December 31, 2015

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 11:59 PM


While there are too many Christmas songs to count...and many versions of those songs recorded by jazz artists...songs about the holiday that comes at the end of Christmas week are relatively rare.   Frank Loesser, the composer of musicals such as "Guys and Dolls," wrote one of the best and most durable New Year's songs in 1947.  "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" demonstrates Loesser's talent for marrying beautiful melodies with easy-flowing, conversational lyrics (two lines begin with "Ah, but", as in "Ah, but, if I stand one little chance, here comes the jackpot question in advance...").  Pop and jazz musicians alike have recorded "What Are You Doing..."  Here are Ella Fitzgerald (with a studio band featuring some of the top LA jazz musicians of the day) and Diana Krall (with today's top LA-based jazz band, the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra).

Happy New Year to my hosts for these essays, OJ and Stephen, and to everyone who visits this site.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Obama to Seinfeld: 'I always wanted to be in a show about nothing' (NOLAN D. MCCASKILL, 12/31/15, Politico)

Dude, you're the star of one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


The 'retirement crisis' that isn't (Andrew G. Biggs, 12/30/15, AEI)

On Dec. 1, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) updated its Pensions at a Glance survey of retirement saving in more than 30 countries. The United States' Social Security program is indeed less generous than most OECD countries' plans. Americans who earn the average wage each year of their careers will receive Social Security benefits equal to about 35 percent of the current average U.S. income. Note that comparing a country's retirement benefits with that country's current average income is different from a "replacement rate" that compares retirees' benefits with their own pre-retirement earnings. Nevertheless, these data show that while Social Security is comparable to retirement programs in Britain (30 percent) and Canada (33 percent), it's still below the OECD average of 53 percent.

But retirement income security is about more than just government benefits. It also includes private retirement saving and work in retirement, where the United States does very well. The total incomes of Americans age 65 or older are equal to 92 percent of the national average income, according to the OECD. The United States ranks 10th out of 32 OECD countries and above countries such as Sweden (86 percent), Germany (87 percent) and Denmark (77 percent). In absolute dollar terms, U.S. seniors have the second-highest average incomes in the world, behind tiny Luxembourg.

But what about working-age Americans? Hasn't their retirement saving fallen? Using Federal Reserve and Social Security Administration data, I tallied the total assets Americans have built for retirement, including 401(k) and Individual Retirement Account balances and benefits accrued under traditional pensions and Social Security. As of 1996, the first year for which full data are available, Americans' total retirement assets were equal to 2.7 times total personal incomes. By early 2015, retirement assets had risen to 4.1 times personal incomes.

In fact, the historical shift from traditional pensions to 401(k) plans has not reduced retirement saving, Boston College's Center for Retirement Research recently concluded. It's true that with 401(k)s, workers themselves bear the risks related to how their retirement funds are invested. But retirement saving is more widespread: More Americans have retirement plans today than did during the "golden age." And unlike with traditional pensions, which pay a decent benefit only to long-term employees, members of America's mobile workforce can carry their 401(k) plans with them as they change jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Novel depicting Jewish-Arab love banned from Israeli schools (Michele Chabin, December 31, 2015, RNS)

The decision by the Israeli Ministry of Education to ban from classrooms a novel that depicts love between a Jewish Israeli woman and a Palestinian man shocked Israeli high school students and teachers Thursday (Dec. 31).

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


States' Pension Woes Split Democrats and Union Allies (TIMOTHY W. MARTIN and  KRIS MAHER, Dec. 29, 2015, WSJ)

A $1 trillion U.S. pension gap is dividing two longtime allies: Democrats and unions.

Left-leaning politicians from Rhode Island to California are increasingly supporting more aggressive overhauls of government pension benefits despite opposition from labor officials, traditionally one of the Democratic Party's biggest policy and electoral supporters.

The erosion of Democratic backing for conventional retirement benefits prized by teachers, firefighters and police officers is a sign of how strained government budgets are as obligations for 24 million public workers and retirees continue to mount.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Former Ben Carson Campaign Manager Gives an Inside Look at Campaign Dysfunction (KATHERINE FAULDERS  Dec 31, 2015, ABC News)

After announcing his resignation from the Ben Carson campaign, former campaign manager Barry Bennett tells ABC News that the staff changes were revealed in a scheduled call this morning. The main change Carson wanted to make was with his Communications Director Doug Watts, Bennett says.

Bennett told the Republican presidential candidate on the call he would not support that decision and told Carson "it's time for me to go." [...]

"I don't know who all will still be here, it's not my problem" Bennett said. "I can play amateur politics at home with my 9-year-old I don't need to do it at the professional level."

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


The Second Coming of Khomeini : The grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder is entering the political fray in Tehran -- and could just be President Rouhani's savior. (Foreign Policy, DECEMBER 30, 2015)

Supporters have long wanted Khomeini to enter the public arena. He is markedly younger than the current crop of top Iranian politicians and has already shown something of a youthful, common touch: He's known to be a fan of Iran's soccer league and has appeared as a guest on a popular television fanzine. On the show, he said he thought he could have had a career in the game if his grandfather had not ordered him to deepen his religious studies when he was 21 years old.

Khomeini's 18-year-old son, Ahmad, is another asset. He has 188,000 followers on Instagram, which unlike Facebook or Twitter is not blocked in Iran and offers his father a unique platform to connect with young voters. The Instagram feed provides an insight into the societal change that Khamenei shows no willingness to acknowledge: Photos show Ahmad in Nike sports clothes at a time when Khamenei says American brands should be banned. Yet the teenager is also reverent toward his ancestors, posting pictures of his great-grandfather (who famously branded America "the Great Satan") and he has taken part in religious ceremonies himself, seamlessly inhabiting both the old and new Iran.

Hassan Khomeini, meanwhile, already has a powerful array of allies for the forthcoming election. Rouhani and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, are his main public backers; both are members of the Assembly and will seek new eight-year terms -- a tenure Khamenei may not outlive. [...]

The official campaign season for next year's elections runs for only two weeks for the Assembly, and one week for the parliament -- but the battle for influence has been raging for months. The polls for the Assembly carry more potency than normal, because of renewed speculation about the health of Khamenei. He is 76 years old and underwent prostate surgery in 2014. The supreme leader is viewed as above criticism, but talk of the succession is growing and has received some level of official blessing. Rafsanjani -- who, despite being older than Khamenei, is still seen as a potential successor -- recently revealed that the Assembly has started to look at potential replacements.

While a startling admission in itself, the announcement takes on new relevance because of Khomeini's entry to politics. Khamenei's inner circle has been struggling to identify a successor who has the necessary combination of religious training, political influence, and public charisma to lead the country. Unlike most of the names mentioned -- Rafsanjani; head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani; and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi -- Khomeini bears the black clerical turban, which denotes his direct lineage to the Prophet Mohammed.

Although Khomeini's name alone will not get him the job of supreme leader, the situation could quickly change. A few years on the Assembly could burnish his credentials, as well as neutralize the issue of his relative youth. Alternately, if the succession comes quicker than that, he could swing support for a less hard-line candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Donald Trump's Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat (Nate Cohn,  DEC. 31, 2015, NY Times)

His geographic pattern of support is not just about demographics -- educational attainment, for example. It is not necessarily the typical pattern for a populist, either. In fact, it's almost the exact opposite of Ross Perot's support in 1992, which was strongest in the West and New England, and weakest in the South and industrial North.

But it is still a familiar pattern. It is similar to a map of the tendency toward racism by region, according to measures like the prevalence of Google searches for racial slurs and racist jokes, or scores on implicit association tests.

"This type of animus towards African-Americans is far more common than just about anyone would have guessed," said Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, the economist who first used Google search data to measure racial animus and argued that Barack Obama lost four percentage points in 2008 because of racial animus (a number I have argued is too high). He is now a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times.

Racially charged searches take place everywhere -- they are about as common as searches for "The Daily Show" or the Los Angeles Lakers. But they are more common in some parts of the country than others.

That Mr. Trump's support is strong in similar areas does not prove that most or even many of his supporters are motivated by racial animus. But it is consistent with the possibility that at least some are. The same areas where racial animus is highest in the Google data also tend to have older and less educated people, and Mr. Trump tends to fare better among those groups -- though the effect of Google data remains just as strong after controlling for these other factors.

These areas also include many of the places where Democrats have lost the most ground over the last half-century, and where Hillary Clinton tended to fare best among white voters in her contest against Mr. Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

In many of these areas, a large number of traditionally Democratic voters have long supported Republicans in presidential elections. Even now, Democrats have more registered voters than Republicans do in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, which have been easily carried by Republicans in every presidential contest of this century. As recently as a few years ago, Democrats still had a big advantage in partisan self-identification in the same states.

But during the Obama era, many of these voters have abandoned the Democrats. Many Democrats may now even identify as Republicans, or as independents who lean Republican, when asked by pollsters -- a choice that means they're included in a national Republican primary survey, whether they remain registered as Democrats or not.

Mr. Trump appears to hold his greatest strength among people like these -- registered Democrats who identify as Republican leaners -- with 43 percent of their support, according to the Civis data. Similarly, many of Mr. Trump's best states are those with a long tradition of Democrats who vote Republican in presidential elections, like West Virginia.

Mr. Trump's strength among traditionally Democratic voters could pose some problems for his campaign. Many states bar voters registered with the other party from participating in partisan primaries. Other states go further, not allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in a primary; in the G.O.P. race, for example, that would mean restricting the electorate to those registered as Republicans -- one of Mr. Trump's weakest groups. This group of states includes many favorable to Mr. Trump, like Florida, Pennsylvania and New York.

Another turnout challenge for Mr. Trump is that he commands the support of many people who are unlikely to vote. 

December 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


How Congress Left Behind Public-School Choice : Obama calls the new law a 'miracle.' Tell that to students no longer able to transfer from bad schools. (CHAD ALDEMAN, Dec. 29, 2015, WSJ)

When President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act earlier this month, he celebrated the bipartisan support for the legislation--which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act--as a "Christmas miracle." Miracle or not, the new law ended the largest school-choice program in the country.

"Public School Choice," was the simple name for the program, and it was built into No Child Left Behind. Under the law, any school failing to meet performance benchmarks in reading or math for two consecutive years was identified as "in need of improvement." Families whose children attended one of these schools had to be offered the option to transfer to any other district school that was not so identified.

Amusingly, the best defense conservative activists (who, otherwise, claim to love school choice) have is that they never understood the law in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Is this the beginning of the end for Isil in Iraq? (Con Coughlin, 30 Dec 2015, The Telegraph)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), must regret ever making his boastful Boxing Day message that, for all the coalition's efforts, his organisation continues to grow and expand.
"The dawn of 2016 finds Isil very much on the defensive in both Iraq and Syria"

No sooner had his message been broadcast through the Arab media than the Iraqi government announced one of the most significant military gains of 2015 - the recapture of the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi just 60 miles from the capital Baghdad. [...]

In the complex campaign to destroy Isil in both Iraq and Syria, coalition leaders have concluded that it is vital that the ISF has the will as well as the strength to defeat its highly motivated and well-resourced foe. If the threat posed by jihadist fanatics can be eradicated in Iraq, then that will provide a firm platform from which to launch a decisive push to crush Isil in neighbouring Syria.

The "Iraq First" policy, as some coalition commanders now refer to it, has seen American and British military advisers concentrate their efforts on rebuilding the strength of the ISF to the point where they can provide the ground component that will be essential if the Iraqi government is to achieve its long-term aim of reclaiming control of the whole country from Islamist militants.

And, to judge by the success of the joint ISF/coalition operation to recapture of Ramadi, the coalition may now have found a workable template for defeating Isil, one that holds the promise of further significant coalition gains in 2016. that it is based on the recognition that Syria and Iraq don't exist and that their Sunni populations will be separated from the existing governments.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


A new era in South Korean-Japanese relations begins (Michael Auslin, 12/30/15, AEI)

The news out of Tokyo and Seoul on the eve of the New Year was nothing short of blockbuster. After decades of dispute, recrimination, and ill will, Asia's two most powerful democracies agreed to resolve one of the bitterest lingering issues from World War II. In forthrightly offering "his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds," Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe appears to have succeeded in bringing diplomatic closure to the issue of South Korea's "comfort women" -- captives forced to have sex with Japanese servicemen. [...]

 For Abe, the agreement was as much about the future as it was about the past. Reiterating thoughts from his address before the U.S. Congress earlier this year, Abe made clear that he did not want "our children, grandchildren, and their offspring to keep apologizing" for a history from the previous century. Yet what's just as important, as Japanese officials in Washington told me, is that Japan and South Korea face a common set of regional challenges, including the North Korean nuclear threat and an increasingly assertive China, and need to work together to respond to them. The question is whether South Korea, which has deepened relations with China under Park, also sees the benefit of closer ties with Japan.

Seoul and Tokyo are Washington's closest allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and the freeze in their relations in recent years has complicated efforts to get the three countries working more closely on security issues. Yet their interests in preserving freedom of maritime and aerial navigation, the desire to contain if not denuclearize North Korea, and the need to continue engaging Beijing to encourage more cooperative behavior create a host of common issues on which Japan and South Korea can work together. [...]

As Asia's two strongest and most developed democracies, Japan and South Korea can play a major role in reshaping the region's politics. Their common embrace of liberal values, rule of law, freedom of the press, and the like can form a new center of gravity in Asia. With enough trust and with growing experience, they can work together with their American ally to uphold the rules-based order in Asia that has provided security and stability for decades. They can also help encourage Asia's other democracies, such as newly liberalizing Myanmar, and encourage those that have turned away from democracy, like Thailand, to return to liberal principles.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Putin calls for 'constructive cooperation' with the US in a New Year message to Obama (Associated Press, Dec. 30, 2015)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a New Year's message to U.S. President Barack Obama, has called for cooperation between their countries to respond to international challenges.

Given how badly the UR has whipped him, it's no wonder he wants Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


This Year, States Took the War on Uteruses to the Next Level : Nearly 400 bills were introduced, and 57 of them became law. (Becca Andrews | Wed Dec. 30, 2015, Mother Jones)

Reproductive rights took a beating in 2015. According to a year-end report released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced across the country in 2015, up from 335 provisions introduced in 2014. The bills ranged from regulation of medication abortions to all-out bans on the most common method of second-trimester abortions, and the Guttmacher Institute reports 57 of them were enacted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


2015: The year the Democrats fully embraced corporatism (TIMOTHY P. CARNEY • 12/29/15, Daily Examiner)

Democrats have long been purveyors of patronage and corporate welfare, but forever they've gotten away with pretending to be populists. In 2015, that charade ended.

No doubt Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will keep play-acting as anti-corporatists, but after the show their party put on over the past twelve months, only the most credulous and inattentive observer will believe it.

Pelosi's party carried the ball for Boeing and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and led the fight to save and later revive the Export-Import Bank, a corporate welfare agency conservatives this summer sent into liquidation. Democrats fought, but failed, to save an insurance bailout that was part of Obamacare. Hillary led the Democratic presidential field in defense of the indefensible ethanol mandate.

It's not easy being the party of the left at the End of History.
Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Trump's Message to Iowa: Ted Cruz Isn't One of Us (Rob Garver, December 30, 2015, Fiscal Times)

 On Tuesday night in Iowa, Trump renewed a two-pronged attack on the Texan's religion and heritage that might signal that the gloves are finally coming off.

Aware that a large portion of the Republican electorate in Iowa is made up of evangelical Christians, Trump brought up Ted Cruz's ancestry in what looked like an attempt to cast doubt on the depth of his attachment to the evangelical movement.

"To the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, OK? Just remember that, OK? Just remember," Trump said.

It's a line that Trump has used before, but not in weeks, and it deserves a little bit of unpacking.

Cruz, it should be said, isn't from Cuba, though his father is. The senator from Texas was born in Canada to an American citizen mother, making him a citizen of the U.S. from birth. However, what Trump is doing here is reminding voters, who have heard him deriding Hispanic immigrants since the day he launched his campaign, that Cruz is both Hispanic and one generation removed from being an immigrant.

The hidden message here: Ted Cruz isn't really one of us.

Also, if evangelicals don't come out of Cuba, who does? Well, it's either atheistic communists loyal to the Castro regime, or Roman Catholics. Trump, with his vow to prevent Muslims from entering the U.S., has already shown that he is not above using religious differences to fire up his supporters, and that's the second prong of his attack on Cruz - planting doubt about his religious beliefs and suggesting that whatever they are, they aren't the same as those of Iowa voters.

Again, the hidden message: Ted Cruz isn't really one of us.

When you boil down the anti-immigrant/anti-religious politics of Cruz and Trump to its purist form this is what you get.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


When disaster strikes, it's time to fly in the 3D printers : 3D printing has been used to mend pipes after the Nepal earthquake, and NGOs believe the technology could radically change the speed and cost of humanitarian aid (Sam Jones, 30 December 2015, The Guardian)

That night Lamb's co-worker, Mark Mellors, spent 45 minutes designing a water fitting on his laptop. The next morning, they drove back to the camp, connected the computer to a 3D printer powered by the battery of their Land Rover - and waited.

After two hours, the printer was done and the fitting ready.

"We put it on the pipe and, hey presto, it worked," says Lamb, who is Field Ready's engineering adviser.

"The hairs on the back of your neck stand up because you realise that you're on to something here. Everybody standing around watching us - the water engineers, the local partner, the chap from Oxfam, the local social committee - were just watching, going, 'This makes sense. This is what we need'."

Not only had Lamb and Mellors solved the problem of the leaking pipes, they had also proved that 3D printers can be used on the ground in disaster relief.

"We were thrilled because it's one of our proofs of concept: this idea of making useful things in camps for internally displaced people [IDP] is fundamental," says Lamb.

"It was the first time - at least that we're aware of - that this has been done: that you 3D print a sort of proper water fitting, rather than having to make an improvised one, in an IDP camp.

"It's that process of identifying the need, doing the design and then printing it out and fitting it out - and doing all that in less than 12 hours in a remote area. It's a pretty important step forward, I think, for the use of this kind of technology."

Although some NGOs are already using 3D technology, Lamb hopes that the big aid agencies will one day deploy 3D printers with their emergency response teams. The hardware, he argues, is portable, cheap - the printer Field Ready used in Bahrabise cost about $600 (£400) - and can simplify logistics and supply chains. What's more, 3D printing is only the first step: Lamb can foresee a time when technology will dramatically reduce the amount of kit that aid agencies need to take into disaster areas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


India successfully tests missile system developed with Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 30, 2015)

The Indian Navy overnight Tuesday successfully tested the Barak 8 missile defense system, which was developed jointly with Israel.

The Indian Defense Ministry hailed the "significant milestone in enhancing its anti missile defense capability," which it said represents a "quantum jump in air defense capability."

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Oil slides on surprise rise in U.S. stockpiles (Ivana Kottasova, December 30, 2015, CNN Money)

Oil prices dropped another 3% on Wednesday after data showed surprising rise in U.S. crude stockpiles.

Oil futures slid to just under $36.50 per barrel after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.6 million barrels last week.

That was a lot worse reading than expected. Analysts had predicted crude stockpiles would decline.

"At 487.4 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories remain near levels not seen for this time of year in at least the last 80 years," the agency said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Should we solar panel the Sahara desert? (BBC, 12/29/15)

Tony Patt is professor of climate policy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He leads the research for the European Research Council on whether the Saharan sun could power Europe.

"The technology is good. It's matured a lot in the last few years in terms of thermal storage. That allows you to take the heat that you capture from the sun and store it for, let's say, up to a day, and produce the power later. That means you can generate it around the clock.

"And the Sahara desert is so big that if there is cloudy weather, it's localised, and with thermal storage, it can provide absolutely reliable power.

"Where I'm from in the US, Boston gets a huge amount of electricity from northern Quebec, which is about 1,000 miles away, via a single power cable. They're not hard to build as long as you get political approval from all the jurisdictions you're going through.

"They don't lose much power. Maybe over 1,000 miles you lose 2%.

December 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Retaking of Ramadi proves US-led strategy, but at high Iraqi cost (SINAH SALAHEDDIN AND SUSANNAH GEORGE, December 30, 2015, AP)

Pockets of resistance remain, but the majority of Ramadi is under government control for the first time since May, when IS militants punched their way into the city with a series of massive suicide car bombs, scattering and humiliating Iraq's beleaguered security forces.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Belawi said "heavy and concentrated airstrikes" by the US-led coalition killed IS fighters, destroyed their vehicles and blew up suicide car bombs before they could be deployed, allowing his forces to advance into the city.

"I think this fight shows the Iraqis are ready to fight and these calls for US ground troops are not the best strategy moving forward," said Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq.

"What we saw in terms of the combination of airstrikes and intelligence support and then forces on the ground, it has worked very, very well," he said.

Over the past six months, the coalition has launched more than 600 airstrikes, hitting about 2,500 different targets, US Army Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, told reporters on Tuesday. He said at its peak there were up to 1,000 IS fighters in Ramadi, and that only 150-250 remain.

But while the airstrikes eventually helped flush out the militants, they smashed large parts of the city into rubble.

The city has suffered "huge devastation," Al-Belawi said. He estimates that more than half of the city's buildings have been destroyed, including government offices, markets and houses. Most residents fled earlier this year, and it could be months or longer before they are able to return.

The point being, ISIS can't afford to occupy buildings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Home Prices Still Rising at 5% Annual Pace (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, DEC. 29, 2015)

Steady job growth, low mortgage rates and tight inventories helped spur rising home prices in October, and a stronger job market lifted consumer confidence in December, separate reports showed on Tuesday.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.5 percent in the 12 months ending in October, up from a 5.4 percent pace in September.

Home values have climbed at a roughly 5 percent pace during much of 2015, as strong hiring has bolstered a real estate market still recovering from a housing crash that led to a recession eight years ago. [...]

In another report, the Conference Board's consumer confidence index rose to 96.5 this month from November's revised 92.6. Americans were more optimistic about current conditions and about the future.

"As 2015 draws to a close, consumers' assessment of the current state of the economy remains positive, particularly their assessment of the job market," said Lynn Franco, the group's director of economic indicators.

The Sanders/Trump narrative can't survive the economy, especially with gas headed much lower.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Despite Bloody 2015, the World Really Is Safer Than Ever (Michael A. Cohen, Dec. 23, 2015, World Politics Review)
In 2014, five countries--Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria--were responsible for nearly 80 percent of all terrorist attacks. Things have gotten slightly better in Pakistan and worse in Syria this year, but the combined percentage is likely quite similar for 2015. Terrorism has become a much more utilized weapon of war, but it is still one that is largely localized to areas of instability and insurgency. 

In the West, which has had a collective freak-out over terrorism since the Paris attacks in November, terrorism is a vanishingly rare phenomenon. By one measure, over the past 15 years less than 1 percent of all terrorism deaths have occurred in Western countries. The simple and depressing fact is that the transition from authoritarianism that began in the Middle East in 2011 with the Arab Spring has bred conflict, greater instability, an embrace of radicalism and staggeringly higher death tolls. But this also makes the region a global outlier.
While intrastate wars have seemingly become more deadly, interstate war still remains an almost unheard-of occurrence. The Russian "invasion" of Crimea would seem to undercut that notion, but it is actually the exception that proves the rule. Indeed, in broad swaths of the world--North America, East Asia, South America, Europe and much of Africa--peace and stability remain the norm.
Seemingly intractable conflicts in Colombia and Myanmar appear closer to resolution. The U.S. has taken steps to normalize relations not just with Iran, but also Cuba. Nonproliferation efforts made enormous strides with the Iran nuclear deal, which comes on the heels of the chemical weapons deal in Syria. The one country that seems to act with the greatest disregard for global norms, Russia, continues to be economically isolated, having only recently shed its diplomatic isolation. So far Moscow's decision to thumb its nose at the rest of the world has been an economic disaster. As the response to Russia's actions in Ukraine demonstrates, virtually every country in the world has accepted and adhered to the global consensus opposing cross-border invasions and violations of international sovereignty.
And if one looks beyond the question of global conflict, there is an even brighter story.
According to the United Nations, 25 years ago, nearly half of those living in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. Today, the proportion is around 14 percent. Meanwhile, the global middle class has tripled in the same period.
Malaria rates have dropped 58 percent since 2000. Fewer children are dying from measles. Global infant mortality rates have fallen by more than half since the 1990s. By nearly every social, educational and health-related metric, the world is making extraordinary advances and people are living healthier, freer and more prosperous lives.
Indeed, what is most telling about the state of the world today is that efforts to enshrine global norms, enhance international cooperation, limit and contain conflict, and improve the human condition have become the dominant paradigm of international relations. 

You can't have a clash of civilizations when there is only one.
Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Israel's Virulent Housing Bias Runs Deep -- and It's Not Only Aimed at Arabs (Naomi Zeveloff, December 29, 2015, Forward)

[T]he Sharary family is at the center of a local controversy with national proportions. One of dozens of Arab families from northern Israel that won tenders to build 49 homes in Afula Illit, the Shararys and their fellow Arab bidders face the fury of many of their potential Jewish neighbors.

Days after the tender process results were made public, a group of about 200 Afula residents staged a protest, calling on Mayor Yitzhak Meron to revoke the tenders. Demonstrators denounced him as a "traitor" and a "terrorist," according to press reports. "He wants to build a mosque," one sign at the protest read.

The Afula episode is only the latest real estate controversy with a racial tinge in Israel. According to the Walla news site, Jewish residents of Ofakim, a city west of Beersheba, won tenders to build in the city but canceled the transaction once they learned that 14 Bedouin residents were planning on settling in the same area.

And in November, the Bemuna construction company posted a video advertisement of an Ashkenazi family whose Hanukkah celebration was interrupted by Mizrahi neighbors -- Jews of Arab origin -- depicted as raucously ignorant of their Ashkenazi holiday traditions. The video, which the company later deleted, was an advertisement for a new housing development in Kiryat Gat that presumably would be free of Mizrahim. "Do you dream of owning your own home?" the voiceover said. "Want neighbors after your own heart?" [...]

These incidents and others in recent years speak to the deep segregation in Israel. With a few exceptions, like Haifa and Jaffa, Israel is a country split along ethnic and religious lines, with different school systems and population centers for each group.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


The truth about the caliphate : To tackle Islamic State, we need to understand the dream of the caliphate and its real roots in history (Jason Burke, September 2015,  Prospect Magazine)

Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been much western interest in Islam. Barack Obama, Tony Blair, George Bush and many others have all spoken of the religion as one "of peace." Others have argued the opposite. But the debate about the nature of the faith and its relation to violent extremism is missing an important element. If we want to understand the world view and aims of IS, and why some people seem attracted to its project, we would do better to focus more on the history of Islam, both as understood by militants and as it actually occurred, than the extraordinarily difficult question of the essential nature of a religion.

One obviously important area of historical inquiry is the life of Mohammed. Dozens of books have been published explaining the centrality of the Prophet within Islam, as well as the consequences of the the various imperialist incursions and occupations in the Islamic world since the 19th century. But the 11 centuries between the death of Mohammed in 632 and the arrival of Napoleon in Egypt in 1798 have received less attention outside specialist circles. This is a shame because much of what is happening now can be explained by what happened then--particularly IS's project. It may allow us some, very qualified, optimism about the long-term prospects for the group.

It was not Mohammed himself but his first four successors who oversaw the campaigns that turned Islam from a new creed restricted to the Arabian Peninsula into a global imperial force. Around half of the historical references cited by al-Adnani in his statement in March occurred during the rules of the caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali from 632 until 661. In his book Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, the Afghan-American writer Tamim Ansary argues that the core religious allegory of Islam--analogous to exodus, bondage and the return to the promised land for the Jews, or the last supper, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ for Christians--is not limited to Mohammed's life, but includes the reigns of these men too.

Quite why Islam spread as fast as it did is still debated. Some historians suggest it was the military superiority of the early Arab armies that was primarily responsible. The black flags under which contemporary extremists fight, and which they use as idents on their videos and fly above their offices in places like Raqqa, deliberately recall what are imagined to be the battle banners of the earliest Muslim forces. Those troops' historic success may have been due to extremely capable battlefield leaders, the faith of the fighters, their ability to do without cumbersome supply trains, or flexible and innovative tactics. It may also have been because the faith emerged at a time when the two superpowers of the era--Byzantine Rome and the Persians--had exhausted themselves in centuries of conflict.

