18/15, Reuters)

At least four Israeli cities, including the commercial capital Tel Aviv, have banned Arab laborers from their schools, struggling to calm public fears fueled by the worst surge of Palestinian street attacks in years.

Israel's Interior Ministry, which oversees municipalities, declined immediate comment on Sunday on the decision, condemned by a party representing the country's Arab minority as racist.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


It's long been believed that half of America's marriages end in divorce and the problem is just as bad in the Church as the rest of the country.

But when Harvard-trained researcher Shaunti Feldhahn tried to find the actual research to prove those points, she couldn't. It started her on an eight-year odyssey to find the actual facts. [...]

In her book, The Good News About Marriage, Feldhahn lays out what she found during her eight years of investigating the complicated, complex divorce statistics.

First, the divorce rate is way below 50 percent and much lower for those who attend church.

Feldhahn estimates the overall divorce rate for the country is around 31 percent. The studies of people who regularly go to church all show a much lower divorce rate for them.

"Maybe 15 percent, maybe 20 percent for all marriages."

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


She Kills People From 7,800 Miles Away : Her name is 'Sparkle.' She operates a drone. She is sick of whiny boys. And she is perfectly OK with dealing out death.  (KEVIN MAURER, 10/18/15, TheDailyBeast

Anne crawled out of bed in her North Las Vegas house around 10 p.m. and started to get ready for her shift.

She pulled her chestnut hair into a bun and slipped on her olive green flight suit. In the kitchen, she packed fruit to snack on during her shift and stuffed her schoolwork into her backpack-sized lunchbox just in case it's a boring night. Most nights she doesn't have a chance to open a book.

Giving her dog, a tan Sher-Pei/pit bull mix, one last pat, she left her house and joined thousands of other workers leaving for the midnight shift. Whi le most people were heading to hotels and casinos in town, Hubbard was on her way to Creech Air Force Base and a war. Anne, an Air Force staff sergeant, was--and still is--a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) sensor operator or "sensor." At Creech, she is assigned to a reconnaissance squadron flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Few weapons in the American arsenal are more relentless than the RPA fleet, often called drones. For more than a decade, the United States has flown RPAs over Afghanistan and Iraq, providing forces on the ground with an eye in the sky to spot terrorists and insurgents, and in most cases the firepower to destroy them.

As she rode to work, Anne--or "Sparkle" as she's known to her fellow drone operators--wasn't focused on the desert outside her window. It was 2009 and President Obama was sending troops in a surge to Afghanistan. Sparkle's mind was on a desert 7,800 miles away. Over the next 24 hours she would track an insurgent, watch as he was killed by a Hellfire missile, and spy on his funeral before ending her night with a breakfast beer and a trip to the dog park. [...]

It is not unheard of for crews to track a target for two to three months. The constant surveillance creates an intimacy other fighter pilots and even soldiers don't have with the target. The crews get to know the target's family. They know the family's mosque, the kid's school. "I understand there is an intimacy you get with your target," Sparkle said. "However, you're a bad guy and you're doing bad things to the people I am here to support. We just don't go out there and shoot stuff. There is a reason. They are always associated with some part of hurting our friendly forces. At the end of the day, when you boil it down to that one point, the rest of it goes out the window." Back over the compound, Sparkle and Spade watched and waited for hours. Two hours after the shift started, the target finally came out of the door dressed in the baggy shirt and pants typical of the region. "He's coming out," Sparkle said as the crosshairs rotated to put the man in the middle of the screen. There was excitement as both Spade and Sparkle instantly locked on him. The crosshairs followed him as he stopped along the wall to take a leak. Finished, he walked back into the compound. That kind of thing went on for hours until he finally got onto the motorbike. Headsets go on. Extra radios go off. No one is allowed in the room. It is very quiet. "Headsets on mean game time," Sparkle said. "We're fangs out."

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Turkey's state-run news agency says police have conducted pre-dawn raids on 17 locations in Istanbul and detained some 50 people suspected of being linked to the Islamic State group.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The comedian, political commentator and talkshow host Bill Maher put Bernie Sanders under pressure on Friday night, over how the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination would pay for his "socialist" agenda for the nation.

Appearing on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Sanders walked on stage to rapturous cheers from a traditionally liberal studio audience. Maher began softly, by declaring that he supported the 74-year-old independent Vermont senator for the Democratic nomination.

But in a surprise move, Maher then challenged Sanders to explain exactly how he would raise the money for policies such as universal healthcare and free tuition at public colleges.

Maher accused Sanders of merely "preaching to the converted" with his radical message, at large rallies that have won him between 25% and 30% of Democratic support in national polls. [...]

On Friday night, Maher said: "The tax revenue that you would get just from taxing the people who I think your fans think you're talking about, the people who own a yacht, doesn't come close to covering what you want to pay for."

Sanders looked surprised. [...]

"But it couldn't even work in your home state of Vermont," Maher said. "They were going to institute it, and the governor said, 'It's going to cost too much money. We just can't do it. It would be the entire budget.' That's true."

Sanders seemed unsure how to respond.

"No ... well, it's not..." he stammered. "I'm not the governor from the state of Vermont, I'm the senator from the state of Vermont ..."

If you're not ready for a question about National Health what have you been doing for the past 74 years?
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The United States' surprise allies in Syria (David Ignatius, October 15, 2015, Washington Post)

A Syrian Kurdish militia that was initially seen by U.S. commanders as a sideshow has emerged as the strongest U.S.-backed force against the Islamic State -- forcing a hasty reevaluation of U.S. strategy after the collapse of a $500 million plan for training and equipping Syrian rebels.

U.S. military commanders are now recommending a "Syria first" strategy that relies on the Kurdish fighters and a smaller Arab force to move gradually toward the Islamic State's capital of Raqqa, just 25 miles south of the Kurds' forward positions. 

It's 2015 and they still don't recognize the value of the Kurds?

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Christianity was the only way out, says North Korean defector (Ed Pilkington, 18 October 2015, The Guardian)

The first time Joseph Kim heard the words "Christian" and "church", he had no idea what they meant. He had never seen a church and Christianity was as unfamiliar to him in his famine-ravaged North Korea as Disneyland.

"Kwang Jin", a friend said to him, using the Korean name by which Kim was then known, "if you ever go to China, the churches will give you money."

To which Kim replied: "What's a church? Why would they just give you money?"

"Because they're Christians," the friend said.

"What are Christians?" Kim asked.

That Kim should have known nothing about Christianity when he was growing up in North Korea was hardly surprising. Born in 1990, the only belief system to which he was exposed as a child was reverence, mixed with fear, for the Great Leader. [...]

"How do I find this church?" he asked.

"Look for a cross," she replied.

His search took him to a number of churches in Tumen City, the Chinese town where he arrived close to the North Korean border, and through them he was introduced to a network of Chinese-Korean Christians who were to prove his salvation.

"If that hadn't happened, I don't know what other route I could have taken," Kim said in an interview with the Guardian in New York, where he now lives. "I didn't have any relatives or friends I could find inside China, so this was my only hope."

Unbeknown to Kim at that time, his connection with the Christians meant that he had entered the most sophisticated underground support network for North Korean defectors then in existence inside China.

Backed with money and logistical support from South Korean-based, largely Presbyterian, churches, an intricate system was in place for hiding away, and then providing escape routes, for people who had fled famine or persecution in the DPRK.

In Kim's case, he was sheltered in the home of a Korean-Chinese woman, aged about 75, whom he called Grandma. A woman of strong faith, she was a member of a South Korean church, which paid some of her rent and the expenses she incurred looking after North Korean defectors.

It was a dangerous arrangement. If Grandma had been caught harbouring Kim, she would have faced a 5,000-yuan (£520) penalty - an enormous sum for her. If Kim had been caught, he would have been deported back to North Korea, where his connection with Christianity would have been severely punished.

"Public execution would have been highly possible, but definitely I would have been sent to a prison camp back in North Korea," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


The United States was set to issue conditional sanctions waivers for Iran on Sunday, though it cautioned they will not take effect until Tehran has curbed its nuclear program as required under a historic nuclear deal reached in Vienna on July 14. [...]

In addition to Washington's conditional orders to suspend U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, the officials said the United States, China and Iran would release a joint statement on Sunday committing themselves to the redesign and reconstruction of the Arak research reactor so that it does not produce plutonium.

The fate of the Arak reactor was one of the toughest sticking points in the nearly two years of negotiations that led to the July agreement.

Other steps Iran must take to meet the requirements of the deal include reducing the number of uranium-enrichment centrifuges it has in operation, cutting its enriched uranium stocks and answering U.N. questions about past nuclear activities the West suspects were tied to weapons work.

One U.S. official noted that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran already has met its obligation to provide answers and access to the agency. 

The so-called Additional Protocol goes beyond basic oversight provided by the safeguards agreement that IAEA member nations have with the agency. For instance, it allows short-notice inspections of sites the IAEA may suspect of undeclared nuclear activities.

October 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Paul comes under pressure to focus on Senate seat (ADAM BEAM and STEVE PEOPLES, Oct. 17, 2015, AP)

[B]ack in Kentucky, a growing chorus of Republicans suggested that Paul's Senate re-election was by no means guaranteed, despite the state's strong GOP leanings and the lack of a clear Democratic challenger.

"He could lose both positions," said Patricia Vincent, chairwoman of the Graves County Republican Party. "He just needs to work a little bit more to make sure he still has a seat in the Senate."

While Paul's national numbers hover in the low single digits, he continues to divert resources from his Senate campaign to his presidential bid.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Almost two-thirds of Arab Israelis believe that in order to quell the recent outbreak of violence, the Israeli government must unequivocally assure Muslims that it will not change the status quo at the Temple Mount or harm the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a new Channel 2 poll published Saturday found.

According to the survey, conducted by the Midgam Institute and Statnet, 64 percent of those polled said a clear message by Israel that it would protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque would be most effective in halting attacks, and 60% urged Israel to launch immediate talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


The Twenty-First Century Retirement Model is Coming Into Focus : The American people are still caught in the transition between two different retirement systems. That needs to change, and it will. (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 10/17/15, American Interest)

Defined benefit pension systems have rules that strongly favor long term workers. Workers often didn't qualify for pensions until they worked a threshold number of years--if you left the company before you 'vested', you lost your pension benefits. And because length of service played a large role in calculating pension benefits, workers who changed jobs or careers often ended up with very small pensions. There have been heartrending cases of workers in manufacturing companies who lost everything when their jobs went abroad before they had worked enough years to collect a good pension. And in their 40s and 50s, many could not replace those jobs or the lost pension benefits.

Another consequence of the transition to a post-blue economy: a defined benefit pensions is less reliable.  The pension plan is only as solid as the company that guarantees it. That might have been tolerable 50 years ago, when the American economy was more stable and less dynamic than it is now. But these days, companies can and do go bankrupt regularly. There aren't many floppy disk manufacturers around and the phonograph needle manufacturing industry went belly up years ago. Even new economy companies like Netflix could see their business models swiftly upended by technological change. Accelerating technological change and increased global competition not only mean more job shifting; they mean that more companies go out of business--and that means more insecurity for people who are depending on a single employer to guarantee their life pensions.
So for reasons that have nothing to do with evil corporate greed, there is a strong case for moving from an employer centered pension system that favors life time employment to a worker centered, portable model.

That is what 401(k) plans are all about. Workers make contributions into tax deferred accounts; companies match those contributions depending on their policies, and over a career the pension follows the worker. This is good news: You can accumulate retirement savings all through your career, no matter how many different employers you have. You don't lose if you change jobs, and you don't lose out if your employer goes broke.

Ultimately, the new economy makes a new, worker-based pension system necessary. However, the shift isn't happening smoothly and there are several problems. Some have to do with the transition from the old system to something new, some with the difficulties of setting up an appropriate regulatory and management system for something as complex and important as a retirement system on which tens of millions of elderly Americans of very different economic circumstances will depend. Finally, there is the problem of resistance: the opposition of interests who want to preserve the blue model system for various reasons.

The biggest problem for the transition has been under-saving. People whose parents relied on defined benefit systems haven't grown up with the expectation that you need to make large, regular contributions into your retirement plan starting with your earliest years in the workforce. In many cases, younger workers and workers without a lot of spare cash failed to salt enough money away. As a result, we have a transitional generation whose retirement savings are way short of what they will likely need. That's likely to be a big policy headache as the post-defined benefit generations hit old age.

As this Journal article shows, companies are beginning to respond.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Trump swam in mob-infested waters in early years as an NYC developer (Robert O'Harrow Jr. October 16, 2015, Washington Post)

As he fed the political machine, he also had to work with unions and companies known to be controlled by New York's ruling mafia families, which had infiltrated the construction industry, according to court records, federal task force reports and newspaper accounts. No serious presidential candidate has ever had Trump's depth of documented business relationships with mob-controlled entities.

The companies included S&A Concrete , which supplied building material to the Trump Plaza on Manhattan's East Side, court records show. S&A was owned by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family. The men required that major multimillion-dollar construction projects obtain concrete through S&A at inflated prices, according to a federal indictment of Salerno and others.

Salerno eventually went to prison on federal racketeering, bid-rigging and other charges. His attorney, Roy Cohn, the former chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), was one of the most politically connected men in Manhattan. He was also Trump's friend and occasionally his attorney. Cohn was never charged over any dealings with the mob, but he was disbarred shortly before his death in 1986 for ethical and financial improprieties.

"The construction industry in New York City has learned to live comfortably with pervasive corruption and racketeering," according to "Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry," a 1990 report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. "Perhaps those with strong moral qualms were long ago driven from the industry... "

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Senior al-Qaida commander killed in Syria airstrike (Bassem Mroue, 10/17/15, Associated Press)

An airstrike has killed a top al-Qaida commander and two other fighters in Syria, activists said Saturday, but it was not immediately clear whether it was carried out by the U.S.-led coalition or Russian warplanes.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


Spanglish: TV's new language (Octavio Blanco, 10/16/15, CNNMoney)

Telemundo has joined a cadre of networks that are focused on attracting the bilingual Latino audience.

The network is airing a new "telenovela" about Celia Cruz, the Cuban-American, New York and New Jersey-bred, Salsa queen. The show is a mix of Spanish and English and aimed at a bilingual U.S. Latino audience. [...]

Univision and Disney have Fusion, a TV and internet news channel focused primarily on Millenials, but it dedicates a good amount of coverage to Latino issues and includes "America with Jorge Ramos.

But besides Fusion, it's unclear how Univision is planning to address its disappearing Spanish-speaking audience. It recently lost "Sabado Gigante" a popular variety show hosted by the venerable Dom Francisco.

While many in Latin media expressed nostalgic feelings about the show going off the air, some were happy to see it go. The Guardian website posted an opinion piece by Aura Bogado titled "Latinos outgrew Sábado Gigante's racism and misogyny long before it ended."

Last month, Lorne Michael's Broadway Video announced it's teaming up with SNL veterans Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen to create a digital comedy channel aimed at the English-speaking Hispanic audience.

...is that they've assimilated much faster than your family did.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra continues today with a nine-hour marathon concert at Symphony Space in New York featuring over 50 singers and musicians who will perform 100 songs associated with the legendary singer.

Hosted by Jonathan Schwartz, longtime Sinatra aficionado and host of WNYC's The Jonathan Channel, which streams music from the great American songbook 24/7, the program will be broadcast on this channel in December.

Please, please, tell us they stream his Baseball Show on Superbowl Sunday....

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


Dion Lewis found the perfect fit with New England (Shaun Ranft, 10/16/15, Yardbarker)

So, how do the Patriots always seem to find these guys? The answer is simple--stop me if you've heard it before--but it's Bill Belichick. It always is. [...]

The biggest strengths for the 25-year-old are his quickness and elusiveness, but numerous teams overlooked him--he was a 5th round pick, after all--strictly because of his size. Lewis measures up at 5'7" and weighs just 193 pounds; not exactly a power back or someone you'd expect to carry the bulk of the load on most drives.

Of course, he isn't an every down back; Belichick and the Patriots understand that, and have utilized him very well thus far.

Upon getting the nod to start in Week 1 (he's started each game since), he was immediately compared to Vereen, with many wondering if he'd be used the same way. So far, with a look at the numbers, those comparisons would hold up.

That said, Lewis appears to have more to offer than Vereen overall.

In 42 career games for the Patriots, Vereen carried the ball 217 times--approximately 54 times per year over four seasons--for 907 yards, just 22 YPG but a respectable 4.2 YPC. He was targeted 159 times between 2012-2014--146 of those coming in '13 and '14--catching 107 of them, or 67 percent, for 1,023 yards (roughly 28 per game).

Lewis, having started each of New England's four games this year already, looks like he'll top those averages before too long if he's able to sustain his current production levels.

He's carried the ball 36 times for 180 (45 YPG, 5 YPC), while catching 23 of 30 targets (77 percent) for 238 yards, or 59.5 YPG.

He's only 25, Tom Brady is his QB--though nobody knows for how much longer--and Belichick is his head coach. Teams will eventually gameplan for him, but that may not matter. Vereen had quite the sustainable role in New England, and I expect Lewis to be an upgraded version of that, at the very least.

Size and circumstance kept Lewis from making an impact on teams in the past, but he's found the right fit in New England. More importantly, he's found the right coach in Belichick, who's been able to bring out the best in him.

But that's nothing new now, is it?

There was a hilarious bit on an NFL.com podcast this week where one of the analysts expressed wonderment at how every year "great coaches put players in situations they aren't suited for..."

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


As many as 12 percent of us actually started out as two cells in utero. But long before our would-be sibling could even grow a limb, we went all Cain and Abel on it. The cells took root somewhere in out developing body instead and grew into human tissue. Foreign human cells have been found in kidneys, livers, and the brain. And it's not just siblings either. Mothers have consumed the stem cells of their would-be children as well.

October 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Every night, France's chief weatherman has told the nation how much wind, sun or rain they can expect the following day.

Now Philippe Verdier, a household name for his nightly forecasts on France 2, has been taken off air after a more controversial announcement - criticising the world's top climate change experts.

Mr Verdier claims in the book Climat Investigation (Climate Investigation) that leading climatologists and political leaders have "taken the world hostage" with misleading data.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Turkey downs drone as Syria launches Aleppo offensive (MARIAM KAROUNY AND ORHAN COSKUN, 10/16/15, Reuters)

Turkey shot down a drone on Friday in an incident highlighting the dangers of multiple air combat operations over Syria, where government troops and their allies backed by Russian jets have launched an offensive against rebels near Aleppo. [...]

A U.S. official said Washington believed it was of Russian origin...

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Exposure to Nature Promotes Cooperation (TOM JACOBS, 10/16/15, Pacific Standard)

In the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a team led by Carleton University's John Zelenski describes three studies in which participants who watched short nature videos (some as brief as two minutes) were subsequently more likely to act in cooperative ways, such as harvesting virtual fish in a way that promotes sustainability. Even distressing nature scenes, such as a wolf pack hunting and killing an elk, had a positive effect.

The results support the notion that exposure to the natural world seems to "shift people's preferences from immediate gratification to larger but more distant payoffs"...

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


The Real Cuban Missile Crisis : Everything you think you know about those 13 days is wrong : a review of The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory By Sheldon M. Stern  (BENJAMIN SCHWARZ  JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2013, The Atlantic)

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous "missile gap" to grow in the U.S.S.R.'s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested--and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated--the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America's advantage. At the time of the missile crisis, the Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 138 long-range bombers with 392 nuclear warheads, and 72 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads (SLBMs). These forces were arrayed against a vastly more powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal of 203 ICBMs, 1,306 long-range bombers with 3,104 nuclear warheads, and 144 SLBMs--all told, about nine times as many nuclear weapons as the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America's huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well. [...]

Given America's powerful nuclear superiority, as well as the deployment of the Jupiter missiles, Moscow suspected that Washington viewed a nuclear first strike as an attractive option. They were right to be suspicious. The archives reveal that in fact the Kennedy administration had strongly considered this option during the Berlin crisis in 1961.

Indeed, after the USSR fell, officials there acknowledged that at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis they lacked the capacity to strike the US.  The failure to launch a first strike was a colossal failure on our part.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Companies to Workers: Start Saving More--Or We'll Do It for You : Firms are boosting the automatic retirement-savings rate--and finding little pushback from employees (KIRSTEN GRIND, Oct. 15, 2015, WSJ)

More American companies are turning to a new way of convincing employees to save more for retirement: make them do it.

Companies from Apache Corp. to Google Inc. to Credit Suisse Group AG have boosted the percentage of worker paychecks automatically diverted to 401(k) plans well above the long-held standard of 3%.

Some are setting aside as much as 10% of their workers' money or automatically increasing the amounts by 1% a year unless employees opt out. 

The problem is getting the money invested aggressively.
Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Saudi Arabia's Oil War With Russia (Leonid Bershidsky, 10/16/15, Bloomberg View)

At a recent investment forum, Igor Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil company, complained about the Saudis' entry into the Polish market. "They're dumping actively," he said. Other Russian oil executives are worried, too. "Isn't this move a first step toward a redivision of Western markets?" Nikolai Rubchenkov, an executive at Tatneft, said at an oil roundtable Thursday. "Shouldn't the government's energy strategy contain some measures to safeguard Russia's interests in its existing Western markets?"

European traders and refiners confirm that Saudi Arabia has been offering its oil at significant discounts, making it more attractive than Russian crude.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


Money is pouring in to Wall Street (Matt Egan, 10/16/15, CNN Money)

The Dow is at a two-month high and the S&P 500 has clawed its way back above the 2,000 threshold.

Furthermore, for the first time since early July investors have poured money back into both stock and bond funds globally, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch research on weekly fund flow data.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Putin Is Learning a Hard Lesson in Syria, but Pretends Easy Victory (Rob Garver, October 16, 2015, Fiscal Times)

The analysis published by the Institute for the Study of War claims a Syrian offensive launched under the cover of Russian air and artillery support last week has succeeded only in capturing a handful of villages. The ground forces, comprised of units from the Syrian Army and Iranian and Lebanese fighters, have paid a considerable cost to do so, according to multiple media reports.

ISW tends to be somewhat hawkish in its support of U.S. military involvement overseas and critical of Russian adventurism. However, the report offers a broad-based assessment based on a range of international sources.

"The Syrian regime has not gained much terrain in the first week of its large-scale ground offensive against rebel forces, despite support from intensified Russian airstrikes and hundreds of Iranian proxy reinforcements," wrote analyst Chris Kozak. "Operations against the Syrian opposition will likely prove harder and slower than anticipated by either Russia or Iran, protracting the conflict and exacerbating extremism."

October 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Saudi Arabia targets Russia in battle for European oil market (Dmitry Zhdannikov, Gleb Gorodyankin and Reem Shamseddine, 10/15/15, Reuters) 

From global majors such as Shell and Total to more modest Polish energy firms, oil refiners in Europe are cutting their longstanding use of Russian crude in favour of Saudi grades as the world's top exporters fight for market share.

Russia has for years been muscling in on Asian markets where Saudi Arabia was once the unchallenged dominant supplier. But now Riyadh is retaliating in Moscow's backyard of Europe with aggressive price discounting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Magna Carta Exhibition in China Is Abruptly Moved From University (MICHAEL FORSYTHE, OCT. 14, 2015, NY Times)

 China's leaders have long behaved as if nothing could daunt them. But an 800-year-old document written in Latin on sheepskin may have them running scared.

Magna Carta -- the Great Charter -- is on tour this year, celebrating eight centuries since it was issued in 1215 by King John of England. It is regarded as one of the world's most important documents because of language guaranteeing individual rights and holding the ruler subject to the law.

One of the few surviving 13th-century copies of the document was to go on display this week from Tuesday through Thursday at a museum at Renmin University of China in Beijing, the British Embassy said last week on its WeChat account. But then the exhibit was abruptly moved to the British ambassador's residence, with few tickets available to the public and no explanation given.

No Chinese idea has ever been contagious.
Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


According to Maureen Downey, founder of winefraud.com, his home was kept to 55 degrees. "His elderly mother had to have a space heater in her bedroom because it was so damned cold," says Downey. "The entire house was cellar temperature."

Inside the FBI found everything to produce counterfeit wine: corks, dozens of empty bottles and 18,000 labels of the world's rarest wines.

"The whole thing was a wine counterfeiting factory," says Downey. [...]

"Take for example one of the most highly counterfeited wines, which is 1945 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee Conti," Downey says. "That wine, they made two barrels of it, which is exactly 600 bottles."

Downey says she's finding counterfeit bottles of it all over the world. A genuine bottle would be worth well over $100,000.

And yet, says Downey, Kurniawan was able to sell much of it: "He would make it to order."

And he fooled plenty of people, selling at least $50 million worth of counterfeit wine. [...]

But how can you tell if a really old, $10,000 bottle of Bordeaux is real or fake?

"Nobody in the world, nobody, is able to authenticate via taste," says Downey of winefraud.com. "That has been proven over and over again."

