November 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Texas sees business potential in trade with Cuba (SHERYL JEAN, 11/30/15,

Businesses in the state stand to generate jobs and millions of dollars in trade with Cuba as the United States takes steps to open relations with the communist country for the first time since 1961.

Texas could see $43 billion in total economic impact and 214 new jobs from increased exports and other trade with Cuba, according to a new report from Texas A&M University.

To jump-start efforts, Gov. Greg Abbott is leading a large state delegation to Cuba on Monday, less than one year after President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations with the island nation.

"With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba ... Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its economic footprint at home and abroad," Abbott said in a statement. Joining him in Cuba will be state agriculture and port representatives and business people.

Thanks, UR!

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Do terrorists really think they're going to win? (Benedict Wilkinson, 11/25/15, BBC Magazine)

Scroll forward 125 years or so to a very different world, a very different man, and a very different set of political ambitions. Abu Musab al-Suri was born in Aleppo in 1958 with striking blue eyes and ginger hair. Not a great deal is known about his youth with certainty, but it seems that he joined the armed wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in about 1980. At some point, he travelled to Afghanistan, that great melting pot of modern violent Islamism, where he hobnobbed with the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of al-Qaeda, and Abdullah Azzam, one of its original architects.

Al-Suri eventually became one of al-Qaeda's most influential strategic thinkers. And he has more in common with Johann Most than a ginger beard and a penchant for travel.

Like Most, al-Suri recognised a core problem with the use of terrorist violence as a strategy for achieving long-term major political objectives. Terrorism, he argued, might well irk nations and governments, but it was not enough to threaten them existentially. Governments are just too strong, political structures just too resilient. Terrorism might cause horrific destruction and terrible loss of life, but for al-Suri this was not enough to bring down a government or force it to change policies it held close to its heart.

In al-Suri's vision [a] campaign of seemingly random violence... will wear down a government until their resolve is eroded and they give into the terrorists' demands

Al-Suri therefore devised a different plan. He envisaged a global movement underpinned by an all-encompassing ideology, with violence at its very heart. Violence has two purposes. In the first instance, he argued, terrorism acts as a form of propaganda, drawing in supporters and advocates, just as Most had seen it.

This leads to stage two, when the movement, swollen with recruits, wannabes and supporters, can engage in repeated acts of violence. While these acts of violence might well be uncoordinated and small scale, in al-Suri's vision this campaign of seemingly random violence would create mass panic and widespread popular fear. It would wear down a government until their resolve is eroded and they give in to the terrorists' demands.

Both these stories illustrate the great problem at the heart of terrorism - what I call the Terrorists' Dilemma. And the basic problem is that terrorists tend to desire major political change, but have very little in the way of resources to achieve that change. There is a yawning gap between what they have and what they want.

Islamic State defections mount as death toll rises, U.S. official says (Tom Vanden Brook, 11/30/15, USA TODAY)

Defections of Islamic State fighters -- a closely watched measure by officials of U.S.-led coalition -- have begun to thin the ranks of the militants in Iraq in the last month, intelligence reports and drone footage show.

Wholesale defections, sparsely manned checkpoints and elite foreign fighters pressed into mundane duty indicate that the U.S.-led bombing campaign and advances by Kurdish forces are eroding the forces of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, said Army Col. Steve Warren, the top spokesman for the counter-ISIL coalition in Baghdad.

Top military officials estimate that the campaign has killed 23,000 Islamic State fighters, raising their death toll by 3,000 since mid-October.

...and not only is the caliphate not a cause they can win on, but winning would lead to their even quicker destruction, since trying to govern a state would just make target acquisition easier.  So all they really have to offer is violence for violence sake, which wears thin.
Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Putin Takes Ineffectual Aim at Turkey (Leonid Bershidsky, 11/30/15, Bloomberg View)

On Monday, top government officials discussed ideas for punishing Turkey, and came up with a ban on the sale of package tours and charter flights, curbs on truck traffic and an embargo on fruit and vegetables. The latter won't be effective immediately: Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said any measures must not lead to price rises. Russia's food embargo against most Western countries, imposed last summer, led to 20 percent to 30 percent price jumps. As it is, Russia reported an 11.7 percent drop in retail sales in October, compared with a year earlier. 

The fruit and vegetable embargo and the disruption to tourism are painful for both sides, but could hurt ordinary Russians most. Turkey's agricultural exports to Russia reached $1.2 billion last year, about 7 percent of total food exports. Turkish farmers probably will close the gap without much trouble. Last year, their counterparts in Europe experienced an increase in exports despite the Russian embargo.

For Russia, the loss is greater: About 20 percent of vegetable imports are from Turkey, as are about 90 percent of citrus fruit sold in major retail chains. 

And Turkey was by far the biggest tourist destination for Russians last year, attracting 3.3 million visitors, almost 19 percent of the Russian tourists who traveled overseas. Turkish resorts made billions, but losing this trade won't be a matter of life and death for the industry. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, last July, at the height of the tourist season, Turkey received 686,256 Russian visitors and almost 3.1 million from Europe. 

The ruble devaluation has made European vacations too pricey for most Russians. Egypt, the second most popular destination last year, has been off-limits since a terror attack brought down a passenger plane last month. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


This Simple Tablet-Based Eye Test Could Help Cure A Lot More Blindness (Ben Schiller, 11/30/15, Co.exist)

Mobile technology has the potential to slash the cost of medical care, spreading access to millions of people around the world. A host of procedures that once needed expensive equipment--from blood tests to ultrasounds--can now be performed with phones and mobile device attachments, and more categories are coming.

Ceeable's tablet-based eye-test is a case in point. It replaces a clinical machine that normally costs between $25,000 and $35,000 and offers a similar level of accuracy, according to peer-reviewed research. It could help diagnose a greater number of people with serious retinal conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma, and save a lot of money doing it. [...]

Ceeable's test is an electronic version of the standard Amsler Grid, where patients are asked which parts of a chart are distorted. Patients are set up between 15 and 17 inches in front of a tablet, and then told to trace areas with their fingers, indicating areas that are blurred. Then, Ceeable lowers the contrast level for a series of further tests, eventually generating a "3-D topographical contour map" of each eye.

November 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Billy Strayhorn In Five Songs (DAVID BRENT JOHNSON, 11/29/15, NPR)

This month marks Strayhorn's centennial. He was born in Dayton, Ohio on Nov. 29, 1915 and grew up in Pittsburgh, a jazz capital known for producing other pianists and composers. A musical prodigy, he began composing while in high school, writing a musical called Fantastic Rhythm that included the future standard "My Little Brown Book."

In late 1938, while Ellington was playing in Pittsburgh, a two-degrees-of-separation friendship resulted in the bandleader granting Strayhorn a private audience. Ellington was so impressed that he hired Strayhorn and moved him into Ellington's Harlem apartment, beginning a nearly 30-year collaboration that saw only one brief pause in the 1950s

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Republicans Must Save the Cities (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON November 29, 2015, National Review)

Non-whites, lower-income workers, and those whose economic condition has necessitated welfare dependency at some time do not much trust Republicans, because they believe that Republicans do not have their interests are heart. Republicans have over the years given them some reason to believe that, too. But it shouldn't be too hard to look at a place such as Chicago and ask: "Does Rahm Emanuel really act in your interest?" The answer is obviously not. Crime, corruption, dysfunctional schools, unsatisfactory public services from transit to sanitation: There's a great deal of fertile ground for Republicans and conservatives there. Rudy Giuliani won in New York on a single issue -- crime -- and delivered on it. On a smaller scale, Rick Baker had a very good run as mayor of St. Petersburg, and won 90 percent of the vote in the city's low-income black precincts on his second go-round. 

In the long run, conservatives need the cities. And the cities need conservatives right now.

If Republicans had their interests at heart we'd move them out of cities and to our own neighborhoods.  Cities are fine for the wealthier younger childless and as places for the rest of us to work and play.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Marco Rubio Straddles Line Between Insider, Outsider (PATRICK O'CONNOR And  BYRON TAU, Nov. 29, 2015, WSJ)

According to Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling, Mr. Rubio draws roughly similar support from the four main segments of the GOP primary electorate--centrists, religious conservatives, tea partiers and libertarians. In New Hampshire, he scored equally well among Republican primary voters who want the next president to be a political outsider and those who want someone with prior elected experience, according to a recent survey by WBUR. [...]

"Rubio shares a lot of support with Trump, Carson and [former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Carly] Fiorina and with establishment candidates, like Bush and Christie," said Mia Costa, one of the researchers on that poll. "He's well-positioned to pick up supporters from both camps."

November 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 PM


Americans are saving more than spending (Patrick Gillespie, 11/28/15, CNNMoney)

Americans are saving faster than they are spending.

It's a key shift in spending habits that started during the Great Recession. And the trend continues as we head into the holiday shopping season this weekend.

The savings rate in the United States rose to 5.6% in October -- its highest mark in nearly three years. In September, the savings rate was 5.3%. Put another way, Americans put aside an extra $40 billion in October rather than spend it.

The personal consumption expenditure, a measure of spending, only rose 0.1% between September and October.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


The Trouble With Interest Rates (J. Bradford DeLong, NOV 28, 2015 , Project Syndicate)

Given real economic conditions, European and American monetary policy is not too loose; if anything, it is too restrictive. The "natural" interest - what would be ground out by the Walrasian system of general equilibrium equations - is actually lower than what current monetary policy is producing. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 PM


What Will the Nixon-Reagan-Bush Republicans Do? (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 11/27/15, Weekly Standard)

Consider this: Here's roster of the eleven men who've won Republican presidential nominations going back to 1944: Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Tom Dewey. Seven had previously run for the nomination before winning. Almost all were nominated after substantial time in public office or the public limelight; the two who might be considered exceptions (George W. Bush, who had only six years in office, and Mitt Romney, who had only four) were the sons of a former president and a former presidential candidate, respectively.

Or look at it this way: In the 18 presidential elections going back to 1944 and constituting the voting lifetime of all but the very oldest primary voters, a Bush has been on the general election ballot six times, Richard Nixon five times, and the voters have had a chance thrice to consider, in the primaries and/or the general election, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, and a Romney.

So this a deeply conservative party accustomed to the discipline of repetition and the comfort of familiarity. It always nominates a white male, usually middle-aged to elderly, who is well-credentialed, politically experienced and widely recognized by the Republican primary electorate.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM


'Syria is dead, Israel must prepare,' top defense official warns (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 28, 2015)

The nation state of Syria has collapsed, a fact that Israel must internalize about its northern neighbor, a senior Israeli defense official said Saturday.

"Syria is a dead state, and Israel must understand this and prepare accordingly," Amos Gilad, the director of the political-security division in the Defense Ministry and a former senior Military Intelligence official, told a cultural event in Beersheba.

"[Syrian President Bashar] Assad's grip on the country is faltering, it is a land without rule," Gilad said, according to Army Radio.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The Opportunist : Marco Rubio's political dexterity. (EVAN OSNOS, 11_30_15, The New Yorker)

If the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, the Party will be offering the oldest candidate that it has ever run in a general election, and Rubio has taken to saying, "Never in the modern history of this country has the political class in both parties been more out of touch with our country than it is right now." But in policy terms Rubio can appear older than his years. His opposition to same-sex marriage, to raising the minimum wage, and to restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba puts him out of step with most American Latinos. In the Spanish-language media, he is sometimes described as un joven viejo--a young fogey.

After a summer submerged in a raucous primary field, Rubio had recently climbed into third place. He was ahead of Jeb Bush, his former mentor, and far behind Trump and Ben Carson. Trump's campaign marched to the sound of a dirge--"The American Dream is dead," he told crowds--and Rubio presented himself as a sunny alternative, a way out of Trump's sulfurous moment. "We're very blessed to have so many good people running for President," he said earnestly to the crowd in Boulder City.

I had seen Rubio at half a dozen events--in Iowa, New York, Nevada--and his speeches were blemished only by a tic: he occasionally slips into a singsong cadence, turning his story into a breathy schoolboy lullaby about the "new American century." On the whole, he is impressively consistent. Rubio in Dubuque in October was nearly indistinguishable from Rubio in Miami in April, the political equivalent of a well-managed restaurant chain: "Repeal and replace Obamacare," scrap President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran "on Day One," create the "most affordable business taxes in the world"--all the while heeding the populist frustrations of the moment. Vowing to remake higher education, he said, "When I'm President, before you take on student loans you're going to know how much people make when they graduate from that school with that degree. You're going to know that the market for philosophers has tightened over the last two thousand years." In 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, spoke worshipfully of "job creators." Rubio rarely mentions them. He returns, over and over, to his central task: how to make helping the poor and the middle class a Republican issue. He tells crowds, "We can no longer allow big government to be used as a tool of crony capitalism."

But, at bottom, his campaign is only partly about policy. In a contest against a real-estate tycoon and the son and brother of former Presidents, Rubio is campaigning on the vision of a country where "the son of a bartender and a maid" can reach the White House. "It's not just my story--it is literally our story," he told the Boulder City crowd. "In this nation, we are all but a generation or two removed from someone who made our future the very purpose of their lives. Whether or not we remain a special country will be determined by whether or not that journey is still possible for the people trying to make it now."

The applause was long and loud, and as Rubio climbed down from the stage to pose for selfies I asked the first couple I saw what they made of him. Cornelia Wallace, a retired nurse from the Chicago suburbs, said, "Well, I've got tears welled up in my eyes." She laughed at her own reaction. "It touched my heart," she said, and shrugged. "I get a passion from him that I don't get from the others." [...]

For Republican strategists, the loss of the 2012 Presidential election contained signals that spoke to the Party's future. Latinos are the largest minority group in America, but in 2012 "there was more talk about electrified fences than there was about higher education and tuition," Peter Wehner, a Republican speechwriter and strategist who served in the past three Republican Administrations, told me. "You can't win elections when you do that." Romney, who had called for the "self-deportation" of immigrants, received just twenty-seven per cent of the Latino vote--seventeen points less than what George W. Bush received in 2004. For years, Republicans have believed that they should be faring better with Hispanic voters. Ronald Reagan liked to say that Latinos are Republicans but "just don't know it yet." Lionel Sosa, a Texas adman who was hired to run Reagan's outreach program to Latinos, recalled, "Ronald Reagan told me, back in the 1980 race, 'Latinos are conservative people. As Republicans, we share the same basic conservative values. We believe in hard work. We believe in family.' "

For Wehner and other reform-minded conservatives, the lessons of 2012 were also economic. "The middle class felt vulnerable and nervous, because of stagnant wages for twenty-five years and skyrocketing costs in health care and higher education," Wehner told me. "The Party needed an agenda, and it was out of touch with middle-class concerns." The reformers urged the Party to get over same-sex marriage (a "losing battle"), focus on economic anxiety, and, above all, identify a leader who could articulate a vision that reached beyond Party orthodoxy. As Wehner put it, "You need a figure like a Bill Clinton or a Tony Blair, who can reassure the base and inspire them, but also to signal to people who are not voting for you, 'We get it.' "

Whit Ayres, a leading Republican analyst who has been Rubio's pollster for the past five years, drew a somewhat different lesson. He agreed about the demographic reality. "Unfortunately for Republicans, the math is only going to get worse," he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. "Groups that form the core of G.O.P. support--older whites, blue-collar whites, married people and rural residents--are declining as a proportion of the electorate. Groups that lean Democratic--minorities, young people and single women--are growing." He calculated that, in order to win, a Republican Presidential candidate would need at least forty per cent of the Latino vote. But in "2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America," published earlier this year, Ayres made a subtle distinction between style and substance. He wrote that polls have found "no evidence that America has shifted to the left." In his view, America remains a center-right country, the Party's core ideas are sound, and the problem lies in finding "the right candidate, the right message, and the right tone." He tested a range of ways of presenting core Republican ideas and composed a list of dos and don'ts. Don't say we have to reform entitlements or "we will never balance the budget." Do say that entitlement reform is "the only way to save popular programs."

November 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Despite governors' resistance, Syrian refugees find support in US (Henry Gass, NOVEMBER 27, 2015, CS Monitor)

"The negative publicity and the horrendous things these governors are saying, it does effect public opinion," says Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), a nonprofit organization in New Haven, Conn., that helped Mahmoud and his family settle in the city. "We are worried there could be individuals who make life unpleasant for refugees."

Yet despite the concerns, US organizations like IRIS that are working to resettle Syrian refugees are confident that America's welcoming disposition will prevail in the coming months. Already, in fact, some organizations say they're getting a level of support from communities that may mean that opposition from some governors won't matter.

It appears, at least anecdotally, that so far a broad public backlash against Syrian refugees simply isn't happening.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Hilary Benn tells Corbyn: I'm doing my job in supporting Syria airstrikes (Rowena Mason and Daniel Boffey, 27 November 2015, The Guardian)

The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, has said he will not resign over his backing of airstrikes on Isis in Syria, despite his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, writing to all Labour MPs setting out his opposition to military action. [...]

Benn's stance effectively challenges Corbyn to allow members of the shadow cabinet to vote with their conscience or sack him and other rebels.

At a difficult meeting on Thursday, around half of the shadow cabinet, including Benn, the deputy leader, Tom Watson, the shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, the shadow lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, and others made it clear they were minded to back the government's case for extending airstrikes when it is put to a vote in the Commons next week.

November 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Not that there's ever a bad time to be an American, but in this time of particular prosperity and general peace it's an easy day to give Thanks.  

We'd also like the thank all of your for reading Brothersjudd and participating in the community.

May you and yours be healthy, happy and thankful today and always.

The Brothers 

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Let's Talk Turkey (MARIAN L. TUPY SHARE, 11/19/15, Cato)

[L]et us see what happens when we adjust the nominal cost of Thanksgiving dinners by the rise in nominal wages.

In October 2014, FRED tells us, the average hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector (i.e., blue collar workers) was $20.72. In October 2015, it was $21.18.

That means that in 2014, an average worker had to work 2 hours 23 minutes and 5 seconds to procure all the items needed to buy a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people. In 2015, s/he had to work 2 hours 21 minutes and 57 seconds to do the same. So, in terms of actual work, the price of a Thanksgiving dinner has decreased by 1 minute and 8 seconds between 2014 and 2015.

That may seem like small beans, but consider what happened to the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner since 1986, which was the first year in which the AFBF collected the pertinent data. In 1986, Thanksgiving dinner cost $28.74. In October 1986, an average worker made $8.96 an hour. That means that s/he had to work 3 hours 12 minutes and 27 seconds, or 50 minutes and 30 seconds longer than worker today.

We radically underestimate the deflationary epoch.
Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


Russian deployment of S-400 in Syria unlikely, expert says (Judah Ari Gross, 11/25/15, The Times of Israel)

Its placement in Latakia would grant Russia aerial oversight over practically all of Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, over half of Turkey, parts of Iraq and Jordan -- and, of course, Israel: Planes flying in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport -- approximately 395 kilometers (245 miles) from Latakia -- would be within Russian sights.

"Do we have something to fear? The answer is: yes and no," Russia expert Zvi Magen told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

"If [the S-400] is indeed deployed," Magen explained, "it will be a game-changer."

However, that is a big "if," according to Magen, who served as Israel's ambassador to both Ukraine and Russia in the 1990s. "I don't see it actually reaching Syria," the former Israeli ambassador to Moscow and Kiev explained.

B-52 BOMBERS TO GET LONGER-RANGE CRUISE MISSILES (Kelsey D. Atherton  Posted November 24, 2015, Popular Science)

The 2,000-pound JASSM uses infrared and a jam-resistant GPS receiver to find its way to targets. Half of the missile is a 1,000-pound payload, designed to penetrate fortified targets, and the JASSM cruises to its targets with its own jet engine. The original missile could travel about 200 miles, but the extended-range version (JASSM-ER) can hit targets at least 500 miles away. That range is what makes them so attractive for the B-52; while the plane still flies fine, it's not in the least bit stealthy and anti-air defenses have improved dramatically since the Stratofortress was designed in the 1950s. Hitting targets an extra 300 miles further away than previously available keeps the B-52 in the fight, making the aging fleet a valuable Pentagon tool for years to come.

Few things in life are more amusing than the neocons' fear of Russian might.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


'I was tossed out of the tribe': climate scientist Judith Curry interviewed : For engaging with sceptics, and discussing uncertainties in projections frankly, this Georgia professor is branded a heretic (David Rose, 28 November 2015, Standpoint)

In the run-up to the Paris conference, said Curry, much ink has been spilled over whether the individual emissions pledges made so far by more than 150 countries -- their 'intentional nationally determined contributions', to borrow the jargon -- will be enough to stop the planet from crossing the 'dangerous' threshold of becoming 2°C hotter than in pre-industrial times. Much of the conference will consist of attempts to make these targets legally binding. This debate will be conducted on the basis that there is a known, mechanistic relationship between the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and how world average temperatures will rise.

Unfortunately, as Curry has shown, there isn't. Any such projection is meaningless, unless it accounts for natural variability and gives a value for 'climate sensitivity' --i.e., how much hotter the world will get if the level of CO2 doubles. Until 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave a 'best estimate' of 3°C. But in its latest, 2013 report, the IPCC abandoned this, because the uncertainties are so great. Its 'likely' range is now vast -- 1.5°C to 4.5°C.

This isn't all. According to Curry, the claims being made by policymakers suggest they are still making new policy from the old, now discarded assumptions. Recent research suggests the climate sensitivity is significantly less than 3˚C. 'There's growing evidence that climate sensitivity is at the lower end of the spectrum, yet this has been totally ignored in the policy debate,' Curry told me. 'Even if the sensitivity is 2.5˚C, not 3˚C, that makes a substantial difference as to how fast we might get to a world that's 2˚C warmer. A sensitivity of 2.5˚C makes it much less likely we will see 2˚C warming during the 21st century. There are so many uncertainties, but the policy people say the target is fixed. And if you question this, you will be slagged off as a denier.'

Curry added that her own work, conducted with the British independent scientist Nic Lewis, suggests that the sensitivity value may still lower, in which case the date when the world would be 2˚C warmer would be even further into the future. On the other hand, the inherent uncertainties of climate projection mean that values of 4˚C cannot be ruled out -- but if that turns out to be the case, then the measures discussed at Paris and all the previous 20 UN climate conferences would be futile. In any event, 'the economists and policymakers seem unaware of the large uncertainties in climate sensitivity', despite its enormous implications.

Meanwhile, the obsessive focus on CO2 as the driver of climate change means other research on natural climate variability is being neglected. For example, solar experts believe we could be heading towards a 'grand solar minimum' -- a reduction in solar output (and, ergo, a period of global cooling) similar to that which once saw ice fairs on the Thames. 'The work to establish the solar-climate connection is lagging.'

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


The Battle Of Wills That The Soviet Union Lost (EDWARD LUCAS, December 2015, Standpoint)

The United States did not quite realise how weak the Soviet Union had become. For their part the Soviet leadership was only beginning to discover the true failure of the planned economy.

Professor Service meticulously documents the ins and outs of the diplomatic story. For those of us who have forgotten the intricacies and significance of the Pershing and Cruise missile deployment in Europe, or the importance of "Star Wars" -- President Reagan's visionary, costly and impractical idea of creating a missile-defence shield for the United States -- this book is a powerful reminder. It is well worth remembering too that Reagan's optimism about sweeping nuclear disarmament horrified his European allies: without America's nuclear shield, they would be left facing the overwhelming conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact. 

Some of the mysteries remain unanswered. What was Gorbachev really up to in the last disastrous year of his rule? Shevardnadze resigned in December 1990, warning that dictatorship was round the corner. How much did Gorbachev know about the August putsch in 1991? Was he really the plotters' victim, or also their accomplice? What happened to the Communist Party's money, and the KGB's slush funds, which were funnelled out of the Soviet Union towards the end, and played an important role in helping the old regime reinvent itself in capitalist clothes? On the American side, what was the role of Saudi Arabia in driving down the oil price in order deliberately to destroy the Soviet economy? The book devotes only two sentences to this vital question.

A bigger flaw in its high-level narrative is that it broadly treats the Soviet Union and the West as equals. In a sense that is true. Each had the capacity to obliterate the other. But it would be a mistake to ascribe equal moral weight to both. Reagan was right when he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire": it was evil, and it was an empire. America was neither. France was able to leave Nato's command structure. There was no Western equivalent of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, the crushing of the Hungarian uprising, or martial law in Poland. Western Europe was part of the West because it wanted to be. Eastern Europe was under Kremlin rule because the Red Army had conquered it in 1945. That is a big difference. Might becomes right eventually (think of the Sioux, or the ancient Britons). But not that quickly. 

The fundamental illegitimacy of the Soviet system is not just a detail. It is at the heart of the story of the Soviet collapse. American negotiators were in a position of strength not just because their economy was bigger and their military stronger, but because they represented a free society and were negotiating with slave-masters. Shultz, Weinberger and the other denizens of the Reagan White House were not perfect, but they had not risen to the heights of power by sucking up to mass murderers, denouncing colleagues, and bending their brains to fit the party line. Their counterparts in the Soviet Union had done all that and more. The shadow of Stalinism, and its millions of victims, hung heavy over the Soviet Union to the day it died. For all America's flaws, there was no commensurate moral baggage. 

This is particularly important because of the role of the captive nations in bringing down the Soviet Union. The USSR is best understood as an empire, not a state. It covered up its imperialism in the language of internationalism, but that should not deceive us. This book would have benefited from its author paying more attention to the struggle for freedom in the captive nations, and less to the politicking of their jailers.

With his heavy focus on Washington, DC and Moscow, Service treats the independence of the Baltic states, and the struggle for freedom in Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries as abstract items on the diplomatic agenda. They were not. People risked and even sacrificed their lives for a freedom that they fully realised they might never see. The Soviet Union collapsed from the bottom up, as well as (and perhaps more than) from the top down. That perspective, and the voices of the brave people involved, are largely missing.

For his part, Gorbachev completely failed to appreciate either the way in which the Soviet Union was founded on a failed economic and political system, or its role as the jailer and despoiler of neighbouring counties. That was one of the many reasons why his haphazard and ill-thought-out reform efforts failed.

The final tragedy of the USSR was that Yuri Andropov, the first leader to realize that it had no future, died before he could negotiate its end.  He was their Ariel Sharon.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


My Republican Brother Breaks Down the 2016 Race (Maureen Dowd, 11/26/15, New York Times)

It's always amusing when Ms Dowd uses her "brother" to reveal her own thoughts. He's her Colbert.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


This Pro-Life Group Targets Planned Parenthood's Corporate Funding (Kate Scanlon,  November 25, 2015, Daily Signal)

A pro-life group say it has convinced more than 300 companies to stop donating to Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.

The organization, Life Decisions International, tracks corporate sponsors of Planned Parenthood in an effort to encourage them to stop donating. [...]

Using Planned Parenthood's own annual reports, newsletters and IRS documents, Life Decisions International determines which companies contribute funds. It adds the findings to a list of such donors, and encourages pro-lifers to use the list to boycott them.

Discussions with each company are "kept completely confidential to spare them the backlash from pro-abortion people," Scott said.

Tom Strobhar, chairman of Life Decisions International, told The Daily Signal that more than 300 companies "no longer give to Planned Parenthood" because of his organization.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Europe and Islam: A clash of failures  (Michael Brendan Dougherty, November 24, 2015, )

[F]rance and Islam each hold out a universal promise for the world. And in each other, they see that promise revealed as a lie.

As I wrote last week, for some Muslims, the modern world presents a crisis for Islam. If Allah grants victories to the faithful community of believers, then Islam's current situation is a problem. The Islamic world has been in retreat for decades, if not centuries. The exit of colonial powers has left the Middle East and surrounding regions to corrupt governments, seduced by foreign intrigue or foreign aid. Globalization sends constant reminders of the economic superiority of the West into the Muslim world, along with messages preaching the superiority of Western hedonism, human rights, and feminism. For certain Muslims, this is not an unfortunate turn in history, but a sign of the Muslim world's defection from Allah. Islam must be purified to restore the ummah to the conditions of the early centuries of the faith. Islam's failure to conquer, or even to produce workable, livable arrangements with its own domain, becomes an invitation to fundamentalism and conflict.

Something similar is happening to French society. After World War II, France devoted itself evermore fully to its conceptions of universal values. France disavowed political nationalism, and joined the European project with enthusiasm. France was to show that if French men were to become Nietzsche's last men, well, what's wrong with that? Every man wants to be free, prosperous, leisured. History has a direction, away from religion, prejudice, divisive nationalism, and toward reason. History was a march toward universally applicable and universally appealing human rights. In a few years, the sons of Algerian and Iraqi immigrants will drink coffee, a little Bordeaux too. They will pretend to be existentialists, and organize to keep French working hours distinctively French. Everyone in their heart wants this, no?

It turns out not. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Uh-oh!: bemused Chinese react to John McDonnell's Chairman Mao speech (Tom Phillips, 26 November 2015, The Guardian)

Mao Zedong's homeland reacted with a mixture of scorn, jubilation and amusement after the shadow chancellor gave the Great Helmsman's teachings their parliamentary debut.

Chinese news outlets were quick to pick up on reports of John McDonnell's controversial speech to parliament on Wednesday after which he tossed a copy of Mao's crimson tome across the dispatch box towards George Osborne. [...]

Others were less amused that the Chinese despot had been resuscitated at the very heart of British democracy.

"Uh-oh! Mao's leftwing ideologies are rising up again!" wrote one.

Another comment read: "[Laugh cry] [laugh cry] [laugh cry] [laugh cry] [laugh cry] [laugh cry] [laugh cry] [laugh cry]."

[Laugh Laugh]

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Austrian ISIS 'poster girl' reportedly beaten to death after trying to escape Syria (, 11/25/15)

One of two Austrian teenagers dubbed "poster girls" for ISIS was beaten to death after she was caught trying to escape the terror group's de facto capital in Syria, according to published reports.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Iran offers huge economic potential. Can it deliver? (John Defterios, 11/25/15, CNNMoney)

Jewelry designer Anahita Ostadi has also struggled with the banking restrictions, as well as high taxes and daunting bureaucracy.

"I hope in the future we have a country that is open to everyone, especially the U.S. and the others," Anahita told CNN.

That view is shared by many of Iran's younger generation. (Some 60% of the population is under 30.)

But it's at odds with the country's hardliners. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said recently that he wanted to "seriously avoid importing consumer goods from the United States."

Still, businesses are preparing to cater for that demand. Opened just 15 months ago, The Kourash Complex is the first ultra modern mall in Tehran. It has more than 500 stores, and attracts 40,000 shoppers a day.

"In my opinion, yes they want U.S. products," said Ali Rezaei, owner of "Ave est" -- one of the first men's retailers to open up in the complex.

Amir Rizai, the mall's manager, says "Iran's Golden Times" are just two to five years away.

If all goes well, Iran could see economic growth of nearly 6% in 2016, and 6.7% the following year, according to the Institute of International Finance. That compares with less than 1% projected by the IMF this year.

The upbeat forecasts assume that the government of President Hassan Rouhani manages to navigate change successfully. Iran is on the cusp of ending years of economic isolation; a younger generation is yearning to open up, but the hardliners are pushing back, unwilling to give up the way they have done business for decades.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Donald Trump mocks reporter's disability (Mark Mooney, 11/25/15, CNNMoney)

Trump waved his arms in an awkward manner to lampoon Serge Kovaleski at a rally in South Carolina Tuesday night. Kovaleski has a chronic condition called arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his arms. [...]

Trump's performance was prompted by a story Kovaleski had written in 2001 that refuted claims that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City cheered the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Trump is insisting that he saw "thousands" of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City, N.J., as the twin towers burned fell on the other side of the Hudson River.

November 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


The Near-Impossibility of Assimilation in Belgium (CHIKA UNIGWE, NOV. 25, 2015, NY Times)

Some years ago, I was invited to sit on a panel in Antwerp -- "together with other distinguished foreigners," in the words of the panel organizer -- to discuss language and culture in Flanders. I had, by then, become a naturalized Belgian, but I had never felt accepted enough to claim that identity; when people asked where I was from, I still said Nigeria. I had come to Belgium as an adult. Neither my Dutch nor my French was as fluent as the average Belgian's. Perhaps, I reasoned, people had every right to deny me access to that identity.

When the biographies of my co-panelists were read, though, I was stunned to learn that all three of them had been born and raised in Belgium. One was a newscaster whose Dutch might even have been considered posh, whose only relationship with his parents' country was as a visiting tourist. Yet he had shown up at the panel as an immigrant! When I asked the moderator what made my co-panelists "foreign," his answer used the Flemish word "allochtonen" -- the opposite of indigenous, a word that means, literally, "originating from another country." My co-panelists were of North African and Turkish origins; their names and their skin ensured that they would always be classified as allochtonen. Growing up in Belgium, they had internalized the label: once an allochtoon, always an allochtoon.

Or almost always. Another writer once told me the word was simply a way of identifying one's cultural roots. But when someone else waded into the conversation to ask if her son, who was half-British, should be considered allochtoon, the writer said no: "He's Caucasian. How is anyone going to know he's half anything?"

I thought of this when I ran into Toon two years later. Toon had been in my oldest's second-grade class, except he was not called Toon then, and his Dutch was heavily accented and hesitant; he and his mother had just arrived from Poland. As far as his teacher was concerned, this made him one of two foreigners in the class -- the other being my son, whose father is Flemish, whose last name is Flemish, who had only ever vacationed in Nigeria for a few weeks. (When she spoke of Africans, she made sure to point him out as one.) The day I ran into Toon, I called him by his Polish name, but he smiled and said, "Ma'am. I am now called Toon" -- a very Flemish name. His accent was gone. A change of name and accent were all Toon needed to bridge a gap that the Belgian-born children of "other-colored" immigrants will never be able to.

Assimilation, for a Belgian with non-European roots, is a near-impossible task.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM

GHWB '88 OR GORE '00?:

Republicans Hold the Edge in the 2016 Presidential Race : If the party doesn't split in two, the eventual GOP nominee should be favored to defeat Hillary Clinton. (Josh Kraushaar, 11/24/15, National Journal)

Nearly every fun­da­ment­al meas­ure--with the not­able ex­cep­tion of the coun­try's demo­graph­ic shifts--fa­vors the Re­pub­lic­ans in 2016. The pub­lic over­whelm­ingly be­lieves the coun­try is headed in the wrong dir­ec­tion (23/69, a his­tor­ic low in Bloomberg's na­tion­al poll). Pres­id­ent Obama's job-ap­prov­al rat­ing has been con­sist­ently un­der­wa­ter, with the op­pos­i­tion in­tensely re­ject­ing his policies. Any eco­nom­ic growth has been un­even, with more Amer­ic­ans pess­im­ist­ic than op­tim­ist­ic about the fu­ture. The pub­lic's nat­ur­al de­sire for change after eight years of Demo­crats in the White House be­ne­fits the op­pos­i­tion. Mean­while, the party's likely stand­ard-bear­er has been saddled with weak fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings of her own, with her email scan­dal drag­ging down her trust­wor­thi­ness in the minds of voters. This is not the en­vir­on­ment in which the party in power typ­ic­ally pre­vails.

That was all true even be­fore the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Par­is rat­cheted up na­tion­al se­cur­ity as a dom­in­ant is­sue head­ing in­to the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. Obama, who dis­missed IS­IS ter­ror­ists this week as "a bunch of killers with good so­cial me­dia," is badly out of step with Amer­ic­an pub­lic opin­ion on the cru­cial is­sue. This week's ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post sur­vey showed 59 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans be­lieve the U.S. is "at war with rad­ic­al Is­lam"--a phrase most Demo­crats res­ist us­ing. A siz­able 60 per­cent ma­jor­ity sup­ports send­ing ground troops in­to Syr­ia and Ir­aq to fight IS­IS. Even on the is­sue of hous­ing Syr­i­an refugees, on which lead­ing Demo­crats have ral­lied be­hind the pres­id­ent, polls show a clear ma­jor­ity of voters--along with about one-third of the House Demo­crat­ic caucus--now op­pose such meas­ures.

For Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents, na­tion­al se­cur­ity has been a first-tier is­sue since the IS­IS be­head­ings of Amer­ic­an journ­al­ists in Syr­ia last sum­mer. But for Demo­crats, the is­sue lagged as a sec­ond­ary one, even be­hind cli­mate change--a point Bernie Sanders con­tin­ued to make after the Par­is at­tacks. Hil­lary Clin­ton's ex­per­i­ence in for­eign policy is an as­set, and she show­cased her smarts--and dif­fer­ences with the pres­id­ent's view of IS­IS and ur­gency of the ter­ror­ist threat--at a Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions speech last week. But she'll be saddled by the re­cord of the ad­min­is­tra­tion she served, un­der which IS­IS meta­stas­ized as a threat. If ex­per­i­ence was the most im­port­ant factor in today's polit­ics, Clin­ton might have a life­line. Re­pub­lic­ans, however, will have loads of ma­ter­i­al with which to ques­tion her for­eign policy judg­ment.

The Demo­crats' hopes of hold­ing the White House rest on: a) re­mo­bil­iz­ing the Obama co­ali­tion of mil­len­ni­als, single wo­men, and non­white voters; and b) hop­ing that Re­pub­lic­ans nom­in­ate someone out­side the main­stream, like Don­ald Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Netanyahu said to rebuff IDF pitch to arm PA, release prisoners (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 25, 2015)

A senior Israeli official said the government would not approve the transfer of more arms to the Palestinians or approve the release of more security prisoners, Wednesday night, rebuffing a reported IDF proposal to implement the measures as a way to ease tensions.

The comment, by an unnamed source in the Prime Minister's Office close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came quickly on the heels of a briefing by a senior IDF official that suggested a series of goodwill gestures to curb a recent wave of terror attacks.

...especially now that there is none with Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


How to Counter Violent Extremism : Heavy-handed tactics don't stop terrorism. Good policing and public trials do. (PHILIP GIRALDI,  November 16, 2015, American Conservative)

I recently attended a very interesting conference in Washington that considered how to analyze the problem that has been called "violent extremism" and questioned what should be done about it, if anything. Several expert panels quickly made clear that the label violent extremism is meaningless, an expression of convenience that actually serves to obscure the broad range of motives that can push someone to become part of a terrorist attack. Several speakers noted that the problem itself has clearly been exaggerated for political reasons, to create a wedge issue to attack the administration. Participants observed that of the thousands of mostly Muslim Americans who have sympathy for the fate of their coreligionists overseas and peruse what are too often loosely described as radical websites, few accept that violence is an appropriate response--and still fewer are willing to do something about it.

So law enforcement and intelligence agencies are actually dealing with a tiny subset within a small minority of the American population. I would add that this marked lack of genuine "homegrown" militants explains the frequency of arrests in terrorism cases where the accused have actually done nothing whatsoever and sometimes appear to have been motivated largely by the ubiquitous FBI informants that are often inserted into such investigations at an early stage. Most cases are consequently resolved with either a plea bargain or with a reduced charge relating to "material support" of terrorism. [...]

One thing that was largely missing from the discussion was a sense of history, not particularly surprising given the age and background of most of the participants. I began my career in the CIA working against the largely European terrorist groups that were active in the 1970s and 1980s. To be sure, there were Middle Eastern groups like Abu Nidal also prominent at the time, but the best known and most lethal terrorists were Germans, Italians, and Irishmen. They were just as ruthless as anything we are seeing today and, interestingly enough, the same questions that are being raised currently regarding the radicalization of young Muslims were raised back then regarding middle class Europeans, with a similar lack of any kind of satisfactory explanation. This is largely due to the fact that no simple answer exists because the road to radicalization, as the panels noted, can be quite complicated. Any attempt to create a model can result in erroneous conclusions that inevitably lead to the simple expedient of increasing police and governmental powers.

The defeat of terrorist groups in the 1980s and 1990s should be the starting point for any discussion of potential domestic terrorism. That era tells us what works and what doesn't. Heavy-handed military style approaches, employed initially by the British in Northern Ireland, do not succeed. Terrorist groups come in all shapes, colors, and sizes but at the end of the day they constitute political movements, seeking to replace what they see as an unlawful government with something that corresponds to their own sense of legitimacy. Identifying them as fanatics of one kind or another or as "mentally ill" obscures what they really represent--even if it is clearly useful from a propaganda point of view to energize public support for government initiatives.

Avoiding heavy-handed attempts to penetrate and control identifiable communities that the terrorists operate within has failed since the French tried it in Algeria. Relying on the existing courts and law enforcement does work because the justice system has an inherent legitimacy. Identifying terrorists as criminals and dealing with them as such openly and transparently through the criminal justice system provides a guarantee of at least a modicum of due process, particularly when honest efforts are also made to obtain the support and cooperation of the moderates in the local community. That is how the Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof, ETA, and the IRA were eventually brought to heel. It also led to the dismantling of radical groups including the Weathermen in the United States as well as the Tupamaros and Dev Sol in South America.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


A Frenchman's appreciation of Thanksgiving (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, November 25, 2015, tHE wEEK)

[W]hile I could get aggrieved about the triteness of "giving thanks," I'm not. Yes, it's such a hallmark of America's public religiosity, a bland spirituality that doesn't actually say anything specific, but tries to give you warm fuzzy feelings. But it's worked pretty well for you as a social glue. And, more importantly, when life gives us opportunities, we should seize them. Yes, Valentine's Day is a made-up, schmaltzy, commercialized holiday -- but it can also be an occasion for celebrating and strengthening bonds with your loved one. Similarly, gratitude really is good for the soul; we should appreciate a holiday dedicated to it.

So, America: This Thanksgiving, when you ask yourself what to be thankful for, start by being thankful for Thanksgiving itself.

...even the BLMers and Trumpets will be sensibly Thankful tomorrow.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


McDonnell's great leap forward puts Osborne one step ahead (John Crace, 11/25/15, The Guardian)

Replying to a budget speech that you haven't seen is one of the more thankless tasks, and the faces on the Labour benches were looking increasingly grim as John McDonnell bumbled, fumbled and stumbled his way through his first effort. But John didn't care, because John knew he had his own very special rabbit up his sleeve. His eyes sparkled as the moment when he would unite his party and sweep the Tories away came nearer. "Timing, John, timing," he told himself, his hand foraged inside his jacket pocket. Out came a well-thumbed copy of Mao Zedong's Little Red Book.

"We learn to do economic work from all who know how, no matter who they are," he said beatifically. "We must esteem them as teachers, learning from them respectfully and conscientiously, but we must not pretend to know what we do not know." Having made his point, he threw the Little Red Book across the dispatch box towards the chancellor.

John could already hear the Labour MPs behind him rise to their feet, cheering, as the Tories raised their white handkerchiefs in surrender while voluntarily asking to be sent to the pig farms for re-education. Let three hundred and thirty flowers bloom. The long march was over and his time had come. They think it's all over ... It is Mao.

It only gradually dawned on John that it was the government benches who were doing all the shouting and laughing. Behind him, only the sound of one door slamming. The blood drained from the faces of dozens of Labour MPs, who had been looking to the chancellor's statement for a glimmer of light after weeks of being wrongfooted on security. Some upped and left. Shots rang out from the Commons chamber. Better to self-purge than to be purged.

John was bewildered. When he'd tried out that gag the night before at the secretariat of his local politburo, everyone had fallen about laughing. "The Commons will love it," Chairman Jez Cor-Bao had said. "No one will imagine for a minute that this will merely confirm many people's view that the Labour party has been taken over by a load of old commies who admire a man now remembered mainly in the west for killing 45 million of his own people during the great leap forward. Why not go the whole hog and quote from Marx and Lenin, too?"