The conquests meant that Muslims' collective memory has a different starting point from that of Jews or Christians. Mohammed did not merely outline a vision of a utopian community to be realised at an unspecified future date but actually built one during his lifetime. That community then transformed much of the known world, through diplomacy, trade, cultural exchange and war. While for Jews the collective memory of the earliest believers is exile, and for Christians persecution, for Sunni Muslims at least, it is one of the most successful military and political campaigns in history.

Moreover, as its great cities expanded and its traders prospered, the new Islamic empire developed into a hugely rich and powerful civilisation. The Umayyads, who ruled from the death of Ali in 661 to 750 from Damascus, continued to acquire new territory, extending their rule as far as the Atlantic coast of the Iberian peninsula to the west and the Indus valley in the east. They gave the new imperial entity a permanence in other ways too. Some of the most famous examples of Islamic architecture--the Great Mosque of Damascus, the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem--date from this period.

The Abbasids, who overthrew the Umayyads in 750, ruled from a series of cities including Baghdad, Raqqa and Samarra, and are credited with ushering in a golden age of Islamic civilisation. By the turn of the first millennium, the new empire had splintered into states run by competing dynasties, but brilliant cultural activity continued, and the various incursions of the Crusaders from the west were eventually repulsed and invasions from the east successfully resisted. Even the catastrophic sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 did not mean the era of the great Islamic rulers was over. Those who had destroyed the great city converted to Islam themselves. Within 200 years, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who went on to conquer much of the Balkans and threaten central Europe. Even as late as the 17th century, no European state, with the arguable exception of Catholic Spain, came close to rivalling the Ottoman empire's territorial extent, military capability, scientific knowledge and artistic achievement. From Delhi, the Mughals, an Islamic dynasty descended from Mongol converts, dominated south Asia. Their wealth and power were fabulous. Between these two superpowers, the Safavids built their spectacular Shia state in Persia. The contrast with the poor, backward, bickering, strife-torn nations of Europe is striking.

What today's commentators in London and Washington often forget--and militants repeatedly remind themselves and anyone else prepared to listen--is that the supremacy of the west is a relatively new phenomenon in historical terms. Across much of the world, for two thirds of the last 1,300 years, the power, the glory and the wealth was, broadly speaking, Islamic. The story of the caliphate, both as historical reality and as imagined by extremists like those of the Islamic State, can only be understood within the context of this overarching narrative, as the means by which the militants seek to return the world's Muslim community to what it sees as its rightful status: a global superpower. [...]

First and foremost, the caliphate would allow Muslims to heal the damage done by centuries of western dominance, through dismantling all the structures it had imposed. "The Muslims were defeated after the fall of their caliphate," al-Baghdadi wrote. "Then their state ceased to exist, so the unbelievers were able to weaken and humiliate the Muslims, dominate them in every region, plunder their wealth and resources, and rob them of their rights. They accomplished this by attacking and occupying their lands, placing their treacherous agents in power to rule the Muslims with an iron fist, and spreading dazzling and deceptive slogans such as civilisation, peace, coexistence, freedom, democracy, secularism, Baathism, nationalism and patriotism, among other falsehoods."

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Arab sovereign wealth fund exodus just beginning (Andy Critchlow, December 29, 2015, Reuters)

During the most recent energy boom, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait - amassed sovereign funds worth more than $2.3 trillion. These assets have traditionally comprised a mix of debt and other securities, in addition to influential stakes in some of the world's biggest companies such as Glencore, VW and Barclays.

Large chunks of this cash are now being repatriated back to the region to finance widening budget deficits, which this year are expected to be in the region of 13 percent of GDP in the GCC. Should oil prices average $56 per barrel next year, then GCC states would need to liquidate some $208 billion of their overseas assets, or just below 10 percent of their sovereign fund holdings, based on a Breakingviews analysis of their fiscal break-even costs.

But if oil prices fall to $20 a barrel, as Goldman Sachs has warned, the GCC states may have to sell $494 billion worth of booty to make up the budgetary shortfalls based on forecast fiscal costs for their oil production in 2016. This is provided they maintain the lavish rates of public spending that the region's populations have become accustomed to.

At that rate of divestment these sheikhdoms - which pump about a fifth of the world's oil - would almost drain their funds entirely by 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Pillars of the Community : As Jews leave Cochin, Muslim neighbors and friends tend to what remains of their heritage in India (Alyssa Pinsker, December 29, 2015, Tablet)

Sarah Cohen, 93, walked down Synagogue Lane in Jew Town at dusk in early October. She teetered with fragility and palpable excitement as she made her way through this neighborhood in the city of Cochin in the region of Kerala, on the southwestern coast of India. There was rumored to be a minyan for Simchat Torah. That--a minyan--is a rarity in this dying Jewish community of six, whose average age is 72. She wore a magenta-and-olive "Kerala nightie"--what we might call a muumuu--that her aides Jasmine and Seli dressed her in, and a shimmering pink headscarf. It's a nod to the Jewish Cochin tradition to wear all red on this holiday. On her right was Thaha Ibrahim, age 45, who gripped her arm proudly and smiled. On her left was Ibrahim's wife Jasmine, 43, who held Sarah up to help her walk to Pardesi Synagogue, the 450-year-old house of worship that historically catered to the Pardesi--or "white"--Jews, a term coined by the Portuguese settlers in India in the 16th century.

Thaha Ibrahim is Muslim, and in Cochin such friendships between Jews and Muslims are what keep the tiny Jewish community afloat. [...]

Though the region has been largely free of anti-Semitism, in recent decades Indian Jews have dispersed moving to Israel, Canada, Australia, and the United States. And as they've left, Muslims like Ibrahim have stepped in to make sure the community continues to shuffle along. He and his wife are among a handful of Muslims in Kerala passionate about preserving this unique heritage.


Ibrahim grew up watching his father, a tailor, interact with Sarah and her late husband, Jacob Cohen, a lawyer. His father helped stitch dresses for Sarah, whose primary hobby was embroidery (she opened an embroidery shop in 1986). Sarah made wedding dresses for the community and kippahs to give to visiting Jewish dignitaries. When he got older, Ibrahim started his own business selling postcards and other memorabilia, and Jacob, who had become a friend and mentor to Ibrahim, made space in the Cohen household for Ibrahim's goods.

"Years later on his death bed, Jacob Uncle said, 'My Sarah is alone and she doesn't have any children, you have to take care of her like her son,' " Ibrahim explained. "I replied yes, I still keep my word and take care of her like my own mother. She is more than a mother to me even though I address her [as] 'Sarah Auntie' and I spend more of my time with Sarah Auntie than even my own family." According to others in the community Sarah would no longer be alive were it not for the support of Ibrahim and Jasmine, who now run her shop for her.

I teasingly asked Ibrahim why he is so nice. "Because I am a Muslim, my religion taught me so," he said.

So passionate is he about the Jews, that in 2013, he and his friend Thoufeek Zakriya, 26, produced Jews of Malabar, a documentary and a complementary exhibition that was shown in Jew Town in 2013. Zakriya is a prominent historian and calligrapher--self-taught and amateur--on the Jews of the region. He spends his time now mostly in Dubai, where he works as a chef. Like Ibrahim, he's a Muslim, a devout one. Yet at age 16 he taught himself to read and write Hebrew. When he was a child, he asked his father to take him to Jew Town where a member of the Pardesi synagogue invited him inside. Still intrigued, he bought a book from a local book seller with a year's worth of savings, not knowing it was a siddur until years later. Later Sarah Auntie gave Thoufeek a 140-year-old Hebrew Bible.

"We are brothers," Zakriya told me, explaining his commitment to the Jewish community. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Cheap batteries will give utilities electric shock (Katrina Hamlin, December 28, 2015, Reuters)

[T]he arrival of budget batteries coupled with cheaper solar power will allow a growing number of consumers to pull the plug on  old-fashioned electricity networks in 2016 and beyond.

Solar panel prices have already plummeted, and batteries look set to follow in the near future as manufacturers hone new technologies and ramp up production. Tesla says it can slash the cost of its own batteries by more than a third with a bigger, better factory. That's plausible: costs dropped by 14 percent on average every year between 2007 and 2014: broker CLSA reckons they will tumble by a further 70 percent over the next five years.

The prospect of being able to generate, store and manage their own power may prompt some customers to leave the grid. In parts of developing economies where electricity has yet to arrive, power networks may not be needed. [...]

Some power companies have decided to embrace change. Australian utilities AGL Energy and Origin Energy now sell solar panel and battery sets to their own customers.  Though there's a risk the move will dim demand for conventional electricity, the bet is that clients will stay connected to the grid in order to sell their extra volts back to the utilities. In that case, the grid will survive as an exchange where energy is traded between large and small producers and consumers.

Others would be wise to heed their example and take action. Battery power is about to deliver an electric shock to the old system: utilities will have to see the sunny side if they are to survive.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


How Bush's War on Terror Ensnared Obama (Eli Lake, 12/29/15, Bloomberg View)

[I]n his new book, "Power Wars," the author [Charlie Savage] makes a meticulous case that -- with few exceptions -- Obama preserved a long war on terror that many progressives in the 2000s regarded as criminal.

This was not necessarily how Obama set out to conduct his presidency, but as many generals are fond of saying, the enemy has a vote. As Savage, a reporter at the New York Times, wryly observes at the end of the book: "One way of looking at this is that Obama entrenched the Forever War. Another is that the Forever War ensnared him."

This entrenchment and ensnarement is self-evident today. After all, Obama said the 2001 authorization for war against al-Qaeda applied to the special operations and air war he launched against the Islamic State in 2014. In fact, Obama was making his peace with Bush's long war as early as Christmas Day, 2009, when a troubled young man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly blew up a plane over Detroit with a bomb in his underwear.

The underwear bombing incident was both a political and policy jolt to for Obama. The tug and pull between security and reform that existed in the first year of his presidency effectively ended then, according to Savage, and a kind of retrenchment began.

The value that Savage brings to his book is in reporting out how Obama's lawyers, who were often the toughest critics of Bush when they were out of power, wrestled with and ultimately sanctioned this retrenchment.

To understand this process, one must begin with the Bush years. In his first term particularly, Bush asserted a limitless war-time authority to disregard Congress and existing law so as to wage the new war on terror. Over time, these powers were curtailed by the courts, Congress, political opposition and some of his own lawyers. By the time Obama came into office, many of the most controversial Bush-era programs were either approved by statute, such as the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act  (which Obama voted for as a senator), or revoked altogether, such as the CIA's use of waterboarding.

While Obama at times gave the impression that he shared the civil-liberties concerns of many of his supporters, he was less opposed as president to many of these programs than he was to the broader idea that the president's wartime authorities allowed him to disregard existing statutes. In practice, this meant that Obama pursued a reform of process and not a curtailment of powers. This rule-of-law critique, as Savage calls it, helps explain how Obama often arrived at the same place as his predecessor on many of the activities and programs that outraged his base when they began under Bush.

Retrospectively, historians will note that the UR continued W's war on terror, expanded on W's free trade push, passed the Heritage mandate that--along with W's HSAs--an Ownership Society Health Care system depends on and golfed quite a bit.  Only one of these distinguishes the two.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Ben Carson's Collapsing Campaign (NOAH ROTHMAN, DEC. 28, 2015. Commentary)

A damning report published last week in the Wall Street Journal indicated strongly that Dr. Ben Carson's presidential campaign has hit the skids, is in desperate need of competent leadership, and may be subject to abuse by unscrupulous campaign consultants. The majority of the campaign's donations, it was revealed, are being used to reach new donors. That misuse of financial resources led at least one donor to accuse the campaign of serving as a vehicle to line the pockets of Carson's operatives. When confronted by the Journal with these allegations, Carson's campaign spokesperson Doug Watts did not inspire confidence. "I don't know how much we've spent," he said. "That's something I hardly ever track." If this wasn't simply theatrics, this flippant response to grave allegations exposed either striking ineptitude or unprofessional indifference.

This tale of internal turmoil within the Carson campaign turned out not to be an isolated event. Instead, it was a sign of things to come.

"It costs 55 cents in the Carson campaign to raise a dollar. So if you look at, 'Oh, he raised $20 million, what is the net to the campaign?' Most of that is going out every month in consulting fees to these guys," Harold Doley, a former Reagan administration official who hosted a fundraiser for Carson in early October, alleged. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


To counter Islam's critics, imam says Muslims need to relearn faith (Umar Farooq, December 29, 2015, RNS) 

In the bustling conservative Fatih district, Fadel Solimon looks at the floor and nods as a young woman asks him for advice on how to respond to criticism of Islam on Twitter.  

"Ever since these Paris attacks, people have been tweeting at me with all these verses in the Quran saying to conquer land, expand borders, force everyone to convert or pay the jizya," she said, referring to a tax levied on non-Muslims.

"No, that's not true, that's not true," interjected Solimon.  

"But the verses are there," continued the woman. "They are in the Quran. Didn't empires like the Ottoman Empire spread like that?"

"Defending Islam is not defending Islamic history," Solimon replied. "The Ottomans were not angels. The Umayyads were not angels. The Abbasids were not angels. You shouldn't defend Islamic history," he said, recounting three historical Muslim empires.  

Solimon then returned to the verses under examination in the Quran and offered his own view. "The Quran simply says if a neighboring country violates a peace agreement, or they attack you, you can defend yourself. ... It does not teach you to conquer for wealth, but to remove oppression, to defend the weak."

A former imam at American University in Washington, D.C., the now London-based Solimon has spent more than a decade training Muslims on interfaith outreach. He is a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, rubbed elbows with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and spent time advising the group's members during the short-lived government of Mohammed Morsi.

Solimon is among a growing number of Muslim preachers seeking to change the understanding of Islam and modernity. While much of this internal dialogue is taking place in conferences in Western countries, Solimon is one of a handful of preachers targeting the rank and file, reaching more than 19,000 students seeking the tools to counter Muslim critics, and in the process, relearning the traditional precepts of their faith.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Cruz Excoriates Rubio on Foreign Policy, Links Him to Clinton : In an exclusive interview, the Texas Republican positions himself as a third way between "neo-con" interventionism and isolationism. (Sahil Kapur, November 30, 2015, Bloomberg)

Cruz's belief is that trying to democratize those societies can be counterproductive and that U.S. military power should be focused narrowly on protecting U.S. interests.

"If you look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and for that matter some of the more aggressive Washington neo-cons, they have consistently mis-perceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and have advocated military adventurism that has had the effect of benefiting radical Islamic terrorists," he said.

On Syria, Cruz inveighed against Rubio and Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state, for supporting a no-fly zone and arming "the so-called moderate rebels." "I think none of that makes any sense. In my view, we have no dog in the fight of the Syrian civil war," he said, arguing that Rubio and Clinton "are repeating the very same mistakes they made in Libya. They've demonstrated they've learned nothing."

"The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend," Cruz said. "If the Obama administration and the Washington neo-cons succeed in toppling [Bashar al-] Assad, Syria will be handed over to radical Islamic terrorists. ISIS will rule Syria."

As another example, he said the Obama administration's support for overthrowing Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak--a dictator opposed by his people but longstanding U.S. ally--led to the Muslim Brotherhood government, which fell in 2013.

We have nearly 100 years of proof that oppressing Arab Muslims has been a disaster.  A decade or two of fighting Islamicism is the cost we're paying for the Realist policies Mr. Cruz is still advocating.  It's reminiscent of the folks who called for leaving the Soviet Union in place because it kept places like Eastern Europe quiet and, after all, those Slavs were incapable of self-governance..... 

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Are Primary Polls Finally Predictive? No, but This Is When the Fun Starts (Nate Cohn, DEC. 29, 2015, 538)

In recent primary campaigns, going back to the 2004 Democratic primary, those candidates who have led in Iowa or New Hampshire polls with just one month to go have lost as often as they have won. On average, candidates' share of the vote at this stage differed from their final share of the vote by around seven percentage points. With many candidates running, it was not at all uncommon for a candidate to move by more.

The most extreme examples are just that. In 2004, John Edwards held 7 percent of the support in Iowa with a month to go; he won around 32 percent. In 2008, John McCain held 18 percent in New Hampshire; he won with 37 percent. In 2012 in Iowa, Rick Santorum held 5 percent; he won with 25 percent. Even the races that look fundamentally stable in comparison -- like the 2008 Democratic race in Iowa -- involved a come-from-behind victory over the last two weeks. Many of the candidates who surged over the last few weeks also outperformed their poll numbers on Election Day.

Perhaps the most striking thing about these huge, last-minute swings is that they often happen without anything huge triggering them. There were no epic debate performances or nationally televised implosions. Two of the candidates who entered the final month with the largest and most consistent leads over the previous few months -- Howard Dean in 2004 and Mitt Romney in New Hampshire in 2008 -- saw their leads evaporate without doing anything to get them in the history books. (The "Dean Scream" actually was emitted after he lost Iowa -- by 20 points.) Instead, many of these huge swings occur in the course of a seemingly normal month of campaigning.

How can a race change so much? The answer is that most voters have still not made up their minds by this stage.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


U.S.-led air strikes kill IS leaders linked to Paris attacks (Reuters, 12/29/15)

A U.S.-led coalition has killed 10 Islamic State leaders in the past month with targeted air strikes, including individuals linked to last month's attacks in Paris, a spokesman for the coalition said on Tuesday.

"Over the past month, we've killed 10 ISIL leadership figures with targeted air strikes, including several external attack planners, some of whom are linked to the Paris attacks," said U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIL. "Others had designs on further attacking the West."

One of those killed was Abdul Qader Hakim, who facilitated the militants' external operations and had links to the Paris attack network, Warren said.

Back-to-back losses in Syria, Iraq signal losing streak for IS (AFP, December 29, 2015)

IS's seizure of Ramadi in Iraq in May along with Palmyra in Syria sent the alarming signal that it could still expand a year after seizing swaths of the two countries.

It has since retreated however, and recently losses have come in quick succession: Baiji, Sinjar and now Ramadi -- all in Iraq -- as well as a key dam on the Euphrates in Syria.

"Controlling and governing population centres and key infrastructure is important to the group's claim to statehood, and these losses chip away at the credibility of that claim," Firas Abi Ali, Middle East analyst at research firm IHS.


December 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Iran ships uranium to Russia in 'significant step' for nuclear deal (Deutsche-Welle, 12/28/15)

Iran passed a significant milestone of its historic nuclear accord by shipping 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium and all of its 20-percent enriched uranium to Russia, the United States said on Monday. [...]

The shipment also included the removal of all of Iran's nuclear material enriched to 20 percent, except for fuel plates used at a research reactor allowed under the agreement, he added.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Ben Carson on the brink: 'A process like this is pretty brutal' (Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa December 28, 2015, Washington Post)

Ginsberg: So you feel like your standing has gone down a little bit because of the way you project yourself, as opposed to the policies that you've put forward? You've had some missteps on the latter.

Carson: In terms of missteps, I think that people simply can't sometimes understand what I'm talking about. They say, "You couldn't name any coalition members [to counter the Islamic State]." That's absolutely absurd. What I was saying was that it's the wrong question, who's the first person you're going to call. I was setting the stage for what you really needed to do. But everybody said, "Oh, he doesn't know any of those countries down there." That's just craziness. As far as the China thing was concerned, I probably shouldn't have said that. I said that on the basis of what some people in the CIA tell me. And of course, subsequent information came out that there is some Chinese [involvement in Syria]. But they made it seem like I'm saying there are a bunch of Chinese boots on the ground. Well, everybody knows that Chinese have physical characteristics that would make them pretty easy to identify in a setting like that. Give me a break. But they just jump on. That kind of stuff is frustrating. But it's something that I've learned. You continue to learn that everything you say is going to be dissected and used in a negative way, if possible. I'm learning. I wish I didn't have to learn that.

Costa: What are you going to do to improve, in terms of staffing? There are also a lot of reports out there about the amount of money the campaign is spending.

Carson: I'm looking at every aspect of the campaign right now. Everything is on the table, every job is on the table. And we're going to analyze it very carefully. We're working to do that because even though it's not anywhere near as bad as they try to make it out to be, it's not perfect and we're going to work on it.

Costa: Since this may be your low point politically, does [campaign manager] Barry Bennett stay on? Or do you bring in someone from the outside?

Carson: All of these things are on the table for consideration. We will be doing something, there's no question.

Ginsberg: We're about five weeks out from the Iowa caucuses. When are you going to make these changes?

Carson: There will be changes going on, probably before Iowa.

Ginsberg: What about before the new year?

Carson: Let's definitely say before Iowa.

Costa: Why are you going to wait a month?

Carson: It could be tomorrow. I'm just saying it'll be before Iowa.

Ginsberg: What advice are you getting about changing? What do people want you to do?

Carson: They want me to be more bombastic, they want you to attack other people.

Costa: Are you talking about your own confidants?

Carson: [Nods.] They want me to act more like a politician.

Ginsberg: Are you capable of that?

Carson: Sure, I could do it, but that's just not who I am. Why would I try to get elected based on who I'm not? I wouldn't be happy and the people wouldn't be happy. We've seen the results of that situation and we don't need it again.

Ginsberg: Do you regret not making the shift to talking about foreign policy sooner?

Carson: You know, it is what it is. [He pauses, then breaks into a chuckle.]

Costa: If anything sums up this year, it's that sentence.

Ginsberg: But what does that mean? It sounds like someone who is a little resigned to "what it is."

Carson: In retrospect, if you could do everything over, you'd be batting a thousand. But it's not going to happen.

He's already quit.
Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Jeb Bush, comeback kid? (Michael Brendan Dougherty, December 28, 2015, The Week)

Marco Rubio is just not catching fire in national polls or in Iowa and New Hampshire specifically. The Rubio moment in the media has been going on for at least a month on the logic that Rubio is acceptable to the Republican establishment and to many movement conservatives. He provides a young, Latino, telegenic, forward-looking contrast to Hillary Clinton. He even hails from Florida! And yet, he's stuck at 10 to 12 percent, everywhere. Meanwhile, Chris Christie has gained a few points in New Hampshire. So has John Kasich.

If you were wagering on the Republican race, Jeb Bush is the best "value bet." Everyone thinks he's toast. But he still has a real shot.

As the panic over a Trump- or Cruz-led party putsch takes hold, Jeb can remind donors and even the conservative movement that he also hails from Florida. He can remind them that unlike Rubio, Christie, or Kasich, his super PACs are still absolutely loaded, and likely far more willing to spend their cash than Trump will be if the primary turns into a spending contest. Trump is a candidate many Republicans and conservative mandarins cannot abide. His victory would be a rebuke to them. Jeb has the resources and the reach within the party apparatus to grind out a race with Trump.

At the end of the day, it's the grown-up party and the voters will behave as adults.  Temper tantrums are fine until then.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Lifeguards: Man in fatal fall from California cliff appeared distracted by electronic device (Associated Press, Dec. 27, 2015)

Authorities have identified a man they say plunged to his death from a San Diego cliff while using a camera or cellphone. [...]

San Diego lifeguard Bill Bender says witnesses reported seeing the man looking at an electronic device before he fell.

Narcissism kills...

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


The Right's Post-Constitutional Moment (Rich Lowry, December 26, 2015, RCP)

Donald Trump exists in a plane where there isn't a Congress or a Constitution. There are no trade-offs or limits. There is only his will and his team of experts who will figure out how to do whatever he wants to do, no matter how seemingly impossible.

The thought you can't do that doesn't ever occur to him. He would deport the American-born children of illegal immigrants. He has mused about shutting down mosques and creating a database of Muslims. He praised FDR's internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

You would be forgiven for thinking that in Trump's world, constitutional niceties -- indeed, any constraints whatsoever -- are for losers. It's only strength that matters. It shouldn't be a surprise that he expresses admiration for Vladimir Putin, a "powerful leader" who is "highly respected within his own country and beyond." Trump's call to steal Iraq's oil and kill the families of terrorists is in a Putinesque key.

For some on the right, clearly the Constitution was an instrument rather than a principle. It was a means to stop Obama, and has been found lacking.

Both wings hate the Republic. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


North African al-Qaeda says top figure killed in ambush (AP, December 28, 2015)

A leading figure of the North African affiliate of al-Qaeda has been killed in an ambush by Algerian soldiers, one of 109 terrorists killed by Algerian security forces in 2015, the country's Defense Ministry said Sunday.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, said that Abu al-Hassan Rachid al-Bulaydi, head of the Sharia Committee, was killed on Friday "as a result of an insidious ambush by the apostates," according to a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The statement said he was killed in the Tizi Ouzou region east of Algiers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


'In Sweden, everyone follows the system' :  Prashant Jain, 29, moved to Sweden to work at an asset management company. He tells The Local how working in investments gives you a global outlook, and how Swedes don't buck the system.  (The Local, 28 Dec 2015)

"Working in investment gives you an outlook onto the whole world," explains Jain. "It helps you understand the world around you and what's going on. Everything has an impact on the financial market - and vice versa."

Having a job at a global firm in Stockholm has also opened Jain's eyes to cultural differences in how people do business. He notes that in Sweden, people in his field are often less open to trying out new technologies in finance and are more sceptical about taking risks.

"Clients are a bit more laid back compared to the US or the UK. In finance they are less likely to take risks here, they are happy with what they have," he says.

A preference for security also has an impact on the financial career ladder in Sweden. "For example, if you want to be a Portfolio Manager here you need ten or more years' experience," says Jain. "In the US you could be a 19-year-old, they spot talent, but in Sweden everyone follows the system.

"If I had to sum up the financial world in Sweden, it would be stability and security. In American culture there is a huge potential to make it big very quickly, but you can also fall down. Here, if you know the system, you don't have to worry about things. It's less stressful and that's why people are so much happier."

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Christian Realism & U.S. Foreign Policy (Joseph Loconte, December 28, 2015, Providence)

The fatal problem with this view is that historic Christianity--especially Protestant Christianity--has never reduced the gospel to these elements. The cross of Christ cannot be comprehended without an awareness of the depth of human guilt and the power of radical evil. "The gospel is something more than the law of love. The gospel deals with the fact that men violate the law of love," wrote Niebuhr in "Why the Christian Church is Not Pacifist". "The gospel presents Christ as the pledge and revelation of God's mercy which finds man in his rebellion and overcomes his sin."

Like no other American theologian of the twentieth century, Reinhold Niebuhr exposed the assumptions of progressive Christianity that helped to create a mood of political ambivalence and isolation in an age of global terror. Niebuhr's political theology--what became known as "Christian realism"--sought a more biblical view of how the Christian citizen can live responsibly within a civilization in crisis. During the 1930s and 40s, through his books, articles, and the magazine he founded and edited, Christianity and Crisis, Niebuhr reminded his generation that Protestant Christianity possessed unique resources to confront the problems and perplexities of the modern age.

We need to recover something of the Christian realism that proved so prescient in an era of theological confusion. As Niebuhr argued, contemporary historical events confirm the Reformation emphasis on the persistence of sin at every level of moral achievement; there is no way to fully escape the corrupting influence of power in any political act. To believe otherwise is to imagine that politics can transcend these earthly realities if only "the ethics of Jesus" would shape our priorities and methods.

No amount of Bible citations, Niebuhr explained, can conceal the humanistic assumptions behind this effort:

We have, in other words, reinterpreted the Christian gospel in terms of the Renaissance faith in man...We have interpreted world history as a gradual ascent to the Kingdom of God which waits for final triumph only upon the willingness of Christians to 'take Christ seriously.' There is nothing in Christ's own justify this interpretation of world history. In the whole of the New Testament, Gospels and Epistles alike, there is only one interpretation of world history. That pictures history as moving toward a climax in which both Christ and anti-Christ are revealed.

Progressive Christianity, whatever its merits, bases its politics on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the human predicament. By insisting on political outcomes akin to the vision of life held out in the Sermon on the Mount, it promotes a foreign policy largely detached from political reality.

A foreign policy rooted in Christian realism, by contrast, begins with a sober view of the exercise of power. Enforcing justice, punishing wrongdoing, building democratic institutions--all of this is exceedingly difficult work, a truism as easily forgotten by political conservatives as it is by progressives. One of the most deeply mistaken ideas surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, was that liberal democracies would emerge organically, almost inevitably, out of the ashes of decades of repression and war.

In The Case for Democracy, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky argued that the democratic revolutions which toppled the Soviet Union depended on three key elements: enslaved people who yearned to be free, leaders outside who believed they could be, and policies that linked the world community to the regime's treatment of its own people. The book was mandatory reading in the Bush White House. "It will work anywhere around the world," Sharansky wrote, "including in the Arab world."