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


For the last 15 years, Credit Suisse has been compiling data on where global private wealth is located. The data do not perfectly capture a U.S.-China economic comparison but they do not need to, they just need to be just somewhere in the ballpark. The reason some imprecision is acceptable is the stunning size of the gap they show between the U.S. and China. As of the middle of 2015, Credit Suisse puts the stock of American private wealth as $85.9 trillion and Chinese private wealth at $22.8 trillion.

There are many things to be said about this but they all pale before the number itself. What notion of China as peer or genuine challenger stands up to a $63 trillion private wealth gap? What information can compensate for $63 trillion?

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Two influential Fed governors this week urged a delay in tightening despite repeated messages from Chair Janet Yellen and others that "liftoff" was likely to come this year.

Some Fed officials also appear to have reconsidered a stimulus tool that had been dismissed as too risky: negative interest rates.

At least six current Fed policymakers over the last two weeks have publicly discussed charging banks to park funds at the central bank. Four suggested it would be worth considering if the recovery falters badly and one, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, urged an immediate cut below zero.

"Once unthinkable, the fact negative rates are creeping in the public debate mean we can't dismiss them anymore," said Standard Chartered senior economist Thomas Costerg.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


House Republicans Give Clinton Another Gift on Behghazi (Rob Garver , October 15, 2015, Reuters)

[A]s soon as those headlines began to fade, another Republican member of the House repeated the claim that the purpose of the hearings was to damage Clinton.

In an interview with the Utica, N.Y., radio station WIBX, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) said, "Kevin McCarthy basically blew himself up with that comment over the Benghazi committee ... Sometimes the biggest sin you can commit in D.C. is to tell the truth."

"This may not be politically correct," Hanna said, "but I think there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after an individual, Hillary Clinton."

"After what Kevin McCarthy said, it's difficult to accept at least a part of it was not," he said. "I think that's the way Washington works. But you'd like to expect more from a committee that's spent millions of dollars and tons of time."

October 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


She's the Boss (W. Kamau Bell, October 10th, LA Review of Books)

By any measure, Doc McStuffins is a more reliable and trustworthy TV doctor than Doctor Oz. And she's not even real.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


In Israel, attacks fuel calls to separate from Palestinians (Joshua Mitnick, OCTOBER 14, 2015, CS Monitor)

Like other Raanana residents who experienced the attacks, Mr. Taussi believes the solution to the upsurge in violence is to forge increased separation between Israelis and Palestinians. In his case, that means giving the Palestinians a state.

"What is there to manage?" he says. "Give them control of their own area, and we control our area. You can't control three to four million people.''

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


Five Studies: Should We Care If People Aren't Working? (LIVIA GERSHON, 10/14/15, Pacific Standard)

In September, the labor force participation rate--the percentage of Americans ages 16 and up who are either working or looking for a job--hit a 38-year low, at just 62.4 percent. This worries a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. Fewer Americans in the workforce means lower economic growth. It's also likely to leave workers with less leverage to demand higher pay. And the people who aren't working may be losing out on the benefits of mental stimulation and social contact that a job provides.

But, when we look beyond the knee-jerk assumption that more jobs are always better, the decline in work raises deeper questions. Are the things we do for money always the best use of our time? How should we balance the value of paid work compared with leisure time, education, and time spent taking care of our homes and children? If being without a job seems like a catastrophe, is it because we value work or because of the stigma attached to unemployment?

Research on jobs, and joblessness, shows that the decline in the labor force has a lot to do with larger demographic forces. But it's also about tradeoffs in the ways we spend our time. And if not being able to find a job makes people miserable--which it often does--there may be better solutions than simply trying to funnel more and more working hours into the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Forget the debate: Two simple reasons a Republican will likely win in 2016 (Clifford Young and Julia Clark October 14, 2015, Reuters)

Modeling results is a simple concept: look at past data, identify patterns, and use those patterns to make predictions. So we begin by aggregating data from past U.S. presidential elections, but are immediately hampered by the fact that there aren't very many elections to work from -- 25 if we go back 100 years.

So we created a much larger database of elections by looking beyond the United States to hundreds of presidential and parliamentary elections in democratic countries around the world. This exercise gave us far more data to work with: a sample size of more than 450 elections from 35 countries.

The most important finding from our model is the power of incumbency: if you already hold the office you seek, you are far more likely than not to retain it. Our model showed that incumbents have a threefold greater chance of beating their opponent. When no incumbent is running, successor candidates (in this case, Democrats) are three times less likely to win.

From our database of global elections we also learned about the importance of knowing where the public stands on the direction their country and leadership are going. Are they generally happy or unhappy with the government? There are a few ways to measure this, but the most universal (and therefore the one we use) is approval ratings of the sitting leader or president.

Our model proves the power of presidential approval ratings. It determines that in order for a successor candidate to have better than even chances of winning, the sitting president must have an approval rating of above 55 percent. Because Barack Obama's average approval rating is now at 45 percent, a successor candidate (i.e. Democrat) is unlikely to win.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Planned Parenthood Federation of America said it will immediately stop accepting reimbursements for supplying fetal tissue for medical research, an attempt to tamp down a controversy that has led to Republican investigations in Congress and an effort to end federal funding. [...]

Undercover videos released this summer by an antiabortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, spurred a backlash from Republicans. Abortion opponents said the videos showed Planned Parenthood illegally profiting from fetal tissue and changing abortion procedures to obtain better specimens.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Meet Doc Savage, the most famous superhero you've never heard of (David Koepsell, 10/13/15, The Conversation)

His name is Clark and his father (later murdered) raised him to be a savior to humanity. He possesses superhuman strength and finely tuned senses. He is the world's greatest detective, an inventor, chemist, surgeon and martial artist. Villains the world over want him dead, but through his intelligence, strength, cunning and technological prowess he's always able to defeat them - all while staying faithful to a personal edict to spare all lives.

No, he's not a mash-up of Superman and Batman; rather, he's Clark (Doc) Savage, Jr, a character created in 1933 by Lester Dent. And he actually served as inspiration for Superman and Batman.

Savage's height of popularity was during the chaos of the Depression and World War II. (He also experienced a brief resurgence through reprints of the original novels during the Vietnam era.)

To many, he is the greatest superhero to ever appear, the source of hundreds of iterations - first in "pulps," later in comics, radio, television and film.

However, today he's largely forgotten; at best, his name sparks the vague recognition of a lost hero.

Where did he go and why did he disappear from popular culture? And can he make a comeback?

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


Devolution of abortion laws in Scotland prompts Labour warning (Rowena Mason, 14 October 2015, The Guardian)

Abortion laws are to be devolved to the Scottish government in a move that Labour has said could end up eroding the right of women to make their own decisions.

The Scottish National party welcomed the devolution and said it had no plans to change the current law that allows abortions until 24 weeks into pregnancy.

But Labour and women's rights campaigners raised concerns that devolving this power could undermine the consensus on time limits for abortions. [...]

Abortion laws are already devolved in Northern Ireland, where the practice is banned unless there is a danger to the mother's life.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Boris Johnson says low immigration could lead to economic stagnation (Rowena Mason, 14 October 2015, The Guardian)

Boris Johnson has warned that Britain must consider the negative impact of very low immigration, as the government comes under pressure to reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK. [...]

Speaking of the Japanese economy, he said: "They have been going through a long period of stagnation but they are hoping to pull out of it. They have got demographic problems. One of the questions that people in Britain might think about is obviously that they have very, very low immigration and very, very low, in fact negative, population growth, they have got a shrinking population.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


The surprising conservatism of the first Democratic debate (James Poulos, October 14, 2015, The Week)

After a couple Republican free-for-alls where the focus was on personalities, not policies, there was something bizarre about watching a debate about the issues. But the way Democrats chose to spar about them revealed something even more freakish: the presence of some decidedly un-left-wing tendencies. In fact, not just one right-of-center streak runs through the party, but several. 

Despite Bernie Sanders' Prodding Last Night, Hillary Clinton Stuck to Her Neoliberal Talking Points : Hillary Clinton's performance in last night's debate shows her to be every inch the neoliberal "true believer" she's a built a reputation as being. (JESSE MYERSON, 10/14/15, In These Times)

Sure, she wants to "rein in the excess of capitalism so that it doesn't run amok and doesn't cause the kind of inequalities we're seeing in our economic system." But the baby mustn't go out with the bathwater: "We would be making a grave mistake to turn out backs on what built the greatest middle class in history," she said, praying in aid "all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that." The characteristically Clintonian drive to pander to everyone at once was so strong as to enable her to gracefully drop the implication that there are no small Danish businesses and move right along.

She tipped her hand, though: pressed repeatedly to agree or disagree with Sen. Sanders's preference for expanding Social Security, Clinton insisted that she'd rather "enhance the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security." Similarly, as to whether she agrees with Sanders's health care approach, extending Medicare to everyone, Clinton declined to answer (she doesn't, though), insisting vaguely that "we agree on the goals, we just disagree on the means."

Here was the vintage neoliberal approach with which the Clintons are justly associated, unchanged by the financial crises and social movements that have shifted the political terrain since its heyday in the 1990s.

Looks like they're hellbent on avoiding the Corbynist mistake.
Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Barack Obama on Wednesday notified US Congress that he intends to deploy 300 troops to Cameroon to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

In a letter released by the White House, the president said 90 personnel had already been deployed, and would be armed for self-defense.

A senior administration official told AFP the deployment was "part of the counter Boko Haram effort".

October 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Russia Airstrikes Help Push Syria Rebels Closer (RAJA ABDULRAHIM, Oct. 12, 2015, WSJ)

Opposition factions including U.S.-backed rebels and Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, have come together to counter a regime offensive across several fronts in the northwest, while others continue to fight Islamic State militants.

On Monday, regime forces briefly retook part of Kafar Nabouda, a rebel-held town in Hama province, which it has been attacking for a week. More than 700 rockets were fired on rebels and Russian planes launched numerous airstrikes, said Abu al-Majid al-Homsi, a commander in Hama with Suqoor al-Ghab, a rebel group that has received training by the Central Intelligence Agency.

But hours later, rebels were able to push them back as a result of tight coordination through a joint command post they established last week, he said.

"Any coalition will benefit the rebels," said Maj. Yasser Abdolraheem, a commander with Faylaq al-Sham, a moderate group that has fighters in several provinces. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


For all their vitality, the banlieues feel isolated from the city, and from France itself. Parisians and tourists rarely visit them, and residents complain that journalists drop in only to report on car burnings and drug shootings. The suburb Clichy-sous-Bois--the scene, in 2005, of youth riots that spread across the country--has tried to raise revenue by offering a tour de banlieue for curious outsiders. Many suburban residents, meanwhile, never even think of going to Paris. Compared with American slums, the banlieues have relatively decent standards of housing and safety, but the psychological distance between the 93 and the Champs-Elysées can feel insuperable--much greater than that between the Bronx and Times Square. The apartment blocks in the cités, often arranged around a pharmacy, a convenience store, and a fast-food joint, look inward. Many have no street addresses, obvious points of entry, or places to park. The sense of separation is heightened by the names of the surrounding streets and schools, preserved from a historical France that has little connection to residents' lives. The roads around Gros Saule--a drug-ridden cité where the police dare not enter--include Rue Henri Matisse and Rue Claude Debussy.

"It's a social frontier," Badroudine Abdallah, Mehdi Meklat's colleague at Bondy Blog, said. "It's not just about being black or Arab. It's also about having relationships at your disposal, a network." Meklat and Abdallah, who are in their twenties, told me about weeklong internships required of French ninth graders. Most of their classmates ended up in lousy little bakeries or pharmacies, or with nothing, because corporations wouldn't answer queries from the children of immigrants in the 93.

Being from the banlieues is a serious impediment to employability, and nearly every resident I met had a story about discrimination. Fanta Ba, the daughter of Senegalese immigrants, has taken to sending out job applications using her middle name, France, and Frenchifying her last name to Bas, but she remains out of work. Whenever she hears of a terrorist attack in France, she prays, "Don't let it be an Arab, a black, a Muslim." On January 7th, she turned off the TV and avoided Facebook for two days. She couldn't bear to rewatch the violent images or hear that all Muslims bore some responsibility. "To have to say, 'I am Charlie' or 'I am a Muslim and I condemn this'--it's too much," she said. "It wasn't me. I asked myself, 'How will this end? Are they going to put crosses on the apartment doors of Muslims or Arabs?' "

Ben Ahmed has a friend from Bobigny named Brahim Aniba, an accountant who, like many banlieue residents, once endured a period of unemployment. To receive state benefits, he had to meet with a job counsellor. Aniba told me that the counsellor, wanting to help, said, "You don't have an aunt who lives in Paris or somewhere else? Because Bobigny--really? Cité Grémillon?" This was the French equivalent of Sh[***]ville. The counsellor advised, "If you have an address in Paris, a post-office box, just to receive mail, it's better. And then the family name, Aniba--it's O.K., but the first name, Brahim, use 'B.' "

"Madame, why don't I just drop my pants instead?" Aniba said.

Simply defining who is French can make small talk tricky. When people ask Widad Ketfi, a thirty-year-old journalist, where she's from, she replies, "Bondy," but that never ends the conversation. "Of what origin?" "French." "Where are your parents from?" "France!" Even citizens of immigrant descent often identify whites with the term Français de souche--"French from the roots." The implication is that people with darker skin are not fully French.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Can We End the Meditation Madness? (Adam Grant, OCT. 9, 2015, NY Times)

Before we're all swept into this fad, we ought to ask why meditation is useful. So I polled a group of meditation researchers, teachers and practitioners on why they recommend it. I liked their answers, but none of them were unique to meditation. Every benefit of the practice can be gained through other activities.

This is the conclusion from an analysis of 47 trials of meditation programs, published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine: "We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (i.e., drugs, exercise and other behavioral therapies)."

The primary reason people meditate, the experts tell me, is that it may reduce stress. Fine. But so does quality sleep and exercise. And you can reduce stress simply by changing the way you think about it. When you're feeling anxious, it's a signal that you care about the outcome of an upcoming event -- and it can motivate you to prepare.

In an experiment led by the Stanford psychologist Alia Crum, when people had only 10 minutes to prepare a charismatic speech, simply reframing the stress response as healthy was enough to relax them and reduce their physiological responses, if they tended to be highly reactive.

In a nationally representative eight-year study, adults who reported a lot of stress in their lives were more likely to die, but only if they thought stress was harmful. Over a hundred thousand Americans may have died prematurely, "not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you, " as the health psychologist Kelly McGonigal notes.

...by doing something that's indisputably good for you : just go for a walk.  You can't help but thinking to yourself while you're on one.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


The Republicans' Incompetence Caucus (David Brooks, 10/13/15, NY Times)

By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible. Conservatives of this disposition can be dull, but they know how to nurture and run institutions. They also see the nation as one organic whole. Citizens may fall into different classes and political factions, but they are still joined by chains of affection that command ultimate loyalty and love.

All of this has been overturned in dangerous parts of the Republican Party. Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple.

This produced a radical mind-set. Conservatives started talking about the Reagan "revolution," the Gingrich "revolution." Among people too ill educated to understand the different spheres, political practitioners adopted the mental habits of the entrepreneur. Everything had to be transformational and disruptive. Hierarchy and authority were equated with injustice. Self-expression became more valued than self-restraint and coalition building. A contempt for politics infested the Republican mind.

You know who these guys would really hate?  Ronald Reagan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Taliban Withdraw From Kunduz After Days of Fighting (ROD NORDLAND, OCT. 13, 2015, NY Times)

The Taliban announced that they had withdrawn completely from the northern city of Kunduz on Tuesday, ending their first takeover of any Afghan city during the last 14 years of war.

The insurgents held Kunduz for just 15 days...

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Turkey Angers the Jihadists It Once Tolerated (Eli Lake & Josh Rogin, 10/13/15, Bloomberg View)

Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, told us that if it turns out that the Islamic State planned the attack over the weekend, then the violence flows from Turkey's murky support and tolerance for jihadists fighting Assad. But Edelman also stressed that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack in Ankara, or an earlier suicide bombing in Suruc this summer, which Turkish authorities have compared to the bombing over the weekend.

"Turkey has had a lax policy on its border," Edelman said. "It has given aid and comfort to Jabhat al Nusra. It's only relatively recently that Turkish authorities concluded these were not just misguided pious youth. If it turns out to be them, this is blowback."

One theory of the attack is that the Islamic State has started striking inside of Turkey in response to Erdogan's decision to allow NATO to use the Incirlik base. Michael Smith, the chief operating officer for Kronos Advisory, which tracks jihadist groups on the Internet, told us that Erdogan and Turkey have been featured more prominently in Islamic State propaganda in recent months. For example, the cover of the latest issue of Dabiq, the group's online English-language magazine, shows a photo of Erdogan and President Barack Obama.

"There has been a sizable uptick in pejorative references to Turkey in IS propaganda, Dabiq in particular," Smith told us. "These include reference to Turkey as 'Base #1' for the 'Sahwah,' repeated depictions of Turkey as an ally of al-Qaeda's Syria branch, as well as a lengthy discussion of Turkey's increased role in the Coalition to Counter IS in the most recent edition of Dabiq." Al-Qaeda's Syria branch has fought bitterly over territory with the Islamic State, even though the Islamic State was until 2014 formally part of al-Qaeda.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Jeb Bush Shows How to Replace Obamacare (Ramesh Ponnuru, 10/13/15, Bloomberg View)

All these plans aim to change federal tax, spending and regulatory policy to enable almost everyone to get insurance that covers, at a minimum, catastrophic health expenses. People who don't have access to employer-provided plans would receive a tax credit that they could use to buy coverage -- and that coverage would no longer have to comply with all the mandates in President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. In Bush's version of the plan, older people would get a larger credit. The tax break for employer-provided coverage, meanwhile, would be capped, both to keep the tax code from rewarding the most expensive plans and to raise some of the money needed for the credits.

People with pre-existing conditions would be protected by a regulation that requires insurers to offer coverage on the same terms to sick people and healthy people, so long as they had maintained coverage. That proviso is there to keep people from waiting until they're sick to get insurance. Meeting that condition would be easier than it has been in the past, thanks to the tax credit.

Bush would also reform federal aid to state health-care programs for poor people, to give them much more flexibility. States could, for example, pass along much of their funding to the recipients so that they could purchase private coverage.

It's all well and good to make health care coverage universal via catastrophic plans, but it would be a tragedy not to use the opportunity to attach an HSA, publicly funded for those without jobs, ultimately making people less dependent on government as the wealth therein grows.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


How British Is American Culture? (Bruce Frohnen, 10/13/15, Imaginative Conservative)

America's British culture is not purely English, let alone Anglican--thank goodness. Our culture's grounding in dissenting traditions and the customs of a mix of enterprising and spiritual settlers shaped its growth from the beginning toward a strong republicanism and principled religiosity that allowed our nation, until quite recently, to avoid the worst degradations of ideological politics long dominant in the United Kingdom. It is to this culture, and to neither English high Anglicanism nor any mythic ideological individualism that Americans should look in working to renew our embattled way of life.

America's culture has its roots in somewhat divergent sets of early immigrants, but immigrants who rather quickly came to share a common view of the proper nature of private character and public life. For example, the Puritans who founded the northern colonies of New England certainly were no effete, aristocratic Anglicans. Calvinists to the core, they had for many decades, even before leaving Great Britain, joined in close-knit communities through "church covenants," whereby they agreed, before God, to govern themselves in political, economic, religious, and even legal dealings separate from the established, Anglican Church. Known as Dissenters, these settlers brought with them a version of the English constitutional tradition that emphasized the rights of local communities to govern themselves, as they had sought to do under the thumb of the established Church of England. And they did so without lords, let alone bishops.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Despite the media sword-rattling and threats by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's legislative body approved the Iranian nuclear deal in a vote on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


The cost of goods in the UK has dropped by 0.1% in the year to September, putting further pressure on Bank of England governor Mark Carney to push prices up. The central bank chief has a target rate of 2%, but Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation has been around 0% for most of 2015.

...just ban immigration; bring back tariffs; turn shops back over to unions; and unplug all the computers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM



The Russian Embassy in Damascus was shelled Tuesday as pro-government demonstrators gathered outside, and Syria's largest insurgent coalition announced an offensive to counter Moscow's airstrikes that have injected new fury in the conflict.

Al-Qaida's branch in Syria, meanwhile, released an audio message purportedly from its leader urging Muslims in the former Soviet Union to attack Russian civilians if Russia targets civilians in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Why Absolutely Everyone Hates Renoir : The protestors in Boston who declared even God despises the maligned Impressionist might be on to something. (KRISTON CAPPS, 10/13/15, The Atlantic)

Max Geller, the leader of a group called Renoir Sucks at Painting, organized the strike earlier this week. And it's fair to say Geller has strong feelings about the artist. Yesterday, after he received some counter-criticism from The Boston Globe's art critic, Sebastian Smee--who called the protest at the MFA "sophomoric"--Geller challenged him to a duel on Boston Common. But in denouncing the anti-Renoir movement as a stunt, even Smee wasn't going so far as to stand up for Renoir.

"Is it worth getting worked up about Renoir?" asked Smee. "He is an artist I detest most of the time. Such a syrupy, falsified take on reality."

Looking back through art history, it's clear that thinking Renoir sucks is a popular and well-established sentiment. Plainly, though, he must have had fans, or people wouldn't feel obliged to organize against him today. It's easy to see the early appeal: Renoir fell in with a camp of innovators, the French Impressionists working in the late 19th century, who were pushing the medium of painting forward, and art collectors and capitalists like Albert Barnes and Duncan Phillips rushed forward to support the new modernism. But not all of the experimental works that made the bulk of early modern-art collections has aged well. In hindsight, some of these investments were mistaken.

The complaints from Geller's group sound like praise in comparison to the worst insults that have been hurled Renoir's way. Then and now, critics complain that Renoir was promiscuous with color. That he paid no heed to line and composition. His works were never formal explorations of light and shadow, like Monet's, or social critiques of the turn-of-the-century era, like Manet's. One of Impressionism's fiercest critics, Albert Wolff, a writer for Le Figaro, wrote in 1874 that what Renoir did with paint was unnatural, maybe even unholy. "Try to explain to M Renoir," he wrote, "that a woman's torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with green and purple spots that indicate the state of total putrefaction in a corpse!"

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


GM pig organs could soon be transplanted into humans (Sarah Knapton, 10/12/15, The Telegraph)

Pig organs could soon be transplanted into patients after Harvard University scientists discovered a way to genetically modify pig DNA so it is more compatible with humans.

October 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Under Pressure From Clinton, Bernie Sanders Softens on Gun Rights : In a twist of fate, the democratic socialist finds himself chasing Clinton to the left. (Sahil Kapur, October 12, 2015, Bloomberg)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Sunday backed away from a controversial vote he cast in 2005 on legislation to grant immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers from liability if their firearms are used criminally.

On NBC's Meet the Press, one week after his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, called for repealing that law, and two days before the first Democratic debate, the U.S. senator from Vermont said he's willing to see that law changed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Rand Paul's all-too-familiar campaign (DANIEL STRAUSS, 10/11/15, Politico)

Six months after announcing for president, Paul's campaign is buried in the polls, unable to break single digits, and subject to calls that it's time for him to leave the race. While he's raking in dollars from small donors, he's not raising nearly enough to compete with the top tier candidates. What's worse, Paul's map is contracting, not expanding - his best prospects for victory appear to be in low-turnout caucus states where a small core of committed supporters can carry the day.

In other words, Rand Paul is running a campaign that looks a lot like his father's.

Yet even that isn't going so well - within the liberty movement, there is considerable grumbling that Rand Paul's upgraded version of his father's message has only muddled it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


The new force, the Syrian Democratic Forces, formally cements an alliance that has been in place for months as the groups fought the Islamic State in northeast Syria. It includes the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, its women's fighting force YPJ, alongside Arab rebel groups and tribes and a Syriac militia.

Putin faces blowback from Syria intervention : Signs are growing that Islamic militants may stage attacks inside Russia, U.S. intelligence officials say. (MICHAEL CROWLEY 10/08/15, Politico)

[M]any Russia experts agree with Obama's mid-September assessment that Russia is "threatened in many ways more than we are" by ISIS. "They've got large Muslim populations that historically have caused a lot of problems inside of Russia," Obama added.

Russia's Muslim population is typically estimated at between 12 and 14 percent in a country of nearly 150 million people, and is growing faster than the country's non-Muslim populace.

"That's why everyone is scratching their heads so much. How does he think he's going to handle this?" asks Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of a Putin biography, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


[E]rdogan called the new ballot because Turkish voters in June declined to give his mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, the legislative supermajority required to realize Erdogan's dream of re-making government on lines that would make him even more powerful. In fact, for the first time in 13 years, AKP failed to achieve even a simple majority, leaving it searching in vain for a partner with which to form a coalition government.