Tumbleweed began to roll through the Labour benches as false consciousness won the day. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Godfather of terror: Saudi Arabia and 'IS' (Deutsche-Welle, 11/25/15)

Hatred against those of a different faith. A bizarre world view that sees Islam threatened in many kinds of ways. Mistrust against everyone who doesn't think and believe like oneself: these are central ideological elements of the terror organization "Islamic State" (IS). It didn't invent this world view, at least not alone. When 'IS' agitates against Shiites, Yazidis, Christians and Jews, it shows close parallels to the world view of Wahhabism, the radical-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam, which is the state religion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In actual fact there are unmistakable parallels between IS and Wahhabism.[...]

Saudi Arabia exports its version of Sunni Islam with the utmost consequence. In the last 25 years a former US ambassador estimated in a published study in 2007 that the kingdom had invested at least 87 billion dollars in religious propaganda worldwide. This sum, he thinks, may even have increased further due to the high price of oil over an extended period. The funds went towards the construction of mosques, Madrassa Koran schools and religious institutions, and helped finance the training of Imams, publishing houses and Wahhabi text books.

A large part of the funds go to economically weak, but populous Islamic countries in south and southeast Asia, such as Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, or Malaysia. Proselytizing for Wahhabism is also done in parts of Africa. For many people in these parts of the world it is the only possibility of getting a school education. There they learn how to read and write and are also given access to the Wahhabi teachings. But there are also Saudi Arabian financed institutions in the West.

The ideological closeness to "Islamic State" (IS) is reflected in concrete economic aid. It's hard to say how money is channeled to IS: The funds are transferred in the so-called Hawala System, an informal transfer system, where the money is not transferred in official bank notes, but via trusted third parties. Also here it's not clear, how far the Saudi state supports the IS directly or indirectly.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Is Donald Trump really a 'fascist?' (Peter Grier, Staff writer NOVEMBER 25, 2015, CS Monitor)

Is Donald Trump really "fascist"?

That's the (loaded) word some in the GOP are beginning to use to describe the billionaire presidential hopeful. It seems his recent nativist statements - including his apparent endorsement of a national registry for Muslims in the US, and support for the surveillance of mosques - have pushed Republicans who think Trump is unelectable over the edge.

Fascists seek to conserve their culture and institutions in the face of nihilistic revolutionaries, like Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


River turbines turn Austria's Danube from blue to green (Philippe Schwab, 11/25/15, AFP)

The idea is to place in the river what looks on the surface like the top of a submarine but is in fact a six-tonne buoy producing enough electricity for 250 people.

Below the waves is a turbine turned by the fast-flowing waters -- more brown than the blue of Strauss's famous waltz -- of the Danube, one of Europe's main waterways. [...]

In time, the aim is for all the 30,000 inhabitants of the UNESCO-protected valley, its steep slopes covered in vineyards and dotted with centuries-old castles, to get their power in this way.

Mankind has long harnessed the awesome kinetic energy of rivers, most notably with hydroelectric power, the first plant being built at Niagara Falls in the United States back in 1879.

But even though the technology produces no climate-changing greenhouse gases -- which the Paris climate talks aim to reduce -- building the vast dams necessary nowadays is politically tricky, particularly in Europe.

"Forty years ago we successfully fought against a hydroelectric dam here," said Christian Thiery, owner of a Wachau hotel and restaurant at Durnstein, where English king Richard the Lionheart was famously imprisoned in the 12th century.

"Thank goodness we did, because we live off tourism now," he says. He has already ordered one of Aqua Libre's buoys to power his 100-bed hotel.

And apart from being unobtrusive, a key selling point of this new technology, its proponents say, is that it is the only source of renewable energy that works 24 hours a day and without the need for heavy infrastructure.

November 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Iran gears up for big return to world oil markets (John Defterios, 11/24/15, CNNMoney)

In a remote corner of Iran, engineers are working round the clock to return the country to the top ranks of global oil producers.

The region of Southwest Iran boasts more proven reserves of oil than Africa's largest producer, Nigeria, and its 60 billion barrels are central to Iran's ambitions. [...]

Iran's oil industry has had to get creative to survive years of isolation -- the equipment is old, rusty and in some cases improvised. On one platform, the National Iranian Oil Company is using a Chinese built rig but with American technology at the core purchased before sanctions took hold.

Mahmood Marashi, a project manager educated in America, cannot wait for the day Western-led sanctions are removed, and Iran can re-enter the global market.

"We hope that after the sanctions are lifted we can move faster," Marashi told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Syria's Turkmen: who they are, and what they have to do with Russia's downed plane (Zack Beauchamp,  November 24, 2015, Vox)

Turkmen (not to be confused with people from Turkmenistan) are spread across several Middle Eastern countries but are mostly concentrated in Syria and Iraq. Their total population is thought to range from 1.5 to 3.5 million, though reliable estimates are hard to come by. Of those, somewhere in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 likely live in Syria, mostly in the country's north near the Turkish border.

The Turkmen arrived in what's now Syria centuries ago, as various different Turkic empires -- first the Seljuks, then the Ottomans -- encouraged Turkish migration into the territory to counterbalance the local Arab majority. Under Bashar al-Assad's rule, the mostly Sunni Muslim Turkmen in Syria were an oppressed minority, denied even the right to teach their own children in their own language (a Turkish dialect).

However, the Turkmen didn't immediately join the anti-Assad uprising in 2011. Instead, they were goaded into it by both sides. Assad persecuted them, treating them as a potential conduit for Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war. Turkey, a longtime enemy of Assad, encouraged the Turkmen to oppose him with force. Pushed in the same direction by two major powers, the Turkmen officially joined the armed opposition in 2012.

Since then, they've gotten deeply involved in the civil war, receiving significant amounts of military aid from Ankara. Their location has brought them into conflict with the Assad regime, ISIS, and even the Western-backed Kurdish rebels (whom Turkey sees as a threat given its longstanding struggle with its own Kurdish population). Today, the Syrian Turkmen Brigades -- the dominant Turkmen military faction -- boast as many as 10,000 fighters, per the BBC, though the real number could be much lower.

The Turkmen role in the conflict has put them directly in Russia's crosshairs. The Russians, contrary to their stated goal of fighting ISIS, have directed most of their military efforts to helping Assad's forces fight rebels. The Turkmen have clashed repeatedly with Assad and his allies in the north -- which led to Russian planes targeting Turkmen militants last week.

Turkey was not happy, and called in the Russian ambassador to register its disapproval. "It was stressed that the Russian side's actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages and this could lead to serious consequences," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a description of the meeting provided to Reuters.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


To Defeat ISIS, Create a Sunni State (JOHN R. BOLTON, NOV. 24, 2015, NY Times)

Today's reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone. The Islamic State has carved out a new entity from the post-Ottoman Empire settlement, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq. Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan.

If, in this context, defeating the Islamic State means restoring to power Mr. Assad in Syria and Iran's puppets in Iraq, that outcome is neither feasible nor desirable. Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics. The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.

This "Sunni-stan" has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiation with the Kurds, to be sure), and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states, who should by now have learned the risk to their own security of funding Islamist extremism, could provide significant financing. And Turkey -- still a NATO ally, don't forget -- would enjoy greater stability on its southern border, making the existence of a new state at least tolerable. do you get them to accept a state so that we can all attack it?

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Devolution versus democracy? A report on Assembly North (TRACEY CHEETHAM 23 November 2015, Open Democracy)

In terms of devolution, there seems to be an awareness in government of people wanting power to shift to a more local and therefore more accessible level. The problem is that at national level there seems to be a contradiction, in that devolution is promoted yet the powers are 'bestowed' and local areas should be grateful for it. Then, some national politicians argue that there are some things that devolved assemblies should not be allowed (trusted?) to decide on, such as the debate about abortion law in Scotland this week. The issue of exactly which laws and powers devolved assemblies are permitted to have by national politicians has a big impact on citizens. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Petraeus Warns: No U.S. Ground Troops in Syria (Rob Garver, November 24, 2015, Fiscal Times)

In an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose, Petraeus warned against putting American troops on the ground in the war-torn country, saying the country "may be a Humpty Dumpty that can't be put back together again ... One doesn't know what the various outcomes could be." [...]

Petraeus said that introducing a large U.S. ground force to establish order in Syria is not "sustainable" and that any force on the ground there supported by the U.S. would have to be made up of moderate Sunni fighters - and there currently aren't enough of those to present an effective opponent to counter the terror group ISIS or the government of dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are backed by the Russian military.

"There are some there. We have been enabling them, supporting them and assisting them for some time," he said of the moderate Sunnis. "Clearly, if we really get behind them and vow to protect them again from Bashar's air force and so on, I think you would see a lot more."

In his comments, Petraeus seemed to be describing a no-fly zone in at least part of the country, which would allow Sunni fighters the freedom to organize without being attacked.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Five people were shot near Black Lives Matter protest site (MARK VANCLEAVE, 11/24/15, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Miski Noor, a media contact for Black Lives Matter, said "a group of white supremacists showed up at the protest, as they have done most nights."

One of the three men wore a mask, said Dana Jaehnert, who had been at the protest site since early evening.

When about a dozen protesters attempted to herd the group away from the area, Noor said, they "opened fire on about six protesters," hitting five of them. Jaehnert said she heard four gunshots.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


'Americans saved my life': former refugees from Iraq perplexed by US fears : Displaced Kurds from the Persian Gulf war in 1991 say politicians' backlash against taking in Syrian refugees is a stark contrast to what they experienced (Sabrina Siddiqui, 11/21/15, The Guardian)

As one of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds displaced by the Persian Gulf war, Sindi knows firsthand the plight of refugees fleeing conflict and recalls as though it were yesterday the sense of desperation looming over temporary resettlement camps.

Sindi remembers the daily uncertainty confronted by his family when placed at a refugee camp lacking the most basic of resources. The image of food and supplies airdropped by American planes under Operation Provide Comfort stays with him to this day - it was what motivated Sindi to accept two deployments training and advising US troops after the country's invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"Americans saved my life," Sindi told the Guardian. "And so I worked with them and returned the favor."

After gaining US citizenship in 2006, he went on to spend four years in Iraq, from 2009 to 2012. There, Sindi served as an interpreter for the US military and in the security detail for vice-president Joe Biden and senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham during their trips to Erbil.

To Sindi, his story is about more than goodwill toward the country he has now called home for two decades. It's about the trust placed in him, a native of Zakho, Iraq, by the US government.

"I was a refugee, I came from nowhere, and I reached the point where I could be in a convoy with the vice-president of America in Iraq," Sindi said. [...]

Sindi is perplexed by the fears raised by American politicians over the vetting of Syrian refugees. If the goal is to defeat the Islamic State, he said, leaving refugees in a state of destitution with no options for their future will only exacerbate the cause.

"They live in miserable conditions, they're in the middle of nowhere in a tent for four years," Sindi said. "They just want to find a job and put their kids through school over here."

"If we leave them, they will be targets for terrorist organizations."

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Putin calls plane's downing by Turkey 'stab in the back' (Don Melvin and Zeynep Bilginsoy, 11/24/15, CNN)

The shooting down of the plane, Putin said, "represents a stab in the back by the terrorists' accomplices. I can't describe what has happened today in any other way. Our plane was downed over Syrian territory by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16 jet.

"The plane fell on Syrian territory 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the Turkish border. It was flying 1 kilometer away from the Turkish border when it was attacked. In any case, neither our pilots nor our jet posed any threat to Turkey. That is obvious. They were carrying out an operation fighting against ISIL in Northern Latakia." (ISIL is another acronym for ISIS.)

Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, was equally aggressive in his comments, tweeting: "Understand this: Turkey is a country whose warnings should be taken seriously and listened to. Don't test Turkey's patience. Try to win its friendship."

"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it."

November 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Ben Carson's campaign: 'He doesn't stand behind' his comments about American Muslims cheering on 9/11 (Pamela Engel, 11/23/15, Business Insider)

"Dr. Carson does not stand behind the statement attributed to him early today regarding events surrounding 9/11. He does not believe Muslim Americans in New Jersey were celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers," Doug Watts, the campaign's communications director, said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Ben Carson Says He Saw 'Newsreels' of American Muslims Cheering on 9/11 (ABC News, 11/23/15)
Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


How Africa's fastest solar power project is lighting up Rwanda (David Smith, 23 November 2015, The Guardian)

The 8.5 megawatt (MW) power plant in Rwanda is designed so that, from a bird's-eye view, it resembles the shape of the African continent. "Right now we're in Somalia," jokes Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, during a walkabout of the 17-hectare site.

The plant is also evidence, not only of renewable energy's increasing affordability, but how nimble it can be. The $23.7m (£15.6m) solar field went from contract signing to construction to connection in just a year, defying sceptics of Africa's ability to realise projects fast.

The setting is magnificent amid Rwanda's famed green hills, within view of Lake Mugesera, 60km east of the capital, Kigali. Some 28,360 solar panels sit in neat rows above wild grass where inhabitants include puff adders. Tony Blair and Bono have recently taken the tour.

From dawn till dusk the computer-controlled photovoltaic panels, each 1.9 sq metres, tilt to track the sun from east to west, improving efficiency by 20% compared to stationary panels. The panels are from China while the inverters and transformers are from Germany.

The plant's construction has created 350 local jobs and increased Rwanda's generation capacity by 6%, powering more than 15,000 homes. All this is crucial in an economy that, 21 years after the genocide, is expanding fast and aims to give half its population access to electricity by 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Americans Tell Pollster: We're a Bunch of Stupid Losers (Rob Garver, November 23, 2015, The Atlantic)

Is it possible that the American people have internalized all the abuse that Donald Trump has been hurling at his opponents during his campaign appearances? Because at a time when the leading presidential candidate for one of the major U.S. political parties regularly refers to people - including voters - as stupid, and labels his many detractors "losers," a new Pew Research poll suggests that an increasing number of Americans seem to believe it about themselves and their fellow citizens.

In a survey released today based on more than 6,000 interviews conducted between August and early October, researchers found that Americans of almost all political persuasions believe that they lose more political battles than they win. It also found that Americans' confidence in the public's ability to make good decisions about politics has plummeted in the past several years. [...]

Another interesting finding is that people on both sides of the Democratic-Republican divide believe that their "side" loses more political battles than they win. All told, 64 percent of respondents said they perceive their side as typically losing, while only 25 percent believe they usually win. [...]

The Pew researchers also asked respondents how much "trust and confidence" they have in the "political wisdom of the American people." The results weren't pretty, and show a dramatic decline in recent years among those who have a "very great deal" or a "good deal" of trust and confidence in their fellow citizens' political decision making.

As recently as 2007, solid majorities of Republicans (61 percent) and Democrats (57 percent) reported that they had either a very great deal or a good deal of trust in the American public's political wisdom. In this most recent survey, that fell to 37 percent among Republicans and 36 percent among Democrats. Independents, perhaps unsurprisingly, have long had a lower opinion of their fellow votes than members of the two major parties, but even in 2007, 50 percent of them expressed confidence in the electorate's judgment. That number has fallen by more than half, to 23 percent.

There are two kinds of people, those who believe in America and those who don't.

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


US steps up attacks on Islamic State oil trucks, hitting 283 in eastern Syria over weekend (ROBERT BURNS, 11/23/15, AP)

Accelerating its attacks on one of the Islamic State's most important sources of income, the U.S. military said Monday it destroyed 283 tanker trucks used by the militants to transport oil from producing fields in eastern Syria to smuggling points.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 8:32 AM


Tony Bennett/Bill Charlap: Look for the Silver Lining

Tony Bennett is 89 years old, and he's seemingly been around forever.  No matter how old (or young) you are, you know who Tony Bennett is.  

As a boy singer in the 50's, his pop hits (and those of his frequent collaborator Rosemary Clooney) put Columbia Records at the top of the music business.  He expanded into jazz (recording wonderful albums with Count Basie, and, later, with the pianist Bill Evans), but retained his place in the pop world and in 1962 he recorded his most enduring hit, the iconic "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  Like many artists born a bit too late for the Swing Era and a bit too soon for rock, his career struggled in the late 60's and 1970's, as his forays into rock/contemporary music didn't ring true for a singer so rooted in the Great American Songbook.  In the 1980's, he returned to his roots: dressed a suit-and-tie or tux, backed by a piano trio or big band, and performing the music of the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and the rest.  And what a return it's been - an unprecedented second act that has been going on for almost 35 years, during which he has released some of his greatest recordings,  brought the Songbook to (at least) 2 new generations (with everything from his MTV Unplugged appearances to duet recordings with everyone from kd lang, to Amy Winehouse to Latin stars such as Gloria Estefan and Vicente Fernandez), and become ever-present in pop culture (appearing on The Simpsons, singing at World Series games, being imitated by Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, and starring in a new Barnes and Noble commercial with his recording and touring pal Lady Gaga). 

But I'm not writing this post about Tony Bennett's new album because he's 89 or because of his wonderful career in music.  I'm writing about him because the man remains a truly great singer.  His remarkable tenor voice combines operatic power and emotion, with the pop and sizzle of a big band brass section and the sensitivity of a crooner.  This album puts that wonderful voice in a perfect setting, the songs of Jerome Kern (who pretty much invented the modern concept of the musical play with Showboat) and backing by pianist Bill Charlap and his long-time regular bandmates Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums).

The album contains many of the Kern tunes that have become jazz standards ("All the Things You Are," "The Song is You," "Yesterdays," "Long Ago and Faraway," "Dearly Beloved," "I'm Old Fashioned" and "The Way You Look Tonight") along with some lesser-known songs.  To all of these Bennett brings an unmatched emotional range which turns each song into a miniature story and his easy-going sense of time and swing (I particularly like the swinging, jazz waltz arrangement of "I Won't Dance").  Although there are Kern songs I like better than "Pick Yourself Up," Tony's version (video above) is my favorite song on the album.  Not only does it swing and contain a tasty double-time solo from Charlap, but it captures Bennett's inherent warm spirit and optimism.  Sinatra could plumb the depths of longing and melancholy in his songs; even when Tony Bennett sings of love lost or, in the case of "Pick Yourself Up," of men who had to fall to rise again, you understand that this is a man who always looks for (and finds) the silver lining.


November 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


With many of us getting ready to travel for Thanksgiving, it seem like a good time to check on what recommendations folks have for listening, reading, watching, etc...


I just recently discovered and have boon loving firekid, whose first album is up on Soundcloud. Magic Mountain is spectacular. 


I've been reading The Pickwick Papers, in anticipation of reading the much ballyhooed, Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis

And, for sheer entertainment, been rereading Peter Corris's Cliff Hardy books, the hreatest private eye series set outside America.


If you can track it down (ahem) there's a great detective show from New Zealand, The Brokenwood Mysteries.


Try El Cuerpo, a film noir from Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Southeast Asian countries just formed their own version of the EU (Lonnie Shekhtman, NOVEMBER 22, 2015, CS Monitor)

At the East Asia Summit Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, the new organization, called the "ASEAN Community," said its members will collaborate to allow more unrestricted movement of capital and labor in a region that's home to upwards of 600 million people, more populous than North America or the European Union, reports Voice of America (VOA).

The ASEAN member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Alaska Would Rather Go Broke Than Pay Taxes (BEN CASSELMAN, 11/21/15, 538)

Faced with falling oil production, low crude prices and billions of dollars in deficits, state leaders are considering once-unthinkable changes to the way the state raises and spends its money. In coming weeks, Gov. Bill Walker, a political independent, will likely propose a cut to annual oil payments, the imposition of a new broad-based tax and tens of millions of dollars in cuts to state services. But it remains to be seen whether Alaska voters -- and the legislators who must face them in November -- will accept the need for such radical steps. If they don't, experts on both ends of the political spectrum agree, the eventual reckoning will be far greater.

Alaska's finances are unlike those of any other state. It has no income tax, no statewide sales tax and among the lowest per capita tax burdens in the U.S. Instead of from taxes, its money comes overwhelmingly from two sources: oil revenue, which provides close to 90 percent of the discretionary budget, and federal funds, of which Alaska has historically been among the top per capita recipients.1

Revenues have slumped along with oil prices, however. In fiscal 2012, when oil prices spent much of the year above $100 a barrel, general fund revenues topped $7 billion. This year, with oil prices down to about $40 a barrel, the state expects to collect just $2.2 billion. Even after billions of dollars in budget cuts in the past two years, the state still faces an estimated $3 billion shortfall heading into the next fiscal year.


Alaska's problems go beyond oil prices. Federal funding has fallen since stimulus funds dried up after the recession, and the state's influence in Washington has waned since the electoral defeat of longtime U.S. senator Ted Stevens in 2008. The prices of other natural resources, such as gold and salmon, have also declined. Most significantly, the state's oil production has been falling for decades, dropping below 500,000 barrels per day in 2014 from a peak of more than 2 million barrels per day in the late 1980s. Lower production means it takes higher prices to generate the same amount of tax revenue; the state estimates that it would take prices of $110 a barrel or more to balance the state budget at current production levels.

Making matters more difficult: Alaska may be entering a recession, if it isn't in one already. "It's at that point where my gut says we're tipping toward recession," economist Jonathan King of Anchorage consulting firm Northern Economics said earlier this week.

As Paul Ehrlich and Stephen Harper have already demonstrated, you should never bet against falling commodity prices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis (Matthew Friedman , Nicole Fortier, James Cullen, November 18, 2015, Brennan Center)
Major media outlets have reported that murder has surged in some of the nation's largest cities. These stories have been based on a patchwork of data, typically from a very small sample of cities. Without geographically complete and historically comparable data, it is difficult to discern whether the increases these articles report are purely local anomalies, or are instead part of a larger national trend.
This report provides a preliminary in-depth look at current national crime rates. It provides data on crime and murder for the 30 largest U.S. cities by population in 2015 and compares that to historical data. This analysis relies on data collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police departments. The authors were able to obtain preliminary 2015 murder statistics from 25 police departments in the nation's 30 largest cities and broader crime data from 19 of the 30. The data covers the period from January 1 to October 1, 2015. As this report relies on initial data and projects crime data for the reminder of the year, its findings should be treated as preliminary as they may change when final figures are available.
This report's principal findings, based on the data presented in Table 1, are:
Murder in 2015: The 2015 murder rate is projected to be 11 percent higher than last year in the majority of cities studied. Overall, 11 cities experienced decreases in murder, while 14 experienced increases. Yet, this increase is not as startling as it may first seem. Because the underlying rate of murders is already so low, a relatively small increase in the numbers can result in a large percentage increase. Even with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012, and 11 percent higher than they were in 2013. It should also be noted that murder rates vary widely from year to year. One year's increase does not necessarily portend a coming wave of violent crime.
Crime Overall in 2015: Crime overall in 2015 is expected to be largely unchanged from last year, decreasing 1.5 percent. This report defines overall crime as murder and non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The increase in the murder rate is insufficient to drive up the crime rate, and using murder as a proxy for crime overall is mistaken. It is important to remember just how much crime has fallen in the last 25 years. The crime rate is now half of what it was in 1990, and almost a quarter (22 percent) less than it was at the turn of the century.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Epic oil glut sparks super tanker 'traffic jams' at sea (Matt Egan, 11/22/15, CNN Money)

It's no secret that a massive supply glut has caused global oil prices to crash this year. Ferocious production from OPEC and near-record U.S. output is adding to sky-high oil inventories around the world.

But what's less widely known is that the oversupply problem has gotten so bad that oil tankers waiting to be offloaded are piling up off the U.S. Gulf Coast because there's nowhere to put the crude.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Is Stephen Colbert too liberal for his own (ratings') good? (Callum Borchers, November 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Back when he was hired, there was a good deal of chatter about just how liberal Colbert actually was. He admitted during his time at the "Daily Show" that he had discovered his liberal politics there, but even some conservatives seemed to respect his brand of comedy, and there was actually relatively little backlash against a guy whose faux conservative alter ego was hardly flattering for the right side of the political spectrum.

And yet, two months into the gig, the 51-year-old funnyman could be alienating real-life conservatives with his persistent brand of lefty wisecracks. And that could be a problem for CBS, which, like all of the major networks, will want to attract Democratic and Republican viewers throughout the next year of presidential electioneering.

In the opening week of November, for the first time since his Sept. 8 debut, Colbert fell to third place in the critical 18-to-49-year-old ratings demographic. Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC's "Tonight Show," has been the runaway leader for most of the fall season, but this was the first time Colbert trailed ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Last week, it happened again.

Did tv execs learn nothing from All in the Family?  People agreed with Archie, as they agreed with the character Colbert played, not with Normal Lear or Stephen Colbert.  The audiences were laughing with, not at.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


US military raises the stakes for Spot the robotic dog (Michael D. Regan, NOVEMBER 22, 2015, CS Monitor)

During the weeklong military training session held in September, Spot was also dispatched into buildings before Marines entered to survey possible threats.

In the future he may be used for similar "scouting exercises" and "load carriage" missions, search and rescue operations, and charting enemy territory, said Ben Swilling, a robotic specialist with the company that made Spot.

The marines can control Spot from roughly a quarter-mile away with radio signals sent from a laptop and navigated by a device similar to a video game controller. The robot had been tested indoors, but researchers wanted to survey its abilities on harsher terrains.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Donald Trump says he saw people cheering 9/11 attacks in Jersey City (JILL COLVIN, 11/22/15, Associated Press)

Trump first told the story Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, as he pressed the need for greater surveillance, including monitoring certain mosques, in the wake of the Paris attacks.

"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering," Trump said Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama.

Trump repeated the assertion Sunday in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week," as Stephanopoulos explained to Trump that police had refuted any such rumors at the time.

"It did happen. I saw it," said Trump. "It was on television. I saw it."

"There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down," he said.

"I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it," he added, "but there were people cheering as that building came down, as those buildings came down. And that tells you something."

A spokeswoman did not respond to a request for clarification Saturday about Trump's comments.

In a statement, Jersey City Mayor Fulop criticized Trump for his statements.

"Trump is plain wrong, and he is shamefully politicizing an emotionally charged issue," said Fulop. "No one in Jersey City cheered on September 11th. We were actually among the first to provide responders to help in lower Manhattan."

After all, why should Ben Carson be the only one gets to make stuff up?

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Venezuela's Opposition Smells a Victory (Mac Margolis, 11/22/15, Bloomberg View)

[W]ith the Dec. 6 legislative elections approaching, candidates for the ruling United Socialist Party are trailing by 25 to 30 percentage points, according to a batch of opinion polls. 

What that means for Venezuela as a whole is less clear. The country's opposition is a 27-party pastiche, riven by feuding and one-upmanship. That's one reason 30 percent of voters say they like neither the ruling party nor the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main opposition bloc. But while there's little love lost for Maduro, 58 percent of Venezuelans still have a soft spot for his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, the charismatic founder of the Bolivarian revolution whose death from cancer in 2013 threw the country into despair. [...]

Despite the lopsided playing field, challengers to Venezuela's 16-year experiment in "21st-century socialism" have never been so close to gaining real power. Political analysts say their magic number is 18 percent -- the margin they need in order to win two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly and have enough to change Venezuela's constitution, Francisco Rodriguez, chief Andean economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said last week in New York.

But even a 12-percent margin, he said, would hand Maduro's foes three-fifths of the 167-member chamber, enough to grant -- or deny -- the president the power to rule by decree in an emergency.

And even a simple majority of 84 seats would give opposition lawmakers plenty of clout to push for a recall referendum next year, which could mark the beginning of the end of Maduro's hapless regime and, possibly, of Chavismo as well.

So how will they react if voters give them the nod? Granted, the National Assembly has not really been in charge since the days of Chavez. Lawmakers can veto the national budget, but Venezuela's central bank still answers to the president, opposition leader Diego Arria told me.

A revived legislature could still be a force for restoring democracy. For one, lawmakers could raise a stink about the plight of political prisoners, including opposition firebrand Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced to more than 13 years in jail in what was widely regarded as little more than a show trial.

Rescuing the economy will be harder. Venezuela's gross domestic product is set to shrink 10 percent this year, and inflation will hit 159 percent. That's a toxic legacy for anyone to inherit, and consumers who have faced epic queues to buy eggs and medicine may not be placated by the presence of new management in the congress.

"All candidates know the country needs to introduce austerity measures to right the economy. But no one wants to be blamed for implementing them," said Javier Corrales, a Latin America scholar at Amherst College. "They're not thinking beyond December 6."

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Momentum Builds to Tax Consumption More, Income Less (John Harwood, 11/20/15, NY Times)

[T]he broad direction of their proposals -- toward taxing spending rather than income -- is one that many economists in both parties applaud. It is also one that politicians, of necessity, may eventually embrace.

Rand Paul would replace all of today's federal taxes with a 14.5 percent flat personal income tax and a 14.5 percent value-added tax.Tax Policy: Rand Paul and the VAT That Dare Not Speak Its NameJUNE 18, 2015
Promises of tax cuts were everywhere at the Republican debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.Road to 2016: The G.O.P. Tax Debate: Low or Lower; Flat or Flatter?NOV. 11, 2015
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky do it most explicitly by proposing variations on "value-added tax" systems used by European countries. Considered politically toxic in the United States -- which helps explain why neither candidate invokes the name -- VAT systems function as national sales taxes.

But other Republicans would also move, if less directly, toward taxing consumption (what economists call spending) and away from taxing income. Mr. Trump says his plan would eliminate income taxes for more than half of American households. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida would let businesses immediately write off capital investment. Mr. Rubio would eliminate taxes on investment income.

"Every one of the Republican plans I have looked at closely has more of a consumption basis," said Leonard Burman, a former official in President Bill Clinton's administration who directs the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Democratic politicians typically oppose taxing consumption on fairness grounds; lower earners spend a greater proportion of their income than higher earners. They favor what are called progressive taxes, those that tax a higher proportion of wealthier people's income. That instinct is especially acute in an era of stagnant middle-class wages and widening income inequality.

Yet Democratic economists, like their Republican counterparts, say taxing consumption encourages savings, investment and greater economic growth. Moreover, the very income trends Democratic politicians point to with alarm complicate their ability to raise enough revenue to finance government programs without increasing burdens on the middle class as well as the affluent.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Labour rift widens over intervention in Syria (Toby Helm, Daniel Boffey and Henry Zeffman, 21 November 2015, The Guardian)

Jeremy Corbyn appeared to be on a collision course with his own shadow cabinet and dozens of backbench Labour MPs on Saturday after saying the atrocities in Paris made the case for a "negotiated settlement" in Syria, rather than military action against Isis.

The Labour leader - a long-term opponent of western military interventions - appears increasingly at odds with senior figures in the party, including shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn and deputy leader Tom Watson. Both see a unanimous vote by the United Nations on Friday night, calling on all member states to take "all necessary measures" against Isis, as giving potential legal cover for airstrikes in Syria if they are part of a comprehensive plan to bring peace to the region.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Paris suspect's brother 'convinced' he bottled it (The Local, 22 Nov 2015)

The brother of wanted Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam said Sunday he believed his brother decided at the very last moment not to go through with an attack.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Why the Inspector Rebus novels will endure (Sam Jordison,10 November 2015, The Guardian)

Each is a finely rendered snapshot of a specific time and place. The descriptions of 1980s Edinburgh struck me forcefully when I read Knots and Crosses last week (alongside plenty of other Reading group contributors). This week, reading The Falls, I was even more aware of how well the novel captures a specific time. And how interesting it was to realise that this era now seems long gone, even though the novel was only published in 2001.

Before I try to explain why you should read The Falls if you want to know about life in Scotland around the turn of the millennium, a few caveats. Obviously, the characters are egregious. I'm not saying that everyone in Edinburgh was a criminal, a regular at the Oxford Bar or a dour, violent policeman, terrified of the inside of his own head. Nor do I want to overstate the realism in the novel. As in most of the Rankin books I've read, things get pretty wild in the penultimate chapter. That is not a criticism. I love the catharsis, the adrenaline ride, the camp confessional speeches and watching Rebus rumble his way through a good physical challenge. Definitely part of the fun, as far as I'm concerned, though you have to take the action with an Edinburgh chippy-sized portion of salt.

But in other ways, The Falls is an intriguing bit of social, technological and political history - and one that feels real both factually and emotionally. It tells us important things about the world in which it is set. Just as The Maltese Falcon immediately throws its reader back to 1920s San Francisco, and Sherlock Holmes is one of the first reference points for late 19th-century London, Rebus does the business for his generation in Edinburgh.

"I think it's astonishing that so many people would want to read about a dour Presbyterian Edinburgh cop," Rankin once said. 

Heck, when I asked him (it's the first question) he seemed surprised to think of Rebus as a Presbyterian.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Zimbabwe crowns a new 'Mister Ugly' in upset prompting rioting and cheating accusations (FARAI MUTSAKA, 11/22/15, Associated Press)

Pageant judges have crowned a new winner of Zimbabwe's 4th annual "Mister Ugly" contest, upsetting supporters of the crowd favorite and prompting rioting at the event.

Judges on Saturday chose 42-year-old Mison Sere, citing his numerous missing front teeth and a wide range of grotesque facial expressions, over William Masvinu, who had held the title since 2012.

Masvinu and his supporters mobbed the judges upon hearing their decision, claiming that Sere was "too handsome" to win and his ugliness wasn't natural since it was based on missing teeth.

"I am naturally ugly. He is not. He is ugly only when he opens his mouth," maintained Masvinu, gesturing at his rival.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


State of emergency in Crimea after power lines 'blown up' (Deutsche-Welle, 11/22/15)

Russian media reported that the power cut came after two pylons in the Kherson region of Ukraine were blown up by nationalists, though this was not confirmed by the Energy Ministry. [...]

Violent clashes between activists from a Ukrainian nationalist movement and paramilitary police on Saturday took place near the pylons, media reported, saying that the pylons had already been damaged by the activists on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Thanksgiving by those who know best (Suze Olbrich, 22 November 2015, The Guardian)

An estimated one in six UK residents celebrated Thanksgiving in 2014 and early sales figures indicate that even more will participate this week. US expats account for a fair portion of that figure, but it still leaves a hefty number of Brits aboard the holiday bandwagon.

Thanksgiving: why the Brits should embrace America's finest tradition (Kay Plunkett-Hogge , 20 NOVEMBER 2015, The Telegraph)

This piece was originally titled "In defence of Thanksgiving". Then I thought, hang on: what on earth am I defending it from? It is the most democratic of celebrations, non-denominational and multicultural. It features roast turkey and a lot of pies. Really - who is complaining? Is there some sort of movement I am not aware of? Perhaps there is, for year in, year out, I am asked the same question: "What's a British girl like you doing hosting an American celebration like this?" As if it's illegal because I've never pledged allegiance to the flag.

Well, I'll tell you. I grew up in Bangkok, where my father sold tractors for Ford, and where I had an American best friend. One of the joys of the friendship was our shared love of food. Thai food, Texan food, PX army treats, you name it. And the highlight was an invitation at the end of November to eat turkey and pumpkin pie at her family's Thanksgiving dinner: a joyful celebration of the harvest festival held by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621. It was like having two Christmases in one year, without the arguments.

Those Thanksgiving meals began my love affair with all things American. The excess, the enthusiasm, the multiple desserts. And I've done Thanksgiving ever since. Everywhere. In Thai rainforests for actors, back when I was a film coordinator. In New York, for a friend who was unpacking her new house. In LA, painting the walls gold and writing on them (it seemed a good idea at the time), much to the chagrin of our landlord. In Provence, just for the family. And in London.
Americans pine for Thanksgiving when far from home. So when I moved back here in the Nineties, I started cooking Thanksgiving for marooned US friends who had nowhere to go. (There were no hip American restaurants back then.) And it stuck. Rob Elliott Smith, a regular guest, who comes to Chiswick via Alabama, tells me: "The best thing about Turkey Day with British hosts is 'the thanks': the US tradition where you go around the table saying what you are thankful for. It's great fun to see reserved Brits struggle with the embarrassment involved." Limey eye-rolling aside, we all usually come up with something positive. And it's actually rather nice.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Warhol, Pollock go on display in risque Tehran exhibition (AFP, 11/22/15)

They are part of a collection bought in the 1970s by dealers acting for Farah, the wife of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled into exile in 1979, heralding Iran's Islamic revolution later that year.

Ever since the themes of many of the Western works have been considered too risque to be publicly shown and have spent much of the past 36 years languishing in storage in the basement of Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art. [...]

Iran's Culture Minister Ali Jannati attended a preview on Friday night in a demonstration of official support from President Hassan Rouhani's government.

Jannati told AFP that the Islamic republic's recent nuclear deal with world powers had opened up potential for international cooperation in art as well as business and other fields.

"This is a first step and we hope to have more mutual cooperation to showcase outstanding Iranian artists as well as displaying more works from our foreign art collection," he said.

November 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:45 PM


World powers to help Iran redesign Arak nuclear reactor (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 21, 2015)

The P5+1 world powers are set to help Iran redesign its Arak heavy-water reactor so that it can no longer produce weapons-grade plutonium.

The redesign is part of the nuclear deal signed with Tehran earlier this year by which Iran agreed to rein in its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 PM


Closing the Borders to Refugees: Wrong in the 1930s, and Wrong Today (Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, 11/19/2015, Huffington Post)

In July 1938 -- three years after the Nuremberg Laws had stripped Jews of German citizenship, deprived them of most political rights, and left hundreds of thousands of Jews seeking international refuge -- Fortune magazine asked Americans, "What is your attitude toward allowing German, Austrian, and other political refugees to come to the U.S.?" Shamefully, more than two thirds said we should keep the refugees out.

In November 1938, Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass") left windows of Jewish homes and businesses in Germany shattered, synagogues destroyed, 91 Jews murdered, 26,000 deported to concentration camps and hundreds of thousands of Jews now desperate to flee Germany. With news of Kristallnacht as the backdrop, in January 1939 another poll asked whether the U.S. government should permit "10,000 refugee children from Germany -- most of them Jewish -- to be taken care of in American homes." An astounding and shameful 61 percent said no.

In May of 1939 the St. Louis, carrying 937 German refugees -- mostly Jews fleeing the Third Reich -- set sail for Cuba. Most had applied for U.S. visas. Turned away from Cuba, as the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the passengers could see the lights from Miami, they appealed to President Roosevelt to give them safe harbor. With public opinion opposed to lifting the stringent immigration quotas or to make an exception for the ship's passengers, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Almost a quarter of the passengers perished in the Holocaust.

Today, the world faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Almost 60 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes. The war in Syria, fueled by the unparalleled brutality of ISIS, is largely responsible for the spike. And once more -- shamefully -- there is a push for the United States to turn a blind eye to the suffering of refugees and shut our doors to those in need.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 PM


Since when was 'moderate' a term of abuse? (Barbara Ellen, 21 November 2015, The Guardian)

Actor and comedian Robert Webb doesn't rate Jeremy Corbyn ("Almost GM designed by Tories to lose the next election") and has cancelled his Labour party membership, which I'm also doing (for similar reasons). Webb, who has been more polite than most, can now join people like me in being branded a "closet Tory" "fake leftie" and what (confusingly) appears to be the slur du jour - "moderate". How has it come to this - when did "moderate" become an insult?

Personally, I think that Labour needs to be electable, so that they can actively pass laws and not perma-squat in opposition like a bunch of conceited hippies refusing to budge from their favourite beanbags. If that's "moderate" then moderate I am. If that's closet Tory, then I'm seriously confused.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It (KAMEL DAOUD, NOV. 20, 2015, NY Times)

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity's common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.

The West's denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world's chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Our Betrayal of Syrian and Iraqi Refugees (GEORGE PACKER, 11/20/15, New Yorker)

This week, David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, invoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War as justification for keeping out Iraqi and Syrian refugees. I wonder if the mayor (who later apologized to anyone he might have offended) would have paused for one second in his headlong rush to join the anti-refugee hysteria sweeping America if he'd known that, among the residents of his city, there's an Iraqi named Hayder. In 2003, Hayder was working as an interpreter for the 82nd Airborne Division, in Baghdad, when his convoy was ambushed by insurgents. Dragging an American sergeant out of the line of fire, Hayder was hit in both legs and nearly killed. He lost most of his right leg. Unable to work and in danger for his life, he fled Iraq with his wife and son to Jordan, where the family languished for years in deepening misery while getting nowhere in their efforts to get visas to the United States. Finally, in 2007, his case came to the attention of Kirk Johnson, an American refugee advocate, and the next year Hayder and his family were resettled in Roanoke. In 2013, he became a U.S. citizen.

Mayor Bowers hasn't tried to have the family interned, not yet anyway, though the logic of his statement could have led him there--for keeping Muslim refugees out doesn't solve the problem of the ones already here. (Donald Trump, tossing out answers that move beyond U.S. history to that of Nazi Germany, is talking about imposing mandatory registration on all Muslims in this country.) A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House on Thursday, by a vote of 289-137, with the support of fifty Democrats, would require the director of the F.B.I., the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence all to certify that each refugee applicant from Iraq or Syria poses no threat to the United States before being admitted. According to Betsy Fisher of the International Refugee Assistance Project, this group includes fifty-eight thousand Iraqis who have applied for resettlement through a program known as Direct Access, which was created by Congress for Iraqis who can show that they worked with the United States government or with American companies, non-profits, or media outlets. If it had the chance, the Islamic State would slaughter every one of them. The same goes for the many Yazidis applying for resettlement from Iraq--members of a religious minority who have been rounded up, enslaved, and murdered by ISIS. It's already very, very hard for people like them to get here. Iraqis and Syrians are probably the most heavily vetted refugees in the history of the world. If three top government officials are going to be required to put their names and reputations on every admission, the very, very hard will become just about impossible. The House is counting on political cowardice and bureaucratic indifference to advance the cause of irrationality and bigotry.

We've seen this kind of frenzied meanness during past crises, real or perceived. It hit the country in the form of the Palmer raids after the First World War, with the internment camps during the Second World War (Franklin Roosevelt's most shameful act), and in the McCarthyite politics of the nineteen-fifties. Such moments were made for Ted Cruz--this generation's Joe McCarthy. Not to be outdone by the House, on Thursday he introduced a bill in the Senate called the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act. It would add refugees from Libya, Yemen, and Somalia to the Syrians and Iraqis on what is effectively a black list.

All the neocons who excoriate FDR for not taking in the SS St. Louis can now look in the mirror and see him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Saudi Arabia is part of the problem and part of the solution to global jihad (Bruce Riedel, 11/20/15, Brookings)

Earlier this week, Secretary Clinton specifically called on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the only two Wahhabi states in the world, to do a better job of ensuring their citizens do not fund terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic state. It was an unusual public admonition from a senior American policymaker that the Kingdom is both part of the problem and part of the solution to the global jihad. The Secretary is right to call for a more candid and decisive dialogue between Washington and Riyadh on this subject. Usually it is discussed behind closed doors, but it needs more transparency.

Saudi Arabia has been a very effective ally against al-Qaida and related groups for over a decade, ever since Osama bin Laden called for the overthrow of the House of Saud and began a violent campaign in the Kingdom to bring them down. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the subject of my recent Brookings Essay, led the Saudi battle against bin Laden. He also leads efforts to stop private funding of terrorists. Much of the public discourse on Saudi links to jihad are hysterical and exaggerated.

But as Clinton's remarks suggest, more needs to be done. Saudi sources remain major funders of groups like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e Taiba in Pakistan. Some accounts suggest Saudi money has gone to al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front. Even al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which tried to assassinate Prince Nayef more than once, has been an unintended beneficiary of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen because it fights the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

What the Saudis Miss When They Focus on Iran (CAROL GIACOMO, 11/20/15, NY Times)

Iran, with tentacles in many regional conflicts, is a big challenge for Saudi Arabia. But Riyadh's single-minded focus is diverting attention from other pressing issues, some of which are much closer to home. The Sunni terrorists of the Islamic State pose the most direct threat. In the past year, the group's affiliates have claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in the country's Eastern Province, where a lot of the country's minority Shiites live. Many of the victims have been Shiites, fueling sectarian tensions.