How could that be true? History--especially recent history--reminds us that there is no formula to assure a transformation from tyranny to democratic self-government.

The Protestant tradition, which emerged as a reaction against Catholicism's doctrine of perfectionism, is well-equipped to defend against this myth of progress. "The political life of man," wrote Niebuhr, "must constantly steer between the Scylla of anarchy and the Charybdis of tyranny." It is for good reason that the American Founders, armed with a strong dose of Protestant realism, worried that factions--especially those fueled by sectarian hatreds--would prove fatal to national unity. Thus Madison's insight in The Federalist: "Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob." [...]

Third, a foreign policy based on Christian realism makes the defense of Western political and religious ideals an overarching priority.

It doesn't matter that Nazism, Communism and Islamicism are no threat to us.  It suffices that they are obvious threats to those forced to live under them.
Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic? : The ever-expanding boundaries of religious pluralism in America. (PETER BERGER, 12/23/15, American Interest)

"Judeo-Christian" gained further traction during the Cold War--"Judeo-Christian" America opposed godless Communism. This, logically enough, intensified during the Eisenhower Administration. The late President was (to my knowledge) not a strongly religious man, and certainly not a sophisticated theologian, but a much-quoted sentence of his nicely expresses the national mood at the time (it was in an address to the Freedom Foundation): "Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is." The last phrase (although I doubt that Eisenhower intended this) gives a hint on how the alleged "Judeo-Christian" affinity might be further enlarged.

So now we have "Abrahamic," increasingly relevant as both American government and the American people are forced by events to think about Islam. Clearly there are other potential candidates for admission to the grand alliance--in addition to Muslims, a sizable number of Buddhists and Hindus (most of whom are naturalized citizens and thus legally entitled and, as good Americans, culturally inclined to sue for their First Amendment rights). Leaving aside numerous smaller religious groups, there are lots of so-called "nones" (who say in surveys that they have no religious affiliation) who will also protest their exclusion in federal court. The mind boggles as one imagines all future religious representatives crowding presidential inaugurations. [They have already been pretty crowded since the beginning of the "Judeo-Christian " dispensation. By the way, Herberg not only omitted Muslims. He also omitted Eastern Orthodox Christians. Somebody must have noticed (the Greek lobby?). They are now always present when American pluralism is celebrated, and they are always noticed: The tall black hats of their clergy dwarf all other religious headgear.] As Rosenhagen points out in his article, the term "Abrahamic" was coined by Louis Massignon (1853-1962), a distinguished French scholar of Islam, who wrote the influential paper "Three Prayers of Abraham" in 1949. In the United States, the term was rapidly picked up in the wake of 9/11. Right after the attack on the World Trade Center, George W. Bush declared that we were not at war with Islam (a morally and politically desirable declaration), adding that "Islam means peace" (which is not good Arabic--Islam means submission, not peace--but, I guess, President Bush's credentials as a scholar of religion are as good as were President Eisenhower's). The recent eruption of Islamist violence makes the distinction made by Bush all the more important politically: the present war against the terrorist threat will finally be decided by somebody's "boots on the ground," but it cannot be won without the support of powerful Muslim allies. (The Bush presidency will not be judged by his scholarly knowledge of Islam; neither will Obama's, who has been singing from the same hymn book with more ardent wooing of Muslims, ever since his famous Cairo speech.)

The sociological context of these develoments is religious pluralism--an empirical reality, whether one likes it or not. The political responses and the philosophical or theological assessments must be clearly distinguished from the empirical analysis. The latter, of course, is to understand what is actually happening in the world today, especially if one is to understand the phenomenon of radical Islamism. I have tried to do this in my recent work on pluralism as a sociologist of religion. Part of such a project must be an understanding of the place of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the dynamics of global pluralism. I cannot do this here. But I must, at least briefly, address two questions to which sociology cannot give answers. One: Are assertions of Abrahamic commonality useful in the development of American domestic and foreign policy? Does that commonality stand up in the philosophical or theological assessment of these three traditions?

The concept of "Judeo-Christian" has been immensely useful in the integration of Jews as an ethnic group and of Judaism as a religion in America. I think it is fair to say that in no other country in modern history have Jews become as much part of the taken-for-granted landscape of the society as in America. Jews are not only accepted; they are esteemed. In a recent survey respondents were asked to name the religion other than their own they liked best, and the one they liked least. Muslims and Mormons competed for the least liked place; Jews were the most liked. Given the enormous capacity of America to integrate the most diverse religious and ethnic groups, there is no intrinsic reason (intrinsic, that is, to Islam) why the growing number of American Muslims should not go through the same process of indigenization. Of course the future course of radical Islamism will help or hinder this process. Thus far the concept of "Abrahamic" religion has been useful in countering the anti-Muslim sentiments stoked by the likes of Donald Trump. Could this change? Of course it could: It is not difficult to imagine any number of scenarios in which new horrendous attacks by radical Islamists could lead to an explosion of hatred against Islam in general and American Muslims in particular. But this is not an unavoidable future. In the meantime, both the actions of the federal government, under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and those of the institutions of civil society have made impressive moves to protect American Muslim from being identified with the ideology and the atrocities of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Individual Jews, synagogues and Jewish organizations have been prominent in their support of these efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


'Hamilton' Makes Me Want to Be Great (Justin Fox, 12/28/15, Bloomberg View)

So what is it about "Hamilton"? There are lots and lots of things, but I'll offer three:

It's a complete, original, dazzling work of art. Yes, "Hamilton" is based on Ron Chernow's great biography, and is stuffed with way more homages to rappers living and defunct than I could ever hope to keep track of. But Miranda and his co-conspirators tweaked and embroidered and massaged and eventually transformed that source material into something bracingly new. It's not that it's perfect -- some songs are better than others, some parts fly by faster than others. But there are no obviously fixable flaws in it. Economists call an allocation of resources Pareto optimal when (I'm quoting from Wikipedia here) "it's impossible to make any one individual better off without making at least one individual worse off." With "Hamilton," it isn't clear what could be improved without making some other part worse off. It verges on Pareto-optimality, which is awfully rare for the product of the modern American entertainment industry.  [...]

It's about America, and America can be really interesting. Much has been made of the musical's cast of Founding Fathers who don't look anything like the Founding Fathers. This isn't a stunt. Miranda is clearly in love with the United States of America, past and present, and much of the genius of his creation lies in how it makes the personalities and conflicts of the late 1700s feel fresh and relevant today. Hamilton came to New York from the Caribbean as an impoverished teenager, so it doesn't feel like a great leap to see him portrayed by a guy (Miranda) whose parents both came to New York from Puerto Rico. "The ship is in the harbor now, see if you can spot him," Leslie Odom Jr.'s Aaron Burr sings of Hamilton. "Another immigrant comin' up from the bottom." The diversity of the rest of the cast flows naturally from that. It also doesn't hurt that the rest of the cast, with Odom at the lead, is pretty brilliant.

Miranda has said the spark of the idea for the musical came as he read Chernow's biography of Hamilton and was reminded repeatedly of the ambitious, talented, combative and prematurely deceased rapper Tupac Shakur. The comparison is one sense ridiculous: Shakur is No. 86 on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time," with "All Time" starting in about 1954; Hamilton helped create a nation that's still thriving more than 200 years later. But different times offer different opportunities, and the idea that similar angels and demons drove the two men isn't ridiculous at all.

Then there's the musical's clear-eyed but generous take on politics. Political debates don't dominate the plot, but the confrontations between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson over economic matters and foreign relations are lots of fun, and full of parallels to contemporary conflicts. Someone like me with pre-existing Hamiltonian tendencies found much to reinforce my views, and Daveed Diggs' portrayal of Jefferson as an arrogant, fast-talking dandy may forever shift the public perception of that particular Founding Father. But "Hamilton" actually renders each side's arguments quite faithfully and sympathetically.

Miranda grew up in a family immersed in New York City Democratic politics, and perhaps as a result of that experience he portrays politics not as a moral quest but simply as conflict between opposing groups, with none having a monopoly on virtue. In a climate where political identify is increasingly becoming "fair game for hatred," as one researcher recently put it, this is wonderfully refreshing.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Trump campaign insults NH voters' intelligence (JOSEPH W. McQUAID, 12/28/15, Manchester Union Leader)

[H]is public descent into bathroom humor and verbal bullying has been painful, and educational, to watch.

According to Trump: John McCain accepted years of torture by the North Vietnamese but is not Trump's type of "war hero." Not that Trump ever served in the military. Carly Fiorina, meanwhile, doesn't have the "face" Trump would want in the White House; and a reporter who questions a Trump falsehood is to be mimicked and mocked for his physical disability.

Trump has shown himself to be a crude blowhard with no clear political philosophy and no deeper understanding of the important and serious role of President of the United States than one of the goons he lets rough up protesters in his crowds.

He reminds us of the grownup bully "Biff" in the "Back to the Future" movie series. Lo and behold, the screenwriter says that he based Biff on Trump. On Feb. 9, we trust New Hampshire Republicans will send "Biff Trump" back to somewhere -- anywhere but on the road to the most important elective office in the United States at a most crucial time for this nation.

December 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Iraqi forces take 'Islamic State' stronghold in central Ramadi (Deutsche-Welle, 12/27/15)

"IS" fighters withdrew from a former government compound in central Ramadi on Sunday, bringing Iraqi security forces a step closer to capturing the capital of Anbar province after months of preparation, a military spokesperson said.

"The complex is under our complete control, there is no presence whatsoever of Daesh fighters in the complex," said Sabah al-Numani, using another name for the militant group which has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed an Islamic caliphate.

The caliph doesn't seem to get how a "strongold" works....

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Why Donald Trump Loves Vladimir Putin : Because he loves himself a lot--really, he does. (David Corn, Dec. 23, 2015, Mother Jones)

The political rise of Donald J. Trump has drawn attention to one personality trait in particular: narcissism. Although narcissism does not lend itself to a precise definition, most psychologists agree that it comprises self-centeredness, boastfulness, feelings of entitlement and a need for admiration.

They declared that it would be "inappropriate of us to offer a formal assessment of his level of narcissism." But according to the Mayo Clinic, these are the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder:

Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
Exaggerating your achievements and talents
Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
Requiring constant admiration
Having a sense of entitlement
Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
Taking advantage of others to get what you want
Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
Being envious of others and believing others envy you
Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

Yes, mental health specialists should not diagnose anyone from afar. But it would be hard to read this list and point to a public figure who exhibits more of these traits than Trump. In Psychology Today, journalist Randi Kreger, who has written on personality disorders, applies this list to Trump's statements and actions and finds--guess what?--compelling evidence for each symptom. Some experts have been so sure of Trump's narcissism that they have been willing to brand him with the N-word merely on the basis of his public life. As Vanity Fair reported recently:

For mental-health professionals, Donald Trump is at once easily diagnosed but slightly confounding. "Remarkably narcissistic," said developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. "Textbook narcissistic personality disorder," echoed clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis. "He's so classic that I'm archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there's no better example of his characteristics," said clinical psychologist George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior. "Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He's like a dream come true."

Let's assume that Trump, if he's not a full-blown case of narcissistic personality disorder, is narcissistic-ish. And then let's ask: How does a narcissist judge other people in his super-self-centered world? Certainly, it's all about how these other people relate to the narcissist. And for a narcissist, what's most significant is how others think of him. So in the case of Putin, what counts for Trump is how Putin regards Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Join IS? Muslim Twitter users would rather wash their hair (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 27, 2015)

Islamic State leaders this weekend urged all Muslims to join the terror group, especially Saudi nationals. But Twitter users on Sunday were quickly brushing off the offer in favor of pretty much everything else, including hair-washing and Netflix binge-watching.

"Too busy doing some Netflix related things," wrote Twitter user Menna. "I have to take my goldfish to the vet," wrote a user identified as Hayat Libya.

"But then how will I watch all the upcoming Star Wars movies? Also I don't like hanging with murderous psychopaths," responded Ali.

The best strategy to pursue against ISIS is to make them a laughingstock.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Bernie Sanders Wants Trump Voters (FELICIA SCHWARTZ, 12/27/15, WSJ)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he thinks he can persuade supporters of Republican front runner Donald Trump to back him in the 2016 race.

Mr. Sanders of Vermont said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that his message about economic inequality can appeal to Trump backers who are angry about lower wages and job losses.

"Many of Trump's supporters are working-class people and they are angry," Mr. Sanders said. "What Trump has done successfully, I would say, is take that anger, take that anxiety about terrorism and say to a lot of people in this country, look, the reason for our problems is because of Mexicans...or he says about the Muslims, they are all terrorists, and we got to keep them out of this country."

They really should run as the Democrat ticket against Jeb & Hillary for the Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


A sea change on regime change: Will it drown Hillary Clinton? (Paul Mulshine, December 27, 2015, Star Ledger)

As the year draws to a close, let us give thanks that 2015 will go down as the year when America finally rejected the concept of regime change. [...]

As for the Democrats, most of them are stuck behind a candidate who's clinging to a policy that has been disastrous for the U.S.

Most of my fellow members of the media have been too busy reporting on Donald Trump's bombast to have noticed this development. But the evidence is irrefutable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Anxiety Aside, New York Sees Drop in Crime (J. DAVID GOODMAN and AL BAKER, DEC. 27, 2015, NY Times)

As reflected in the reported levels of the most serious types of crime, the city in 2015 was as safe as it had been in its modern history. A modest decrease in reported crime is expected by year's end.

The Police Department is reporting a 2 percent decline, as measured by seven major felonies that are tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation: murder, rape, robbery, serious assault, burglary, grand larceny and car theft. At the same time, arrests recorded by officers fell steeply, to 333,115 through Dec. 20, down 13 percent from 384,770 over the same period the year before. The number of criminal summonses dropped to 292,372 from 358,948.

There was a small rise in murders, to 339 as of Dec. 25, already more than last year's historic low of 333. Still, the number is well below the 536 murders recorded five years ago.

A makeshift memorial for Officer Randolph Holder outside a station house. Officer Holder was fatally shot in October. Credit Michael Appleton for The New York Times
And despite an early increase in gun violence, the final tally of shootings for the year is set to come in slightly lower than last year's figure.

"As we end this year, the City of New York will record the safest year in its history, its modern history, as it relates to crime," said Commissioner William J. Bratton, summing up 2015 in an address to officers at a Dec. 17 promotion ceremony. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Pentagon: US carried out Christmas Day airstrikes on 'Islamic State' (Deutsche-Welle, 12/27/15)

The Pentagon said on Saturday it hit infrastructure, vehicles and personnel belonging to the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) in a series of 17 airstrikes carried out on Christmas Day.

Five of the strikes were carried out in Syria and 12 in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesperson said. Besides IS fighters, US and coalition aircraft targeted tunnels, explosive manufacturing sites, bridges and fighting outposts. In Syria, forces struck Ar Raqqah, Manbij and Mar'a. In Iraq, airstrikes targeted five IS-held cities.

...and they didn't get us anything.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Donald Trump Is Stephen Colbert's Old Character With $10 Billion and A Weaker Grasp of Irony (Greg Cwik, 12/27/15, Vulture)

 "He's my old character with ten billion dollars," Colbert said. "He's completely playing on an emotional level, and so beautifully. I mean, that's one of the reasons why I just can't do that old character anymore, because he's doing it better than I ever could because he's willing to drink his own Kool-Aid."

The comparison is Mr. Colbert.  Viewers used to actually tune in to be entertained by that character, unlike now, when he's playing a politically-correct version of himself.  His bosses would kill for the viewership the Donald's debates are getting.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Iran's Rouhani says it's up to Muslims to correct Islam's image  (Reuters, 12/27/15)  

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday (Dec. 27)  that Muslims must improve the image of their religion, which has been tarnished by the violence of hardline groups such as Islamic State,

"It is our greatest duty today to correct the image of Islam in world public opinion," Rouhani told a conference on Islamic unity in Tehran in a speech broadcast by state television. [...]

"Did we ever think that, instead of enemies, an albeit small group from within the Islamic world using the language of Islam, would present it as the religion of killing, violence, whips, extortion and injustice?" Rouhani said.

Rouhani, a relative moderate, said Islamic principles opposed violence and the extremism of groups such as Islamic State stemmed from "narrow-mindedness and a lack of moderation".

Rouhani criticised Muslim countries for "being silent in the face of all the killing and bloodshed" in Syria, Iraq and Yemen - conflicts in which Iran plays a role.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


America Is Not Becoming More Liberal : The public might be moving left, but the Democratic and Republican parties are not. (DAVID DAYEN, December 23, 2015, New Republic)

[W]hile Clinton has endorsed an agenda that puts her mildly to the left of where she was in her 2008 presidential run, that has lapsed somewhat as she's pivoted to the general election. And in one key area, she's held to a policy vow that leaves her helpless to pursue anything close to a liberal agenda.

This came up in last weekend's debate. Clinton maintained an important dividing line between her and Sanders, promising "no middle class tax raises," a promise she also made in 2008. The problem is that, in her version, the middle class includes families making up to $250,000 a year, which encompasses around 97 percent of the population.

The $250,000 dividing line actually goes back to the first Clinton Administration's demarcation of the top marginal tax rate (inflation has subsequently raised that to $464,000). And Barack Obama used the same vow to prevent tax increases on the so-called middle class. This has caused problems. Obama could barely fund his health care entitlement expansion by solely taxing corporations and the wealthy (the "Cadillac tax," which dipped down to union worker plans, was delayed last week). By setting the tax bar at $250,000, Obama had to compromise to $400,000 for repealing the Bush tax cuts. 

Because Democrats care more about deficits than Republicans--witness all the boasting about low deficits in the Obama era--opposition to broad-based taxes handcuffs the liberal project. Public investment in roads, schools, and other forms of infrastructure dropped in 2013 to its lowest level since World War II and hasn't moved appreciably since. The country has advanced in several areas in the Obama years, but on the fundamental issue of the size of government, conservatives have succeeded.

With an aging population, and with the cost of what government buys--health care, education, and defense, mostly--going up at levels above inflation, government spending must rise just to maintain the current inadequate level of services. To do that you must either run larger deficits or raise taxes, and just keeping those taxes confined to "the rich" won't bring in enough revenue.

For Clinton to double down on the $250,000 marker while making no promise to increase the deficit creates a one-way ratchet for public investment. She can announce all kinds of promising ideas--paid family leave, debt-free college, early childhood education--but if she refuses to either pay for them or decide that paying for them isn't necessary given their boosts to overall investment, they aren't likely to occur. 

Clinton has rejected a paid family leave bill from her home-state senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, because it would increase individual payroll taxes by 0.2 percent, about a $1.38 increase for the median wage earner. If she opposes that, Sanders said in the debate, "She is disagreeing with FDR on Social Security, LBJ on Medicare." It's a disavowal of universal benefits that happen to be the most robust, secure, and popular.

December 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM

A LUCKY ONE (profanity alert):

'Fairytale of New York': How a soused Irish punk band created the greatest Christmas song of all time (Michael Brendan Dougherty, December 21, 2015, The Week)

When The Pogues teamed up with Kirsty MacColl to create "Fairytale of New York," they made one of the only Christmas songs composed in the last 30 years that is likely to be heard and covered and beloved in another 50 or 100. If "Fairtytale" isn't in your Christmas playlist, you're doing something wrong.

It is a masterpiece of compact storytelling:

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me
Won't see another one

Five words to tell us it's a Christmas song and a love song. Four more and you know it's unlike every other Christmas song you've ever heard and discover what kind of man the protagonist is. Ten more and an old man evokes the ghost of Christmas future, summoning death to the whole proceeding.

It continues:

And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you

So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

"When all our dreams come true" would be, in any other song's context, dismissed as unendurably saccharine. But put in the mouth of a man who sees providence in a very lucky longshot, we forgive it. Even an absurd hope is still hope. And it's this balance between the down-and-out situation and insults in the song that allow Shane MacGown and his co-singer Kirsty MacColl to earn those moments of soaring emotion. He calls her a slut and junkie. She calls him a punk and scumbag. This makes their remembrances of their first moments of Manhattan and their hope for the future all the more poignant.

Sonically, it is very different from the usual Manchester-Irish, auto-crash sound of The Pogues. The piano and string intro sounds like what Alan Menken might have written for a Disney movie in the early 90s. In fact it was influenced by Ennio Merricone's score from Once Upon a Time in America. And for its charm, it leans heavily on an appoggiatura. Terry Woods' mandolin part, which gives the song its Irish brogue, is doubled and trebled to a heroic scale.

The story springs forth from the character of the two performers. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Trove of Viking and Saxon silver found in farmer's field sheds new light on birth of England (JILL LAWLESS, 12/10/15, Associated Press)

The Watlington Hoard, a collection of silver bands, ingots and 186 coins unveiled at the British Museum Thursday, dates from a tumultuous period. The coins were minted during the reign of Alfred the Great, ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, who battled a "great heathen army" of Viking invaders during the 9th century.

By coincidence, discovery of the hoard coincides with the broadcast of "The Last Kingdom," a big-budget BBC drama series that has boosted popular interest in the conflict between Alfred and the Vikings.

Alfred is renowned as the ruler whose victories helped create a unified England, but some of the coins in the hoard also bear the name of the far more obscure King Ceolwulf II of Mercia, a neighboring kingdom to Wessex.

"Poor Ceolwulf gets a very bad press in Anglo Saxon history," said museum coins curator Gareth Williams. What little is known of him was written at Alfred's court and paints Ceolwulf as "a puppet of the Vikings."

Williams said the hoard contains coins that carry images of two Roman emperors side by side -- evidence that the kings were allies against the Scandinavians, but that Ceolwulf was "airbrushed out of history" by the increasingly powerful Alfred.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


A Cultural History of Rock-Paper-Scissors : How the ancient game went from playground decision-maker to an Internet phenomenon (KATHARINE SCHWAB  DEC 23, 2015, The Atlantic)

Rock-paper-scissors didn't arrive in the U.S. until the 20th century, but it's one of the oldest games used for making decisions in human existence, even if its history is muddled with legends and exaggerations put forth by Internet historians and Redditors (for example, the reason why the game is sometimes called "Rochambeau" is fiercely debated).

The earliest known references to finger-flashing games are a tomb-wall painting at the Beni Hasan burial site in Middle Egypt (dated to around 2000 B.C.E.) and centuries later on a scroll from Japan. Versions of rock-paper-scissors can be found in cultures around the world, but outside of North America it remains most ubiquitous in Asia. In Japan, the game is called jan-ken or jankenpon, and uses the same rock-paper-scissors finger positions, though a variation features a tiger, a village chief, and the village chief's mother (who beats the chief). In Indonesia, the game is earwig-man-elephant, where the earwig overcomes the elephant by crawling up his trunk and eating his brain.

But whatever the interpretation, the game is pervasive, combining everyday utility with basic human psychology. People tend to think that it's a random (and thus fair) way of making trivial decisions, but the game's simple structure still allows for an element of strategy, making it an unlikely but fitting subject for a worldwide competition. While your best chance of winning would be to choose your moves completely at random, humans are naturally terrible at behaving randomly. Well-trained players who think of the game as a psychologically driven battle can use this fact and other influencers to increase their chances of winning.

Ironically, children are actually the most difficult to play against because they're the most random in their choices, while adults who who are inclined to overthink their moves tend to be more predictable, Simmons says. More skilled players use gambits, which are pre-decided sets of three throws that help reduce the chance that you give away your next move. The Great Eight Gambits, the most common strategies employed, have names like "Bureaucrat" (for three papers used in a row) and "Fistful o' Dollars" (for rock, paper, paper). "It's about choice and the power of suggestion," Simmons says. "The game itself almost disappears and it becomes this rarified force of will between two competitors when they both know what they're doing."

The Walker brothers' website was partially inspired by the game's psychological and game-theoretical underpinnings--which have now spawned legitimate research studies and many Internet articles proclaiming to teach you How to Always Win at Rock-Paper-Scissors. In a time when the Internet was first beginning to give people's secret passions a platform, the brothers managed to hit a nerve and inspire a subculture. By the time the brothers threw their first "world championship" at a pub in Toronto in 2002, there was a line of people two blocks long in the middle of a snowstorm, determined to try their luck in the formal elimination contest or the seedy "street competition."

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Draft law renews debate on IDF service for ultra-Orthodox : Amendment to Equal Service bill eliminates criminal sanctions against draft dodgers, overturning legislation passed in 2014 (MIKE SMITH, December 26, 2015, AFP)

When a rabbi showed up at a synagogue in Israeli military uniform, David Croise and others there were not impressed. The rabbi denies they assaulted him, but admits they shouted him down.

The incident last year led to the arrest of 19-year-old Croise, followed by his detention for around a week for having failed to enlist in the army.

"I explained to them that we are Jewish people. We don't believe in the state," Croise said before lighting a Hanukkah festival of light candle in front of his home among the narrow streets and stone buildings of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood.

"We don't go to the army," he added, wearing the wide-brimmed hat and black coat common to the ultra-Orthodox.

A decades-old debate over whether ultra-Orthodox young men studying at seminaries should perform mandatory military service like the rest of Israel's Jewish population has flared again.

In November, lawmakers passed legislation extending their exemption from duty, reversing a law passed in 2014 that would have seen it expire.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


The great graying of China: Why the new two-child policy is too little, too late : China is about to get old, fast. (Mei Fong, December 24, 2015, Quartz)

In China, the aging transition will happen in just one generation, and the cupboard is woefully bare.
At least in the West, this transition took over 50 years to take shape. Consequently, countries there have had more time to stock up for the gray years ahead, both economically and socially. (Some might argue that even these preparations are inadequate.) In China, the aging transition will happen in just one generation, and the cupboard is woefully bare.

Other side effects of China's one-child policy are still in the realm of speculation. The policy has has created a gender imbalance, which some academics suggest could make China more warlike or unstable--but such a result is far from certain. The one-child policy has also created a cohort of "Little Emperors"--single children--which various social studies suggest has created a generation of pessimistic, solipsistic low-risk takers that could potentially dampen China's economic dynamism. But again, this is unproven.

What is certain is, short of some cataclysmic plague or war, is that China's vast cohort of workers will grow old. Right now, if you were to stroll through urban parks in China, you might well conclude that aging in the country is a pleasant affair. China has one of the earliest retirement ages in the world--as early as 55 years old for women, and 60 for men. As a result, China's parks are filled with vigorous pensioners engaged in picturesque activities: dancing, tai chi, sword fighting, kite flying, and, my particular favorite, a form of geriatric graffiti that involves tracing Chinese calligraphy on pavements using water and brushes, which dry and leave no trace. Public spaces are filled with irrepressible "dancing grannies" who fill the air with music from huge boom-boxes. IKEA cafeterias have become a hot singles scene for the over-sixty set.

But this lifestyle may soon change. There are two things that help make old age more tolerable. The first is money, which pays for comforts, medical treatments and necessities at a time when people can no longer work. The second is family, or family substitutes, for emotional support as well as physical care. In China's future, both will be hard to achieve in adequate amounts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


On Muslims, Democrats find an unlikely ally: George W Bush' (JOSH LEDERMAN, December 25, 2015, Times of Israel)

Clinton and Obama argue that rhetoric just helps the Islamic State group and like-minded extremists, whose recruitment pitch is based on the narrative of an apocalyptic battle between Islam and the West. The Democrats warned that proposals like Trump's Muslim ban jeopardize national security, drawing a contrast with Bush.

"I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam," Obama said recently. His message to today's Republican leaders: "They should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's top challenger for the Democratic nomination, visited a mosque this month in a show of solidarity that evoked Bush's after 9/11. And the Democratic National Committee released an ad contrasting comments by the 2016 Republican contenders with footage of Bush declaring that "Islam is peace."

Bush's example has become particularly poignant for Democrats following recent attacks in Paris and California that have left people more preoccupied with terrorism than at any time since 9/11. Both Clinton and Obama have sought to deflect the critique that they're too soft on the domestic terrorism threat.

Not all Republican candidates have been as harsh about Muslims as Trump has been. Jeb Bush has joined his challengers in describing the enemy as "radical Islamic terrorism." But he's also said the U.S. should follow his brother's lead, arguing in the last party debate that "we can't dissociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims."