But in calling the new election, Erdogan also set out to change the playing field--chiefly by undermining the surging reformist party that had chipped away at AKP's base: the Peoples' Democratic Party, known as HDP, was a favorite of both the country's large ethnic Kurdish population and liberal reformers intent on checking Erdogan's authoritarian impulses. The Oct. 10 bombing targeted an HDP rally. The next day thousands of mourners chanted "Murderer Erdogan" and "Murderer State." Police responded with tear gas.

"We won't seek revenge," Selahattin Demirtas, the former human rights activist who heads the HDP told a crowd from atop followers from atop a bus. "Violence will breed more violence. We'll seek justice in the election on Nov. 1. Shared life is possible among the oppressed and the abused. We will not surrender to a bunch of scoundrels."

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Heart disease patients appear to get comparable care whether they see a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, a new study finds.

...is removing access to doctors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


On top 500 list, US Muslim presence continues to dominate (Julie Poucher Harbin, October 12, 2015, Religion News Service)

As in past years, there continue to be more Muslims from the United States than any other country on this year's "The Muslim 500: The World's 500 Most Influential Muslims."

Since at least 2012, the U.S. has outpaced nations with a far larger Muslim population, netting at least 40 notable people of influence, with Pakistan (33), Saudi Arabia (32), Egypt (27) and the U.K (27) not too far behind.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Is Your NFL Season Already Over? A Quiz : Jason Gay on how to tell if your favorite NFL team is out of it (JASON GAY, Oct. 11, 2015, WSJ)

1. You're a Dolphins fan.

2. Sunday mornings now feel worse than Monday mornings.

3. Your fantasy team now is the second-most depressing team in your life.

4. You watch the Patriots or the Packers and it's as if they are from another planet, playing an altogether different sport.

5. You watch your NFL team play and it doesn't look like they're even playing football. It looks as if they're wandering around a cornfield looking for somebody's keys. [...]

18. When you tried to give a pair of Kansas City Chiefs tickets away at work, you got a stern talking-to from human resources.

...the Pats were nearly unwatchable yesterday and still managed to beat a playoff team on the road in a 30-6 walk.  And here's the thing, the Cowboys managed to get pressure on Tom Brady in the 1st half, so in the second, the Patriots ran the ball up the middle.  Seriously.  That was the brilliant adjustment that Dallas never figured out how to compensate for, just using LaGarrette Blount a little.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Kroft put this criticism to Obama, saying, "You said a year ago that the United States -- America leads. We're the indispensable nation. Mr. Putin seems to be challenging that leadership."

Obama: So that's leading, Steve? Let me ask you this question. When I came into office, Ukraine was governed by a corrupt ruler who was a stooge of Mr. Putin. Syria was Russia's only ally in the region. And today, rather than being able to count on their support and maintain the base they had in Syria, which they've had for a long time, Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally. And in Ukraine--

Kroft: He's challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He's challenging your leadership--

Obama: Well, Steve, I got to tell you, if you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we've got a different definition of leadership.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Right-wing 'new reactionaries' stir up trouble among French intellectuals (Angelique Chrisafis, 9 October 2015, The Guardian)

Alain Finkielkraut, the controversial and high-profile philosopher, is at the centre of the row after defending Nadine Morano, a former government minister, who repeatedly insisted France was a "white race" country. This week, Morano was banned from running in the regional elections for Nicolas Sarkozy's rightwing Les Républicains party.

Finkielkraut's 2013 bestselling book, The Unhappy Identity, warned of the dangers to French national identity from mass immigration and multiculturalism. The son of a Jewish Polish leather merchant ...

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


We're all about to start taking 3D printed drugs (Robert J. Szczerba, 10/12/15, Next Web)

3D printing has been around in various forms since the 1980s, originally as a means of quickly producing affordable prototypes for the manufacturing industry. Recently, researchers have found some amazing healthcare and biological applications for 3D printing technology. From custom prosthetics to living tissue, 3D printing is a versatile means of providing cost effective and individualized care to patients.

This game-changing technology just took a giant leap forward in the pharmaceutical industry.  In early August, Aprecia phramaceuticals, announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it's SPRITAM drug for the treatment of epilepsy. The company claims that SPRITAM is the first drug ever approved by the FDA that is manufactured using 3-D printing technologies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Aerospace manufacturer Boeing has created the world's lightest metal structure, which it claims is 99.99% hollow. The structure is so light that a sample can sit atop a dandelion. The revolutionary breakthrough claims to be 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and could be the future for aeronautical design.

The material, called Microlattice, is a 3D open-cellular polymer structure and is inspired by bones where the outside is solid but on the inside you find a mostly hollow, yet extremely strong and light structure. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


The trouble with Bernie (MICKEY HIRTEN, 10/07/15, Lansing City Press)

Here's my problem with Bernie Sanders. With few exceptions, I agree with his positions on issues. But I don't like him or his political temperament. He'd be an awful president.
I followed him carefully when I was editor of the Burlington Free Press in Vermont. Sanders was the state's sole congressman, lived in Burlington, and would periodically visit with the newspaper's editors and publisher.

Considering that the Free Press' editorial positions were very liberal, reflecting the nature of a very liberal Vermont community, one might think that meetings with Sanders were cordial, even celebratory.

They weren't. Sanders was always full of himself: pious, self-righteous and utterly humorless. Burdened by the cross of his socialist crusade, he was a scold whose counter-culture moralizing appealed to the state's liberal sensibilities as well as its conservatives, who embraced his gun ownership stance, his defense of individual rights, an antipathy toward big corporations and, generally speaking, his stick-it-to-them approach to politics. [...]

I'm not alone in my opinions about Sanders. Chris Graf, long-time Associated Press bureau chief in Vermont, in an article published Sept. 30 in Theweek.com, had this to say about the senator.

"Bernie has no social skills, no sense of humor, and he's quick to boil over. He's the most unpolitical person in politics I've ever come across," Graf said. Others who have covered Sanders agree.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Q. And a carbon tax is the most expedient solution?

A [N. Gregory Mankiw]. I'm in favor of tackling climate change in a way that uses the lightest hand of government as possible. That is, to put a price on carbon and incentivize people to reduce carbon emissions through a variety of different channels, allowing individuals to figure out what's the best way to do that. Is it best to drive smaller cars? Is it best to carpool to work? Is it best to move closer to work? Is it best to commit to public transportation? There's lots of different ways to change your carbon footprint. Regulations tell you how you should do that, whereas putting a price on carbon nudges people in the direction of reducing their carbon footprint but allows individuals to decide what's the best way for them to do that.

Q. Let's get into a bit more detail on the carbon tax you advocate--how will this work?

A. The basic idea of a carbon tax is mainly to put a price on carbon, to directly raise prices on carbon. Once you put a price on carbon, people will conserve on carbon emissions, just like they conserve on other things that are costly. That doesn't mean we should raise taxes overall, though. If we put a price on carbon and raise revenue through that carbon tax, we can then take that money and funnel it back to people by reducing sales taxes, income taxes, or other taxes. If we're smart about how we cut other taxes, there's no reason that this should be a net tax increase, nor does it need to change the distribution of the tax burden among the rich vs. poor.

Q. Why the emphasis on revenue neutrality?

A. There's no question that all consumers are going to end up paying higher prices for carbon-intensive goods. If you want to make this politically palatable to people, so that they're incentivized but not necessarily worse off, you need to turn around and say, "Look, whatever revenue we're collecting from this, we're giving back to you."

Hike all consumption taxes; get rid of income taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


The tide turns against the Benghazi committee (Paul Waldman, October 12, 2015, Washington Post)

Maybe it was inevitable that this committee would become either a joke or a scandal in its own right, given the fact that it was established after seven separate investigations had already examined the events of September 11, 2012 in Benghazi and failed to find any administration wrongdoing or support for all the outlandish conspiracy theories conservatives had clung to. In the future, when asked about what the select committee accomplished, Republicans will probably say, "They discovered Clinton's emails!" And that's true. But what does that represent, substantively speaking?

Was there something in those emails that told America what really happened in Benghazi? No. Was there something in those emails that finally proved the scope of Hillary Clinton's villainy? No. I'm not trying to defend Clinton's use of a private email account, but about the most shocking thing we've learned from the actual emails is that Clinton, like every other person on the planet with an email address, got phishing spam, a revelation that when leaked to the press was passed along with lots of "Clinton Email Targeted By Russian Hackers!" headlines.

But what we haven't learned is anything new that the committee has discovered about -- now see if you can follow me here -- Benghazi. That was, you may recall, the whole point of this exercise. So what has Gowdy's committee found that all the previous investigations didn't? Anything at all? What do we now know about what happened on that night that we didn't know before?

October 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 22-27 among 1,502 adults, finds that most Americans (60%) oppose the idea of changing the U.S. Constitution to prohibit children of those who are not legal residents from becoming citizens; 37% favor changing the Constitution to end "birthright citizenship." [...]

[L]arge majorities in both parties continue to favor a way for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally, if certain requirements are met. About two-thirds of Republicans (66%) say people in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay if they meet certain requirements, while 32% say they should not be allowed to stay legally. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


[E]ven if this is Turkey's most deadly terrorist attack - for now - how long will it remain so, as the country's political elite tempts the very forces that threaten to tear it apart? Increasingly, the standard rationale of the War on Terror no longer applies to such attacks. With no group claiming responsibility, the Turkish public's ire has started to turn against its Government. Not only for failing to protect its people, but for actively encouraging the very forces that wreak turmoil and harness civil conflict.

Already conspiracy theories abound. But what is undeniable, is that were it not for the polarizing strategies, the hateful rhetoric, and the devastating foreign policy of the current Government, a public gathering of peaceful activists, unionists, and associations would have been just that - a pleasant Saturday morning. Instead, more than a hundred Turkish citizens had their lives brutally cut short. The Government's position; to feign ignorance and lay the blame on others, has become increasingly untenable. Increasingly, the Turkish public suspects this to be what it is - a tragedy that despite repetition fails to become farce.

Despite the shock of Saturday's massacre, it was an event simultaneously foreseen by many, yet prevented by none. And with less than three weeks to go until the elections, the attacks may herald a striking shift in public attitudes. Instead of blaming foreign fighters already most of the public outcry has been directed against the Turkish Government. Not only for failing to protect its citizens, but for actively courting disaster in the pursuit of political ambitions and petty games. Little wonder, then, that the Government's immediate response was to enforce a media ban throughout Turkey, rather than attending to the needs of its beleaguered citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


The real problem is that Israel has chosen occupation over peace, and used negotiations as a smokescreen to advance its colonial project. Every government across the globe knows this simple fact and yet so many of them pretend that returning to the failed recipes of the past could achieve freedom and peace. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

There can be no negotiations without a clear Israeli commitment to fully withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; a complete end to all colonial policies; a recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people including their right to self-determination and return; and the release of all Palestinian prisoners. We cannot coexist with the occupation, and we will not surrender to it.

We were called upon to be patient, and we were, giving chance after chance to reach a peace agreement. Maybe it is useful to remind the world that our dispossession, forced exile and transfer, and oppression have now lasted for nearly 70 years. We are the only item to have stood on the UN's agenda since its inception. We were told that by resorting to peaceful means and to diplomatic channels we would garner the support of the international community to end the occupation. And yet, as in 1999 at the close of the interim period, that community failed yet again to undertake any meaningful steps, neither setting up an international framework to implement international law and UN resolutions, nor enacting measures to ensure accountability, including boycott, divestment and sanctions, which played a crucial role in ridding the world of the apartheid regime.

So, in the absence of international action to end Israeli occupation and impunity or even provide protection, what are we asked to do? Stand by and wait for the next Palestinian family to be burned, for the next Palestinian child to be killed or arrested, for the next settlement to be built? The entire world knows that Jerusalem is the flame that can inspire peace and ignite war. Why then does the world stand still while the Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people in the city and in Muslim and Christian holy sites, notably Al-Haram al-Sharif, continue unabated? Israel's actions and crimes not only destroy the two-state solution on 1967 borders and violate international law, they threaten to transform a solvable political conflict into a never-ending religious war that will undermine stability in a region already experiencing unprecedented turmoil.

No people on the globe would accept to coexist with oppression. By nature, humans yearn for freedom, struggle for freedom, sacrifice for freedom, and the freedom of the Palestinian people is long overdue. During the first intifada, the Israeli government launched a "break their bones to break their will" policy, but for generation after generation the Palestinian people have proven their will is unbreakable and needs not to be tested.

We all know how this story ends : Israel frees Barghouti; Palestinians elect him as the head of their nation; Israel draws down; we all get down to the business of making money.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


As if there weren't already enough problems to worry about in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia might be headed for trouble. From plummeting oil prices to foreign-policy missteps to growing tensions with Iran, a confluence of recent events is mounting to pose some serious challenges for the Saudi regime. If not properly managed, these events could eventually coalesce into a perfect storm that significantly increases the risk of instability within the kingdom, with untold consequences for global oil markets and security in the Middle East. [...]

[S]audi Arabia's 2015 budget was based on the assumption that oil would be selling at about $90 per barrel. Today, it's closer to half that. At the same time, the Saudis have incurred a rash of expenses that weren't planned for, including those associated with King Salman's ascendance to the throne (securing loyalty for a new king can be expensive business) and the war in Yemen.

The result is a budget deficit approaching 20 percent, well over $100 billion, requiring the Saudis to deplete their huge foreign exchange reserves at a record rate (about $12 billion per month) while also accelerating bond sales. The Saudis have reportedly liquidated more than $70 billion of their holdings with global asset managers in just the past 6 months.

While there's no danger that the kingdom will run out of money anytime soon, the longer this trend of large budget deficits, lower oil prices, and declining foreign exchange reserves continues, the more nervous international markets will become -- with potential implications for key indicators like credit rating and capital flight. Adding to long-term concerns is the fact that Saudi net oil exports have been in slow decline for years as internal energy consumption rises dramatically. Indeed, analysts now suggest that rapidly expanding domestic demand could render the kingdom a net importer of oil by the 2030s. It goes without saying that such a development poses a mortal threat to the kingdom, where oil sales still account for 80 to 90 percent of state revenues.

As for battling deficits by cutting expenses and imposing austerity, it's hardly an attractive option for a government whose main weapon for staving off domestic discontent since the start of the 2011 Arab uprisings has been to shower its people with more free stuff. 

Who cares if the spread of wahabbism is ended via Reform or collapse.
Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Big Labor, Bernie Hammer Obama for Asian Trade Deal : 'Disastrous,' 'No good, very bad,' 'corporate trade deal' will 'threaten every hard-working American' ( Bill McMorris, October 5, 2015, Free Beacon)

The Obama administration drew fire from some of its closest allies after announcing a new free trade agreement with numerous Asian countries on Monday.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, said he was "disappointed" in the White House for rushing through the deal, which eliminated trade barriers and tariffs between the United States and a dozen Asian countries. [...]

The president's assurances did little to assuage the skepticism of the Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders. The socialist Vermont senator called the negotiations "disastrous" and said that it would lead to job losses in the United States through outsourcing, according to the Hill.

"It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense," Sanders said Monday.

Many labor unions agreed with the insurgent presidential hopeful.

The Teamsters, who announced last week that they would delay their presidential endorsements after the rise of potential challengers to Hillary Clinton, praised Sanders on Twitter for opposing the "no good, very bad #trade deal."

Marc Perrone, head of the United Food and Commercial Workers, dismissed "rosy rhetoric and false promises" that supporters use to describe it.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Less than three months since its launch, online retailer Jet.com is already planning to change its revenue strategy. In a Medium blog post today, Jet.com CEO Marc Lore says the company will ditch its $49 annual membership fee to extend its reach.

Jet.com is similar to Amazon in that it offers everyday items - from cleaning products and appliances to toys and sporting goods - for a low price with free shipping on orders over $35. Its 'Smart Cart' system lets customers save around 5 percent when ordering the items in bulk. Jet.com works with third party retailers to fulfill orders, and offers free returns on all items.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Fiery scenes as Iran MPs give partial nod to nuclear deal (ARTHUR MACMILLAN,  October 11, 2015, AFP)

Iran's parliament gave a partial nod to a nuclear deal with world powers Sunday but only after fiery clashes and allegations from a top negotiator that a lawmaker had threatened to kill him.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


Renewable energy has long been seen as the energy of tomorrow - widely praised for its low carbon qualities but seen as too expensive compared to traditional forms of energy such as coal and gas.

But new research says that the cost of generating electricity from onshore wind is cheaper today than coal and gas in some parts of the world and solar is not far off. And on top of that, renewable energy is eating fossil fuel power's business plan.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance's Levelised Cost of Electricity Update for the second half of 2015 shows that " the cost of wind and solar is falling worldwide, whereas gas- and coal-fired generation is heading in the other direction, " says Janis Hoberg, EU analyst at BNEF.

The study finds that onshore wind is now fully cost-competitive with both gas-fired and coal-fired generation, once carbon costs are taken into account, in the UK and Germany. In the UK, onshore wind comes in on average at $85/MWh, compared to $115/MWh for both combined-cycle gas and coal-fired power; in Germany, onshore wind is at $80/MWh, compared to $118/MWh for gas and $106/MWh for coal. "Onshore wind now appears to be cheaper than new coal and gas in the UK, as reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the UK carbon price floor has raised future price expectations and driven up costs of coal and gas power," says Seb Henbest, BNEF head of Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Utilities would save consumers money and help support the electric grid if the companies tapped unused power stored in existing home and business batteries, according to a report released Thursday by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The report, titled "The Economics of Battery Energy Storage," by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Snowmass, Colo., states that most batteries already in use serve only as backup power when other electricity isn't available.

Instead, the electricity in the batteries could help reduce congestion over power lines as utilities work to send power from various plants during high demand. The battery-stored electricity also could immediately provide support to the grid in an emergency.

And for customers, the batteries could help them better manage their electricity use and reduce their costs. 

Africa's largest windfarm set to connect remote Kenya to the grid (Murithi Mutiga in Loiyangalani and David Smith in Nairobi,  9 October 2015, The Guardian)

Further tests found that the wind - which was highly predictable and flowed in a constant direction at consistent speeds at various times of the day all year round - could potentially generate power at nearly double the level of efficiency of many windfarms in Europe, meaning it could be sold at a relatively low cost.

"Wind power varies depending on the time of day," said Mugo Kibati, chairman of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. "Your typical windfarm would have 25-35% utilisation capacity. Lake Turkana will be 62% utilisation capacity."

That helped convince the government to get on board but there was also scepticism from the local community.

"People really doubted when the initial teams came to the ground to explain what they were doing," said Stakwel Yurenimo, a community leader who was one of the first to embrace the windfarm project and served as a liaison to the project team. "Nobody would buy or understand the idea that the plan was to establish wind turbines to generate power. No one has electricity here anyway, so most people told me that this was a plan by wazungu (white people) to conduct research on the locals and then leave."

A number of lenders and equity partners, including the Norwegian, Dutch, Finnish, Danish, European and German investment banks and the British Aldwych International Limited company - which already operates a 90MW diesel power plant in the Kenyan Coast - quickly came on board. Danish wind energy giant Vestas also signed on to supply the turbines. But the World Bank raised a number of concerns, including whether Kenya could absorb all the electricity from the various wind, geothermal and hydropower projects it is undertaking.

That proved to be the most serious question levelled at the viability of the project but Kenyan government officials overrode the World Bank objections, pointing out that the east African country's goals of transitioning from reliance on primary products, such as agriculture to manufacturing, would create the right level of demand.

It is a view echoed by Kibati, who previously served as head of the Vision 2030 secretariat which developed the country's medium-term development plan: "I think the economy is going to grow just as fast as the power generation capacity is going to grow. I highly doubt we're going to have excess power in the near future. In my view, growth has been constrained by lack of power. I fully expect Kenya will be growing 7-8% over the next decade."

There are still issues to be resolved. Some representatives of local communities have alleged the project violates the community land rights of the locals. Kenya's high court declined to halt the project but asked the county government, the community representatives and the project managers to reach an out of court settlement on the matter, an issue which is still pending resolution.

Today, a sprawling, mostly-flat, dun-coloured terrain of moody, stumpy thorn bushes in the Sarima village around 40km from the shores of Lake Turkana is home to the most ambitious infrastructure development project carried out in northern Kenya since independence.

Covering 40,000 acres (162km2), the project will entail the installation of 365 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 850kW and is expected to be fully operational in mid 2017.

A 204km road linking the area to the nearest paved road will be built, and the Kenyan electricity transmission company, with funding by both the Kenyan government and a concessional loan from Spain, will construct a 428km transmission line to link it to the national grid.

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


Iraqi security forces claimed Sunday to have struck the convoy of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike near the country's border with Syria.

"The Iraqi air force carried out a heroic operation targeting the convoy of the criminal terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," Iraq's security forces said in a joint statement.

"His health status is unknown," it said.

October 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


A former investigator with the House Select Committee on Benghazi is accusing the Republican-led panel of carrying out a politically motivated investigation targeting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton instead of the thorough and objective fact-finding mission it was set up to pursue.

Major Bradley Podliska, an intelligence officer in the Air Force Reserve who describes himself as a conservative Republican, told CNN that the committee trained its sights almost exclusively on Clinton after the revelation last March that she used a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. That new focus flipped a broad-based probe of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, into what Podliska described as "a partisan investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Is Trump Going to Run Out of Money? : He will need to start spending serious cash to keep his campaign going. He might not have it. (Jim Newell, 10/09/15, Slate)

Trump's campaign has lived off a strategy of constant free media exposure--something he earned, we should note, by expressing many "newsworthy" opinions that a not-insignificant number of human beings found oddly compelling in a presidential candidate. That's how he has been able to dominate the race after only spending a couple million dollars of his own money. The problem with Trump's strategy, though, is he's created exceedingly high expectations for himself: Unless he keeps upping the ante of bombast, he's going to see a cratering or even collapse in his media coverage.

Few other humans on the planet understand how to manipulate the media better than Trump, and even he seems to be getting tired of himself. It's time for Trump 2.0: the stage in which he defines himself on his own terms, instead of performing whatever garish acts are necessary to maintain his outsized share of free media coverage.

That means spending much more of his own money. And how much, really, is he good for? [...]

Depending on whom you ask, Trump's liquid assets range from about $70 million to about $350 million. That presents enough trouble to meet even the $100 million figure he's willing to commit for the primary (which he fantastically claims he will take to a convention floor fight). Whether the figure exceeds his available cash or is "only" one-third of it, that's a serious amount of money with which to part ways. And it's nowhere near what he'd need, either for his campaign or in terms of outside commitments, for a general election.

Setting up a campaign infrastructure and a media strategy on your own terms, in which you, the candidate, are allowed to dictate how you present yourself to the public, is expensive. This is why few politicians, even wealthy ones, say outright that they'll never accept large contributions. Donald Trump did. As with most things Trump, this was an extension of his central message: that he is an extraordinarily rich person. He wouldn't take donations because he wouldn't need to. According to him, the "conservative" estimate of his wealth is more than $10 BILLION. The more realistic estimate of Trump's wealth, in Trump's mind, is infinity dollars.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Turkish forces are said to have shot down a Russian jet after it flew into the country's airspace, according to unconfirmed reports on social media.

It has been claimed by eyewitnesses that there was a large explosion in Huraytan, northern Syria, while three fighter planes were seen overhead.

It's not easy to lose a military engagement with the Turks.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Those Assimilating Immigrants (WSJ, Oct. 7, 2015)

Sorry to break the good news to some of our conservative friends, but it turns out that most immigrants to America are assimilating as their forebears did. That's the gist of a new 400-page report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which looks at everything from English proficiency, education levels and family structure to health, crime and employment.

Here's the money sentence: "Across all measurable outcomes, integration increases over time, with immigrants becoming more like the native-born with more time in the country, and with the second and third generations becoming more like other native-born Americans than their parents were." [...]

The report finds that roughly 85% of America's foreign-born population speak a language other than English at home. For most of these, that language is Spanish. But that's not the whole story. English-language proficiency, it says, may be happening even "faster now" than it did for earlier waves of mainly European immigrants. Today many people arriving already speak English, and second and third generations grow in proficiency.

Even in the large concentration of Mexican Americans in Southern California, by the third generation English has become their main spoken language. Only 4% of this third generation report speaking primarily Spanish at home.

The report also finds that the "increased prevalence of immigrants is associated with lower crime rates--the opposite of what many Americans fear." The incarceration rate for the foreign born is only a fourth of that of the native born.

If only we could deport that early 20th Century wave of immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


How TPP cements Obama's corporatist legacy (James Poulos, October 8, 2015, The Week)

[T]he TPP could well be President Obama's most enduring legacy, because it gives his corporatism its biggest stage yet. It captures the central idea of his presidency -- that when big government and big business make policy, the result is good for average Americans, even if it reduces their political freedom, or even their political participation. ObamaCare laid that marker down domestically, triggering a lightning round of health industry consolidation that turned the "big five" insurers -- and their $346 billion yearly revenues -- into a "big three." The math is simple: When everyone has to buy the products dominant corporations sell, dominant corporations win. From a liberals' standpoint, TPP takes the idea global -- allowing powerful international corporations to further disadvantage American workers through a complex set of legal, financial, and economic privileges. As Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) put it: "The administration has put big business first, [and] workers, communities, and small businesses last."