I visited the region last month, shortly after a gunman linked to an Islamic State affiliate killed five people at a meeting hall associated with a mosque in the city of Shaihat. On Wednesday in the same city, gunmen killed two members of the Saudi security forces. Many Shiite residents, already alienated from the government, are fearful. "They feel they are being targeted for their faith," a Saudi journalist said. The Saudis' Wahhabi version of Islam, which underpins the conservative government and society, considers Shiites infidels, and anti-Shiite propaganda is common.

The government has done little to ease tensions. Reacting to the attacks, Shiites requested a law against what they described as racism. The Shura Council, an advisory body appointed by the king, refused to even allow it to be discussed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


The Islam America Needs Now (Gideon Strauss, November 20, 2015, Providence)

Maritain's efforts to figure out the relationship between his faith and his political life involved a slow, honest, and arduous journey. It was a journey that demanded serious study of the Christian scriptures and of centuries of Christian theology and philosophy and serious attention to the political realities of his day. The journey did not result in Maritain loosening himself from his commitments and convictions as a Catholic Christian, but rather involved a hard-won deepened practice and understanding of those commitments and convictions.

"Simply treating Isis as a form of 'terrorism' or 'violent extremism' masks the menace," writes Scott Atran in The Guardian. "Merely dismissing it as 'nihilistic' reflects a willful and dangerous avoidance of trying to comprehend, and deal with, its profoundly alluring moral mission to change and save the world. ... Current counter-radicalization approaches lack the mainly positive, empowering appeal and sweep of Isis's story of the world; and the personalized and intimate approach to individuals across the world. The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so."

After Paris America needs Muslims who are willing to go on a journey similar to that of Jacques Maritain. These Muslims will remain motivated by the "positive, empowering appeal and sweep of [the] story of the world" told by Islam. America needs Muslim opinion leaders who will remain committed to Islam's "profoundly alluring moral mission to change and save the world." Yet these opinion leaders must be willing to do the slow, hard, subtle work necessary to discover how that story and that mission, instead of winning recruits for the murderous Islamic State, can equip Muslims to become fellow builders of a revitalized American democracy and a strengthened and emboldened global political order that attaches "supreme ethical significance to human beings agonizingly caught between individualist atomism without community and 'totalitarian' statehood without freedom."

It behooves Christian political thinkers like myself (my own Calvinist tradition has as often as not coddled its own dreams of religious-political dominion in the here-and-now) to support Muslims on this difficult journey, to engage Muslims in serious and respectful dialogue, to offer robust challenge, and to be open to robust challenges about the ways in which our deepest loves and fondest hopes equip us for life in democracies alongside fellow citizens who do not share those loves or those hopes. As a Christian, I cannot leave my Christian faith inside the house when I step out into the public square. The why and the how of my political life have everything to do with my Christian commitments and convictions. Surely no less should be expected of - or allowed to - Muslims in a pluralist democracy?

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Do Dems Have Much More to Lose in This Election Than the GOP? (MATTHEW DOWD,  Nov 21, 2015, ABC News)

[l]et's take a moment to understand what party faces the biggest problems ahead in the aftermath of a loss in the Presidential race next November.

Reasonable worst case scenario for the GOP: They lose the Presidential race, they lose control of the United States Senate by a few votes, and they lose a few seats in House of Representatives but retain control and they retain a majority of Governors and state legislative bodies.

Reasonable best case scenario for GOP: they win Presidential race, expand control of the Senate, retain control of the House and expand majority of Governors and state legislative bodies.

Reasonable worst case scenario for the Dems: they lose Presidential race, lose seats in the Senate, don't gain control of House and lose more Governor's and state legislative races.

Reasonable best case scenario for the Dems: win Presidential race, gain control of Senate by slim margin, pick up a few seats in House but don't control, win a few Governor's races and legislative seats.

So when you look at the various scenarios for the 2016 general election you reach the following conclusion: the upside for the GOP is much better than any upside for Dems, and the downside for the Dems is much much worse than any downside for the GOP.

And for Dems any positive election result is totally contingent on winning the Presidential race, while if the GOP loses the Presidential race they still control the House and have majority of Governors and state legislative bodies. Today the GOP controls more than 30 governors offices and state legislatures.

If the Dems suffer their reasonable worse case scenario, the aftermath of the November 2016 elections will make what happened to the GOP in 2012 look like a tea party. They will control no power at the federal level, and be in minority throughout the 50 states as a whole. If the GOP needed to go through soul searching after 2012, then the Dems will go through the dark night of the soul as St. John of the Cross described many moons ago. The handwringing and interparty battles will be a site to behold. Fasten your seatbelts if that worse case scenario happens to the Dems.

Throughout the Anglosphere/Scandinavia the political contest is exclusively over which party adheres most closely to the Third Way. This is why Hillary is running to the right, as an heiir of her husband, to succeed another Democrat who has governed as a Republican.  

Were she to lose, Democrats could well indulge in the sort of retreat to the Second Way that is destroying Labour in Britain.

Democrats have much more to lose.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Is Islam incompatible with modernity? : Many leading Muslim thinkers are returning to Islam's earliest texts to promote reform (Asma Afsaruddin | Nov 18 2015, Mercator Net)

[M]uslims, due to their unique religious history, continue to view their religion as an ally in their attempts to come to terms with the changed circumstances of the modern world.

Muslim religious scholars (ulama) never enjoyed the kind of centralized and institutionalized authority that the medieval European church and its elders did. The ulama - from the eighth century's al-Hasan al-Basri to the 20th century's Ayatullah Khomeini - traditionally distanced themselves from political rulers, intervening on behalf of the populace to ensure social and political justice.

Such an oppositional role to government prevented the emergence of a general popular animosity directed at them, and by extension, toward Islam.

For this reason, today's Muslim thinkers feel no imperative to distance themselves from their religious tradition. On the contrary, they are plumbing it to find resources therein to not only adapt to the modern world, but also to shape it.

Yet 21st-century Muslim religious scholars have a challenging task. How can they exhume and popularize principles and practices that allowed Muslims in the past to coexist with others, in peace and on equal terms, regardless of religious affiliation?

Such a project is made more urgent by the fact that extremists in Muslim-majority societies (ISIS leaders currently foremost among them) vociferously reject this as impossible. Islam, they declare, posits the superiority of Muslims over everyone else. Muslims must convert non-Muslims or politically subjugate them.

As a result, many have accused these extremists of trying to return Muslim-majority societies to the seventh century.

If only that were true!

If these extremists could actually be transported miraculously back to the seventh century, they would learn a thing or two about the religion they claim to be their own.

For starters, they would learn to their chagrin that seventh-century Medina accepted Jews as equal members of the community (umma) under the Constitution of Medina drawn up by the prophet Muhammad in 622 CE. They would also learn that seventh-century Muslims took seriously the Qur'anic injunction (2:256) that there is to be no compulsion in religion and that specific Qur'anic verses (2:62 and 5:69) recognize goodness in righteous Christians and Jews.

Most importantly, fire-breathing extremists would learn that peaceful non-Muslim communities cannot be militarily attacked simply because they are not Muslim. They would be reminded that only after 12 years of nonviolent resistance would the Prophet Muhammad and his companions resort to armed combat or the military jihad. And even then it would only be to defend themselves against aggression.

The Qur'an, after all, unambiguously forbids Muslims from initiating combat. Qur'an 2:190 states, "Do not commit aggression," while Qur'an 60:8 specifically asserts:

God does not forbid you from being kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on you on account of your religion nor driven you from your homes; indeed God loves those who are equitable.

Extremist groups like ISIS are often accused of being scriptural literalists and therefore prone to intolerance and violence. But when it comes to specific Qur'anic verses like 2:256; 60:8 and others, it's clear that they cherry-pick which passages to "strictly" interpret.

Not surprisingly, Muslim reformers are returning to their earliest religious sources and history - the Qur'an and its commentaries, reliable sayings of Muhammad, early historical chronicles - for valuable guidance during these troubled times.

And much of what we regard as "modern, progressive values" - among them religious tolerance, the empowerment of women, and accountable, consultative modes of governance - can actually be found in this strand of Muslims' collective history.

Like 16th-century Christian reformers, Muslim reformers are returning to their foundational texts and mining them for certain moral guidelines and ethical prescriptions. For one reason or another - political upheaval, war, ideological movements - many had been cast aside. But today they retain particular relevance.

As a result, the reformers are distinguishing between "normative Islam" and "historical Islam," as the famous Islam scholar Fazlur Rahman has phrased it.

The Reformation rolls on....

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Confessions of an ISIS Spy : He joined the self-proclaimed Islamic State, trained jihadist infantry, and groomed foreign operatives--including a pair of Frenchmen. And now, Abu Khaled says he is ready to talk. (Michael Weiss, 11/15/15, Daily Beast)

Abu Khaled had worked with hundreds of foreign recruits to the ISIS banner, some of whom had already traveled back to their home countries as part of the group's effort to sow clandestine agents among its enemies.

But Abu Khaled didn't want to leave his wife and an apartment he'd just acquired in the suburbs of embattled Aleppo. He didn't want to risk the long journey to this Turkish port city. Since he'd bailed out of ISIS, he said, he'd been busy building his own 78-man katiba, or battalion, to fight his former jihadist comrades.

All very interesting, I answered, but still we would have to meet face to face, even if that meant both of us taking calculated risks.

The worst terrorist bombing in modern Turkish history had just been carried out by ISIS operatives in the streets of Ankara, killing over 100 people in a NATO country, reinforcing yet again one of the core ideological conceits of the putative caliphate: Borders are obsolete, and ISIS can get to you anywhere, as it wants everyone to know. There was at least a possibility Abu Khaled was still a spy for ISIS, and that he was part of an operation to collect new hostages.

For Abu Khaled, assuming he was telling me the truth, the risks were much greater. ISIS might track him all the way into the "Land of Unbelief" and deal with him there. Indeed, it did just that with two Syrian activists from Raqqa, who were beheaded in Sanliurfa at the end of October. And there were agents Abu Khaled had trained himself who had left Syria and Iraq for work "behind enemy lines."

"When you're in the secret service, everything is controlled," he told me. "You can't just leave Islamic State territory." It would be especially hard for him because all the border was controlled by the state security apparatus he had served. "I trained these guys! Most of them knew me."

"I can't go, Mike," he said more than once as we spoke for hours, long-distance. "I'm kafir now," an infidel, a non-believer in the view of the caliphate. "I was Muslim and now I'm kafir. You can't go back, from Muslim to kafir, back to Muslim again." The price you pay is death.

Given the circumstances, it seemed possible, even preferable, that he leave Syria for good, and bring his wife to Istanbul, so they could make their way eventually to Europe. But he refused even to consider such a thing. Abu Khaled told me he was prepared to die in Syria. "You have to die somewhere," he said. "People die in bed more than people who die in wars. What if something like this happened to your country? Are you willing to die for your country, the next generation, or do you run away?"

All this sounded persuasive, but to get at what Abu Khaled knew with any confidence, I had to have the chance to question him again and again. He had to be asked about any contradictions in his account. I had to see his body language, his twitches, his tells. And that could only be done in person.

Abu Khaled eventually relented. He borrowed about $1,000 to make the long, 750-mile journey by car and bus from Aleppo to Istanbul, and then back again. We met at the end of October. And so for three long days, in the cafés, restaurants, and boulevards of a cosmopolis, on the fault line between Europe and the Middle East, I watched him through the haze of smoke as he lit one cigarette after another, and sipped his bitter Turkish coffee, and looked me in the eye. And Abu Khaled sang.

"All my life, OK, I'm Muslim, but I'm not into Sharia or very religious," he said early in our conversation. "One day, I looked in the mirror at my face. I had a long beard. I didn't recognize myself. It was like Pink Floyd. 'There's somebody in my head but it's not me.'"

Not many recovering jihadists have a word-perfect recall for "Brain Damage." But Abu Khaled is not a fresh young fanatic anxious for martyrdom, he is a well-educated multilingual Syrian national of middle age whose talents, including his past military training, the ISIS leadership had found useful. [...]

Abu Khaled felt compelled to sign up because he believed America was an accomplice to global conspiracy, led by Iran and Russia, to keep the tyrant Bashar al-Assad in power. How else could it be explained that the U.S. was waging war only against Sunnis, and leaving an Alawite-run regime guilty of mass murder by almost every means and its Iranian Shia armies untouched?

November 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis review - an impeccably Dickensian debut : This story of the Pickwick Papers' prehistory dramatises the lives of those who were caught up in, and destroyed by, its triumph (DJ Taylor, 21 May 2015, The Guardian)

All this supplies the background to Stephen Jarvis's long, rumbustious and impeccably Dickensian debut, which might be described as an attempt to dramatise Pickwick's entire prehistory, the lives of everyone caught up in its coruscating triumph and the emotional consequences for those who failed to take their seats on the Dickens express as it sped unstoppably by. Its hero is Seymour, here portrayed as a gloom-ridden secret homosexual - cue serial dispatches from the front line of early 19th-century gay subculture - and its villain Dickens AKA the Inimitable Boz, a devious plagiarist who spent the years after his collaborator's premature death covering up his tracks and fabricating data to support his own view of Pickwick's conception.

If what follows has something of the air of an old-fashioned detective novel, this is because so much of it hangs on tiny shreds of disputed evidence - the question, for example, of whether Seymour's first drawing of Mr Pickwick depicted the avuncular fat man of legend or a thinner prototype whom Dickens urged him to flesh out. But at least as important in stoking up an atmosphere of sepia-tinted problem-solving is Jarvis's choice of narrator, the pseudonymous Scripty. Our man, employed as amanuensis to Mr Inbelicate, an elderly sleuth who has devoted his life to assembling documents relevant to the case, gets his moniker from the non-word "Inscriptino", a printer's error for "Inscription" in early versions of the great work. Such is Mr Inbelicate's absorption in the failings of Pickwick's printers that he has renamed himself after their mangling of "indelicate".

Was Dickens a Thief? : A new novel portrays the young writer of The Pickwick Papers as a conniving founder of modern mass culture (NICHOLAS DAMES,  JUNE 2015, The Atlantic)

Jarvis's novel is ostensibly about the origins of Pickwick: the gin-soaked precincts of the London press where it was shaped; the milieu of theatricals, boxing matches, and stagecoach houses from which its shapers took inspiration; and not least, the artists and writers Dickens would surpass. But look more closely, and it becomes clear that Jarvis has another aim: to tell the story of the mass culture that Pickwick created. He has written a novel that reflects upon the world-altering effects of novel-reading.
By late 1836, Pickwick was no longer just a serial novel. It was merchandise (Pickwick cigars, hats, canes, soaps), spin-offs (theatrical performances, bootleg editions, joke books), advertisements (on omnibuses, in newspapers). It was a virtual world--delivered in portable monthly episodes, the fictional action synchronized to match the nonfictional calendar--and it invaded the real one, creating a cross-class, national audience. The press run for its 19th and final installment was 40,000 copies, astonishing for the time. "Literature" is not a big enough category for Pickwick. It defined its own, a new one that we have learned to call "entertainment."

Death and Mr. Pickwick is Pickwickian in its length and crowded palette, composed as a series of episodic vignettes about Seymour's life and the lives of every significant figure that crossed his path. But unlike Pickwick, it has a conspiracy story to tell. Jarvis's novel is framed by the quest of two modern researchers--the elder Inbelicate and his aide, Inscriptino, or Scripty (pseudonyms taken from printer errors in early copies of Pickwick's first edition)--who have set out to discover why Seymour killed himself. Their search for clues gives the novel its propulsive momentum. The resolution of the mystery, revealed in a vivid unspooling of facts and motives, has a lot to say about the nature of the media culture that Pickwick helped spawn.

Stephen Jarvis Makes a Dickensian Debut With 'Death and Mr. Pickwick' : The English author's 'factional' first book reveals foul play behind the gentle fun of Dickens's first novel (TOBIAS GREY, June 18, 2015, WSJ)

WHO WOULD HAVE thought that behind such a good-natured novel as Charles Dickens's "The Pickwick Papers" lies a tale of coldhearted literary skulduggery? But in his debut novel, "Death and Mr. Pickwick," English author Stephen Jarvis uncovers the extraordinary events surrounding the creation of Dickens's first novel with all the flair of a Scotland Yard detective.

"It all really started when I saw one line in the preface of a modern edition of 'The Pickwick Papers' and it referred to the suicide of the book's illustrator and I was just instantly fascinated," says Mr. Jarvis, 57, whose previous work includes reporting for British newspapers and radio on unusual leisure activities such as toe-wrestling, snuff-taking and lying on a bed of nails.

The illustrator in question was Robert Seymour, a talented but depressive artist who killed himself in 1836 at the age of 38, not long after the first installment of "The Pickwick Papers" had been published, and after a reportedly heated argument with Dickens about one of his cartoons.

"I was particularly fascinated because nothing else was said about his death and I wanted to know more," says Mr. Jarvis. "Why did he kill himself? I just got this real buzz that there was something here that had to be written about."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


The 'miracle of the marketplace' brings bananas to your local grocery store from thousands of miles away for pennies (Mark J. Perry, 11/18/15, AEI)


They're even cheaper if you buy the over-ripe ones they're about to toss and just freeze them for smoothies or use them in banana bread.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Woodrow Wilson was extremely racist -- even by the standards of his time (Dylan Matthews, November 20, 2015, Vox)

He was a racist by current standards, and he was a racist by the standards of the 1910s, a period widely acknowledged by historians as the "nadir" of post-Civil War race relations in the United States.

Easily the worst part of Wilson's record as president was his overseeing of the resegregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been surprisingly integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier. At an April 11, 1913, Cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Albert Burleson argued for segregating the Railway Mail Service. He took exception to the fact that workers shared glasses, towels, and washrooms. Wilson offered no objection to Burleson's plan for segregation, saying that he "wished the matter adjusted in a way to make the least friction."

Both Burleson and Treasury Secretary William McAdoo took Wilson's comments as authorization to segregate. The Department of Treasury and Post Office Department both introduced screened-off workspaces, separate lunchrooms, and separate bathrooms. In a 1913 open letter to Wilson, W.E.B. DuBois -- who had supported Wilson in the 1912 election before being disenchanted by his segregation policies -- wrote of "one colored clerk who could not actually be segregated on account of the nature of his work [and who] consequently had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions of many years." That's right: Black people who couldn't, logistically, be segregated were put in literal cages.

Outright dismissals were also common. Upon taking office, Wilson himself fired 15 out of 17 black supervisors in the federal service and replaced them with white people. After the Treasury and Post Office began segregating, many black workers were let go. The head of the Internal Revenue division in Georgia fired all his black employees, saying, "There are no government positions for Negroes in the South. A Negro's place in the corn field." To enable hiring discrimination going forward, in 1914 the federal government began requiring photographs on job applications.

In 1914, a group of black professionals led by newspaper editor and Harvard alumnus Monroe Trotter met with Wilson to protest the segregation. Wilson informed Trotter, "Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen." When Trotter insisted that "it is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness," Wilson admonished him for his tone: "If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me ... Your tone, with its background of passion."

It's worth stressing that Wilson's policies here were racist even for his time. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had been much better about appointing black statesmen to public office, and other political figures, including whites, attacked Wilson's moves toward segregation. The influential pro-civil rights journalist Oswald Garrison Villard wrote that the Wilson administration "has allied itself with the forces of reaction, and put itself on the side of every torturer, of every oppressor, of every perpetrator of racial injustice in the South or the North." He further attacked it for its "political stupidity": The administration "has put into the hands of the Republican party an issue which, if they have the sense to use it, may be just the touchstone they are seeking."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Iran to add 500,000 barrels of oil exports after sanctions are lifted through nuclear deal (Associated Press Nov. 17, 2015)

Iran says it will export an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day in a bid to reclaim its market share after sanctions are lifted under a landmark nuclear deal.

Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told reporters Tuesday that the increase is part of Iran's plan to double its crude oil exports as sanctions are lifted, which officials expect to happen in early 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Clinton proposing tax credit to help families and individuals with health care costs (ADRIAN SAINZ and LISA LERER, 11/20/15, Associated Press)

Clinton, who was in the midst of a campaign swing through the South, has tried to create a wedge on taxes with her main rival for the nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In Memphis, she touted a tax refundable tax credit of up to $5,000 for families and $2,500 for individuals she proposed earlier this year. Americans with out-of-pocket health care expenses exceeding 5 percent of their income would be eligible for the refund. Her campaign says the tax cut will be funded through tax increases on wealthy families and by "demanding" rebates from drug manufactures.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Islamic State as the Saddam regime's afterlife: the Fedayeen Saddam : In the Fedayeen--connected to the global Islamist terrorist movement, combining elements of Ba'athism with an increasingly-stern Salafism--is a microcosm of the Saddam regime's mutation into Islamic State (ISIS). (Kyle Orton, 11/18/15, Open Democracy)

Saddam Hussein created the Fedayeen Saddam in 1994 as a paramilitary Praetorian unit. The Fedayeen were initially charged with protecting the regime from a repeat of the revolts that followed Saddam's eviction from Kuwait by acting as a pre-emptive counter-insurgency force.

Over time this internal security mission became increasingly about enforcing Islamic law. Saddam had begun Islamizing his regime in the late 1980s, and intensified this in the early 1990s, attempting to create a synthesis of Ba'athism and Salafism to buttress his legitimacy. Saddam had begun Islamizing his foreign policy as early as 1982-83, making alliances with all manner of Islamist terrorists, thousands of whom came to Iraq for training in the 1990s, where they attended camps run by the Fedayeen. In the Fedayeen--connected to the global Islamist terrorist movement, combining elements of Ba'athism with an increasingly-stern Salafism--is a microcosm of the Saddam regime's mutation into the Islamic State (ISIS).

By the time the Fedayeen were created in October 1994, Saddam had already begun his mosque-building campaign and subsidizing religious teachers and imams, making them their communities' leaders, both policies laying the groundwork for the religiously-inspired post-Saddam insurgency. Gambling and public consumption of alcohol had already been banned, and zakat (the Islamic poor tax) and the Shari'a punishment for theft (amputation) had already been imposed. In August 1994, the regime made prostitution a capital crime.

A good example of the Fedayeen acting as a mutaween (religious police)--and not-incidentally foreshadowing ISIS--was the beheading of women accused of prostitution, with swords, in front of their own homes, before an assembled crowd, with their "heads...left on the front a deterrent." Human rights groups say at least 200 women were beheaded in this way in the Saddam regime's final two years.

The Fedayeen produced gruesome propaganda videos showing barbarous acts--from eating live wolves to lurid forms of murder for "spies"--intended to further recruitment and to intimidate enemies. Military exploits by masked Fedayeen were also videoed and distributed. A focus was put on inculcating the "spirit" of the Fedayeen--believed by many senior Saddamists to be the "spirit" the regime needed to recover--in children, with camps set up where children were given guns and military training (again, on disseminated video). While corruption overtook the Saddam regime in the 1990s--even, in the compliment of vice to virtue, corruption within the regime's organized, sanctions-busting criminality--the reaction to corruption (financial and moral) in the Fedayeen was ferocious:

"Punishments ... included having one's hands amputated for theft, being tossed off a tower for sodomy, being whipped a hundred times for sexual harassment, having one's tongue cut out for lying, and being stoned for various other infractions. ... [m]ilitary failure also became punishable as a criminal offense."

There is more than an echo of ISIS in this.

When Saddam fell in April 2003, there were up to 95,000 "former regime elements" (FREs)--soldiers, militiamen, and intelligence officers and agents--still under arms, including 30,000 Fedayeen Saddam. When Saddam's Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, wrote to Saddam during the invasion that regime suicide bombers in civilian clothes should target the Americans to sow distrust and pre-emptively destabilize the occupation, it was almost certainly Fedayeen that Sabri had in mind for the job. The Fedayeen, often fighting in civilian garb, were almost the only force that did any fighting as the Coalition drove up to Baghdad.

ISIS is a creation of the decision not to kill Baathists until the regime fell in '91.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Ben Carson Won't Explain His Mysterious Palm Beach Real Estate Deal : Does he own this $10 million horse estate? His campaign won't say. (Russ Choma | Tue Nov. 17, 2015, mOTHER jONES)

Last week, Mother Jones and the Associated Press reported that GOP front-runner Ben Carson had a business relationship with a felonious ex-dentist in Pittsburgh named Alfonso Costa, who had once been convicted of healthcare fraud. Carson made between $200,000 to $2 million last year on a real estate investment linked to Costa, whom Carson has often described as his best friend. When these stories appeared, Carson said he stood by Costa, but he declined to say much else. A further examination of Carson's financial disclosure form and public records indicates that the retired neurosurgeon has another lucrative real estate investment that may be associated with Costa. But the disclosure statement doesn't provide all the required information about this asset, and the Carson campaign refused to answer questions about this property.

On the disclosure form, Carson lists a plot of land in West Palm Beach worth $1 to $5 million. He describes the property as "CPC Grand Prix South Lot." Yet there are no Palm Beach County real estate records that show Carson's ownership of this lot.

Local real estate records note that Carson does own property in the area, but only his personal residence, which is on a golf course in West Palm Beach and was purchased for $775,000 in 2013. If Carson owns any other real estate in Palm Beach County--such as this CPC Grand Prix South Lot--he must hold it via an investment vehicle. Yet neither of the shell corporations that Carson and his wife list on his disclosure--corporations through which they invested in a Pittsburgh real estate deal connected to Costa--own property in Palm Beach County. So how does Carson own the Palm Beach property he lists on the disclosure form?

The description of the property is another mystery. There are no legal entities or corporations called "CPC Grand Prix South Lot" in Florida. There is a sub-development on record with the Palm Beach County property appraiser called Grand Prix Village South. It includes 15 lots, all of which were empty two years ago but are now under rapid development as part of a fast-growing "equestrian community," which consists of mega-sized homes and horse stables with Olympic-class riding facilities. Palm Beach County real estate records show that Alfonso Costa's real estate company, Costa Land Company, purchased one of the Grand Prix Village South lots in March 2014 for $2.8 million. Is this connected to Carson's disclosed real estate investment?

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


The TPP: If not a "gold standard" agreement, then at least a "silver" -- and worth supporting (Claude Barfield, November 16, 2015, AEI)

While the agreement reached in early October is not perfect, it is better than critics suggest -- a silver medal, at least -- and a number of the flaws stem from America's own protectionist demands. These are not likely to be fixed in a US-led renegotiation.

A larger difference is one of perspective: I do not view the recently concluded TPP as the end of negotiations. Rather, it represents the first phase of a project that will extend over a number of years, with incremental improvements along the way. I would argue that such an evolution defines the history of trade liberalization in the post-World War II period.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Did hunted Paris gunman chicken out of suicide? (The Local,  20 Nov 2015)

Salah's brother Brahim who's also believed to have been behind the terrace shootings, blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire on Friday night but the subsequent actions of the missing Salah has lead investigators to believe that he may have decided to flee rather than blow himself up.

Salah Abdeslam reportedly wandered the streets of Paris for several hours on Friday after the attacks as he waited for an acquaintance to drive from Brussels to pick him up.

An alleged friend of his told Belgian website Sud.Info that Abdeslam was in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek as recently as Tuesday night and that he regretted what he did.

"I met him on Tuesday night. He was in Molenbeek but not for long," the friend said, who added that he was asked by Salah to give a message to his brother.

"He told me he had gone too far. It went beyond what it was meant to be. But he could not turn himself in. This could have consequences for his family," implying that he feared members of Isis would take revenge.

Speculation persists that Salah Abdeslam either panicked or decided at the last minute not to kill himself. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Doctors Could be Penalized for Ordering Prostate Tests (MELINDA BECK, Nov. 19, 2015, WSJ)

Medicare officials are considering a measure that would penalize doctors who order routine prostate-cancer screening tests for their patients, as part of a federal effort to define and reward quality in health-care services. [...]

Since 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended against routine screening for prostate cancer for men of any age on the grounds that the benefits don't outweigh the harms.

Studies have shown that screening reduces the risk of death from prostate cancers only minimally, if at all, because most grow so slowly they effectively are harmless.

Yet many men diagnosed with prostate cancer undergo surgery and radiation, which can have lifelong side effects.

Meanwhile, about 28,000 U.S. men die annually from aggressive prostate cancers, often despite getting regular PSA tests and fast treatment.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Report: VA Outperforms Private Sector on Key Measures (SUZANNE GORDON, NOVEMBER 20, 2015, American Prospect)

A little-noticed recent report by three leading research groups found that on critical measures, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) consistently performs as well as and often better than private sector health-care providers. The VHA does this with patients who are sicker, older, and poorer than many of their counterparts seen in the private sector. 

Among the key findings of the report, conducted by the consulting firm Grant, Thornton & McKinsey Company and by two nonprofit research companies--the RAND Corp and the MITRE Corporation--were that:

•   Postoperative morbidity was lower for VA patients compared with non-veterans receiving non-VA care. 

•   Inpatient care was more or as effective in VA as in non-VA hospitals.

•   VA hospitals were more likely to follow best practices in the use of central venous catheter line infection prevention and rates of mortality declined more quickly in VA over time than in non-VA settings for specific conditions.  

The report also found that veterans in nursing homes were less likely to develop pressure ulcers; that outpatients and those suffering chronic conditions got better follow-up care, and that VA health providers offered better mental health and obesity counseling and blood pressure control, particularly for African Americans. Importantly, income and educational disparities were smaller at VHA facilities in such areas as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer screenings.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


The country's largest private health insurer throws a 'tantrum' over lower profits (David Lazarus, 11/19/15, LA Times)

UnitedHealth's chief executive, Stephen J. Hemsley, has a fiduciary duty to deliver consistently solid results to the company's shareholders. There's a reason he received total compensation valued at more than $66 million last year.

The problem, as Friedman and others said, is that many of the first people to sign up for Obamacare coverage were those with preexisting medical conditions who had been denied coverage in the past. They wasted no time seeking treatment.

"UnitedHealth is still making a lot of money, just not as much as they thought," Friedman said. "So they need to signal their shareholders that they take this seriously."

Will the company really quit the individual insurance market? Most experts I spoke with said this would be unlikely.

...given that ensuing signees are healthy.  It's a license to print money.
Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Hey, Hillary Clinton! Lay off the Republican talking points. (Ryan Cooper, November 19, 2015, The Week)

Hillary Clinton is apparently so assured of victory in the Democratic presidential primary that she is already positioning herself to sell out the left. One of her campaign flacks recently picked a fight with Bernie Sanders' campaign on taxes, claiming that his health care plan would mean huge tax increases and a decrease in take-home pay for the middle class.

This is extremely depressing.

November 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Walmart's $10 Smartphone Has Better Specs Than the Original iPhone (NICHOLAS DELEON, November 15, 2015, Motherboard)

Walmart is now selling a TracFone-branded LG smartphone that costs $9.82 (it also ships free if your online order total tops $50). Now, there are a few reasons why you may not want such a smartphone--for one, it's running an outdated version of Android that may make it vulnerable to hackers--but there's no denying that it represents something pretty special. [...]

It's perhaps even more impressive when you consider that its modest specs--a 3.8-inch display, 3G and Wi-Fi networking, and a 3-megapixel camera--surpass those of the original iPhone, which was referred to in the tech press at the time as the "Jesus phone."

We radically underestimate the degree of deflation over the past 35 years.

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


AMER ABDALLAH'S AMERICAN DREAM  (Derek Evers, 11/19/15, Vice)'

"In 1996 I fought in Baghdad," recalls Amer Abdallah. "It's so funny to even say it. I fought in Baghdad in '96, after the first Desert Storm, before the second war."

Abdallah, 16-0, and currently the No. 2 ranked cruiserweight kickboxer in the world, is recounting the story of his only loss... ever. On Saturday night, he will face off in a unifying title fight against current world champion, Garreth Richards--a man Abdallah calls "his next victim".

The fight will take place in Abdallah's hometown of Lockport, New York, a small suburb of Buffalo along the Erie Canal. But Abdallah's story, both as a fighter and a man, has its origins in Jordan. His family, originally from Jerusalem, emigrated from Jordan to New York City in the 1970s, and his parents went from running a small grocery store in the Bronx to owning series of McDonald's franchises across the state. One of them was in Lockport. "That's why we ended up moving there."

Abdallah's story is a familiar one for immigrants coming to the United States, and his father's business ascension is, in a nutshell, the American Dream come to life.

November 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


$2 gas coming soon for most of the U.S. (Chris Isidore, 11/18/15, CNNMoney)

The average price of a gallon of regular gas is $2.13 according to AAA, down 75 cents from a year ago. That decline means consumers will save about $7 billion on gas during the 37-day period between now and Christmas, or about $40 a driver.

And prices are expected to keep falling.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Ben Carson's campaign made a U.S. map and put a bunch of states in the wrong place (Christopher Ingraham November 18, 2015, Washington Post)

Happy Geography Awareness Week! Recognizing that "too many young Americans are unable to make effective decisions, understand geo-spatial issues, or even recognize their impacts as global citizens," National Geographic created this annual observance to "raise awareness to this dangerous deficiency in American education."

Ben Carson's presidential campaign inadvertently underscored this point Tuesday night, when it took to social media to share a map of the United States in which five New England states were placed in the wrong location. The campaign deleted the Twitter and Facebook posts Wednesday morning after media outlets and social media users pointed out the error.

...don't we just assume he plagiarized the map?

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Four ways to counter ISIS propaganda more effectively (Alberto M. Fernandez, November 16, 2015, Brookings)

Rather than oscillate between triumphalism and despair, we need a constant counter-propaganda effort. I have several recommendations:

We need to view the problem of the Islamic State as a political problem with a media dimension, not the other way around. All too often we think that these are public relations or messaging issues. But they're related to the real world: there is a real war in Syria and Iraq, there's real violence, there are real people being killed. Mosul did fall to the Islamic State, it wasn't imaginary. So we need to realize that when we talk about messaging, it is intrinsically linked to a political reality. We cannot divorce propaganda from the political reality on the ground. 

It takes a network to fight a network. Despite some steps to ramp up the volume of our counter-propaganda efforts, we still lack the volume necessary to be able to compete in this space. Volume has value. And the Islamic State--either itself or with its networks--still has the advantage in numbers, and it's managed to create an echo chamber that gives its messages a life of their own. 

There is a wealth of credible voices of people who have firsthand knowledge of ISIS violence that have not been fully tapped. In August 2014, for instance, the Islamic State killed almost 1,000 male members of the Sheitaat Tribe, a Sunni-Arab-Muslim Tribe in Syria. We know that there are Sheitaat Tribesmen now in refugee camps--they (along with Iraqis from Anbar province and Syrian refugees) have their own firsthand stories to tell. It would be a good investment for a Western or Middle Eastern government to hire some of those people and empower them to challenge extremists on social media. That's an easy and inexpensive step. 

On content, there is too much emphasis on the search for the magic bullet. What counter-propagandists really need is multifaceted content similar to the multifaceted content that the Islamic State produces. This could include sarcasm, fact-based approaches, ideological approaches, and others. Governments--especially the U.S. government--aren't always the best-equipped to engage in ideological struggles; since there is an ideological dimension to the ISIS battle, governments should include the relevant actors in the design and implementation of its counter-propaganda strategy. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Meet the woman in the American flag hijab (BBC Trending, 11/18/150

Amidst rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the US following the Paris attacks, one woman made a public display of both her faith and her patriotism by donning a stars-and-stripes hijab on Fox News.

Saba Ahmed, the founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, appeared on Megyn Kelly's news programme to defend Muslim Americans' right to worship and their constitutional right to free religion. She chose to exemplify her point by wearing a United States flag hijab.

Fox News Twitter screenshot

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Identifying barriers to Muslim integration in France (Tyler Cowen, November 17, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

From an email from the Harvard Kennedy School:

"Identifying Barriers to Muslim Integration in France" Adida, Claire L.; Laitin, David D.; Valfort, Marie-Anne. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2010, Vol. 107, No. 52, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015550107.

Abstract: "Is there a Muslim disadvantage in economic integration for second-generation immigrants to Europe? Previous research has failed to isolate the effect that religion may have on an immigrant family's labor market opportunities because other factors, such as country of origin or race, confound the result. This paper uses a correspondence test in the French labor market to identify and measure this religious effect. The results confirm that in the French labor market, anti-Muslim discrimination exists: a Muslim candidate is 2.5 times less likely to receive a job interview callback than is his or her Christian counterpart. A high-n survey reveals, consistent with expectations from the correspondence test, that second-generation Muslim households in France have lower income compared with matched Christian households.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Hillary Is Already Triangulating Against Liberals : Her new attack on Bernie Sanders' single-payer health care plan shows her indifference to progressive voters. (Jim Newell, 11/18/15, Slate)

The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign has begun using an odd new line of attack against upstart Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders: He's too liberal on taxes and universal health insurance. Why is she doing this? After returning to the position in which she entered the race--as the near-certain nominee--she seems to be setting herself up for the general election. But it's strange to see her now, after the previously shaky ship has been steadied, attacking a candidate whose supporters she'll need in any general election campaign over an issue that his supporters care about very deeply.

As in 1992, this election matters chiefly for who will get credit for the prosperity driven by the Peace Dividend.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM



Three years ago, while she was riding the bus home from school in Pakistan's Swat Valley, Malala was shot in the head by members of the Taliban. She'd been targeted because of her history of campaigning, publicly and passionately, for her and her friends' intrinsic right to attend school. She survived and since that heinous day has gracefully become the de facto voice of the more than 60 million girls deprived of education worldwide.

Her appearance at the UN General Assembly in September was part of a whirlwind visit to New York that required her to take a rare two days off from her own schooling in Birmingham, England. The youngest-ever Nobel laureate also attended the premiere of He Named Me Malala, Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim's documentary about her life. She struck allegiances with world leaders on behalf of her two-year-old NGO, the Malala Fund. And, in what Stephen Colbert called his favorite moment to date on his new show, she performed an eye-popping card trick for 3.2 million viewers on network television.

But Malala is doing more than building awareness: She's creating a network of action and impact. Her still-young Malala Fund has already helped finance projects in six countries--Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Jordan, Lebanon, and Sierra Leone--by opening schools, providing scholarships, and setting up education groups and remote-learning programs. While the fund's budget today is modest (it spent more than $4 million in 2014), Malala has created a model for other NGOs, local government, and, yes, world leaders that shows how on-the-ground engagement can be effective. What's more, she's already had international impact--at the UN--that has gone largely unrecognized, despite all the media she's attracted. "In the beginning, people ignore you," Malala tells me during a conversation at the fund's Washington, D.C., coworking space a few weeks before her New York blitz. "And then they say, 'Okay, now we have to listen because she is not going to keep quiet.' So you keep speaking. And once young people join the mission, it's no longer just my voice. It's the voice of the people."

In person, Malala is both relaxed and deeply attentive, a high school junior who doesn't wear makeup or carry a cell phone. The left side of her face is still partially paralyzed from where the bullet inflicted permanent nerve damage. When I first meet her, she is wearing traditional Pakistani clothing and the same pair of modest platform sandals she'll wear in New York in order to give her 5-foot frame an extra inch to see over the average lectern. True power clearly knows nothing of stature or age. As becomes increasingly evident during conversations with her, her family, and her team, Malala has a force that's completely devoid of bombast or ego.

When the Taliban took over the Swat Valley in 2007, bombing schools and murdering resisters, the world did not send help. Politicians failed to act. NGOs that pledged financial aid and on-the-ground resources were unable to deliver. Malala's terrorized community was left to fend for itself. Malala and her father, Zia, a peace activist who ran the school she attended in Swat, continued to speak out. When she woke up in a hospital bed in England, ripped from her home and culture, they decided together that still more needed to be done.

In 2013, they started the Malala Fund to make the broad, irrefutable statement that every girl deserves an education--and translate that belief into action on both the local and global level. Its mandate, as set by cofounders who know well the cost of being let down, is to prove there are bolder, braver, more effective ways to support girls than the failed efforts of those who'd left Malala to her fate in Swat Valley.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Is There a Double Agent in Ben Carson's Campaign? (Rob Garver, November 17, 2015, Fiscal Times)

How else to explain why, at a moment when foreign policy in general and Middle East policy in particular has taken center stage in the GOP primary race, Duane R. Clarridge would give an on-the-record interview to The New York Times saying that Carson seems unable to absorb key details about foreign policy issues?

"Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East," Clarridge said of Carson in the explosive article published Tuesday afternoon.

On Sunday, after watching Carson stumble through a Fox News interview in which he appeared unable to name any U.S. allies willing to fight against ISIS, Clarridge told reporter Trip Gabriel that he called up Carson confidant Armstrong Williams and said, "We need to have a conference call once a week where his guys roll out the subjects they think will be out there, and we can make him smart."

Williams himself seemed to express frustration, telling Gabriel, "he's been briefed on it so many times. I guess he just froze."

November 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


The Best Way to Reach Your Goals May Be Publicly Recording Your Progress (Patrick Allan, 11/17/15, Lifehacker)

We've talked about using the public to motivate you before, but a recent meta-analysis of 138 different studies and experiments suggests it may, in fact, be the best method for making any real progress toward your goals.

The analysis, led by Dr. Benjamin Harkin, and published in Psychological Bulletin, found that monitoring and recording your progress was the most effective tool when it came to achieving goals like losing weight, quitting smoking, or changing diet. That may not seem terribly surprising, but in the 138 studies Harkin and his research team analyzed, they found that recording progress publicly was the most effective method of all:

Our findings are of relevance to those interested in changing their behavior and achieving their goals, as well as to those who want to help them, like weight loss programs, money advice agencies or sport coaches. Prompting people to monitor their progress can help them to achieve their goals, but some methods of monitoring are better than others. Specifically, we would recommend that people be encouraged to record, report or make public what they find out as they assess their progress.

Per their example, if you were trying to lose weight, you could weigh yourself in front of others or announce your progress on social media (maybe even with pictures). 

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Get ready for driverless taxis at 25 cents a mile (Andrea Chan, 11/17/15, LA Times)

Eric Spiegelman, president of the Los Angeles Taxicab Commission, said Angelenos will one day be able to hail taxibots, or driverless taxis. The autonomous vehicles will be able to get people from place to place while bringing costs drastically down, he said.

"Driverless cars have the potential to solve certain intractable social inequity problems," he said.

For one, fares will decrease by 85%, to about 25 cents a mile, he predicted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Why can't Japan shake its economic malaise? Two words: old people. (Jeff Spross, November 17, 2015, The Week)

Let's start with the elephant in the room, which is demographics. Americans over 65 are currently around 14 percent of the population, and are projected to hit 20 percent in 2050. But the over-65 crowd in Japan is 26 percent of its population right now, and is projected to hit 40 percent by 2050. In fact, the number of Japanese between age 15 and 64 has been shrinking in absolute terms ever since it peaked in the mid-1990s.

This matters for growth. Redistributing some portion of economic production can often spark new economic growth, but this is not the case with the elderly. Most poor people, for instance, live in communities that have been locked out of the feedback loops that create sustained growth; giving them money and resources can help kickstart those feedback loops again. But redistributing resources to the elderly is different: It's obviously a moral necessity, but it gets tricky economically. While it can certainly help aggregate demand, which matters, old people generally aren't going to be re-entering the workforce no matter how many jobs you create.

So if your population's share of old people is big and growing fast, that means your working population has to produce more and more to keep up. And if your workers can't keep up, then economic production gets spread thinner and thinner.

This is not really a problem for America. Our population of elderly will grow slow enough and remain small enough that economic productivity per worker can easily outpace it.