December 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Bogus title transfer clouds Petco ownership (David Garrick, Dec. 24, 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune)

With many wondering whether the Chargers are leaving Qualcomm Stadium for Los Angeles, San Diego's other major sports venue -- Petco Park -- has become the subject of a bizarre ownership controversy sparked by a mentally ill man who filed a simple document.

Derris Devon McQuaig took legal title to the downtown ballpark away from the city and the Padres two years ago by walking into the San Diego County Recorder's Officer and submitting a properly filled-out deed transfer.


County and city officials have been quietly trying to remedy the situation ever since, but a felony fraud case against McQuaig was dismissed last week after a judge ruled he's not mentally competent to be prosecuted.

Because no actual sale or transaction took place, government officials and real estate experts say there's essentially no chance of McQuaig taking control of the property, which was recently appraised at $539 million and is slated to host its first All-Star game in July.

But McQuaig has created a legal and bureaucratic nightmare that could be perpetrated on any property owner if someone decides to target them by casting doubt on their title in this way.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Religious Joy: A Christmas Sermon (BLESSED JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN, Crisis)

There are two principal lessons which we are taught on the great Festival which we this day celebrate, lowliness and joy. This surely is a day, of all others, in which is set before us the heavenly excellence and the acceptableness in God's sight of that state which most men have, or may have, allotted to them, humble or private life, and cheerfulness in it. If we consult the writings of historians, philosophers, and poets of this world, we shall be led to think great men happy; we shall be led to fix our minds and hearts upon high or conspicuous stations, strange adventures, powerful talents to cope with them, memorable struggles, and great destinies. We shall consider that the highest course of life is the mere pursuit, not the enjoyment of good.

But when we think of this day's Festival, and what we commemorate upon it, a new and very different scene opens upon us. First, we are reminded that though this life must ever be a life of toil and effort, yet that, properly speaking, we have not to seek our highest good. It is found, it is brought near us, in the descent of the Son of God from His Father's bosom to this world. It is stored up among us on earth. No longer need men of ardent minds weary themselves in the pursuit of what they fancy may be chief goods; no longer have they to wander about and encounter peril in quest of that unknown blessedness to which their hearts naturally aspire, as they did in heathen times. The text speaks to them and to all, "Unto you," it says, "is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

Nor, again, need we go in quest of any of those things which this vain world calls great and noble. Christ altogether dishonoured what the world esteems, when He took on Himself a rank and station which the world despises. No lot could be more humble and more ordinary than that which the Son of God chose for Himself.

So that we have on the Feast of the Nativity these two lessons--instead of anxiety within and despondence without, instead of a weary search after great things,--to be cheerful and joyful; and, again, to be so in the midst of those obscure and ordinary circumstances of life which the world passes over and thinks scorn of.

December 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The Narrow Path to a Carbon Tax (GREG IP, Dec. 23, 2015, WSJ)

There's no dispute among economists on the most cost-effective way to do that: a carbon tax. President Barack Obama agrees. In Paris he called such a tax "the most elegant way" to incentivize investment in, and consumer demand for, cleaner energy technology. [...]

[M]r. Clinton wanted to use the BTU tax to reduce the deficit while Mr. Obama originally earmarked the money from selling trading permits for worker tax credits and green-energy subsidies. To win over conservatives, a carbon tax would probably have to be "revenue neutral," that is, used to reduce other taxes, as with the Canadian province of British Columbia's carbon tax.

George Frampton, an environmental adviser to Mr. Clinton, and Walter Minnick, a former Democratic congressman, are drumming up support for a carbon tax, half of whose revenue would be used to offset the effect on lower- and middle-income taxpayers and the other half to cut corporate tax rates, a longstanding priority of both Republicans and business. Mr. Frampton says the most promising way to create bipartisan support for the tax is to tie it to tax reform. By boosting investment, lower corporate tax rates could make the package, on net, neutral or even positive for growth.

Their proposal would collect the tax using existing federal infrastructure to collect fees, taxes and data on coal, refined oil and natural gas. A tariff on carbon-intensive imports would neutralize concerns about competitiveness.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Obama administration tried to encourage Syrian coup -- report (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, December 24, 2015, Times of Israel)

The Obama administration tried to encourage a military coup against the Syrian regime, utilizing a complex network of Syrian dissenters and international intermediaries in an effort to remove embattled President Bashar Assad in the early years of the country's insurgency, an investigative report by the Wall Street Journal revealed early Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Three things Congress actually did right this year (Charles Lane, December 23, 2015, Washington Post)

First, a provision in the year-end omnibus spending bill abolished the 40-year-old ban on crude-oil exports from the United States. Enacted after the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, the ban was a simplistic means to a valid end: limiting the United States' vulnerability to the price-gouging of oil-exporting nations.

Subsequent history, however, proved the superior power of market forces, which broke down the oil-exporting cartel and stimulated the production of vast new amounts of oil within the United States itself.

The problem now is that much U.S. crude is ill-suited, chemically, for U.S. refineries but could be readily refined abroad. [...]

Congress's second good deed was to make permanent some enhancements to the earned-income tax credit that were enacted in the 2009 economic stimulus package but extended only on a temporary basis.

Essentially a wage subsidy for adults with children, the credit has been one of the federal government's most successful tools for encouraging work and fighting poverty since it was first enacted during the Ford administration.

For technical reasons, however, it included a "marriage penalty" that reduced the subsidy for low-income families in which both parents held jobs and were committed to each other -- the ultimate perverse incentive. [...]

Finally, the National Defense Authorization Act has modernized military compensation, so that soon almost all U.S. troops will have some access to retirement benefits, as opposed to 20 percent of them under current rules.

Before the new law, the military norm was a fixed pension for those who stay in uniform 20 years or more -- and nothing for the vast majority who don't.

Now troops will be able to open 401(k)-style accounts, into which amounts equal to 11 percent of their pay may flow each year, partly from their own contributions and partly from government matching funds. Like the ones already available to many private-sector workers, these accounts will be fully portable. Service members can invest the money and carry it along throughout their post-military careers after at least two years in uniform.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Your retirement prospects are bleaker than ever (Dean Baker, 12/21/15, LA Times)

In response to this situation, Illinois is developing a state-run retirement program that will make it easier and cheaper for workers to save. Many other states, including California, are studying this option.

Although there are differences in proposals, the common goal is to create a publicly managed system that will automatically include workers whose employers do not enroll them in a plan.

Workers would have a modest amount (around 2% to 3%) deducted from each paycheck, although they could opt out if they chose. The money would then accumulate like a 401(k) during a person's working years, with the option to receive a lump sum or draw a monthly payment at retirement.

There are four main advantages to this idea.

Almost half the workforce does not have the option to enroll in a 401(k)-type plan at their workplace. By creating a state-run system, many would have access to such an account for the first time.

One problem with employer-managed retirement accounts is that when people change jobs, they often cash out their holdings, paying penalties and losing their savings. But a publicly run system would be portable, so that people could keep contributing to the same system from one job to the next.

Another benefit to the state system is that participation would be the default option. There is now a considerable body of research showing that workers will contribute to their retirement if they're automatically enrolled, but won't contribute otherwise. (The basic story is that inertia is powerful. Many people may want to take part in a retirement plan, but they have busy lives and never get around to doing the paperwork if it requires action.)

The last advantage is that a publicly run plan would have far lower costs than many privately run alternatives. The administrative fees for a plan in a large state such as California would almost certainly be under 0.5% of the annual holdings. By contrast, private plans can easily charge 1.5% or more. The difference for someone putting $2,000 a year into an account for 30 years would be more than $25,000.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Here's What Genuine Tax Reform Looks Like (JOHN H. COCHRANE, Dec. 22, 2015, WSJ)

What would a minimally damaging, simple, fair tax code look like? First, the corporate tax should be eliminated. Every dollar of taxes that a corporation seems to pay comes from higher prices to its customers, lower wages to its workers, or lower dividends to its shareholders. Of these groups, wealthy individual shareholders are the least likely to suffer. If taxes eat into profits, investors pay lower prices for less valuable shares, and so earn the same return as before. To the extent that taxes do reduce returns, they also financially hurt nonprofits and your and my pension funds.

With no corporate tax, arguments disappear over investment expensing versus depreciation, repatriation of profits, too much tax-deductible debt, R&D deductions, and the vast array of energy deductions and credits.

Second, the government should tax consumption, not wages, income or wealth. When the government taxes savings, investment income, wealth or inheritance, it reduces the incentive to save, invest and build companies rather than enjoy consumption immediately. Taxes on capital gains discourage people from moving or reallocating capital toward their most productive uses.

Recognizing the distortion, the federal government provides a complex web of shelters, including IRAs, Roth IRAs, 527(b), 401(k), health-savings accounts, life-insurance exemptions, and the panoply of trusts that wealthy individuals use to shelter their wealth and escape the estate tax. If investment isn't taxed, these costly complexities can disappear.

All the various deductions, credits and exclusions should be eliminated--even the holy trinity of tax breaks for mortgage interest, charitable donations and employer-provided health insurance. The extra revenue, over a trillion dollars annually, could finance a large reduction in marginal rates. This step would also simplify the code and make it fairer.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Shin Bet: Duma suspects treated as 'ticking bombs' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 24, 2015)

In an unprecedented public statement, the Shin Bet on Thursday acknowledged the use of the so-called "ticking bomb" protocol in the interrogation of Jewish extremists, enabling the security service to "manhandle" detainees suspected of planning imminent attacks.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Romancing the Sunni: A US policy tragedy in three acts; Act I (ANGELO CODEVILLA, DECEMBER 21, 2015, Asia Times)

Today, as Daesh/ISIS -- a sub-sect of Sunni Islam -- murders and encourages murdering Americans, our foreign policy establishment argues that doubling down on efforts to "gain the confidence" of  Sunni states, potentates, and peoples will lead them to turn against the jihadis among themselves and to fight Daesh with "boots on the ground."

For more than a quarter century, as Americans have suffered trouble from the Muslim world's Sunni and  Shia components and as the perennial quarrel between them has intensified, the US government has taken the side of the Sunni. This has not worked out well for us. It is past time for our government to sort out our own business, and to mind it aggressively.

To understand why hopes for help from the Sunni side are forlorn, we must be clear that jihadism in general and Daesh in particular are logical outgrowths of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's (and the Gulf monarchies') official religion, about how they fit in the broader conflict between Sunni and Shia, as well as about how the US occupation of Iraq exposed America to the vagaries of intra-Muslim conflicts.

...even though he didn't always realize its full implications, is that it put us on the side of the Shi'a and oppressed Sunni Muslims against Sunni Arab rulers.

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


Obama Has Been More Friend Than Foe to Oil Industry (AMY HARDER, 12/24/15, WSJ)

The oil-export shift was the latest in a long run of decisions--with the exception of Mr. Obama's move to reject the Keystone XL pipeline--in which the president took a lighter touch on the oil and gas industry than many expected.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has continually opted not to regulate carbon emissions from oil and natural-gas refineries, despite lawsuits urging the agency to do so.

When the EPA did propose climate rules for the industry, by targeting methane emissions from oil and gas wells this summer, the agency opted to go after new wells only. It isn't going after any of the hundreds of wells that have been drilled during the energy boom of the last decade, despite urging from environmentalists. The EPA's final methane rule is expected next year.

In the biggest environmental news of his first term, Mr. Obama punted on issuing a tougher ozone air-pollution standard in September 2011, after intense lobbying from the business sector, especially oil and gas trade groups.

When the EPA finally got around to issuing that delayed ozone standard this past September, the agency set it at a level many in the industry privately concede is workable and environmentalists think is too weak. When the EPA issued the first-ever federal air-pollution rule on fracking in 2012, industry executives cautiously praised the agency for the rules, saying it had struck the right balance.

The Energy Department has supported--and at times even accelerated--the permitting process for natural-gas export terminals.

In September, the Interior Department opted not to list as an endangered species the sage grouse, whose listing would have limited vast amounts of oil and natural-gas development in several Western states.

Keeping the wings focussed on Keystone left him a free hand to govern to the right on every other question.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


US soldiers tell fearful Muslim-American girl, 'I will protect you' (NOMAAN MERCHANT, December 24, 2015, AP)

Melissa Yassini originally shared her daughter's response to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump calling for a ban all Muslim immigration into the United States.

Sofia heard about Trump's proposal while the family was watching the evening news. While Trump has said he isn't targeting American Muslims, her mother said Sofia didn't make that distinction.

She packed a bag with Barbie dolls, a tub of peanut butter and a toothbrush. And she checked the locks of her family's home because she thought soldiers were coming to take her away.

Sofia was featured in a Dec. 14 Associated Press story about how Muslim parents across the United States are grappling with frightened children amid rising anti-Islam sentiment, including several incidents and proposals targeting Muslims in Texas. The Yassinis live in the Dallas suburb of Plano.

One reader, Kerri Peek, wrote about Sofia and called on soldiers to reassure her. Thousands did. Many posted messages of support with selfies of themselves in combat uniforms. The hashtag was trending in several cities this week.

"#Iwillprotectyou with my last breath Sofia!" wrote Brandon Sterne, a 22-year Navy veteran who served in Iraq.

Sterne told the AP Wednesday that he had seen in Iraq the importance of supporting people of all faiths and races.

He said he was particularly heartened by all of the posts from "my brothers and sisters in arms."

"I would just tell her that hatred's not going to win, that it's OK," Sterne said. "There are good people in the world, and the good people will always protect her from the evil people."

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Average on US 30-year mortgage slips to 3.96 pct. (PAUL WISEMAN, 12/24/15, AP)

What Fed rate hike?

One week after the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates from record lows, the average on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage went the other way: It dipped to 3.96 percent from 3.97 percent last week, mortgage giant Freddie Mac says.

That rate remains extortionate.

December 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Virtually Unstoppable (Eric Schnurer Dec. 23, 2015,US News)

The Islamic State  efforts to expand the territorial battlefield are signs not of its growing strength but rather that, currently, it is literally losing ground: Iraqi government forces are slowly whittling away the group's control of territory around Ramadi. As an analysis in The Atlantic concluded earlier this fall, the Islamic State group's "territory" really amounts only to "a tattered patchwork of infrastructure and cities," and both public and (less-disputed) private estimates show the group losing territory overall. Perhaps the most favorable assessment of its territorial status frames the would-be state as sacrificing ground in three major strongholds "that were hard for it to maintain" in return for "holdings in central Syria that will be much easier." No one seriously believes that such a "state" can survive military confrontation with global powers from Washington to Moscow and regional foes from Istanbul to Tehran. The Islamic State group's moves into Libya and, now, Afghanistan, thus can best be seen not as an enlargement of the Islamic State's geographical control but as a continuing territorial retreat to the failed states providing the only environments where it can survive.

Islamic State's caliphate shrinks by 14% in 2015 (Columb Strack, 12/21/15, IHS Jane's Intelligence Review)

The Islamic State's 'caliphate' shrunk by 12,800 km2 to 78,000 km2 between 1 January and 14 December 2015, a net loss of 14%, according to the latest estimates by the IHS Conflict Monitor team.

Losses in 2015 include large swathes of Syria's northern border with Turkey, including the Tal Abyad border crossing, which was the group's main access point to the Turkish border from their de-facto capital Raqqa. 

Other substantial losses in Iraq include the city of Tikrit, the fiercely contested Beiji refinery complex, and a stretch of the main highway between Raqqa and Mosul, complicating the transfer of goods and fighters between the two cities. [...]

Syria's Kurds are by far the biggest winners in 2015, expanding territory under their control by 186% to 15,800 km2. They have established control over nearly all of Syria's traditionally Kurdish areas, and are the largest component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are being nurtured to form a key part of the US ground campaign against the Islamic State in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Washington Post's Cruz cartoon rekindles debate over candidates' children (Reuters, 12/23/15)

The Washington Post ignited a debate over the role of children in U.S. presidential campaigns when it published - and then retracted - a political cartoon portraying Republican candidate Ted Cruz as an organ grinder and his daughters as monkeys.

It followed a new Cruz campaign TV ad in which the Texas senator shares with his wife and two young children faux Christmas stories entitled, "How Obamacare Stole Christmas" and "The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails," a reference to Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. The debate dominated cable news television and social media.

The Washington Post pulled the cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes. [...]

The Post said its policy generally is to avoid children in its editorial section.

"I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published," Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said. "I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree."

Over the years there has been spirited debate whenever the children of presidents and other politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, have had their mostly private lives pierced by journalists.

Their clothing, physical features, underage drinking and even boyfriends have been fodder for barbs.

Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008 against Barack Obama, appeared on Fox News and called on the Washington Post to apologize.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Marco Rubio: 'Being President of the United States Is Not Like Being a Governor' (INES DE LA CUETARA,  Dec 23, 2015, ABC News)

At a Marco Rubio rally in Littleton, New Hampshire, 29-year-old Danielle Matteson had a pressing question for the candidate.

"What is your response to those who question your ability to hold this nation's highest executive role, given that many of your competitors have had previous executive experience, either at the private sector or at the state level?" she asked Rubio.

"There is no such thing as experience that fully prepares you for the presidency," Rubio replied. "Being President of the United States is not like being a governor."

Matteson's question is one that repeatedly came up over the course of Rubio's three-day swing in New Hampshire, where Rubio must prove to voters he is more qualified to be president than the three candidates with gubernatorial experience that are up against him -- Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich. All four Republican candidates are fighting to win the state as their party's establishment candidate.

...but that he's never had any president-like job.  Even Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump, while they've been lousy ones, have been executives, at least of the corporate sort.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Is the Cybersecurity Act really government spying in disguise? (Jack Detsch,  DECEMBER 23, 2015, CS Monitor)

After years of debate over how Washington and the private sector should cooperate on confronting cybersecurity threats, last week President Obama signed into law the Cybersecurity Act to vastly expand the flow of information on digital threats into federal agencies.

While the law signed as part of a $1.1 trillion omnibus package aims to boost the exchange of data between the private sector and the government, the information sharing act has been maligned by critics as a Patriot Act in disguise, another mechanism for government spying on citizens, and an overall detriment for cybersecurity. Before its passage, the Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a petition campaign against the measure, calling it a "privacy invasive surveillance bill that must be stopped."

No, it's not disguised.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


U.S. and Mexico Agree to Liberal Air-Service Treaty (SUSAN CAREY and  LAURENCE ILIFF,  Dec. 18, 2015, WSJ)

The U.S. and Mexico reached a liberal air treaty that would clear the way for airlines on both sides of the border to set their own prices and fly any routes they choose between the two nations with unlimited frequency. [...]

The accord "lays the groundwork to take advantage to the maximum of the boom in the airline industry happening in both countries," said Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Mexico's transportation and communications minister. The treaty encourages code-sharing among U.S. and Mexican carriers and would boost the overall number of fliers between the nations, Mr. Ruiz Esparza said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


Iraqi Forces Fighting ISIS for Ramadi Push Toward City Center (OMAR AL-JAWOSHY, SEWELL CHAN and KAREEM FAHIM, DEC. 22, 2015, NY Times)

For the first time, Iraqi forces engaged Islamic State fighters within the city center of Ramadi on Tuesday, reaching the edge of the inner government district in an attempt to seize the critical western provincial capital after months of approach and maneuvering, officials said.

"We went into the center of Ramadi from different axes, and we started clearing residential areas," Gen. Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the army counterterrorism unit in charge of the offensive, said in a statement Tuesday. He predicted that "the city will be cleared within the coming 72 hours."

Six hundred to 1,000 Islamic State fighters were said to have been in Ramadi when the overall offensive began two weeks ago, but several hundred of them have been killed in fighting and airstrikes since then, according to Iraqi and Western officials.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Bennett calls right-wing critics of Shin Bet hypocrites (RAOUL WOOTLIFF December 23, 2015, Times of Israel)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett doubled down Wednesday on his criticism of figures in the Religious Zionist community for their condemnation of the Shin Bet security service over accusations of torture during the interrogation of suspects in the fatal Duma firebombing.

Speaking at a conference of the right-wing weekly B'sheva, the Jewish Home party leader reiterated comments he made a day earlier denouncing right-wing extremists as "terrorists," and said it was hypocritical to oppose interrogation methods considered acceptable against Palestinians.

"What was done to the Duma detainees is for certain not more, and probably less, than what is done regularly to Palestinian terror suspects," he said.

December 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Snowden To Address N.H. Free State Convention (Rob Wolfe, 12/17/15, Valley News)

Whistleblower and privacy activist Edward Snowden is slated to appear via video conference at the Free State Project's annual convention in February in Manchester, N.H.

The former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked millions of documents about government surveillance will speak live from Russia, where he has been granted asylum while facing pending U.S. government charges. He will participate in a 30-minute discussion and question-and-answer session at the Free-Staters' annual Liberty Forum.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


How America's dying white supremacist movement is seizing on Donald Trump's appeal (Peter Holley and Sarah Larimer, December 21, 2015, Washington Post)
Making friends is no easy task for modern white nationalists.

In an era of gay marriage and a black president, more than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, separatists can't exactly swan dive into conversations with strangers about the white-power cause.

But Rachel Pendergraft -- the national organizer for the Knights Party, a standard-bearer for the Ku Klux Klan -- told The Washington Post that the KKK, for one, has a new conversation starter at its disposal.

You might call it a "Trump card."

It involves, say, walking into a coffee shop or sitting on a train while carrying a newspaper with a Donald Trump headline. The Republican presidential candidate, Pendergraft told The Post, has become a great outreach tool, providing separatists with an easy way to start a conversation about issues that are important to the dying white supremacist movement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


THE YEAR THE WEST TERRORISED ITSELF : The West needs to beat Islamism on the battlefield of ideas. (FRANK FUREDI, 22 DECEMBER 2015, spiked)

The reaction of many young Muslim schoolchildren to the Charlie Hebdo incident is quite consistent with the research into public attitudes towards ISIS. A poll of over 2,000 British adults, conducted by ICM in July, showed that nine per cent of respondents viewed ISIS in a positive light; three per cent held a 'very favourable view' of ISIS; and six per cent held a 'somewhat positive view'. Despite the numerous atrocities reported in the media, the proportion of those with a positive view of ISIS has increased by two percentage points since last year.

Public-opinion polls are always difficult to interpret. But what the ICM poll suggests is that a significant minority of British Muslims may be sympathetic to some of ISIS's ideals. The majority of those are likely to be passive sympathisers with no desire to journey to Syria. However, what their sympathies signify is that radical jihadist ideas have gained a foothold in British society. At the very least, the poll suggests a sizeable group of British Muslims expresses its everyday frustrations with the world, and particularly the West, through a favourable attitude towards ISIS.

Elsewhere, researchers investigating support in France and Spain for ISIS reported:

'Among young people in the hovels and grim housing projects of the Paris banlieues, we found fairly wide tolerance or support for ISIS's values, and even for the brutal actions carried out in their name. In Spain, among a large population sample, we found little willingness to fight in order to defend democratic values against onslaught.'

At present, the willingness actively to fight for ISIS is confined to a tiny minority. But the fact that there is a significant body of passive support is ominous.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way 9/11 is now perceived and understood by many sections of European society. Many members of Muslim communities readily believe 9/11 conspiracy theories, especially the idea that it was all a Jewish plot. Claims about the world made by the Islamic State and other similar groups exercise a far greater influence today than they did three or four years ago. There are now far more people living in Europe who silently applaud or approve of an event like the Paris attacks.

The growing influence of radical Islamic sentiments is paralleled by a growing moral and political disorientation within European public life. European society is finding it very difficult to respond to what has now become a war against its way of life. This is especially clear in education, where numerous teachers have said how tough it is to discuss such 'controversial' subjects as 9/11 or the Holocaust in the classroom. Some teachers avoid these topics altogether.

Both France and Britain are failing to socialise a significant section of young people. Many of these youngsters embrace an Islamist counter-narrative that calls into question Western Enlightenment values and celebrates jihadist identity politics. One of the aims of the Paris attacks is to turn these anti-Western sentiments into a more active force in European society.

For a minority of young people, radical jihadism provides an outlet for their idealism. It also offers a coherent and edgy identity, a variant of the 'cool' narrative used by other online subcultures. The behaviour of young people who are attracted to jihadist websites is not all that different to the numerous non-Muslim Westerners who visit nihilistic websites and become fascinated by destructive themes and images. It just so happens that the destructive images and themes on jihadist websites are also linked to a destructive political cause.

Why are so many young Muslims hostile to the society into which they were born? Many blame anti-Muslim prejudice, economic deprivation or the conflict in the Middle East. It may well be the case that such issues have caused bitterness in Muslim communities. But Muslims are not the only group to have experienced prejudice or economic deprivation. One distinctive feature of European Muslim subcultures is that they are relatively self-sufficient and have a strong impulse to maintain a clear boundary between themselves and others.

Sociological research shows that the way that members of a subculture talk to one another and the views they hold are often different to the outlook of the rest of society. That is true for radical Muslims, as it is for other groups. Muslim subcultures possess their own pool of knowledge - that is, ideas and sentiments that are distinct to such cultures. Unfortunately, distinctive, culturally defined pools of knowledge create a fertile terrain for the construction and circulation of disturbing views and rumours. In such circumstances, rumours about a Jewish or American conspiracy can swiftly mutate into a taken-for-granted fact. Worse still, such 'facts' and beliefs are rarely tested in the wider public sphere and can therefore turn into deeply ingrained prejudices.

The absence of debate about the sensitive issues that divide Muslim subcultures from other sections of society is, in part, an inadvertent consequence of the policies of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism has failed to develop a moral and cultural outlook to which all sections of society can sign up. Instead it has encouraged cultural segmentation where, in effect, we now have a system of multi-values: numerous values existing side by side, none of them being properly discussed or challenged. That is why the image of a beheading can appear to some as an inspiration and to others as unspeakably horrendous. Such morally polarised reactions to the same event are the outcome of a society in which cultural segmentation prevails.

What Is America? (GK Chesterton) 

It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. 

Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. And this is true even of the most disastrous distortions or degradations of that creed; and true among others of the Spanish Inquisition. It may have been narrow about theology, it could not confess to being narrow about nationality or ethnology. The Spanish Inquisition might be admittedly Inquisitorial; but the Spanish Inquisition could not be merely Spanish. Such a Spaniard, even when he was narrower than his own creed, had to be broader than his own empire. He might burn a philosopher because he was heterodox; but he must accept a barbarian because he was orthodox. And we see, even in modern times, that the same Church which is blamed for making sages heretics is also blamed for making savages priests. Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial. The missionary can condemn a cannibal, precisely because he cannot condemn a Sandwich Islander. And in something of the same spirit the American may exclude a polygamist, precisely because he cannot exclude a Turk. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


No Child Left Behind Worked : At least in one important way. (BEN CASSELMAN, 12/22/15, 538)

 [N]o Child Left Behind had at least one significant -- and, experts say, lasting -- success: It changed the way the American educational system collects and uses data. The law may not have achieved the promise of its title, but it did force schools across the country to figure out which students were being left behind, and to make that information public. Education experts argue that the law's true legacy is the way it laid bare the inequities in the American educational system, and forced districts, in some cases for the first time, to address them.

"There's a very long history of states and school districts and schools essentially hiding behind the average performance of their students," said Scott Sargrad, a former Education Department official in the Obama administration who is now a researcher at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. "That masks really significant differences between kids who are more affluent, who are white, who don't have disabilities, whatever it is, and their peers who are more disadvantaged."

In some districts, merely drawing attention to racial or other disparities was enough to drive real changes. No longer able to coast on the strength of their high-performing majority, districts such as Beverly adopted new programs aimed at identifying and helping struggling students who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


The Functional Anthropologist, Roger Scruton :  Edmund Husserl, oikophobia, Pierre Manent, Roger Scruton (PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER, 12/22/15, Library of Law and Liberty)

The truth, Scruton concedes, is there are two ways human beings can be viewed as wholes: 1) We are animals, in other words the whole organisms described by the impersonal natural scientists, or 2) we're also whole persons, with experiences that can't be reduced to those of animals. We're stuck, Scruton thinks, with this cognitive dualism. Neuroscientists who describe us from their third-person point of view can't incorporate the personal experience of the "I" into their descriptions of what each of us is. Their accounts of the "what" don't account for the "who" -- the particular being with a name, a personal identity.