And for once, the left doesn't know what to do about it.

The administration has long been able to get liberals to support just about anything if it panders enough to the base's brand of identity politics. (The same has happened on the right for generations.) So, as long as Obama appeased the left's social-justice sensibility, he has been able to focus on advancing his corporatist agenda -- what The New Republic senior editor Noam Scheiber rather obliquely termed "boardroom liberalism."

"It's a worldview that's steeped in social progressivism, in the values of tolerance and diversity," Scheiber wrote. "The picture of the boardroom liberal is a corporate CEO handing a refrigerator-sized check to the head of a charity at a celebrity golf tournament. All the better if they're surrounded by minority children and struggling moms."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Tens of millions of Americans rely on Feeding America, which has built up an impressive number of donors over the last few decades. Supermarkets usually donate food directly to their local food bank. But large food manufacturers often donate to Feeding America headquarters, which then allocates this food across its nationwide network of food banks. Sadly, the need for this service is only increasing, with demand for food banks going through the roof since the financial crisis. In 2007, 26 million Americans were on food stamps. Last year there were more than 46 million, an increase of almost 80 percent.

Before 2005, Feeding America allocated food centrally, and according to its rather subjective perception of what food banks needed. Headquarters would call up the food banks in a priority order and offer them a truckload of food. Bizarrely, all food was treated more or less equally, irrespective of its nutritional content. A pound of chicken was the same as a pound of french fries. If the food bank accepted the load, it paid the transportation costs and had the truck sent to them. If the food bank refused, Feeding America would judge this food bank as having lower need and push it down the priority list. Unsurprisingly, food banks went out of their way to avoid refusing food loads -- even if they were already stocked with that particular food.

This Soviet-style system was hugely inefficient. Some urban food banks had great access to local food donations and often ended up with a surplus of food. A lot of food rotted in places where it was not needed, while many shelves in other food banks stood empty. Feeding America simply knew too little about what their food banks needed on a given day.

In 2005, the Chicago team helped design an auction-like system to allocate the food, and have been tweaking the system for a decade. Today, it runs as smoothly as eBay.

Every day, each food bank is allocated a pot of fiat currency called "shares." Food banks in areas with bigger populations and more poverty receive larger numbers of shares. Twice a day, they can use their shares to bid online on any of the 30 to 40 truckloads of food that were donated directly to Feeding America. The winners of the auction pay for the truckloads with their shares. Then, all the shares spent on a particular day are reallocated back to food banks at midnight. That means that food banks that did not spend their shares on a particular day would end up with more shares and thus a greater ability to bid the next day. In this way, the system has built-in fairness: If a large food bank could afford to spend a fortune on a truck of frozen chicken, its shares would show up on the balance of smaller food banks the next day. Moreover, neighboring food banks can now team up to bid jointly to reduce their transport costs.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Making It All Up : The behavioral sciences scandal (ANDREW FERGUSON, 10/19/15, Weekly Standard)

For one thing, the "reproducibility crisis" is not unique to the social sciences, and it shouldn't be a surprise it would touch social psychology too. The widespread failure to replicate findings has afflicted physics, chemistry, geology, and other real sciences. Ten years ago a Stanford researcher named John Ioannidis published a paper called "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False." 

"For most study designs and settings," Ioannidis wrote, "it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true." He used medical research as an example, and since then most systematic efforts at replication in his field have borne him out. His main criticism involved the misuse of statistics: He pointed out that almost any pile of data, if sifted carefully, could be manipulated to show a result that is "statistically significant." 

Statistical significance is the holy grail of social science research, the sign that an effect in an experiment is real and not an accident. It has its uses. It is indispensable in opinion polling, where a randomly selected sample of people can be statistically enhanced and then assumed to represent a much larger population. 

But the participants in behavioral science experiments are almost never randomly selected, and the samples are often quite small. Even the wizardry of statistical significance cannot show them to be representative of any people other than themselves. 

This is a crippling defect for experiments that are supposed to help predict the behavior of people in general. Two economists recently wrote a little book called The Cult of Statistical Significance, which demonstrated how easily a range of methodological flaws can be obscured when a researcher strains to make his experimental data statistically significant. The book was widely read and promptly ignored, perhaps because its theme, if incorporated into behavioral science, would lay waste to vast stretches of the literature. 

Behavioral science shares other weaknesses with every field of experimental science, especially in what the trade calls "publication bias." A researcher runs a gauntlet of perverse incentives that encourages him to produce positive rather than negative results. Publish or perish is a pitiless mandate. Editors want to publish articles that will get their publications noticed, and researchers, hoping to get published and hired, oblige the tastes of editors, who are especially pleased to gain the attention of journalists, who hunger for something interesting to write about. 

Negative results, which show that an experiment does not produce a predicted result, are just as valuable scientifically but unlikely to rouse the interest of Shankar Vedantam and his colleagues. And positive results can be got relatively easily. Behavioral science experiments yield mounds of data. A researcher assumes, like the boy in the old joke, that there must be a pony in there somewhere. After some data are selected and others left aside, the result is often a "false positive"​--​interesting if true, but not true.

Publication bias, compounded with statistical weakness, makes a floodtide of false positives. "Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue," wrote the editor of the medical journal Lancet not long ago. Following the Reproducibility Project, we now know his guess was probably too low, at least in the behavioral sciences. The literature, continued the editor, is "afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance."

...is that conservatives are close-minded because we don't blindly accept scientific findings.
Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


The Real Obama Doctrine (NIALL FERGUSON, Oct. 9, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Obama also had his own plan for the Middle East. "It would be profoundly in the interest" of the region's citizens "if Sunnis and Shias weren't intent on killing each other," Mr. Obama said in that same interview. "If we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion--not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon--you could see an equilibrium developing between . . . predominantly Sunni Gulf states and Iran."

Now I see that this was the strategy--a strategy aimed at creating a new balance of power in the Middle East. The deal on Iran's nuclear-arms program was part of Mr. Obama's aim (as he put it to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in May) "to find effective partners--not just in Iraq, but in Syria, and in Yemen, and in Libya." Mr. Obama said he wanted "to create the international coalition and atmosphere in which people across sectarian lines are willing to compromise and are willing to work together in order to provide the next generation a fighting chance for a better future."

Just as W could not process the importance to the WoT of accepting Ayatollah Khameini's first peace offering, neither can the UR process that he's signed an alliance with the Shi'a against the Salafist Sunni Kingdom.

By the time folks can accept that the US and Iran are allies, we'll have already won the war together.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Sweden Moves to 6-Hour Workday, Outsmarts Us All (Clay Skipper and GQ.com  October 02, 2015)

As the CEO of a Stockholm software company (and perfectly named) Swede Linus Feldt says, "I think the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think. To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge."

And he's right! Between walking over to inappropriately flirt with share some laughs with your office crush coworker Alex in Finance, checking your fantasy football team in the stall bathroom breaks, and reading a riveting GQ piece or six, how much of the day do you really spend working?

A six-hour day model leaves you happier, less antagonistic towards The Man, and with more energy when you're at work. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Where does Oman and Iran's Pipeline leave Saudi Arabia? (Akhil Shah, 24 September, 2015, ISN Blog)

Recent reports suggest that officials in the Sultanate of Oman and the Islamic Republic of Iran have given the go-ahead for the rumored 173-mile underwater gas pipeline connecting the two nations. As of March 2013, only an "understanding" had been reached. The new reports raise clear implications for the wider Gulf region, particularly Saudi Arabia.

For decades, and especially since the "Arab Spring" uprisings several years ago, Saudi Arabia has attempted to bind its smaller Gulf neighbors in a tight bloc to counter perceived Iranian aggression. On numerous occasions, Riyadh has provided military and economic support for its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. The Saudis have also pushed for the establishment of a Gulf union comprising the Council's six member states. The kingdom's objective has been to further bind the GCC together in a united political and economic front vis-à-vis Iran.

The Sultanate's foreign partners--particularly the United States--have, until recently, strongly discouraged any relations with Iran. Yet Oman's dealings with Iran have not created major issues in terms of Muscat's alliances with Washington and Riyadh. Following the historic nuclear deal that the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran signed on July 14 in Vienna, however, Saudi Arabia finds itself increasingly threatened--politically, economically, and militarily. Not only does Iran sit on the world's third largest oil reserves, it also presents a genuine challenge to Saudi Arabia's traditional role as the anchor of geopolitical order in the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Will self-serve beer render bartenders obsolete? (Andrew Khouri, 10/01/15, LA Times)

A small but growing number of gastropubs and fast-casual restaurants are going self-serve, installing systems that enable drinkers to draw their own taps, similar to the soda fountain at McDonald's but far more sophisticated.
Establishments in the notoriously low-margin restaurant industry say the technology not only cuts labor costs but also boosts revenue by encouraging customers to sample what can be a bewildering array of Belgian quads, India pale ales or oatmeal stouts on a menu.
The technology has another attraction: It can measure and charge literally by the sip...

The Forces Against Organized Labor (RUTH MILKMAN  OCT 1, 2015, Pacific Standard)

Contrary to popular belief, de-unionization is not primarily due to globalization or new technology: Successful attacks on organized labor have affected many place-bound low-tech industries, like construction or hospitality, nearly as much as manufacturing. The primary driver of labor's decline is the growing power of corporate employers who are fiercely determined to weaken unions where they already exist and to prevent their emergence elsewhere. That determination is reinforced by the ideology of market fundamentalism, for which both unionism itself and governmental protection of the right to organize are anathema.

Many factors determine unionization rates. All else being equal, if employment declines in a non-union (or weakly unionized) sector, unionization levels will fall. Conversely, if employment expands in a sector where unionism is absent or weak, they will rise. Actively recruiting new members is the main way unions themselves can raise membership. But since labor market churning is an inherent feature of capitalist economies, with new jobs constantly being created and old ones being destroyed, simply maintaining a stable unionization rate requires a great deal of new organizing; increasing the rate requires even more extensive effort. In the contemporary U.S., where unionization is now concentrated largely in legacy industries that are no longer growing, de-unionization is inevitable unless labor organizers can recruit on a massive scale. 

Driverless robot taxis to be tested in Japanese town (Justin McCurry, 5 October 2015, The Guardian)

Dozens of people in Japan will be whisked to the local shops in driverless taxis from next year in an experiment with robot technology that could be fully commercial by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020.

A fundamental thing to understand about international trade is that countries do not compete with one another. They cooperate. If Japan is better at making cars than the U.S., and we're better at growing wheat than they are, then instead of us making our own cars and them growing their own wheat, we'll trade. This is what's called "comparative advantage," and at the aggregate national level it's a win-win. The overall economic performance of both sides goes up.

Because people in the upper world of capital live off the aggregate performance of the economy, the TPP and other free trade deals look great from their perspective. But people in the concrete world live off their particular part of it. So if you're a worker in a part of the economy in which the other country does your good or service better, you're toast.

This dynamic is extremely important to understanding how globalization has played out. The relatively egalitarian economy we enjoyed mid-century was built on a network of public investment, union power, and job benefits -- all entangled with the companies in big middle-class industries like manufacturing. That network ensured that, when money flowed up from the concrete economy into the world of capital, a lot of it flowed back down again. That didn't make both worlds equally free and fluid, but it did bring them closer together.

But that network was also fragile, built on the assumption that the concrete world would remain as it had always been. As soon as globalization and free trade started picking off various parts of the concrete economy, everything fell apart. Money kept flowing up, but it stopped flowing down; inequality spiked, and incomes for the middle- and working-class stagnated. The only other way to ensure a strong downward flow of money from the world of capital was to bypass the market proper entirely: Use the government to distribute money to the world of concrete economic activity. Other Western countries have gone that route. But the American welfare state was never that robust, and obviously a rewrite of it is not in the cards.

Now, in fairness to the TPP, it's not obvious how much more damage it can do in this regard. The U.S. places duties on just 20 percent of the exports from the other 11 countries in the deal, and the TPP will phase out around 18,000 hurdles they've put on our exports. It will also establish consistent rules across all 11 countries for everything from collective bargaining, minimum wages, and excessive hours, to unsustainable logging and protections for endangered species.

On the flip side, the most optimistic estimates are that the TPP will increase aggregate American economic growth by a paltry 0.03 percentage points a year. That the U.S elite are still gung-ho about the deal suggests they're pretty confident they can capture every last dollar from that extra 0.03 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Some 30 years after the world's worst nuclear accident blasted radiation across Chernobyl, the site has evolved from a disaster zone into a nature reserve, teeming with elk, deer and wolves, scientists said on Monday.

The remarkable turnaround in the area, which was declared a permanent no-go zone for people after the accident in 1986, suggests radiation contamination is not hindering wildlife from breeding and thriving, but underscores the negative impact humans have on populations of wild mammals.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Republican Party's Big Question: To Fight or Govern? (GERALD F. SEIB, Oct. 8, 2015, WSJ)

John Murray, who was a top adviser to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor--himself a victim of a tea-party insurrection in the last election--frames the GOP choice this way: "Is this about ideological warfare, or is it about a vision to govern by conservative principles?"

...then governing well is evil too.  Ultimately, the wingnuts oppose the very notion of the Republic.

Archconservatives' Real Enemy Is Democracy (Francis Wilkinson, 10/09/15, Bloomberg View)

The difference between the Ultras in the House and the mainstream Republicans they delight in humiliating isn't so much about tactics as democracy. The Ultras bulk up on the former -- holding their leadership hostage, pushing the party to hold the nation's credit hostage, or government funding hostage -- but they have little use for the latter.

Barack Obama was re-elected to the White House in 2012 by a margin of roughly 5 million votes. To mainstream conservatives this is unfortunate. But it's also a fact. Not just a Democratic fact, but a small-d democratic one. The people spoke at the ballot box, and that voice cannot simply be annihilated. What's more, there are a couple hundred years of government precedent and a written Constitution to guide the balancing of conflicting interests between the president and his party and the Congress and its majorities.

But the Ultras are not big on balance. Or, really, democracy. To them, Obama is not the duly elected president of the United States, the nation's highest officer. He is an affront and an obstacle. Since he is not an archconservative Republican, and they so fervently wish that he were, they simply deem him illegitimate.

The Ultras are called "outsider" and "anti-establishment" and "anti-government." And they are in various ways. But they are mostly anti-democratic. They reserve their greatest contempt for compromise, even with members of their own party. Compromise is the viscous stuff that enables diverse interests to be accommodated and government to function. It's the stuff of American pluralism and representative democracy, fluid enough to carry multiple views but still sticky enough to make one of many.

The Ultras are at war with Democrats, with Republicans, with government itself. But mostly they are war with perhaps the greatest, if least heralded, of American political ideals: half-a-loafism. In a 50-50 nation, they don't want small bites. They want it all. Never mind that they represent a rump of one party.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The idea, once so amazing, of robots working on assembly lines is regarded these days as laughably primitive by those in business. Thanks to vast increases in dexterity and the ability to see in three dimensions, modern robots can cook and serve fast food; pick fruit, carefully distinguishing between the ripe and unripe; keep control of huge inventories and stack shelves accordingly.

But that's just for starters - because another thing on which these books agree is that those IBM customers were right to be nervous. "The machines are coming for the high-wage, high-skill jobs as well," Ford says. "Automation is blind to the colour of your collar," writes Kaplan, who also gives us the chilling information that "the holy grail of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is the disruption of entire industries - because that's where the big money is to be made".

In the great tradition of revolutions swallowing their own, one high-skill group of workers to have suffered already is the members of IT departments. (No wonder that the sitcom The IT Crowd is starting to seem as historical as Dad's Army.) But they're not alone. Since 2000, the number of financial workers on Wall Street has fallen by 50,000 - around a third - as high-frequency trading programmes complete 100,000 transactions in a 10th of second, while simultaneously seeking to mislead their electronic competitors. Now, according to Ford, "nearly any white-collar job that involves sitting in front of a computer manipulating information" is under threat.

And so it goes on. What legal firm will pay its juniors to sift through hundreds of documents when a computer can absorb millions in a few seconds? Who will trust their doctor's diagnosis when a neat bit of software can instantly sift every medical article ever published? Worse still, computers can now turn facts into perfectly serviceable journalism. All in all, a 2013 Oxford University study concluded, 47% of US jobs are at risk from automation.

The consequent mass unemployment, needless to say, will lead to even greater inequality. As Kaplan arrestingly puts it, Amazon's Jeff Bezos earns more on a Saturday playing golf than three average US college graduates will earn between them in a lifetime (if, that is, they hold on to their jobs). And without work, Ford wonders, how will people have enough money to support the mass consumerism on which any remaining jobs might depend?

...we'll stop redistributing wealth via jobs and use a different means.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


It's Been 50 Years Since the Biggest US-Backed Genocide You've Never Heard Of : As many as 1 million people were killed by Indonesia's Cold War regime--and we still don't know the full story of our government's involvement. (Samantha Michaels, Oct. 1, 2015, Mother Jones)

During the the Cold War, why was the United States concerned about Indonesia? After Indonesia won its war of independence against the Netherlands in 1949, a hero of the struggle named Sukarno became president. The United States was not a fan of his politics: Though he was not a communist himself, he was an anti-West populist-socialist who took steps after the war to nationalize plantations and other lucrative assets. He also protected the rapidly growing communist party, known as the PKI, which by 1965 was the biggest such organization outside of a communist country. The United States conducted covert operations during the late 1950s intended to weaken Sukarno's government and strengthen the staunchly anti-communist Indonesian military. "They considered the army to have the muscle to balance Sukarno," says Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

What sparked the mass murders? In the early hours of October 1, 1965, a group of army conspirators killed six generals in Jakarta, the country's capital. Maj. Gen. Suharto, who would soon become Indonesia's dictator for more than three decades, took control of the armed forces, claiming that the killings were part of an attempted communist coup. Then he and the military launched a campaign to purge Indonesians believed to be connected with the communist party or left-leaning organizations. They also targeted hundreds of thousands of Indonesians unconnected to the party who they saw as potential opponents of their new regime, including union members, small farmers, intellectuals, activists, and ethnic Chinese. The carnage was so intense that people stopped eating fish--fearing that the fish were consuming the human corpses flooding the rivers.

So, how was the United States involved? Speculation abounds over the US role in the 1965 military takeover, though there's no concrete proof in the public record that America had a direct hand in it. However, investigations by journalists, as well as government documents, have made it clear that the United States provided money, weapons, and equipment to the Indonesian military while it was undertaking the killings. What's more, according to excerpts of contemporary cables released by the US State Department, officials at the US embassy created lists of thousands of names of communists and provided them to the military. It has been reported that the CIA worked on the lists, too, but the agency has denied involvement, Harsono says.

And what did Indonesia get out of it other than alliance with the lone superpower, a stable Islamist democracy and an emerging economy?

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


The Real Reason for the Chaos in the House : It's not just rebellious GOP lawmakers. It's what empowers those lawmakers to buck the party leadership. (Reihan Salam, 10/09/15, Slate)

Today's GOP rebels aren't the first lawmakers who've wanted to rock the boat. What separates them from the rebels of earlier years is that there is almost nothing that party leaders can do to keep them in check. Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has argued that in the bad old days, when pork-barrel spending and earmarks reigned, leadership could bring rebellious backbenchers to heel by threatening to withhold sweet, sweet taxpayer dollars from this or that public project in a member's district. Such tactics are now frowned upon, and Republicans have gone so far as to impose an outright ban on earmarks--one that at least some Republicans would like to reverse. 

There's another factor, which Rauch also references. Successive waves of campaign finance regulation have been designed to limit the influence of money in politics. What these regulations have actually done is quite different. In Better Parties, Better Government, Joel Gora and Peter Wallison observe that today's campaign finance regulations limit the extent to which candidates can coordinate their fundraising and campaigning efforts with central party organizations, so candidates have to build their own fundraising networks. Building such a network is fairly easy for those who've spent their lives around the very wealthy or who are very wealthy themselves. But it is much harder for less wealthy individuals who have dedicated their lives to public service or who for whatever reason aren't skilled in the art of wheedling money out of strangers. [...]

Imagine a world in which virtually all fundraising for House races was done by an official organ of the GOP, like the National Republican Congressional Committee, as Gora and Wallison recommend. Promising candidates would receive money directly from GOP HQ, so they wouldn't have to devote all of their time, or indeed any of their time, to fundraising. This would free up candidates to spend more time in their districts or on doing the nitty-gritty work of legislating. Candidates could still raise their own money or spend their own money. The First Amendment protects their right to do so. But candidates backed by the party would have an advantage over those who don't enjoy official party support, as building one national fundraising machine is so much more efficient than building hundreds of fundraising machines for individual candidates. The appeal of this party-provided campaign cash would be such that candidates would be very reluctant to lose it--so they'd be far more inclined to play ball with the party leaders who control the purse strings. 

There'd be another advantage to this system: If the parties had a freer hand in raising funds and the ability to dispatch those funds to the strongest candidates, including candidates who struggle to raise money on their own, we'd have a far more competitive political system. To be sure, party organizations in this scenario would have to raise funds from wealthy individuals and interest groups. Yet the sheer size and scope of these fundraising machines would ensure that they'd have little choice but to raise funds from a far broader collection of interests than an individual candidate, and in aggregating these disparate interests, they'd be in a better position to limit the influence of any one donor or group of donors. 

...barring donations to individuals but allowing unlimited to the parties is all it would require.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The tea party forces that pushed Boehner to plan his exit after nearly five years in the top job now have less leverage against a man with nothing to lose. Conservative hard-liners have caused further chaos by blocking the ascension of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

What are they going to do now, threaten to force a vote to immediately oust Boehner?


"Sometimes the dog catches the car and doesn't know what to do," Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, a Boehner ally, said of the House Freedom Caucus and other hard-right lawmakers.

They just made the Speaker the most dangerous man in Washington.

October 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


The Tragedy of Marco Rubio (Ira Stoll, 10/09/15, Future of Capitalism)

And yet a day spent with Mr. Rubio at three campaign events in the Granite State leaves one with the distinct impression that for all his formidable campaign strengths, Mr. Rubio will have to grow as a politician and up his game considerably if he wants to win the nomination or the presidency, let alone if he is to be an effective president. He may even have a difficult time beating out Jeb Bush, John Kasich, or Ted Cruz as the non-Trump, non-Carson candidate around whom Republicans can coalesce.

What's the problem, exactly? One obstacle is that he's shaky when it comes to facts. The kindest way to describe it is that he exaggerates. That is a tendency that will get him in trouble in the scrutiny of a national campaign.

Talking about health reform, Mr. Rubio contrasts his own family of six, where someone is at the doctor once a month, with his brother-in-law, a healthy 28- or 29-year-old single who "thinks he's never gonna die." The "system we have now says we both need to have the exact same insurance," Mr. Rubio says. That's just flat-out false. The law does sets a minimum standard for creditable coverage, but it also does allow consumers the ability to choose between plans with higher and lower deductibles and premiums, and between insurers and plans with smaller or larger networks. A "bronze" plan is not "the exact same" as a "gold" plan.

Talking about immigration law, Mr. Rubio faulted the current system for giving a family reunification preference to relatives of those already here. On the other hand, someone who is "the best physicist on the planet...may or may not get to come," Mr. Obama said. That is also nonsense. Existing law provides for the O-1 and EB-1 categories, also known as "genius" visas. A Nobel laureate physicist or novelist or chemist -- or an employer who wanted to bring them over -- might have to pay an immigration lawyer to prepare an application, but the super-talented, high-achieving immigrant would get in, in a matter of months. Meanwhile, plenty of applicants for family reunification visas face wait times of up to 20 years.

Talking about taxes, Mr. Rubio promised, "we're gonna have a tax code that no longer has the highest business tax rate on the planet." In fact the United Arab Emirates and Chad -- both on planet Earth -- have higher corporate tax rates, according to the Tax Foundation.

Even if one gives Mr. Rubio a pass on the exaggeration or sloppiness on details, there are entire policy areas where his campaign's approach seems bizarre or ill-thought out.

The only tragedy would be if we fail to learn from the UR's example and elect a legislator with no executive experience again.  Six years is too long to get a president up to speed.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Ben Bernanke Is Fed Up (Chad Stone, 10/09/15, US News)

Bernanke says he "lost patience with Republicans' susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right." Here's part of his indictment:

They saw inflation where it did not exist and, when the official data did not bear out their predictions, invoked conspiracy theories. They denied that monetary or fiscal policy could support job growth, while still working to direct federal spending to their own districts. They advocated discredited monetary systems, like the gold standard.

Bernanke's right; these views aren't conservative - they're kooky.

...that reality can not trump your theory.  So the permanent absence of any inflation, nevermind of the hyperinflation their doctrine requires can have no impact on the Right.