Not so Japan.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he is dropping out of 2016 race for president (MELINDA DESLATTE, 11/17/15, Associated Press)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he is dropping out of 2016 race for president, ending a campaign that failed to gain much support among Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


What Kind of Leader Is Marco Rubio? An Investigation. : A look at what happens when the Florida senator wields power. (Michael J. Mishak,  NOVEMBER 16, 2015, National Journal)

On Septem­ber 13, 2005, Marco Ru­bio, then a 34-year-old state le­gis­lat­or from Miami, was of­fi­cially des­ig­nated the next speak­er of the Flor­ida House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. He was the first Cuban-Amer­ic­an to win the job, and the Voice of Amer­ica beamed his speech to coun­tries around the globe, in­clud­ing Cuba. Nearly 200 people flew from Ru­bio's ho­met­own to Tal­l­a­hassee to at­tend the ce­re­mony, which took place in the state House cham­bers. They wore lam­in­ated floor passes in­scribed with a quote from Ron­ald Re­agan: "There's no lim­it to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the cred­it."

Dur­ing his speech, Ru­bio--dressed in a dark suit with a red rose on his left lapel--asked House mem­bers to ex­am­ine their desks. In­side, law­makers found, wrapped in gift pa­per, a hard­cov­er book titled 100 In­nov­at­ive Ideas For Flor­ida's Fu­ture. It was blank. Ru­bio then told his vis­ibly per­plexed col­leagues that they would fill in the pages to­geth­er dur­ing the run-up to his speak­er­ship. The ideas would come from or­din­ary Flor­idi­ans, he said, and mem­bers would col­lect them at town hall-style meet­ings called "idear­aisers." The gam­bit quickly won rave re­views from na­tion­al fig­ures, in­clud­ing Newt Gin­grich, who called the concept "a work of geni­us."

Clos­ing his speech with a pas­sage his ad­visers had counseled him to drop, Ru­bio asked his col­leagues to ima­gine a single moth­er, trapped in poverty and hold­ing her first­born child: "In her heart burns the hope that everything that has gone wrong in her life will go right for that child, that all the op­por­tun­it­ies she nev­er had, her child will." Her suc­cess, Ru­bio con­tin­ued, would de­pend on the choices le­gis­lat­ors made. "If our pur­pose here is simply to win elec­tions or to use this place as a spring­board to oth­er of­fices, then her cause will be of little in­terest to us and her dreams for her child will have little chance," he said. "But if we as­pire to be agents of change, if our goal is to make a last­ing and mean­ing­ful im­pact on our world, then her cause will also be ours." The lines brought the crowd to its feet.

Sit­ting in the front row, Gov. Jeb Bush was clearly moved. He took to the po­di­um and de­clared, "I can't think back on a time when I've ever been prouder to be a Re­pub­lic­an." After en­cour­aging law­makers to pur­sue "big ideas," he presen­ted Ru­bio with a golden sword "of a great con­ser­vat­ive war­ri­or."

Ten years later, per­haps the biggest ques­tion fa­cing Marco Ru­bio's pres­id­en­tial cam­paign is wheth­er he has enough ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence to lead the coun­try. De­tract­ors of­ten com­pare Ru­bio to Barack Obama circa 2008--a young politi­cian who simply isn't ready to oc­cupy the most power­ful of­fice in the world. To de­flect this com­par­is­on, Ru­bio has been talk­ing a lot about his lead­er­ship ex­per­i­ences in Tal­l­a­hassee. Obama, he told Fox News in March, "was a back­bench­er in the state Le­gis­lature in Illinois, and I was in lead­er­ship all nine years that I served there, in­clud­ing two as speak­er of the House."

So how did Ru­bio fare dur­ing his years in the Flor­ida House? Did he live up to the ex­traordin­ary ex­pect­a­tions that were showered on him at his des­ig­na­tion ce­re­mony in Septem­ber 2005? I re­cently talked to 30 people who worked with Ru­bio dur­ing his years in Tal­l­a­hassee. My goal was simple: to fig­ure out what it looks like when Marco Ru­bio wields power. [...]

Some former col­leagues de­scribe him as a cent­rist who sought out Demo­crats and groups that don't typ­ic­ally align with the GOP. Early in his ten­ure, for in­stance, he set up a meet­ing with farm­work­ers to dis­cuss their work­ing con­di­tions. He ad­dressed a crowd of about 50 one night in the hall of a mi­grant-labor hous­ing com­plex in Homestead, a farm­ing com­munity south of Miami; ul­ti­mately, he co­sponsored le­gis­la­tion that would have al­lowed work­ers to sue grow­ers in state court if they were cheated on pay. "The idea that any le­gis­lat­or, let alone a Re­pub­lic­an, would reach out to farm­work­ers was un­heard of. We were flab­ber­gas­ted," says Greg Schell, man­aging at­tor­ney for the Mi­grant Farm­work­er Justice Pro­ject. In the years be­fore his speak­er­ship, Ru­bio would also co­spon­sor a bill that sought to award in-state tu­ition rates to the chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants. [...]

FOR EIGHT YEARS, Jeb Bush--who left of­fice in Janu­ary 2007, as Ru­bio was be­gin­ning his speak­er­ship--had taken a dom­in­eer­ing ap­proach to man­aging af­fairs in Tal­l­a­hassee. Ru­bio's style of lead­ing turned out to be quite dif­fer­ent. In a sur­pris­ing de­par­ture from House pro­tocol, he gran­ted re­quests by Gel­ber (the Demo­crat­ic lead­er) to make his own ap­point­ments to com­mit­tees as well as to con­trol his caucus's of­fices and park­ing spaces--the cudgels of le­gis­lat­ive power. Most im­port­ant, Gel­ber says, he honored Demo­crats' right to voice op­pos­i­tion: "I would say, 'I have an amend­ment that we're go­ing to speak on and we're go­ing to spend an hour call­ing you guys rat bas­tards,' and he would say, 'Do you think you could do it in 30 minutes?'"  
While Ru­bio was not above yank­ing a dis­sid­ent mem­ber's park­ing space or re­as­sign­ing someone to a closet-sized of­fice, re­tri­bu­tion was not routine. Un­like some of his pre­de­cessors, he was not cloistered in the speak­er's of­fice. He made an ef­fort to eat with mem­bers in the cafet­er­ia and talk to them about their bills as well as their fam­il­ies. "That's the first thing-when you can demon­strate a real in­terest in people and em­power them to be suc­cess­ful," Bax­ley told me. "This is an at­mo­sphere where it's easy to get caught in a cul­ture that says, 'It's all about me.'"

But it was the way that Ru­bio re­struc­tured the speak­er's of­fice that sur­prised many cap­it­al in­siders. After spend­ing years to se­cure one of the most in­flu­en­tial po­s­i­tions in Flor­ida gov­ern­ment, he re­lin­quished his biggest power. For the first time, com­mit­tee chair­men--not the speak­er--would de­term­ine which sub­com­mit­tees would vet le­gis­la­tion, de­cisions that could dra­mat­ic­ally in­flu­ence a bill's chances of passing. "I wanted the House to op­er­ate dif­fer­ently than it had in the past, when the speak­er had so much au­thor­ity that mem­bers could al­ways as­sign the blame for any fail­ure to the 'fourth floor'--code for the speak­er's of­fice," Ru­bio wrote. "Un­der my speak­er­ship, com­mit­tee chair­men would have more power than ever be­fore, but a great­er share of re­spons­ib­il­ity as well, and great­er ac­count­ab­il­ity."
Though pitched as a move to­ward demo­crat­iz­ing the House, it had a clear polit­ic­al be­ne­fit for Ru­bio: He could stay above the fray while his lieu­ten­ants ten­ded to con­tro­ver­sies. In 2007, for in­stance, the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation pushed le­gis­la­tion that would al­low em­ploy­ees to keep guns in their cars at work. Busi­ness groups op­posed the meas­ure. Ru­bio al­lowed Rep. Stan May­field, a top lieu­ten­ant and the chair­man of the En­vir­on­ment and Nat­ur­al Re­sources com­mit­tee, to take the lead. Sup­port for the bill had been shaky from the out­set, but the meas­ure be­came tox­ic after the Vir­gin­ia Tech shoot­ing, in which a stu­dent shot and killed 32 people on the col­lege's cam­pus. Des­pite in­tense pres­sure from the NRA, May­field op­posed the bill. "Stan made sure the speak­er un­der­stood where he stood," says Kev­in Sweeny, a former May­field aide. "Speak­er Ru­bio said, 'Stan, I trust you to do what is right.' "

While Ru­bio was all smiles and eager to win friends, his top ad­visers had grown up in the brass-knuckled world of Miami polit­ics. "Charm­ing miscre­ants," Gel­ber says, de­scrib­ing them as a band of "Bor­is-and-Nata­sha-type fig­ures," a ref­er­ence to the cun­ning spies in the Rocky and Bull­winkle car­toons. No one was closer to Ru­bio than Dav­id Rivera, a rep­res­ent­at­ive from Miami who had man­aged his speak­er­ship cam­paign. (Rivera did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.) The two formed a broth­erly bond in the trenches of Miami elec­tions, and they lived to­geth­er dur­ing le­gis­lat­ive ses­sions in a mod­est, three-bed­room home they bought in a Tal­l­a­hassee sub­di­vi­sion. In the Cap­it­ol, Ru­bio gave Rivera the House clerk's of­fice, which was loc­ated just off the cham­ber floor, and knocked down a wall so they could have dir­ect ac­cess to each oth­er. He made Rivera the chair­man of the Rules Com­mit­tee, a power­ful post that gave him con­trol over which bills made it to the House floor for a vote.

Ru­bio's re­la­tion­ship with Rivera was em­blem­at­ic of the new speak­er's gen­er­al style: a tend­ency to del­eg­ate many of the toughest parts of polit­ics. Bob Levy, a long­time lob­by­ist, says he rarely vis­ited Ru­bio when he wanted something for his cli­ents. It was Rivera who took the meet­ings. "When you talked to Dav­id, you knew you were talk­ing to Marco," Levy told me. "Rivera got things done," Gel­ber says, "sort of like a fight­er pi­lot might plow the ho­ri­zon for the guys be­hind him--with a sim­il­ar amount of dam­age, I might add." "There were times when Dav­id did things that Marco wouldn't ne­ces­sar­ily sanc­tion, but he con­sidered that Dav­id's choice--as long as they didn't in­volve Marco dir­ectly," Jill Cham­ber­lin, Ru­bio's former press sec­ret­ary, told me. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Iraq is flooding America with lots of oil (Matt Egan, 11/17/15, Money/CNN)

The U.S. more than doubled its imports of oil from Iraq between August and September, according to a Platts analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics.

The dramatic increase in Iraqi oil imports is only adding to the already-massive supply glut that has pushed down oil prices. Crude oil prices sank to a four-month low of $40.06 a barrel this week and they're down 12% in November alone. [...]

The reality is that there's actually too much Middle Eastern oil to worry about supply disruptions.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Labour MPs back their leader ... David Cameron (John Crace, 17 November 2015, The Guardian)

Jeremy Corbyn may have misgivings about shoot to kill, but few of his own MPs seem to share them. Sitting next to the leader of the opposition for the prime minister's statement on the G20 summit and the Paris attacks was Hilary Benn. The normally mild-mannered shadow foreign secretary gave every impression he was trying to eliminate his boss with mind control and a rictus smile. Disappointed to find Jezza still breathing, he left without saying goodbye after 45 minutes.

Other Labour MPs chose to kill their leader by vocalising their whole-hearted support for the prime minister's tougher stance on terrorism. One by one they rose. Pat McFadden. Mike Gapes. David Hanson. Chris Leslie. Emma Reynolds. Chuka Umunna. Anne Coffey. Ian Leslie. Even the usually on-message Sarah Champion. Et tu, Sarah? There would have been more, had not the Speaker curtailed the debate.

November 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


The Attacks in Paris Reveal the Strategic Limits of ISIS (OLIVIER ROYNOV. 16, 2015, NY Times)

 ISIS is hardly an Islamic "state," if only because, unlike the Taliban, it claims no specific territory or boundaries. It is more like a caliphate, forever in conquest mode -- occupying new lands, rallying Muslims from around the world -- like the Muslim expansionist movement during Islam's first century. This feature has attracted thousands of volunteers, drawn by the idea of fighting for global Islam rather than for a piece of the Middle East.

But ISIS' reach is bounded; there are no more areas in which it can extend by claiming to be a defender of Sunni Arab populations. To the north, there are Kurds; to the east, Iraqi Shiites; to the west, Alawites, now protected by the Russians. And all are resisting it. To the south, neither the Lebanese, who worry about the influx of Syrian refugees, nor the Jordanians, who are still reeling from the horrid execution of one of their pilots, nor the Palestinians have succumbed to any fascination for ISIS. Stalled in the Middle East, ISIS is rushing headlong into globalized terrorism.

The attack against Hezbollah in Beirut, the attack against the Russians in Sharm el Sheikh and the attacks in Paris had the same goal: terror. But just as the execution of the Jordanian pilot sparked patriotism among even the heterogeneous population of Jordan, the attacks in Paris will turn the battle against ISIS into a national cause. ISIS will hit the same wall as Al Qaeda: Globalized terrorism is no more effective, strategically, than conducting aerial bombings without forces on the ground. Much like Al Qaeda, ISIS has no support among the Muslim people living in Europe. It recruits only at the margins.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


I was held hostage by Isis. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes (Nicolas Héni, 16 November 2015, The Guardian)

As a proud Frenchman I am as distressed as anyone about the events in Paris. But I am not shocked or incredulous. I know Islamic State. I spent 10 months as an Isis hostage, and I know for sure that our pain, our grief, our hopes, our lives do not touch them. Theirs is a world apart. [...]

Even now I sometimes chat with them on social media, and can tell you that much of what you think of them results from their brand of marketing and public relations. They present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying - stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. [...]

It struck me forcefully how technologically connected they are; they follow the news obsessively, but everything they see goes through their own filter. They are totally indoctrinated, clinging to all manner of conspiracy theories, never acknowledging the contradictions.

Everything convinces them that they are on the right path and, specifically, that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and others, the crusaders, the Romans. They see everything as moving us down that road. Consequently, everything is a blessing from Allah.

With their news and social media interest, they will be noting everything that follows their murderous assault on Paris, and my guess is that right now the chant among them will be "We are winning". They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance - it is not what they want to see.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Liberty-Security Pendulum Will Swing (wALTER rUSSELL mEAD, 11/16/15, aMERICAN iNTEREST)

In the coming days and weeks, we can expect intelligence officials to spar with civil libertarians over the extent to which the new privacy measures prompted by the Snowden revelations--like end-to-end data encryption software--are responsible for the attacks. But however that debate plays out, it seems safe to say that the slaughter in the City of Lights will at least dent the celebrity of Snowden and other privacy advocates like him, and make his admirers' dire warnings about the existential threat to liberty posed by the NSA seem overblown.

In periods of relative safety, Americans tend to be sympathetic to the Jeffersonian tradition--that is, zealously protective of their civil liberties and alert to the danger of creeping federal tyranny. But in periods of perceived danger, the Jacksonian impulse to get the bad guys at all costs grows more powerful. [...]

As these debates reopen, hard-core Jeffersonians and Jacksonians alike will insist that any deviation from their preferred position will lead to either tyranny or chaos. But it is important to remember that America has a 300 year tradition of balancing civil liberties, government power, and security through a mix of legislation, judicial oversight, and public debate. While our system isn't perfect, we have mostly reached compromises that accommodate both of these deeply American political traditions relatively well. Post-Paris, the terms of the debate have changed, but that capacity for balancing opposing values likely has not.

It's better thought of as Freedom vs. Security and the genius of our republican system being that we mediate between them via Liberty.  After all, it doesn't really matter how Secure we seek to make ourselves so long as we apply the tighter laws universally.  Tyranny occurs only when limitations are applied arbitrarily.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


More Red States Open Door to Obamacare (Jonathan Bernstein, 11/16/15, Blloomberg View)

Second, incoming Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a Tea Party stalwart who ran against Obamacare, is talking about negotiating a deal with the federal government over changing Medicaid expansion, rather than simply ending it.

And a surprising one: Alabama, with a solidly Republican state government, is reportedly reconsidering its opposition to the expansion.

None of these results are certain yet. But they follow the general pattern. States with Democrats in charge accept the program. States with Republicans in charge have mixed records of adopting it. But once a state goes along with Medicaid expansion, it doesn't go back on it even if a strongly conservative Republican is elected governor.

That means Medicaid expansion remains a one-way street, and eventually all 50 states will accept it. We're already up to 30 states with Montana's recent agreement to sign up. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


State agency issuing more fines against abortion clinics (SEANNA ADCOX, 11/12/15, Associated Press)

South Carolina's public health agency could fine three abortion clinics and two waste disposal companies nearly $51,000 for violations concerning the disposal of fetuses.

The proposed fines range from $2,200 to $21,150 for violating state disposal regulations, Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel told a House panel Thursday.

They are the latest fines stemming from an investigation requested by Gov. Nikki Haley in August. The request followed the release of secretly taped videos showing Planned Parenthood officials in other states discussing the collection of fetal organs for research.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Putin Makes Ukraine Debt Offer in Thaw After Paris Attacks (Ilya Arkhipov, Ksenia Galouchko, Olga Tanas, November 16, 2015, Bloomberg View)

President Vladimir Putin offered to restructure a disputed $3 billion bond owed by Ukraine, the latest sign that Russia's standoff with the U.S. and Europe may be relenting in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in Paris.

The Ukrainians didn't even have to shoot down a jet to get him to fold.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


This Bike Path Paved With Solar Panels Shows That All Streets Could Double As Power Sources (adele Peters, 11/16/15, Co.Exist)

One year after a bike path outside Amsterdam was plastered with custom solar panels, it's generating more power than predicted--and the designers are convinced that it's proof that networks of solar-covered roads could eventually be a viable energy source.

While typical rooftop solar panels are cheaper to build and can pump out more power, the SolaRoad team argues that pavement could add valuable real estate as roofs start to fill up. In the Netherlands, there's more available space on roads than all rooftops combined.

"Solar panels on rooftops are a no-brainer and fortunately the application is growing rapidly," says Sten de Wit from the SolaRoad consortium, adding that some cities are also experimenting with solar panels next to highways. "If we can additionally incorporate solar cells in road pavements, then a large extra area will become available for decentralized solar energy generation without the need for extra space ... and just part of the roads which we build and use anyway."

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


René Girard and Unveiling the Mono-Myth (Bishop Robert Barron, Strang Notions) 

 In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power. Drawing inspiration from some of the greatest literary masters of the West--Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Proust among others--Girard opined that desire is both mimetic and triangular. He meant that we rarely desire objects straightforwardly; rather, we desire them because others desire them: as we imitate (mimesis) another's desire, we establish a triangulation between self, other, and object. If this sounds too rarefied, think of the manner in which practically all of advertising works: I come to want those gym shoes, not because of their intrinsic value, but because the hottest NBA star wants them. Now what mimetic desire leads to, almost inevitably, is conflict. If you want to see this dynamic in the concrete, watch what happens when toddler A imitates the desire of toddler B for the same toy, or when dictator A mimics the desire of dictator B for the same route of access to the sea.

The tension that arises from mimetic desire is dealt with through what Girard called the scapegoating mechanism. A society, large or small, that finds itself in conflict comes together through a common act of blaming an individual or group purportedly responsible for the conflict. So for instance, a group of people in a coffee klatch will speak in an anodyne way for a time, but in relatively short order, they will commence to gossip, and they will find, customarily, a real fellow feeling in the process. What they are accomplishing, on Girard's reading, is a discharging of the tension of their mimetic rivalry onto a third party. The same dynamic obtains among intellectuals. When I was doing my post-graduate study, I heard the decidedly Girardian remark: "the only thing that two academics can agree upon is how poor the work of a third academic is!" Hitler was one of the shrewdest manipulators of the scapegoating mechanism. He brought the deeply divided German nation of the 1930's together precisely by assigning the Jews as a scapegoat for the country's economic, political, and cultural woes. Watch a video of one of the Nuremberg rallies of the mid-thirties to see the Girardian theory on vivid display.

Now precisely because this mechanism produces a kind of peace, however ersatz and unstable, it has been revered by the great mythologies and religions of the world and interpreted as something that God or the gods smile upon. Perhaps the most ingenious aspect of Girard's theorizing is his identification of this tendency. In the founding myths of most societies, we find some act of primal violence that actually establishes the order of the community, and in the rituals of those societies, we discover a repeated acting out of the original scapegoating. For a literary presentation of this ritualization of society-creating violence, look no further than Shirley Jackson's masterpiece "The Lottery."

The main features of this theory were in place when Girard turned for the first time in a serious way to the Christian Scriptures. What he found astonished him and changed his life. He discovered that the Bible knew all about mimetic desire and scapegoating violence but it also contained something altogether new, namely, the de-sacralizing of the process that is revered in all of the myths and religions of the world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Belgium's flourishing jihadi scene (Deutsche-Welle,  17.01.2015)

According to political scientist Asiem El Difraoui, the problems are homemade. "The Belgians have fallen behind on watching the scene, they have fallen behind on preventative measures," he told DW. "Actually, they've fallen behind on everything."

El Difraoui says the reason for Belgium's failings in combating extremism is clear. "The Belgians are much too preoccupied with themselves."

This means that Belgium is ill-equipped to take on the other domestic issues plaguing the country, El Difraoui says. [...]

Muslims in Belgium have another problem too. A recent study by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) found that they are often overlooked on the job market. Around six percent of the Belgian population is Muslim. Even when they speak the local language perfectly, they are often treated as foreigners. In 2012, the unemployment rate among residents born outside the EU was three times higher than for locally born jobseekers.

Amnesty International has also criticized the Belgian government for a lack of effort on integration. Companies have it too easy, they say, when they want to reject job applicants on the basis of their religion. Muslim women who wear a head covering are particularly affected by this type of discrimination.

Undoubtedly, the resulting frustration and feelings of exclusion make it easier for fundamentalist groups to radicalize individuals in Belgium and get them to commit acts of terrorism.

Although the issues surrounding Belgium's Muslim population are well known, authorities have only offered token gestures and an increase in security to try to solve the problem. Investment in integration programs has come up short.

In 2009, the city of Antwerp banned the wearing of Muslim headscarves in public. Two years later, Belgium introduced a law prohibiting the wearing of burkas across the country.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


The Islamic State's trap for Europe (Harleen Gambhir November 15, 2015, Washington Post)

The Islamic State's strategy is to polarize Western society -- to "destroy the grayzone," as it says in its publications. The group hopes frequent, devastating attacks in its name will provoke overreactions by European governments against innocent Muslims, thereby alienating and radicalizing Muslim communities throughout the continent. The atrocities in Paris are only the most recent instances of this accelerating campaign. Since January, European citizens fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have provided online and material support to lethal operations in Paris, Copenhagen and near Lyon, France, as well as attempted attacks in London, Barcelona and near Brussels. Islamic State fighters are likely responsible for destroying the Russian airliner over the Sinai. These attacks are not random, nor are they aimed primarily at affecting Western policy in the Middle East. They are, rather, part of a militarily capable organization's campaign to mobilize extremist actors already in Europe and to recruit new ones.

The strategy is explicit. The Islamic State explained after the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine that such attacks "compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves. . . . Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize . . . or they [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens." The group calculates that a small number of attackers can profoundly shift the way that European society views its 44 million Muslim members and, as a result, the way European Muslims view themselves. Through this provocation, it seeks to set conditions for an apocalyptic war with the West.

Unfortunately, elements of European society are reacting as the Islamic State desires.

Don't Give ISIS What It Wants : In the aftermath of the horrific terror attacks in Paris, it's important that the West not play right into the terrorist state's hands. (JARED KELLER, 1/16/15, Pacific Standard)

Other Islamic groups have, to some extent, accepted the realities of modern geopolitics. (Think: the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas' political dealings, or the Taliban's negotiations with the government of Afghanistan.) But recognizing borders and boundaries is "ideological suicide" to the Islamic State, an "act of apostasy," as Graeme Wood wrote in March; to sustain its ideology and, in turn, its allure to disaffected young Muslims around the world, the Islamic State needs to exist in a constant state of war against the crusaders of the West. This explains why ISIS doesn't really care about the indiscriminate deaths of Muslims, which comes as an ideological departure from terror groups like al-Qaeda. For ISIS, a terror attack that yields an international campaign of Western drone strikes, which in turn primarily kill civilians, is actually an end goal. As Wood puts it, "the biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself":

The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya'a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

The Islamophobic backlash running through the West is all but a recruitment windfall for jihadists everywhere. It's part of the logic of the Islamic State designed to build a new generation of loyal militants, a push that lends credence to the idea that, while American arch-conservatives flip out about refugees (like Ted Cruz, who called for a moratorium on U.S. refugee programs, or ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, who tweeted "maybe guard the border before the massacre"), it's actually the Muslim world that's under attack from the West--a narrative that has very real ideological roots. "By strengthening and emboldening the xenophobic right-wing in Europe, they strengthen their own worldview as well," wrote Syrian blogger Nader Atassi in the aftermath of the attacks. "And the most tragic irony is that the backlash may target refugees who themselves had been fleeing ISIS' reign of terror."

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Senior Sunni cleric urges ideological battle against IS (AFP, November 16, 2015)

Al-Azhar's head, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, condemned the bloody attacks that were claimed by IS, describing them as contrary to religion.

"The problem is, those who control religious discourse, they and their stances should be reviewed," Shoman said.

"You must be certain that those in charge of religious discourse are not helping in the spread of terrorism," he said.

Shoman said al-Azhar has little presence in Europe, but the numbers of Europeans who have joined IS pointed to the presence of extremist preaching in the continent.

"You will find that these people lack in (Islamic) education, and have not been religious for long, and yet they consider what they're doing is jihad," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Paris attacks 'mastermind' Abdelhamid Abaaoud: what we know (Josh Halliday and Jonathan Bucks, 16 November 2015, The Guardian)

French officials said Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, was instrumental in organising and executing the gun and suicide bomb attacks on Friday night that wrought devastation in central Paris, AFP reported.

Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, was first named by police as a wanted extremist after a gun battle in eastern Belgium in January during a raid on an Isis cell.

Live Paris attacks: brother of Salah Abdeslam unaware of terror suspect's whereabouts - live
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That security operation was believed to have destroyed a cell plotting to assassinate Belgian police officers, with two suspects killed in a fierce gun battle with police during the raid in the eastern town of Verviers.

Abaaoud, the group's suspected leader, spent time fighting alongside Isis in Syria. He was known to security forces after appearing in an Isis video, at the wheel of a car transporting mutilated bodies to a mass grave. [...]

Abaaoud was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court earlier this year after being tried in absentia for recruiting for Isis in Syria. He was among 32 people charged with running one of Belgium's largest jihadi recruitment networks, although many of the defendants - including Abaaoud - were tried in absentia and remain at large.

He was also accused of kidnapping after his younger brother, Younes, 13, travelled to Syria in January 2014, earning the media nickname of "the youngest jihadi in the world". Their father, Omar Abaaoud, having heard no news from his two sons, filed a police complaint against his older son, AFP reported in May.

Abaaoud's older sister, Yasmina, told the New York Times in January that neither of the brothers showed a zealous interest in religion before leaving for Syria. "They did not even go to the mosque," she said.

Their father owned a shop and lived with his wife and six children in an apartment on rue de l'Avenir in one of Molenbeek's better areas, near a canal that separates Molenbeek from a trendy Brussels district of bars and restaurants, the newspaper reported.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Tensions in Iran After Nuclear Deal Grow in Hostility (RICK GLADSTONE and THOMAS ERDBRINK, NOV. 15, 2015, NY Times)

Mr. Rouhani is insisting that the nuclear deal signed in July not only will create the basis for an end to Iran's prolonged economic isolation, but could be the start of new relations with the United States under certain conditions. Yet even his cautious statement of optimism has provoked a stormy reaction.

The tensions, which political analysts foresee lasting into next year at least, are in some ways an expected outcome of the nuclear agreement, which rolls back Iran's atomic program in exchange for a broad lifting of sanctions. Many hard-liners opposed the accord as a submission to foreign powers, especially the United States. With the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsing the agreement, they turned their criticism directly on Mr. Rouhani and his aides.

The losing side's reaction has been harsh, as seen in a series of arrests of Iranian journalists and at least one Iranian-American accused of collaborating with Western powers or worse. Even some prominent conservatives who mistrust the United States but see practical benefits in having a better relationship with it have been criticized.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


U.S. Warplanes Strike ISIS Oil Trucks in Syria (MICHAEL R. GORDON, NOV. 16, 2015, NY Times)

According to an initial assessment, 116 trucks were destroyed in the attack, which took place near Deir al-Zour, an area in eastern Syria that is controlled by the Islamic State.

The airstrikes were carried out by four A-10 attack planes and two AC-130 gunships based in Turkey.

The Salafists have no comparable capacity to strike any target of strategic importance.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Anonymous declares war on ISIS (Katie Bo Williams, 11/16/15, tHE hILL)

The hacking group Anonymous appears to have declared war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the wake of Friday's devastating terror attacks on Paris.

In an unverified video posted to YouTube on Saturday, a spokesperson wearing the group's signature Guy Fawkes mask warned the group that "war is declared" and to expect "major cyberattacks."

"Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down. You should know that we will find you and we will not let you go. We will launch the biggest operation ever against you," the spokesperson said in French. 

Humor is the proper weapon.

November 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Was Eisenhower more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders? (Mike Tokars, NOVEMBER 15, 2015, CS Monitor)

As Politifact reports, during Eisenhower's two-term presidency from 1953 to 1961, the top marginal tax rate, which affects the highest earning bracket, was 91 percent. It applied to individuals with an annual income of $200,000 or more, and couples whose combined earnings was equal to or greater than $400,000. Accounting for inflation, in 2015 those numbers would be the equivalent of about $1.7 million for individuals and $3.4 million per couple.

Today, the top marginal tax rate in 2015 is about 39.6 percent and applies to individuals with an annual income of $413,200 or higher, and couples who make $464,850 or more. The equivalent of these earners in 1954 would have been placed in the 72 percent and 75 percent tax brackets, respectively, leaving that heavy 91 percent rate for the mid-century relative-counterparts to our present-day "1%" of wealthiest Americans.

And that is Sanders's point. Under Eisenhower, taxes were higher for the upper-class, who weren't as rich as America's wealthiest today.

Also, historians would be quick to point out, one of Eisenhower's greatest achievements as president was the creation of the Interstate Highway System - a massive civic infrastructure project that cost the equivalent of more than $500 billion in today's dollars.

More importantly, there were only three significant issues in post-war America : (1) Civil Rights; (2) ending Communism; and, (3) reforming the New Deal entitlement system.  On the latter two he did nothing. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


French warplanes strike Islamic State Syria bastion (Reuters, 11/15/15)

"The raid ... including 10 fighter jets, was launched simultaneously from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Twenty bombs were dropped," the statement said, adding that the mission had taken place this evening.

The operation, carried out in coordination with U.S. forces, struck a command center, recruitment center for jihadists, a munitions depot and a training camp for fighters, it said.

What?  No months of planning and the pilots weren't kamikazes?

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


How organic farming and YouTube are taming the wilds of Detroit (Mark Guarino November 14, Washington Post)

This neighborhood in northwest Detroit might seem an unlikely candidate for revitalization. Decades of population loss have left block after block of boarded-up houses and vacant lots. For years, it was a dumping ground: tires, appliances, furniture, toilets, gas tanks, bags of garbage and, in one house, a dead body.

But the remaining residents of Brightmoor are determined to rebuild. Over the past few years, they have used social media to kick out drug dealers, harass arsonists and shame illegal dumpers. And they have solicited energetic homesteaders and farmers to repopulate vacant houses and lots, people willing to work for a renaissance even out here, far from the high-rise condos and upscale restaurants of downtown Detroit.

"As citizens, we are taking it back," said Pommerville, 38, a biker with a hanging goatee and a mischievous smile. [...]

Three years ago, Mergos helped found Northwest Brightmoor Renaissance (NBR), a nonprofit group of about 50 households. She and her fiance also bought "the house of our dreams," a cottage on two acres along the Rouge River.

Three weeks after they moved in, however, the couple and their three sons awoke to 40-foot-high flames. Witnesses later told them the arsonist lived nearby.

 Warning signs are placed in front of many abandoned houses in the Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor. (Salwan Georges/For The Washington Post)
Though their home burnt to the ground, their dream grew more vivid. Mergos and her neighbors equipped themselves with digital cameras and smartphones to catch criminals in the act.

"I decided I'll put all of them on YouTube," Pommerville said. Today, his page is filled with video clips, shot from his truck, showing him pulling up on unsuspecting junkies and prostitutes and ordering them to leave.

Surprisingly, they tend to comply. [...]

[N]BR has begun scouting online for responsible homeowners to move in and fix things up.

That's how they found James and Theodore Washington, two former chefs, who jumped at the chance to move to Brightmoor after Pommerville reached out to them in August via a community Facebook group. A neighbor who lost his job five years ago had fallen far behind on his mortgage and was about to abandon a 1932 farmhouse on a three-acre lot.

With James, 49, suffering from brain cancer and facing mounting medical bills, the Washingtons jumped at the chance to cut their housing costs. They immediately moved into the vacant home, hauled out four truckloads of trash and lined the wooded front lawn with flowers planted in milk crates. On a crisp fall day, they were making plans to give the house its first paint job in years.

Theodore, 27, said if the couple hadn't reclaimed the property, the general consensus in Brightmoor was that "it would have been trashed" by looters. The couple are now in the process of purchasing the house from Fannie Mae for $78,000.

As residents negotiate to expand their ranks, they are also working to create economic opportunity with the one resource they have in abundant supply: land. In 2010, 1,215 properties were vacant in Brightmoor because of demolition, fire or both. On some blocks, only grass remains.

Another group has sprung up to take advantage of the free soil. Neighbors Building Brightmoor opened a community greenhouse last spring to produce crops to sell at local markets around town. The group has also led volunteer drives to clear blocks and make way for local gardens and nature trails.

So far, the most ambitious agricultural effort is Beaverland Farms, a for-profit enterprise that takes up 23 vacant lots. Founded in 2011, the farm is run by Brittney Rooney and Kieran Neal, both 23. They support a proposed city ordinance, set to be put to voters next March, that would permit them to add livestock: chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits, sheep and bees.

Rooney, who earned an environmental policy degree at Loyola University in Chicago, had considered starting an organic farm in a more typical location somewhere in the rural Midwest. She settled on Detroit instead, she said, because of the opportunity to improve the lives of her neighbors.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


The West's fatal misunderstanding of Islamic State (Rasha Elass, November 15, 2015, Reuters)

[W]e cannot forget that Islamic State came to the world stage barely over a year ago, when it took Mosul and subsequently one third of Iraq as well as one third of Syria in a matter of weeks. Some of the terror group's major advances on the ground took mere hours, advances that Obama later said will take years to roll back.

I remember covering the war at that time from Damascus, Syria, and later from Beirut, where I kept in constant communication via the Internet with the Syrian rebels and civilians who had suddenly found themselves under Islamic State rule in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al Zor. During those first few days, many went underground, not sure what to do about their new, brutal occupier, who proceeded to slaughter more than 700 men from the Arab Sunni Muslim tribe of Shueitat because the tribe did not pledge allegiance to Islamic State. The militant group commanded all men of fighting age in Deir Al Zor to report to Islamic State checkpoints, surrender weapons, and either pledge allegiance to Islamic State or leave the territory immediately.

"We never thought the West would allow a group like ISIS to expand, but now I know that we have been played. We have been extremely stupid," one anti-Islamic State rebel told me on condition of anonymity to protect his family. He sounded embittered by what he called a shocking and swift victory for the group, and he spoke to me from his car, which he said he had parked just outside an Internet cafe to piggy-back on the Wi-Fi signal without anyone hearing our conversation. He said Islamic State had setup checkpoints everywhere.

"The only thing that makes sense to us is that the world wants to dump all its trash here," he said, referring to the Islamic State jihadists, whom he said were mainly non-Syrian, but other Arab nationals, Chechens, and Westerners. "And then the West will come and bomb them all. This must be the strategy because nothing else makes any sense."

Conspiracy theories aside, there is some truth to the idea that some countries, as naive and misguided as they have been, privately sighed relief to see their own Islamist nationals travel to Islamist territory to meet their fate.

"It's better than having them stay in our country," one Western diplomat told me on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. "Statistically, a newly arrived jihadist to ISIS territory is killed within weeks, so good riddance."

The more refugees we can get out the less collateral damage we risk.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Islam's civil war between medievalists and modernisers : The Paris attacks are the culmination of a 200-year-long battle over whether Islam should accomodate or resist Western power (Husain Haqqani, 15 Nov 2015, The Telegraph)

The Muslim world, ascendant for several centuries, has found it difficult to deal with its decline as a global power during modern times. Inspired by the notion that Muslims were chosen by God to lead the world, medieval Muslim law made freedom of religion conditional to Muslim rule. Religious coexistence in Muslim Spain, for example, reflected the tolerance of a dominant Islam, allowing non-Muslim subjects to survive and practice their faiths conditionally. Still, that medieval standard of tolerance falls far short of modern concepts of religious coexistence under secular states.

The anti-Western ideology known today as "political Islam" is largely a response or reaction to the breakdown of the traditional Islamic order under the pressures of modernity. Unlike Europe and North America, Muslim territories did not get the opportunity to evolve into modern states over time. The British and the French in the Arabic-speaking lands, the Russians in Central Asia, the Dutch in Indonesia and the British in India and Malaya brought new ideas and technology to Muslim lands.

The Muslim elite responded to this change of fortunes in one of two ways. The first response, adopted by some Muslim elites especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, was to learn from and imitate the west. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, told a peasant who asked him what westernisation meant: "It means being a better human being." Others, however, recommended "revivalism" or a search for glory through rejection of new ways and ideas.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, there was considerable emphasis among Muslim scholars and leaders on modernising the Muslim world. By the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, however, those seeking the reverse - to Islamise the modern world - appeared to have gained greater momentum.

Contemporary jihadists have chosen to use modern means, including the internet and state-of-the-art weapons, to impose their medieval beliefs. But their ideology cannot be defeated by a purely military strategy. Islamist movements see the humiliation of fellow believers as an opportunity for the mobilisation and recruitment of dedicated followers.

The resort to asymmetric warfare - the idea that a suicide bomber is a poor man's F-16 - has often followed each significant Muslim military defeat. Yasser Arafat and his Al-Fatah captured the imagination of young Palestinians only after the Arab defeat and loss of the West Bank in 1967. Islamic militancy in Kashmir can be traced to India's military victory over Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh war.

 The latest on the deadly attacks in Paris. (AP, 11/15/15)

Jordan's King Abdullah II says terrorism is the "greatest threat to our region" and that Muslims must lead the fight against it.

In a speech Sunday he says confronting extremism is "both a regional and international responsibility, but it is mainly our battle, us Muslims, against those who seek to hijack our societies and generations with intolerance takfiri ideology."

"Takfiri" refers to the radical Islamic practice of declaring one's enemies to be infidels worthy of death.

The speech did not specifically refer to the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people, but Abdullah has previously condemned them as a "cowardly terrorist act."

Jordan is taking part in the U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

The point is humiliating them, not their fellow believers.  By playing up attacks like Paris instead of like the one on Jihadi John we inflate their importance and threat.  [consider, for instance, how mopey these "cartoons" generallty are.]
The political message needs to be one of relentless global strength on our part and localized humiliation on theirs, because that is what counters their ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Two-Year ISIS Siege On Military Base Ends In Spectacular Fashion (Jonah Bennett, 11/11/2015, Daily Caller)

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have recently broken through a two-year siege of an airbase in northern Syria by Islamic State militants.

After being holed up for two years, Syrian military personnel, numbered in the hundreds, finally gained their freedom at the Kweires airbase and could hardly contain their gratefulness. [...]

"Taking this airport back from siege means they can advance to ISIS areas," Rami Abdurrahman, head of London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told CNN. "They can use it to shell areas around Aleppo."

Government forces killed "hundreds of ISIS terrorists and destroyed their dens and cells with all weapons inside," according to reports from the state news agency SANA. The operation to break the siege has been in the works for some time and was precipitated by a troop buildup in the region. Hezbollah fighters and Russian air strikes tipped the balance of power against ISIS forces.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Events in Iraq Open Door for Interventionist Revival, Historian Says (JASON HOROWITZ, JUNE 15, 2014, NY Times)

[E]xhibit A for what Robert Kagan describes as his "mainstream" view of American force is his relationship with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remains the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes. Mr. Kagan pointed out that he had recently attended a dinner of foreign-policy experts at which Mrs. Clinton was the guest of honor, and that he had served on her bipartisan group of foreign-policy heavy hitters at the State Department, where his wife worked as her spokeswoman.

"I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy," Mr. Kagan said, adding that the next step after Mr. Obama's more realist approach "could theoretically be whatever Hillary brings to the table" if elected president. "If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue," he added, "it's something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else."

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


A Pro-Democracy Landslide in Myanmar (ADAM CHANDLER  NOV 13, 2015, The Atlantic)

The overwhelming winner was Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party (NLD) captured an outright majority in the country's parliament and is now free to choose its next president.

The extent of the drubbing by the opposition was a major shock given the entrenchment of the military institution, which still allocated one-fourth of the seats in both chambers of parliament. Suu Kyi, both a Nobel Prize winner and once a longtime political prisoner, has also been constitutionally barred from holding the office of president because her children hold U.K. citizenship.

"Her party's sweep was so thorough that one candidate who died before the vote still defeated his ruling-party rival," The New York Times noted.

November 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 PM


Father, brother of Paris attacker placed in custody (AFP November 15, 2015)

Police took into custody Saturday the father and brother of a French gunman linked to a string of deadly Paris attacks and were searching their homes, a source close to the probe told AFP. [...]

Investigators were also searching the homes of friends and relatives of the Frenchman, another source close to the enquiry said.

The father's house is located in the small town of Romilly-sur-Seine, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Paris, while his brother's is south of Paris in the Essonne region.

Paris attacks: severed finger found at Bataclan theatre identifies attacker (Michael Safi,  15 November 2015, The Guardian)

Mostefai's former home and birthplace in Courcouronnes, a town in Essonnes south of Paris, was searched on Saturday. Jean-Pierre Georges, a French MP, said the alleged terrorist also lived in Chartres, in south-west Paris, until 2012.

Mostefai had a criminal record, convicted of eight crimes between 2004 and 2010, but was never jailed. He was flagged as a radicalisation risk by French intelligence in 2010, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said on Saturday.

Known terror suspect travelled through three European countries before suicide strike (Raziye Akkoc, and Barney Henderson, 15 Nov 2015, The Telegraph)

Associated Press reports that seven people have been detained in Belgium, according to an official, and that of the attackers, two were Frenchmen living in Brussels.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 PM


Democratic insiders say they would love to face Trump or Carson - but not Rubio (Associated Press, 14 November 2015)

The Associated Press contacted all 712 superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention next summer, and asked them which Republican they thought would be their party's strongest opponent in the general election.

Offering a window into how the Democratic establishment is sizing up the competition, most superdelegates declined to name a candidate, expressing bewilderment at a Republican field in which billionaire Trump and retired neurosurgeon Carson are leading in polls while Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents, struggles.

Of the 176 superdelegates who answered the question, 65 said Rubio, the first-term senator from Florida, would be the Democrats' strongest opponent.

"Rubio speaks well and he could generate appeal among Latino voters," said Chris Wicker, vice-chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party, referring to Rubio's background as a Cuban American raised by working-class parents. "He doesn't say some of the crazy stuff that the other leaders have said."

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Islamic State leader in Libya 'killed in US airstrike' (Martin Pengelly in New York and Chris Stephen in Tunis, 14 November 2015, The Guardian)

A US military airstrike has killed the Islamic State's leader in Libya, the Pentagon said on Saturday. The target of the strike was named as "Abu Nabil, aka Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi national who was a long-time al-Qaida operative".