Still, Scruton also thinks that the whole that is the person can't be detached from our natural being as social animals, even as, for us, social is transformed by self-consciousness into relational. Persons exist in an interpersonal world -- a lifeworld (as per Edmund Husserl and Vaclav Havel), a world of customs, conventions, traditions, and other shared historical understandings of interrelated persons that can be distinguished from the environments inhabited by animals. Being personal depends on a world not of one's own making. Consciousness, including self-consciousness, is always consciousness with others.

The liberal experience of freedom depends on belonging to a particular home. This home can't be understood as natural in the sense of natural science or as a mere social construction unrelated to our natural capabilities. It is a characteristic of beings such as ourselves, beings with the natural capability for self-consciousness and so for being personal. It's the self-destructive project of scientism in theory, and of ideologies (including liberal ideologies) in practice, to deprive us of the home or lifeworld that is the condition of personal being.

Is the lifeworld a world of "seeming" or is it one of "being"? Does it depend on what most philosophers and scientists--save Georg Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant, and Husserl--regard as illusions? Scruton does not pretend--and, in his eyes, no real conservative would pretend--to have the authoritative answer to that question. The lifeworld depends on premises about love, personal responsibility, free will, and so forth that are questionable or invincibly open to reductionistic explanations. But the world of seeming or being on the surface is that upon which the "I" depends to live well, even to live in the light of the truth. And it's a world that produced all kinds of noble and wonderful and aesthetic and reasonable and religious thought and behavior that the scientists can't explain as characteristic of an organism in an environment.

The problem of the relationship between the lifeworld and the Kantian or liberal theory of autonomy is, Scruton explains, that "it is impossible that I should be a transcendental self; but it is necessary that I should suffer the illusion that I am." Thus, the conservative "functional anthropologist" observes, "I must belong to a world in which this illusion can be sustained, so that my projects are also values for me, and my desires are integrated into a vision of the good." So, from the third-person perspective, the benefits of the illusion of the autonomous "I" can be experienced only in a world where they are - by being relationally embedded, in other words not really so autonomous at all - not experienced as an illusion.

The "functional anthropologist," being a conservative, is to be distinguished from the natural scientist or evolutionary psychologist. The natural scientist is not concerned with sustaining nature itself, but he too becomes an anthropologist when considering the effects of the person on nature. And a conservative has an anthropocentric or functional concern with the interdependence of natural and social ecology.

When thinking about liberals, the functional anthropologist "smiles indulgently." The liberal thinks he is liberated enough to "question every given fact of community," but if he really did so, he would be left entirely naked and disinherited. He would have ended up exterminating the world in which the illusion of autonomy is credible. The lifeworld in which we distinguish between good and evil and are capable of sharing joyfully in the truth is constituted by "social artifacts," including that of "morality itself." The truth is that people are "born into a web of attachments," which could never all be validated by personal consent or by detached personal intention.

I didn't choose or construct the world in which I can experience myself as a confident and responsible "I," and so my "very existence" as a particular person is or ought to be "burdened with a debt of love and gratitude." We are born and die debtors, and the burden of being recipients is readily distinguished from what some libertarians call the tyranny of the gift. We can escape only in a limited way from "the absolute claim of the locally given." A full escape would be from everything that makes freedom more than, as the song said, nothing left to lose.

Not that the conservative always smiles indulgently at liberal pretensions concerning the autonomous liberation of the "I." Scruton rails against the "oikophobia" (the "repudiation of inheritance and home") that is the opposite of xenophobia. This ridiculing of "the unconsidered and spontaneous social actions" by which one affirms loyalty to one's own now disfigures English and American public intellectuals. The reflexes of ordinary people are routinely disparaged or "even demonized by the dominant media and educational system."

These habits that are mostly unconsidered and unchosen, are yet absolutely indispensable to us: they make up for what might be regarded as an instinctual deficiency in members of our species. The oikophobes have supposedly outed these habits as the behavior of thoughtless suckers. But the spontaneous effectiveness of these habits can't really be replaced by calculated deliberation about everything or even most things. The wholesale repudiation of loyalty disarms--in theory as well as in practice--such freedom as we really do have.

The irony is that "educated derision" may be capable of extinguishing "the freedom to criticize" that makes educated derision possible. No freedom has a future without people prepared by settled relational inclination to live and die for it. The freedom to criticize, properly understood, is the source of social improvement or adaptation to changing circumstances and technologies. It ministers unto social sustainability.

The alleged sustainability experts, the liberals, do not realize this. "In his own eyes," says Scruton, the oikophobe is "a defender of enlightenment universalism against local chauvinism." But it is much clearer what the oikophobe is against than what he is or she is for.

One of the great themes of the My Struggle series by Karl Ove Knausgaard is how thoroughly embedded supposedly secular modern Sweden is in Lutheranism. 
Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


The Young Gun Gets the Gavel (Jay Newton-Small,  Dec. 21, 2015, TIME)

There was something like fire in House Speaker Paul Ryan's eyes when he paused at an early-December press conference, pointed his finger in the air and denounced his party's presidential front runner. "This is not conservatism," Ryan said, facing microphones set up before him. "What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it's not what this country stands for."

His target, of course, was Donald Trump, who had just proposed a blanket ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Ryan's move, standard fare for most politicians that day, was nonetheless not one his predecessor, the chain-smoking, dealmaking John Boehner, would likely have tried. Where Boehner had shrunk from the spotlight, Ryan was quick to present himself as a Republican unafraid to speak truth to power. Even in his own party. [...]

In his first six weeks as Speaker, Ryan has pushed through a six-year highway-spending bill that had been stalled for years, bills to keep the government running through the 2016 election and a measure that would tighten entry for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to the U.S. All were bipartisan. And even though the conditions for passing these measures--save the refugee bill--were in place long before (and partly because) Ryan became Speaker, they suggest that the U.S. House of Representatives, at long last, may actually be coming unstuck.

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Another Time, Another Trump : I was hired to write his first 'campaign book,' when he was out on a lark. Here's what I learned about him. (DAVE SHIFLETT, Dec. 21, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Trump also pronounced himself a big fan of diversity, inclusiveness and civility. Soon after sending in the first draft of the book I was summoned to New York by his longtime assistant, Norma Foerderer (who died in 2013). To this rustic hack, she was the epitome of the sophisticated New Yorker: bright, attractive and the possessor of penetrating eyes that would have made a firearm redundant.

It was a long trip, from Virginia and back, for a meeting that lasted just a couple of minutes. Norma had one message: The draft was too "strident" and would have to be toned down. So crucial was this demand that it could not be given over the phone. Such was the importance of making sure the boss wagged a civil tongue.

The book set that tone in the first pages. Mr. Trump denounced the murder in Wyoming of the young gay man Matthew Shepard, the harassment of Jews and all other "hate crimes." He praised friends who had taught him about the "diversity of American culture" and "left me with little appetite for those who hate or preach intolerance." Among those friends were Sammy Sosa, Sean "Puffy" Combs and Muhammad Ali.
Fast forward to the present, where Mr. Ali recently found it necessary to send his old pal a remonstrance in the form of a news release titled "Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States," in which he denounced "those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda." The champ didn't explicitly mention Mr. Trump, who chose to ignore the message.

Instead he rolls merrily along, like fortune's child, bolstered by terrorist fear and political competitors variously seen as pathological liars, empty suits or the butt-ends of political dynasties. He is also the default candidate for all who have grown weary of culture cops and bureaucratic bullies. For a real-estate guy, he seems to have the political game figured out pretty well.

But there is also a tragic element to the rise of candidate Trump. In what should be his finest hour, he acts as if he had been raised in a barn (as we rustics like to say). It isn't just his barking-dog stridency but also his habit of calling respectable, hardworking people "losers." For someone who has been given so much in life, it's an especially odious line of attack.

December 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Muslims protect Christians from Islamist massacre on Kenyan bus (Deutsche-Welle, 12/21/15)

Al-Shabab militants from Somalia on Monday sprayed a bus with gunfire in northeast Kenya before boarding and demanding Muslims separate from non-Muslims, but Muslims refused the order and helped disguise Christian passengers.

Two people were killed and another six wounded in the attack on the bus travelling from Nairobi to Mandera near the border of Somalia, where Al-Shabab - al-Qaeda's East African affiliate - is based.

According to passenger accounts, the Muslims provided Christian passengers with Islamic clothing before some 10 al-Shabab militants boarded the bus. The Muslims then refused to separate from the Christians as demanded by the gunmen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Will Rubio work hard enough to become president? Some backers are worried. (Sean Sullivan and Karen Tumulty December 20, 2015, wASHINGTON pOST)

Marco ­Rubio no doubt wants to sit behind the big desk in the Oval Office. What is not so clear is how hard he is willing to work to get there.

Republican activists -- including many who appreciate Rubio's formidable political gifts and view him as the party's best hope for beating Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton -- say they are alarmed at his seeming disdain for the day-to-day grind of retail politics. Even some staunch supporters are anxious.

"Rubio has not put in the face time that he really needs to have, I don't think," said Al Phillips, an influential South Carolina pastor who backs Rubio. "I think that's been somewhat to his detriment." [...]

Though Rubio has lately stepped up his schedule in Iowa, for instance, he has usually stayed close to the Des Moines metropolitan area. Republicans joke that he is running for "mayor of Ankeny," the suburb where his state headquarters is located.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


The federal deficit is shrinking...for now (David Wessel, 12/21/15, Brookings)

 Measured against the size of the economy, the most meaningful metric, the deficit amounted to 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) versus 2.8 percent the year before. That's below the average of the past 40 years and far from the deficit of nearly 10 percent of GDP recorded during the worst of the Great Recession.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Spooky Action at a Distance Gives Us a Glimpse of a Deeper Reality : Why some particles behave like bewitched socks.(George Musser, 12/21/15, Slate)

Scientists say it is the closest they've come to real magic. In October, a team of physicists in the Netherlands reported in the journal Nature the most definitive evidence yet for what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance"--subtle and seemingly inexplicable connections between objects in the quantum realm. This month, teams in Vienna and in Boulder, Colorado, weighed in with equally dramatic results. Two or more particles can act in a coordinated way, no matter how far apart they may be, and they do so without sending out a sound wave, beaming a radio signal, or otherwise communicating across the gap that separates them. Their spooky synchronicity has many of the qualities of the Force: You can't use it to misdirect stormtroopers or feel the pain of a distant planetary holocaust, but it does bind together the fates of things that could lie on opposite sides of the galaxy. And it violates our deepest intuitions about nature.

Physicists have tried for decades to explain away the phenomenon, which is known as quantum entanglement. With these latest experiments, they've pretty much run out of prosaic explanations. You might think, for example, that the particles are no more mysterious than socks, which are coordinated for the simple reason that you paired them when folding the laundry. But experiments have ruled out the possibility that particles remain matched due to any kind of advance preparation. The particles are behaving like bewitched socks: They're not white, pink, or any other color. They don't actually have a color when you put them on. They take on a color only when observed. You look at the left sock and--boom!--it turns pink. You look at the right, and it, too, is pink. 

Such have always been our intuitions about nature, which is why Science resisted.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


A small New England college goes 100 percent solar : Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., will soon be home to a 'living building' and become the only college generating 100 percent of its electricity from solar panels. (Annika Fredrikson,  DECEMBER 21, 2015, CS Monitor)

Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., will soon be home to a "living building" and the only college generating 100 percent of its electricity from solar panels.

The Living Building Challenge is a rigorous set of standards that requires net-zero energy, waste, and water systems, as well as sustainable, local construction materials. Only eight self-sustaining buildings in the world have achieved this certification. Hampshire's R.W. Kern Center, a 17,000-square-foot campus center that will host high-tech classrooms, admissions and financial aid offices, and social space will be the ninth.   [...]

Designed and built by two local firms, the center will cost $9 million to construct but will end up essentially paying for itself with the money saved in its operation.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Humans Caused a Major Shift in Earth's Ecosystems 6,000 Years Ago : We upended a pattern held for 300 million years, and that may mean we are causing a new phase in global evolution (Kimbra Cutlip, 12/16/15, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

It's hard to imagine a global force strong enough to change natural patterns that have persisted on Earth for more than 300 million years, but a new study shows that human beings have been doing exactly that for about 6,000 years.

The increase in human activity, perhaps tied to population growth and the spread of agriculture, seems to have upended the way plants and animals distribute themselves across the land, so that species today are far more segregated than they've been at any other time.

That's the conclusion of a study appearing this week in the journal Nature, and the ramifications could be huge, heralding a new stage in global evolution as dramatic as the shift from single-celled microbes to complex organisms.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


We Haven't Even Done the Little Things : The U.S. has done so little on the climate change front that we have the potential to make enormous reductions with minimal sacrifice. (Charles Wheelan, Dec. 21, 201, US News)

[T]he good news is that the U.S. has done so little on the climate change front that we have the potential to make enormous reductions with minimal sacrifice.

We are like a college student who is failing all his classes. When summoned to the dean's office, the student explains that he has not bought the books or attended a single class. The dean is both appalled and encouraged. Yes, the student's behavior to date is absurd - but it will not be very hard to improve his grades.

Mr. Wheelan accidentally undermines the case for government action, in noting we've taken none, given that....

US efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions look set for a huge boost this year, with carbon pollution from the power sector set to fall to its lowest level since 1994.

Record numbers of US coal-fired power plants are set to close this year, and analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) say this will likely see power sector emissions drop 15.4% below 2005 levels.

Research published today indicates 23GW, 7% of US coal capacity, will come offline due to a combination of low gas prices, new mercury emission standards and the age of closing power plants.

"On an emissions rate basis (t/MWh), 2015 will be the cleanest year in over 60 years for which we have historical data," says the report.

December 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Batteries - a guide to the future : Batteries that store renewable energy are essential for the Paris climate agreement to work. Viviane Richter, Cosmos)

Turning solar and wind electricity into a 24/7 power source as reliable as coal. Eliminating the "range anxiety" that stops people switching from petrol to electric cars. Stopping the irritation of flat smartphones or laptops.

Those are just a few of the advantages that affordable long-lived rechargeable batteries, capable of delivering a sustained high-powered output over weeks instead of days could offer.

According to the experts, we have the technology. What we don't have is the magic mix of affordability, lightness and power delivery in a single battery. Instead, rechargeable batteries are diversifying, spawning a range of storage tools, each best suited to a particular niche. Here we meet the five frontrunners.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


So why aren't we celebrating saving the planet? (Rex Murphy, December 19, 2015, National Post)

[A]fter the news that our dear green planet has been hauled back from the crevice of total catastrophe, that the world's great cities will be spared from inundation and destruction, the absence of celebration, the dull, flat, routine response of the world's population, poses a mystery. I've seen people exhibiting more joy over a bacon sandwich. Strange, isn't it? You would expect a kind of Earth Day Christmas for such an event. But no, "World Saved -- Blah" seems to be the response.

It may be, just may be, that the common folk of all our continents, were just not convinced (a) that we really were in peril, or (b) that despite the revelation from Paris that we have averted planetary collapse, have not received that revelation with the confidence and credulity that those who stitched together the accord plainly do exhibit for their mighty endeavours.

Either way, for the "single most important challenge facing the world," it's an astonishingly tepid response from all the saved. Could it be that statements from 195 world leaders -- among whom, for example, is Robert Mugabe, just to hint at the quality of some of those leaders in whom the UN reposes such trust and faith -- do not carry the persuasive force, the power of reassurance, that the delegates blithely assumed they have?

Because it doesn't do anything?

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Queen's speech is set to be the most overtly Christian yet (Lexi Finnigan, 20 Dec 2015, The Telegraph)

The Queen's Christmas speech is set to deliver her most Christian message yet, after a year of Isil jihadist attacks.

Sources say the monarch will use her traditional annual speech to reflect on her personal faith as well as her belief in the continuing role of Christianity at the centre of British life. [...]

The content of the Queen's speech is, as ever, a closely guarded secret.

But a source told The Mail: "Over the years we've seen a greater emphasis on the Queen's faith and we're certain to see it in this year's Christmas broadcast. There's a fundamental optimism which, to an extent, is driven by her faith in contrast to the overall gloom. She is driven by a deep and spirited faith."

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Yes, America's middle class has been disappearing....into higher income groups (Mark J. Perry, 12/17/15, AEI)

Scott Shackford wrote on the Reason blog recently that "The Middle Class Is Shrinking! Because They're Getting Rich!" and referred to the bottom chart above that was featured in the Pew Research Center's recent report titled "The American Middle Class is Losing Ground." However, as the title of Scott Shackford's blog post suggests, the share of middle class households is getting smaller for a good reason -- it's because they've moved up to higher income groups. Specifically, according to Shackford:

It is true that Pew's analysis shows that the number of households that fit within their categorization of middle class has shrunk by 11 percentage points since 1971 [from 61% to 50%]. It is true that the proportion of households that are classified as lower class has increased from 25% to 29%. But it is also true that the proportion of households that are classified as upper class has increased from 14% to 21%.

That is to say, part of the reason that the middle class is disappearing is that they are succeeding and jumping to the next bracket. And a greater number of them are moving up than moving down. Be wary of the assumption that the drop in the middle class is a sign of a crisis.

Referring to the Pew Research Center report, Warren Meyer pointed out recently on The Coyote Blog ("Are We Really Going to Sell Socialism in This Country Based on the Fact that the Middle Class is Getting Rich?") that "2/3 of the [middle-class] losses were because they moved to 'rich.'" That is, of the 11 percentage point loss in the share of middle-class households between 1971 and 2015, 7 percentage points represent the middle-class households who moved up to one of the two highest-income groups, which represents 7/11, or 64% of the shrinkage of middle-class households.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Labour party may need to split to survive, says key ex-Blair adviser (Toby Helm, 20 December 2015, The Guardian)

The demise of New Labour and election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will kill the Labour party unless a new "project" is born to champion modern progressive policies on the centre ground, a leading figure in Tony Blair's former administration says.

In a devastating critique of the party's recent failures, from New Labour's second term onwards, Blair's former speechwriter and chief strategist Peter Hyman suggests its plight is now so desperate that it may even be necessary to form a new party with others, including the Lib Dems, to fill the "gaping hole in the centre and centre-left of British politics."

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


The Comedy of Christmas (Joseph Pearce, 12/19/15, Imaginative Conservative)

This past semester at Aquinas College in Nashville, I have had the joy of teaching a whole course on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. A few weeks ago we were discussing the moral dilemma faced by Frodo and Sam when, on separate occasions, in order to avoid the accursed Ring being captured by the Enemy, they choose to put it on, a thing to be avoided at (almost) all costs. I tell my students that this choice presents us with a moral dilemma because it seems that the hobbits are putting on the Ring (an evil act) to prevent the Ring from being taken by the Enemy (an evil consequence that will follow if the evil act is not committed). What, I asked my students, should we do if we find ourselves facing a choice between two evils? In answer, one of my students quipped that Americans face such a choice every four years. The class laughed heartily, as did I.

It was a witty comment, to be sure, but why, I wonder, did we all find such a tragic truth about our present pseudo-democracy so funny? Why is it hilarious that we are presented with a conjurer's trick every election enabling us to choose, once the preliminary circus and shenanigans are over, between Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber? Shouldn't we be crying, rather than laughing, at such a pathetic state of affairs? The answer to such a question is to be found in the presence of irony, specifically in the ironic distance that exists between the high ideal of democracy to which we all in theory subscribe and its absolute absence in the form of it we actually experience.

The delightful paradox is that comedy often expresses and exposes a tragedy, exorcising its evil from our hearts and thereby sanctifying the very tragedy itself through the presence of the ironic comedy. We laugh at the evil we see and thereby somehow conquer it.

Surprisingly perhaps, there is something of the spirit of Christmas in this paradox. The joy and laughter at the birth of the Baby is all the more delightful because it delivers us from evil. The innocence makes us laugh because it delivers us from guilt. The babe taken up in the arms of His Mother brings us joy because He takes up arms against the Devil. The smallness of the Child delights us because his smallness defeats the greatness of the World. The joy and laughter help us make sense of the suffering and tears. The levitas lightens and enlightens the gravitas. It was, for instance, not merely for laughs that Chesterton tells us that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly whereas the Devil fell because of the force of his own gravity. With this spark of epigrammatic brilliance, Chesterton makes the crucial connection between humour and humility. Angels and saints can laugh at the Devil, whereas the Devil can only vent his fury at the angels and saints. The Devil takes himself too seriously to get the joke.

The modern Left is required to take things too seriously to even make jokes.

December 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


The Death of God Is Greatly Exaggerated : The happy warrior for a muscular Christianity on why faith and science are not opposed, and why the public square benefits from expressions of belief. (KATE BACHELDER, Dec. 18, 2015, WSJ)

If religion in America is dying, then someone will have to explain Eric Metaxas. The happy warrior for a muscular Christianity displays nothing but confidence about the durability of belief in modern America. In fact, he seems to hope more Christians will ignore the pressure--from the media, the courts and other liberal bastions--to keep clear of the public sphere. The message has made him especially popular with evangelical Christians.

"Part of my life's thesis is that we live in a culture that has bought into the patently silly idea that there is a divide between the secular world and the faith world," he says, the idea that religion can be walled off exclusively into private life or pitched altogether, particularly when 70% or so of U.S. residents identify as Christian. "Culture presents us with this false choice between channels that are exclusively faith-based" versus those that are "exclusively secular." Yet "that's not how most Americans process the world." [...]

His work is a "strange amalgam," as Mr. Metaxas puts it. He churns out poetry, children's stories and 600-page tomes; he is a devout follower of Jesus Christ who doesn't want for a sense of irony. This is a guy whose endeavors include a nationally syndicated radio show "about everything" and a New York event series, " Socrates in the City," that explores "life, God and other small topics."

An unwillingness to talk publicly about matters of faith and ultimate reality has left "tons of people dissatisfied," he says, in an expansive conversation this week. "You'd never know that from watching TV or listening to radio. You'd think the only thing people argue about is politics." He puts everything into a blender on his radio show: On Wednesday he sized up the Republican foreign-policy debate; on Monday he included a "Miracle Mondays" segment in which he chats with guests about extraordinary phenomena.

Mr. Metaxas pushes back against what he calls the "lie that faith and science are somehow opposed to each other." He thinks the two work in tandem. As he wrote last year in these pages: "There are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life--every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart." In sum: "Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident?"

This resonates with people. "They say: 'You know, it didn't make sense to me that the universe made no sense.' " In his book about the miraculous, Mr. Metaxas cites the Christian scholar C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his 1952 book "Mere Christianity": "If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."

But Mr. Metaxas says he's "keenly sensitive that there are people listening who don't share my point of view. And I want to talk about whatever we're talking about in a way that's respectful of those people." That isn't the conservative talk-radio model--venting about the latest political outrage, with a financial incentive to foment anger among loyal listeners.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


Jeb Bush (Jr.) Has a Very Bright Political Future : Millennial, Hispanic, bipartisan: The candidate's son embodies Jeb's theory of how the GOP can win the White House.  (David Freedlander, December 17, 2015, Bloomberg)

On a recent visit to New Hampshire to make the generational case for his father, Jeb Jr. spent the evening with a dozen members of the St. Anselm College Republicans, (an event which, like most of Bush Jr.'s outreach, was off-limits to the press) then gamely sat down with 15 members of the Londonderry New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce to convince them that all was well with his father's campaign.

Dressed in a blue blazer, Brooks Brothers button-down, khaki pants, and cowboy boots reminiscent of his uncle George's, Jeb Jr. sat at attention as representatives from a legal services company, a paper printer, the Miss New Hampshire pageant and the like spun their services and asked their chamber-mates for referrals.

When it came to his turn, Bush talked about his own experience in small business. "Over the last seven years I have been extremely blessed," he said. "I started a small business with my dad called Jeb Bush and Associates. He was Jeb Bush, And I was the associate.

"I learned a lot from my dad--learned that he is the hardest working person I have ever met. He is a total grinder. One of the nerdy sayings he has is 'small strokes fell great oaks.' And those are words he lives by. You are seeing a lot in this crazy primary season, especially as the guy with crazy hair makes a lot of noise, but the campaign is focused on working really hard...not just going out and screaming and yelling but listening and learning."
He went on to tout his father's record in Florida, instilling conservative values, and disrupting the education system. 

Jeb Jr.'s diction is classic Bushian stumbling delivered in a bushy-tailed millennial tone: "Having a foreign policy where we lead from the front and not the back, that is how we get our country back. So it's been a total blast." He's charming, unceasingly optimistic, and no one would call him low-energy. Prior to the campaign, he may have been most famous for being arrested as a 21-year-old for public drunkenness and resisting arrest in Austin--though such antics have not always stood in the way of distinguished political careers.

Jeb Jr. is an avatar of his father's original operating theory of the campaign--"lose the primary in order to win the general" (of which only the first part seems to be going OK). He embodies an answer to the GOP's demographic problems with Hispanics and millenials. As a political creature, he's a kind of hybrid of old-line GOP and Obaman transcendence. "I'm trying to campaign everywhere equally and do it in a way that is hopeful and optimistic for Dad," Jeb Jr. said in an interview after the event. "You know, he's trying to not just win the primary, but win the general, and more importantly get to Washington and try to actually do something. He's not trying to get a Fox News contract, or sell books, or something like that."

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


Heavy oversupply pushes oil prices lower (Anjli Raval, 12/19/15, Financial Times)

News that tight restrictions on US crude oil exports, in place for 40 years, would be lifted as part of a budget deal agreed in Congress on Tuesday also weighed on prices.

Banks such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are among those that have said the oil overhang could push crude prices down to $20 levels.

"We still see high risks that prices may decline further, as storage continues to fill," said Damien Courvalin at Goldman Sachs.

Although growth in US production is weaker, it has not fallen enough, meaning the market will take longer to rebalance, said Mr Courvalin.

Higher Opec production, including additional barrels from Iran, is another risk factor for 2016, he added.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Where ISIS is challenging the Taliban for power in Afghanistan (Lynne O'Donnell and Humayoon Babur, 12/19/15, Associated Press)

Rahman Wali's younger brother was one of 10 Afghan men forced by Islamic State militants to kneel over bombs buried in the soil in a lush green valley in eastern Nangarhar province. The extremists then detonated the bombs, turning the pastoral countryside into a scene of horror. [...]

After his brother's death, Wali and his family fled to the provincial capital of Jalalabad, seeking refuge in a makeshift camp with thousands of others who left their homes in the valleys hugging the border to escape what is turning out to be an increasingly vicious war for control of the region between the Taliban and fighters of Afghanistan's IS affiliate.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


Trump Calls Clinton 'Disloyal' For Throwing Sanders 'Under The Bus' (SARA JERDE, DECEMBER 19, 2015, TPM)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton "disloyal" for throwing rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) "under the bus."

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


A grim reckoning : What has a 16th-century astronomer got to do with the defeat of governments and the possible extinction of the human race ? Answers in fractions please, says J. Richard Gott III, )

IN 1969, after graduating from Harvard but before starting further study in astrophysics at Princeton University, I took a summer holiday in Europe and visited the Berlin Wall. It was the height of the Cold War, and the wall was then eight years old. Standing in its ominous shadow, I began to wonder how long it would last. Having no special knowledge of East-West relations, I hadn't much to go on. But I hit on a curious way to estimate the wall's likely lifetime knowing only its age.

I reasoned, first of all, that there was nothing special about my visit. That is, I didn't come to see the wall being erected or demolished - I just happened to have a holiday, and came to stand there at some random moment during the wall's existence. So, I thought, there was 50 per cent chance that I was seeing the wall during the middle two quarters of its lifetime . If I was at the beginning of this interval, then one-quarter of the wall's life had passed and three-quarters remained. On the other hand, if I was at the end of this interval, then three-quarters had passed and only one -quarter lay in the future. In this way I reckoned that there was a 50 per cent chance the wall would last from 1/3 to 3 times as long as it had already.Magazine 

Before leaving the wall, I predicted to a friend that it would, with 50 per cent likelihood, last more than two and two-third years but less than 24. I then returned from holiday and went on to other things. But my prediction, and the peculiar line of reasoning that lay behind it, stayed with me. Twenty years later, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down - unexpectedly, but in line with my prediction. [...]

This is all good fun. You can predict approximately how long something will last without knowing anything other than its current age. But in the past few months, in the light of the spectacular success of the NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission, I've been reminded of a far more serious implication of this way of thinking. Applying it to the human race forces me to conclude that our extinction as a species is a very real possibility, and that we had better take steps to improve our survival prospects before it's too late. Let me explain why I have such a sense of urgency, and why we had better begin colonising space - and very soon.