But, it's important to note that Mr. Bernanke is also indicting himself here.  After all, to prove his inflation-hawk bona fides he hiked rates in '06/'07 into the teeth of the reality that there was no inflation.  The historically high real interest rates--and their accidental exposure of the risk hidden in derivatives--eventually triggered the credit crisis. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


3 reasons why the Tories obsession with 'hardwork' is blind idiocy (GABRIEL BRISTOW 6 October 2015, Open Democracy)

'Hardwork' is idea that just won't go away - here are four reasons why we need to call time on it:

1. However hard we work, automation is going to eat our jobs. As Martin Ford, Silicon Valley speaker, puts it, the idea that robots are going to render us all unemployed in the near future is like the story of the boy who cried wolf: there are a few red herrings along the way, but ultimately, the wolf shows up in the end. It didn't come to pass with the first industrial revolution. But this time, there is mounting evidence that rapid advances in robotics and 'artificial intelligence' are going replace not only monotonous factory jobs, but also so-called 'high skilled' work: journalism, law, radiology, and pretty much any other job you can imagine. News articles are already being generated by computers (this one?). If we want to be 'one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years time', as Hunt put it, then we need to invest in this technology and learn how to manage its political consequences, not 'work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard'. [...]

2. Hard work does not equal better pay. Why listen to a millionaire aristocratic telling you to work harder to better yourself and your country while he avoids taxes? Especially when, as it turns out, productivity no longer bears any relation to compensation. One of Hunts shining beacons of 'hardwork', America, is the best example of this. Despite gains in productivity over the last 40 years, real wages has stagnated and even declined. That means that however much more has been produced per hour - be it through technological innovation, efficiencies, or 'hardwork' - the gains have gone to shareholders, not to wage increases. [...]

3. Sweden is moving to a 6 hour working day. As usual, Scandinavia is ahead of the curve. Rather than beating their population with a blunt instrument and screaming 'hardwork!', it was announced last week that Swedes are moving to a 6 hour working day. This is because they understand, unlike Hunt, that life outside of work is generally better. And indeed, even the Daily Mail - screaming banshees of 'hardwork' that they are - reported that Swedish employees are happier and more productive when working shorter hours.

Research by the New Economics Foundation has shown that a shorter working week - say 30 or even 21 hours - could provide a whole host of benefits to society. Health improves due to reduced levels of stress, childcare could be shared more equally between women and men, and (as in Sweden) productivity would go up because workers would all be less numbed by unspeakable hours spent procrastinating at a desk.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Why Obama Should Let Putin Misfire in Syria (Derek Cholet, 10/09/15, Fiscal Times)

Russia's motivation is simple: to protect Assad. Putin believes he is defending a basic principle against "outside intervention" that seeks to bring down an allied government--as he's angrily watched happen over the last 15 years in Serbia, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine. And Russia's military role in the Syrian conflict is hardly new. They've been there from the beginning as one of Assad's only allies and chief weapons suppliers. Russian personnel have been on the ground throughout.

Seen this way, Putin's moves are driven primarily out of fear and weakness, not confidence and strength. He sees his only ally left in the region on the ropes and therefore Russia had to come to his defense. Russia wants to maintain the only military outpost it has in the region, anchored by a key naval facility in Tartus.

Now that Russia has decided to go all-in to back Assad, it will have to be there for the long haul. It may enjoy some tactical battlefield successes. But defeats and mistakes are just as likely (or, as shown by Russian missiles landing in Iran, perhaps more likely). And for Russia to maintain its position it will require a continuing supply of resources and higher costs, which will prove harder to sustain over time.

Putin also wants to use the military intervention in Syria to change the subject from some of his troubles at home, particularly the situation in Ukraine and Russia's economic tailspin. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Why the Tea Party's Hold Persists (Theda Skocpol, Winter 2014, Democray)

In 2011, Vanessa Williamson and I published our book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which used a full panoply of research--from interviews and local observations to media and website analysis and tracking of national surveys--to explain the dynamics of this radical movement. We showed how bottom-up and top-down forces intersect to give the Tea Party both leverage over the Republican Party and the clout to push national politics sharply to the right.

At the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local Tea Parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels. At least half of all GOP voters sympathize with this Tea Party upsurge. They are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative-minded men and women who fear that "their country" is about to be lost to mass immigration and new extensions of taxpayer-funded social programs (like the Affordable Care Act) for low- and moderate-income working-aged people, many of whom are black or brown. Fiscal conservatism is often said to be the top grassroots Tea Party priority, but Williamson and I did not find this to be true. Crackdowns on immigrants, fierce opposition to Democrats, and cuts in spending for the young were the overriding priorities we heard from volunteer Tea Partiers, who are often, themselves, collecting costly Social Security, Medicare, and veterans benefits to which they feel fully entitled as Americans who have "paid their dues" in lifetimes of hard work.

The Tea Party is the price we pay for Reagan rescuing the New Deal.
Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Why Kevin McCarthy's Speaker Bid Was Doomed (HARRY ENTEN, 10/08/15, 538)

The importance of "outsiderness" in the GOP has been evident for a few years. We saw it in votes on the debt ceiling in 2011, the fiscal cliff in 2013, and the budget battles of the last month. As the political scientists who maintain the DW-Nominate system have pointed out about the second dimension: "Although Congress is nearly one-dimensional liberal-conservative, enough stress has built up to clearly divide the Republican Party on many issues."

If all this sounds familiar, it might be because it's also playing out in the Republican primary for president. Ben Carson and Trump don't rank as highly conservative in our ideological rankings as most other 2016 candidates. Nor do they rank as super conservative in the minds of Republican voters. Yet, Trump and Carson currently rank first and second, respectively, in polls of the GOP race. Why? Carson and Trump are outsiders. In FiveThirtyEight's graphical view of the GOP race, Carson and Trump are far, far away from the establishment.

Neither Carson nor Trump has ever held elected office. Carson is a soft-spoken, nice guy who doesn't get entangled playing politics. Trump is the exact opposite: fighting everyone under the sun. Typical politicians are a little bit of each.

The normal rules of politics seem to apply less to the Republican Party each passing day.

...is that Trump is outside of it.

October 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


["F]ree stuff" from the government is far more extensive than the benefits disdained by those politicians, and is eagerly accepted by people of every race and income level. As Howard Gleckman, a tax expert who writes for the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, pointed out recently, virtually every American gets some kind of government subsidy, from people who have mortgages or employer-sponsored health care (big tax deductions) to those who work for or invest in big companies (big corporate tax subsidies). Recipients of Social Security and Medicare get back far more in benefits than they paid in taxes.

Benefits to people who are not poor often equal or dwarf the cost of those for the poor. The home mortgage interest deduction, which the Congressional Budget Office found largely benefits the top one-fifth of income earners, cost the federal government about $70 billion in 2013; food stamps cost the government $74 billion last year. The tax break for employers who provide health insurance cost Washington $250 billion in 2013.

Medicare, which is available to all seniors regardless of income level, is more expensive ($587 billion in 2013) than Medicaid ($449 billion), the health care program for the poor, and an average-income couple retiring this year will get back three times more in Medicare benefits than they paid in Medicare taxes.

These comparisons of benefits rarely come up when talk on the campaign trail turns to "handouts." But even the "free stuff" the politicians do bring up goes to a larger, more diverse group of people than is commonly believed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


The French Exception? (Kenneth Rogoff, 10/07/15, Project Syndicate)

More than ever, the French economy is at the center of the global debate about how far one can push the limits of state size and control in a capitalist democracy. To those on the left, France's generous benefits and strong trade unions provide a formula for a more inclusive welfare state. To those on the right, France's oversized and intrusive government offers only a blueprint for secular decline. For the moment, the right looks right.

Once nearly the economic equal of Germany, France has fallen well behind over the past decade, with per capita GDP now about 10% lower.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


An ambitious Pacific Rim trade deal anchored by the U.S. promises to boost the economies of its 12 participating countries by opening their markets to one another, but not all the gains will be spread evenly.

Among the biggest winners of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is Vietnam, where booming garment and shoe industries are poised to benefit from the elimination of tariffs in the United States and other major importing nations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


A driverless Citroën has completed a 580-kilometre journey from Paris to Bordeaux in a move that poses a serious challenge to tech giant Google and its self-driving car project.

In an experiment run as part of a conference in Bordeaux on intelligent mobility, the test car made the trip without the help of a driver, at least during the long stretch of smooth autoroute which connects Paris and the southern city.

The Citroën C4 Picasso used in the trial may be nothing special on the outside, but the bog-standard exterior hides a battery of relatively cheap microsensors like those used in aircraft and submarines for a number of years now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Imam network launches site to counter Isis propaganda : Online magazine Haqiqah aims to show that extremist group's message has no theological basis (Alexandra Topping,  7 October 2015, The Guardian)

Qari Asim, senior imam at the Makkah mosque in Leeds, said the community was determined to be proactive in countering extremism.

"Any solution to the problem of extremism has to come from the community," he said. "The Muslim community has suffered more at the hands of these extremists than anyone else. It is not in our interests at all to condone what they are saying, it brings our faith into disrepute, it poisons our young people and it fuels anti-Muslim sentiment."

The second issue of Haqiqah, launched on Thursday - the first edition was downloaded 75,000 times - focuses on the ideological and practical failure of Isis to created a caliphate. Clerics argue that the biggest mass migration into Europe since the second world war proves that Isis have only succeeded in spreading terror and hatred.

Writing in the magazine, Mohamed el-Sharkawy, of al-Azhar College of Islamic Studies, says: "Under Daesh [Isis] rule we have seen indiscriminate mass murder (Muslims and non-Muslims), the killing of imams and scholars that exposed them for the irreligious beings they are, the corruption of sacred laws, the destruction of mosques and places of worship, the unjustifiable enslavement of innocent young girls.

"Time and time again the Qur'an and the prophetic teachings implore us to act in moderation, to act in kindness and with justice. Nowhere in the Islamic tradition do we see any justification for what Daesh are doing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Kevin McCarthy Drops Out of House Speaker Race (JENNIFER STEINHAUER and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, OCT. 8, 2015, NY Times)

Representative Kevin McCarthy on Thursday abruptly took himself out of the race to succeed John A. Boehner as House speaker, apparently undone by the same forces that drove Mr. Boehner to resign.

Mr. McCarthy announced his decision at a meeting of Republicans in the Capitol, and the gathering quickly became chaotic, with many members unable even to hear what was being said. Mr. Boehner requested unanimous consent to postpone the election -- rather than immediately moving to vote on the remaining two candidates -- and then announced, "the meeting is adjourned."

It's like the Iran vote, they get to pretend they opposed Boehner but keep him as Speaker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


U.S. officials say Russian missiles heading for Syria landed in Iran (Barbara Starr and Jeremy Diamond, 10/08/15, CNN)

A number of cruise missiles launched from a Russian ship and aimed at targets in Syria have crashed in Iran, two U.S. officials told CNN Thursday.

October 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Low oil prices are here to stay as the US shale oil revolution goes global (Robert Aguilera and Marian Radetzki, 8 October 2015, Online Opinion)

Beginning less than a decade ago, the shale oil revolution has turned the long run declining oil production trends in the United States into rises of 73% between 2008 and 2014. An exceedingly high rate of productivity improvements in this relatively new industry promises to strengthen the competitiveness of shale output even further.

A series of environmental problems related to shale exploitation have been identified, most of which are likely to be successfully handled as the infant, "wild west" industry matures and as environmental regulation is introduced and sharpened.

Geologically, the United States does not stand out in terms of shale resources. A very incomplete global mapping suggests a US shale oil share of no more than 17% of a huge geological wealth, widely geographically spread. Given the mainly non-proprietary shale technology and the many advantages accruing to the producing nations, it is inevitable that the revolution will spread beyond the United States.

We have assessed the prospects of non-US shale oil output in 2035, positing that the rest of the world will by then exploit its shale resources as successfully as the United States has done in the revolution's first ten years. This would yield rest of world an output of 19.5 million barrels per day in 2035, which is similar to the global rise of all oil production in the preceding 20 years - a stunning increase with far-reaching implications in many fields.

Another related revolution is beginning to see the light of the day, but news about it has barely reached the media. It is being gradually realised that the advancements in horizontal drilling and fracking can also be applied to conventional oil extraction.

If the rest of the world applies these techniques to conventional oil, as the United State has done, this would yield a further addition of conventional oil amounting to 19.7 million barrels per day by 2035.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


How the Gun Lobby Rewrote the Second Amendment (Cass R. Sunstein, 10/07/15, Bloomberg View)

A quick quiz: In what century did the Supreme Court first rule that people have an individual right to own guns? The answer is the 21st century. It was not until 2008 -- the year Barack Obama was elected president -- that the Court initially ruled that the Constitution imposes serious barriers to gun control. And it did so only by a narrow 5-4 margin.

To understand the magnitude of that change, go back to 1991, when Chief Justice Warren Burger agreed to an interview on national television. Burger was a strong conservative, admired on the right, and specifically chosen by President Richard Nixon to combat what he saw as the Supreme Court's left-wing activism.

Despite his conservative bona fides, Burger didn't believe the Constitution created an individual right to possess guns. On the contrary, he said the Second Amendment "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud -- I repeat the word 'fraud' -- on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime." In the next year, he proclaimed that "the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee the right to have firearms at all."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Hillary Clinton Pretends to Oppose Pacific Trade Deal (Jonathan Chait, 10/07/15, New York)

[S]he served as secretary of State during the treaty negotiations and never registered her dissent. Indeed, she praised the agreement over and over and over, even calling it "the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field." Now Clinton has repudiated a treaty with which she has closely associated herself.

She has framed her opposition in carefully hedged terms that leave her multiple escape avenues. "As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it," she said, going on to add, "I don't believe it's going to meet the high bar I have set." Is anybody going to believe that she will actually oppose the treaty as president?

Bill is her Goolsbee.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The Congressional Budget Office report says it's the sixth consecutive drop in a row for the deficit, when measured against the size of the economy, since the $1.4 trillion deficit of Obama's first term.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM



Painkiller manufacturers are confused. Their drugs have maintained the same efficacy at relieving symptoms for the past 25 years, but the placebo effect has gotten stronger in drug trials conducted in the U.S., according to an analysis of 35 experiments published online ahead of print in the journal Pain. In 1996, a painkiller relieved symptoms in 27 percent more patients than a placebo; in a similar trial in 2013, it was only 9 percent, as Nature News reports. As a result, the drugs are appearing less effective during clinical trials, which means that fewer of them have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration; over the past 10 years, more than 90 percent of drugs designed to treat pain have failed in late stages of testing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


The Iranian Project: Why Assad Has Turned to Moscow for Help (Christoph Reut, 10/06/15, Der Spiegel)

Using a variety of pathways, both civilian and military, Tehran is currently in the process of establishing itself in Syria. Military means are being employed to strengthen the holdings of the Shiite militia Hezbollah in areas near the border with Lebanon. To serve this goal, the Syrian National Defense Forces were established, troops that exist alongside the regular Syrian army and which includes tens of thousands of fighters who were trained in Iran. Still, the National Defense Forces have begun to disintegrate into local mafia militias and have actually accelerated the loss of state control over those regions.

It is, however, primarily in the civilian sector where significant changes are afoot. Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs -- Shiite religious teaching centers -- are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to "correct" Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.

All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. "They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don't even wear headscarves and we aren't Shiites," Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: "We don't need you. We need your children and grandchildren."

In addition, Iranian emissaries, either directly or via middlemen, have been buying land and buildings in Damascus, including almost the entire former Jewish quarter, and trying to settle Shiites from other countries there.

Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: "Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don't do that."

That's why Assad has now decided to place his fate in the hands of the religiously unproblematic Russia, which last week transferred aircraft and troops to its military base in the northern Syrian town of Latakia and began flying airstrikes. The fight against the Islamic State terror militia served as a pretext for the operation, but the initial air strikes have not targeted the Islamists at all. Rather, they have been flown against areas controlled by Syrian rebels.

It is, however, questionable whether Iranian influence in the country can be reversed. Negotiations in the Syrian city of Zabadani serve to demonstrate just how far the "Iranian project" has advanced. The city northwest of Damascus, which has been surrounded for three years now, is strategically important for the Shiite militia Hezbollah. Held by rebels, Zabadani represents the last significant hurdle standing in the way of Hezbollah's plan to bring the entire Syrian border region surrounding Lebanon under its control. At the beginning of July, Hezbollah began a large-scale offensive against Zabadani. In response, rebels in Idlib laid siege to, and began firing on, the villages Fua and Kafraya, where more than 10,000 members of the Shiite minority live. Tehran then stepped in and began negotiating directly with the Syrian rebels, including the Nusra Front. The leadership in Damascus was not involved in the talks.

A deal was reached that went much further than anything that Assad has ever agreed to with the rebels. But it is explosive. It demonstrates that the Iranians no longer believe in an Assad victory, and it shows that the country's partitioning has begun, including confessional cleansing.

One of the easy measures of someone's understanding of the Middle East has always been whether they think Hezbollah and Iran are in Syria to save the regime.
Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Saudi Arabia Cuts Oil Prices Amid OPEC Price War (BENOIT FAUCON, Oct. 4, 2015, WSJ)

Saudi Arabia on Sunday made deep reductions to the prices it charges for its oil, hard on the heels of cuts last month by rival producers in the Gulf.

With U.S. production still increasing despite lower oil prices, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are battling to keep their share of the last growing markets in Asia.

Déjà vu? Saudi clerics declare jihad on Russia (Bruce Riedel, October 7, 2015, Brookings)

In a statement harkening back to the war against the Soviet Union 36 years ago in Afghanistan, fifty-five Saudi Wahhabi clerics have signed a call for jihad against Russia for its military intervention in Syria. America and the West are accused of colluding with Moscow by only pretending to support the Syrian opposition since 2011. The statement is not an official document of the Kingdom, but it undoubtedly has much support in the House of Saud.

Could Putin's Syria folly be working any better for us?

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


The TPP deal could be Obama's greatest legacy : The new deal will help shape the contours of the global economy--from Washington, not Beijing (Andrew Hammond, October 6, 2015, Prospect)

In a dramatic, last minute-breakthrough, trade ministers from a dozen countries in the Americas and Asia-Pacific reached a deal on Monday to secure a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.  Should it be ratified by domestic legislatures, the landmark deal will represent the biggest regional free trade agreement in history, and is the largest trade deal struck since the 1994 completion of the Uruguay Round which created the World Trade Organisation.

The deal is important not just because the 12 countries--the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam--encompass around 40 per cent of world GDP.  In addition, TPP has an important rules-setting component and President Barack Obama has asserted that the treaty will enable Washington, rather than Beijing, to create the foundation stone for "21st century trade rules," including standards on trade, investment, data flows and intellectual property.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


If she knew then what she knows now, Therese Taylor would have refused the surgery. In fact, she would have canceled the mammogram. Taylor has come to realize that she lost her breast out of fear, not out of caution. She's learned that her mammogram was at least three times more likely to get her diagnosed and treated for a cancer that never would have harmed her than it was to save her life. But perhaps the most infuriating thing she's learned is that scientific evidence for the harms of mammography has been available--published in medicine's most highly regarded journals--for decades.

What scientists know and Taylor didn't is that mammography isn't the infallible tool we wanted it to be. Some things that look like cancer on a mammogram (or the biopsy that comes afterward) don't act like cancer in the body--they don't invade and proliferate in other organs. Some of the abnormalities breast screenings find will never hurt you, but we don't yet have the tools to distinguish the harmless ones from the deadly ones. And so these medical tests provoke doctors to categorize lots of merely suspicious cells in with the most dangerous cancers, which means that while some lives are saved, even more women end up with treatments they don't need. Whether the chance of benefiting from a mammogram is worth the risks of having one is an individual woman's decision, but Taylor believes her doctors owed her a truthful discussion about the potential harms before she made her choice.

Over the last 25 years, mammography has become one of the most contentious issues in medicine. The National Cancer Institute lit a firestorm in 1993 when, after finding sparse evidence of benefits, it dropped its recommendation that women in their 40s get screened. Since then, most of the debate has remained focused on what age women should start getting mammograms, and the number of women mammograms help. Now, after more than 30 years of routine screenings, some experts are raising a different, perhaps less comfortable question: How many women have mammograms harmed?

If you include everything, the answer is: millions. Mammograms do help a small number of women avoid dying from breast cancer each year, and those lives count, but a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine calculated that over the last 30 years, mammograms have overdiagnosed 1.3 million women in the United States. Millions more women have experienced the anxiety and emotional turmoil of a second battery of tests to investigate what turned out to be a false alarm. Most of the 1.3 million women who were overdiagnosed received some kind of treatment--surgical procedures ranging from lumpectomies to double mastectomies, often with radiation and chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, too--for cancers never destined to bother them. And these treatments pose their own dangers. Though the risk is slight, especially if your life is on the line, a 2013 study found that receiving radiation treatments for breast cancer increases your risk of heart disease, and others have shown it boosts lung cancer risks too. Chemotherapy may damage the heart, and tamoxifen, while a potent treatment for those who need it, doubles the risk of endometrial cancer. In a 2013 paper published in the medical journal BMJ, breast surgeon Michael Baum estimated that for every breast cancer death thwarted by mammography, we can expect an additional one to three deaths from causes, like lung cancer and heart attacks, linked to treatments that women endured.

More and more women are beginning to speak up about this inconvenient reality. Tracy Weitz, a women's health researcher at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, has publicly shared the story of her mother, Diane Olds, who died 10 days after being diagnosed with an aggressive endometrial cancer that Weitz feels may have been caused by tamoxifen treatments for DCIS. In an Elle magazine story in June, Duke University breast surgeon Shelley Hwang described the "terrible feeling" that overcomes her every time she's asked to perform an elective double mastectomy on a woman with DCIS who "almost certainly" would have lived a long life without the procedure. In 2013, journalist Peggy Orenstein, once a staunch defender of mammography, wrote in the New York Times Magazine, "I used to believe that a mammogram saved my life," but 16 years after a breast cancer diagnosis, "my thinking has changed." Having read the latest studies, she wondered, "How much had my mammogram really mattered?"

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


"The Conservatives now have a majority government and this conference provided glimpses of what we should expect in the coming five years," says David Kirkby, senior research fellow at the liberal Conservative think tank Bright Blue. "Many see this as an opportunity to cement the party's appeal as the 'workers party', and policies such as the new National Living Wage are central for this."

Of course, it is Labour that is traditionally the party of the workers. In September, Labour elected the veteran left-wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The Conservatives believe that this was a gift. Speeches by Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne both emphasised progressive values and compassion in a manner not often seen at a Conservative conference.

"Cameron and Osborne had one clear item on the agenda at this year's Conservative conference: to root their political project in the center ground of British politics. They hope that with Labour swinging to the left under Corbyn they can win over centrist and even center-left voters who would previously have voted for Labour," says Charlie Cadywould, researcher in citizenship and political participation at the think tank Demos.

This is the opportunity Jeb has coming, especially if the Democratic primaries become a race to the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Holding signs that said "ReNOir", "Take 'em down! Renoir Sucks" and "God Hates Renoir", members of the Renoir Sucks at Painting movement protested outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Monday. The group, led by organizer Max Geller, demanded the museum remove Renoir paintings - of which there are many, including the famous Dance at Boufival, 1883 - from its walls.

When the Guardian asked why he dislikes Renoir so much, Geller countered: "Why do so many people think he's good? Have you looked at his paintings?

"In real life, trees are beautiful. If you take Renoir's word for it, you'd think trees are just a collection of green squiggles," Geller said.

It's just splatters.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


UK foreign minister lampoons opposition leader over Israel (STUART WINER, October 7, 2015, Times of Israel)

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Tuesday scorned newly elected leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn MP for his failure to mention Israel by name at a meeting of his Labour party's pro-Israel faction.

"I've read the reports of Mr. Corbyn's attendance at the Labour Friends of Israel meeting at Labour Conference and I just want to say one word to you: Israel. I'll say it again: Israel!"

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


THE WORLD'S FIRST FULLY ROBOTIC FARM OPENS IN 2017 (Sarah Fecht, 10/07/15, Popular Science)

Robots will be the farmers of the future. A company in Japan is building an indoor lettuce farm that will be completely tended by robots and computers. The company, named Spread, expects the factory to open in 2017, and the fully automated farming process could make the lettuce cheaper and better for the environment.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


How John Boehner could stay Speaker (Scott Wong - 10/06/15, The Hill)

Speaker John Boehner, who plans to leave office a day before Halloween, told a group of Republican colleagues last week he had an awful nightmare.

"I had this terrible nightmare last night that I was trying to get out and I couldn't get out," the Ohio Republican joked, according to one of his longtime friends, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "And a hand came reaching, pulling me."

But Boehner's nightmare could become reality if House Republicans fail to rally around their nominee for Speaker in a floor vote set for Oct. 29.
Boehner's deputy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), is expected to win the nomination in a closed-door vote on Thursday. But if he can't reach 218 votes in the formal floor vote, additional rounds of voting will be held.