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Diplomats set plan for political change in Syria (GEORGE JAHN and MATTHEW LEE, Nov. 14, 2015, Associated Press)

It sets a Jan. 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between President Bashar Assad's government and opposition groups. Lavrov said the Syrian government already had put forward its representatives, with the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to begin immediate work on determining who should sit at the table as part of the opposition team.

Within six months, the negotiations between the Syrian sides are to establish "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian" transitional government that would set a schedule for drafting a new constitution and holding a free and fair U.N.-supervised election within 18 months, according to a joint statement released by the United Nations on behalf of the 19 parties to the talks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


How solar is turning American energy on its head (Pete Spotts, NOVEMBER 12, 2015, CS Monitor)

The number of customers like the Borkowskis is growing, but small. Still, they are beginning to reveal the outlines of a new energy future, where an increasing number of customers would no longer be merely using a utility's electricity but helping to supply it, potentially allowing them to move off the grid entirely.

For utilities, the seismic question is how to respond. Some are trying to slow down the transition, seeing in the rise of solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses an existential threat. But here in Vermont, Green Mountain is attempting to carve out a more proactivevision of the future where the line between customer and power provider blurs by mutual consent.

"We are trying to accelerate the adoption of disruption," says Mary Powell, the utility's president and chief executive officer.

In recent years, that disruption has been accelerating all on its own. Historically, utilities have built large power plants and distribution facilities and delivered electricity to customers. But a range of new energy technologies has naturally led homes and businesses toward becoming mini generating stations, says James Mandell, an analyst with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a renewable-energy think tank in Snowmass, Colo.

"People are buying smart appliances, like a Nest thermostat, because they like them. They lower their costs and add convenience," Dr. Mandell says. "Increasingly, we're going to see customers want a battery [backup for homes] because it improves the power quality and protects them from outages. We've already seen customers wanting solar for a lot of the same reasons. If you combine solar, batteries, and some of these smart controls, you have customers that can supply a lot of their own needs."

As a result, many customers large and small will draw less electricity from large power plants - facilities utilities have paid a lot of money to build and operate. By 2020, the falling costs of panels and related installation expenses are expected to bring the price of solar energy "to within striking distance" of new construction for tradition fossil-fuel plants and for nuclear plants, according to an analysis by researchers with McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


The unlikely Christianity of René Girard (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, November 10, 2015, The Week)

In Girard's framework, mimetic desire and scapegoating are connected. Mimetic desire causes conflict. Because most people desire the same things, the conflict becomes endemic, and unless the conflict destroys society first, the society unleashes its violent urges on someone: a scapegoat. After the cathartic violence, the mimetic desire vanishes, and peace is suddenly restored, which, perversely, vindicates the scapegoating -- if killing the scapegoat leads to peace, then the scapegoat must really have been the source of the conflict.

Girard finds this scapegoating dynamic at the heart of most myths. Oedipus, King of Thebes, had sex with his mother and killed his father; as a result of this sacrilege, the Greek gods visit a plague on Thebes. Once Oedipus tears out his eyes and leaves the city, the plague is lifted. Romulus and his brother Remus found the city of Rome; Remus breaks the law of the newly-founded city, so his brother kills him.

We find this same destructive dynamic at the heart of social life even today -- perhaps especially on social media. And there is only one to defeat it: expose it as a lie.

To Girard, there was only one religious text which did that: the Bible. Girard, who was an atheist until his work on mimetic theory and the Bible led him to see things differently, expected to see the same scapegoating dynamics at work in the Bible as he did in other sacred religious texts and myths. Instead he saw exactly the opposite: the Bible's stories deconstruct and denounce scapegoating.

The Biblical story of Joseph, for example, has Joseph falsely accused of trying to rape his Egyptian master's wife and put in prison. Egypt only avoids famine when Joseph is vindicated. The contrast with the story of Oedipus is striking: In the Oedipus story, Oedipus really did commit incest and patricide, and it was only by effectively killing him -- maiming him and driving him into exile -- that order could be restored. The Joseph story is the exact opposite: The Biblical narrative insists on Joseph's innocence and the land can only prosper once the truth is accepted.

Many Biblical stories revolve around this deconstruction and denunciation of scapegoating, but they culminate, Girard found, in the story of Jesus. After all, he is the ultimate scapegoat, condemned by all rightful authorities. But the Cross exposes scapegoating as a lie and thereby, if it is heeded, empties it of its power.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


The Virtue of Contradicting Ourselves (Adam Grant, 11/14/15, NY Times)

Leon Festinger, one of the great social psychologists in history, coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe the discomfort you feel if you say or do something that is inconsistent with one of your beliefs. In a series of classic experiments, he and his colleagues demonstrated that people will go to great lengths to avoid this discomfort. If you're against gun control and are paid $100 to give a speech in favor of gun control, your beliefs won't change; you can just say, I was paid so much, I did it for the money. But if you're paid only $1 to give that same speech, you'll actually convince yourself that gun control is a decent idea. If it wasn't, why would you have supported it for such a paltry sum? You lack external justification, so you have to convince yourself that you believe what you said.

To illustrate what Professor Festinger's team found, if you have to make a tough choice between two similarly attractive jobs, you'll feel some dissonance about getting stuck with the negative features of the job you picked and missing out on the positive aspects of the one you declined. That's inconsistent with your decision -- so you'll start rationalizing your decision by convincing yourself that the job you turned down was not so desirable. Inconsistency, begone. And if you've joined a doomsday cult that predicts that the world will end in a flood, when your prophecy doesn't come true, you won't give up on the cult. Unable to bear a change in your beliefs, you'll become even more committed and double down on your efforts to proselytize.

Yet there was a catch: Sometimes people weren't bothered at all by holding inconsistent beliefs. (This was deeply bothersome to many social scientists, who couldn't bear the dissonance of inconsistent studies.) At first it seemed that inconsistency was painful when it gave people a negative self-image, but that didn't explain why rats, monkeys and young children showed dissonance. Then it appeared that people felt dissonance only when their choices had negative consequences, but people still felt dissonance when they wrote something inconsistent with their prior beliefs and then threw it in the trash, never to be seen again.

For years, it remained a mystery why people would feel dissonance even when there were no negative consequences. But recently, it was solved by a team of psychologists led by Eddie Harmon-Jones, a professor at the University of New South Wales.

Using neuroscience to track the activation of different brain regions, Professor Harmon-Jones and colleagues found that inconsistent beliefs really bother us only when they have conflicting implications for action. People have little trouble favoring both abortion rights and tax cuts. But when it comes time to vote, they confront a two-party system that forces them to align with Democrats who are abortion rights advocates but against tax cuts or Republicans who are anti-abortion but for tax cuts. If I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and I want to vote for a candidate with a decent shot at winning, my beliefs are contradictory. One way to reconcile them is to change my opinion on abortion or tax policies. Goodbye, dissonance.

This helps to explain why many people's political beliefs fall on a simple left-right continuum, rather than in more complex combinations. Once, we might have held more nuanced opinions, but in pursuit of consistency, we've long since whitewashed the shades of gray.

Thus the Right and the Left and their terror of deviation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


Former MI6 chief: IS may not be responsible for Paris attacks : Richard Dearlove also commented on the difference between the French and British Muslim experience (Jay Elwes, November 14, 2015, Prospect)

Dearlove was in Paris only 48 hrs ago, speaking to A French security think tank. "Talking to DGSI [French intelligence] contacts in Paris they were saying to me that the level of'La Haine in France between deprived young Muslims and traditional Catholic France is unprecedented and that they have been expecting the worst," he told .

"The social exclusion of young Muslims in the banlieu of Paris is also of a level you don't find in the UK," she said.

Dearlove served a significant period of his career in Paris and has remained close to the French intelligence and security services.

"I would expect to discover that the shooters were in the majority of French nationality or resident there for some time," said Dearlove. "This attack may well have a specifically French signature," he said, adding that "its relevance to the UK as such is rather less than will be claimed by the government and majority of the media."

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


Ahmed Chalabi was right that Saddam Hussein had to be removed (Chibli Mallat, 11/10/15, The Guardian)

If one had to single out an Iraqi leader responsible for ending Saddam Hussein's 40-year dictatorship, only deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi would qualify. Both friends and enemies will grant that. Beyond it, however, the dinner table goes up in flames. I never met a person who provokes such passion in Washington, London, Beirut or Baghdad.

Chalabi holds a special place among those who opposed dictatorship. His sudden death was a big shock. I regret the way that controversy over weapons of mass destruction and Chalabi's financial probity tainted his image. I have seen him dealing with several organisations over the years - the International Committee for a Free Iraq; the Iraq Trust, designed to share the proceeds of oil exports equitably among Iraqis; and Indict, formed to try Saddam et al. There were healthy disagreements in all three ventures, but there wasn't once a whiff of impropriety in Chalabi's dealings.

As for WMD, my recollection starts in the mid-1990s. Chalabi had a good rapport with US thinktank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, or Winep. A long lecture he gave there focused on the danger that Ba'athist Iraq represented for regional and international security. It was couched in WMD-talk language. I didn't object; in Halabja, gas had been used deliberately by a government for the first time since the first world war. This was a good reason to request accountability for the crime, and sufficient to indict the Iraqi leadership and remove it from power. The prospective use of WMD was more intricate morally, especially because Israel had built nuclear weapons in the Middle East. I argued that the reason we worked against dictatorship was for what it did more than for what it might do. I distinctly remember Chalabi's response: "This is what they want to hear."

...that was why W let Blair and Powell run with the WMD argument.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


The direction of computing is only going in one way--to the cloud : After a rocky start, open-source and hybrid cloud initiatives have righted the ship. (Rupert Goodwins, Nov 14, 2015, Ars Technica)

The foundations of the cloud were laid half a century ago. Books like "The Challenge of the Computer Utility" by Douglas F. Parkhill, published in 1966, noted that computers were getting powerful enough to provide information and services at scale to ordinary people, but that the machinery was so big and expensive that it would have to be remotely accessed. Utility computing was so named because it saw computing becoming as universal as power and water, delivered on demand and charged for in much the same way. In particular, people would no more need to run their own computing systems as they would own their own power generators or drill their own wells.

At the same time, two other fundamental drivers for the cloud began to condense. Future Intel co-founder Gordon Moore coined his eponymous law, saying in effect that integrated circuit technology would double computing power every two years or so. Meanwhile, Paul Baran at the RAND Corporation in the US and Donald Davies at the UK's National Physical Laboratory independently invented packet switched networking--a much more robust, efficient, and flexible way of moving data through a common infrastructure than permanent connections of telephone-style switched circuits could manage.

In the 1970s, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs led the creation of Unix and the C programming language--the first credible pieces of system software designed to be easily run on a variety of platforms. Combined with open networking standards developed for ARPANET by Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, and friends, the lining of the cloud had begun to coalesce in earnest.

Over the next two decades, the invention and popularisation of DSL (another Bell Labs marvel) and the mass-market success of Windows 95 (which supported TCP/IP) spurred the arrival of commercial ISPs, while early deployments of grid computing and application service providers (ASPs) showcased the benefits that might be had from cloud-like thinking.

Then, quite suddenly at the end of the 20th century, everything clicked into place. The technology was just about there, and the economies of scale provided by data centres were once again returning the advantage to large, centralised computing. It was time to go... to the cloud!

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Public Housing Nationwide May Be Subject to Smoking Ban (MIREYA NAVARRO, NOV. 12, 2015, NY Times)

Smoking would be prohibited in public housing homes nationwide under a proposed federal rule announced on Thursday, a move that would affect nearly one million households and open the latest front in the long-running campaign to curb unwanted exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

The ban, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would also require that common areas and administrative offices on public housing property be smoke-free.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Is Bernie Sanders's once electrifying campaign showing signs of burn out? (Dan Roberts and Ben Jacobs, 14 November 2015, The Guardian)

Two thirds of the way into one of the most unlikely political insurgencies of modern times, the once electrifying campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as Democratic nominee for president is looking for a new jolt of energy from Saturday's second television debate. [...]

"Name recognition is good among college students and self-identified progressives and party activists, which are not a majority by any stretch, but when you get beyond that it is very low," said one senior adviser who spoke anonymously to the Guardian about conditions outside New Hampshire and Iowa.

With no opponent, she's free to run for Bill's third term.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Paris attacks: We are all at war with Islamic State now. We must not back down (Con Coughlin, 14 Nov 2015, The Telegraph)

The timing of the attacks, on the eve of this weekend's G20 summit, is no doubt timed to persuade the French public to call on their government to end its military contribution to the war against Isil.

French governments have, in the past, been susceptible to this kind of pressure, and public opposition to the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan led France to withdraw its forces from the Nato mission.

But even France's left-wing President Francois Hollande must realise that ending France's contribution to the military campaign against Isil would be counter-productive. Islamist terror cells were carrying out attacks against Paris long before the Isil conflict arose. Who can forget the bombing of the Paris metro by Islamist terror cells in the 1990s?

Islamic State group claims Paris attacks, says France at 'top of the list of targets' (MAAMOUN YOUSSEF, 11/14/15, Associated Press)

The Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks in Paris that killed 127 people and said France would remain at the "top of the list" of its targets.

An online statement said eight militants armed with explosive belts and automatic weapons attacked carefully chosen targets in the "capital of adultery and vice," including a soccer stadium where France was playing Germany, and the Bataclan concert hall, where an American rock band was playing, and "hundreds of apostates were attending an adulterous party."

The statement said France and its supporters "will remain at the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State."

If the terrorists had just ignored the French there's every likelihood that they'd have been useless in the anti-ISIS campaign.  Now the French will want their piund of flesh.
Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Sunshine revolution: the age of solar power (Ed Crooks and Lucy Hornby, 11/05/15, Financial Times)

The world's first solar array was set up on a New York rooftop in 1883 by an American inventor called Charles Fritts. John Perlin, author of Let It Shine, the definitive history of solar power, describes Fritts as one of the 19th century's great "zealous tinkerers", like his contemporaries Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Unlike them, however, Fritts never laid the foundations of a business empire, perhaps because he was too far ahead of his time.

His experiments were carried out just five minutes' walk from where Edison had built the world's first truly commercial coal-fired power plant only a year earlier, and Fritts predicted that solar power would soon be a viable alternative. "We may ere long see the photoelectric plate competing [with coal-fired plants]," he wrote in a scientific journal in 1885. "Ere long" turned out to be optimistic. Fritts's panels used selenium, in which the photovoltaic effect -- the way that photons striking some materials create a current -- is very weak, and there was no way they could compete with the rapidly growing coal-fired power.

It was not until Bell Labs made a breakthrough using silicon in the 1950s that solar power had any practical applications at all, and even then it was viable only for specialised uses such as satellites. Since then, solar panels have made the long, slow journey from cutting-edge technological marvel to humdrum household gadget. The first Telstar satellite in 1962 ran on 14 watts of solar power. Today you can get the same power from a portable set of fold-out panels to charge your iPad on a camping trip, available on Amazon at $39.99.

The phenomenon of the ever-decreasing costs of solar power has been dubbed Swanson's Law, after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower, one of the largest US solar companies. Swanson's Law holds that every time the total cumulative production of solar panels doubles, their cost drops by 20 per cent. Swanson modestly denies any great originality. "It's based on the idea of plotting a learning curve, which is well known in many industries," he says. "The cost always tends to come down as you make more and more of something."

Still, the price of panels has followed that learning curve pretty closely. When Swanson started SunPower in 1985, the idea of solar power as a mass-market product still seemed implausible. "Most people, including the experts, said there is no 'there' there. It just isn't going to happen," he says. "Most people thought that, except for a few brave entrepreneurs."

Over the next two decades, the steady decline in costs meant that widespread adoption of solar power no longer looked quite so ludicrous. Just five years ago, however, it remained an expensive option. While costs were much lower than in the 1970s, or even the 1990s, they were still higher than for coal-fired or gas-fired power. What changed that was China.

In the industrial town of Ningjin about 240 miles south of Beijing there is a long campus of neat white buildings, blue lettering fading into the grey air. The campus is owned by a Chinese company called Jinglong Group and its listed subsidiary JA Solar. Jinglong is one of the world's largest producers of monosilicon, used to make solar panels, and JA was the fifth-largest manufacturer of panels in 2014. Each factory houses a different process in the long chain of manufacturing that turns crushed grey silicon ore into shiny black or blue panels.

Jinglong was founded by Jin Baofang, a former electricity bureau official in Ningjin. Pictures of Jin meeting Chinese leaders adorn each factory. His expression is the same in each: sombre and attentive. "Open and aboveboard personhood, works conscientiously", is his motto, written in cramped characters on the company brochure.

JA Solar was listed on Nasdaq in 2007, during a wave of investment in Chinese solar manufacturing. At that time, Germany was the world's largest market for solar panels, as it was for much of the 2000s, and in 2007 the EU set a target of deriving 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, encouraging governments to set up generous incentives for investment. In the first half of the decade, the world's principal producer of panels was Japan, followed by the EU and then the US. It was clear that there was an opportunity for lower-cost production.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


How the Middle East Got That Way : The seeds of much of the conflict in the Mideast today were planted by Britain and its Allies after World War I, when they carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire. (Sam Roberts, NY Times)

By the end of all the peace conferences in 1922, Britain and France had received "mandates" from the newly formed League of Nations to oversee much of the former Ottoman Empire, where they created several new states and installed figurehead rulers.

But even then, Colonel Edward House, Wilson's confidant, gloomily predicted that the lines drawn in the desert sand by European diplomats were "making a breeding place for future war."

Here's how events unfolded: 

"In 1919," the historian Margaret MacMillan recalls, "there was no Iraqi people; history, religion, geography pulled the people apart, not together."

The Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam had split centuries earlier over who would succeed Muhammad as Islam's leader.

But in creating the new nation of Iraq in ancient Mesopotamia, Britain cobbled together the Ottoman provinces of Baghdad (mostly Sunni), Basra (mostly Shiite), and Mosul (mostly Kurdish).

What kept Iraq together for more than 80 years was the autocratic rule of kings and dictators. In 1921, the British installed as king an outsider named Feisal, the son of the ruler of the holy city of Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia), who was a British ally during the war.

The monarchy was overthrown in 1958. After several military coups, the socialist Baath Party seized control in 1968 and brought to power Saddam Hussein, who was toppled by the U.S.-led coalition in 2003.

Since then, without a strongman holding Iraq together, rising sectarian violence has brought the country to the brink of civil war. [...]

In 1920, Syria became a protectorate of France, which claimed a special responsibility for safeguarding Christian enclaves in the Ottoman Empire. France carved out Syria's coastal region into the separate state of Lebanon, whose legitimacy the Syrians still don't recognize. Lebanon gained independence in 1943. Strife between Christians and Muslims developed, by 1975, into a 15-year civil war. The Lebanese invited Syria to intervene, but Syrian troops remained until 2005. They left after Syria was accused of ordering the assassination of a former Lebanese Prime Minister.

Under the Ottomans, Kuwait was at one time a district of Basra and was later overseen by Britain, until independence was granted in 1961. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, citing its historical connection to Iraq, and touched off the first Gulf War. A U.N.-sanctioned coalition, led by the U.S., liberated Kuwait early in 1991.

Today, three generations after the end of World War I, it seems that President Wilson's aide, Colonel House, was right in his dire prediction for the Middle East. The question is, will the conflicts there ever cease?

Professor Fromkin recalls that after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe struggled for 1,500 years over what form of Christianity to follow and whether Europeans should be ruled by popes or kings. He wonders why the Arabs should be any different.

November 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Hillary Clinton Living Inside the Republican Brain (Elspeth Reeve , 11/13/15, New Republic)

Their bizarrely contradictory portrait of Clinton points to what's confusing in the Republicans' own message. They know Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are on the other team; what they don't know is why the GOP team is better or more noble, or what exactly binds it together. They can't agree on what parts of the old GOP platform should be thrown out--Santorum says Republicans should pander less to business owners than to the people who work for them, Paul suggests ditching some social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy, Bush says lose the hostility to immigrants, and Trump says cut entitlements. But they do agree on what to keep: being against whatever Clinton is for. And whoever she is. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


The robots are coming -- and they want to make you rich : The age of robo-advice -- driverless investment portfolios governed by algorithms -- is already upon on (Jonathan Davis, 14 November 2015, Spectator)

The phenomenon everyone in the sector is suddenly talking about goes under the generic name of 'robo-advice' -- which is how it is known in the United States, where all things techy and most tech-related fads inevitably originate. As is the way of such things, however, it's a bit of a misnomer. What we are talking about with 'robo-advice' does not involve robots providing the full spectrum of financial advice in the sense that the Financial Conduct Authority, the UK industry regulator, currently defines and regulates it.

Financial advice, in its broadest sense, involves looking at an individual's circumstances in the round, taking account of their age, family circumstances, income, wealth and tolerance for risk. It encompasses not just how you invest your money, but also more specialist fields, such as insurance, tax avoidance, divorce and estate planning. Financial advice, in this all-encompassing sense, is not going down the robot route any time soon.

But key parts of the range of services for which savers and investors currently pay investment professionals, including some elements of financial advice, will increasingly be placed in the hands of machines. If you use an online platform, the record-keeping and performance monitoring of your money is already automated. If you do your own research into shares or funds and buy, say, a passively managed tracker fund -- as more and more people sensibly do -- the shares in that fund will in practice be chosen, and then bought and sold, by a computer following a simple set of investment rules: for example, buy all the constituent shares of the FTSE 100 index in proportion to their weights in the index and sell them when they drop out of the index.

But there is potential for automation to do a lot more. 'Robo-advice', loosely defined, is making waves precisely because it is about extending the reach of computerised rule-based approaches into other links in the value-chain of services that investors currently pay for. Increasing automation of fact-finding and portfolio construction in particular is set to become much more widespread.

How does that work? Well, go to one of the robo-advice websites and you will typically find a detailed questionnaire that asks you about how much money you have to invest, how long you want to keep it invested, and your attitude to risk. Once you have completed the process, in your own time and at your own expense, your robo-adviser will use a set of algorithms to come up with what it considers the optimal asset allocation for your portfolio -- so much in shares, so much in bonds and other fixed interest instruments, so much in property and so on.

In practice this is no more than most advisers and wealth managers already do, more painstakingly, when you go to see them in person. It can take several hours to go through all the relevant questions, all of which you eventually pay for, either as fees (if you have hired a fee-based financial adviser) or in future management charges (if and when you then sign up as a client). Going down the robo route should save you those costs, depending on which business model the robo firm has chosen to adopt. the idea that the people who know about it are irreplaceable (the intellectual class).

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Killing Mohammed Emwazi a significant blow to Isis, says US (Dan Roberts in Washington and Patrick Wintour, 13 November 2015, The Guardian)

The US military said it was "reasonably confident" the Hellfire missile aiming for his car in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Thursday had hit the right target, killing the man known as Jihadi John and that the strike had not caused civilian casualties.

"This is significant of course because Jihadi John was somewhat of an Isil [Isis] celebrity - a kind of a face of the organisation in many senses - so there is significant blow to their prestige," said Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren.

"This guy was a human animal. "Killing him is probably making the world a better place."

The targeted killing came just hours before Kurdish Peshmerga forces retook the Iraqi town of Sinjar, in an operation that was backed by American air strikes. US special forces working alongside Kurdish fighters in Iraq have directed about 250 air strikes against Isis fighters in the town in recent days, helping them sever a key supply line between Islamic extremists in the two countries.

They have to be lucky every day.  We just have to get lucky once.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Russia accuses US of hijacking meetings to prepare for Syria talks (GEORGE JAHN, 11/12/15, Associated Press)

Russia accused the United States on Thursday of hijacking preparatory talks for a weekend meeting of nearly 20 nations focused on ending the Syrian war. 

...having to look in the mirror and realizing the UR is just using him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


In Defense of Less Work and More Leisure (EDWARD SKIDELSKY  NOV 11, 2015, Pacific Standard)

What is work? "Paid activity" is a standard but inadequate definition, since the unpaid labors of the mother and schoolchild are undoubtedly still work. "Effortful activity" is not much better: An enthusiastic tennis player can spend any amount of effort without working. Work implies necessity as well as effort; it is doing what you have to do, as opposed to doing what you want. This necessity needn't be economic. It might be moral, as in the case of the devoted charity worker. But clearly, for an activity to be work, there must be a sense in which you are not free not to do it.

Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University. He is the author, with Robert Skidelsky, of How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life.

If work is doing what you have to, as opposed to doing what you want, it looks like something we should strive to eliminate. That was the view of Oscar Wilde and John Maynard Keynes--and of Karl Marx too, though he talked of "alienated work" rather than work as such. The difference is largely terminological, though. All three writers looked forward to a day when machine technology would relieve us of the necessity of working for a living, freeing up time for the spontaneous exercise of our creative powers.

This day may be closer than we think. Working hours declined steadily over the last century, especially when we factor in the expansion of education, retirement time, and (sadly) unemployment. And if work is defined not just as paid but as necessary activity, its part in our lives looks smaller still. Many jobs in the affluent world are no longer "livings" in the old sense so much as sources of satisfaction and pleasure in their own right. They have nothing in common bar the name with the wearisome toil that made up "work" for most people in the past.

Work, then, is disappearing slowly but inexorably from our lives. Why are we so reluctant to acknowledge this fact?

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


The Syrian Kurds Are Winning! (Jonathan Steele, DECEMBER 3, 2015, NY Review of Books)

 There some 2.2 million Kurds have created a quasi state that is astonishingly safe--and strangely unknown abroad. No barrel bombs are dropped by Bashar al-Assad's warplanes. No ISIS executioners enforce the wearing of the niqab. No Turkish air strikes send civilians running, as Turkish attacks on Kurdish militia bases do across the border in Iraq.

Safety is of course a relative concept. Car bombs and suicide attacks by ISIS assassins regularly take lives in this predominantly Kurdish 250-mile-wide stretch of Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but by the standards of the rest of the country it is quiet.

The 2.2 million Kurds make up a tenth of the Syrian population. During the protests of 2011--the Arab Spring--they, like their Arab counterparts in other Syrian cities, publicly demonstrated for reform in Qamishli, the region's largest city. But Assad was milder toward them than he was to other protesters elsewhere. He gave citizenship to 300,000 stateless Kurds and in July 2012 even withdrew most of his combat troops from the area on the grounds that they were needed more urgently in the Syrian heartland of Aleppo, Damascus, and the cities in between.

Kurdish militias known as the People's Protection Units (YPG) quickly organized the support of much of the Kurdish adult population under thirty and took control of the region, which they divide into three "cantons" and which they call Rojava (i.e., West, meaning western Kurdistan, from roj, the Kurdish word for sun). The other Kurdish regions are in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Iran's 'Deep State' Has the Most to Lose from Opening to the West (Muhammad Sahimi, National Interest)

Why is the deep state so terrified? First, it was opposed to the nuclear agreement and was hoping that the red lines that Khamenei had set would prevent reaching any agreement. That did not happen; instead, the Rouhani administration crossed some of the red lines and signed the agreement with the P5+1.

Second, the reformists led by former President Mohammad Khatami, and the moderates led by Rouhani and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (also a former president), are popular with the middle and upper class in Iran. Any significant improvement in the economy will also strengthen their popularity even among the lower class and the poor.

Third, nationwide elections for the Majles and the Assembly of Experts (a constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader) will be held on February 26, 2016. There is already a fierce power struggle [37] over the outcome of the elections. Given that Khamenei has been ill, it is quite likely that the next Assembly will have to appoint his heir [38]. By attacking the United States, the "naïve defenders of negotiating with the U.S." and "agents of U.S. influence," the deep state is trying to prevent supporters of Rouhani, Rafsanjani and Khatami from playing any role in appointing Khamenei's heir, or taking control of the Majles.

Fourth, once Western companies can do business in Iran, the economic empire of the IRGC will not be able to compete with them. It is simply not equipped with the latest technology and know-how, particularly in the areas of oil and natural gas. The Rouhani administration has not granted it billions of dollars in oil and gas projects, the way former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did [39]. Thus, the empire will be gradually marginalized. Loss of economic might will inevitably lead to loss of political power.

For the first time since the 1979 Revolution, there is no shadow of war over Iran, and tensions between Iran and the West have abated significantly. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Iran President Doesn't Rule Out Normalized U.S. Ties One Day (RICK GLADSTONE, NOV. 12, 2015, NY Times)

Iran's president suggested in an interview published Thursday that normalized relations with the United States were possible one day, an assertion that differed markedly from one expressed by his superior, the country's supreme leader.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Donald Trump Asks Iowans: 'How Stupid' Are They to Believe Ben Carson? (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, November 12, 2015)

Donald J. Trump unleashed a torrent of insults on Thursday against his main rival, Ben Carson, comparing him to a child molester in a television interview and suggesting that the people of Iowa are "stupid" if they believe Mr. Carson's claim that he tried to stab a close relative during his childhood.

The twin tirades came two days after the fourth Republican presidential debate, and as Mr. Carson has moved ahead of Mr. Trump in recent polls of Republican voters in Iowa, and in some national polls as well.

In an appearance in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Mr. Trump repeatedly laced into Mr. Carson and ranted that he was the lone seer who could solve what was wrong in the country.

His plan for the Islamic State? Mr. Trump said he would aggressively bomb the region, using a barnyard epithet to describe just how aggressively he would act and getting some applause from the crowd. "I would just bomb those suckers."

It was a vastly different version of Mr. Trump than the one who seemed to be consciously trying to be more presidential on the debate stage. 

Geez, he seemed so likely to handle losing well.

November 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Democrats keep getting rolled by Republicans on the deficit. When will they learn? (Ryan Cooper, November 11, 2015, The Week)

The years 2010 and 2011 were an infuriating time to be a liberal -- particularly on the economy.

After a brief period early in the Obama presidency in which Keynesian stimulus measures were understood and implemented, just about the entire political elite pivoted on a dime and began demanding immediate austerity. Though the Great Recession was not even close to being overcome -- unemployment did not peak until October 2009, and then came down with grinding slowness -- President Obama and just about everyone to his right effectively agreed that reducing the budget deficit was more important than restoring employment and growth.

They got their way, too. The budget deficit is coming down fast -- at the cost of literally trillions in wasted output, millions of jobs not created, and hundreds of Democrats driven out of office for being in power at a time of economic crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Obama's Failure to Demilitarize US Foreign Policy (John R. Deni, 10/30/15, ISN Blog)

In the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama pledged to correct what he perceived as a fundamental imbalance between the three-legged stool that comprises U.S. foreign policy ­-- defense, diplomacy, and development -- through such measures as expanding the State Department's Foreign Service. Once in office, the Obama administration expressed its intent to rebalance away from defense and toward diplomacy and development though a variety of strategies as well as policy statements. Most recently, the 2015 National Security Strategy explicitly notes that military force is not the sole means of achieving U.S. national security objectives, arguing, "our first line of action is principled and clear-eyed diplomacy, combined with the central role of development in the forward defense and promotion of America's interests."

In addition to published strategies and policy pronouncements, the Obama administration repeatedly emphasized diplomacy and development in policy implementation over, or instead of, large-scale military measures. Across a number of issues, the administration has sought to rely less on overwhelming American military power to accomplish foreign policy objectives. A short list of examples could include maintaining drawdown timelines in Iraq and (with some modification) in Afghanistan, "leading from behind" in Libya, nuclear negotiations with Iran, and relying on sanctions to pressure Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine.

Relying on diplomatic, political, and development-based solutions typically takes time to bear fruit. In contrast, wielding military force often yields results more quickly, even if the apparent success is illusory in the long run. Critics of the Obama approach conflate the emphasis on diplomacy with indecision, and hence weakness.

However, the tragedy of President Obama's rebalance toward diplomacy and development is not that it represents an America in retreat, but rather that the rebalance has not succeeded in demilitarizing U.S. foreign policy, as seen in three separate contexts. First, available fiscal data show the continuing dominance of defense spending relative to international affairs spending. Even under sequestration scenarios, that budget will continue to dwarf the amount of money spent on diplomacy and development.

Second, despite congressional concerns about the risks of granting the Department of Defense increased authority in security cooperation, Congress continues to do just that. The Department of Defense continues to expand its activities into areas over which the State Department previously had purview.

Finally, based on several examples over the last two decades or more, many experts, practitioners, and observers have concluded that the civilian instruments of American foreign policy simply lack the capacity and capability to handle the complex, large-scale challenges facing U.S. national security. In particular, the challenge of failed or failing states has laid bare Washington's inability to implement so-called "whole of government" solutions. As a result, the Department of Defense continues to be the problem-solving agency of choice for legislators as well as those in the executive branch.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Triumph of the Will? Bill O'Reilly & Snake-Oil Conservatism (Bradley J. Birzer, 11/10/15, Imaginative Conservative)

[T]he fight is a fight about the old guard (moderate, conservative, or otherwise) acting with dignity and the new guard (moderate, conservative, or otherwise) hoping to bully its way into the mainstream of the conservative movement. By old guard, I do not mean age. Mr. Will is only eight years older than O'Reilly, and not enough to make them of different generations. By old guard, I do not mean educationally, either. Each is a product of the Ivy League. Regionally, there is a difference as Mr. Will grew up in Chicago, while Mr. O'Reilly grew up on the East Coast.

By old guard, I mean those who wish to approach the most important subjects of the world with reason and deliberation. These are the Russell Kirks, the Leo Strausses, the Eric Voegelins, and Robert Nisbets. The new guard are those who use the media not to promote conservatism, but to sell it, searching for an ever-broadening base of consumers. For the sake of argument, let us leave these people nameless. They tend to be very loud and very plastic, and my guess is that you, The Imaginative Conservative readers, could list them instantly. These are the "conservatives" who use their media access to denounce the liberal arts and the classics, demean women and minorities, and spew their hatred against all who disagree with them. They don't converse, they scream. They talk in the language of bullet points and bumper stickers. And perhaps most importantly, they never listen.

As scholar John Willson so wisely cautions, in recognizing that Mr. O'Reilly is a bully, one should not canonize Mr. Will. Frankly, I am not a huge fan of either, and I find each somewhat lacking in his own personal life as well as in his thinking. Neither has lead an exceptionally virtuous life, and Mr. Will labels himself a soft atheist. All well and good: Mr. Will can believe or not, but I am not willing to designate such a person the current leader of conservatism. Still, whatever Mr. Will's faults and gifts, he has always approached the public arena with dignity. He has always been a gentleman.

So, yes, the battle is over the soul of conservatism, as Salon explained. To me, though, if a conservative consistently behaves badly, he really is not a conservative. A true conservative behaves with dignity--for his own sake, for that of his opponent, for the movement. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


It's not just Texas: abortion clinics are rapidly closing in liberal states, too (Molly Redden,  12 November 2015, The Guardian)

[B]eneath the surface, Cherry Hill exemplifies another, quieter upheaval in US abortion access: clinics in many blue states are struggling to keep their doors open just as much as in red states.

And by some counts, they are are shutting down just as fast.

"The trend is disturbing," said Nikki Madsen, executive director of the Abortion Care Network, a group representing independent abortion providers around the country. "It's taking root in states we traditionally think of as 'friendly' to abortion rights, without many people noticing."

Exact numbers for clinic closures are hard to come by. A rough count by the Abortion Care Network, though, found that for every three clinics that closed in a red state in the past few years, two clinics closed in a more liberal state - one of the 17 states where Medicaid covers abortion, or one of 23 states that the Guttmacher Institute, a thinktank that supports reproductive rights, does not consider hostile to abortion access. A list compiled by the Guardian of more than 50 clinics that closed for good in 2014 shows that a little more than half were located in blue states.

With many blue-state clinics on the brink, so is access. Cherry Hill loses hundreds of thousands of dollars each year because the state permits women to use Medicaid for abortions without adequately reimbursing the providers.

But the Cherry Hill Women's Center is the closest abortion clinic to Camden, a city of overwhelming poverty, that takes Medicaid. The next closest option for poor women is Trenton, where clinics can have long wait times. Patients frequently come to Cherry Hill who tried to have their abortions in Maryland and Delaware, only to find that those clinics were overbooked. And lately, more are coming from red states where access is dwindling, like Virginia and Kentucky.

November 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Ben Carson just became arguably the most liberal candidate in the GOP race on immigration (Dara Lind, November 11, 2015, Vox)

Breaking this down, there are three elements to Carson's plan:

Unauthorized immigrants currently in the US would have six months to register. Those who didn't register would be "treated as criminals," i.e., probably deported (since that's what happens to many unauthorized immigrants checked into jails right now).

The unauthorized immigrants who registered and had a "pristine record" would be eligible for legal status. (Carson describes this as "guest worker" status.)

Just being a guest worker wouldn't make someone eligible for citizenship, but if legalized immigrants wanted to apply for citizenship they could go about it through the existing process.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Robots Won't Own You. You'll Own the Robot. (Noah Smith, 11/11/15, Bloomberg View)

Humans, like machines, cost resources to create and maintain. Raising kids is expensive -- food, shelter, medicine, education and much more. Adults consume even more. If wages ever fall below the level needed to maintain human existence, then either humans will survive via redistribution, or they won't survive at all. 

Would income redistribution be the answer? With a society of robot-provided abundance, wouldn't it be easy to simply provide all the low-earning masses with a basic income? Unfortunately, redistribution depends on politics, and in an age of robots, the masses may have very little power to compel the wealthy to give up even a small sliver of their wealth. "Once the military became robotic," Weinersmith writes, "revolution became impossible." It's an extreme scenario, but not out of the realm of possibility. 

Since there is no guarantee that humans would have any power in a robot future, income redistribution is a shaky solution. A better idea might be redistribution of corporate ownership itself. If everyone in the country owned index funds, it would provide people with a second income -- an income from capital, not labor. That would act as an insurance policy against the economy-wide replacement of labor with capital. 

Interestingly, the biggest proponent of this type of policy was former President George W. Bush. Although Bush's idea of an "ownership society" didn't get much traction, it might one day become the only way to maintain any semblance of equality. His idea of replacing Social Security with individual investment accounts was a form of mass stock ownership. Although that plan would have dramatically increased risk for American retirees, we may someday want to have the government create individual stock accounts in addition to Social Security.

The point of starting HSAs, O'Neill Accounts and the like at birth--and forcing the money into index funds--is that we'll all own the corporations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Why skyscrapers are killing great cities (ERIC REGULY, 9/25/15, The Globe and Mail)

The new Blackfriars train station in London is a marvel. The airy cavern of glass and steel straddles the Thames River, giving passengers magnificent views of the city. If they look downriver, they will see St. Paul's Cathedral, one of London's best-known landmarks for more than 300 years. Clarification: They will barely see St. Paul's, for today Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece is lost in a vertical jungle of skyscrapers, as if London were competing with Dubai.

Londoners have invented colourful names for their new towers, including the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie. The 310-metre Shard, the tallest building in the European Union, dominates the south side of the river. It is shaped like a skinny pyramid and is strikingly elegant.

Two of the most startling new towers have Canadian pedigrees. Not far from the Shard is the Strata, developed by an arm of Toronto's Brookfield Asset Management. It looks like an electric razor and is laughably hideous. In 2010, Building Design magazine awarded it the Carbuncle Cup, for Britain's ugliest new building. The Cheesegrater, officially named the Leadenhall Building, was co-developed by Oxford Properties, the property giant owned by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System. The building at least appears to be stable. The Walkie Talkie is fatter at the top than at the bottom and looks like it could topple over.

The problem isn't modern architecture per se. When the modern complements the old, it can enhance a city--the Blackfriars station, the Sainsbury Wing of London's National Gallery and even the glass pyramid at the Louvre are all examples. But when the scale is enormous, and when it has no connection to the features that have given the city its personality for hundreds of years, it overshadows that city's character. The new look is bland and homogenized.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Catalonia to go ahead with secession (Deutsche-welle, 11/11/15)

The government of Catalonia promised on Wednesday to move forward with its secession process in spite of a move by the Constitutional Court in Madrid to suspend the independence plan passed by Catalan parliament.

"The political will of the government of Catalonia is to go ahead with the content of the resolution approved Monday by the Catalan parliament," Catalan Vice President Neus Munte told the press.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Shin Bet: Hopelessness fueling recent Palestinian attacks (STUART WINER November 11, 2015, Times of Israel)

In a report Tuesday summarizing data covering the attacks during the month of October, the Shin Bet concluded that perpetrators largely fit the profile of lone wolf" attackers: young, single, not affiliated with any organization, and with no previous history of security-related incidents.

Despite there being some 60 attacks in October, the assaults show a "lack of organizational-political framework for a clear, coherent conceptual plan of action, or an organized leadership, leading the protests," the report said.

Feelings of national discrimination, as well as economic, personal and psychological problems, provide motivation for the attacks, the report said, and noted that seven of the attackers were women.

"For some terrorists, attacks allow an escape from a bleak reality which they perceive as unchangeable." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Myanmar army, president endorse Suu Kyi victory, vow stable transition (TIMOTHY MCLAUGHLIN AND HNIN YADANA ZAW, 11/11/15, Reuters)

Myanmar President Thein Sein and the powerful army congratulated democratic champion Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, after her party trounced the ruling camp in the first free election in 25 years and was closing in on an absolute majority in parliament.

Thein Sein reiterated that the government would accept the results of the election and agreed to Suu Kyi's request to hold reconciliation talks soon, although the two are still to agree on the time and location of the negotiations.

Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has won over 80 percent of the seats declared so far in the lower house and is well ahead in the upper house and regional assemblies.

If the final results confirm the trend, Suu Kyi's triumph will sweep out an old guard of former generals that has run Myanmar since the junta handed over power to Thein Sein's semi-civilian government in 2011.

Such unambiguous endorsement of Suu Kyi's victory could smooth the post-election transition, ahead of the first session of parliament which reconvenes on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Website Rewards Hanover Shoppers With a Special Delivery (Jordan Cuddemi, 11/11/15, Valley News)

"Wow, this is amazing," Mabey thought to himself while pulling the items out of the box in his Dresden Road driveway. The goodies included a hat, neck warmer, sunglasses, socks and a backpack.

Those very same items -- and many more -- were delivered overnight to more than 1,800 Hanover homes by 35 employees, company spokeswoman Kelly Teemer said.

Two theories of why chose to deliver the packages solely to Hanover residents spread like wildfire on social media Tuesday morning. Some Upper Valley residents thought maybe it was a mass-marketing push by the company. Others thought it was a reward or gift to loyal customers.

The latter proved true.

Hanover residents' order rate topped those of equal-sized towns, so the company chose to give back, Teemer said.

"We identified Hanover as a (town) filled with fiercely loyal customers," Teemer said via email on Tuesday. "These packages were delivered to show our appreciation to these customers."

Teemer declined to provide specific statistics, including how many Hanover residents had placed orders on the website and how that compares to residents in other towns. Hanover, which has 2,136 single-family homes, also is home to Dartmouth College, an institution of 6,300 students. [...]

The police department had no idea employees would be storming the town early Tuesday morning, Dennis said. At least two residents called dispatch shortly after midnight saying there were suspicious people in dark clothing scampering around their yard with flashlights.

If the calls had continued to pour in before dawn, Dennis said his officers may have had to put a stop to the deliveries, but employees continued on with the operation.

"It's not a crime," Dennis said. "On a big scale, it wasn't that bad."

The employees ultimately unloaded four vans and a trailer full of gift boxes to about 85 percent of homes in Hanover, the spokeswoman said.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin was aware that would be making the gift drops -- but didn't know that "elves would be delivering packages without our police department knowing," she joked on Tuesday.

"I just figured it would be done the good old-fashioned way," Griffin said, noting that she thought employees would address packages to Hanover residents and send them via UPS, USPS or FedEx.

"I didn't know elves would descend on the town," she said.