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus pointed out that the Earth revolved about the Sun, rather than vice versa, and in one swift move, displaced humanity from its privileged place at the very centre of the Universe. We now see the Earth as circling an unexceptional star among thousands of millions of others in our unexceptional Galaxy. This perspective is summed up more generally in the "Copernican principle", which is the supposition that one's location is unlikely to be special.

Early this century, when astronomer Edwin Hubble observed approximately the same number of galaxies receding from Earth in all directions, it looked as if our Galaxy was at the exact centre of a great explosion. But reasoning with the Copernican principle, scientists concluded instead that the Universe must look that way to observers in every galaxy - it would be presumptuous to think that our galaxy is special. As a working hypothesis, the Copernican principle has been enormously successful because, out of all the places intelligent observers could be, there are only a few special places and many nonspecial places. A person is simply more likely to be in one of the many nonspecial places. But the Copernican principle doesn't apply only to placement of galaxies in space - it works for the placement of moments in time as well.

What does it imply for "Homo sapiens ?"We have been around for about 200 000 years. If there is nothing special about the present moment, then it is 95 per cent certain that the future duration of our species is between 1/39 and 39 times 200 000 years. That is, we should last for at least another 5100 years but less than 7.8 million years.

Since we have no actuarial data on other intelligent species, this Copernican estimate may be the best we can find. It gives our species a likely total longevity of between 0.205 million and 8 million years, which is quite in line with those for other hominids and mammals. The Earth is littered with the bones of extinct species and it doesn't take much to see that we could meet the same fate. Our ancestor "H. erectus" lasted 1.6 million years, while "H. neanderthalensis" lasted 0.3 million years. The mean duration of mammal species is 2 million years, and even the great "Tyrannosaurus rex" lasted only 2.5 million years.

For us, the end might come from a drastic climate change, nuclear war, a wandering asteroid or comet, or some other catastrophe that catches us by surprise, such as a bad epidemic. If we remain a one-planet species, we are exposed to the same risks as other species, and are likely to perish on a similar timescale.

Some people might think that the discoveries of our age - space travel, genetic engineering and electronic computers - place us in a special position. These breakthroughs, they might say, could lead us to spawn new intelligent species, including intelligent machine species, enhancing our chances of survival. But such thinking may raise false hopes. For, according to the Copernican principle, you are likely to be living in a century when the population is high because most people will be born during such periods. And since it is people who make discoveries, it is not surprising that you will live in a century when many interesting discoveries are being made. But your chance of being born 200 000 years after the beginning of your intelligent lineage, in the very century when a discovery is made that guarantees it a billion-year future, is very small, because a billion years of intelligent observers would be born after such a discovery, and you would be more likely to be one of them. If you believe that any current discovery will dramatically increase our longevity, you must ask yourself: why am I not already one of its products ? Why am I not an intelligent machine or genetically engineered ?

The thought that there is nothing special about your own life is unbearable for many, so they imagine existential threats (Iran! Global Warming! etc) to make their age seem important.  

On the other hand, as the author accidentally points out, the fact that there is no other intelligent species and that collapsing the wave requires one demonstrates that the species and planet are special.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Democracy's Difficult Choice: Pensions or Future Growth (Jean-Michel Paul, 12/17/15, Bloomberg View)

For anyone interested in the future of democracy, a recently released Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report on pensions makes uncomfortable, but essential reading. If trends continue, democracies may have to make hard choices between elderly provisions and investment in future generations. To do that, democracy itself may need to change. 

Take, as a starting point, the fact that public expenditure on old-age benefits in the OECD is now on average above 8 percent of gross domestic product and steadily increasing. Japanese pension payments have doubled since 1990 to more than 10 percent GDP. Without that increase Japan would have a budget at or close to equilibrium today. Italy spends more than 15 percent of its GDP in pensions.

The proportion of GDP going to the elderly population naturally reflects the demographic trends of lower birth-rates as well as increased life expectancy. The portion of the population above 65 is now close to 20 percent in OECD countries and is expected to reach nearly 30 percent by 2050.

share of elderly oecd chart
The demographic change has far-reaching implications for policy. The reallocation of resources in favor of the elderly has been such that poverty is now highest among the young. The 65-to-75 age group is now the least likely population segment to experience poverty while those in the 18-to-25 age group are the most likely to be poor.

Many OECD countries have taken measures "to make their systems more affordable in the long term," such as increasing the retirement age in line with increased life expectancy or decreasing future pension indexation. to reverse the entitlement system.  By starting personal investment accounts at birth, transitioning the rest of us into them, making them heritable and means-testing all programs, you fuel economic growth (via investment and vesting everyone in deregulation), reduce overall costs and virtually end wealth transfers to seniors.


The Uncounted Trillions in the Inequality Debate (MARTIN FELDSTEIN, Dec. 13, 2015, WSJ)

Wealth is the ability to spend more than one's income. After a retirement or job loss, a household with financial wealth can maintain its standard of living. Wealth also allows people to make bequests and gifts to help children or grandchildren at early stages in their lives.

Most Americans count on Social Security to finance their consumption in retirement. The Social Security trustees estimate that Social Security "wealth"--the present actuarial value of the future benefits that current workers and retirees are projected to receive--is $59 trillion. Excluding the top 10% of households reduces the amount to about $50 trillion.

However, to qualify for those benefits, current workers must pay future payroll taxes with a present actuarial value of about $25 trillion. So you have to subtract these taxes from the $50 trillion, leaving a net Social Security "wealth" of $25 trillion for the bottom 90% of households. Adding this to the $20 trillion of their conventionally measured net worth, and these households have total wealth of $45 trillion.

Yet this figure leaves out the very large transfers that retirees receive from Medicare and Medicaid. [...]

So what is the grand total? Add the $50 trillion for Medicare and Medicaid wealth to the $25 trillion for net Social Security wealth and the $20 trillion in conventionally measured net worth, and the lower 90% of households have more than $95 trillion that should be reckoned as wealth. This is substantially more than the $60 trillion in conventional net worth of the top 10%. And this $95 trillion doesn't count the value of unemployment benefits, veterans benefits, and other government programs that substitute for conventional financial wealth.

Critics of inequality fail to recognize this wealth and that it represents a poor return. Individuals pay high payroll taxes--directly and through foregone wages--to finance the current system of pay-as-you-go retiree benefits. By my calculations, the implicit real rate of return on those payroll taxes will be less than 3%. That is substantially less than the 5.5% real return earned historically by contributions over a working life to an individual IRA or 401(k) plan invested in a balanced combination of stocks and high-quality bonds.

A wise approach would be to slim down today's Social Security pay-as-you-go system and supplement it with universal investment-based personal retirement accounts. This would reduce the tax burden on workers and raise the national savings rate, thus increasing the rate of economic growth and the future levels of real wages. Those individual accounts would also provide funds that could be bequeathed to the next generation or transferred for special purposes like education.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


These four reasons explain why bipartisanship is breaking out all over. Will it last? (Sarah Binder December 17, 2015, Washington Post)

1. Senate Republicans want voters to trust them with power

Senate GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) argues that Democrats have been eager to legislate, claiming that Democratic leader Harry Reid tied the Senate in knots when Democrats controlled the chamber. With Republicans at the helm, McConnell argues that he opened the flood gates and let the Senate work. I doubt it. Instead, Republicans' electoral incentives have changed, with McConnell encouraging GOP colleagues back to the negotiating table while eventually giving up his own highly partisan quest for red-meat riders to the spending bill on energy, land, environment and other flash point issues.

With Republicans contesting 24 GOP-held or open seats in 2016, McConnell remains focused on toss-up races where his Republican incumbents must run in purple states: for starters, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire. Giving his colleagues a bipartisan record to run on in 2016 surely shaped McConnell's willingness to commit floor time to these issues. What better way to convince purple state voters to trust Republicans with power than to put some moderate policy gains on display while blaming Democrats for previous inaction.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


via Ed Driscoll

December 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


The Machiavelli of Maryland : Military strategist, classical scholar, cattle rancher - and an adviser to presidents, prime ministers, and the Dalai Lama. Just who is Edward Luttwak? And why do very powerful people pay vast sums for his advice? (Thomas Meaney, 9 December 2015, The Guardian)

Luttwak is a self-proclaimed "grand strategist", who makes a healthy living dispensing his insights around the globe. He believes that the guiding principles of the market are antithetical to what he calls "the logic of strategy", which usually involves doing the least efficient thing possible in order to gain the upper hand over your enemy by confusing them. If your tank battalion has the choice of a good highway or a bad road, take the bad road, says Luttwak. If you can divide your fighter squadrons onto two aircraft carriers instead of one, then waste the fuel and do it. And if two of your enemies are squaring off in Syria, sit back and toast your good fortune. [...]

Outside Luttwak's house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, stands a tall metal statue of the would-be Hitler assassin Claus von Stauffenberg; a large wooden totem of Nietzsche stares out from a bay window. When I visited this spring, a helmeted figure appeared to be assembling something with industrial welding equipment through a basement window. The figure was Luttwak's elegant wife, Dalya, who greeted me at the door while Luttwak finished shearing the bushes outside. "I do sometimes worry that when I see a car moving slowly outside the house that someone has finally come to finish us off," she said. Dalya was preparing for a show in New York City, and the floor of her sculpture studio was strewn with tools and the steel rods she shapes into giant root-like structures.

Luttwak first came to Washington in 1969. After graduating from LSE, he followed his roommate Richard Perle - the neoconservative eminence grise and adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, known in the press as the "Prince of Darkness" - to work for a cold war thinktank called the Committee to Maintain a Prudence Defense Policy. Chaired by the former US secretary of state Dean Acheson, the committee was dedicated to wrapping rabid strategic proposals in the language of security and necessity. Luttwak now finds Washington to be a "pleasantly innocuous" town, but he hated it when he first arrived: "I remember going to Kissinger's favourite restaurant, Sans Souci, and eating food that would have been rejected by Italian PoWs."

Luttwak could never fully bend to the orthodoxies of the Beltway. "He has a way of thinking outside of the box, but it's so far outside of the box that you have to put a filter on it," says Paul Wolfowitz, another Iraq war architect who was also a member of Acheson's committee. "If you had asked Edward if he would have liked to be secretary of state, he would not have said no," says Perle, "but he didn't want to rise as a bureaucrat. He wanted access to power without going up ladders." Luttwak's relations with both men have cooled in recent decades. "In Washington you are considered frivolous if you write books," he said. "Wolfowitz and Perle were always supposed to be writing these great works, but they never did. I was considered unserious for knowing things."

Today, Luttwak's home office contains the better part of the Loeb classical library on its shelves, interspersed ostentatiously with helmets, pistols and stray pieces of artillery. A certificate congratulating him for his contribution to the design of the Israeli Merkava tank rests above a photo of his daughter, a former Israeli soldier, driving the same tank. Luttwak spends much of his time at the computer. He follows the news closely and interprets it as an ongoing comedy. At the time of my visit, Yemen's Houthi insurgents had just invaded the port city of Aden. "It's as if Scottish Highlanders were walking around with guns in Mayfair," he said.

"You know, I never gave George W Bush enough credit for what he's done in the Middle East," Luttwak continued. "I failed to appreciate at the time that he was a strategic genius far beyond Bismarck. He ignited a religious war between Shi'ites and Sunnis that will occupy the region for the next 1,000 years. It was a pure stroke of brilliance!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Europe's Failure to Understand Russia's Decline  (JUDY DEMPSEY, DECEMBER 17, 2015, Carnegie Europe)

In his new article "Deglobalizing Russia," economics professor Sergei Guriev argues that the cost of Russia's current isolation policy will lead the country further into stagnation. It is questionable whether Putin can in the meantime continue to use the nationalist card to disguise this inexorable direction of his country, the culture of corruption that is eroding any semblance of the rule of law, and the corrosion of trust in Russia's state institutions.

Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center pursues this argument. He writes that Russia needs a plan C. "Russia will be completely unable to revitalize itself as a world power if it does not address its own internal failings," Trenin argues. "Russia needs to unambiguously prioritize domestic development--not just for the sake of having an international role, but to give itself any kind of future. Russia's current political and economic order, if it persists, will sooner or later doom it to a tragic failure as a state."

For Andrew Wood, a former UK ambassador to Moscow, the idea of Western-inspired Russian modernization is gone. "The West should instead remain . . . patient and consistent in its current position towards the Kremlin," he writes.

These three papers put paid to the idea that Russia is in fact a strong power. Putin can send his fighter jets to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad's vile regime, continue to back fighters in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, and impose sanctions on Turkey after Ankara shot down a Russian military plane that had invaded its airspace. But at home, Putin's economy is declining fast, and as these papers argue, he is doing nothing to reverse that decline.

Putin boasted that his decision to ban the import of certain European products in retaliation for EU sanctions would be to Russia's benefit. Russia could easily compensate by relying on its own agricultural produce and other goods, the Kremlin maintained. But instead of using Western sanctions to introduce reforms and loosen the state's grip on the economy and modernize the country's infrastructure, Russia has let the opposite happen. It is as if populism, bravado, and the rejection of globalization were substitutes for growth.

More worrying for an economy that relies on oil and gas exports to maintain growth--exports whose prices are at record lows--is the creeping stagnation that began before the Ukraine crisis. And as Guriev argues, Russian trade and economic deals with China will not reverse the decline, however much the Kremlin tries to promote the idea that it does not need the West and can find a savior in China.

Of course, their own experts fail to recognize that demographics and culture mean no amount of reform can save the future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Why This Senator Accuses Paul Ryan of 'Blithely Dismissing' Americans on Immigration (Philip Wegmann, December 18, 2015, Daily Signal)

After the House passed the massive spending bill Friday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., attacked Ryan by name over permitting an expansion of the H-2B visa program for low-skilled "guest workers."

"Blithely dismissing the just concerns of the great majority of American voters, and especially Republican voters, is not a wise course for the Republican speaker," Sessions said in a prepared statement.

In question are H-2B visas designed to allow low-skilled foreign workers to take temporary blue-collar jobs in the United States.  A provision in the 2,009-page spending bill increases the program's eligibility cap from 66,000 workers to 264,000.

At least he recognizes that he's been dismissed.
Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


1/3 of Republicans want to bomb Aladdin's home (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 19, 2015)

A poll has found that almost one third of Republican primary voters advocate the bombing of a place called Agrabah -- the fictional land that Disney cites as the home of its cartoon hero Aladdin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Evangelicals commit to refugee resettlement efforts (Timothy C. Morgan, December 18, 2015, RNS)

Rejecting fearmongering about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., about 100 evangelical leaders are calling on Christians and their churches "to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting."

"Our statement is to change a narrative of fear and instead focus on faith and compassion," said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. "Our desire is not to resettle everybody in another country. When a house is burning down, we need to put out the fire and rescue people fleeing the fire."

Meeting on Thursday (Dec. 17) at Wheaton College, outside of Chicago, evangelical leaders said in their statement, "We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees. We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others. ... We cannot allow voices of fear to dominate. Instead, we commit to actions of love and compassion for refugees." They said there are nearly 60 million displaced or refugee people worldwide, "a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented size."

The planning event brought together top leaders from World Relief, World Vision, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Wesleyan Church, the Assemblies of God, and more than 50 other groups for dialogue in advance of a larger event on Jan. 20, designed to develop a sustainable Christian response to the global refugee crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Syrian who fled war only to arrive amid US refugee panic mystified by hostility (Tom Dart, 12/15/15, The Guardian)

Throughout the seven months it took Samer and his family to make their way from Syria to the United States, he told himself that the risk and cost would be worth it they could swap their war-ravaged homeland for what he believed was a "land of opportunity, hope and peace".

But the family's arrival in the US has proved more stressful than the journey: days after they reached Texas they found themselves the unwitting subject of a national debate over potential terrorist infiltration.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said that Samer, his wife and two sons - aged two and five - could be the embodiment of America's "worst nightmare". Donald Trump speculated that the family, who are Christian, could be members of Islamic State.

A month later, Samer and his family are still being held in indefinitely in separate detention centres - and his belief in America as a beacon for asylum seekers is dimming by the day.

"My very small children are in prison," said Samer, speaking by phone from an immigration detention centre near San Antonio. "I had no idea that the political climate was so against Syrian refugees. If I had known that it was so terrible here I wouldn't have brought my family."

In his first press interview, Samer said he was struggling to reconcile his perception of the US as a Christian nation of immigrants with his own predicament. Now he fears his family will not be released and reunited by Christmas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


A New Era of Health-Care Innovation (Joseph Jimenez, 12/18/15, Project Syndicate)

The new wave of innovation is attributable to three key factors: the ability to personalize therapy, the capacity to get treatments to market faster, and improved engagement with patients.

First, major advances in our knowledge of genomics - specifically, the way diseases manifest and develop in the body at the genetic level - are improving our ability to target illness at each stage and improve the patient experience. Genetic markers, for example, can indicate which patients are likely to benefit from a drug, thereby improving outcomes while allowing patients to avoid potentially painful side effects of treatments that are unlikely to work.

For early-stage breast cancer patients, genetic markers show whether chemotherapy is likely to have an impact, or if hormone therapy alone is the better option. A new lung cancer drug developed by my company, Novartis, is effective only in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer who have a particular genetic mutation.

The use of genomic expertise to improve health care is just beginning. One promising area of investigation is CRISPR - a cutting-edge tool that could allow us to delete, repair, or replace the genes that cause disease. As our understanding of the characteristics of a particular patient's illness becomes increasingly precise, treatment will become increasingly effective and will reduce the risk of side effects.

Moreover, advances in our understanding of disease are boosting the efficiency of the drug development process, making it possible to bring new innovations to market faster. For example, genetic testing is being used to pre-select participants for clinical trials, cutting recruitment times. With this approach, research can begin in as little as three weeks, compared to the 34 weeks, on average, for a standard trial. Add to that our ability to analyze data more quickly, and to make more precise decisions about dosing, and the clinical trial timeframe shrinks considerably.

Finally, real-time data and emerging technology tools have the potential to improve patient engagement and adherence, especially among those with chronic conditions caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs). As the world's population ages, the incidence of NCDs is expected to rise, accounting for 52 million deaths annually by 2030. More than 80% of NCD deaths are the result of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Big surge in enrollment lifts Obamacare marketplaces (Noam N. Levey, 12/18/15, LA Times)
A big surge of consumers this fall is pushing up enrollment in health coverage offered through the Affordable Care Act, providing an unexpected boost to insurance marketplaces created by the law, according to new data from the federal government.

Through this week, nearly 6 million people have selected health plans for 2016 through, the federally operated insurance marketplace that serves residents of 38 states, including Florida, Texas and Illinois. [...]

Hundreds of thousands of additional consumers have selected plans through marketplaces operated by the remaining states, including California, New York, Connecticut and Maryland.

The strong demand for Obamacare coverage in the law's third enrollment period may further solidify the markets, which are still evolving as insurance companies and consumers continue to adapt to the new healthcare environment.

And it could help further drive down the nations' uninsured rate, which has plummeted since the health law's coverage expansion began in 2014.

Polls and other surveys indicate some 17 million previously uninsured Americans have gotten coverage through marketplaces, Medicaid and other sources.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Donald Trump's New Role: Apologist for Vladimir Putin (Rob Garver, December 18, 2015, Fiscal Times)

In an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Mika Brezinski asked Trump about comments Putin had made about him the day before.

"[Trump] is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that," Putin said near the end of his annual marathon press conference with regional media outlets in Moscow. "He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it."

Trump responded, "When people call you 'brilliant' it's always good, especially when the person heads up Russia." (Some media outlets translated Putin's first adjective describing Trump as "brilliant.")

Related: Brits Sign Petition to Ban Trump, Who Cameron Calls 'Divisive and Stupid'

Taken slightly aback, host Joe Scarborough said, "Well, I mean, also is a person who kills journalists, political opponents and ... invades countries, obviously that would be a concern, would it not?"

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Can we save Darwin's famous finches from extinction? (Eva Botkin-Kowacki, DECEMBER 18, 2015, CS Monitor)

Today, Darwin's finches are in danger. A parasitic fly that appeared on the islands just a couple decades ago could drive the finch populations to extinction, say researchers.

But "it's not all gloom and doom," University of Utah parasitologist Dale Clayton tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. A reduction of nests infested by the fly by just 40 percent should alleviate the risk of extinction, he says.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


Dutch village built for Jews who fled Nazis now offered to Syrian refugees (JTA December 18, 2015)

The Dutch owner of land that was once a village for Jews fleeing the Nazis has offered its use as housing for refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Joep Karel, the owner of the area in Slootdorp, 35 miles north of Amsterdam, made the offer earlier this month to the government's Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, The Noordhollands Dagblad daily reported last week.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Upcoming Iran elections after nuclear deal 'may have consequences for years to come' : The lifting of sanctions is on the horizon, but also parliamentary elections in February 2016. At the same time, Iran is provoking the West with new missile tests. Iran analyst Ali Vaez explains Tehran's strategy. (dEUTSCHE-wELLE, 12/18/15)

The parliamentary elections will take place in February 2016, including elections for the less-known Assembly of Experts. How important is the Assembly of Experts in shaping the future of the country?

The Assembly of Experts is in charge of selecting the supreme leader's successor. Given the fact that Ayatollah Khamenei is 76 years old, and the term of the Assembly of Experts is eight years, the incoming Assembly might well be the one that will choose the person who follows him in the office. And the Iranian political system is designed in such a way that the supreme leader plays an outsized role in determining the country's fate. So the upcoming election of the Assembly of Experts is probably one of the most consequential and important in the history of the Islamic Republic. But the parliamentary election is also quite important, because it will set the stage for the presidential election in 2017. The reality is: if President Rouhani and his allies gain the upper hand in the parliamentary elections, they will be in a better position to challenge other power centers and push forward their agenda. But if the opposite happens, President Rouhani could become a lame duck for the rest of his term in office and might even lose the presidential election. These elections are not only a struggle over the political spoils of the nuclear deal, and because of their long-term consequences, they really go beyond the petty politics of the short run. They might very well have consequences that will be felt in Iran for many years to come. It is really the question of whose vision for the Islamic Republic will eventually prevail.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Argentina's economy just got a 7-day makeover (Patrick Gillespie, 12/18/15, CNNMoney)

In the first seven days of his presidency, here's what Macri has done:

1. Lifted currency controls [...]

A mostly fixed exchanged rate caused the peso to become deeply overvalued. Until Thursday, the peso was worth about 9.8 pesos to the dollar.

Once the controls were lifted Thursday, the peso tanked 26% to 14.5 pesos to the dollar.

The move has risks. It can case the peso to lose too much value and spark even more inflation.

However, the currency manipulation discouraged foreigners from investing in Argentina. And the country badly needs foreign cash. Last month, American Airlines announced it wouldn't accept pesos, partially due to how overvalued the peso was.

2. New central bank president

Macri's party appointed Federico Sturzenegger, a U.S. trained economist, to lead the central bank.

Sturzenegger needs to encourage foreign investors to come back. Quickly.

Argentina's central bank has seen its foreign reserves plummet in recent years due to debt payments and inflation. Reserves peaked over $50 billion in 2011, but have since fallen to $24 billion, according to the central bank.

3. Tax cuts

Macri cut personal income taxes and lifted taxes on exports to help stimulate trade and spending.

Kirchner had implemented the export tax and outraged farmers in Argentina. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


Israel: Iran has withdrawn most of its Revolutionary Guards from Syria (AVI ISSACHAROFF, December 18, 2015, Times of Israel)

Iran has withdrawn most of the Revolutionary Guards fighters it deployed to Syria three months ago, Israeli security officials told The Times of Israel. The decision to withdraw the forces was likely made due to the rising number of casualties among Iranian soldiers fighting in Syria and the subsequent growing public outcry back home.

The officials confirmed the withdrawal to The Times of Israel days after a report in Bloomberg quoted American sources saying such a withdrawal was in its early stages, and after Iran issued a denial. The Israeli sources stressed, however, that most of the troops have actually now been withdrawn.

December 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


The media reaction to George W. Bush's email controversy (Lauren Carroll, March 15th, 2015, PolitiFact)

First, a quick refresher about what happened in the Bush administration. In March 2007, eyes were on then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after the administration unexpectedly fired eight U.S. attorneys. Congress (recently taken over by Democrats) investigated the firings, alleging that the administration had dropped the prosecutors for political reasons.

Over the course of the investigation, it came out that some White House officials had conducted White House business over private email accounts set up on a server through the Republican National Committee. The White House later admitted that some internal White House emails conducted on the RNC server might have been lost.

Democrats in Congress accused the administration of purposefully circumventing recordkeeping processes, while the White House said staffers were supposed to use the RNC emails solely for political affairs, not official business. Comparing the Bush and Clinton email scandals is not exactly apples to apples, but there are some similarities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


The Best 2016 Campaign Book Is About 1988 (Francis Barry, 12/17/15, Bloomberg View)

The best way to understand the 2016 presidential campaign is to read "What It Takes," Richard Ben Cramer's 1992 masterpiece on the 1988 presidential primary. If you don't have time to read its 1,047 pages, here are some of its most important insights.

Ignore the early polls. Six weeks before the 1988 Iowa caucuses, former Senator Gary Hart displaced Senator Paul Simon as the front-runner, with Representative Dick Gephardt pulling 6 percent. Hart also had a big lead over his nearest rival, Jesse Jackson, in national polls. What did these polls mean? Nothing. Gephardt won Iowa, Simon finished third, Hart's candidacy collapsed, and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis won the nomination. Voters don't pay much attention until the weeks before voting begins. Discussion of the horse race before the first turn often amounts to a pile of manure.  [...]

Beware the media's herd mentality. Cramer, a career journalist, called the beat reporters who covered the campaign "diddybops," while the pundits and bureau chiefs were "bigfeet." Together, they formed a Greek chorus, narrating the campaign mostly in unison without realizing they were often missing the big picture. Today, so much of what is written by the diddybops and their tweetybop descendants remains near-sighted, making it harder to see the candidates and race clearly. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Marco Rubio's Lousy Ground Game In Iowa Will Probably Cost Him Votes (JOSHUA DARR, 12/17/15, 538)

There's reportedly a joke going around among Iowa Republicans that Marco Rubio must be running for mayor of Ankeny, the Des Moines suburb where his sole Iowa office is located. Defying Iowa's tradition of retail politics, Rubio also rarely holds campaign events outside of that area and is choosing to invest in television ads over staffers and offices in the state. Rubio is making a deliberate gamble that Iowans will brave the cold on his behalf this Feb. 1 simply because they saw his advertisements or debate performances on television, not because they have seen him in person or heard from his campaign.

The Rubio campaign particularly disdains field offices, the storefronts of retail politics: brick-and-mortar locations where volunteers assemble, local mailings are coordinated and paid staffers work late nights. Deputy campaign manager Rich Beeson has argued that staff can "set up in a Starbucks with wireless and get just as much done." The tasks that staff and volunteers traditionally perform in these offices -- dividing turf for volunteer canvassing, calling prospective voters and distributing information about the candidate -- can now be accomplished using online tools without the cost and hassle of setting up a local presence.

Is Rubio right to bet against field offices? Are physical offices relics of a bygone age of retail politics, and is Rubio simply smart to realize it?

According to political science research, Rubio avoids the establishment of a ground game at his peril. Field offices work because they provide a location for the coordination and training that make voter contact valuable. Campaigns that can contact supporters personally to encourage them to vote should make every effort to do so. Knocking on doors can increase turnout by nearly 10 percent, and effective phone calls can encourage an additional 4 percent of voters to head to the polls. Without a field office in an area, candidates will find it much more difficult to translate these tactics into victory.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Pentagon Cuts LCS to 40 Ships, 1 Shipbuilder (Christopher P. Cavas, December 17, 2015, Defense News)

The US Navy's fight to buy 52 variants of its littoral combat ship (LCS) from two shipbuilders may have taken a fatal blow this week after the secretary of defense directed the service to cap its buy at 40 ships and pick only one supplier. The directive also orders the Navy to buy only one ship annually over the next four years, down from three per year.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a Dec. 14 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, told the Navy to "reduce the planned LCS/FF procurement from 52 to 40, creating a 1-1-1-1-2 profile, for eight fewer ships in the FYDP, and then downselect to one variant by FY 2019."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Conservatives give Ryan a pass on budget deal they despise : 'The end product here is just cleaning the barn, it's a disaster,' one Freedom Caucus member complains. (ANNA PALMER and LAUREN FRENCH 12/16/15, Politico)

The House Freedom Caucus hates the massive government-funding bill: Spending levels are billions of dollars higher than what conservatives wanted, and at least two top policy priorities -- language addressing Syrian refugees and so-called sanctity of life -- were cut.