And if no other GOP candidate for Speaker can secure 218, Boehner would not resign his post as Speaker.

All comedy is conservative.

October 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Both Rubio and Jeb Are Running for Another Bush Term : They are George W. Bush Republicans in every conventional sense. (Jamelle Bouie, 10/06/15, Slate)

[T]hey come from a specific GOP tradition--they are both George W. Bush Republicans. What this means is straightforward: They primarily represent the affluent donor base of the GOP, but bundle those interests--broad tax cuts and privatization in particular--with a few policies that benefit more modest families.

You see this with their economic plans. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush bridged the divide between the Republican donor class and ordinary voters with a massive upper-income tax cut, sold as middle-class tax relief. The Bush plan also had a large child tax credit and gave a break to married couples. It was, his campaign argued, a tax plan for everyone. "High-income people would pay a bigger proportion of the tax bill after the Bush tax cuts than before them," said his head economic advisor. This was only true in the axiomatic sense that wealthy people pay more taxes than poorer ones. In terms of value, however, the vast bulk of the worth of Bush's tax cuts would eventually go to the highest earners.

This is the Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush tax approach, full stop. On the more populist side, Rubio would create a new child tax credit, Bush would "nearly double" the standard deduction, and both would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. Both would reduce deductions and other tax subsidies for high-income families, and both would reduce rates for low- and middle-income Americans. But most of the Bush and Rubio tax cuts would go to the wealthiest Americans, from the huge rate cuts for high-income earners and an end to the estate tax, to slashing corporate tax rates and--in the Rubio plan--ending taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest.

You also see George W. Bush's influence on immigration, a key priority for business conservatives. Going against a part of his base, the older Bush brother made a failed push for comprehensive immigration reform in his second term in office. Before that, he used a friendly message, sustained outreach, and visible diversity in his administration to build ground with Latino voters. Contrary to exit polls, Bush probably didn't win 44 percent of Latino voters in the 2004 election. But he certainly broke the 30 percent mark in 2000 and 2004, outperforming every Republican in recent memory. Indeed, Bush--who also made modest inroads with black and Asian American voters--is the only Republican since his dad did it in 1988 to capture 50 percent or more of the national vote.

The UR is essentially just continuing the Clinton/Bush presidencies himself.
Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Tiny Budget Victories : The latest defense authorization bill doesn't contain too many budget shenanigans (Ryan Alexander Oct. 6, 2015, US News)

The National Defense Authorization is the bill that sets policy for the Pentagon. This massive piece of legislation sets the table for the defense appropriations bill that actually gives the Pentagon the cash for the fiscal year. Typically, the authorization bill enjoys bipartisan support and is signed into law each year - for more than 50 years running, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are quick to point out. This makes it unusual in the Washington echo chamber that has developed in the last five years where important legislation languishes for lack of political will to pass it. (Transportation legislation, raising the debt ceiling, etc, ad nauseum.)

The fact that the defense authorization bill will reliably become law makes it a magnet for non-germane issues like last year when Department of Interior land swaps and a commemorative coin for the National Park Service found their way into the bill. So I was pleasantly surprised to find these shenanigans weren't repeated in the fiscal year 2016 version of the bill.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Exclusive: Biden himself leaked word of his son's dying wish : The vice president is mourning. He's also calculating. (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 10/06/15, Politico)

According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau's face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because "the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values."

It was no coincidence that the preliminary pieces around a prospective campaign started moving right after that column. People read Dowd and started reaching out, those around the vice president would say by way of defensive explanation. He was just answering the phone and listening.

But in truth, Biden had effectively placed an ad in The New York Times, asking them to call.

October 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


How Red Was My Hollywood : review of Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters--Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, Allan H. Ryskind (TIMOTHY STANLEY • October 5, 2015, American Conservative)

[R]yskind succeeds in three regards. First, he conclusively proves that each of the Ten was guilty of having been a Communist at some stage and that the degree of Communist subversion of Hollywood was substantial. The lying was extraordinary. In the case of the writer Lillian Hellman, it lasted a lifetime: obfuscating the details of her support for Communism until her death and, along the way, gaining plaudits for her supposedly noble resistance to false charges. Entertainment professionals joined cells so secret that each could operate quite separately from the others. These men and women put into their movies Marxist messages ranging from the subtle to the overt. MGM's 1944 film "Song of Russia" stars Robert Taylor as an American conductor who visits the USSR in 1941. His love affair with a beautiful pianist in a surprisingly prosperous socialist republic is ruined by Operation Barbarossa. Ayn Rand, testifying before HUAC, described the Nazi invasion as depicted in "Song of Russia." Border guards are shown listening peacefully to a Tchaikovsky concert:

Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians are unprepared. Now realize--and that was a great shock to me--that the border that was being shown was the border of [Soviet-occupied] Poland. That was the border of an occupied, destroyed, enslaved county which Hitler and Stalin destroyed together. That was the border being shown to us--just a happy place with people listening to music.

Ryskind's second success is to remind us of the moral ghastliness of the Nazi-Soviet pact. One of the frequent excuses made for Communist sympathy in the 1930s is that it was a form of opposition to fascism. Yet between 1939 and 1941, Stalin carved up Eastern Europe with Hitler, allowing the German dictator to wage war uninterrupted in the West. Ryskind shows how faithful Soviet agents fell in line, switching overnight from advocating an anti-fascist front to urging America to stay out of the war. It is upsetting to see included on the list of guilty people the names of some the century's greatest writers: "Lillian Hellman, Donald Ogden Stewart, Langston Hughes, Dashiell Hammett, and Erskine Caldwell backed [the antiwar effort], which savaged the parties resisting Hitler and the nations overwhelmed by his armies as 'imperialist'. Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre, sent greetings from Moscow."

But Hollywood did fight back, and Ryskind's third achievement is to revive some of the reputations of the red baiters. Enter Ronald Reagan. He was a transformative president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s. Reagan was a liberal in transition to conservatism, and he navigated Hollywood's complex politics with intelligence and skill. His goal was to preserve the principles of fair union representation without succumbing to left-wing agitation. Ryskind is at his most revealing when detailing meetings between union activists and stars like Reagan, Gene Kelly, Dick Powell, and Robert Taylor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Facebook to beam free internet to Africa with satellites (Heather Kelly , 10/05/15, CNN Money)

The social network is teaming up with the French satellite company Eutelsat (ETCMY) to launch a satellite that will provide internet access to people in sub-Saharan Africa. The satellite will launch next year and service will start in the second half of 2016. It will reach 14 countries in West, East and Southern Africa.

Facebook (FB, Tech30) will use the satellite to bring free Internet access to rural areas. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Labor, Leisure and Liberal Education (Mortimer Adler, Imaginative Conservative)

There seem to be two ways in which men can be bettered or improved: first, with respect to special functions or talents and, second, with respect to the capacities and functions that are common to all men. Let me explain. In civilized societies, and even in primitive societies, there is always a rudimentary, and often a very complex, division of labor. Society exists through a diversity of occupations, through different groups of men performing different functions. In addition to the division of labor and the consequent diversity of functions, there is the simple natural fact of individual differences. So one view of education is that which takes these individual and functional differences into consideration and says that men are made better by adjusting them to their occupations, by making them better carpenters or better dentists or better bricklayers, by improving them, in other words, in the direction of their own special talents.

The other view differs from this, in that it makes the primary aim of education the betterment of men not with respect to their differences, but with respect to the similarities which all men have. According to this theory, if there are certain things that all men can do, or certain things that all men must do, it is with these that education is chiefly concerned.

This simple distinction leads us to differentiate between specialized education and general education. There is some ground for identifying specialized education with vocational education, largely because specialization has some reference to the division of labor and the diversity of occupations, and for identifying general education with liberal education because the efforts of general education are directed toward the liberal training of man as man.

There is still another way of differentiating education in terms of its ends. Aristotle often talks about the difference between the useful and the honorable. What he means by the "useful" and the "honorable" can sometimes be translated into extrinsic and intrinsic ends. An educational process has an intrinsic end if its result lies entirely within the person being educated, an excellence or perfection of his person, an improvement built right into his nature as a good habit is part of the nature of the person in whom a power is habituated. An extrinsic end of education, on the other hand, lies in the goodness of an operation, not as reflecting the goodness of the operator but rather the perfection of something else as a result of the operation being performed well.

carpenter-woodworking-toolsThus, for example, there can be two reasons for learning carpentry. One might wish to learn carpentry simply to acquire the skill or art of using tools to fabricate things out of wood, an art or skill that anyone is better for having. Or, one might wish to learn carpentry in order to make good tables and chairs, not as works of art which reflect the excellence of the artist, but as commodities to sell. This distinction between the two reasons for learning carpentry is connected in my mind with the difference or distinction between liberal and vocational education. This carpentry is the same in both cases, but the first reason for learning carpentry is liberal, the second vocational.

All of this, I think, leads directly to the heart of the matter: that vocational training is training for work or labor; it is specialized rather than general; it is for an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of slaves or workers. From my point of view it makes no difference whether you say slaves or workers, for you mean that the worker is a man who does nothing but work--a state of affairs which has obtained, by the way, during the whole industrial period, from its beginning almost to our day.

Liberal education is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and, as compared with vocational training, which is the education of slaves or workers, liberal education is the education of free men.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Soon, Power Will Be Delivered to Your Device by Air (CHRISTOPHER MIMS, Oct. 5, 2015, WSJ0

What is coming are hermetically sealed smartphones and other gadgets that charge without ever plugging into a wall. And soon after there will be sensors, cameras and controllers that can be stuck to any surface, indoors or out, without the need to consider how to connect them to power.

Wireless power will be, in other words, not just a convenience, but a fundamental enabler of whole new platforms.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


How the Fed saved the economy (Ben S. Bernanke, 10/05/15, WSJ)

What the Fed can do is two things: First, by mitigating recessions, monetary policy can try to ensure that the economy makes full use of its resources, especially the workforce. High unemployment is a tragedy for the jobless, but it is also costly for taxpayers, investors and anyone interested in the health of the economy. Second, by keeping inflation low and stable, the Fed can help the market-based system function better and make it easier for people to plan for the future. Considering the economic risks posed by deflation, as well as the probability that interest rates will approach zero when inflation is very low, the Fed sets an inflation target of 2%, similar to that of most other central banks around the world.

How has monetary policy scored on these two criteria? Reasonable people can disagree on whether the economy is at full employment. The 5.1% headline unemployment rate would suggest that the labor market is close to normal. Other indicators--the relatively low labor-force participation rate, the apparent lack of wage pressures, for example--indicate that there is some distance left to go.

But there is no doubt that the jobs situation is today far healthier than it was a few years ago. That improvement (as measured by the unemployment rate) has been quicker than expected by most economists, both inside and outside the Fed.

On the inflation front, various measures suggest that underlying inflation is around 1.5%. That is somewhat below the 2% target, a situation the Fed needs to remedy. But if there is a problem with inflation, it isn't the one expected by the Fed's critics, who repeatedly predicted that the Fed's policies would lead to high inflation (if not hyperinflation), a collapsing dollar and surging commodity prices. None of that has happened.

It is instructive to compare recent U.S. economic performance with that of Europe, a major industrialized economy of similar size. There are many differences between the U.S. and Europe, but a critical one is that Europe's economic orthodoxy has until recently largely blocked the use of monetary or fiscal policy to aid recovery. Economic philosophy, not feasibility, is the constraint: Greece might have limited options, but Germany and several other countries don't. And the European Central Bank has broader monetary powers than the Fed does.

Europe's failure to employ monetary and fiscal policy aggressively after the financial crisis is a big reason that eurozone output is today about 0.8% below its precrisis peak. In contrast, the output of the U.S. economy is 8.9% above the earlier peak--an enormous difference in performance. 

Appointing the authority on the Depression prevented another one.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


TPP Trade Deal: A Legacy-Defining Achievement for Obama (KRISTA HUGHES and Kevin Krolicki, 10/05/15, Reuters)

Pacific trade ministers have reached a deal on the most sweeping trade liberalization pact in a generation that will cut trade barriers and set common standards for 12 countries, an official familiar with the talks said on Monday.

Leaders from a dozen Pacific Rim nations are poised to announce the pact later on Monday. The deal could reshape industries and influence everything from the price of cheese to the cost of cancer treatments.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would affect 40 percent of the world economy and would stand as a legacy-defining achievement for U.S. President Barack Obama, if it is ratified by Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Two years ago, Augustus Sol Invictus walked from central Florida to the Mojave Desert and spent a week fasting and praying, at times thinking he wouldn't survive. In a pagan ritual to give thanks when he returned home, he killed a goat and drank its blood.

Now that he's a candidate for U.S. Senate, the story is coming back to bite him.

The chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida has resigned to call attention to Invictus' candidacy in hopes that other party leaders will denounce him. Adrian Wyllie, who was the Libertarian candidate for governor last year, says Invictus wants to lead a civil war, is trying to recruit neo-Nazis to the party and brutally and sadistically dismembered a goat.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


"Finally my degree in medieval history and philosophy has come in handy," Fiorina said Sunday night, "because what ISIS wants to do is drive us back to the Middle Ages, literally."

This is exactly the right strategy for dealing with them.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Arab diplomats privately met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week at the United Nations to protest Moscow's military campaign in Syria, according to officials briefed on the meeting.

But the Russian envoy offered no indication the Kremlin would scale back its operations, which are designed to strengthen the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

These and other Arab states have had a love-hate relationship with the Kremlin in recent years.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular, have pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull his support for Mr. Assad since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. 

Syrian rebel groups unite to fight Russian 'occupiers' (BASSEM MROUE AND SARAH EL DEEB, October 5, 2015, AP)

More than 40 Syrian insurgent groups vowed to attack Russian forces in retaliation for Moscow's air campaign in a show of unity among the usually fragmented rebels against what they called the "occupiers" of Syria.

Luring Putin into Syria was pure genius.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


[F]ollowing the election of a moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, and the signing of the nuclear agreement this summer, Iranians are increasingly taking to the streets, this time not to challenge the government but to reclaim public spaces. Though there are plenty of skeptics who say the changes are minimal and could be reversed at any time, the lifestyle movement seems to be spreading across the country.

"Few would say it out loud, but we had almost become a police state," Hamid Reza Jalaeipour, a sociologist at Tehran University, said about the years after 2009, when the morality police were a fixture in every main square, hauling those deemed to be "badly veiled" off in vans. For many, the atmosphere became so suffocating that they started leaving for other countries.

Mr. Jalaeipour said small changes began after Mr. Rouhani unseated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, promising a nuclear agreement and an expansion of personal freedoms, but have increased noticeably of late. "Especially after the elections and now the nuclear deal," he said, "the self-confidence of ordinary people is increasing and that can be seen everywhere."

But the change is palpable in a country that once posted morality police throughout the city; discouraged dressing in anything but black and most forms of entertainment; and that, in recent years, had begun burying the remains of martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war in the middle of public squares.

In the universities, students have started wearing bright colors. Street musicians line up at busy crossings, even though music is still frequently denounced by conservative clerics as "haram," or forbidden in Islam. Fashion shows with models and runways, previously banned, are popping up. At night, women can be seen riding in cars without their head scarves, while billboards, long the exclusive domain of political figures, now feature celebrities like the Iranian actor Bahram Radan, who advertises leather coats.

Where previously even joking in public gatherings was considered politically risky, cafes now organize stand-up comedy evenings. Groups of citizens have formed nongovernmental organizations around issues like animal rights and the environment.

In the spring, more than a thousand animal rights activists gathered at the Ministry of Environment, protesting the killing of stray dogs in the city of Shiraz. The protest was fueled by social media, heavily amplified by the introduction of 3G mobile Internet. The killing stopped.

Many of the initiatives are the natural result of long pent-up demand, but also because the state seems to be retreating from many areas.

Analysts say that is the work of officials appointed by Mr. Rouhani, who have taken up high-level positions in the Culture and Interior Ministries. They cannot rewrite Iran's laws: the Parliament and the judiciary will block any changes. But they have allowed ordinary citizens more space to breathe. Suddenly there are too many concerts to choose from, and public initiatives like campaigns to boycott Iranian carmakers to press them to raise the quality of their offerings or to save stray cats are mushrooming all over town.

October 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Cubans brace for the American invasion : They await the arrival of America's capitalist masses with both desire and dread. Can the world's most committed egalitarian experiment hold? (Doug Struck, OCTOBER 4, 2015, CS Monitor)

The biggest threat to Cuba may be pesos and kooks. Local Cuban salaries are paid in pesos, which would be worth about 4 cents each if they could be exchanged. An average Cuban salary is 471 pesos a month, about $20.  

But foreigners have to trade their money into a different currency, called Cuban convertible pesos, or CUCs - "kooks" - on the street. Everything they buy is in CUCs. So when they hop in a 1957 Chevy to take them to a paladar for dinner, the 15 CUCs they pay the taxi driver is a small bonanza, and the tip to the young English-speaking waiter at the restaurant may exceed his father's paycheck.

It makes for a bipolar economy. Cubans who have access to foreign currency - cab drivers, restaurant workers, hotel clerks, and the owners of the new businesses catering to tourists - are reaping money in multiples of that of Cubans wedded to the local peso.

Everybody wants CUCs. If they aren't in a job to get CUCs legitimately, many Cubans find other means: remittances from relatives overseas, black market trading, or more nefarious occupations. 

"Havana was a disaster," says a young Spanish traveler who fled the city for a more peaceful vacation in the countryside. "Every 15 minutes somebody was offering to sell us drugs or girls."

The disparity in the two economies has warped the labor market. Popular Cuban joke: A woman was complaining about her boyfriend to a companion. "He deceived me," she says to her friend. "He told me he is a waiter. But he's only a surgeon."

But it's not a joke. Cuba's medical profession, a source of national pride and a valued Latin American export, is riddled with defections to the tourism industry.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Vietnam Is Changing... And So Is the Balance of Power in Asia (Carl Thayer, October 02, 2015, The Diplomat)

The publicity given to the espionage trial, and the decision to rescind news reporting, is a significant sign that how Vietnam manages its relations with China and the United States is a heated topic at the moment. Those who oppose getting too close to the United States highlight the "threat of peaceful evolution" as a national security threat. They point to U.S. pressure on human rights and religious freedom as part of this threat.

The allegations of Chinese espionage fuels allied concerns that China continues to interfere in Vietnam's internal affairs and may be attempting to influence the outcome of the forthcoming national party congress. Hanoi based observers have told The Diplomat that China has informed selected Vietnamese leaders that it opposes the elevation of Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, who is viewed as pro-American.

Vietnamese sources also report that China has let it be known privately that President Xi Jinping may call off his expected visit to Vietnam this month if Hanoi does not mute its criticism of China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea. These same sources believe the visit will go ahead because so much is at stake for China.

Those who want closer ties with the United States stress the economic advantages of membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This group is now countering the argument of the "threat of peaceful evolution" by pointing to Chinese espionage as a major threat to national security.

In other words, the threat of peaceful evolution from the United States is now being counterpoised with the threat of Chinese subversion.

Vietnam's decision to publicize the espionage trial, coupled with the release of several dissidents in recent months, are straws in the wind of a possible change in Vietnam-United States relations.

President Truong Tan Sang recently stated in a media interview that China's construction of artificial islands was illegal under international law and endangered maritime security. Sang's interview was given to the Associated Press in New York while he was attending the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

Sang's remarks were directed at both international and domestic audiences. Sang's remarks in New York may be viewed as preparing the grounds for deepening relations with the United States. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


The Most Important Thing, and It's Almost a Secret (Nicholas Kristof, 10/01/15, NY Times)

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That's 95 percent of Americans -- who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty hasn't doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

Students in Harper, Liberia. The Liberian government and activists are trying to to enroll more girls in schools. Credit Ahmed Jallanzo/European Pressphoto Agency
When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world -- and I count myself among the guilty. Consider:

• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who's counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.

Intellectual hostility to the idea of the End of History doesn't make it any less true.
Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


 Talks aimed at concluding a landmark 12-nation trade pact were continuing through the night Saturday as negotiators attempted to break a deadlock over the length of monopoly protections for a new class of cutting-edge medicines -- among the last issues holding up a key part of President Barack Obama's economic legacy.

After extending their stay for a fifth day, U.S. officials said they remain optimistic they can clinch a deal Sunday.

"Progress has been made, but negotiations are still ongoing," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is running for reelection this month, told reporters during a campaign stop in Montreal on Saturday.

...the massive expansion of free trade is nearly all the Obama presidency will be remembered for.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


In their report the lawmakers hit out at the decision to allow inspections of military sites, which supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had appeared to rule out in a speech just weeks before the deal was sealed.

"It is evident that, based on the JCPOA, access to Iranian military sites has become possible," the panel said.

"The JCPOA has serious weaknesses in the security section. Unless there's a revision regarding the inspection of military, defense and security sites, it will cause problems for the country.

"Implementation of this inspection regime could lead to unprecedented information gathering and exposes to danger the security infrastructure, human, scientific, military and security resources of Iran."

The lawmakers, however, said the review made "the assumption that Iran's negotiating team had enjoyed the supreme leader's trust" during the talks that led to the deal and its passing would see sanctions lifted.

Economic growth is worth the loss of sovereignty.
Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Speech at Chicago, Illinois (Abraham Lincoln, July 10, 1858)

We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty--or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,--with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,--we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves--we feel more attached the one to the other and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men--descended by blood from our ancestors--among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe--German, Irish, French and Scandinavian--men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are.

That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


How to Fix Europe : The refugee crisis has exposed a larger one: a lack of confidence in the EU itself. (BILL EMMOTT, October 02, 2015, Politico)

Europe is beset by many crises, but enveloping them all is a crisis that is both broader and deeper: a crisis of public confidence in the European Union itself. Nowhere has this been more evident than over the issue of the refugees and migrants flowing across and around the Mediterranean, especially those fleeing Syria's bloody civil war. While national governments have responded in good ways and bad, the EU response has been a fine imitation of the Keystone Kops. If the EU cannot deal with a crisis like this, people are asking all over Europe, what is the point of it?

It is a fair question. The accurate answer, that the EU doesn't exist as an independent source of decision and action but is rather an agglomeration of 28 national governments' views, decisions and actions, does nothing to reassure. The whole purpose of the EU is to facilitate and even require collaboration and coordination between the member governments, in pursuit of collective solutions that can be stronger, more coherent and more effective than separate national policies.

However many summits are held on the refugee issue, with policy agreements announced in the small hours, the European public still believes that the EU cannot get its act together. It sees a huge gap between the policies on which agreement can be reached--such as to allocate 120,000 refugees among countries according to quotas--and the magnitude of the issue. To many people, this looks like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, an action that is a diversion from the main point.

This crisis of confidence sees its most evident impact in the opinion poll ratings for anti-EU and anti-immigrant political parties all over Europe. But it also feeds into a broader disillusionment with representative government in all countries. So what, if anything, can be done about it?

...is to elude the burden of representative governance.  There being no Europe, the EU can not be "fixed."  People will, even then reluctantly, accept it as a free trade regime, because it makes them wealthier.  They won't accept more than that because there is no benefit to doing so.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The Myth Behind Defensive Gun Ownership : Guns are more likely to do harm than good. (EVAN DEFILIPPIS and DEVIN HUGHES January 14, 2015, Politico)

In the early hours of Nov. 2, 2013, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, a pounding at the door startled Theodore Wafer from his slumber. Unable to find his cell phone to call the police, he grabbed the shotgun he kept loaded in his closet. Wafer opened the door and, spotting a dark figure behind the screen, fired a single blast at the supposed intruder. The shot killed a 19-year-old girl who was knocking to ask for help after a car accident.

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 2014, two friends left a party briefly. Upon returning they accidently knocked on the wrong door. Believing burglars were breaking in, the frightened homeowner called the police, grabbed his gun and fired a single round, hitting one of the confused party-goers in the chest.

On Sept. 21, 2014, Eusebio Christian was awakened by a noise. Assuming a break-in, he rushed to the kitchen with his gun and began firing. All his shots missed but one, which struck his wife in the face.

What do these and so many other cases have in common? They are the byproduct of a tragic myth: that millions of gun owners successfully use their firearms to defend themselves and their families from criminals. Despite having nearly no academic support in public health literature, this myth is the single largest motivation behind gun ownership.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


In Putin's Syria Intervention, Fear of a Weak Government Hand (STEVEN LEE MYERS, OCT. 4, 2015, NY Times)

The specter of mass protest -- of mob rule -- is one that has haunted Mr. Putin throughout his political life, and that fear lies at the heart of his belief in the primacy of state authority above all else, both at home and abroad.

The East Germans considered their protests an expression of popular will, just as many Syrians did when protests against Mr. Assad's government began in 2011. But Mr. Putin viewed them as an unlawful usurpation of government authority. And that, in his mind, leads inexorably not to positive political change, but rather to chaos.