Only in America....

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Aziz Ansari Calls Out CBS's Lack of Diversity; Stephen Colbert Is Speechless (Jesse David Fox, 11/11/15, Vulture)

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


The Proud Legacy of 'Operation Wetback' and 5 Other Whoppers From the GOP Debate (Elaine Godfrey, 11/11/15, Daily Intelligencer)

1. Marco Rubio says that philosophers earn less than welders.

"Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers," Rubio proclaimed during the debate. Well, if you're comparing salaries, philosophy professors earn an average annual wage of $71, 350, while welders make roughly $40,040 annually (based on data from a 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report). Job prospects for the two careers might be a different story, but salary-wise, Rubio was wrong.

Even philosophy majors generally are doing better than welders: Ten years into their career, the former are making on average about $85,000, while the latter are bringing in around $45,000, according to numbers from Payscale.

Republican college cost reforms should aim at driving the salaries of philosophers below those of welders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Colbert's 'Late Show' to air after Super Bowl 50  (Frank Pallotta, 11/11/15, CNN Money)

If they're going to save the show they'll have to make him return to character.

November 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


The States With The Most Gun Laws See The Fewest Gun-Related Deaths (Libby Isenstein, 8/28/15, National Journal)

While it's cer­tainly true that a num­ber of factors con­trib­ute to the high rates of gun vi­ol­ence in the U.S., a com­par­is­on of state laws versus rates of shoot­ing deaths does show a cor­rel­a­tion. The states that im­pose the most re­stric­tions on gun users also have the low­est rates of gun-re­lated deaths, while states with few­er reg­u­la­tions typ­ic­ally have a much high­er death rate from guns.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Why the unemployment rate could fall to 3.8% (STEVE GOLDSTEIN, 11/09/15, Marketwatch)
The current economic recovery has, by most measures, been slower and steadier than almost any that have come before.

On the one hand, the expansion has lasted 77 months -- the fifth-longest since 1900. On the other, it's taken longer than any recovery since World War II to reach the same growth in output, according to Minneapolis Fed data.

But David Kelly, chief global strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds, says the current recovery actually does resemble the others in one respect -- the speed at which the labor market healed itself.

He points out that, since 1960, each expansion has generated a decline in the unemployment rate of 0.7% per year on average.

In this current recovery, the unemployment rate has dropped at a rate of 0.8% per year.

Kelly, in a note to clients, says this pace can be continued, all the way into April 2017. If he's right, the unemployment rate will have fallen to 3.8% by then.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


How To Tell Good Studies From Bad? Bet On Them (CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN, 11/09/15, 538)

Although replication is essential for verifying results, the current scientific culture does little to encourage it in most fields. That's a problem because it means that misleading scientific results, like those from the "shades of gray" study, could be common in the scientific literature. Indeed, a 2005 study claimed that most published research findings are false.

There's a growing recognition of the problem, but replication takes time and money, and with funding for science at a premium, there's an urgent need to prioritize.

Today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nosek and an international team of researchers present a tool for doing that -- betting. They found that compared to simply asking experts to predict the likelihood that studies will be reproduced, asking them to bet money on the outcomes improved the accuracy of the guesses.

The researchers began by selecting some studies slated for replication in the Reproducibility Project: Psychology -- a project that aimed to reproduce 100 studies published in three high-profile psychology journals in 2008. They then recruited psychology researchers to take part in two prediction markets. These are the same types of markets that people use to bet on who's going to be president. In this case, though, researchers were betting on whether a study would replicate or not.

Before each prediction market began, participants (47 actively took part in the first market, 45 traded in the second) were asked two questions: How likely do you think it is that each hypothesis in this market will be replicated, and how well do you know this topic?

They were then given points worth a total of $100 to bet on whether the studies in their prediction market would replicate. A replication was considered successful if it produced a result, with a p-value of less than 0.05, in the same direction as the original result. Players entered the market with 10,000 points each and could buy and sell contracts for each hypothesis. If a replication succeeded, then its share paid 100, but if the replication failed, then it paid nothing. "If you believe the result will be replicated, you buy the contract, which increases the price," said the study's lead author, Anna Dreber, an economist at the Stockholm School of Economics. "If you don't believe in a study, then you can short-sell it."

A study's final share price when the market closed was akin to an estimated probability that the study would replicate successfully, Nosek said. "A price of 75 indicates that the market perceived a 75 percent likelihood of replication success," he said.

The prediction market correctly called nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of the attempted replications, 39 percent of which succeeded in the reproducibility project.

Pentagon Prepares A Futures Market On Terror Attacks (CARL HULSE, July 29, 2003, NY Times)

The Pentagon office that proposed spying electronically on Americans to monitor potential terrorists has a new experiment. It is an online futures trading market, disclosed today by critics, in which anonymous speculators would bet on forecasting terrorist attacks, assassinations and coups.

Traders bullish on a biological attack on Israel or bearish on the chances of a North Korean missile strike would have the opportunity to bet on the likelihood of such events on a new Internet site established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Pentagon called its latest idea a new way of predicting events and part of its search for the ''broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks.'' Two Democratic senators who reported the plan called it morally repugnant and grotesque. The senators said the program fell under the control of Adm. John M. Poindexter, President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Death rates have been increasing for middle-aged white women, decreasing for men (Andrew Gelman, 10 November 2015)

Hoo boy. Looky here, something interesting: From 1999 to 2013, the death rate for middle-aged white women steadily increased. The death rate for middle-aged white men increased through 2005, then decreased.

Since 2005, the death rate has been rising for middle-aged white women and declining for middle-aged white men. 

Welcome to the workforce, ladies.  It's all yours....

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


What is the Russian military good for? (Pavel K. Baev | November 4, 2015, Brookings)

The Russian intervention in Syria is only possible at all because the "hybrid war" in Eastern Ukraine, which has tied up the bulk of Russian combat-capable battalions, has seen virtually no use of the air force. Moscow sought to use this free capacity for staging demonstrations of air power over the Baltic theater but encountered effective containment--it has since scaled down its provocations. Syria appeared an easier option, and the deployment of an air regiment to the hastily prepared Hmeymym airbase outside Latakia went remarkably smoothly. As the air war has moved into the second month, however, issues with its trajectory have emerged.

The composition of the regiment (with a squadron of light Su-25SM fighter-bombers and a squadron of Mi-24 attack helicopters) makes it most suitable for close air support. But that kind of difficult mission only makes sense if it's in support of a ground offensive by Syrian government forces, which have proven incapable of conducting any successful campaign. Sustaining the air campaign at the present level may not be very expensive (conservative Russian estimate gives the figure of $2.5 million a day, compared to the roughly $9 million per day the United States spends on its anti-ISIS fight), but a technical setback is certain to hit sooner rather than later. 

Escalation will be difficult because few other power projection options are available. The cruise missile salvo by the frigates of the Caspian flotilla on Russian President Vladimir Putin's birthday was sensational, but it has seriously upset Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and so cannot be repeated. It had little resonance on the battlefield anyway. Expanding the scale of intervention would be logistically very difficult. The Russian navy had to lease and purchase eight commercial transports in order to deliver supplies for the operation at the level of up to 50 sorties a day (which means one sortie per aircraft). Its only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is undergoing repairs (as it is most of the time), and the navy command could only dream of building an amphibious assault ship that would compare with Mistral-class ships, which France has refused to deliver.

The Russian regime's plan has clearly been to use initial battlefield success to negotiate an end to the civil war from a position of strength. But alas there has been little initial battlefield success.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


...but, overnight last night, delivered a box of gifts to every door in Hanover, NH:

I realize it's all marketing, but walking the dog through the neighborhood I couldn't help grinning atr the boxes.  Talked to a friend who tried to return hers this morning, before she realized what was going on.  They delivered 1899 boxes overnight.  Here are some of the folks who don't have theirs yet:

November 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Politico, CNN and the struggle over Ben Carson's credibility (David Zurawik, 11/06/15, Baltimore Sun)

My brother went to West Point during the era Carson would have attended, so I know the process of admission in the 1960s very well. You applied through a formal process for an appointment from your congressperson or senator. If you're admitted, the government pays all expenses.

My brother was an "A" student and all-state quarterback coveted by both West Point and Annapolis. Nevertheless, he had to go through a formal application process and get a nomination from one of our congresspersons or senators. He got two: one to the Naval Academy and one to West Point. 

It's pretty clear to me Carson at least exaggerated his connection to West Point in his book. It sounds like someone in Detroit told him he could get help him get a scholarship, and that became an actual offer of one in the candidate's telling.

But it also looks like Politico erred in hanging its report on the claim that Carson's campaign admitted he lied. Did Politico not consider that campaign officials might later obfuscate or outright deny once they saw the words "Carson" and "lied" rocketing through cyberspace in the same headlines?

By the end of the day, Carson's campaign "clarified" the candidate's claim on a scholarship to say he was never offered one.

The question you might ask at this point: Isn't that what Politico originally said? Didn't Politico say Carson claimed in his book to have been offered a scholarship, but that wasn't true?

Yes, but Politico also said the campaign confirmed the candidate's claim was a lie, which the campaign said never happened.

Welcome to the world of political obfuscation, spin and counterspin. Carson's campaign walked back the candidate's claim in his book, even as it called Politico a liar for saying it was not true. Nifty piece of footwork, no?

The easiest thing to accept in this whole kerfuffle is that the good Doctor's campaign would both confirm and deny.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Maine's Somalis Could Be Its Saviors (James Gibney, 11/09/15, Bloomberg View)

Lewiston's Somalis first began showing up in 2001. Originally refugees who settled near Atlanta, many moved to Maine. In a 2011 survey, the most common reason they gave for the northward trek was to improve their quality of life -- not just affordable housing, but safety, good schools, and the increased social control that came with living in a smaller community. Maine's relatively generous welfare system also played a part -- but other Somalis moved from states with more generous benefits.

When they arrived, they found a city back on its heels. Lewiston's population had dropped by 10 percent in the 1990s, its downtown had never recovered from the closure of mills and the businesses they supported, and jobs were scarce. In a city with two of Maine's poorest census tracts, a swelling contingent of welfare-dependent non-English-speaking immigrants traumatized by war and violence didn't exactly promise an economic miracle. Nonetheless, they brought new life to downtown -- new restaurants and shops, businesses, even a mosque. Many found jobs in and around Lewiston, and for those who didn't, their welfare payments still helped the local economy.

More importantly, they grew and rejuvenated Lewiston's population. That's critical for Maine, a state whose demographics are a slow-motion economic disaster. As the Maine Department of Labor's chief economist has noted, Maine's unenviable status as the oldest state in the union has less to do with a lot of seniors than a lot of Baby Boomers who didn't have many kids.

That affects everything from the labor force to school and university enrollments. (The University of Maine system, for instance, has been forced to gut itself as enrollments drop.) By one estimate, Maine has to attract at least 3,000 new residents annually for the next 20 years to sustain its workforce, in addition to keeping its existing youngsters from moving away.

As a result of Lewiston's African influx, since 2002 the number of kids in its schools has risen by 10 percent. If that's a burden, it's one that nearby communities might like to have: The school population for the rest of Androscoggin County has fallen by 15 percent.

First Muslim city council: Portrait of a changing Michigan city (Henry Gass, NOVEMBER 9, 2015, CS Monitor)

For most of its history, Hamtramck, Mich., was a Polish city, but in recent decades it became increasingly Muslim. In 2013, it became the first city in America to have a majority Muslim population, with most immigrants coming from Yemen, Bangladesh, and Bosnia. And last week, it elected a majority-Muslim city council - Muslims now occupy four of the six council seats - likely the first American city to do so. [...]

Bill Meyer, a Hamtramck community leader who isn't Muslim, told the Detroit Free Press that Muslims in the city have "helped bring stability, security and sobriety while lessening the amount of drugs and crime in the city."

"Hamtramck has made history," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


What the U.S. can learn from Chile's retirement system (Orazio Attanasio, Costas Meghir, Olivia S. Mitchell,  OCTOBER 29, 2015, fORTUNE)

Being economists, we recently had the opportunity to serve on a presidential panel to examine the issues involved and offer advice on improvements of Chile's retirement system.

The assignment was an important one, since Chile's pension system has been touted as "best practice" by policymakers and researchers around the world. The nation's funded and regulated private pension funds called Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones (AFPs) and financed by workers' mandatory 10% contributions, has now accumulated over $160 billion in privately-managed accounts. AFPs cover about 10 million affiliates, and provide retirement benefits to more than a million retirees.

Chile's system, however, is not perfect. Many workers retire with no or very low pensions, mostly because their participation into the formal labor market had been occasional and their contributions low. This is particularly true for women. For this reason, in 2008, a means-tested pillar called Sistema de Pensiones Solidarias, financed out of general tax revenue was introduced. It has greatly reduced poverty among the elderly.

The Bravo Commission, on which the three of us served, recently submitted our report to President Michelle Bachelet containing three alternative proposals for revising Chile's retirement system. The majority of economists including ourselves favored "Proposal A," a plan that would build on the Bachelet's previous system revision by enhancing solidarity benefits and reducing the cost of converting lifetime saving into retirement income.

Proposal A embodied a sustainable, efficient, and transparent way to strengthen retirement security in Chile. It paid close attention to the importance of saving for growth and productive investment, and the welfare of future generations of Chileans. It achieved these goals by guaranteeing a better pension to the many workers outside the formal labor market, while at the same time giving these workers incentives to get and keep formal sector jobs. Our proposal would also improve women's retirement benefits and increase competitive pressure on the AFPs to reduce costs and raise pensioners' income streams. The improved solidarity pillar and increased antipoverty measures would be financed through general taxation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Ben Carson's History Book Plagiarizes SocialismSucks.Net And Many Other Sources (Andrew Kaczynski , Jan. 6, 2015, Buzzfeed)

Several sections of potential Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson's 2012 book America the Beautiful were plagiarized from various sources, BuzzFeed News has found.

In many cases Carson cites the works that he plagiarizes in endnotes, though he makes no effort to indicate that not just the source, but the words themselves, had been taken from different authors.

The case is similar to a 2013 report from BuzzFeed News that found Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul plagiarized in his book while citing the works he copied in the footnotes. Paul's book was eventually updated to include attribution.

In one instance, Carson cites wholesale from an old website that has been online since at least 2002,

In another example, he plagiarizes from two authors whose works he mentions in passing at earlier points in the book: Cleon Skousen, a conservative historian who died in 2006, and Bill Federer, another conservative historian, who Carson thanks in the acknowledgements for helping get his book published.

November 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


How did a canine hybrid, 'coywolf,' emerge in front of our eyes? (Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff NOVEMBER 8, 2015, CS Monitor)

The "coywolf" - also known as the coydog, the eastern coyote, the tweed wolf, the brush wolf, the northeastern coyote, or the new wolf - was first described by scientists in the 1960s. Its population has quickly grown to millions and is quickly expanding into the southeast, drawing on the most advantageous features of each of the canid members that make up its hybridized DNA to spread and flourish in areas that have traditionally been inhospitable to purebred coyotes and purebred wolves.

"We've known for a while that most Eastern coyotes are hybrids to some degree, and now we're finding a greater degree of hybridization than anyone expected," Javier Monzón, an evolutionary biologist at Pepperdine University, told The Washington Post last year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Rouhani attacks hardline Iranian media (TIMES OF ISRAEL,  November 9, 2015)

In his latest criticism of a recent wave of anti-Western arrests, Iran's president Hassan Rouhani publicly condemned his country's conservative media outlets on Sunday, suggesting ties between some of them and security forces making the arrests. The speech, reported by The New York Times, called some hardline media "undercover police" who "even tell their audience who is going to be arrested tomorrow."

Rouhani's comments came days after he reportedly condemned in a cabinet meeting last Wednesday the arrests of five activists and journalists accused by the Revolutionary Guards of subversion and ties to the CIA. The Wall Street Journal quoted Rouhani as saying that the arrests were made without a valid pretext and blown out of proportion.

The elective government has to bring the security services to heel as the next step towards being a normal democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Ben Carson, the humblebragging instrument of God (Carlos Lozada November 5, 2015, Washington Post)

Once you have God on speed dial, well, it's hard not to press that button. At one point, Carson requests God's help to find his stolen passport; it is retrieved. On the eve of a safari in South Africa, Carson asks God to "bless us with the opportunity to observe a wide variety of wildlife." No surprise: His party witnesses such an astonishing range of animals that the guide can remember nothing like it. ("I never dreamed just how literally my prayers would be answered," he writes.) And in a particularly unnerving intercession, Carson asks God for help in dismissing his incompetent, alcoholic secretary without hurting her feelings. ("I'm softhearted," the doctor assures, "and it is especially hard for me to fire somebody.") Two weeks later, the secretary doesn't show up for work. "We never did find out what happened to her," Carson writes. "She simply disappeared." He regrets not being able to help her, but nevertheless, he is "thankful that this problem was resolved without any unpleasantness on my part." Prayers answered and unpleasantness avoided, at least for the softhearted surgeon.

Carson frequently cites a poem, "Yourself to Blame," that his mother taught him as a kid. "If things go bad for you/ And make you a bit ashamed/ Often you will find out that/ You have yourself to blame" are the opening lines. The sentiment fits his philosophy of self-help and self-reliance, which in turn informs his views on poverty and race. Yet he rarely casts blame in his own direction. He repeatedly plagiarizes in college, but when he is finally caught, he minimizes the transgression as ignorance rather than malice. "Frankly, I had never even heard of the term plagiarism," he writes. "Fortunately for me, the professor was very compassionate, realized that I was naive, and gave me a chance to rewrite the paper." And when things go wrong for him in the operating room, when a patient dies, Carson concludes that the surgery was impossible from the start and, prophet-like, chastises God for wasting his talents. "Why did you let me spend so much valuable time and energy in something that could not possibly work out?" Carson asks God. "Why would you provide an opportunity like this only to allow us to fail? Why?"

It's easier to lecture God when you're convinced of your own virtue. Carson seems particularly pleased with his humility, as the prideful tend to be.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


The toxic embrace that ended Chris Christie's career (Christian Schneider, Nov. 7, 2015, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

[I]t was only a few years ago that the tough-talking governor of New Jersey appeared to be the future standard-bearer for conservatives nationally. His bombastic style led Republicans to search out grainy Internet videos of him yelling at people at town halls. He was Trump before people knew they wanted Trump.

But then Christie made a mistake that would haunt him the remainder of his political career. In the wake of a storm that battered the East Coast in 2012, Christie partnered with President Barack Obama in shoveling federal aid to New Jersey. And this episode ended with The Hug That Ended a Career.

In October of 2012, Obama was greeted on a New Jersey airport tarmac by Christie, who extended his hand while Obama put his arm on Christie's shoulder. This was immediately deemed a "hug," as if Christie had engulfed Obama in a passionate fleece tornado.

For Christie, his partnership with Obama ended up being a Faustian bargain. He was re-elected governor of New Jersey in 2013 in a landslide; but his standing with national conservatives -- who were previously bummed out he didn't seek the presidency in 2012 -- was irreparably ruined. (This despite Fox News host Greta Van Susteren analyzing the "hug" video as if it were the Zapruder film, frame-by-frame, before declaring, "That's no hug!")

Nevertheless, Christie now finds himself a footnote in the 2016 presidential race, bumped from the main debate stage Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Low Oil Prices Mean Keystone Pipeline Makes No Sense : New exploration on the bulk of Canada's oil sands reserves can't start unless prices are at least $60 per barrel, economists say. (David Talbot, January 9, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

The recent dramatic plunge in oil prices threatens to make the proposed Keystone XL pipeline something of a white elephant.

The proposed pipeline, which would transport crude oil from these sands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, is a flashpoint in U.S. politics. The Republican-led Congress wants to build it, and the House of Representatives is set to vote on this question. President Obama has pledged a veto.

But if prices stay so low over the coming year, Canada's vast fossil fuel resource, called tar sands or oil sands, wouldn't fetch high enough prices to be mined in the first place.

If prices stay in the low $50 range, "the necessity for Keystone XL may disappear," says Pete Howard, the president emeritus of the Canadian Energy Research Institute in Calgary, Alberta. "We've got rail [transportation] right now as a safety valve, and if we build up rail capacity to carry three-quarters of a million barrels, that pretty much takes up all the projects that are under construction right now."

Shell to Cease Oil Exploration in Alaskan Arctic After Disappointing Drilling Season : Company becomes latest big oil player to abandon region amid low crude prices (SARAH KENT, Sept. 28, 2015, WSJ)

Royal Dutch Shell PLC is quitting its $7 billion Arctic campaign after drilling just one well with disappointing results, becoming the latest big oil company to abandon the riches under the northern seas in the face of stubbornly low crude prices.

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant's decision, announced Monday, caps a yearslong foray off Alaska's shores that once was considered full of promise but was questioned by investors, environmental groups and religious and political figures. [...]

Oil companies have looked longingly at the Arctic for years, but its often icebound seas and treacherous weather make exploring expensive and dangerous. Shell's decision could spell the end of Arctic drilling for some time, although low oil prices and geopolitics--not environmental concerns--are the main reason.

"This is bad for Shell, but also bad for the industry and bad for the U.S.," said Oppenheimer & Co analyst Fadel Gheit, calling it among the most expensive failed ventures ever for the industry. "You have to see higher oil prices in order for companies to be tempted to go back into the Arctic." [...]

[S]ome investors weren't happy about the company's decision to move forward with a big capital expenditure in the Arctic at a time when crude prices were crashing. After the company's announcement on Monday, its stock price moved in line with its competitors.

"Investors don't want Shell to deliver more capex into Alaska," said Bernstein research analyst Oswald Clint. "I imagine investors will be OK with a $1 billion hit versus tens of billions in the future."

Mr. Clint estimated that exiting the Arctic will bring Shell's annual exploration expenses below $3 billion, a move likely to be welcomed by investors more focused on cost-cutting than reserve-building in the current price environment.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Afghan Taliban breakaway faction appoints Rasool as its own leader, challenges new chief Mansour (First Post, Nov 6, 2015)

It was unclear whether the new group can rally wide support but its emergence exposes simmering rifts within the movement since the announcement of longtime leader Mullah Omar's death in late July.

"Mansour is not our Amir-ul-Momineen," Rasool told the gathering of dozens of fighters in remote Bakwah district, referring to the respected Islamic title of "commander of the faithful".

"We don't accept him as our leader. He was not elected lawfully in accordance with Sharia to lead the group," said Rasool, wearing glasses and a black turban and flanked by heavily armed fighters.

Splits emerged at the top of the Taliban following the appointment of Mansour as replacement for Omar, the movement's founding leader whose death was confirmed this summer.

Many in the movement were unhappy the death had been kept secret for two years -- during which time annual Eid statements were issued in Omar's name.

Others said the process to choose Mansour, believed to be too close to Pakistan's shadowy military establishment, as his successor was rushed and even biased.

Mansour is widely known to favor a negotiated settlement, so a split was inevitable.  The more violence between them the better.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Ben Carson's house: a homage to himself - in pictures (The Guardian, 11/07/15)

Also on display in the hallway is a painting of Carson with Jesus

At least the Donald makes no pretense at humility.

Carson Defends Claim That He Was Offered a Scholarship to West Point (Kevin Cirilli, November 6, 2015, Bloomberg)

Speaking to reporters in Florida, where he has been on a book tour this week, an uncharacteristically animated Carson accused Politico of telling "a baldfaced lie" in reporting had walked back his claim of receiving a scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after the publication questioned the lack of evidence for it. "I never said I got a scholarship," Carson said.[...]

Carson's campaign described the controversy as a misunderstanding. "They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission," campaign manager Barry Bennett told Politico. Later, Bennett acknowledged in an interview with Bloomberg Politics that the candidate, in his autobiography Gifted Hands, made a "marginally bad word choice" in describing the experience with West Point.

But Carson himself, when asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network if he had any regrets about writing that he was "offered a full scholarship to West Point" in his 1992 book, defended his characterization.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Obamacare Not as Egalitarian as It Appears (TYLER COWEN, 11/08/15, NY Times)

We can safely say that the policy is costing less than anticipated, perhaps 20 percent less, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, and that it has reduced the number of Americans without insurance. But the numbers also suggest that by some measures, the Affordable Care Act has had only a limited impact on economic inequality. In fact, I view the policy as an object lesson in the complexity of reducing the harmful consequences of inequality in the United States.

The act has many parts, but let's focus on the mandate, a core feature that requires those without insurance to buy it. It was intended to help millions of Americans who did not have health care coverage. Under the program, government subsidies are available for the needy, and there is clear evidence that the poorest people, who receive the largest subsidies, are better off under the health reform law.

In that sense, the program has been a success. But whether other individuals subject to the insurance mandate -- those who qualify for lower subsidies or for none at all -- are also better off is much harder to say, some recent research has found.

Of course, this question may seem simple if you consider health care coverage to be an essential component of a good human life, and perhaps of social justice as well. If you begin with those assumptions, you might conclude that when you require people to buy insurance coverage you are improving their lives -- even if they are not willing to pay for the insurance without prompting from the government.

But there is another way of looking at it, one used in traditional economics, which focuses on how much people are willing to pay as an indication of their real preferences. Using this measure, if everyone covered by the insurance mandate were to buy health insurance as the law dictated, more than half of them would be worse off.

This may seem startling. But in an economic study, researchers measured such preferences by looking at data known as market demand curves. Practically speaking, these demand curves implied that individuals would rather take some risk with their health -- and spend their money on other things -- partly because they knew that even without insurance they still would receive some health care. These were the findings of a provocative National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, "The Price of Responsibility: The Impact of Health Reform on Non-Poor Uninsureds" by Mark Pauly, Adam Leive, and Scott Harrington; the authors are at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Majority still supports single-payer option, poll finds (Sarah Ferris, 01/19/15, The Hill)

More than five years after the single-payer system was scrapped from ObamaCare policy debates, just over 50 percent of people say they still support the idea, including one-quarter of Republicans, according to a new poll. [...]

Another proposed idea under ObamaCare - the public option - also retains wide approval.

Only 13 percent of people said they opposed the public option, which would give individuals the choice of buying healthcare through Medicare or private insurers.

Of course health care coverage is a waste of money--at least until you're old--we're generally healthy.  But in developed nations the citizenry considers it a right. 

So there are two ways of approaching the inevitable : (1) we can use HSAs and catastrophic coverage, which guarantees that we are all covered in the unlikely event we need insurance, but also forces us to save money instead of consuming medicine heedlessly; or, (2) we could simply institute National Health, which provides the same peace of mind as universal private coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Half of men in London feel like crying once a month, study reveals (HANNAH AL-OTHMAN, 30 October 20150, Evening Standard)

London men are the unhappiest in the United Kingdom, a new study has revealed. 

The researched, conducted by the Movember Foundation, showed that almost half of men in London men feel like crying once a month - more than anywhere else in the country.


November 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


The Corbyn hardcore plotting to deselect Labour moderates (Andrew Gilligan, 07 Nov 2015, The Telegraph)

Key organisers in Momentum, the new Jeremy Corbyn supporters' group inside the Labour Party, are explicitly plotting "civil war" to get rid of moderate Labour MPs, despite repeated denials, a Telegraph investigation has found.

Leaders of Momentum include a senior member of a group involved in violent anti-gentrification protests, self-proclaimed revolutionary Marxists, and paid staff of parties which oppose Labour, including a man who was until five weeks ago official spokesman for a Green MEP.

The south London borough of Lewisham can be revealed as a key target for Momentum, with the group likely to challenge at least two of the area's moderate Labour MPs. Concerted efforts have also begun to get moderate Labour incumbents pushed down the rankings of the party's candidates for next year's Welsh and Scottish elections, putting them at great risk of losing their seats.

The Left is the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Where America's newest citizens come from, by state (SILVIA ASCARELLI, 11/05/15, Market Watch)
As America becomes more diverse, that is being reflected in the home countries of those choosing to become American citizens.

Nearly 800,000 people decided to become American citizens in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, 2013 -- and more than a third of them came from Asia.

Asians comprised the biggest group of new Americans by region, according to recent data from the Department of Homeland Security, edging out those from North America, in which DHS includes those from Central America and the Caribbean.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Ben Carson's Mannatech Problem : The GOP candidate denied any relationship with the controversial health-supplement company. His record says otherwise. (Matt Ford, 10/29/15, The Atlantic)

Dur­ing Wed­nes­day's GOP pres­id­en­tial de­bate in Boulder, Col­or­ado, CN­BC mod­er­at­or Carl Quintanilla asked Ben Car­son, a lead­ing GOP con­tender and an ac­com­plished pe­di­at­ric neurosur­geon, about his re­la­tion­ship with a con­tro­ver­sial nu­tri­tion­al-sup­ple­ment com­pany.

"There's a com­pany called Man­nat­ech, a maker of nu­tri­tion­al sup­ple­ments, with which you had a 10-year re­la­tion­ship," Quintanilla asked. "They offered claims that they could cure aut­ism and can­cer. They paid $7 mil­lion to settle a de­cept­ive-mar­ket­ing law­suit in Texas, and yet your in­volve­ment con­tin­ued. Why?"

"Well, it's easy to an­swer," Car­son quickly replied. "I didn't have an in­volve­ment with them. That is total pro­pa­ganda, and this is what hap­pens in our so­ci­ety. Total pro­pa­ganda." He then back­tracked a little. "I did a couple of speeches for them. I did speeches for oth­er people; they were paid speeches," he told the crowd be­fore switch­ing back to a full deni­al. "It is ab­so­lutely ab­surd to say that I had any kind of re­la­tion­ship with them." Then he again ac­know­ledged a role. "Do I take the product? Yes, I think it's a good product." [...]

His re­la­tion­ship with the com­pany is lengthy and well-doc­u­mented, which makes his re­sponse even more bizarre.

These responses--where he just blames the meda for even asking questions--aren't bizarre; they're all he needs when he talks to the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


U.S. navigation moves in South China Sea will continue: Carter (YEGANEH TORBATI, 11/07/15, Reuters)

Carter's comments, delivered at a defense forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, came at the close of a trip to Asia, where he cruised on a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in the South China Sea and blamed Beijing's island-building for rising tensions in the region.

In October, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, challenged territorial limits around one of China's man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago with a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol.

"We've done them before, all over the world," Carter said, in reference to the operation. "And we will do them again."

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


A Putin Ally Is Found Dead in a U.S. Hotel (NICHOLAS FANDOS, NOV. 7, 2015, NY Times)

The police here said on Saturday that the department was continuing an investigation into the death of Mikhail Lesin, a former aide to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia who helped design the government's takeover of independent media in that country. Mr. Lesin was found in a high-end hotel in the district on Thursday morning.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Take a Bow, Species (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON October 25, 2015, National Review)

The Princeton economist Angus Deaton, recently awarded the Nobel prize, has spent much of his career working on how we measure consumption, poverty, real standards of living, etc. It is thanks in part to his work that we can say that the global rate of "extreme poverty," currently defined as subsistence on less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day, is now the condition of less than 10 percent of the human race. In the 1980s, that number was 50 percent -- half the species -- and as late as the dawn of the 21st century, one-third of the human race lived in extreme poverty. The progress made against poverty in the past 30 years is arguably the most dramatic economic event since the Industrial Revolution. It did not happen by accident. The progress made against poverty in the past 30 years is arguably the most dramatic economic event since the Industrial Revolution. It did not happen by accident. 

Good news abroad, and good news at home: In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in New York City. That number has fallen by 85 percent. Murders are down, often dramatically, in cities across the country. The overall rate of violent crime has fallen by about half in recent decades. U.S. manufacturing output per worker trebled from 1975 to 2005, and our total manufacturing output continues to climb. Despite the no-knowthings who go around complaining that "we don't make things here anymore," the United States continues to make the very best of almost everything and, thanks to our relatively free-trading ways, to consume the best of everything, too. General-price inflation, the bane of the U.S. economy for some decades, is hardly to be seen. Flexible and effective institutions helped ensure that we weathered one of the worst financial crises of modern times with surprisingly little disruption in the wider economy. Despite politicians who would usurp our rights, our courts keep reliably saying that the First Amendment and the Second Amendment pretty much mean what they say. I just filled up my car for $1.78 a gallon. 

The Right engages in a fair amount of mood affiliation: The country must have suffered ruination, because the Obama administration, abetted by the hated "Republican establishment," can have done nothing but ruin the country. But then you visit New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago, or you drive across northern Mississippi or the Texas Panhandle and see all those splendid farms and technology companies and factories producing all the best things that mankind can dream of, and, well, it certainly doesn't look like a ruined country. In the past few years, I've been to the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and a few years further back India, Colombia, the Dominican Republic -- it doesn't look like ruined world. Of course there are unhappy corners: Haiti, Pakistan. 

Francis Fukuyama was mocked for declaring "the end of history" as the Cold War came to a close, but he wasn't really wrong. Francis Fukuyama was mocked for declaring "the end of history" as the Cold War came to a close, but he wasn't really wrong. Haiti and Pakistan, and the territories currently held by the so-called Islamic State, do not represent the emergence of a credible competitor to liberal democracy; they are only failed states, and failure is something of which there is, alas, to be no end. Even in the case of such deeply illiberal and undemocratic regimes as the one ensconced in Beijing, the drive toward free enterprise, toward higher quality in governance, and even toward accountability (implicit rather than explicit in China) is present. China's political situation isn't good; it is, however, better. And, given the institutional failures we have seen in other countries when procedural democracy emerged before effective and accountable institutions -- Haiti, again -- it may turn out that in 100 years China's path will, despite the many horrors associated with its rulers' brutality, turn out to have been something closer to the right one than the alternatives we liberal democrats in Anno Domini 2015 imagined. Even within the relatively narrow world of capitalist democracies, the old debate between the social democrats and the partisans of Anglo-American liberalism includes a great deal more consensus than it did 60 years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Ben Carson's Past Faces Deeper Questions (REID J. EPSTEIN, Nov. 6, 2015, WSJ)

The day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, Ben Carson's black classmates unleashed their anger and grief on white students who were a minority at Detroit's Southwestern High.

Mr. Carson, then a junior with a key to a biology lab where he worked part time, told The Wall Street Journal last month that he protected a few white students from the attacks by hiding them there.

It is a dramatic account of courage and kindness, and it couldn't be confirmed in interviews with a half-dozen of Mr. Carson's classmates and his high school physics teacher. The students all remembered the riot. None recalled hearing about white students hiding in the biology lab, and Mr. Carson couldn't remember any names of those he sheltered. [...]

In his 1990 autobiography, "Gifted Hands," Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class--identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301--that their final exam papers had "inadvertently burned," requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out.

"The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture," Mr. Carson wrote. " 'A hoax,' the teacher said. 'We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.' " Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.

No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson's years at Yale.

...the others had all left.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


'The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,' by Steven Lee Myers (GAL BECKERMAN, NOV. 2, 2015, NY Times Book Review)

Vladimir Putin has an origin story. It takes place in Dresden in the fall of 1989, in the dying days of East Germany, on the night that thousands of protesters stormed the city's Stasi headquarters. Once they were done ransacking the offices that had inspired so much terror, they directed their anger down the street toward the K.G.B. residence where Lieutenant Colonel Putin, a young intelligence officer, stood looking out the window. Watching the approaching mob, Putin called the local Soviet military command and asked for reinforcements. But no higher authority would approve it. "Moscow is silent," he was told.

Shocked that the Soviet Union was so weakened that it couldn't even defend the sensitive documents inside the building, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Dressed in his military uniform but with no pistol, no orders and no backup, he walked out to the gate where the crowd had assembled. And he bluffed. "This house is strictly guarded," he said in an even tone, in fluent German. "My soldiers have weapons. And I gave them orders: If anyone enters the compound, they are to open fire." With that, he turned and walked back into the house. The protesters dispersed.

Putin loves this story. But it's also good fodder for Putinologists, struggling to decipher what drives the man who has so completely ruled Russia for the last 15 years. It's a question as critical now -- with a Moscow-backed insurgency raging in eastern Ukraine and Russia choosing to actively intervene in the Syrian civil war -- as it was when Putin first came to power in 2000 and went to war in Chechnya. And here we have some insight into how he likes best to see himself: One man representing his country, representing stability and order, stands against the chaos of the street; one man who still believes in the unique power of the state personifies its sovereignty and its prerogative to defend its interests; one man who embodies calm, measured authority resists the emotional swell of undisciplined, angry people, and understands that the appearance of forcefulness and obstinacy can be as powerful as an actual show of force.

The Right looks at him and believes he's the grand and glorious Wizard.  The rest of us see the lonely con man.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Ben Carson's Fall Is a Damning Indictment of Conservative Politics (Brian Beutler, 11/06/15, New Republic)

Ben Carson's popularity among conservatives has been marked by their imperviousness to questions about his honesty and fitness. Carson has made dozens of statements about federal policy that have transcended garden-variety conservative over-promising and reached the realm of Chauncey Gardner-esque absurdity. He has also faced serious questions about the veracity of stories he tells about his youth and young manhood. Through it all, conservatives have not only stuck by his side, but actually become more taken with him. They've brushed off scrutiny with glib mockery, accusing white liberals of "othering" a black man for having the temerity to leave the "thought plantation."

That all likely changes now that Carson has confessed to fabricating a seminal story about having declined admission to West Point in his youth. When you've lost Breitbart, it stands to reason that you will also lose talk-radio fawning, viral email forwards, and all the other mysterious sources of conservative cult status.

But there is room for genuine doubt here: Could Carson's supporters prove so uninterested in his genuine merits and demerits that they might look past this transgression? 

Just as the Right believes there has to be some kind of illegal conspiracy at the bottom of Benghazi or the IRS kerfuffle, simply because they are associated with Democrats, so too are they unwilling to look at the flaws of Trump and Carson because they are being exposed by the media.  Like the identical symptoms on the Left, they are a function of reacting along partisan lines, instead of thinking for oneself. Thus ever the true believers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Michel Houellebecq's 'Submission' (KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD, NOV. 2, 2015, NY Times Book Review)

The disillusioned perspective distinguishes continually between faith and reality, between life as we want it to be and life as it actually is -- for it is faith that joins us together with our undertakings and with the world, faith that accords them value. Without faith, no value. That's why so many people find the disillusioned perspective so provoking: It lacks faith, sees only the phenomenon itself, while faith, which in a sense is always also illusion, for most people is the very point, the profoundest meaning. To the disillusioned, morals, for instance, are not so much a question of right or wrong as of fear. But try telling that to the moral individual. When François at the beginning of the novel writes that the great majority in Western societies are blinded by avarice and consumerist lust, even more so by the desire to assert themselves, inspired by their idols, athletes, actors and models, unable to see their own lives as they are, utterly devoid of meaning, what he is describing is the function of faith in modern society. The fact that he himself does not possess such faith, that he exists outside of it, within the meaningless, as it were, he explains as follows: "For various psychological reasons that I have neither the skill nor the desire to analyze, I wasn't that way at all."

This is the only place in the novel that opens up for the idea that the emptiness and ennui that François feels is not just universal, a kind of existential condition applicable to us all and which most people hide away behind walls of illusion, it may also have individual causes. That is somewhere he doesn't want to go, and thus a vast and interesting field of tension is set up in the novel, since the narrator is a person who is unable to bond with others, feels no closeness to anyone, not even himself, and moreover understands solitude existentially, that is from a distance, as something general, a universal condition, or as something determined by society, typical of our age, at the same time as he tells us his parents never wanted anything to do with him, that he hardly had any contact with them, and that their deaths are little more than insignificant incidents in his life. Such an understanding, that the ennui and emptiness he feels so strongly are related to his incapacity to feel emotion or establish closeness to others, and that it is difficult, indeed impossible, not to see this as having to do with lifelong rejection, is extraneous to the novel's universe, since nothing would be remoter to François's worldview, an intimate model of explanation would be impossible for him to accept, a mere addition to the list of things in which he doesn't believe: love, politics, psychology, religion.

Such a disillusioned protagonist allows, too, for a comic perspective, insofar as the comic presupposes distance, shuns identification and is nourished by the outrageous. Indeed, "Submission" is, in long stretches, a comic novel, a comedy, its protagonist François teetering always on the brink of caricature, his thoughts and dialogue often witty, as for instance in this passage, where Myriam, his young mistress, asks if he is bothered by her just having referred to him as macho: " 'I don't know, I guess I must be kind of macho. I've never really been convinced that it was a good idea for women to get the vote, study the same things as men, go into the same professions, et cetera. I mean, we're used to it now -- but was it really a good idea?' Her eyes narrowed in surprise. For a few seconds she actually seemed to be thinking it over, and suddenly I was, too, for a moment. Then I realized I had no answer, to this question or any other."

The main reason François's ennui never really seems significant, at least not compared with the status ennui is accorded in Huysmans's "Against the Grain," even if it is consistently present in nearly all the novel's scenes, is, however, neither abhorrence of emotional closeness nor the remoteness with which its comic passages are infused, but rather the fact that it coincides with the massive political upheaval France is undergoing in front of his very eyes. An election is coming up, and the mood across the country is tense, there are armed street battles and riots in several towns, right-wing radicals clash with various ethnic groups, and yet the media avoid writing about it, the problem is played down, and people seem weary and resigned.

It is this theme that lends the novel its narrative thrust and which of course is the reason for all the attention it has received, for anything that has to do with immigration, the nation state, multiculturalism, ethnicity and religion is explosive stuff in Europe these days. Many of its elements are recognizable, like the newspapers omitting to mention, or mentioning only with caution, conflicts arising out of ethnic differences, or the political left's anti-­racism overriding its feminism, making it wary of criticizing patriarchal structures within immigrant communities, say, but in this novel all is brought to a head, taken to its most extreme conclusion, in a scenario of the future that realistically is less than likely, and yet entirely possible. What's crucial for the novel is that the political events it portrays are psychologically as persuasive as they are credible, for this is what the novel is about, an entire culture's enormous loss of meaning, its lack of, or highly depleted, faith, a culture in which the ties of community are dissolving and which, for want of resilience more than anything else, gives up on its most important values and submits to religious government.

In this, "Submission" is strongly satirical, and its satire is directed toward the intellectual classes, among whom no trace is found of idealism, and not a shadow of will to defend any set of values, only pragmatism pure and simple. François sums up the mood among his own as: "What has to happen will happen," comparing this passivity with that which made it possible for Hitler to come to power in 1933, when people lulled themselves into believing that eventually he would come to his senses and conform.

During a reception given by a journal of 19th-century literature to which François regularly contributes, shots and explosions are suddenly heard in the streets outside, and when later he walks through the city he sees the Place de Clichy in flames, a wreckage of burned-out cars, the skeleton of a bus, but not a single human being, no sound other than a screaming siren. No one knows what's going to happen, whether all-out civil war will erupt or not. And yet in François's circles weakness prevails, and if this is meant to be satirical, a depiction of a class of people helplessly enclosed within its own bubble, without the faintest idea what's going on outside or why, a bit like the aristocracy before the revolution, it is also realistic, because when a person has grown up in a certain culture, within a certain societal system, it is largely unthinkable that that culture, that system, might be changed so radically, since everything in life -- the beliefs instilled in us as children at home and at school, the vocations we are trained in and to which we later devote our labor, the programs we watch on TV and listen to on the radio, the words we read in newspapers, magazines and books, the images we see in films and advertising -- occurs within the same framework, confirming and sustaining it, and this is so completely pervasive that to all intents and purposes it is the world, it is society, it is who we are. Minor modifications and adjustments take place all the time, of a political nature, too -- sometimes the right is in charge, sometimes the left, and the greens may win a percentage of ground -- but total upheaval isn't even a faint possibility, it is simply unimaginable, and therefore does not exist.