But unlike past fiscal battles, when lawmakers took shots at GOP leaders and tried to tank bills, this time conservatives are largely holding their fire. Even as they vow to oppose the package, many are still praising Speaker Paul Ryan's handling of the $1.1 trillion spending bill and $680 billion in tax breaks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


The deep, perverse relationship between Middle Eastern despots and Islamist fanaticism (James Poulos, December 15, 2015, The Week)

It's time to wake up to the deep, perverse relationship between secular despotism and Islamist fanaticism.

The proof stretches back clear to Saddam Hussein, who tapped into the deranged spirit of suicidal jihad more than many would care to recall. Abu Nadil, the ISIS leader U.S. airstrikes recently obliterated, was not just known to the West as the likely spokesghoul infamous from a videotaped beheading of Coptic Christians held in February of this year. He was also an FRL, a.k.a Former Regime Loyalist: a Baathist holdover turned ISIS governor of the Iraqi province containing -- surprise, surprise -- Saddam's hometown.

"ISIS's roots in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party are deep -- many of the group's most devoted commanders, advisers, and fighters started out as Baathists," as clandestine anti-jihad veteran Malcolm W. Nance has patiently explained. "The ex-Baathists essentially run ISIS, and their past is evident in the tactics they are using now."

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The Global Battle for Oil Market Share (DANIEL YERGIN, Dec. 15, 2015, WSJ)

Had the ban remained in place, the EU would have insisted on it being one of the key issues in negotiating a new U.S.-EU trade agreement. Maintaining the ban also would have left unanswered a most perplexing question posed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, earlier this year: Why remove sanctions on Iranian oil as part of the nuclear deal, but leave "sanctions" on U.S. oil exports?

With prices in the mid-$30s a barrel, the Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, continue to say that they would consider cutting output, but only if others do the same. There is little sign of that happening. Venezuela, an OPEC founder, rails against the market-share strategy and stridently calls for production cuts. But it might as well be talking to the wall. President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, defeated this month in parliamentary elections largely due to gross economic mismanagement, has no ability to make cuts.

Iran calls on its Arab neighbors to cut back. Yet at the same time it is gearing up to increase its own exports as fast as possible once the sanctions are lifted, likely sometime in the next few months. The Arab Gulf producers certainly don't want to cut their output to make room for Iran, with which they are fighting what they see as a proxy war in Yemen. That underlines another critical point: that this battle for market share also represents a geopolitical struggle in the Middle East.

In the past six months, Russia, the world's largest oil producer, has received a series of high-level visitors from the Gulf. No doubt oil has been a subject of conversation, although Russia has consistently conveyed that it will not cut production. It seems more likely that these trips reflect a geopolitical rebalancing, building new links with Russia.

The Gulf countries are reacting to the nuclear deal with Iran--and what they perceive as improving relations between the U.S. and their arch rival.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Triumphant return for Cuban baseball defectors Puig, Abreu (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, 12/17/15, Associated Press)

A lineup of Cuban-born baseball stars, including some of the most famous defectors in recent memory, made a triumphant return to the island as part of the first Major League Baseball trip here since 1999.

Once the object of official disdain in Cuba for leaving the country illegally, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena and first baseman Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox were swarmed by fans and members of the state media Tuesday in the lobby of Havana's soaring Hotel Nacional at the start of a three-day mission meant to warm relations between MLB and Cuba.

The major leagues and Cuban baseball have been moving quickly to rebuild ties since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared a year ago Thursday that they would re-establish diplomatic relations. The official return of baseball defectors earning millions in the major leagues was a landmark in the new relationship and a dramatic manifestation of Cuba's shifting attitude toward the hundreds of players who have abandoned the country that trained them.

Puig, who fled to Mexico in a smuggler's fast-boat in 2012 and then crossed the border to Texas, wrapped his childhood coach Juan Arechavaleta in a bear-hug, resting the side of his face atop the smaller man's head.

"I'm very happy to be here," said Puig, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract and was barred from returning to Cuba until he was granted special permission for this week's trip.

Pena, who is from Havana, was met by at least 20 family members. They laughed at stories of the catcher's life in America and handed him the phone to talk to relatives who hadn't been able to make it to the hotel.

December 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


US plans to sell warships to Taiwan (Nicolas Revise, 12/16/15, AFP)

The US State Department informed Congress on Wednesday of a proposed sale of two warships to Taiwan as part of a $1.8 billion arms deal already angrily denounced by China.
The massive contract comes at a time of reconciliation between China and Taiwan -- separated since 1949 -- but also of worries by Washington that Beijing is "militarizing" part of the South China Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 PM


U.S., Cuba reach understanding on restoring commercial flights (AP, 12/16/15)

The United States and Cuba have reached an understanding on restoring regularly scheduled commercial flights, Cuban and American officials said Wednesday on the eve of the anniversary of detente between the Cold War foes.

The diplomatic advance helps open the way for U.S. airlines to begin flying to Cuba within months in what would be the biggest business deal struck as the two countries try to normalize relations.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Malala Yousafzai speaks out against Donald Trump's 'discriminative' comments (Catherine Garcia, 12/16/15, The Week)

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is urging politicians like Donald Trump to be mindful of the words they choose.

Trump made waves last week when he said he would ban Muslims from entering the United States, and Yousafzai told Channel 4 News that the more people "speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create. So it's important that whatever politicians say, whatever the media say, they should be really, really careful about it. If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism. It will radicalize more terrorists."

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 PM


U.S. leaders agree to lift 4-decade ban on oil exports (Rick Jervis, 12/16/15, USA TODAY)

A bill to lift the 40-year-old ban on U.S. oil exports, changing the dynamic of U.S. producers in the world energy market, could be pushed through Congress by week's end thanks to a deal reached this week.

The measure was folded into a massive tax-and-spending bill that averted another government shutdown. The move was favored by Republican lawmakers and oil industry leaders.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


Sen. Inhofe: Paris Climate Deal Devoid of Substance (Morgan Chalfant, December 16, 2015, Free Beacon)

Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) described the final deal reached over the weekend during climate talks in Paris as devoid of substance on a press call with reporters Wednesday.

Inhofe, who chairs the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, said that the agreement amounts to "nothing" because it has no enforcement or funding mechanisms. He further called it "just a bunch of pledges." to accept winning.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Obama Is Only Pretending to Save the Planet (Rich Lowry, December 16, 2015, RCP)

The Paris climate talks concluded in a rousing round of self-congratulation over an agreement that, we are told, is the first step toward keeping Earth habitable. If generating headlines and press releases about making history were the metric for anything, Paris might be as consequential -- if misbegotten -- as advertised.

The fact is that Paris is very meta. The agreement is about the agreement, never mind what's in it or what its true legal force is -- namely, nil. Paris is a legally binding agreement not to have legally binding limits on emissions. It might be the most worthless piece of paper since the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war -- about a decade prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Politico reported that the talks were almost derailed at the last minute by the accidental insertion of the word "shall" deep in the text, which, by implying a legal obligation, was to be avoided at all costs (the U.S. Senate would never give its assent to a legally binding treaty). The U.S. scrambled to change the offending word to "should."

Credit where credit is due.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Marco Rubio's N.H. surge is riddled with doubts : GOP insiders bemoan lack of staff, activity (James Pindell,  DECEMBER 02, 2015, Boston Globe)

As Senator Marco Rubio has climbed the polls, the Floridian lacks one element that has proved to be pivotal for previous winners of New Hampshire's presidential primary: a robust ground game that can generate enthusiasm and support when voters go to the polls.

On Tuesday, Rubio and a super PAC supporting his candidacy started an onslaught of 1,900 television advertisements -- approximately $2.8 million worth -- on the state's top station. But underneath the buzz, GOP activists in New Hampshire are grumbling that Rubio has fewer staff members and endorsements than most of his main rivals and has made fewer campaign appearances in the state, where voters are accustomed to face-to-face contact with presidential contenders.

"For much of this year, Rubio just hasn't been here," said Belknap County Republican County chairman Alan Glassman, who is not backing a candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


No more apprentices. The robots are coming for your jobs... (Hester Abrams, December 14, 2015, Jewish Chronicle)

Professor Richard Susskind, IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England, and his son Daniel, an Oxford economics lecturer, believe the professions as we know them will become redundant and their prestigious jobs largely replaced by machines. Their provocative new book, The Future of the Professions - How technology will transform the work of human experts, will light a touch paper under discussions that have circled for years about whether the professions are fit for the 21st century. Among many theories of the future of work in an increasingly outsourced, DIY, web-enabled world, this claims to be the first to challenge the professions' continued usefulness.

"Our professions are unaffordable, under-exploiting technology, disempowering, ethically challengeable, under-performing and inscrutable," the Susskinds say in the book. Nonetheless, they expect professionals' likely response to this broadside to be that computers "could never do their jobs as well as they can", and to carry on much as before.

The Susskinds are prepared for controversy, calling for a public debate about what society wants from increasingly intelligent machines. Countless examples in the book suggest the professions cannot afford to be complacent, if for no other reason than because technology is already here and outrunning them.

Last year in the US, 48 million people used software to prepare their tax returns rather than hire a traditional accountant; 60 million eBay disputes are resolved annually by online mediation rather than lawyers; and more people watched Khan Academy tutorials on YouTube than attend school in the entire UK, they say.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Why Very Low Interest Rates May Stick Around (Neil Irwin, DEC. 14, 2015, ny tIMES)

For years, financial commentators have been predicting an imminent rise in rates. After all, goes the theory, the Fed has been engaged in extraordinary interventions to artificially depress the cost of borrowing money. Surely those rates will snap back to their pre-2008 levels, if not rise higher. If that happens, get ready for double-digit mortgage rates and a substantially higher cost to maintain the government debt.

But if you look at the longer arc of history, a much different possibility emerges. Investors have often talked about the global economy since the crisis as reflecting a "new normal" of slow growth and low inflation. But, just maybe, we have really returned to the old normal.

Very low rates have often persisted for decades upon decades, pretty much whenever inflation is quiescent, as it is now. The interest rate on a 10-year Treasury note was below 4 percent every year from 1876 to 1919, then again from 1924 to 1958. The record is even clearer in Britain, where long-term rates were under 4 percent for nearly a century straight, from 1820 until the onset of World War I.

The real aberration looks like the 7.3 percent average experienced in the United States from 1970 to 2007.

"We're returning to normal, and it's just taken time for people to realize that," said Bryan Taylor, chief economist of Global Financial Data, which scours old records to calculate historical financial data, including the figures cited here. "I think interest rates are going to stay low for several decades."

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


The Basic Income Bros (Justin Fox, 12/16/15, bLOOMBERG vIEW)

[t]he idea of universal basic income has a long history in the more dog-eat-dog English-speaking world, too. English-American pamphleteer Tom Paine promoted a similar arrangement, as did English philosopher John Stuart Mill. More recently, the Citizen's Income Trust has been promoting a U.K. basic income plan since the 1980s. And this month, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, a centuries-old London think tank known as the RSA and currently headed by Princess Anne, issued a detailed proposal for a U.K. universal basic income that would add up to 3,692 pounds ($5,543) a year for most adults. 

In the U.S. in the 1960s, libertarian economist Milton Friedman proposed a negative income tax, which is similar to universal basic income, and several negative-income-tax field tests followed in the 1970s. That helped inspire the earned income tax credit, which has become the biggest cash welfare program in the U.S.  But the idea of giving everybody money had mostly faded until recently, when it was given new life by tech-industry denizens worried that the rise of robots will soon render most paid human labor superfluous.  [...]

[This week Lauren Smiley of Backchannel] does such a nice job in her article of summing up the diverse ideological streams converging behind basic income that I'm just going to borrow rather than try to rephrase it: 

The technologist crowd says a basic income will become a moral imperative as robots replace workers and unemployment skyrockets. Conservatives say it would replace the kraken of welfare bureaucracy, with its arbitrary income cutoffs and overlapping programs. Optimists say humanity will no longer have to work for survival, freeing us to instead work for self-actualization. ... Progressives say it would level the playing field: the working classes could have a taste of the stability that's become an upper-middle class luxury, and would have bargaining power with low-paid work. 

Nathan Schneider, writing about the subject for Vice earlier this year, offered another explanation of basic income's appeal: 

Though it's an essentially low-tech proposal, it appeals to Silicon Valley's longing for simple, elegant algorithms to solve everything.

Is it really that simple? A key selling point of universal basic income is that it could be less intrusive and less complicated than existing means-tested welfare systems. It's also less likely to discourage recipients from working. Currently, earning more money often means losing benefits -- with basic income you keep getting the money even if you strike it rich. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Teenagers Are Smoking and Drinking Less Than Ever Before (Jacob Sullum, Dec. 16, 2015, Reason)

According to survey data released today, drinking and cigarette smoking are less common among teenagers today than at any point in the last four decades. In this year's Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, 35.3 percent of high school seniors reported that they had consumed alcohol in the previous month, compared to 68.2 percent in 1975, when the survey began. Past-month cigarette smoking fell from 36.7 percent to 11.4 percent during the same period.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


GOP chair probes if Cruz unveiled classified info during debate (Jordain Carney, 12/16/15, The Hill) 

A key Senate Republican is looking into whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) discussed classified information during Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate.

"I'm having my staff look at the transcripts of the debate right now," Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters. "Any time you deal with numbers ... the question is, 'Is that classified or not?' Or is there an open source reference to it?"

Cruz raised eyebrows during an exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) over the National Security Agency's surveillance program, when he said that the old program covered "20 or 30 percent of phone numbers" while the new program covers roughly 100 percent.

Dude's guilty of what he accuses Hillary of?  Sublime....

December 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 PM


Why the Paris climate deal is a total sham (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, December 15, 2015, The Week)

Oh, the self-congratulation! Heads of state and foreign ministers shaking hands and patting each other on the back for a historic, wonderful climate deal. And oh, how the media is lapping it up. Historic, historic, we tell you!

Except that it's all a sham.

Let's get the big issue out of the way first, the one everyone knows: The agreement is not legally binding. It's not a treaty. It's just an agreement to give it a shot.

Our Republican President wouldn't have agreed to a real one.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


The strange psychology of pain relief medicine (Camila Ruz & Kemi Alemoru, 12/15/15, BBC News Magazine)

When someone swallows a general painkiller such as ibuprofen it's distributed around the whole body through the bloodstream, says Farrah Sheikh, a GP from Greater Manchester. Painkillers targeting specific areas will treat the areas in pain but they cannot be sent directly to a particular part of the body, Sheikh suggests.

The discrepancy in price between different versions of branded painkiller is arguably no stranger than the variation in price between brands like Nurofen, and the generic equivalents that sit near by them on supermarket shelves. 
Somebody could walk into a Tesco in the UK and spend £2 on a packet of 16 Nurofen when a packet of 16 generic ibuprofen tablets - an identical drug - is just 30p.

The same situation exists in the US. Some people consistently choose Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (paracetamol) and Bayer aspirin rather than cheaper versions.

But a study found that people with higher levels of knowledge - for examples doctors and pharmacists - were much less likely to buy branded medicine over generics.

"You're paying for the marketing essentially and the shiny box," argues Sheikh. She tends to recommend using cheaper generic painkillers, but says that many of her patients are still loyal to certain brands.

The placebo effect could help explain this. "Just knowing that you've taken something can make you feel better," explains Sheikh. Believing in a particular brand can also have a big impact.

In a recent study, researchers gave people with frequent headaches a dummy pill. Some of these placebos were packaged as branded painkillers and some weren't. The branded ones were reported to be more effective at pain relief by those in the study and were associated with fewer side effects than the placebos packaged as generic medication.

There's no such thing as quality.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


How the Fed's Strategy Is Inconsistent With Its Inflation Target (ANDREW T. LEVIN, 12/14/15, WSJ)

Since 2012, inflation has fallen persistently short of that target and is running at rates close to zero. Nonetheless, policymakers have been reassured by fairly stable survey readings on the inflation expectations of households and businesses, suggesting that the persistent shortfalls in actual inflation had not undermined the credibility of the Fed's target. More recently, however, many surveys have exhibited substantial downward drift in longer-term inflation expectations, indicating that the Fed's credibility is at stake.

For example, the chart above shows the recent downturn in the inflation expectations of professional forecasters, using the results of quarterly surveys by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. In 2013 and 2014, the median forecast for the five-year average inflation rate, as measured by the price index for personal consumption expenditures, was very close to the Fed's target. But over the past several quarters that median has declined notably. It currently stands at 1.7%. The interquartile range indicates that the vast majority of forecasters now expect the average inflation rate over the next five years to fall significantly short of 2%. In effect, forecasters seem to be reinterpreting the Fed's monetary policy strategy as aimed at keeping inflation below a 2% ceiling rather than bringing inflation back to a 2% target.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM

IT CAN'T SNOW SOON ENOUGH... (self-reference alert):

What Encourages People to Walk Their Dog? : And is dog walking a good way to persuade people to get more exercise? (ZAZIE TODD, 12/15/15, Pacific Standard)

We know that most people do not get the 150 minutes of exercise per week that is recommended. Could encouraging people to walk their dogs more often help, and if so, how best to go about it? A paper by Carri Westgarth of the University of Liverpool and others reviews the state of current research.

Although to some dog owners a daily walk is an essential part of the routine, there are also people who never walk their dog. For example, a 2008 study in Australia found that, on average, people walk their dog four times a week for a total of 134 minutes, and that 23 percent of dog owners never walk their dog.

Encouraging more people to take their dog for a regular walk would be good for both the dog and owner.

The research found that as well as dog-related and owner-related variables, aspects of the physical and social environment also influence dog walking behavior.

"Dog walking may be most effectively encouraged through: 1) targeting the dog-owner relationship to increase the sense of obligation to walk the dog as well as the emotional support the dog can provide."

The dog's size, age, and breed are related to dog walking, and it seems that dogs that are regularly walked have fewer behavioral problems. This could be due to ongoing training and socializing during the walks, and/or it could be that dogs with behavior problems are taken for walks less often because their owners simply find it too difficult. Dogs that pull on the leash, bark, behave badly, or are fearful or aggressive are walked less often. Helping owners resolve these issues might enable them to take more walks.

As you might expect, the dog-owner relationship is an important part of their model. People who feel a strong emotional attachment to their canine companion, and who feel that the dog provides them with motivation and social support to walk, are more likely to walk their dog regularly.

The Wife got a labradoodle, which is supposed to be as smart as a poodle and as mellow as a lab.  Ours is hyper and stupid.  We're just walking him farther and farther to try and get him so tuckered out he'll leave us alone.  After a six mile walk on Saturday he followed me around the house wanting more.  Thankfully, without sidewalks you can't really walk him in the Winter....

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


American Children Faced Great Dangers in the 1930s, None Greater Than "Little Orphan Annie" (A. Brad Schwartz, 12/15/15, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

Because radio's "theater of the mind" requires a fertile imagination, it has always had a special appeal for children. The same lively imagination Ralphie uses to picture himself defending his family with a Red Ryder BB gun, or reduced to a blind beggar by the effects of Lifebuoy soap, brought Annie's adventures to life more vividly than a television ever could.

This imaginative power is precisely why some parents and reformers saw the radio in much the same way Ralphie's mother saw the leg lamp: as a seductive villain, sneaking into their homes to harm the minds and corrupt the morals of their children. They saw the intense excitement Annie and other shows inspired in children and quickly concluded that such excitement was dangerous and unhealthy. One father, in a letter to The New York Times in 1933, described the effects on his child of the "all-too-hair-raising adventures" broadcast during radio's "Children's Hours." "My son has never known fear," he wrote. "He now imagines footsteps in the dark, kidnappers lurking in every corner and ghosts appearing and disappearing everywhere and emitting their blood-curdling noises, all in true radio fashion."

Many claims about the harm allegedly caused by violent video games, movies, and other media today--that they turn kids into violent criminals, rob them of sleep, and wreak havoc with their nervous systems--were lobbed just as strongly at radio in the 1930s. "These broadcasts are dealing exclusively with mystery and murder," wrote a Brooklyn mother to the Times in 1935. "They result in an unhealthy excitement, unnecessary nervousness, irritability and restless sleep."

The year before, noted educator Sidonie Gruenberg told the Times "that children pick as favorites the very programs which parents as a whole view with special concern--the thriller, the mystery, the low comedy and the melodramatic adventure." She asked, rhetorically: "Why is it that the children seem to get their greatest pleasure from the very things which the parents most deplore?"

Among the programs most adored by kids but deplored by parents was Ralphie's favorite: Little Orphan Annie. In March 1933, Time reported that a group of concerned mothers in Scarsdale, New York, got together to protest radio shows that "shatter nerves, stimulate emotions of horror, and teach bad grammar." They singled out Little Orphan Annie as "Very Poor," because of the protagonist's "bad emotional effect and unnatural voice." That same year, wrote H. B. Summers in his 1939 book Radio Censorship, "a Minneapolis branch of the American Association of University Women, and the Board of Managers of the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers adopted resolutions condemning the 'unnatural overstimulation and thrill' of children's serials--principally the 'Orphan Annie' and 'Skippy' serials." (Skippy was based on a comic strip about a "streetwise" city boy that served as a major influence on Charles Schulz's Peanuts.)

These days, when Annie is known mainly as the little girl who sang brightly about "Tomorrow," it may be hard to picture her radio series as the Grand Theft Auto of its day. But the radio show had a much closer relationship to its source material--a "frequently downbeat, even grim comic" created in 1924 by Harold Gray--than the relentlessly optimistic (and very loosely adapted) Broadway musical. The comic-strip Annie's most defining and admired trait--her self-reliance--came from the fact that she existed in "a comfortless world, vaguely sinister," surrounded by violence, where few could be trusted and no one could be counted on. "Annie is tougher than hell, with a heart of gold and a fast left, who can take care of herself because she has to," Gray once explained. "She's controversial, there's no question about that. But I keep her on the side of motherhood, honesty, and decency."

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Moderate Muslims reclaim their faith (The Editorial Board,   DECEMBER 11, 2015, Boston Globe)

Among them is the newly formed Muslim Reform Movement, launched this month by a coalition of moderate Muslims from Canada, Europe, and the United States. In a public manifesto, the coalition put the stakes bluntly: "We are in a battle for the soul of Islam, and an Islamic renewal must defeat the ideology of Islamism." It explicitly condemned violent jihad, embraced equal rights for women and religious minorities, and insisted on separation of mosque and state. "We are loyal to the nations in which we live," the reform declaration stated. "We reject the idea of the Islamic state. . . . We oppose institutionalized sharia."

To underscore their opposition to Wahhabism, the harsh and puritanical version of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia, members of the reform coalition posted a copy of their manifesto, Martin Luther-like, to the door of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., a mosque funded in part by the Saudi government.

Halfway around the globe, meanwhile, another organization of Muslim moderates is mounting a vigorous challenge to ISIS and jihadi extremism.

In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim group has embarked on an international effort to repudiate the jihadist teachings and ideology of the Islamic State. The group is Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, a 90-year-old Sunni social organization with 50 million members and a reputation for progressive pluralism. It recently kicked off a new anti-extremist campaign, a multipronged ideological drive, as The New York Times reported, to be "carried out online, and in hotel conference rooms and convention centers from North America to Europe to Asia."

Last month, NU released a 90-minute film that vigorously refutes ISIS and its Wahhabist-rooted fundamentalism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Gazans explore Sufism (Fadi Shafei, 12/13/15, Al Monitor)

Every Friday afternoon people flock to a small mosque in one of the alleys in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in Gaza City. They are there not only to perform the five daily prayers, but to chant hymns in what is known as al-Hadrat among Sufis. This is what sets this mosque apart from the rest of the mosques in the Gaza Strip, not to mention the sign hung on its mihrab (prayer niche) indicating that it is affiliated with the Shadhiliyya Alawiyya order of Sufism.

The majority of the mosques in Gaza are subject to the division between the different political Islamic factions, which use mosques as a means to communicate with their public. For its part, the Hamas movement invests in the political rhetoric to further instill its authority through political speeches delivered in mosques across Gaza. Meanwhile, Sufis sit serenely, meditating spiritually away from mundane matters.

Sufism is a Muslim school of thought that spread in the Muslim world in the third century Hijri (Islamic calendar) as an individual call for asceticism. Those movements evolved into distinctive and well-known practices, which some consider mere delusions and superstitions.

The Sufi movement in Palestine has been active as part of popular religiosity. Notable Sufi Palestinian families include the al-Jabari family of Hebron, al-Saafin and al-Khalidi families in the Gaza Strip, and al-Makdisi family in Jerusalem. The Sufi movement maintained its character as an educational movement that calls for self-improvement and shunning worldly matters, including politics. [...]

On Friday Nov. 13, Al-Monitor visited the zawiya where the murids (the visitors of zawiyas according to Sufism) assembled after the afternoon prayer. They sat in a circle headed by Sheikh Khalidi, who sat in the zawiya's sanctuary. One of the murids started the meeting by chanting the prophetic praises from an old book whose texts, Sheikh Khalidi told Al-Monitor, are attributed to Sheikh Alawi, the founder of the Shadhiliyya Alawiyya order.

At the end of the ritual, Sheikh Khalidi spoke to Al-Monitor about the Sufi message, saying that Sufism is a religious group that rejects violence, shuns politics and has a message of "educating the spirit and the soul." He said that the hymns and body rituals are their way to tune the soul and evoke a state of "divine love."

Khalidi believes that "the Sufi groups in the Gaza Strip are not being harassed by security apparatuses as they do not seek power and, therefore, they are not seen as opponents and do not pose a threat to other political Islam groups."

In the same zawiya, Al-Monitor met with Mahmoud Bashir who frequents the zawiya to take part in the rituals, which he considers a kind of psychological release and training of the self. He prefers the zawiya, where hymns and music are acceptable. "The zawiya is dedicated to prayers only, without any interference in political rhetoric," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Trump Audience Member Yells Nazi Salute as Protester Removed From Las Vegas Rally (BENJY SARLIN, 12/15/15, NBC News)

The first protests began after Trump invited Jamiel Shaw, a supporter, to the stage to recount how he lost his son after an undocumented immigrant gang member shot him while walking home. One protester who shouted in response that the story showed the need for gun control was promptly removed by professionals, a scene that played out repeatedly through the night.

As one man was dragged away, people in the crowd variously yelled, "Shoot him!" "Kick his ass," and "Light the motherf---r on fire!"

A large middle aged man shouted, "Sieg heil!" -- a Nazi Germany-era salute -- as the protester was taken away.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Has Congress Already Forgotten About the Deficit? (RUSSELL BERMAN, 12/14/15, The Atlantic)

It was only a few years ago that trillion-dollar budget gaps and the ever-rising national debt were the singular preoccupation of lawmakers in Washington--particularly Republicans. The federal fiscal imbalance, Senator Mitch McConnell said in 2012, was "the nation's largest long-term problem." Former Speaker John Boehner warned the following January that deficits and the debt were "killing the economy."

Buoyed by increasing revenue from an improving economy and tax increases in 2013, along with spending caps enacted in 2011, the deficit has shrunk by more than half since the early Obama years, to $439 billion in fiscal 2015. And as the gap has declined, so has the urgency on Capitol Hill. The new House speaker, Paul Ryan, made his name proposing budget plans aimed at tackling the nation's long-term debt. But when he laid out his policy vision for the party during a major address last week, he never mentioned either the budget gap or the $18 trillion national debt.

We have barely begun cashing in the Peace Dividend.

December 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


How Iran will choose its next Supreme Leader (Arash Karami,  December 14, 2015, Al Monitor)

Most Iranian politicians rarely discuss who will take over for the still relatively healthy and highly active 76-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after his passing. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a member of the current Assembly of Experts and also a candidate in the upcoming elections, broke this trend by announcing that the Assembly has formed a committee to review the future supreme leader. [...]