"Of course, political and social problems have been piling up for a long time in this region, and people there wanted change," Mr. Putin said at the United Nations on Monday, where he spoke for the first time in a decade. "But what was the actual outcome?"

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the chaos that followed darkened Mr. Putin's opinion of freewheeling democracy -- and of the character of his own constituents. He was deeply ambivalent about the protests that hastened the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and as an obscure mayoral aide in St. Petersburg, cheered Boris N. Yeltsin's forceful response to the political uprising in the constitutional crisis of 1993, which culminated in the shelling of the Parliament.

In 1998, as the head of Mr. Yeltsin's security council, Mr. Putin had to mediate an electoral dispute in the southern region of Karachayevo-Cherkessia to prevent violence erupting between rival ethnic groups.

The lesson he said he learned was that only the strong hand of the state could avoid the economic and political chaos that consumed Russia in the 1990s. That belief is widely shared in Russia, and is one reason for Mr. Putin's genuine popularity at home.

"The Russian people are backward," he told a group of foreign academics in 2005, according to Marie Mendras's account in "Russian Politics: The Paradox of a Weak State." "They cannot adapt to democracy as they have done in your countries. They need time."

This distrust of popular will has been the justification for laws that have throttled dissent at home. With each election, the Kremlin has tightened the rules governing political parties and public gatherings. When tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest fraud in the parliamentary election in 2011 and Mr. Putin's own re-election in 2012, the Kremlin responded forcefully to stanch the contagion.

The police arrested and convicted dozens of protesters over the next two years, while the authorities harassed the most prominent leaders of the opposition, like the anti-corruption crusader Aleksei Navalny.

And in February, Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was assassinated outside the Kremlin.

What is striking, though perhaps consistent, is how Mr. Putin's view of public protest has become the basis for an increasingly assertive foreign policy, one aimed at countering what he views as efforts by the United States and others to violate the sovereignty of nations by encouraging political change.

Meanwhile, the entire point of the WoT is to destabilize those regimes where the "mob" does not get to rule, which is why the American alliance with the Kurds and Shi'a was natural.  Putin's support for dictatorship is likewise natural, just futile in the long run. Happily, it's also self-destructive.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Why naming the Oregon shooter matters: Editorial (The Oregonian Editorial Board, October 02, 2015)

With great ostentation, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin stood in front of reporters in the midst of a nationally calamitous moment and announced what he wasn't going to say. 

"I will not name the shooter," said Hanlin on Thursday, hours after a heavily-armed man had fatally shot nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. "I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act." Hanlin continued, punctuating his statement with brief, dramatic pauses. "But you will never hear me mention his name." He then urged the news media and community to avoid using the shooter's name, saying it only glorifies his actions.

The press can't, on the one hand, insist on an absolute right to fulfill the purposes of these perps and turn them into celebrities, but, on the other, decry an absolutist defense of gun rights, easy access to which abets the murders.  

Both sides wish to separate the means of the Constitution from its ends : To "insure domestic Tranquility" and "promote the general Welfare." As Justice Jackson wrote, it's not a suicide pact.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Kunduz fighting: Could city's fall boost peace prospects? (Justin Rowlatt, 2 October 2015, BBC)

A few months ago the prospects for peace in Afghanistan looked better than they had in years.

In July members of the Taliban met representatives of the Afghan government for talks in the pretty hill town of Muree, just outside Islamabad in Pakistan.

It was hailed as a breakthrough, the first very tentative sign that the Taliban might consider some kind of negotiated peace.

Those talks were disrupted by news of the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

But hopes were boosted just days ago when the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, hinted he might support talks under certain conditions [...]

Kunduz demonstrates that the Taliban remains a formidable fighting force.

What it doesn't show is that the Taliban has ruled out the idea of a negotiated settlement.

Many observers believe its leadership recognises that they are never going to take back control of Afghanistan, opening up the possibility of some kind of political compromise.
In which case Kunduz could be seen as part of a long-term bid by the Taliban to strengthen their hand in future negotiations.

Of course, Omar had been dead for years, so it was Mansour suing for peace in the first place.  That revelation is why he needed to try and show strength.  But the stark reality is that the Taliban isn't strong.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Reign of Recycling (JOHN TIERNEY, OCT. 3, 2015, NY Times)

Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it's still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies. The mood is so gloomy that one industry veteran tried to cheer up her colleagues this summer with an article in a trade journal titled, "Recycling Is Not Dead!"

While politicians set higher and higher goals, the national rate of recycling has stagnated in recent years. Yes, it's popular in affluent neighborhoods like Park Slope in Brooklyn and in cities like San Francisco, but residents of the Bronx and Houston don't have the same fervor for sorting garbage in their spare time.

The future for recycling looks even worse. As cities move beyond recycling paper and metals, and into glass, food scraps and assorted plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits decline and sometimes vanish. "If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there's a crisis to confront," says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. "Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?"

Recycling has been relentlessly promoted as a goal in and of itself: an unalloyed public good and private virtue that is indoctrinated in students from kindergarten through college. As a result, otherwise well-informed and educated people have no idea of the relative costs and benefits.

They probably don't know, for instance, that to reduce carbon emissions, you'll accomplish a lot more by sorting paper and aluminum cans than by worrying about yogurt containers and half-eaten slices of pizza. Most people also assume that recycling plastic bottles must be doing lots for the planet. They've been encouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency, which assures the public that recycling plastic results in less carbon being released into the atmosphere.

But how much difference does it make? Here's some perspective: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger's round-trip flight between New York and London, you'd have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.

Even those statistics might be misleading. New York and other cities instruct people to rinse the bottles before putting them in the recycling bin, but the E.P.A.'s life-cycle calculation doesn't take that water into account. That single omission can make a big difference, according to Chris Goodall, the author of "How to Live a Low-Carbon Life." Mr. Goodall calculates that if you wash plastic in water that was heated by coal-derived electricity, then the net effect of your recycling could be more carbon in the atmosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


If you watched Thursday night's game between the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, it's easy to figure out why the New England Patriots have won so many Super Bowl titles since the turn of the century.

The AFC doesn't have any other head coach in the class of the Patriots' Bill Belichick.

He might be Public Enemy No. 2 (quarterback Tom Brady is No. 1) in Baltimore because of Deflategate, but Belichick doesn't beat himself. He doesn't leave you puzzled about his coaching decisions.

They are sound and solid. His teams rarely self-destruct because they have discipline.

On Thursday night, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was bad and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was worse. [...]

One of the first things Belichick does is neutralize your top weapons on both offense and defense. He adjusts well to his own personnel, which is why Brady is throwing shorter, quick passes these days as opposed to longer passes when he was younger.

You don't see Patriots receivers run short of the first-down marker on third down. They don't try end-arounds with slow receivers. Good coaching makes a difference, which is why the Patriots keep going to Super Bowls.

Rich Gannon had an interesting take on Belichick during last week's Jags game.  He said that it seemed like all the funky formations and packages that Belichick uses are basically a matter of coaching against himself because he's bored.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths (Nicholas Kristof, 10/03/15, NY Times)

More than 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, and most of the rest are homicides. Gun enthusiasts scoff at including suicides, saying that without guns people would kill themselves by other means. In many cases, though, that's not true.

In Great Britain, people used to kill themselves by putting their heads in the oven and asphyxiating themselves with coal gas. This accounted for almost half of British suicides in the late 1950s, but Britain then began switching from coal gas to natural gas, which is much less lethal. Sticking one's head in the oven was no longer a reliable way to kill oneself -- and there was surprisingly little substitution of other methods. Suicide rates dropped, and they stayed at a lower level.

The British didn't ban ovens, but they made them safer. We need to do the same with guns.

When I tweeted about the need to address gun violence after college shooting in the Roseburg, Ore., a man named Bob pushed back. "Check out car accident deaths," he tweeted sarcastically. "Guess we should ban cars."

Actually, cars exemplify the public health approach we need to apply to guns. We don't ban cars, but we do require driver's licenses, seatbelts, airbags, padded dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns. And we've reduced the auto fatality rate by 95 percent.

One problem is that the gun lobby has largely blocked research on making guns safer. Between 1973 and 2012, the National Institutes of Health awarded 89 grants for the study of rabies and 212 for cholera -- and only three for firearms injuries.

Daniel Webster, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, notes that in 1999, the government listed the gun stores that had sold the most weapons later linked to crimes. The gun store at the top of the list was so embarrassed that it voluntarily took measures to reduce its use by criminals -- and the rate at which new guns from the store were diverted to crime dropped 77 percent.

But in 2003, Congress barred the government from publishing such information.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


To Laugh Is Human, But Is Comedy Divine? (Dwight Longenecker, 10/03/15, Imaginative Conservative)

Laughter lightens and enlightens the soul. Laughter is a sign of confidence and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, after all, comes from the word "enthuse," which is derived from the Greek en theos-or "God within." Enthusiasm is a sign of the Holy Spirit's presence, and any religion that is totally dour, sour, and serious is not the religion of Christ the Lord, but the religion of the Anti-Christ--the Dark Lord.

Laughter, like all emotion, opens the heart, and when the heart is open things get done. There's an old Russian saying, "The heart moves the feet." In other words, it is the emotions that motivate. In fact the word "emotion" and "motion" and "motivate" all come from the same root. The mind might be informed, but until the heart is moved nothing moves.

When the heart is opened we experience a little vulnerability, and at that point God can slip in past the watchful guardians of the soul. This vulnerability makes us open to reality--especially the reality of our humanity. Like art, music, sport, or dancing, laughter is one of those delightfully useless absurdities that make us human. Animals don't laugh and cry. Apes grunt but they don't guffaw. Wolves howl and owls hoot, but not with laughter.

Let's get theological. If we're created in the image of God and we are able to laugh, then does God laugh? Is comedy divine?

I'm convinced of it. Because he sees how all things work together for good, he sees that the whole cosmic drama has a happy ending, and a just ending is the definition of a comedy.

God therefore sees the whole cosmic joke and instead of seeing him only as the sober and awesome God of the Universe, it doesn't do us any harm to also see him as a King of Comedy-I'm seeing an everlastingly burly Burl Ives, or the good man, John Goodman. I'm seeing the Creator as a chuckling Chesterton or the sweet John Candy. He is Jolly Jehovah, the Lord of Laughter, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and the Almighty Master of Mirth.

...to a conservative, a comedy. Of course God finds us amusing.

October 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Officials negotiating an expansive 12-nation Pacific trade accord continued talks Saturday in hopes of clearing some final hurdles and announcing the long-elusive completion of an agreement.

Since high-level talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership began Wednesday in Atlanta, officials from the U.S., Japan, Canada and nine other trading partners appear to have made significant headway in overcoming two of three big obstacles that have stood in the way of the biggest free-trade deal in a generation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


How networks are driving innovation in healthcare (Mackensie Graham, 10/01/15, Next Web)

Thankfully the networks developed for, and those used by, the healthcare system are innovating in diagnosis, treatment and recovery. [...]

Remote healthcare reached a new high in 2003 with the world's first hospital-to-hospital telerobotics assisted surgery in Canada. Computer Motion's ZEUS Surgical System was used at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton by Dr. Mehran Anvari.

The system was supported by the highly secure and high-speed Bell Canada's Virtual Private Network enterprise (VPNe), which relied on Cisco Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology to connect with the robot arm executing the surgery in North Bay General Hospital over 250 miles away from St. Joseph's.

There was less than a 150 millisecond delay between Dr. Anvari's hand movements and the robotic instruments. The instruments at North Bay General Hospital were overseen and positioned by a general surgeon, Dr. Craig McKinley. With rural communities and poor hospitals, such technological power can be used to share resources with populations that may not otherwise have any access to a necessary surgery or a conversation with a specialist.

Virtual care also comes into play for less serious incidents. HealthTap has a monthly subscription model for access to its resource of 70,000 US licensed, board-certified doctors. Such a set-up encourages reaching out to a healthcare professional as opposed to putting off visiting the doctor when symptoms arise

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Obama and Terrorism : Like It or Not, the War Goes On (Jessica Stern, Sept/Oct 2015, Foreign Affairs)

Ironically, the aspects of U.S. counterterrorism to which he has made the least significant changes are the very ones that he was initially most determined to alter. The Bush administration's "global war on terrorism" has been replaced by a campaign known as "countering violent extremism" to serve as the overarching U.S. strategy to combat transnational Salafi jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS. But the new phraseology masks many similarities. The "kinetic" fight--the use of deadly force by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies--has continued unabated, mostly in the form of drone strikes, since Obama took office. According to estimates collected by The Long War Journal, the United States has launched approximately 450 such attacks in Pakistan and Yemen during Obama's tenure, killing some 2,800 suspected terrorists and around 200 civilians.

In many important ways, the relationship between Bush's and Obama's counterterrorism programs is marked by continuity as much as by change. And although Obama explicitly outlawed Bush's "enhanced interrogation techniques"--rightly classifying them as torture--and closed the so-called black sites where the CIA carried out the abuse, those changes were not as significant as they might appear. According to Jack Goldsmith, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel from October 2003 until June 2004, the Bush administration had halted the practice of waterboarding (without specifically declaring it illegal) by 2003, and the black sites had been largely emptied by 2007. And although Obama denounced abusive interrogations and extralegal detentions, he did so presumably knowing full well that a number of Washington's Middle Eastern allies in the struggle against Salafi jihadists would nonetheless continue to engage in such activities, and therefore, if those techniques happened to produce useful intelligence, the United States could still benefit from it.

Perhaps the most surprising continuity between Bush's and Obama's counterterrorism records is the fact that the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, remains open. One of Obama's first acts as president was to sign an executive order requiring that the Pentagon shut down the facility within a year. But in March 2011, after facing years of intense bipartisan congressional opposition to that plan, Obama ordered the resumption of military commissions at Guantánamo and officially sanctioned the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists held there without charge--two of the policies he had vowed to change. In this case, the president's idealistic goals became hard to sustain once the duty to protect American lives became his primary responsibility.

You run on one thing, but then stuff happens.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Howard persuaded both his coalition and Australia's states (the country has a federal system) to agree to a sweeping, nationwide reform of gun laws. The so-called National Firearms Agreement (NFA), drafted the month after the shooting, sharply restricted legal ownership of firearms in Australia. It also established a registry of all guns owned in the country, among other measures, and required a permit for all new firearm purchases.

One of the most significant provisions of the NFA was a flat-out ban on certain kinds of guns, such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. But there were already a number of such guns in circulation in Australia, and the NFA required getting them off the streets.

Australia solved this problem by introducing a mandatory buyback: Australia's states would take away all guns that had just been declared illegal. In exchange, they'd pay the guns' owners a fair price, set by a national committee using market value as a benchmark, to compensate for the loss of their property. The NFA also offered legal amnesty for anyone who handed in illegally owned guns, though they weren't compensated. [...]

In 2011, Harvard's David Hemenway and Mary Vriniotis reviewed the research on Australia's suicide and homicide rate after the NFA. Their conclusion was clear: "The NFA seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved."

What they found is a decline in both suicide and homicide rates after the NFA. The average firearm suicide rate in Australia in the seven years after the bill declined by 57 percent compared with the seven years prior. The average firearm homicide rate went down by about 42 percent.

Now, Australia's homicide rate was already declining before the NFA was implemented -- so you can't attribute all of the drops to the new laws. But there's good reason to believe the NFA, especially the buyback provisions, mattered a great deal in contributing to those declines.

"First," Hemenway and Vriniotis write, "the drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback. Second, firearm deaths in states with higher buyback rates per capita fell proportionately more than in states with lower buyback rates."

There is also this: 1996 and 1997, the two years in which the NFA was actually implemented, saw the largest percentage declines in the homicide rate in any two-year period in Australia between 1915 and 2004.

Pinning down exactly how much the NFA contributed is harder. One study concluded that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent drop in firearm homicides. But as Dylan Matthews points out, the results were not statistically significant because Australia has a pretty low number of murders already.

However, the paper's findings about suicide were statistically significant -- and astounding. Buying back 3,500 guns correlated with a 74 percent drop in firearm suicides. Non-gun suicides didn't increase to make up the decline.

There is good reason why gun restrictions would prevent suicides. As Matthews explains in great depth, suicide is often an impulsive choice, one often not repeated after a first attempt. Guns are specifically designed to kill people effectively, which makes suicide attempts with guns likelier to succeed than (for example) attempts with razors or pills. Limiting access to guns makes each attempt more likely to fail, thus making it more likely that people will survive and not attempt to harm themselves again.

Bottom line: Australia's gun buyback saved lives, probably by reducing homicides and almost certainly by reducing suicides. 

The well-regulated militias, on the other hand, have an explicit constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


A New Golden Age Part I: Why Your Grandparents Lived Larger than You Do (Tom Streithorst, September 28th, 2015, LA Review of Books)

Once upon a time, before you were born, there was a Golden Age. You didn't need an amazing resume to find a job. Even the lazy and ignorant got hired. And best of all, pay kept going up. One man working an ordinary job could support his entire family in middle class splendor. And he didn't have to work all that hard. Office workers left on the dot of five and factory workers got paid overtime. Getting drunk at work, if not de rigure, was certainly commonplace. And still everybody made more money than his or her parents. Everybody lived better than they had dreamed possible when they were kids.

Corporations hired more than fired. Firms were happy to train new workers. A 30-year-old saw his earnings double by the time he hit 50. If you gave your youth to the firm, they generally took care of you until you retired. And when you did retire, your pension, which both the government and your employer recognized as your earned and sacrosanct right, was safe and generous. Millions escaped poverty. The middle class grew and grew until it was almost everybody. Inequality shrank.

This isn't a fairy tale. Economic historians call the post-war years, 1950 to 1973, the Golden Age because those were the years the US and world economy grew faster than ever before or since. Neoliberalism's dirty secret is that its policies don't work that well. It isn't just since the financial crisis that growth has been stagnant. Even the boom was mediocre. The best year since the election of Ronald Reagan was 1999, when the economy grew an impressive 4.8 percent. Sounds good until you realize that economic growth was higher in 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1976, and 1978. Even the 1970s, a byword for stagflation and economic turmoil, saw better growth than any decade since.

According to today's conventional wisdom, the policies of the Golden Age should have doomed our economy to pathetic performance. Tax rates were spectacularly high, regulation was omnipresent, unions were strong, the financial sector miniscule.   [...]

Today, productivity continues it unstoppable rise but wages no longer move up in step. Since the financial crisis, close to 95 percent of the benefits of productivity gains have gone into the pockets of the top 1 percent. And since the rich don't have to spend all their income, inequality drains the system of demand. Our problem today is that with wages stagnant but productivity increasing, the economy's ability to supply far exceeds workers' ability to consume. Our problem is we can make more goods and services than our underpaid workers can afford to purchase. Supply outstrips demand.

Every year, technology advances, making labor more productive. That means we can make more stuff with fewer hours of work.

In the post-Depression/post--WWII era of industrialization it was, indeed, almost impossible to have an economy that didn't grow.  Even the USSR's economic performance was decent in those years. Likewise, if you look at the development of the rest of the Third World in recent decades, it appears that almost no level of government interference, corruption, etc. can prevent you from growing fairly rapidly--provided that you are engaged in the global trading system.

But a transition occurs by the end of the 70s/early 80s in the developed world and two kinds of economies diverge.  By that point, unionization and wage demands have become a ratchet that drives inflation ever higher and productivity ever lower.  As the author concedes, employees of the time were lazy, ignorant, drunk, etc., because employment was essentially a right, entirely divorced from the actual economic needs of business.  Predictably, said businesses became sclerotic.

So began a great social experiment, wherein the nations of Southern Europe retained the old Golden Age model, with the result that their economies are now basket cases and their populations are aging too rapidly for their remaining workers to fund the social welfare programs that retirees expect. Meanwhile. the neoliberal nations of the Anglosphere adopted a new model (thanks to Thatcher, Volcker and Reagan) which tamed inflation, in large part by breaking the unions; re-privatized and deregulated businesses, lowered taxes, privatized retirement, and so forth, with the result that the econmies of the English-speaking world (which was soon joined by the rest of Northern Europe) vastly outperform their former peers and our societies buck their deadly demographic trends.

Considered this way, we can see that the author has missed his own point rather spectacularly, which is that : productivity continues its steady wealth-creating rise in economies, like ours, that decoupled productivity from jobs and wages.  On the other hand, nations that stuck with high taxes, high regulation regimes, strong unions, and the like are dying.  

We do face a bit of a quiandry as regards adopting a different means of distributing the added wealth that we realize by getting rid of make-work jobs to those who used to fill them.  But, fortunately, we do have the rapidly increasing wealth.  Those who stuck to the Golden Age model face a probably insoluble crisis : what, after all, is the point of having a job when there's ever less wealth to be distributed via them?  And why maintain the system if the retirees aren't going to get the pensions and retirement benefits they feel entitled to? Worst of all, barring the importation of immigrants on a scale that would dwarf even the current wave, how would you revive the economies even if you adopted our more functional model? The Golden Age has turned to dross before their very eyes and it is too late for them to make the chantges we initiated four decades ago.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Afghan Taliban leader claims 'victory' in Kunduz Despite later retreat... (MIRWAIS KHAN AND LYNNE O'DONNELL, October 3, 2015, AP)

The new leader of the Afghan Taliban boasted in a phone call with The Associated Press on Friday that the group's three-day occupation of the northern city of Kunduz was a "symbolic victory" demonstrating the insurgents' strength, even as his fighters were fleeing under fire from Afghan government troops. [...]

Still, in the end, the Taliban were unable to hold their ground as the Afghan military rallied in a counterattack, a sign of how the insurgents lack the manpower or firepower to carry out much more than short-term sorties into large urban areas.

Sure, it was an obvious show of weakness, but the only point of the exercise was for him to unite the warring divisions within the Taliban and to be able to sue for peace from a "position of strength."  So, pretend it was a mighty victory.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Remembering Indonesia's Bloody Coup : Fifty years ago this week Indonesia experienced one of the 20th century's darkest moments. (Nithin Coca, October 02, 2015, The Diplomat)

On September 30, 1965, in what remain murky circumstances, six top generals were killed by a group allegedly consisting of left-wing Indonesians. This allowed a previously little-known military leader, General Suharto, to assume power and launch a nationwide campaign against the perpetrators of the killing, which, according to him, were the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) and its left-wing allies. Within two years, Suharto was in firm control of the country, the PKI had been completely destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were dead.

Indonesia's mass killings rank alongside some of the bloodiest events in post-World War II history. The estimated death toll puts this event alongside the Korean War, or the Rwandan genocide in terms of bloodshed. Yet, unlike those two events, it receives little attention globally. Within Indonesia itself, the situation is worse.

"The younger generation has grown up with very little knowledge of anything about this period of time, unlike their parents who had swallowed government propaganda for years," said Tom Pepinsky, associate director of the Cornell University Modern Indonesia Project.

Throughout the Suharto era, which ran from 1965 to 1998, on October 1 each year, a controversial documentary, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The Treason of the September 30 Movement and the Indonesian Communist Party), was aired on television and shown in school. It greatly exaggerated the threat of a takeover by the PKI and honored the militias and military leaders who organized the mass killings.

Today, the documentary is no longer shown and the holiday celebrating the killings no longer celebrated, but teachings of the event take on either a strong nationalistic tone, or are completely ignored. Only in a few elite universities, such as Univeritas Indonesia, are students able to learn openly about what really happened in the 1960s.

This is part of the progress made since Suharto fell from power in 1998, during the Asian Financial Crisis. Then, Indonesia quickly moved to build a democracy that, contrary to the expectations of many, has survived and thrived.

The ease with which our fascist allies against communism--Spain, Portugal, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, etc.--transitioned to democracy after their internal threats were dealt with remains a forbidden topic.

October 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Why the phrase 'first world problem' is condescending to everyone : It's not just a comical apology for trivial moaning and an enjoyable internet meme - there's also something darker going on (Steven Poole,  2 October 2015, The Guardian)

So there I was, bashing out a hot take on my MacBook Air on a sunny terrace, when I took a sip of my takeaway coffee and my heart sank. The barista had put milk in it. That ruined my whole morning. What a terrible world. But I know, right? First world problem!

The phrase "first world problem" is these days used as a comical apology for moaning about trivia. It is also an enjoyable internet meme, with a dedicated subreddit. (I particularly liked "The Wi-Fi at the luxury Greek villa my wife and I are staying at only supports 4 devices at a time", and the rather subtle: "I want to order pizza, but it is too early and I don't want to be judged by my doorman.") [...]

Like many things, "first world problems" has a different force depending on whether you are applying it to yourself or throwing it in someone else's face. If, at the end of an irate tirade about how my Kenyan coffee beans were over-roasted by the artisanal torréfacteur, I append the phrase "first world problem" with some wry rearrangement of my face muscles, I signal that I know this is just one of the minor frustrations of a very fortunate life. To pre-emptively concede that my problem is just a first world one is to ostentatiously check my privilege before anyone else tells me to do so. At the same time, I remind myself and everyone in earshot that we are indeed living in the "first world". So it is also a humblebrag.