And yet society's total upheaval is what "Submission" depicts. The election is won by a Muslim party with which the left collaborates in order to keep the National Front from power, and France as a result becomes a Muslim state. But maybe that isn't so bad? Maybe it doesn't matter that much? Aren't people just people, regardless of what they believe in, and of how they choose to organize their societies? It is these questions that the novel leads up to, since this entire seamless revolution is seen through the eyes of François, a man who believes in nothing and who consequently is bound by nothing other than himself and his own needs. The novel closes with him looking forward in time, to the conversion ceremony of his own submission to Islam, a travesty of Huysmans's conversion to Catholicism, not because François becomes a Muslim rather than a Catholic, but because his submission is pragmatic, without flame, superficial, whereas Huysmans's was impassioned, anguished, a matter of life and death.

This lack of attachment, this indifference, is as I see it the novel's fundamental theme and issue, much more so than the Islamization of France, which in the logic of the book is merely a consequence. What does it mean to be a human being without faith? This is in many ways the question posed by the novel. François shares Huysmans's misanthropy and disillusionment, but fails to grasp the religious route of his deliverance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Gaudí's Basilica: Almost Finished After 132 Years (  KATHARINE SCHWAB  NOV 3, 2015, Atlantic)

In August 1963, Merloyd Lawrence wrote a dispatch in The Atlantic from Barcelona, mentioning many of the city's cultural landmarks: the merchants on Las Ramblas, the food, and the buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí, the "architect laureate of Catalonia." After a disclaimer noting that many a "discriminating traveler has found his work hideous," Lawrence describes the Iglesia de la Sagrada Família, Gaudí's most famous building, as an "unfinished, uninhibited cathedral in which stone explodes into botanical fantasies or overflows like molten wax."

52 years after Lawrence's piece appeared in The Atlantic and 132 years after construction began in 1883, the magnificent Sagrada Família has reached its final stage of construction. According to the current chief architect, Jordi Fauli, six more towers will be added to the basilica by 2026, bringing the grand total to 18, each of which is dedicated to a different religious figure. The building's completion is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the architect's death, although adding the final decorative elements could take another four to six years after the towers are erected. When it's finished, the basilica will be the tallest religious building in Europe, standing at 564 feet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The future is here: mass-market hydrogen cars take to Britain's roads (Adam Vaughan, 4 November 2015, The Telegraph)

The first mass production hydrogen cars, billed for more than a decade as a clean alternative to petrol and diesel vehicles but only glimpsed as concepts at automotive trade shows, have arrived on British roads.

The most abundant element in the universe has added allure for carmakers in the wake of the Volkswagen pollution scandal and revelations about the gap between lab and real-world emissions tests.

Leading the charge are South Korean manufacturer Hyundai, with a £53,000 "crossover" - a squashed SUV that looks like a normal car, and the world's biggest carmaker, Toyota, with a futuristically styled saloon priced at £66,000. Honda has promised to launch its model in the UK during 2017.

"The only emissions out of the back of the car is water, either as water vapour or droplets, so you have no CO2, no NOx, no particulates," said Robin Hayles, manager of sustainable fuel development at Hyundai.

"You have the advantages of petrol and diesel in terms of range, performance and refill times, and the advantages of an electric vehicle: zero emissions, very smooth to drive, and instant torque."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Why Ben Carson's West Point scholarship claim made no sense from the beginning (Dan Lamothe, November 6, 2015, Washington Post)

The process to getting into West Point requires applicants to obtain a nomination, most commonly from their congressman, senator or vice president of the United States. The secretary of the Army -- an appointed civilian leader -- also can nominate a student for consideration, but the service's four-star chief of staff -- Westmoreland from July 1968 through June 1972  -- is not eligible to do so.

All of those kinds of nominations are considered congressional in nature. The other way to get consideration for admission is through what is known as a service-connected nomination, which has specific requirements. They include being the son or daughter of an individual who served at least eight years, died or became disabled while serving, or earned the Medal of Honor. Enlisted soldiers who obtained the endorsement of their commander to apply can also be considered.

Members of junior and senior ROTC programs also can apply, but must seek their nomination through their professor of military science. Carson said in his book that he was introduced to Westmoreland by his JROTC director following a Memorial Day parade, but makes no allusion to seeking a nomination of any kind. Politico also reported that Westmoreland wasn't in Detroit, Carson's hometown, in 1969 on Memorial Day, citing Army documents.

In addition to the criteria, Carson's terminology about West Point is questionable. Carson said that he was offered a scholarship to attend, but the school doesn't offer anything that it calls a scholarship. Rather, students are offered admission without tuition in exchange for serving their country when they graduate.

You know you're in trouble when your best defense is that your story never made a lick of sense.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Longer-lasting, fast-charging battery could displace lithium-ion (Agam Shah, Nov 6, 2015, PC World)

A battery that can hold five times or more energy capacity than existing lithium-ion batteries could be in users' hands as early as next year.

Prieto Battery, a startup, has developed a 3D solid-state battery structure based on new materials that can hold more lithium ions than current batteries. The new battery will also be less flammable, charge faster and shaped to fit into wearables and PCs as well as larger products like solar panels, said Amy Prieto, founder of Prieto Battery.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


René Girard, a French-born thinker on faith, culture and war (ERASMUS, 11/07/15, The Economist)

A few deceptively simple concepts lay at the heart of his world view, which he developed through the study of European literature, of early mythology and religious texts. He was struck by the way in which human desire is imitative or "mimetic"; once basic needs are met, people's desires are shaped in emulation of others and this leads to deadly competition. This would lead to perpetual anarchy, in his view, were it not for the capacity of human communities to achieve a kind of stability by ganging up on one individual who becomes a scapegoat. In every seemingly stable community, one must look for the "founding murder"--an act of victimisation, real or mythological, that somehow holds the perpetrators together. This can be acted out ritually as well as literally, and that was the original function of religion: to make sacrifices, of humans or animals, that led to a kind of compact among the sacrificers.

Girard thought that for "scapegoating" and sacrifice in its traditional form to work, the perpetrators had to believe that the victim was guilty. But as he describes things, this begins to change in the Hebrew scriptures, which present innocent victims of sacrifice. The reversal is complete in the Christian story of the self-sacrifice of the Son of God, who is portrayed as radically innocent. In his later years, an apocalyptic strain developed in Girard's thinking. Having shown how the use of force was "functional" in traditional human society ("the institution of war was originally a way of regulating and limiting human violence," as one follower put it), he came to feel that violence was escaping all constraints.

For Girard, one summary view might have it, at the very beginning it is not religion that leads to violence, but violence which leads to--which indeed creates a need for--religion, as a way of channeling and constraining the use of force.

The Innocent Victim Has a Defender. And He Is in Jerusalem : Modernity learns to take the side of the weak from the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But were does Islamic terrorism come from? An interview with René Girard  [From "L´Espresso" no. 25, June 12, 2003, original title: "The God of the Apocalypse," Attilio Scarpellini´s conversation with René Girard]

In your book, you speak of "apocalyptic sentiment" in the West. Are we standing helpless before a catastrophe?

"Apocalyptic sentiment arises from the realization that some mechanism has completely deteriorated, that its screen can no longer protect us, that there is nothing standing in the way of our destruction. In the primitive religions, this mechanism was the scapegoat: the idea that the sacrifice of a victim would bring back order and harmony. With Judaism, and then with Christianity, the truth that the scapegoat mechanism is an instrument of persecution was brought to light: the victim is innocent; violence does not come from God. And so the sacrificial protection was eliminated, leaving us to ourselves." [...]

And Islam?

"Islam has problems with violence. But we must avoid confusion. Islam cannot be classified as a primitive religion: it is a monotheistic religion that belongs to the religious family of Abraham, and it has been profoundly influenced by both Judaism and Christianity. Islam, too, contains the seed of a critical stance toward violence. Human sacrifice is not part of the Muslim tradition, and no orthodox or authoritative religious current of Islam justifies it. Islam is not sacrificial."

But there are the suicide bombers.

"That´s true. Fundamentalist terrorism is sacrificial. But it is a contradiction that plays upon the ambiguity of our relationship with religion and the sacred."

The philosopher Jean Baudrillard says that the behavior of the suicide bombers is an assertion of moral superiority, in that they are capable of sacrificing themselves and others, a symbolic challenge that westerners are no longer able to accept.

"I haven´t read much by Baudrillard lately. But in this case I would be tempted to agree with him. We are not capable of accepting the terrorist´s challenge to sacrifice because the logic of suicide-homicide is unacceptable in a moral context permeated by Christianity; because we do not believe that the mechanism of the sacrificial victim has any value. The act of the suicide bomber who immolates himself and his enemy on the same altar may draw our attention - as does in fact happen - but it doesn´t convince us. But to think that the refusal of this sacrifice weakens the West is merely a way of reviving Nietzsche´s criticisms of Christianity."

Do you have a better explanation?

"The truth is that the West is continuing to come to grips with the problem of the victim. Not to do so would be to deny itself. Even the proponents of the extreme military response of uprooting terrorism - which risks intensifying the reaction - must be concerned in the first place with making as few victims as possible."

You love the West. In "The Origin of Culture and the End of History" you insist on the uniqueness of the western model and say that you are in favor of globalization.

"For the first time in history, we have a society that cannot be compared with others because it includes the whole planet. Every historical period, every culture, considers itself as unique, but a globalized culture has never existed before now. We really are unique. And we are the first culture that denies its own uniqueness for fear of offending past cultures."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Living the Good Life? Mortality and Hospital Utilization Patterns in the Old Order Amish (Braxton D. Mitchell , Woei-Jyh Lee, Magdalena I. Tolea, Kelsey Shields, Zahra Ashktorab, Laurence S. Magder, Kathleen A. Ryan, Toni I. Pollin, Patrick F. McArdle, Alan R. Shuldiner, Alejandro A. Schäffer, December 19, 2012, PLOS One)

Lifespan increases observed in the United States and elsewhere throughout the developed world, have been attributed in part to improvements in medical care access and technology and to healthier lifestyles. To differentiate the relative contributions of these two factors, we have compared lifespan in the Old Order Amish (OOA), a population with historically low use of medical care, with that of Caucasian participants from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), focusing on individuals who have reached at least age 30 years.

Analyses were based on 2,108 OOA individuals from the Lancaster County, PA community born between 1890 and 1921 and 5,079 FHS participants born approximately the same time. Vital status was ascertained on 96.9% of the OOA cohort through 2011 and through systematic follow-up of the FHS cohort. The lifespan part of the study included an enlargement of the Anabaptist Genealogy Database to 539,822 individuals, which will be of use in other studies of the Amish. Mortality comparisons revealed that OOA men experienced better longevity (p<0.001) and OOA women comparable longevity than their FHS counterparts.

We further documented all OOA hospital discharges in Lancaster County, PA during 2002-2004 and compared OOA discharge rates to Caucasian national rates obtained from the National Hospital Discharge Survey for the same time period. Both OOA men and women experienced markedly lower rates of hospital discharges than their non-Amish counterparts, despite the increased lifespan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


A Guide to Marco Rubio's Messy Personal Finances (Margaret Hartmann, 11/06/15, NewYork)

The main focus of the current controversy is Rubio's mixing of personal and business expenses when he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Between 2005 and 2008 Rubio had a Republican Party of Florida American Express card. Under IRS rules, donations to political parties, which are tax exempt, can only go toward influencing elections. According to former party spokesperson Katie Gordon, the card was "a corporate card and is meant to be used for business expenses." But the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2010 that much of the $100,000 Rubio put on the card counted as personal expenses, including lavish dinners, repairs to his family minivan, and purchases from a wine store near his house. There was even a $6,773 charge for a Rubio family reunion at a Georgia resort.

When the allegations first surfaced, Rubio said he reviewed the bill every month and paid for the expenses he deemed personal. "I was as diligent as possible to ensure the party did not pay for items that were unrelated to party business," he said. The Times reported that during his time as speaker, Rubio made $13,900 in payments to American Express to reimburse the party for his personal expenses. (His relatives sent checks that covered most of the reunion expenses, but the party wound up paying $714.) However, the paper found no evidence that the payments were made monthly, and there was one six-month period where Rubio made no payments.

There were various other issues with Rubio's political spending. Prior to becoming speaker, Rubio and his wife controlled two political committees that collected $600,000 altogether. The Times found that they failed to disclose $34,000 in expenses, paid family members for expenses that were incorrectly labeled, and spent little on contributions to other candidates. Later it was discovered that as speaker, Rubio double-billed the Republican Party of Florida and state taxpayers for eight flights, totaling about $2,400. He said it was a "mistake" and reimbursed the party.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Hollywood's Blacklisted Communist: The Truth About Trumbo (Paul G. Kengor, 11/06/15, Investor's Business Daily.

A long-touted motion picture on prominent Hollywood screenwriter and communist Dalton Trumbo debuts in theaters this weekend. I will see the film, but first I'd like to share some background on Trumbo. I do so not as a film critic but as a historian of the Cold War and communism, including the Hollywood front for which Trumbo was extremely active.

For starters, it's crucial to keep in mind that communism was responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people in the last century, double the combined tolls of World War I and II. It's also vital to know that most American communists (small "c") did not actually join the Party. Only the hardcore went that far. Those who joined the Party took a major leap of faith. They became loyal Soviet patriots. Regardless of their American citizenship, Communist Party members in the Stalin era (when Dalton Trumbo joined the Party) swore an oath: "I pledge myself to rally the masses to defend the Soviet Union.... I pledge myself to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the Leninist line of the Party, the only line that ensures the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States."

They wanted the "triumph" of Soviet power in America. They truly took marching orders from the Kremlin. The most fanatical among them (Trumbo included) remained in the Party even after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact that launched World War II. Stalin aided and abetted Hitler in that apocalyptic action, enabling history's deadliest war and the Holocaust.

American members of the Communist Party were dedicated to what their General Secretary William Z. Foster called a "Soviet America," or what Langston Hughes called a "U.S.S.A." "Put one more 'S' in the USA to make it Soviet," proclaimed Hughes. "The USA when we take control will be the USSA."

As for the Hollywood Ten, all were members of the Communist Party, and we've known their card numbers since the 1940s: Dalton Trumbo: 47187; John Howard Lawson: 47275; Albert Maltz: 47196; Alvah Bessie: 47279; Samuel Ornitz: 47181; Herbert Biberman: 47267; Edward Dmytryk: 46859; Adrian Scott: 47200; Ring Lardner Jr.: 47180; and Lester Cole: 47226. Most remained vigorous in their Party work right up until they were called before Congress--i.e., the bipartisan Democrats and Republicans today tarred with the dread label "HUAC." Some, such as Alvah Bessie, traveled abroad and took up arms for the communists in wartime. The only one who repented was Dmytryk.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Four fundamentals of workplace automation : As the automation of physical and knowledge work advances, many jobs will be redefined rather than eliminated--at least in the short term. (Michael Chui, James Manyika, and Mehdi Miremadi, November 2015, McKinsey & Company)

Our research is ongoing, and in 2016, we will release a detailed report. What follows here are four interim findings elaborating on the core insight that the road ahead is less about automating individual jobs wholesale, than it is about automating the activities within occupations and redefining roles and processes.

1. The automation of activities

These preliminary findings are based on data for the US labor market. We structured our analysis around roughly 2,000 individual work activities,5 and assessed the requirements for each of these activities against 18 different capabilities that potentially could be automated (Exhibit 1). Those capabilities range from fine motor skills and navigating in the physical world, to sensing human emotion and producing natural language. We then assessed the "automatability" of those capabilities through the use of current, leading-edge technology, adjusting the level of capability required for occupations where work occurs in unpredictable settings.

The bottom line is that 45 percent of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology. If the technologies that process and "understand" natural language were to reach the median level of human performance, an additional 13 percent of work activities in the US economy could be automated. The magnitude of automation potential reflects the speed with which advances in artificial intelligence and its variants, such as machine learning, are challenging our assumptions about what is automatable. It's no longer the case that only routine, codifiable activities are candidates for automation and that activities requiring "tacit" knowledge or experience that is difficult to translate into task specifications are immune to automation.

In many cases, automation technology can already match, or even exceed, the median level of human performance required. [...]

3. The impact on high-wage occupations

Conventional wisdom suggests that low-skill, low-wage activities on the front line are the ones most susceptible to automation. We're now able to scrutinize this view using the comprehensive database of occupations we created as part of this research effort. It encompasses not only occupations, work activities, capabilities, and their automatability, but also the wages paid for each occupation.6

Our work to date suggests that a significant percentage of the activities performed by even those in the highest-paid occupations (for example, financial planners, physicians, and senior executives) can be automated by adapting current technology.7 For example, we estimate that activities consuming more than 20 percent of a CEO's working time could be automated using current technologies. These include analyzing reports and data to inform operational decisions, preparing staff assignments, and reviewing status reports. Conversely, there are many lower-wage occupations such as home health aides, landscapers, and maintenance workers, where only a very small percentage of activities could be automated with technology available today...

It's all fun and games until white collar boondoggles start disappearing....

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Janet Yellen's Quiet Revolution : Trump says she's a political stooge. Actually, she's reinventing our understanding of economics. (ZACHARY KARABELL, November 05, 2015, Politico)

[S]he is taking the Federal Reserve yet again into uncharted territory, just as her predecessor Ben Bernanke did.

Yellen's problem, basically, is this: Unemployment is statistically very low at about 5 percent, more than low enough to justify an increase in rates. In the past, as the labor market tightened (i.e. unemployment went down), wages and inflation began to rise. Today, that just isn't happening. The Fed and its staff, like any good economists, rely on past patterns as a guide to future outcomes. And now, those patterns are no longer working: Wages are no longer following productivity upwards, and thus even many nominally employed people still feel poorer. At the same time, inflation appears all but nonexistent, despite many warnings to the contrary. So how can you justify raising rates?

Thus Yellen's challenge--and, in truth, our collective challenge--is that the standards that are supposed to guide monetary policy appear to have collapsed.
Despite a steady job surge that makes a rate increase likely soon (the Labor Department reported Friday that the economy added another 271,000 jobs in October), what Yellen is offering is a deeper truth. It is looking increasingly unlikely that inflation, wages and labor markets are in a cyclical funk in the United States and increasingly likely that some fundamental structural shift has occurred. That shift, of lower cost goods, less velocity of money, lower wages, gig employment, the disruptions of technology, globalized capital markets, evaporating inflation, invalidates many of the bedrock assumptions of central banks. Yellen and many others are working furiously to understand and not to make missteps born of rigid and false theories.

Bank of England keeps interest rates at record low amid signals it is no hurry to hike (DANICA KIRKA, 11/6/15, Associated Press)

The prospect of an interest rate increase in the U.K. has gotten pushed back further, possibly even to 2017, to the likely relief of homeowners and grief of savers.

Faced with weak inflation and growing uncertainties in the global economy, the Bank of England's policy group voted 8-1 on Thursday to keep interest rate at a record low of 0.5 percent and signaled it could take longer than expected to start raising rates.

November 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 PM


Source: Key Clinton emails did not contain highly classified secrets ; 'The initial determination was based on a flawed process,' a source says. (JOSH GERSTEIN 11/06/15, Politico)

After a review, intelligence agencies concluded that the two emails did not include highly classified intelligence secrets, the source said. Concerns about the emails' classification helped trigger an ongoing FBI inquiry into Clinton's private email setup.

Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III made the claim that two of the emails contained top-secret information; the State Department publicly stated its disagreement and asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office to referee the dispute. Now, that disagreement has been resolved in State's favor, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for Clapper said the review of the emails has not been completed. "ODNI has made no such determination and the review is ongoing," Clapper spokesman Brian Hale said.

However, the source said State Department officials had already received instructions from intelligence officials that they need not use the strictest standards for handling the two emails in dispute - meaning that they aren't classified.

One wishes House Republicans had enough faith in their politics to pursue ideas, instead of pointless vendettas.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 PM


Don't laugh: The Jeb Bush victory scenario (BYRON YORK, 11/5/15, Washington Examiner)

JebWorld held a focus group in New Hampshire the day after Bush's disastrous performance at the Republican debate in Boulder. According to a source deep inside JebWorld, the result was not only not terrible, it pointed to five areas of promise for Bush:

1) A large majority of group members were undecided and felt no rush to decide anything. It's not even time to narrow their list of favorite candidates.

2) After all that has happened, the New Hampshire voters still had a positive, or mostly positive, impression of Bush. They see him as smart, mature and dull.

3) They like Donald Trump, think he's fun, but are concerned about giving Trump the vast powers of the presidency.

4) They love Ben Carson as a non-politician with a gentle bedside manner but are a little discomfited by his offbeat views on a number of topics.

5) They see Marco Rubio as a perfect vice president and wonder if he is too young, and has too few accomplishments, for the top job.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


The totally backwards assumption underlying the entire global trade debate (Jeff Spross, November 5, 2015, The Week)

We need to talk about the trade deficit.

That's the current account balance, in technical economic speak. It's the sum of all goods, services, and investments flowing out of America to other countries, and from other countries into America. If the balance is positive, America is exporting more goods, services, and investments than it's importing. That means we have a trade surplus. If the balance is negative, America is importing more than it's exporting, and we have a trade deficit.

Now, when a rich country that's already highly developed is trading with a poor country that's trying to develop, textbook economics says a very specific thing should happen: The rich country should run a trade surplus, and the poor country should run a trade deficit.

There's a pretty straightforward reason for this: Poor countries have very little wealth to spread around. So if they're going to build up their national infrastructure and their technology, and still feed, clothe, and house their people at the same time, they need to bring those resources in from outside. Hence, a trade deficit.

Another way to look at it is this: If one country is running a trade deficit with another country, the first country must, as a matter of mathematical necessity, also be a net borrower from the second country. The first country is buying stuff from the second country, and giving them nothing but its own currency in exchange, so the second country must wind up holding more assets in the first country's currency. Which all makes sense: If a poorer developing country is bringing in resources from outside, it's going to be borrowing more than investing with its own money. And the rich countries have the money to lend.

The U.S. is definitely rich, and poorer countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia are certainly trading with us in order to become rich, too. And yet this is America's current account balance:

It's completely backwards! We're importing more from the world than we're exporting. Despite being incredibly wealthy, we're net borrowers. What's even crazier is that some of those developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have been net lenders to America. There's a reason that economists Dean Baker and Monique Morrissey titled their study on this phenomenon "When Rivers Flow Upstream." It makes no sense, yet it's happening.

...because our economy is the only safe harbor.  And demographic traneds are going to accelerate the phenomenon. Nothing else would make any sense.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


With heavy industry all but extinct, what are factories for in 21st-century Britain? (Martin Vander Weyer, 7 November 2015, Spectator)

I had the good fortune a few months ago, for example, to tour the Eurofighter Typhoon assembly shed at BAE's Warton factory on the Lancashire coast. A dozen of the world's most sophisticated warplanes could be seen at varying stages of completion in a silent, super-clean atmosphere that was more laboratory than shop floor.

I learned how millimetre-perfect alignment of nose, body and tail is achieved by laser technology, and how the steel frames on which the planes sit are piled deep into the sand beneath to eliminate tidal movement. I asked about the function of the wingtip pods, and was told they contain sensors that tell the plane what evasive action to take when fired at from the ground or the air: the pilot doesn't have to react, just let his computers fly him out of trouble. Indeed the pilot barely has to be hands-on at all, in the sense that the entire flight can be pre-programmed: he (or she) is the mission commander of an electronic masterpiece that flies itself.

And that's a useful metaphor for leading-edge manufacturing of all kinds today. It's an activity that has long since ceased to be noisy, dirty or labour-intensive; nowadays it is all about automation and quality control.

Another of my recent visits was to JCB in Staffordshire, where the product -- the ubiquitous yellow digger sold all over the globe -- is lower-tech than a fighter plane, but built by similar hi-tech methods that bear no relation to the dark, satanic mills and assembly lines of old. Likewise, at Cadbury's confectionery factory in Bourneville the image that sticks in my mind is of hip-shimmying robots in the packing area, working with extraordinary speed and precision.

This trend isn't new: the Nissan car factory on Wearside which produces more than half a million cars annually has been setting global standards for almost 30 years, combining British ingenuity and design excellence with the Japanese concepts of kaizen ('continuous improvement', actually borrowed from an American engineer called W. Edwards Deming) and poka-yoke ('Cut the cock-ups,' as a Nissan worker translated it for me on my tour).

The point is that the vast majority of Britons now-adays don't work in factories, or visit them, and are stuck with an old-fashioned vision of how they operate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


THE END OF CARSON? (Sarah Posner, 11/06/15, Religion Dispatches)

This morning, Politico reported that Carson's anecdote about being offered a scholarship to West Point has some serious holes:

The academy has occupied a central place in Carson's tale for years. According to a story told in Carson's book, "Gifted Hands," the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson's telling, was followed by a "full scholarship" to the military academy.

West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.

When presented with these facts, Carson's campaign conceded the story was false.

This comes on the heels of CNN's report earlier this week, calling into question another seminal story in Gifted Hands: that as a teenager with a ferocious temper, Carson tried to stab a friend. The questions around the stabbing story, and Carson's campaign's effort to question CNN's reporting, led New York magazine to run with the headline: "Ben Carson Defends Himself Against Allegations That He Never Attempted to Murder a Child:"

Carson went on Fox News's The Kelly File last night to respond, telling Megyn Kelly that the idea that he could have misrepresented his past was absurd and insulting, and that the person he tried to stab was a close relative who did not wish to come forward. In his memoir, the person he stabbed was identified as a friend, not a relative.

"I would say to the people of America: Do you think I'm a pathological liar like CNN does? Or do you think I'm an honest person?" Carson said.

Translation: I'm honest! I really did try to kill my friend. Or relative. Or something.

...they've never been through even a basic vetting process.  Pathological lying has been permitted.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Uninsured rate at new low under ObamaCare (Peter Sullivan, 11/05/15, The Hill)

The uninsured rate has fallen to a new low of 9 percent, marking 16.3 million more people with health insurance since ObamaCare's coverage expansion took effect in 2013, according to data released Thursday.  

The survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that the uninsured rate was 9 percent in the first six months of the year, corresponding to 28.5 million people, ticking down from 9.2 percent in the first three months of the year. 
But those changes seem major when compared to previous years. The 9 percent figure is down from 11.5 percent uninsured in 2014 and 14.4 percent in 2013. 

That corresponds to 7.5 million more people with insurance compared to 2014 and 16.3 million more compared to 2013.  

Any action the GOP eventually takes will have to increase the number of insured.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


School vs. Society in America's Failing Students (Eduardo Porter, 11/03/15, NY Times)

In a report released last week, Martin Carnoy from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Emma García from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and Tatiana Khavenson from the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, suggest that socioeconomic deficits impose a particularly heavy burden on American schools. [...]

American students from families with the least educational resources, as it turned out, scored better on the PISA math test than similar children in France and about the same as Britons, Germans and Irish.

Encouragingly, disadvantaged American students have made more progress over recent years than those in even some of the highest-ranked countries. And some American states perform as well as the international darlings. Adjusting for families' academic resources, 15-year-olds in Massachusetts scored roughly as high in the PISA math test as students in Canada, Finland and Poland.

Mr. Carnoy and his colleagues estimated that the score gap between American students and those in the highest-ranked countries -- Finland, Canada and South Korea -- shrinks by 25 percent in math and 40 percent in reading once proper adjustments for gender, age, mother's education and books in the home are taken into account.

A similar pattern shows up within the United States: Adjusting for differences in demography and access to academic resources -- including variables like language spoken at home, eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch and parental education -- reduced performance gaps between states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress by 40 to 50 percent.

Awareness that America's educational deficits are driven to a large degree by socioeconomic disadvantage might move the policy debate, today so firmly anchored in a "schools fail" mode. It offers up a new question: Is it reasonable to ask public schools to fix societal problems that start holding disadvantaged children back before they are conceived?

Move the families to better neighborhoods, not the kids to new schools.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Why the Keystone XL pipeline doesn't matter (Tomas Walkom,  Nov 19 2014, Toronto Star)

[W]hen the rhetoric is stripped away, it does not matter that much.

This particular pipeline will not bring the U.S. significantly closer to what proponents call energy independence.

The U.S. already imports 2.5 million barrels of Canadian crude oil every day. Even without Keystone, Alberta bitumen will continue to power American cars,

America's energy future, however, lies not in Alberta but in North Dakota. Domestic U.S. shale oil and gas production is growing handsomely. The Paris-based International Energy Agency predicts that the U.S. will be a net oil exporter by 2020.

For Canada, a pipeline matters more. Alberta bitumen producers face bottlenecks getting their heavy oil to markets. A pipeline to the coast would give them higher profits.

But the pipeline need not be Keystone and the coast need not be on the Gulf of Mexico. The truth is that even if Keystone fails, a pipeline from the tar sands to tidewater will be built. The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats disagree on many things. But all agree that the so-called Energy East pipeline -- from Alberta to New Brunswick -- should go ahead.

Similarly, a world with no Keystone will not much affect carbon emissions. As long as there is some method of getting Alberta heavy crude to markets -- by train, truck or pipeline -- tarsands production will go on.

Canada Pushes Ahead with Alternatives to Keystone XL (Bobby Magill, 3/30/15, Climate Central)

[T]here are myriad other projects on the table designed to do exactly what Keystone XL was designed to do: transport Canadian tar sands oil to refineries.

Those pipelines, both in the U.S. and Canada, are being designed to move the oily bitumen produced from the tar sands to refineries in Texas and eastern Canada, and to ports on the Pacific Coast where the oil could be shipped to Asia.

Combined, the pipelines would be able to carry more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, far in excess of the 800,000 barrels per day that TransCanada's Keystone XL is designed to carry.

Of course it's insignificant, but the hilarious thing is that environmental groups got so caught up in the fight that they're giving the UR credit he doesn't warrant.

Obama Didn't Kill Keystone XL : Innovation did. ( Daniel Gross, 11/06/15, Slate)

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, thanks to the advent of fracking in Texas, North Dakota, and elsewhere, U.S. oil production rose from 5 million barrels per day in 2008 to 8.7 million barrels per day in 2014, a 74 percent increase. This happened at a time when consumption has remained essentially flat. Which means the U.S. is well on its way to being self-sufficient. Oil imports fell about 70 percent between 2005 and 2014. As the EIA notes, in 2014, "Net imports accounted for 27% of the petroleum consumed in the United States, the lowest annual average since 1985." Yes, we still import plenty of oil from Mexico and Canada. But American refineries aren't crying out for new external sources of supply. That's the first strike against Keystone.

Thanks to increased domestic production, and the fact that U.S. producers are essentially prohibited from exporting oil, prices have remained low. The spot price of West Texas Intermediate crude is now below $50 per barrel, about half what it was a couple of years ago. Which means it doesn't make all that much sense to build a pipeline that will carry oil that is comparatively expensive to produce. And as the Wall Street Journal reported, the estimated break-even point for a newly initiated project in the oil sands is $65 per barrel. Another strike against Keystone.

Of course, it would be foolish to make long-term decisions based solely on the market fluctuations of the past couple of years. It's entirely possible that the price of oil will skyrocket in the years to come. But even that won't mean there will be a sudden need to bring in large new supplies of oil. As I've pointed out in this column, there is a quiet revolution going on in American transportation. Ten years ago, pretty much the only way to move a vehicle in America was to put petroleum-derived gasoline in the tank and burn it rather inefficiently.

That's changing. As they race to meet tough new mileage standards (thanks, Obama!), automotive engineers are experimenting with new materials like aluminum, introducing features like stop-start technology, and generally getting smarter about efficiency. The upshot: The typical car sold in the U.S. this year is about 25 percent more fuel-efficient than the typical car sold in 2007, according to data compiled by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. This trend is likely to continue.

Meanwhile, oil is slowly being displaced as a transportation fuel by natural gas--not in cars, but in trucks and buses. Each day, the website of trade publication NGTNEWs has news of giant corporate delivery fleets, refuse-collection fleets, and municipal bus systems putting hundreds of vehicles into service that will never use a gallon of gasoline. And let us not forget that each month, about 10,000 cars are sold that run entirely or partially on electricity. The changing shape of future demand is a third strike against Keystone.

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Migrants will boost Europe's economy (Ivana Kottasova, 11/06/15, CNN)

The huge influx of refugees into the European Union from across the Mediterranean will lift the bloc's growth and support its troubled labor market. [...]

[T]he report suggest that this additional spending will quickly turn into higher growth. It says the immigration wave will provide the economy with a boost of around 0.2%.

Just how much could Europe benefit depends on the skills the refugees will bring with themselves -- higher skilled migrants contribute more.

Europe needs migration. Its population is aging and shrinking, and its social and health care systems are already feeling the pressure.

An influx of younger workers could ease that. Plus, research shows that migrants tend to be net contributors to the system, getting far less in benefits than they pay in in taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Netanyahu Needs to Stop Making Unforced Errors : In an unbalanced playing field, Israel's Prime Minister can ill afford to continue provoking unnecessary scandals (Yair Rosenberg, 11/06/15, Tablet)

 Of late, Netanyahu has repeatedly managed to make major unforced errors that have turned an unflattering spotlight on himself and his country. Most recently, the prime minister was forced to retract an incorrect claim that the former Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had not simply collaborated with Hitler, but actually gave the German leader the idea for the Final Solution itself. For days, the media was flush with stories of Bibi's factual faux pas, at a time when innocent Israelis were being stabbed in the streets. It takes talent to take the undisputed fact that a venerated Palestinian leader supported Hitler and turn it into an anti-Israel storyline, but in his hyperbole, Netanyahu managed it.

Now, these damaging miscues don't happen in a vacuum. There are people involved at every step of the process, from Netanyahu's personal advisers to his speechwriters. Yet at no point did any of these individuals raise eyebrows at Baratz's appointment, or Netanyahu's Mufti remarks. This is because Netanyahu increasingly inhabits an ideological bubble of close allies and confidants, and few others, as the Times of Israel's Haviv Rettig Gur has reported. While Netanyahu is open to criticism from this small circle of trust, in practice, it largely includes the like-minded, who are unlikely to question him.

This state of affairs explains why Netanyahu made the disastrous decision to address Congress on the Iran deal. The prime minister's words had essentially no chance of affecting the outcome of the deal, harmed U.S.-Israel relations, and ultimately served as an excellent pretext for the administration to rally Democrats behind their president and the accord. Had Netanyahu consulted many of Israel's friends in America, from right to left, they would have told him as much. (Among others, pro-Israel stalwarts and former George W. Bush officials Dov Zakheim and Adam Garfinkle both advised against the speech after it was announced, as did neoconservative leading light Robert Kagan.) But instead, even Netanyahu's own National Security Advisor was not consulted in the decision. As such, there was no one to push back on the idea until it was too late, and it was drawing fire even on FOX News.

November 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Iran president criticizes regime's arrests of journalists (AP, November 6, 2015)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized in remarks published Thursday the recent arrests of journalists amid an ongoing crackdown on expression by the country's hard-liners. [...]

"We shouldn't detain one or two people, here and there, while exaggerating the case and saying there is a 'current' (US) infiltration in Iran," Rouhani said.

He also said that he hopes everyone in the country understands that it's not permissible to "abuse" Khamenei's statements for "personal, group and factional interests." Khamenei has the final say on all major policies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Donald Trump, Meet Herbert Hoover : Today's ardent foe of free trade has a soul mate in the president who signed Smoot-Hawley into law. (GEORGE MELLOAN, Nov. 3, 2015, WSJ)

Popular legend has it that the Great Depression resulted from the 1929 stock market crash. In fact, the market was recovering nicely in 1930. The depression was caused and prolonged by a number of bad laws enacted first by Republicans and then by Democrats. Arguably, the worst was the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff.

Hoover had been secretary of commerce under presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. One of his first acts as president was to refinance the 12 regional farm-loan banks established in 1916 to make preferential loans to farmers. Easy lending probably had contributed to the overproduction that cursed farmers with low prices in the 1920s and caused them to demand import protection. They found their champions in Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon.

The tariff act they wrote was initially meant to benefit farmers. But after the shock of 1929, industry and labor demanded protection as well. Both Hoover and the Republican Congress were compliant. In its final form Smoot-Hawley covered some 20,000 items. The average tariff on dutiable goods jumped to 50% from an already high 25%. U.S. trading partners responded in kind and world trade began to shut down.

U.S. exports dived to $1.7 billion in 1933 from $5.2 billion in 1929. Farmers' share of the $3.5 billion in lost business was $1 billion.

The tariffs probably worsened the post-crash deflation, which by many accounts resulted from the Federal Reserve's failure to supply banks with sufficient liquidity to replace that lost in the crash. Europeans, whose sales to the U.S. were crippled by Smoot-Hawley, found it difficult to earn dollars to make payments on their heavy World War I debts to the U.S. The world money supply tightened, aggravating deflationary tendencies everywhere.

More than 1,000 U.S. economists got up a petition urging President Hoover not to sign Smoot-Hawley. Henry Ford called the bill "economic stupidity" and J.P. Morgan CEO Thomas Lamont referred to it as "asinine." Then New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt opposed it, as did Hoover initially. But on June 17, 1930, Hoover, pressured by his fellow Republicans, signed it anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Dumping the Union Label (WSJ, Nov. 3, 2015)

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank in Washington, put in a public records request for the contact information of workers who now had the right to opt out. The Freedom Foundation then informed the child-care workers that they now have the right not to join the union.

Workers have opted out in droves. In slightly over a year more than half of all state-paid child-care workers in Washington have chosen not to be union members. In summer 2014 (the last measurement unaffected by Harris v. Quinn), there were 6,633 child-care providers, and 100% had their dues deducted. By August 2015 there were 7,103 child-care providers, and 3,451, or 48.6%, were paying dues.

Informing workers of their opt-out rights is crucial because home-care workers must affirmatively reject union membership. If they do nothing, the state will automatically deduct union dues from their paycheck.

The SEIU must feel it is selling a lousy product because it has sued to block the release of home health-care workers' contact information. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


A Triumphant Trade Deal (Claude Barfield Nov. 5, 2015, US News)

[I]n the vital area of digital trade and rules for the Internet, the verdict is in: The agreement is a triumph for both the United States and the future of an open, competitive digital-trading system for the nations of the Asia-Pacific region.

Why is this important? First, the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes nations that encompass about 40 percent of the world's gross domestic product, and almost one-third of world trade. With the successful conclusion of the negotiations, a number of other nations stand ready to join in coming years: Expressions of high interest have come from Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Colombia, among others. Thus at a minimum, the trade deal will set the rules for nations bordering the Pacific, with wide-ranging ripple effects throughout the wide world-trading system. Second, for the United States particularly, the establishment of precedent-setting free market rules for digital trade and the Internet is vital to future economic growth. Bolstered by new trade and investment models, seven of the top 10 Internet firms are based in the United States, and U.S. firms are the world's biggest producers of information technology goods and services. In 2011, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that digital trade increased U.S. annual GDP by $517 to $710 billion (3.43 to 4.8 percent).

The world trading system has barely begun to establish rules to maintain a free and open world Internet system. The last multilateral trade negotiations in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization were concluded in 1994, a time when the implications of the Internet were barely on the horizon. With no immediate hope for new WTO trade rounds, bilateral and regional trade agreements have established new frontiers for 21st century trade rules. And it is in that context that the Trans-Pacific Partnership has assumed monumental importance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Liberals Are Losing the Culture Wars : Tuesday's elections, which hinged on social issues such as gay rights and pot, call into question Democrats' insistence that Republicans are out of step with the times. (MOLLY BALL  NOV 4, 2015, The Atlantic)

Democrats have become increasingly assertive in taking liberal social positions in recent years, believing that they enjoy majority support and even seeking to turn abortion and gay rights into electoral wedges against Republicans. But Tuesday's results--and the broader trend of recent elections that have been generally disastrous for Democrats not named Barack Obama--call that view into question. Indeed, they suggest that the left has misread the electorate's enthusiasm for social change, inviting a backlash from mainstream voters invested in the status quo.

The Culture Wars are a rout.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Iranian Oil Goes Back on the Market : After years of sanctions, the country is boosting production and aiming to win customers back from the Saudis and Russians. (Javier Blas, 11/05/15, Bloomberg Businessweek)

The country's return to the oil market comes as the world is producing much more oil than it needs. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global oil production in the first half of 2015 averaged 95.7 million barrels a day, while average daily consumption came in at only 93.8 million barrels. The difference of almost 2 million barrels a day--equal to the daily consumption of France--has forced traders to turn supertankers into floating storage facilities. The Iranians had to make a similar move when sanctions hit in 2012, converting their extensive fleet of crude tankers into giant storage bins that have spent much of the past three years anchored in the Persian Gulf.

More Iranian oil on the market in 2016 will extend the oversupply. The impact will reverberate across the world, hurting oil-producing countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, as well as entrepreneurial shale companies in North Dakota and Texas, and major oil companies including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell. As traders anticipate the return of Iranian oil, the futures market is already lowering its expectations for prices next year, with contracts for December 2016 trading at less than $60 a barrel.

...and punishing your enemies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM



It's time to put an end to the urban legend of the impending death of America's suburbs. With the aging of the millennial generation, and growing interest from minorities and immigrants, these communities are getting a fresh infusion of residents looking for child-friendly, affordable, lower-density living.

We first noticed a takeoff in suburban growth in 2013, following a stall-out in the Great Recession. This year research from Brookings confirms that peripheral communities -- the newly minted suburbs of the 1990s and early 2000s -- are growing more rapidly than denser, inner ring areas.

Peripheral, recent suburbs accounted for roughly 43% of all U.S. residences in 2010. Between July 2013 and July 2014, core urban communities lost a net 363,000 people overall, Brookings demographer Bill Frey reports, as migration increased to suburban and exurban counties. The biggest growth was in exurban areas, or the "suburbiest" places on the periphery.

How could this be? If you read most major newspapers, or listened to NPR or PBS, you would think that the bulk of American job and housing growth was occurring closer to the inner core. Yet more than 80% of employment growth from 2007 to 2013 was in the newer suburbs and exurbs. Between 2012 and 2015, as the economy improved, occupied suburban office space rose from 75% of the market to 76.7%, according to the real estate consultancy Costar.

These same trends can be seen in older cities as well as the Sun Belt. Cities such as Indianapolis and Kansas City have seen stronger growth in the suburbs than in the core.

This pattern can even be seen in California, where suburban growth is discouraged by state planning policy but seems to be proceeding nevertheless. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Panera Bread CEO Says Digital Ordering May Soon Replace Labor at Renovated Cafes (Sara Jones, November 05, 2015, Daily Signal)

According to reports from Business Insider, Panera Founder and CEO Ron Shaich predicts a "tech revolution" is upon the restaurant industry, and says that Panera Bread is steadily joining the movement.

The company is in the process of rolling out improved and digitalized versions of their current cafes, referred to as "Panera 2.0s." [...]

Questions have been raised as to whether digital kiosks will begin to replace human labor within the workplace.

"We did our digital capabilities-that's part of 2.0, to give a better guest experience," Schaich said in the same call. "It was never about labor. Having said that, it's a powerful beneficiary. Labor is going down...and as digital utilization goes up, like the sun comes up in the morning, it is going to continue to go up."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


In Pacific Trade Deal, Vietnam Agrees to U.S. Terms on Labor Rights (JACKIE CALMES, NOV. 5, 2015, NY Times)'

The Communist government in Vietnam has agreed to American terms to grant potentially far-reaching labor rights to the country's workers, including the freedom to unionize and to strike, in return for expanded trade between the former adversaries, according to the newly released text of a vast Pacific trade agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Stanford professor and eminent French theorist René Girard, member of the Académie Française, dies at 91 (CYNTHIA HAVEN, 11/05/15, Stanford Report)

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him "the new Darwin of the human sciences." The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

International leaders read him, the French media quoted him. Girard influenced such writers as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and Czech writer Milan Kundera - yet he never had the fashionable (and often fleeting) cachet enjoyed by his peers among the structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists and other camps. His concerns were not trendy, but they were always timeless.

In particular, Girard was interested in the causes of conflict and violence and the role of imitation in human behavior. Our desires, he wrote, are not our own; we want what others want. These duplicated desires lead to rivalry and violence. He argued that human conflict was not caused by our differences, but rather by our sameness. Individuals and societies offload blame and culpability onto an outsider, a scapegoat, whose elimination reconciles antagonists and restores unity. [...]

Girard's first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English), used Cervantes, Stendhal, Proust and Dostoevsky as case studies to develop his theory of mimesis. The Guardian recently compared the book to "putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before."

The work had an even bigger impact on Girard himself: He underwent a conversion, akin to the protagonists in the books he had cited. "People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory," he said in 2009. "The avant-garde people are anti-Christian, and many of the Christians are anti-avant-garde. Even the Christians have been very distrustful of me."

Girard took the criticism in stride: "Theories are expendable," he said in 1981. "They should be criticized. When people tell me my work is too systematic, I say, 'I make it as systematic as possible for you to be able to prove it wrong.'"

In 1972, he spurred international controversy with Violence and the Sacred (1977 in English), which explored the role of archaic religions in suppressing social violence through scapegoating and sacrifice.

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978 in French; 1987 in English), according to its publisher, Stanford University Press, was "the single fullest summation of Girard's ideas to date, the book by which they will stand or fall." He offered Christianity as a solution to mimetic rivalry, and challenged Freud's Totem and Taboo. [...]

"René would never have experienced such a career in France," said Benoît Chantre, president of Paris' Association Recherches Mimétiques, one of the organizations that have formed around Girard's work. "Such a free work could indeed only appear in America. That is why René is, like Tocqueville, a great French thinker and a great French moralist who could yet nowhere exist but in the United States. René 'discovered America' in every sense of the word: He made the United States his second country, he made there fundamental discoveries, he is a pure 'product' of the Franco-American relationship, he finally revealed the face of an universal - and not an imperial - America."

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Patriots have no need for probability, win coin flip at impossible clip (Ryan Wilson, 11/04/15,

The Pats have won the coin toss 19 of the last 25 times, according to the Boston Globe's Jim McBride.

For some perspective: Assuming the coin toss is a 50/50 proposition, the probability of winning it at least 19 times in 25 tries is 0.0073. That's less than three-quarters of one percent.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Amid ouster cries, immigrants aid economic rebound in Iowa (MATTHEW HOLST,  THE BOSTON GLOBE)

[T]his is also a city where Trump's rhetoric seems divorced from the reality on the ground: Waterloo has made a remarkable recovery in recent years, a transformation to which thousands of immigrant workers have made a major contribution. It's a common story across the heartland, and across the nation.

Many employers here say they long for more, not fewer, immigrant workers, and certainly do not favor the mass deportations Trump espouses. Local politicians of all stripes said the city is a striking example of how an economy can be rebuilt with the help of a community drawn from around the world -- "the most diverse place in Iowa," as one business leader boasts. [...]

Trump mocked his rival Jeb Bush, who is married to a Mexican-born woman and who expressed sympathy for those who come here illegally. "He said, remember, 'They come as an act of love,' right?" Trump told the crowd of about 1,000. "In the meantime, they're killing people."

He also ridiculed the idea that the United States may admit thousands of Syrian refugees, many of whom have fled a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, suggesting that they might be part of a terrorist army that would be unleashed once they arrive in the United States.

"We know nothing about them," Trump said, "They are not documented. This could be one of the great Trojan horses. This could make the Trojan horse look like peanuts."

Many in the crowd devoured it. Trump supporters at the rally described themselves as either disaffected from the party to which they had long belonged or disillusioned with politics in general.

Many said their disaffection with politics began after Ronald Reagan left office. They said the subsequent presidents were, in effect, of one party, a permanent establishment that doesn't represent them.

Historical amnesia is a vital component of any backwards--looking ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Republicans Learn to Love VAT (Ramesh Ponnuru, 11/05/15, Bloomberg View)

[A] VAT is back on the agenda, and not thanks to Bernie Sanders or some other fan of Scandinavian socialism. The tax is integral to the economic plans of two presidential candidates who want a smaller federal government: Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Their surprising support for a VAT shows its appeal, its flaws and its complicated politics.

Perhaps because the concept has been controversial among Republicans, or perhaps just because it's not a commonly understood term, both senators avoid using the phrase "value-added tax." Paul talks about a 14.5 percent "business activity tax," and Cruz about a 16 percent "business flat tax."

In both cases, businesses would be taxed on their gross receipts minus their purchases and capital investments. That differs from today's corporate taxes in two crucial respects: All investments would be written off immediately under these plans, and businesses wouldn't be able to deduct wages. That's what makes these taxes VATs.

One way of looking at the VAT is as a tax on wages that's collected from companies before they pay their workers. But wage-earners would come out a bit ahead in both these plans because the new VAT would replace the payroll tax as well as the old corporate-income tax.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.

November 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Why Russia Is The World's Deadliest Place To Fly (Julia Ioffe, 11/05/15, Forbes)

[I]t's hard to call something an accident when it happens so regularly. Barely a month goes by without something falling from the Russian sky: Rockets, satellites, MiG fighter jets have all come crashing down in the past year. In June a plane crashed into the runway in the northern capital city of Petrozavodsk, killing 44. In July a plane began to break up in flight just outside of Tomsk in western Siberia, killing six. And most notably, a Russian plane ferrying the Polish president and half his government to a commemoration last spring of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers crashed in the fog outside of Smolensk, killing everyone onboard.

Such anecdotes generate the kind of harrowing statistics that underlie a systemic collapse. This year serious accidents occurred at a rate of three per million flights-more than 12 times the global average. "Russia's safety record is about as bad as it was in Soviet times," says Boris Rybak, a former aviation industry consultant who now runs a Moscow p.r. agency.

Some of the blame falls on the Soviet- era aircraft and those that came out of Russia's lurching post-Communist period. (The aircraft that crashed outside Smolensk, an 18-year-old 42D model from an obscure Russian manufacturer, Yakovlev, had been due for a rehaul in the ensuing months.) But the Berlin Wall fell more than 20 years ago, and Vladimir Putin's ascendant dynasty began in 1999, in lockstep with Russia's energy gold rush. The planes falling from the sky prove more the symptom of a deadly trade policy that offers a global case study in the perils of protectionism.

This is the military the neocons respect and fear.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Social Security reform: A conservative plan (Andrew G. Biggs, November 4, 2015, National Review)

[T]here is a new paradigm that rejects the "program for the poor is a poor program" credo in favor of a different philosophy: that if government provides a solid, reliable safety net against poverty in retirement, retirement saving on top of that base should largely be entrusted to individuals investing in private-market accounts that they, not the government, would control.

New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia have all evolved in the same direction: The government provides a guaranteed minimum retirement benefit of about $1,000 per month. New Zealand pays this benefit to all residents, the U.K. scales it based upon the number of work years, and Australia means-tests the benefit based upon other income. But in all cases, the government aims at providing a solid base income to keep retirees out of poverty, not generous benefits for middle- and upper-income households.

On top of that base, individuals participate in 401(k)-type defined-contribution retirement plans. In Australia, participation is mandatory, though only the employer must make contributions, of 9.5 percent of worker wages. In New Zealand and the U.K., workers are automatically enrolled but may withdraw if they choose. In those countries, both workers and employers contribute, and the government provides a modest match.

I have proposed a similar reform for the U.S. Social Security program. Beginning immediately, Social Security would pay every long-term U.S. resident a minimum benefit pegged at the poverty threshold of $950 a month, regardless of the retiree's work history or earnings. This minimum benefit would take the place of both the redistributive aspects of Social Security and the Supplemental Security Income program, but do so with greater protections against poverty and no prohibition on work and saving. In fact, the Social Security payroll tax would be eliminated at age 62 to encourage longer work lives.

But over several decades, the maximum Social Security benefit would be scaled down so that eventually every retiree will receive the same flat dollar benefit from the government. For the bottom third of retirees, benefits would increase, but for middle and upper income Americans, benefits would decline relative to currently promised levels. This makes sense. At any given time, higher-income Americans are less dependent upon government than lower-income households. As incomes rise over time, Americans should gradually become less dependent on the government for income in retirement and more able to build their own savings.

To ensure an adequate retirement income, middle- and upper-income Americans would need to save more on top of Social Security. Federal policies should work to help them do so. Currently, around half of employers automatically enroll their employees in 401(k) plans, a policy that dramatically expands participation. Auto-enrollment should be made universal, as a simple best practice for pension administration. To expand pension coverage by small employers, which often find 401(k)s costly to establish, Congress should allow for less-expensive "Starter 401(k)s" and multiple employer-defined contribution plans, as proposed by Utah senator Orrin Hatch. Finally, 401(k) plans should adopt auto-escalation, which gradually increases contributions over time. Again, employees can withdraw, but most don't even notice the increased contributions, and the vast majority choose not to reduce them.

This plan would not cheat Americans out of Social Security benefits they had already earned. But it would change the terms on which Americans earn future benefits, to a paradigm in which government provides a real safety net against poverty -- the ultimate "retirement crisis" -- but treats middle- and upper-income households as adults who can and should generate most of their retirement income through their own saving.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Liberal causes--from legalized weed to LGBT rights--got crushed in last night's US elections (Heather Timmons, November 04, 2015, Quartz)

While votes are still being counted in some contests, it is hard not to read a pattern in the early results--so-called "liberal" issues appeared to have been crushed in some of the most-watched elections across the country.

In Texas, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that guaranteed equal rights to gay, lesbian, and transgender people--as well as banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and 10 other classes already protected by federal law--was struck down, with 61% of voters opposing and 39% in favor, with 95% of votes reported. Opponents of the measure, first passed by the city council in May 2014, said it would allow men dressed as women to enter women's bathrooms.

Ohio's marijuana legalization amendment that would have made recreational, non-criminal use legal was rejected by about 65% of voters. The controversial amendment was considered "deeply flawed" by pro-marijuana activists, because it would have put cultivation of the crop in the hands of a monopoly.

Portland, Maine's proposal to set minimum wage at $15 per hour, twice the state minimum, was rejected by nearly 58% of voters. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Why Keystone XL Is Dead : Once seeking a fast approval, TransCanada wants to pause the pipeline's review  (David Biello | November 4, 2015, Scientific American)

The builder of the 830,000 barrel-per-day Keystone XL pipeline--enough alone to increase oil sands production by more than 40 percent--wants a time out. TransCanada has asked the U.S. State Department to pause its review (pdf) of the pipeline that crosses an international border for roughly a year while the state of Nebraska deliberates about changes in the proposed route, also, perhaps, amid concerns that the Obama administration might reject the pipeline outright.

In fact, with hindsight, if TransCanada had simply followed this new route from the beginning in September of 2008, the $8 billion, nearly 2,000 kilometer-long pipeline would likely be up and running today. The new route follows existing easements rather than cutting a new swath through private properties and seizing land. Instead of a quiet approval, there have been seven years of delay, legal wrangling and, most importantly, activism.

...would have opposed the new route, instead of insisting it be rubber-stamped.
Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Matt Bevin is the next governor of Kentucky. He has President Obama to thank. (Chris Cillizza November 3, 2015, Washington Post)

Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee in the Kentucky governor's race, wasn't a very good candidate.  By all accounts, he was standoffish and ill at ease on the campaign trail, and inconsistent -- to put it nicely -- when it came to policy.  The Republican Governors Association, frustrated with Bevin and his campaign, pulled its advertising from the state.  Polling done in the runup to today's vote showed Bevin trailing state Attorney General Jack Conway (D).

And yet, Bevin won going away on Tuesday night. How? Two words: Barack Obama.

Obama is deeply unpopular in Kentucky. He won under 38 percent of the vote in the Bluegrass State in 2012 after taking 41 percent in 2008. In the 2012 Democratic primary, "uncommitted" took 42 percent of the vote against the unchallenged Obama. One Republican close to the Kentucky gubernatorial race said that polling done in the final days put Obama's unpopularity at 70 percent.

Matt Bevin's Kentucky Win Is the End of an Era--and That Should Scare Democrats Everywhere (Josh Kraushaar, 11/04/15, National Journal)

You can't trust the polls any­more. Nearly every pub­lic poll dur­ing the Ken­tucky gov­ernor's race, and even the private par­tis­an sur­veys we heard about, showed Con­way with a small, con­sist­ent ad­vant­age throughout the gen­er­al elec­tion. The fi­nal Bluegrass poll, con­duc­ted between Oct. 23-26 by the auto­mated poll­ster Sur­vey­USA, showed Con­way lead­ing Bev­in by five points, 45 per­cent to 40 per­cent. Bev­in ended up win­ning con­vin­cingly, 53-44. The poll showed Ken­tucky Demo­crats win­ning all but one of the statewide of­fices. In­stead, they came close to be­ing en­tirely shut out, with only state at­tor­ney gen­er­al can­did­ate Andy Be­s­hear and Sec­ret­ary of State Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes barely pre­vail­ing.

Polling in Ken­tucky has had a par­tic­u­larly pre­cari­ous track re­cord lately. Just last year, pub­lic polling sug­ges­ted that Sen. Mitch Mc­Con­nell would face a much more com­pet­it­ive race against Grimes than he ac­tu­ally did. The Bluegrass poll showed Grimes lead­ing Mc­Con­nell in Septem­ber, and only trail­ing by five points in their fi­nal preelec­tion poll. The preelec­tion RCP polling av­er­age showed Mc­Con­nell lead­ing, but un­der the 50-per­cent mark con­sidered safe ter­rit­ory for a tar­geted in­cum­bent. Mc­Con­nell ended up win­ning with 56 per­cent of the vote, troun­cing Grimes by 16 points.  

This is not just a Ken­tucky phe­nomen­on. In the run-up to the 2014 midterms, many pun­dits fo­cused on track­ing the pleth­ora of Sen­ate polls missed the big pic­ture, and un­der­played how tox­ic the na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment was for Demo­crats last year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Amazon's 'Prime Day' will last 7 weeks this year (Bryan Clark, 11/04/14, Nex Web)

Amazon announced it's giving rampant commercialism a kick in the ass by offering up 7 weeks of Black Friday sales. Rather than one frenzied day of shopping Amazon instead decided 'tis the season to show that one day of hell could actually be extended to 7 weeks of sales that no one actually wants.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


U.S. Intelligence: Islamic State Bomb Likely Brought Down Russian Plane (Morgan Chalfant, November 4, 2015, Free Beacon)

A bomb planted by the Islamic State or an affiliated group likely brought down the Russian passenger jet that crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula Saturday morning, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the incident.

Took them long enough to get their act together, but that's the most harmful story for Putin.

November 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Mystery of the Vanishing Pay Raise (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, OCT. 31, 2015, NY Times)

Outsourcing, offshoring and imports exert a steady downward tug on wages. Labor unions have lost considerable muscle. Many employers have embraced pay-for-performance policies that often mean nice bonuses for the few instead of across-the-board raises for the many.

Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, noted, for instance, that many retailers give managers bonuses based on whether they keep their labor budgets below a designated ceiling. "They're punished to the extent they go over those budgets," Professor Cappelli said. "If you're a local manager and you're thinking, 'Should we bump up wages,' it could really hit your bonus. Companies have done this in order to increase the incentive to hang tough on budgets, and it works."

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Lawmakers agree on $5 billion cut to defense bill to bring it in line with budget agreement (DEB RIECHMANN, 11/03/15, Associated Press)

Republicans and Democrats announced agreement Tuesday on a revised version of the massive defense policy bill to align it with the new budget agreement the president has signed into law.

As in '92, this presidential election matters chiefly for who gets credit for the Peace Dividend.  The Right's revolt against GHWB was costly in that regard.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Hillary Clinton significantly eased voters' Benghazi concerns, new poll finds (Peter Weber, 11/02/15, The Week)

[T]he number of respondents who said the Benghazi investigation is "unfair and too partisan" rose to 40 percent, from 36 percent before Clinton's testimony, while the number who said it was "fair and impartial" dropped to 27 percent, from 29 percent. Clinton also helped herself on the issue of her use of a private email server while secretary of state, with 48 percent of voters saying it wouldn't be an important factor in their vote versus 42 percent who said it would be; before the hearing, 47 percent said it was an important factor and 44 percent said it wasn't.

That was the point of the hearings, no?

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Will cheaper health insurance really raise wages? (Sarah Kliff, November 2, 2015, Vox)

Economists believe something that on its face sounds absolutely bizarre to a normal human being: Obamacare's tax on expensive health insurance will give Americans a pay raise.

Here's the argument: Economic theory predicts that companies have a set amount they're willing to pay a worker, given her specific talents and skills. Under this theory, companies are agnostic to whether they spend that money on a salary, a health plan, maybe a gym subsidy, or even a free puppy. What's important is attracting the best workers, and companies will use that money however is necessary in order to get those workers and keep them happy.

"Employers are thinking, 'What wage do I have to pay to get a worker?'" says Katherine Baicker, a health economist at Harvard University. "They're indifferent if a dollar goes to health insurance or wages or nice office space."

...they're a waste of the money you could be taking in wages.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


TransCanada Suspends Request for Permit to Build Keystone Pipeline (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, NOV. 2, 2015, NY Times)

The company seeking to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline asked the Obama administration on Monday to suspend its yearslong review of the project, potentially bringing an abrupt halt to a politically charged debate that had become part of a broader struggle over President Obama's environmental policies.

The irony is sublime, the Right's pet project undermined by eminent domain problems...

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Guess Which Candidate Emerges as the Voice Of Small Business (IRA STOLL, November 2, 2015, NY Sun)

Guess which presidential candidate, while campaigning in New Hampshire last week, said this?

"I want to be the small business president...They represent American ingenuity and hard work. But we're slipping. A recent global study showed that where we used to be one or two in the world in creating small businesses, we're now 46. It should not take longer to start a business in the United States than it takes to start one in France!"

The candidate continued, "I want to do everything I can to help make it easier for people to start businesses, cut that red tape....and really take a hard look at licensing requirements from state to state. There ought to be a sensible way to harmonize those, so that it's not so difficult in some states to start a businesses and much easier in the state next door to start the very same business."

After calling for less regulation of business formation and licensing, this presidential candidate went on to call for tax simplification. "You know, the businesses with one to five employees spend an average of 150 hours and $1100 per employee to do their federal taxes. There's got to be a way to simplify all of that," this presidential candidate said.

Was it Jeb Bush? Donald Trump? Ben Carson? Ted Cruz? Chris Christie? Carly Fiorina? Rand Paul? Marco Rubio? Bobby Jindal?

Nope. The presidential candidate campaigning on a message of deregulation and tax simplification was none other than the former senator from New York, secretary of state, and first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you can't believe it, go watch the video. The fun starts about 15 minutes in.

If Mrs. Clinton is already making these sorts of centrist, free-market oriented appeals during a Democratic primary and caucus contest dominated by left-leaning activists, imagine how she'll pivot to the center in a general election campaign. 

...there is no difference between leading Republicans and Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


In praise of Ahmad Chalabi: I knew him to be a truth-teller who put love of country over personal interest (IRA STOLL, 11/03/15,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Educated at MIT and at the University of Chicago, Chalabi yearned to bring to the Middle East the freedom, democracy and rule of law that he enjoyed as a student in America. And while the end of that story has not yet been written, there's certainly an element of the rebellions against the dictatorships of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Bashar Assad in Syria that ratifies that view.

A Shiite Muslim, Chalabi was remarkably comfortable with American Jews -- not only me, but also others such as Judith Miller and Harold Rhode. I first met Chalabi in the mid-1990s as the Washington correspondent of the Forward, a Jewish newspaper. A series of memorable lunches and dinners at London and New York ensued. Chalabi's personal example disproved the claim from some extremists on the right that all Arabs or all Muslims were violent haters of Jews, of Israel, or of America.

Chalabi's goals came in for mockery at times not only from the left but also from the right. George Will quipped, "Iraq is just three people away from democratic success. Unfortunately, the three are George Washington, James Madison and John Marshall."

To me, Chalabi was Iraq's Samuel Adams, its revolutionary leader who inspired, agitated, persuaded, and persevered in the face of overwhelming odds and when others lost hope.

As for the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the New York Times reported in 2014 that "American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs" in Iraq. Moshe Ya'alon, who is now the defense minister of Israel, told me in 2005 that Saddam moved some chemical weapons to Syria before the start of the Iraq war.

To the extent that such weapons are being used still, as they reportedly are, by Bashar Assad in Syria, it only underscores the need for a Chalabi-like figure in the Syrian opposition. Instead, in the absence of such a figure to rally American and congressional support, Syria has endured what the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon recently told NPR amounts to "a slow-motion genocide."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


OECD names country with the best quality of life (AOL, 11/03/15)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released its 2015 list of countries based on their Better Life Index -- which looks into aspects from housing, income, education, civic engagement, health, to work-life balance. [...]

10. Denmark: With 5 weeks paid vacation per year
9. New Zealand: Breathe happy 
8. Netherlands: One of the highest literacy rates in the world. 
7. Sweden: Tons of citizen engagement
6. Canada: Excellent housing standards
5. USA: Housing, income, and wealth
4. Australia: Strong sense of community
3. Switzerland: One of the world's lowest unemployment rates
2. Iceland: Cleanest tap water on earth
1. Norway: People are living their best life here...for an average of 82 years.

2015 Legatum Prosperity Index 

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Iran starts taking nuclear centrifuges offline (Reuters, 11/03/15)

In a separate development that appeared to confirm that Iran had begun implementing its side of the deal, 20 hardline conservative members of Iran's parliament wrote to President Hassan Rouhani to complain about the deactivation of centrifuges in two enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow.

"Unfortunately in the last two days some contractors entered Fordow and started dismantling centrifuges... they said they could finish the job in two weeks," Fars cited the lawmakers, among those loath to accept the nuclear deal, as saying.

Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, conditionally approved the deal last month, but the lawmakers said that beginning implementation so soon was against his directives.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Kremlin backs down on demands to retain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Jeva Lange, 11/03/15, The Week)

In a surprising about face, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that it is not crucial to retain President Bashar al-Assad's position in Syria, a reversal of its earlier intentions to preserve his presidency using military power. Russia's previous insistence on keeping Assad put the country at odds with the United States and its allies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Khamenei: Washington 'will not hesitate' to destroy Iran (AP, November 3, 2015)

The slogan "Death to America" is not aimed at the American people, but rather American policies, Iran's supreme leader said in comments reported on his official website Tuesday. [...]

Khamenei says the "aim of the slogan is not death to American people. The slogan means death to US policies and arrogance." The slogan has "strong support" In Iran, he said.

November 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Moral Failure And Health Costs: Two Simplistic Spending Narratives (Jeff Goldsmith, October 27, 2015, Health Affairs Blog)

The conservative thesis holds that the demand for health care is unlimited because it has been, historically, a free good for many patients. Moreover, the argument runs, much illness is driven by bad personal health choices -- for example, smoking and obesity, and the heart disease and diabetes that follows. Thus, much of our cost problem is actually the patient's fault.

Since patients have historically paid a relatively small fraction of health costs, the conservative remedy is that patients must have more "skin in the game," that is, pay more of the cost themselves. If we do this, people will exercise more discipline in their personal health habits, and also "shop" for care when they need to use it, and costs will go down.

Adherents to this explanation point to Joseph Newhouse's nearly forty-year-old RAND health insurance study which showed that patients who shared some of the cost used a lot less care and were, apparently, no sicker at the end of the study period. The oft-ignored coda to the Rand study was that patients were incapable to distinguishing high-value from no-value care, a finding echoed just last week by a study of patient behavior in a high-deductible health plan.

This thesis--that lifestyle and indiscriminate use of care are the main drivers of heath spending--has led to multiple remedies: health savings accounts; higher cost sharing; higher patient front-end cash payments to doctors and hospitals; and also "price transparency" -- attempting to clarify in advance of care what something will cost, so patients can use their own money to shop for care.

The conservative narrative had an influential role in shaping the structure of private coverage under the Affordable Care Act, where very high deductibles and annual out-of-pocket limits are the norm, as well as the Cadillac Tax on so-called "high value" health plans, designed to discourage first dollar coverage. It has led to a quintupling of patients with high deductible plans since 2007. According to the 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation Health Benefits Survey, patient cost sharing has grown six times as fast as wages since 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Ben Carson and Ralph Nader have the same wrong idea about the Fed (Timothy B. Lee, November 2, 2015, Vox) 

People on both the left and the right are arguing that the Federal Reserve is hurting savers by keeping interest rates low.

On the left, there's Ralph Nader, who recently wrote a polemic from "Savers of America" arguing that Fed policies constituted a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary Americans to big banks.

From the right, Ben Carson argues that low interest rates hurt "poor people and the middle class," who used to be able to accumulate wealth with a savings account.

If ever there were two guys you wanted light years away from our economy....

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Young refugees in high demand in Germany : German companies are desperately looking for new junior staff. Apprentices are hard to find particularly in eastern Germany. Could refugees fill the gap? (Sabine Kinkartz, 11/02/15, Deutsche-Welle)

Cobbled streets, a small roundabout, an ice cream parlor - and right next to it the local funeral home. Woods and meadows all around, plus a lake - you could easily call this a natural paradise. We're in Hennickendorf in eastern Brandenburg, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from downtown Berlin. Many young people have been leaving this region to study elsewhere, for example, among other reasons.

"This year, as of October 29, we have 719 apprentices, that is there are still 250 vacancies," said the managing director of the Frankfurt an-der-Oder-based Chamber of Crafts, Uwe Hoppe. "We are in a position to train more people, and our local factories are also willing to do just that."

The lack of skilled workers has long ceased to be merely a theoretical problem. Small handicraft businesses in particular are desperately looking for young talent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


A Sharp Mind in a Sharp Suit (Mark Steyn, Nov 2, 2015, SteynOnline)

Rest in peace, Fred Thompson. He was a great American who lived a richer life than most of either his fellow senators or fellow actors. It was always fun when you'd stumble across him grilling someone on TV in that distinctive Tennessee drawl and it took you a moment to figure out whether it was a movie or a Congressional hearing. It happened to me a couple of months back when I came across the hugely enjoyable No Way Out with Kevin Costner, Sean Young, Gene Hackman ...and there's Senator Thompson doing his shtick as director of the CIA. He would have made a very good CIA director. He succeeded at everything he did - law, acting, politics - until he decided to run for president. He would have been a very fine president, too, but he was not, in 2007, the best campaigner, which is a loss to America and to the world.

November 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


The scramble to get consumers to buy the right health coverage through Obamacare ( (Noam N. Levey, 10/31/15, LA Times)

State and federal health officials, facing growing concerns about the cost of insurance plans offered through the Affordable Care Act, are scrambling to deploy new Web-based tools to help Americans find the most economical coverage.

This fall, state and federal insurance marketplaces created by the law, including in California, plan to offer consumers more comprehensive ways to compare health plans, check physician networks and estimate their total healthcare costs.

"People desperately need help," said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit that has helped several states develop new tools for their marketplaces.

The push has taken on added urgency as consumers face skyrocketing out-of-pocket medical bills, even as they struggle to understand trade-offs among premiums, deductibles and financial aid provided by the health law.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Margaret Thatcher Versus The Intellectuals (PAUL JOHNSON, November 2015, Standpoint)

Such is the richness of the documentation of Margaret Thatcher's premiership that Charles Moore has been obliged to renounce his original intention of describing it in two volumes, and written three instead. Volume Two now deals with the central period, between 1983 and 1987, in both of which years she won smashing electoral victories, her party being returned with majorities of more than 100 seats. The book, of some 800 pages, is so full of facts, many of them new, as to pose problems for reviewers. I have decided, therefore, to deal chiefly with one aspect: Mrs Thatcher and the intellectuals, about which this volume is particularly instructive. 

Intellectuals, whom I define as those who think ideas are more important than people, are notorious for getting politics wrong, nowhere more strikingly so than in the case of Mrs Thatcher. [...]

Mrs Thatcher is the point at which all snobberies meet: intellectual snobbery, social snobbery, the snobbery of Brooks's, the snobbery about scientists among those educated in the arts, the snobbery of the metropolis about the provincial, the snobbery of the South about the North, and the snobbery of men about women.  [...]

By trying to portray her as an ignoramus in the arts, the intellectuals simply dug themselves into the mud of ignorance, and thus got things wrong. Julian Barnes remarked fatuously, in June 1987, "The chief function of this election is to turn out Mrs Thatcher and her spayed [sic] Cabinet, whose main achievement in the last eight years has been the legitimisation of self-interest." Can he really have believed this? Intellectuals are so strongly guided by their emotions, as opposed to their minds, that it is almost impossible for them to judge politics accurately. Even so, their performance throughout Mrs Thatcher's nearly dozen years in office was unusually dismal. 

Charles Moore, in his preface and acknowledgements, gives a detailed and meticulous account of what he has done to create this book. I have read through both of these very carefully, and am immensely impressed by the amount of work he has accomplished. Margaret Thatcher was a first-rate prime minister who was distinguished by her purpose and thoroughness and the amount of detailed concentration she packed into each day in office. It was all hard going, and there is no doubt in my mind that it shortened  her life.

As against this, there is equally no doubt that she transformed the country in many ways, and profoundly. We should all be grateful to her. By concentrating on how she was perceived by the intellectual elite, we can see how foolish it is to look to them for guidance on serious matters. Charles Moore has laid it all before us, elegantly, crisply and clearly. He has so far devoted 18 years of his life to the task, but it has been worth it. A great national leader is being given the biography she deserves. 

...what greater honor is there than to be despised by the Intellectuals?

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Germany is about to start up a monster machine that could revolutionize the way we use energy (Jessica Orwig, Oct. 30, 2015, Business Insider)

Last year, after 1.1 million construction hours, the institute completed the world's largest nuclear-fusion machine of its kind, called a stellarator.

The machine, which has a diameter of 52 feet, is called the W7-X.

And after more than a year of tests, engineers are finally ready to fire up the $1.1 billion machine for the first time. It could happen before the end of this month, Science reported. [...]

The key to a successful nuclear-fusion reactor of any kind is to generate, confine, and control a blob of gas, called a plasma, that has been heated to temperatures of more than 180 million degrees Fahrenheit.

At these blazing temperatures, the electrons are ripped from their atoms, forming ions.

Normally, the ions bounce off one another like bumper cars, but under these extreme conditions the repulsive forces are overcome.

The ions are therefore able to collide and fuse together, which generates energy, and you have accomplished nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is different from what fuels today's nuclear reactors, which operate with energy from atoms that decay, or break apart, instead of fusing together.

Nuclear fusion is the process that has been fueling our sun for about 4.5 billion years and will continue to do so for another estimated 4 billion years.

Once engineers have heated the gas in the reactor to the right temperature, they use super-chilled magnetic coils to generate powerful magnetic fields that contain and control the plasma.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


In Bid to Counter Iran, Ayatollah in Iraq May End Up Emulating It (TIM ARANGO, NOV. 1, 2015, NY Times)

[I]n the face of concerns over the growing power of Iran and its militia proxies amid a sectarian war in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani has made one of his biggest interventions in Iraqi politics, to try to strengthen the Iraqi state, experts say.

For more than two months he has issued instructions, through a representative during Friday sermons, to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to hold corrupt officials accountable, to reform the judiciary and to support the national security forces instead of Iran-backed militias. Ayatollah Sistani's son, meanwhile, has kept up direct phone communication to the prime minister's office, pushing for quicker reforms.

This latest intervention has provoked a new round of questioning by political leaders and diplomats in Baghdad: As Ayatollah Sistani has stepped in, once again, in the name of helping a country plagued by crisis, is he actually creating a fundamental shift toward clerical rule?

"Many people are surprised, very surprised, when they see Sistani so involved in politics," said a senior Shiite leader in Baghdad who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as critical of Ayatollah Sistani. Referring to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and its revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he said, "In reality, in practice, he is doing what Khamenei does, and what Khomeini did." [...]

As the supreme Shiite spiritual leader -- whose religious authority surpasses that of Iran's supreme leader -- he instructs the pious in how to pray, how to wash and what to eat. Through his website, he recently advocated the use of body armor by fighters battling the Islamic State, prohibited women from using cellphones to contact strange men and advised that men should not have goatees.

Despite his undeniably powerful influence, his public role in Iraq has often been described as "fatherly": guiding politics from on high, intervening at difficult times, but otherwise staying aloof from the fray of governing.

This approach, known in Najaf as the "quietist" tradition, has distinguished Iraq from Iran, and Najaf from Iran's holy city of Shiite scholarship, Qom. It is part of a historical rivalry between the two ancient cities of Shiite scholarship, one that an official in Najaf described as being "like Oxford and Harvard."

But amid the current crisis gripping Iraq, from the war with the Islamic State to government corruption and the threat Iranian-backed militias and their political leaders pose to Mr. Abadi and the Iraqi state, Ayatollah Sistani has made a new calculation.

"In recent months he felt a great danger on the political and security scene," said Ali Alaq, a Shiite lawmaker in Baghdad. "He felt a patriotic duty to act," he continued, and using an honorific for the ayatollah added, "Sayyid Sistani represents the conscience of the Iraqi people."

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


NASA says Antarctica is actually gaining ice. (Lonnie Shekhtman, NOVEMBER 1, 2015, CS Monitor)

A new NASA study found that Antarctica has been adding more ice than it's been losing, challenging other research, including that of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that concludes that Earth's southern continent is losing land ice overall.

In a paper published in the Journal of Glaciology on Friday, researchers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Maryland in College Park, and the engineering firm Sigma Space Corporation offer a new analysis of satellite data that show a net gain of 112 billion tons of ice a year from 1992 to 2001 in the Antarctic ice sheet.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Jets instigated sideline interrogation of three Kraft Sports employees (Mike Florio, October 31, 2015, ProFootballTalk)

While it's still unclear whether the Jets instigated the sweep of their locker room for bugs prior to last Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium (more on that later in the day), it's crystal clear that the Jets prompted a separate investigation of the Patriots during the Week Seven contest between the two teams.

PFT has obtained a copy of an email message detailing the incident that happened during the third quarter of the game.

"Jets Security Director Robert Mastroddi made an inquiry with NFL Security regarding the presence of two individuals wearing headsets and Patriots attire, who were positioned outside of the bench area on the Patriots sideline," the email states. "Mastroddi requested to know who they were, and expressed concern given their proximity to the Patriots bench."

Lenny Bandy and Dick Farley of NFL Security thereafter investigated the situation, questioning three employees of Kraft Sports, whose responsibilities include in-stadium entertainment, such as the music and other sound coming through speakers in the stadium. (Kraft Sports is owned by Robert Kraft, who also owns the Patriots.)

One of the employees also is responsible for keeping fresh batteries in the referee's in-stadium microphone. But Mastroddi didn't initially accept the explanation that a team employee would be responsible for ensuring the performance of the referee's microphone; Mastroddi said "people responsible for maintaining the referee's microphone should be League contractors and not Kraft Sports employees wearing Patriots gear." In response to Mastroddi's concerns, Bandy called 345 Park Avenue and spoke with Jay Reid of the officiating department, who confirmed that the referee's in-stadium microphone is handled by the teams, not by the league.

Bill Bellichick is so far into the heads of his peers it's comical.

Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


Alain Juppé: from cold, grey automaton to saviour of France? : 20 years ago he was loathed, but Juppé has undergone a remarkable transformation - and set his sights on the presidency (Angelique Chrisafis, 1 November 2015, The Guardian)

In a packed village hall in rural Normandy, hundreds of people cheered as a 70-year-old politician, hailed as the saviour of France, took the stage.

"Our society is not well!" boomed Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux and an elder statesman. "France is disorientated, frightened, fractured and hatred is spreading, but I refuse to give in to the intellectuals who say the nation is in decline." He railed against the far-right ideas and anti-immigration rhetoric that has come to dominate French politics. "France can bounce back," he said. "We have to break this mood of suspicion and build a society of trust."

After a standing ovation, supporters rushed forward to shake his hand, jostling for selfies and autographs. This was "Juppémania", France's extraordinary new political phenomenon - an unexpected outpouring of emotion that could change the course of the 2017 presidential race. [...]

Now Juppé has taken on what could be his toughest battle yet, running against the former president Nicolas Sarkozy in the primary race to chose a candidate for the right and centre-right in France's 2017 presidential election.

As Sarkozy moves ever further to the right in an effort to court voters from the Front National with hardline policies on immigration and national identity, Juppé has become his fiercest opponent, calling for moderation and social harmony. He coined the term France's "happy identity" and argues that everyone can live together despite their differences. He also says the country needs pro-business structural reform, public spending cuts and a firm, pro-European ideal. The standoff has become a personal battle for the soul of the French right, a contest between Sarkozy's jumpy and divisive personality and Juppé's pipe-and-slippers calm.

"Alain Juppé is a unifying figure who can talk about anything without creating divisions and controversy. We need that because France is at a crossroads. There's a rise in extremism in France and if we can't get a handle on it, anything could happen," said Samuel Delahaye, the deputy mayor of a village in Calvados and part of Juppé's Normandy support committee.

"He's so calming and reassuring," said Elisabeth Sérié, who worked with elderly people and had driven 80km to hear him speak.

"This country needs to reform and I think he's level-headed enough to do it," said Roger Martin, a retired dairy farmer.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


A Hudson River Eclogue : What's better than 'a few days in an American October'? (Paul Berman, October 29, 2015, Tablet)

[I] happen to be reading the English Note-Books on a bench in a capacious backyard in the delightful Hudson River village of Kinderhook in late October, which I take to be the very perfection of an American October. And I see that Hawthorne was right to reserve an exceptional place for the American few days, which are better than in any other country, or, I should add, planet.

It is not merely because of the colors. The scents and odors are a balm. You do not walk amid such odors. Sweetness is buoyant. You float. There appear to be no breezes, and yet the odors waft about, now fresher, now more pungent, according to exhalations of the trees. Or maybe there is, after all, a feeble breeze, to judge from the wavering of the top-most leaves. The colors, too, waver. The color-field artists used to paint huge canvases in which different shades placed next to one another appear to vibrate, and I am guessing the artists picked up the idea of color vibrations from the yellows and greens and orange hues of the October leaves, which appear to be in chaotic motion, even when they are entirely still.

On days like these, whenever my thoughts turn to political questions, I find myself wondering if American isolationism isn't the soul of sanity. Since our Octobers are perfect, why should we trouble ourselves about anything else? I spent an hour of the morning at the village bagel shop with the New York Times, which reminded me of sorrows across half the world. A large number of Palestinians have gone mad, and a few Israelis, too, and Benjamin Netanyahu has just made an intelligent comment about 20th-century history, except that he has bungled the comment by exaggerating one point, which has brought down upon his head a world of condemnation. This is the sort of thing that ought normally to stir in me my political instinct, which is the urge to correct--to rebuke the prime minister and his critics and his enemies. But I cannot be bothered.


Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Obama Likely to Leave a Legacy of Three Wars Instead of Ending Two (Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post )

President Obama's decision to expand the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Syria is a reflection of the conflicting pressures on a commander in chief who doubts that military force alone can end the conflicts in those countries, but who also feels compelled to act in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe and a growing threat to the United States.

Other than Ike (oddly and tragically), all presidents are Crusaders.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


The Poverty Cure: Get Married : Black children bear the brunt of single parenthood's harms. (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, Oct. 27, 2015, WSJ)'

Of the many barriers to equal opportunity for African-Americans, differences of family background may well be the most consequential--and the least likely to yield to public policy. This is the gravamen of research made public in recent weeks, much of it collected in the fall 2015 issue of the academic journal the Future of Children.

Although there were signs of trouble to come in the 1960s, racial differences in marriage rates remained modest until 1970, when 95% of white women and 92% of black women had been married at least once. By 2012, however, a large gap had emerged: 88% of white women age 40-44 were or had been married, compared with only 63% of black women. [...]

[O]ther differences are stark. Consider that 71% of African-American infants are born to unmarried women, compared with 29% for white women. The birth of a child doesn't motivate many African-American couples to get married: 66% of black children are not living with married parents. Nor does it keep their unmarried biological parents together. About seven in 10 white children, from newborn to 18 years of age, are living with their biological parents, compared with one in three black children.

This matters because--as family-structure researchers Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill note in the Future of Children, "most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide variety of outcomes."

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Army Takes Another Step Toward Unmanned Warfare (Patrick Tucker, 11/01/15, Defense One )

A self-flying Black Hawk helicopter delivered a small robotic amphibious all-terrain vehicle, or AATV, to a Florida drop zone on Tuesday, passing a critical test in autonomous helicopter flight and robot teaming, an Army official said.

The helicopter, flying autonomously -- it also can be piloted remotely -- "came in, picked up [the AATV], flew five to seven kilometers in an air route, delivered it to a ground location and released it. The unmanned ground vehicle moved through a ten-kilometer scenario where it faced different chemical, biological hazards and then fed that data back via satellite," said Paul Rogers, who directs Army's Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Carson Calls for Major Changes in GOP Debate Format, Distribution (REID J. EPSTEIN, Oct. 31, 2015, WSJ)

Ben Carson's campaign wants to take the coming Republican presidential primary debates off television and broadcast them over the Internet, while turning the forums into a series of lengthy candidate statements with far less time for moderators' questions.

The retired neurosurgeon's campaign manager, Barry Bennett, is convening a meeting of GOP campaign representatives Sunday night. Mr. Bennett has already presented the other campaigns and the Republican National Committee with his proposal: a minimum of five minutes for opening and closing statements with all major declared GOP candidates on stage.

And in perhaps the most provocative suggestion, Mr. Bennett has told the RNC and other campaigns that Mr. Carson, who in the last week has taken a lead in polls of Republican voters in Iowa and nationally, would like to strip the cable and broadcast television networks of the rights to carry the debates and instead air them over the Internet, perhaps via Facebook or YouTube.

Given the ratings these events are pulling the GOP should be selling rights at a maxed out price to fund the party.  And the party should be hand-picking the "moderator"--maybe Mike Ditka, Tom Selleck or Pat Sajak.  These should be infomercials that sell the party and candidates.

Recall that doing something similar nearly saved even Gerald Ford:

The road trip that was to take the President through Virginia, the Carolinas, California, Washington state and Oregon and back to the capital by way of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and New York was phony because the conventional rallies and other events that occurred along the way were props for something else. The something else was a series of 30-minute television interviews for which the White House campaign adjunct, the President Ford Committee, had bought air time in states that Mr. Ford would have to carry if he was to have a chance of election. The interviews were supplemented with shorter TV and radio "spots" in a massive electronic blitz that would close the evening before the election with a half-hour on each of the three national networks. Taped shots of the President on the hustings, with his family and with accompanying dignitaries, padded out the first of the 30-minute interviews. They were conducted by Joe Garagiola, a retired baseball player turned sportscaster who traveled with the President. He would have done the work for free if his union had not required him to charge the PFC a minimum fee of $360 for each interview. Garagiola was regarded with considerable scorn by professional journalists, but they missed the point. The point was that, in the first Garagiola-Ford interviews the true Jerry Ford came across as he'd never come across from interviews with orthodox and certified journalists. The explanation begins with the fact that Joe Garagiola in his televised self proved to be a slightly modified Archie Bunker. He boasted of his ignorance of complex issues and invited the President to explain them in terms that ignoramuses like Joe could understand. Mr. Ford obliged, in terms that didn't explain anything but satisfied his pal Joe. Watching the President and Joe together on the screen, manifestly and perfectly at ease with each other, one realized that Gerald Ford really is Archie Bunker, slightly modified, and that he was depending for election upon the nation's Bunkers in their numerous variations.