Such privilege-checking becomes a more violent intervention when demanded by someone else. If, after listening to your pathetic account of how your Uber cab took a whole 10 minutes to arrive, I respond "first world problem", then I am aggressively staking out the moral high ground and portraying myself (almost certainly dishonestly) as someone who only ever worries about the plight of starving children. Naturally, our powers of sympathy are limited and we all conduct psychic triage on the sufferings of others. But when "first world problem" is just a mealy mouthed way of saying "shut up", it sounds distinctly compassion-free.

Whoever uses it, though, it's arguable that the phrase "first world problems" is condescending and dehumanising to literally everyone on the planet. 

Which reminds us of an archetypal first world problem, worrying that your joke is actually impacting a Third Worlder's quality of life.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


The data show that clean energy issues are actually pretty popular even amongst the conservative base. An overwhelming 87 percent of self-described conservative Republicans polled said they support policies that allow them to sell rooftop-generated solar power back to utilities. This practice, known as net metering, has mostly faced criticism from the political right, in part because it clearly hurts utility company profits while promoting the interests of alternative energy consumers that receive direct subsidies. (The utilities, it's worth noting, get some subsidies of their own.) 

That isn't the only surprise. Conservatives actually were slightly more likely than the population as a whole (58 vs. 57 percent) to support allowing people to put solar panels on their own homes without penalty. What's more, about two-thirds of self-described conservatives supported mandating that monopoly utilities invest in solar and wind power (not a particularly free-market idea), while nearly 60 percent also supported vastly increased R&D spending on energy technology. [...]

Among all Republican voters, majorities also voiced support for carbon taxes (worth considering provided they are used to replace big-government regulation and to cut other taxes) as well as for wind and solar power subsidies (which are simply bad ideas).

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Mammograms have come to symbolize whether Planned Parenthood is a health-care organization that does cancer screenings, as supporters say -- or a front for an organization that is mainly an abortion provider masquerading as a reproductive health organization, as opponents say. Democrats point to mammograms, as an example of a service that women can have access to via Planned Parenthood. Republicans seeking to defund Planned Parenthood show that since it doesn't offer mammography X-rays, federal funding should be diverted to federally qualified health-care clinics that actually do.

Planned Parenthood's annual report shows it gave 487,029 breast exam services for women in 2013. This is a clinical breast exam, checking for changes or lumps in women's breasts. If the doctor finds something abnormal or worth checking out, the patient is referred for a mammogram, which requires X-rays given at a licensed radiology facility. Planned Parenthood does administer Pap tests and HPV tests, both of which screen for cervical cancer.

Richards said during the hearing that Planned Parenthood clinics do not have mammogram machines. The Federal Drug Administration's list, updated weekly, of certified mammography facilities does not list any Planned Parenthood clinics. Some Planned Parenthood affiliates host free mammography mobile vans for low-income and uninsured women.

Despite the ongoing emphasis on Planned Parenthood's mammogram referrals, this service does not reflect the core clients of the organization -- certainly not clients in the reproductive age or have the highest rate of first-time abortions.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


The Martian Soars (David Edelstein, 10/02/15, Vulture)

Cynical as I am about how monster-budget blockbusters have come to dominate the studio mind-set, I can't imagine anyone not liking this one. The Martian is shot, designed, computer-generated, and scripted on a level that makes most films of its ilk look slipshod. Scott and writer Drew Goddard aren't trying to make an "important" sci-fi movie like Interstellar. They aim lower but blow past their marks.

The movie is even more ingratiating than Andy Weir's best-selling novel, a guileless, un-crafty piece of storytelling that holds you anyway, because its writer is so absorbed in How Things Work on a lifeless planet that you can't wait to see Mark solve the next unsolvable problem. Weir is the son of a particle physicist and an electrical engineer, and he immersed himself in the mechanics of space travel. Even NASA folks who found Gravity scientifically ridiculous sat up and saluted him. (Fun fact: He's afraid to fly.)

October 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Study: America has the most competitive large economy on earth (James Pethokoukis, October 1, 2015, AEI)

In its latest report, the World Economic Forum  -- the Davos people -- ranks the US economy as the world's third most competitive, behind Switzerland and Singapore. So actually the US is the most competitive large economy. From the report:

The United States retains 3rd place. Although many risks arguably loom on the horizon, the country's recovery can build on improvements in institutions--government efficiency is rated higher than in previous years--its macroeconomic environment, and the soundness of its financial markets.

The United States' major strength is its unique combination of exceptional innovation capacity (4th), large market size (2nd), and sophisticated businesses (4th). The country's innovation capacity is driven by collaboration between firms and universities (2nd), human capital (4th on availability of scientists and engineers), and company spending on R&D (3rd). The United States also benefits from flexible labor markets (4th) and an overall well-developed financial sector (5th).

The point, of course, is that the U.S. is too large, so we'll devolve into several separate (though allied) polities over time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Obama to Putin: Good luck with that (MICHAEL CROWLEY 10/01/15, Politico)

[T]he White House is responding to Vladimir Putin with an almost taunting message: Good luck with that.

Senior Obama officials debating the U.S. response say they believe the Russian president is making a costly mistake that he will regret, committing his country's military and prestige to an unwinnable fight sure to inflame Islamic extremism inside Russia.

Putin in Syria: So What? (Steve Chapman, October 1, 2015, RCP)

There are two main ways this gambit could go. And neither would be a bad deal for us.

The first possibility is that he will inflict significant damage on Islamic State. In that case, one of our most vicious enemies would be weakened -- at little cost or risk to Americans. The only thing better than defeating Islamic State is getting someone to do it for us. [...]

The second possibility is that Putin will fail: His bombing raids will prove unavailing, the insurgents will gain ground, and the regime will be in jeopardy. Then he may be forced to send ground troops.

He could find himself in a costly, bloody war. Or he might decide the prize is not worth the effort and pull back, which would dash his dreams of regional power and discredit him at home. Either way, he's worse off, and we're not.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Euroscepticism is growing all over Europe  (Douglas Murray, 10/01/15, Spectator)

Europhiles have warned us for years of the dangers of Britain leaving the EU. But all the while a different spectre has crept up on their other flank: which is that even if the UK votes to stay in the EU in 2017, we might be one of the only countries left.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Boehner's Conservative Legacy (KARL ROVE, Sept. 30, 2015, WSJ)

Each year for nearly the past 20, Congress spent time crafting a short-term "doc fix" to stave off mandated cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Mr. Boehner engineered a permanent solution to the problem and, in the process, passed the first significant reforms in entitlement spending in a decade.

Since his first days in Congress, Mr. Boehner has opposed earmarks as wasteful and corrupting, and he ended their use when he became speaker. A tireless advocate of increasing American exports, he led the House this year in passing trade-promotion authority, which will give the next Republican president a valuable tool to knock down barriers to the sale of U.S. goods and services abroad.

Mr. Boehner has also been a passionate advocate for life. This year he expanded the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions, to cover community health centers that receive money from Washington. In 2011 he forced Mr. Obama to accept the reinstatement of the ban on using federal dollars for abortions in the District of Columbia.

But Mr. Boehner's greatest institutional achievement may be the return to regular order in the House. Recent speakers of both parties had centralized power in a handful of legislative leaders. Now bills make their way through subcommittees and committees. Lawmakers work more hours and more days and cast more votes. No longer are 2,000-page behemoths drafted in secret. No longer is the theory, in the immortal words of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "we have to pass the bill so you can find what is in it."

The mark of a true believer would be to accomplish nothing, because getting things done requires compromise. The Right want ideological purity, not effective governance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


[E]yewitnesses say most of the city now appears to be under government control, despite resistance.

...which at least fought for a month at Tet, giving us the chance to wipe them out.  The Taliban will flee and deprive us of that opportunity. The greatest challenge of the WoT is the weakness of the foe.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Pacific trade partners make progress on autos hurdle (ANA ISABEL MARTINEZ AND KRISTA HUGHES, 10/01/15, Reuters)

Negotiators trying to clinch a Pacific Rim free trade deal made progress toward resolving a key issue on Wednesday when Canada and Mexico signaled a willingness to open the North American auto market to more parts made in Asia, people briefed on the closed-door talks said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Lunch with the FT: Ta-Nehisi Coates (Simon Kuper, Financial Times)

There's also a tradition of American writers who come to Paris to escape the US. Baldwin, one of Coates's role models, said the city gave him the gift of ignoring him.

...is there anywhere in America he could go where he wouldn't be ignored?

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's campaign for speaker veered into damage control mode Wednesday after he suggested that the House Benghazi committee can take credit for Hillary Rodham Clinton's slumping poll numbers.

McCarthy's comment, made on Fox News Channel as he sought to court conservative support, seemed to contradict longstanding GOP claims that the Benghazi committee is aimed simply at uncovering the truth. And it gave credence to Democratic accusations that the real aim is to attack Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate who was secretary of state when the attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya killed four Americans.

"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" said McCarthy. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen."

Is there anybody who didn't recognize that the whole kerfuffle was just a function of Hillary hysteria on the Right?  He needn't apologize for truth-telling.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


IBM Scientists Find New Way to Shrink Transistors (JOHN MARKOFF, OCT. 1, 2015, NY Times)

In the semiconductor business, it is called the "red brick wall" -- the limit of the industry's ability to shrink transistors beyond a certain size.

On Thursday, however, IBM scientists reported that they now believe they see a path around the wall. Writing in the journal Science, a team at the company's Thomas J. Watson Research Center said it has found a new way to make transistors from parallel rows of carbon nanotubes.

The advance is based on a new way to connect ultrathin metal wires to the nanotubes that will make it possible to continue shrinking the width of the wires without increasing electrical resistance.

One of the principal challenges facing chip makers is that resistance and heat increase as wires become smaller, and that limits the speed of chips, which contain transistors.

The advance would make it possible, probably sometime after the beginning of the next decade, to shrink the contact point between the two materials to just 40 atoms in width, the researchers said. Three years later, the number will shrink to just 28 atoms, they predicted.

The ability to reduce electrical resistance will not only make it possible to extend the process of shrinking transistors beyond long-held beliefs about physical limits. It may also be the key to once again increasing the speed of computer processors, which has been stalled for the last decade.

The Malthusians are always wrong...

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Bernie Sanders Is Cold As Ice : He's chilly with staff, frosty with fans, and regularly ices out reporters. So how is the socialist firebrand from Vermont suddenly torching Hillary Clinton in the race for president? (Harry Jaffe, October 2015, Boston Magazine)

As usual, Sanders was short with the media after his speech. In response to questions from a CNN correspondent, Sanders said, "We want to bring people together. Nothing fancy. Seeya." Then he ducked into the Ford Fusion and drove off.

Sanders, it turns out, has little patience for reporters--or, for that matter, anyone who disagrees with him. Among his faults, this could be the one that most weakens his presidential bid. Former aides have called him strident and never satisfied, to the point of being abusive, especially during his first years in Congress. "Bernie is a very demanding guy," Fiermonte tells me. "He has very high expectations, and he expects people to meet them. But he's a good boss. I wouldn't be with him otherwise." Or, as more than one Vermont politician told me, "Bernie's an a[**]hole, but he's our a[**]hole."

That belief, shared by his supporters and by a Democratic electorate that's loath to give Clinton a cakewalk to the nomination, has served Sanders well up to this point. But how will he react when the press inevitably pounces, as it did when fellow Vermonter Howard Dean ran for president in 2004? The permanent scowl lines etched onto his brow may show him to be the same humorless curmudgeon that he reveals to colleagues, reporters, and allies. "Bernie has no social skills, no sense of humor, and he's quick to boil over," says Chris Graff, who covered Sanders for 25 years as Vermont bureau chief for the Associated Press. 

Being one makes Ted Cruz unnominatable but Bernie the sexy pick.  Of course, to be liberal is to lack a sense of humor...

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


What most people get wrong about political Islam (Shadi Hamid | October 1, 2015, Brookings)

Political scientists, myself included, have tended to see religion, ideology, and identity as "epiphenomenal"--products of a given set of material factors. These factors are the things we can touch, grasp, and measure. For example, when explaining why suicide bombers do what they do, we assume that these young men are depressed about their own accumulated failures, frustrated with a dire economic situation, or humiliated by political repression and foreign occupation. While these are all undoubtedly factors, they are not--and cannot be--the whole story.

But the role, and power, of religion in the modern Middle East is more mundane than that (after all, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not think about becoming suicide bombers). "Islamism" has become a bad word, because the Islamists we hear about most often are those of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Most Islamists, however, are not jihadists or extremists; they are members of mainstream Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood whose distinguishing feature is their gradualism (historically eschewing revolution), acceptance of parliamentary politics, and willingness to work within existing state structures, even secular ones. Contrary to popular imagination, Islamists do not necessarily harken back to seventh century Arabia.

Why do Islamists become Islamists? There are any number of reasons, and each Brotherhood member has his or her own conversion story or "born-again" moment. As one Brotherhood member would often remind me, many join the movement so that they can "get into heaven." To dismiss such pronouncements as irrational bouts of fancy is tempting. But, if you look at it another way, what could be more rational than wanting eternal salvation?

Islamists aren't just acting for this world, but also for the next. Muslim Brotherhood and Brotherhood-inspired organizations aim to strengthen the religious character of individuals through a multi-tiered membership system and an educational process with a structured curriculum. Each brother is part of a "family," usually consisting of 5 to 10 members, which meets on a weekly basis to read and discuss religious texts. For many members, it is quite simple and straightforward. Being a part of the Brotherhood helps them to obey God and become better Muslims, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of entry into paradise. This belief doesn't mean that these more spiritually-focused members don't care about politics; but they may see political action--whether running for a municipal council seat or joining a mass protest--as just another way of serving God.

The tendency to see religion through the prism of politics or economics (rather than the other way around) isn't necessarily incorrect, but it can sometimes obscure the independent power of ideas that seem, to much of the Western world, quaint and archaic. It can be difficult to understand how people are able and willing to do seemingly irrational things in the service of seemingly irrational ends. The forces of reason and rationality, if they haven't already prevailed, were, after all, supposed to prevail eventually. The modern Middle East seems to defy such expectations. As Robert Kagan writes: "For a quarter-century, Americans have been told that at the end of history lies boredom rather than great conflict." Francis Fukuyama, the very scholar who first proclaimed the "end of history" in 1989, seemed almost wistful by that famous essay's final paragraph. "I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945," he wrote. "Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again." The increasingly apparent influence of religion on politics suggests that Fukuyama was more prescient than his critics give him credit for.

When religion is less relevant in our own lives, it can be difficult to make that jump, to not just understand--but to relate--to its meaning and power for believers, and for those, in particular, who believe they have a cause beyond this life. Outsiders have to make an extra effort to close that gap. And that, in some ways, is the most challenging, and ultimately rewarding, aspect of my work: to be exposed to something fundamentally different.

To understand Islamists, you have to sit with them, talk to them, and get to know them as individuals with their own fears and aspirations. This is where I think it's important for Western analysts, academics, and policymakers to cordon off their own beliefs and political commitments. Just because I'm an American and a small-l liberal (and those two, in my case, are intertwined), doesn't mean that Egyptians or Jordanians or anyone else should be subject to my ideological preferences. If you go into the study of Islamism trying to compare Islamists to some liberal ideal, then that will distort your analysis. Islamists, after all, are products of their own political context, not ours.

To us, democracy and liberal democracy might seem interchangeable, but, in the Middle East (as well as many other places), they're not. In our own history as Americans, we followed a particular sequencing: first, the foundations of constitutional liberalism were established and only then did democracy--in the sense of universal suffrage, popular sovereignty, and full political equality of all citizens--become a reality (eventually). In many Muslim-majority societies, the tensions between liberalism and democracy are constantly on display. We might not like it -- and, in some sense, we shouldn't like it - but what if a majority of citizens in a given country want to pass legislation that bans alcohol, segregates the sexes at various levels of public schooling, empowers clerics, or "Islamizes" the educational curriculum? These are all things that, at some level, restrict or constrain individual freedom and liberty.

We don't need to speculate: Two oft-cited "models" of Muslim democratic success--Indonesia and Malaysia--feature significantly more sharia ordinances than Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, or Lebanon, to name only a few. In one article, the Indonesia scholar Robin Bush documents sharia by-laws implemented in South Sulawesi, West Java, and other conservative regions. They include: requiring civil servants and students to wear "Muslim clothing," requiring women to wear the headscarf to receive local government services; requiring demonstrations of Quranic reading ability to be admitted to university or to receive a marriage license. But there's a catch. According to one study by the Jakarta-based Wahid Institute, most of these regulations have come from officials from secular parties like Golkar. How is this possible? The implementation of sharia law is part of mainstream discourse that cuts across party lines, suggesting that Islamism is not necessarily about Islamists but is about a broader population that is open to sharia ordinances. As the leading scholar of Islamism in Southeast Asia Joseph Liow writes, "the piecemeal implementation of sharia by-laws across Indonesia has not elicited widespread opposition from local populations."

Life affords few more hilarious sights than conservatives decrying religion in politics.

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


The Power of the Purse (WSJ, Sept. 29, 2015)

The fiscal years 2009-2011 represent spending under the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid Congress supported by President Obama. The stimulus boosted spending to a modern record of 24.4% of GDP in 2009, and it stayed high at 23.4% in 2010 and 2011 even as the stimulus was supposed to be winding down. Overall federal outlays hit $3.6 trillion in 2011 and under normal Beltway practice would have kept on climbing.

Then Republicans won the election in 2010 on a mandate to cut spending. Their first-year leverage was limited since they took power in January after fiscal 2011 was nearly five months old and Congress had already voted its budget for the fiscal year that ended in September 2011.

But note what happened starting in fiscal 2012. Total federal outlays fell two years in a row--from $3.6 trillion in 2011 to $3.45 trillion in 2013 before starting to rise again to $3.51 trillion in 2014. The spending decline was even more marked as a share of the economy, falling for three straight years--from 23.4% in 2011 to 20.3% in 2014.

Cashing in the rest of the Peace Dividend will get us back down to the post-Cold War 17+%.
Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Foreign investors can't get enough of the U.S. (Heather Long, 10/01/15, CNN Money)

Foreigners can't get seem to get enough of U.S. assets. They view the American economy as safe as many other parts of the world struggle, including China.

That's why foreign holdings of American bonds and stocks hit record levels this year, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve fund flow data by U.S. Trust.

"The U.S. has clearly emerged as the most competitive and innovative economy in the world," wrote Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at U.S. Trust.

Here are the numbers: Overseas investors held an all-time high of $6.2 trillion of U.S. government bonds at the end of June and $5.9 trillion of U.S. stocks. The equity holding was just a tad lower than the record of $6 trillion from the first quarter of the year.

All signs indicate that overseas investors will keep buying American assets even though the past few weeks have been rough for the markets.

...just point out their performance during a Democratic presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


N.F.L. Announcers Are Bad at Math, Too (Gregg Easterbrook, 9/29/15, TUESDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK)

It's not that coaches don't know the math -- rather, it seems they don't want to be criticized. If a coach does the expected and sends out the punt unit on fourth down, and then his team goes on to lose, players are blamed for the defeat. If the coach orders a conversion attempt that fails, the coach is blamed for subsequent defeat.

What surer barometer of this psychology than network announcers?

Trailing, 20-0, late in the third quarter at Seattle, the Bears reached fourth-and-inches at midfield. Chicago Coach John Fox faced this option: try for a first down or concede the game. When the punt team trotted out, the CBS booth denizen Phil Simms said: "I agree with the decision. I think I would punt it here and just go ahead and see if your defense can make a play." In other words, shift blame to the players, in this case the defenders.

Later, when the Bears were down, 23-0, in the fourth quarter and punted on fourth-and-2, announcers said nothing about the decision. That's because they have to punt, right? Washington at Jersey/A on Thursday night, the visitors, mired in a three-season slump, faced fourth-and-inches. The CBS play-by-play voice Jim Nantz declared, "Now the Redskins have to punt."

That teams facing fourth-and-short "have to" punt is what N.F.L. coaches want everyone to think: This takes the onus off them. Eagles at Jets scoreless, Jersey/B was stopped inches shy of a first. "It's a three-and-out for the Jets," the Fox announcer Kevin Burkhardt said cheerily, seeming never to contemplate the possibility of going for it.

Because network booth crews interpret the football universe for the mainstream fan, if broadcasters criticized timid punting tactics, coaches would be embarrassed. But coaches know there is almost no chance this will occur. In N.F.L. sociology, players are labor and coaches are management. Network announcers side psychologically with management. The booth guys scoff at dropped passes or missed tackles, criticizing labor, but back up tactical decisions, validating management.

San Diego at Minnesota scoreless, the Chargers faced fourth-and-inches in Vikings territory. As the punt team trotted out, the CBS announcers Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts said not a critical word. "Knowing Mike McCoy, he wants to play a field position game," Fouts observed, as though this were like using a Nimzo-Indian opening defense. The announcers thought a punt on fourth-and-inches in opposition territory was a good idea. And of course the Chargers went on to lose.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:43 AM


Video (from a live concert): 

I don't even know where to start writing a post about Phil Woods.  I've been listening to him for almost as long as I've been listening to jazz; he was one of my favorite sax players when I was in high school in the late 70's and remains on the short list of my all-time guys.   The first time I snuck (under age) into a club to hear live jazz it was to hear Phil.  And the second time.  And the third. (Houston Person would have been the fourth, but I finally turned 18.)

Born in 1931, Woods came along on the alto sax in the early 50's as Charlie Parker was revolutionizing that instrument and all of jazz.  As a young man, Woods was certainly a hard-core bebopper, and that led to him being dubbed "the new Bird" and dismissed by some as a Parker imitator.  (The fact that he was, for a time, married to Parker's widow, probably didn't help quell the comparisons.)  Woods's influences, however, also reached back to the pre-Bird giants of the alto, Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter.

Although Woods is a thoroughly unique jazz voice, as I've learned more about the music I've come recognize individual traits in his playing that remind me of so many other jazz greats: Louis Armstrong's joy and sheer love of the music, Coleman Hawkins's swagger, Dizzy Gillespie's quicksilver technique, Johnny Hodges's passion when playing a ballad, Sonny Rollins's penchant for plucking obscure tunes from the Great American Songbook, Dexter Gordon's affinity for the well-placed musical quotation, and Benny Carter's arranger's sensibility and self-control (like Carter, Woods rarely takes more than two or three choruses for his solos).  And here's one more thing about Woods...other than Louis Armstrong and Toots Thielmans, he is likely to be the only musician prominently mentioned in these posts that you've all heard as he's the sax player on the Billy Joel hit "Just the Way You Are."

Songs for Sisyphus, recorded in 1977, is a terrific introduction to Phil's playing and composing (he wrote the title track and the quirky, Thelonious-inspired "Monking Business").  He also generously provides solo showcases for his sidemen, guitarist Harry Leahy on Django Reinhart's lovely and haunting "Nuages" and pianist Mike Melillo with a Gershwin-esque take on Irving Berlin's "When My Dreams Come True" (a tune that probably hadn't been recorded since it was the theme song for the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts, in 1929).  Three numbers in particular capture Woods at his best.  Phil brings intense passion to the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg ballad "Last Night When We Were Young," moving into double time on the bridge and building into an ecstatic frenzy before relaxing back into the last eight bars of the tune and ending with a satisfied sigh.  "Change Partners" is another Berlin song, this one written for Fred Astaire, and Phil deftly dances his way through the melody before launching into a single chorus solo that is a fiery and hard-swinging race over the changes, enlivened with shouts, growls, smears, one-note rides and even a song quote ("Chattanooga Choo Choo"?).  After Melillo solos, the band returns for a counterpoint episode that has all of the instruments playing independent lines leading up to a final statement of the tune.  Finally, the album ends with a reminder of Woods's bebop roots as he leads the band on a romp through the Gillespie-Parker classic "Shaw Nuff."

Post script: I hadn't planned on writing about Woods until I could better organize my thoughts...in fact, I had been working on a review of an Art Blakey album that OJ dug up at the thrift store a couple of weeks ago.  But early last week I heard on the radio that Phil would be performing last Friday night as part of a local jazz festival.  Well, I couldn't pass that up.  Phil is 83 and suffering from emphysema.  His wife wheels an oxygen tank on stage with him, and he hooks up to it before lifting his horn.  He plays seated, his solos were even shorter than I remember 30+ years ago (when I always left his shows wishing he had played more), and he laid out on 2 of the 6 songs during the 1-hour set.  But when he played, oh my, he still SOUNDED like Phil Woods.  So, on the drive home I decided that my next post had to be about Phil.

In the lyric to his tune, "My Man Phil," Benny Carter summed it up pretty well:
Adolphe Sax, before he made that horn,
Must have known someday a Phil Woods would be born.
Jack or John, Bob or Bill,
Let them say what they will.
But goodness knows nobody blows like,
My man, Phil.


Phil Woods obituary (
John Fordham,
 30 September 2015, The Guardian)

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