Rafsanjani certainly has a knack for discussing controversial topics and creating a stir ahead of elections in which he hopes that he and his allies will come to dominate. High election turnouts in Iran have typically favored Reformists and moderates. Regardless of the makeup of the next Assembly of Experts, it is likely that a number of powerful institutions and individuals in Iran will wield considerable influence over the assembly's decision-making process.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


India, Japan Strengthen Ties With Industrial, Military Agreements (GABRIELE PARUSSINI,  Dec. 13, 2015, wsj)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, his Japanese counterpart, signed the $15 billion rail pact, agreed to transfer technology to increase arms production in India and said Japan will be a stable guest at Indian-U. S. naval exercises. They also took a step toward an agreement on the use of civil nuclear energy.

Mr. Modi offered Mr. Abe--a fellow nationalist--support for his concerns over China's land reclamation around small reefs in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by other countries in the region. Japan is also concerned that if China's territorial ambitions go unchecked it could face more pressure in the East China Sea.

"The message is: We don't want Chinese hegemony in Asia and we'll work together to create a multipolar Asia," said Sreeram Chaulia, Dean of the New Delhi-based Jindal School of International Affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Houthi rebels' attack rocks prospects for Yemen peace talks (Ian Black, 14 December 2015, tHE gUARDIAN)

Hopes for progress at UN talks on ending the war in Yemen have been overshadowed by an attack by Houthi rebels that killed scores of troops of the Saudi-led coalition, including two senior commanders, just hours before a planned ceasefire.

Representatives of the Yemeni government and the Houthis are scheduled to meet in Switzerland on Tuesday in what has been billed as a serious and perhaps a last-ditch effort to end a conflict that has claimed nearly 6,000 lives and represents a massive humanitarian disaster in the Arab world's poorest country.

But confidence about a truce to mark the negotiations was dented on Monday by an attack on the headquarters of the Arab forces backing the Yemeni president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose Houthi enemies are fighting alongside forces loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


6 Popular 'Luxury' Products That Are Based On An Absurd Lie (Patrick Coyne December 14, 2015, Cracked)

#4. 1,000-Thread-Count Sheets Are Garbage

The common wisdom is that the higher a bedsheet's thread count, the more comfortable it is. A 200-count sheet is akin to sleeping on a bed of spiky garbage, while a count of 1,000 is like being cradled to Buddha's bosom on a cloud made of nirvana. But it's impossible to fit 1,000 normal-sized bedsheet threads on a loom, so inferior threads are used -- to the detriment of your wallet and comfort of your ass. Anything above 400 threads isn't possible unless you use thinner, "lower-quality cotton" that some might refer to as "orphan grade." These weaker strands are twisted together but counted individually, which is like saying you get 1,000 pebbles instead of 200 jewels.

According to the professional b[*****]t detectors at Consumer Reports, a 280-thread count is best for a good night's sleep, with even a single thread beyond that wasted on your precious skin. But that doesn't stop J.C. Penney from selling 1,200-thread-count sheets for 95% more than 300-count sheets from the same manufacturer to capitalize on consumers who live like blue collar workers but want to sleep like oil tycoons.

But what about sheets that use Egyptian cotton, the softest of all raw bedding materials? Is the inflated price justified then? Wrapping yourself up in Egyptian cotton is said to be like spooning the Sandman himself, but manufacturers slap the label on sheets that are massively overpriced blends with only a small percentage of the pure, uncut white stuff. So yeah, high-end sheet manufacturers are no better than your neighborhood drug dealer.

There's no such thing as quality....

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Oil prices sink below $35 on fears of more Iran oil (Matt Egan, December 14, 2015, CNN Money)

Prices slid to $34.53 a barrel on Monday morning -- the cheapest level since February 2009. The drop was fueled by concerns about a surge in Iranian oil production as soon as next month. The country is awaiting sanctions to be lifted early next year.

Thanks, UR!

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Is the Fed's interest rate hike a major error? (George Magnus, December 14, 2015, The Prospect)

[A] lot of people are worried the Fed is about to commit a major error. Even though central banks don't raise interest rates once in the belief that a one-off will suffice, many commentators and economists think the Fed may find out as soon as early next year that it will have to freeze further increases or even reverse what it has done by then. It is certainly likely that the first rise in rates is less important than the expectations built into the markets about how far the Fed will raise rates and over what period of time. At the moment, markets expect rates to rise by little more than 0.5% by the end of 2016. They could be wrong of course, but the US and the global economy should be able to withstand this sort of reduced accommodation --a superior phrase to "tightening"--possibly a little more. 

I imagine the Fed's policy-makers are well aware of the risk and have no intention of following in the footsteps of the 15 OECD central banks that have raised interest rates since 2011 only to reverse the increase(s) subsequently, and in some cases, take interest rates down to lower levels than where they began.

This hike has nothing to do with existing economic conditions.  It's just the obligatory action of a new Fed chairman to prove their inflation fighting bona fides to the industry, which still fears a return of the inflation of the 1970's.  Greenspan and Bernanke both took similar actions, nearly triggering and probably triggering recessions respectively (we won't know for another decade whether 2008 officially qualifies).

December 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM

WHICH IS WHY THEY AGREED TO IT (profanity alert):

James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks 'a fraud' (Oliver Milman, 12 December 2015, The Guardian)

Mere mention of the Paris climate talks is enough to make James Hansen grumpy. The former Nasa scientist, considered the father of global awareness of climate change, is a soft-spoken, almost diffident Iowan. But when he talks about the gathering of nearly 200 nations, his demeanour changes.

"It's a fraud really, a fake," he says, rubbing his head. "It's just b[******]t for them to say: 'We'll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.' It's just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned."

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Set To Take Over Tech: 70% Of Iran's Science And Engineering Students Are Women (Amy Guttman, 12/13/15, Forbes)

70% of of Iran's science and engineering students are women, and in a small, but promising community of startups, they're being encouraged to play an even bigger role.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


After Making Enemies, Ted Cruz Tries to Make Friends (MATT FLEGENHEIMER, DEC. 9, 2015, NY Times)

Senator Ted Cruz had been at it for several minutes, offering handshakes and uneasy smiles, when he encountered an apparent holdout in the crowd.

Mr. Cruz squatted. He squinted. He had heard something about a toy collection. And so, about three feet above the floor of an American Legion hall here, the senator began his questioning.

"You have lots of toys?" he asked 3-year-old Isaac Josselyn. Nothing.

"What's your favorite toy?" More silence.

"Do you have a dinosaur?'"

"Do you have a fire truck?"

"You have a toy monkey?"

Isaac stared blankly.

"A toy monkey!" Mr. Cruz shouted, revving for a punch line no one understood. "You know what that means? You get to be the monkey in the house!"

Isaac shuffled away. Mr. Cruz turned quickly to an adult well-wisher. "I'm glad you're here," he said softly. [...]

At a debate in October, he became perhaps the first candidate in modern history to declare himself unappealing bar company.

"If you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy," he said, when asked to name a weakness. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Kerry: We Wouldn't Have a Climate Agreement if There Actual Penalties for Not Reducing Emission (David Rutz, December 13, 2015, Free Beacon)

"The best thing we can do in an effort to try to change people's thinking is to do this mandatory reporting requirement," Kerry said. "The mandatory reporting requirement has to be updated every five years. Every five years, it is mandatory that countries retool their reduction levels in order to meet the demands of meeting the curve of reduction to which they have committed. So that is a serious form of enforcement, if you will, compliance. But there is no penalty for it, obviously, but if there had been a penalty, we wouldn't have been able to get an agreement."

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Saudi Arabia: An oil powerhouse out of balance (Deutsche-Welle, 12/13/15)

Officially, unemployment in the kingdom is about six percent, but for those under 26, the situation is significantly worse. At the end of 2014; that is, under much better circumstances, some 30 percent of those under 26 years of age had no job. Frustration is high, says Middle East expert Sons: "Every year some 100,000 young people graduate from university. But they cannot find jobs because they all want to work in the public sector."

Saudi Arabia is known as a regional power. Beyond its southern border, the Saudis are fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. Beyond its northern border it is trying to stave off Iran's influence in the region. Its most important proxy war is taking place in Syria. Yemen is not only a military disaster, it's a financial disaster as well. So far it is estimated that costs have been in the neighborhood of 50 billion dollars in Yemen, and 20 billion dollars in Syria. 

Syria expert and journalist Daniel Gerlach told the German public radio station Deutschlandfunk that Saudi Arabia had already invested 100 billion dollars in the Syrian conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


Ben Carson's Ties to Mannatech Are Many : The neurosurgeon recommended the supplements be bought through an aide now on his campaign staff (MARK MAREMONT And  CHRISTOPHER S. STEWART, Dec. 13, 2015, WSJ)

During a campaign that has made him a top GOP contender, Mr. Carson has tried to distance himself from Mannatech, which has battled regulators' accusations that it made deceptive health claims for its products.

"It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship" with Mannatech, Mr. Carson said when asked about those ties during an October GOP debate. He said at the debate that he gave "a couple of speeches" for the company and believes its supplements helped him personally. Mannatech, based in Coppell, Texas, said Mr. Carson has never been a paid endorser or spokesman.

A closer review, however, reveals previously undisclosed ties and a tighter relationship between the famed physician and the company.

Mr. Carson, in an interview, said he doesn't recall Mr. Siegel, but said he did suggest patients consider Mannatech products "probably a handful of times," generally "in circumstances where none of the standard treatments were appropriate."

Asked if Mr. Carson was understating his relationship to the company, the campaign reiterated he had no "contractual" relationship.

In a 2009 letter to Mannatech's then-CEO, Mr. Carson thanked the company for a $25,000 donation to help fund an endowed professorship Mr. Carson had been awarded by Johns Hopkins, according to a copy reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

"May God continue to richly bless the entire organization as you serve Him and mankind," Mr. Carson wrote. Mannatech's products have often been marketed to an evangelical Christian audience.

In the interview, Mr. Carson said the letter was sent in error. that Dr. Carson is clearly an also-ran even the bitterest partisans don't bother to defend him anymore and conveniently forget they they ever did.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Profoundly American : Kevin Hart on The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson (Kevin Hart, December 13th, 2015, LA Review of Books)

CALVIN BEGINS his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559 Latin, 1560 French) by telling us that wisdom consists in knowing God and ourselves. Knowledge of God is revealed to us, a free gift of the Creator, and is not something that we gain from investigation or speculation. Immediately, several related things begin to come into focus. First, we see that Calvin is a modern, concerned with "revelation" (rather than illumination, as the Fathers were, or apocalypsis, uncovering, as the writers of the New Testament were) and with knowing what God is like rather than what sort of being God is. Second, we recognize that unlike the great theologians from Augustine to Aquinas and beyond, Calvin thinks of God more by way of law than philosophy: if he has an ontology (as he surely does), it is secondary, consistent with a contract between God and human beings, initiated by the free gift of revelation, and not primary, by virtue of a system of reality based on the absolutely singular being of God (ipsum esse subsistens) as distinct from the being of finite creatures who may participate in him (esse commune). And third, Calvin is a theologian for whom our relations with God turn on the divine will and not on the being of the deity. That will is held to depend entirely on the divine wisdom with nothing more fundamental. If we look, as Aquinas does, for a deeper ontological ground for our trust in God, Calvin will tell us that we are looking in the wrong place.

This Calvinist theology is tightly bound up in the very title of Marilynne Robinson's new collection of essays, The Givenness of Things, and some of its consequences are variously worked out in luminous individual pieces on experience, fear, grace, humanism, limitation, realism, and other topics. Not that the collection depends exclusively on 16th-century European theology: Robinson remains profoundly American in important respects, and "givenness," as she conceives it, is as much a homegrown Pragmatist idea as a Reformation one. If she nods to the William James of The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), she prefers the company of Jonathan Edwards, who she takes to be a pragmatist avant la lettre. Like James, Edwards nicely observes the phenomena of religious conversion, albeit with a Scriptural lens rather than with a brisk understanding of the "cash value" of our beliefs. Indeed, it is in Edwards's spirited reply to John Taylor's attack on the doctrine of original sin that Robinson finds an expression that lights up much of her world: "the arbitrary constitution of the Creator." Everything, Edwards thinks, including all the laws and regularities of the cosmos, turns on the arbitrary choice of the Creator: things could have been very different, and only our faith in God's wisdom can reconcile us to the special goodness of what we have been given.

On this understanding of reality, it is no surprise at all that Robinson defends the human being as an exception in the cosmos -- each of us is marked as sacred -- and no surprise, either, that she attacks modern science whenever it exceeds its proper bounds. If Robinson is a pragmatist, she is no reductionist: Neo-Darwinism in all its guises (including those sometimes adopted in neuroscience), Freudianism, and the Higher Criticism all fall within her winnowing gaze. As she says, "our capacity for awareness is [...] parochial in ways and degrees we cannot begin to estimate." This is no slap on the wrist for science; on the contrary, it is a "spectacular achievement" of science that we can grasp just how little we really know. Indeed, Robinson takes comfort from contemporary cosmology, especially string theory, that reality is far more complex, far more elusive than we have been told in popular science and the social sciences. We live in "island solitude," as Wallace Stevens says, free but not unsponsored, Robinson would add; and around the island of our little knowledge there roars the vast ocean of mystery.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Central Bankers Explore Response to Bitcoin: Their Own Digital Cash (RYAN TRACY, Dec. 9, 2015, WSJ)

Central bankers' interest in digital currency is an inevitable reaction to the rapid shift away from physical cash. The existing payment system is electronic, but money is stored centrally in bank accounts and verified via payment networks, which add cost along the way.

A digital currency, on the other hand, would be like a bit of encrypted computer code "minted" by a central bank. It would carry with it all the necessary information to validate its value. That means in a sense it could move around with users and merchants.

​For instance, today a consumer might hold $10 of digital cash on a debit or gift card issued by a bank or a retailer. That $10 can only be spent where the card is accepted. But if that card held $10 in digital currency backed by the U.S. Federal Reserve, its owner could, in theory, spend it anywhere.

The prospect is appealing to central bankers for a litany of reasons. On a practical level, they could save money on printing physical cash. Mr. Dharmapalan says minting and distributing digital currency would cost 10% of what it costs to print and distribute an equivalent physical currency note while allowing the government to retain the revenue it gets from issuing currency, known as seigniorage.

Central bankers also might find appealing the ability to better track transactions, since cash transactions are anonymous and susceptible to illicit uses.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


By paying attention, pre-disease can be reversed (W. Gifford-Jones, M.D. Updated Dec 7, 2015, Pawtucket Times)

[Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice,] says we should keep in mind that, "Virtually everyone, as they get older, develops some sort of pre-disease." The outward appearance of wrinkles and graying hair are for all to see. But kidneys, hearts and all the other hidden organs also age. So Welch warns there's a tendency for doctors to over-prescribe pre-diseases that can be corrected by other means.

According to a report in Consumer Reports on Health, about 37 percent of adults in North America have pre-hypertension. Studies show that if you're overweight, smoke, drink too much alcohol, rarely exercise, and have a family history of hypertension, you're more likely to develop borderline BP and finally hypertension.

So what should you do about it? First, make sure you have bona-fide increased BP. Some people on medication show "white coat hypertension" due simply to being in a doctor's office, or having just consumed caffeine. To prevent a lifetime of medication, test your BP in a pharmacy, or buy a blood pressure cuff to take readings at home.

Today, there is no convincing evidence that treating pre-hypertension by drugs prevents the development of high blood pressure. But studies show that dropping nine pounds will lower blood pressure 4.5 points.

Health authorities also stress that it's important to exercise moderately three to four times a week. It also helps to consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, a little more than half a teaspoon, and to limit alcoholic drinks to two a day for men, and one for women. And to follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, fish, skinless poultry and lean meats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


In historic win, Saudi woman elected to city council seat (AFP, December 13, 2015)

A Saudi woman won a municipal council seat in the country's first ever election open to female voters and candidates, an official said Sunday, in a milestone result for the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was elected to the council of Madrakah, in the holy city of Mecca, the official SPA news agency reported, citing election commission president Osama al-Bar.

December 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 PM


New Report Shows The Middle-Class Is Collapsing, But For The Best Possible Reason (GUY BENTLEY, 12/10/2015, Daily Caller)

 It is true that the middle class has been shrinking, but Pew points out that it is not because Americans have been getting poorer.

In fact, one the main reasons there are fewer middle-class Americans is because so many people have moved into upper-income households over the past 40 years. The share of American adults living in upper-income households jumped from 14 percent in 1971 to 21 percent in 2015.

Pew also notes there has been an increase in the proportion of Americans living in the lower income class of four percentage points, however, they are still much better off in dollars and cents terms than their equivalents in the 1970s.

Lower income households have enjoyed a rise is median earnings of 28 percent over the past 44 years, according to Pew. The median income of the middle class soared by 34 percent, 0r $18,710, between 1970 and 2014. The highest income households saw the largest gains with 47 percent.

These numbers also don't account for the huge increase in the quality of consumer goods and their massive price declines. Furthermore, while the middle class may be holding a lower share of the nation's household income than it did in the 1970s, the economy is as whole much bigger, meaning the share they do hold is significantly larger.

The Pew Research is timely, coming hot on the heels of a report from the Manhattan Institute (MI) claiming American workers have done far better over the past 40 years than many critics of income inequality have suggested.

The MI paper challenges the view that the link between workers productivity and wages has been broken. Author of the paper and Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the MI Scott Winship, writes that between "1997-2011, productivity rose by 35 percent, aggregate compensation rose by 32 percent, median hourly compensation increased by 20 percent, median female pay climbed by 25 percent, and median male pay grew by 18 percent."

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM


American Muslims raise over $120k for families of San Bernardino victims : In a bid to 'respond to evil with good' US Muslim organizations have joined together to raise money for relatives of victims of the San Bernardino shooting rampage (Beatrice Gitau, Staff DECEMBER 9, 2015, CS Monitor)

Muslim groups in the United States are collecting money to support families of victims of last week's San Bernardino terrorist attack. [...]

"We are sad at the suffering of our neighbors in San Bernardino. We are with them not only with the words of sympathy and condolences; we should show the acts of kindness and compassion," says Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Chairperson of the Southern California Islamic Shura Council.

The project to raise money for the relatives of the California shooting rampage is dubbed "Muslims United for San Bernardino" and was launched by Faisal Qazi, a California-based neurologist, and Tarek El-Messidi. It has been backed by local, regional, and national Muslim organizations.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 PM


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a win for all parties (Joshua P. Meltzer, December 9, 2015, Brookings)

Finally, the TPP is important because of what it demonstrates globally in terms of the possibility of making progress on trade and investment liberalization and the capacity of the U.S. to lead such an effort. For one, the diversity of countries involved--lower-middle-income countries such as Vietnam, upper-middle-income countries such as Malaysia and Mexico, and high-income countries such as Japan, Australia, Canada, and Chile--sends an important message about the benefits to all countries of undertaking further trade and investment liberalization, committing to high standards and new regulations and rules on issues such as labor and the environment. 

Take Vietnam, for instance. Its willingness to agree to the TPP represents a serious commitment by its government to economic and even some political reform. For the first time, Vietnam will allow for the independent formation of labor unions as a result of the TPP labor chapter. Vietnam's willingness to liberalize its services sectors and to commit to new digital economy rules on data flows is supporting growth in its IT sector, as companies such as IBM build data centers and invest in research and development facilities. Indeed, the ability for Vietnam to agree to the TPP has led some in China to ask why China can't also commit to similar reforms and join the agreement. 

The TPP benefits all parties. In fact, the largest gains from the TPP will be in those countries laboring under high levels of protection, such as Japan and Vietnam--reflecting the fact that the gains from any trade agreement ultimately flow from the domestic liberalization that follows. But while the overall impact of the TPP on the U.S. economy may seem relatively small given the already open nature of the U.S. economy and the small amount of trade with TPP countries as a share of U.S. GDP, the agreement brings with it some valuable economic benefits for the U.S. from new market access opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, the TPP will underpin important reforms and positive growth trajectories across TPP parties that are also consistent with U.S. values and economic interests going forward. It is in this respect that the TPP is an important economic and strategic win for the U.S.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 PM


Central bankers do not have as many tools as they think (Larry Summers, 12/06/15, Financial Times)

A number of considerations make me doubt the US economy's capacity to absorb significant increases in real rates over the next few years. First, they were trending down for 20 years before the crisis started and have continued that path since. Second, there is at least a significant risk that as the rest of the world struggles there will be substantial inflows of capital into the US leading to downward pressure on rates and upward pressure on the dollar, which in turn reduces demand for traded goods. [...]

Fifth, inflation mismeasurement may be growing as the share in the economy of items such as heathcare, where quality is hard to adjust for, grows. If so, apparent neutral real interest rates will decline even if there is no change in properly measured rates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 PM


Father of Bataclan killer: 'I would have killed him' (The Local, 09 Dec 2015)

Speaking to Le Parisien newspaper the father of the 23-year-old Foued Mohamed Aggad said that he would have rather his son had died in Syria or Iraq than return to France and commit the atrocity at the Bataclan.

Saïd Mohamed-Abbag said: "What human being could do that? If I had known that one day he would do something like that, I would have killed him earlier."

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


The cost of pollution in China (Sophia Yan, December 8, 2015, CNN Money)

There's no question about it -- smog is taking a heavy toll on China, with many local companies taking a hit.

The World Bank estimates the total cost of air and water pollution is equivalent to 6% of Chinese GDP each year. That includes the impact on health, along with damage to natural resources, such as ruined crops from acid rain.

Tourism is one of the first sectors to feel the pinch when Beijing and other Chinese cities choke. Previous episodes have turned people away.

According to the China Tourism Academy, the number of overseas visitors to the country fell for three consecutive years through 2014. It blamed catastrophic air pollution.

Simple economic pressures.
Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Key points of the landmark Paris agreement to fight climate change around the world (KARL RITTER, 12/12/15, Associated Press)

--TRANSPARENCY: There is no penalty for countries that miss their emissions targets. But the agreement has transparency rules to help encourage countries to actually do what they say they will do. That was one of the most difficult pieces to agree on, with China asking for softer requirements for developing countries. The agreement says all countries must report on their emissions and their efforts the reduce them. But it allows for some "flexibility" for developing countries that "need it."

--MONEY: The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn't require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the agreement itself, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020.

--LOSS AND DAMAGE: In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing "loss and damage" associated with climate-related disasters. The U.S. long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage caused by extreme weather events. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote specifically stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.

Here's a thought experiment : suppose a world with no climate change hysteria.  Now suppose a proposal to use our technological means to raise the Earth's temperature two degrees.  What do you suppose polls would show on the question of whether we should try it? 80-20% in favor?

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Was Chipotle too busy avoiding the fake dangers of GMOs to focus on actual food safety? (Timothy B. Lee, December 12, 2015, Vox)

[S]tudy after study has found that GMO foods are perfectly safe. While genetically modified food sounds scary to a lot of people, it's been widely available in the United States for about two decades with no apparent ill effects.

So rather than pandering to groundless fears about GMO safety, Chipotle would have served its customers better by focusing on the very real dangers of food tainted with E. coli, norovirus, or salmonella. Theoretically, it should be able to do both, of course, but like any organization Chipotle has limited resources. A dollar it spends guarding against the overblown threat of GMOs is a dollar it can't devote to preventing actual health problems.

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


Days of Wine and Curry (Rowan Ricardo Phillips, 12/11/15, Paris Review)

When you watch Steph Curry play these days, it's pretty obvious that he's feeling good. If you played basketball growing up, you learn the importance of follow-through when you shoot: forming the gooseneck, waving good-bye to the ball, reaching into the far off hoop like it's a cookie jar--think Michael Jordan's last shot as a Bull. Curry's way, and I mean way, past that. He's to the point where he's putting the ball up like he's getting rid of a bomb. He sometimes looks like he's just throwing the ball up. Then there are the finger rolls, scoop shots and teardrops with either hand. He's rising up from twenty-five feet out and skedaddling back to the other end of the court as soon as the ball leaves his hand. And I wasn't trying to dig into the word-crate when I wrote skedaddle: it's the only word that captures what he does as soon as the ball leaves his hand. You can't give him any space at all to shoot, but if you don't give him any space to shoot he'll absolutely embarrass you off the bounce ... no matter who you are. He's given up on simply blowing past defenders who crowd him--he likes to lead them quick around the court in small figure eights, giving them the impression that they're sticking with him until the rug gets pulled out from under them. The guy is beyond on fire. He's gone full on Super Saiyan.

The NBA is league of peacocking strutters with their signature celebrations for when a shot goes in. Curry is no stranger to celebration, but his looks unintended, as if some other body has taken over his own, which is exactly what happens when you're feeling good on the court. You become muscle memory from head to toe. It barely lasts. You feel like you can't miss, and this is where the infamous "heat check" comes in. You can't miss. So you start taking shots you know should miss. You test the limits of being hot, of feeling good. Twenty-five feet out. Thirty feet out. Without looking at the rim. Quick-firing after dribbling between the legs four times. The heat check. The search for the end of the streak. No one really wants to be hot forever.

Steph Curry, at the moment, is on an endless heat check. Somewhere within the euphoria of his feats is a trace of sadness. He's in a strange quantum all his own, where time and space barely obtain. Any shooter can tell you, things aren't supposed to be this way. Not for the pros. Jimmer Fredette played like Steph Curry in college just a few years ago and he isn't even in the NBA. Plenty of players have been Steph Curry in a high school game or messing around at Rucker Park. But shooters always get found out, always emerge as types: the spot shooter who waits for an opening, the gunner who comes off the bench for an offensive spark, the pick-and-roll point guard who knows just when to let his deadly shot fly, the blacktop legend who just couldn't break through. These limits define the game--and shooters, especially, are supposed to be bound by the ruthlessness of space-time. But Curry has decided to ignore it all. It's not that he's breaking the system, it's that he's a broken system. You can see it in how he loosens his neck and shoulders constantly, how he chews on his mouth guard, the mellow glaze in his gaze during a stoppage of play. It's as though he's missing something. You know how he feels. You don't know how he feels. I know how you feel.

A Sense of Where You Are (JOHN MCPHEE, 1/23/65, The New Yorker)

Bradley is one of the few basketball players who have ever been appreciatively cheered by a disinterested away-from-home crowd while warming up. This curious event occurred last March, just before Princeton eliminated the Virginia Military Institute, the year's Southern Conference champion, from the N.C.A.A. championships. The game was played in Philadelphia and was the last of a tripleheader. The people there were worn out, because most of them were emotionally committed to either Villanova or Temple--two local teams that had just been involved in enervating battles with Providence and Connecticut, respectively, scrambling for a chance at the rest of the country. A group of Princeton boys shooting basketballs miscellaneously in preparation for still another game hardly promised to be a high point of the evening, but Bradley, whose routine in the warmup time is a gradual crescendo of activity, is more interesting to watch before a game than most players are in play. In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from twenty feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots--the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball--and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


How Donald Trump may attack Ted Cruz in Iowa : Despite the fact that the two of them have maintained cordial relations, it appears Donald Trump may be ready to go after Ted Cruz. (Peter Grier, DECEMBER 11, 2015, CS Monitor)

Donald Trump may be getting ready to slam Ted Cruz.

Why? Mr. Cruz is threatening Mr. Trump's lead in the crucial early caucus state of Iowa. And the Texas senator reportedly told a gathering of donors earlier this week that he doubts Trump has the "judgment" to be commander-in-chief.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Rethinking the Reformation (PETER BERGER, American Interest)

Religious pluralism compels individuals, on whatever level of intellectual sophistication, to differentiate between the core of their own faith and more negotiable elements. If one regards freedom of choice as a moral good, this result of pluralism is a benefit for faith, even for someone who chooses to abide with the tradition into which he was born. Can one make this distinction between core and periphery in the economy of faith? A good example of a spontaneous distinction, coming long before detailed theological doctrines in two Christian groups, occurred during the so-called Marburg Colloquium in 1529. It was convened by Philip of Hessen, one of the early Protestant princes who wanted a united front of the followers of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland. The conversation was focused on different understandings of the eucharist, led by Martin Luther of Wittenberg and Ulrich Zwingli of Basel. Luther, exasperated by the failure to reach agreement, exclaimed "Out of you speaks a different spirit!" I think the term "spirit" refers precisely to what I have called "core" here. Luther could certainly have used the same term to describe his Catholic opponents. "Core" or "spirit", as I understand it, does not imply that each religious tradition is a fixed, unchangeable entity. Another useful term here is that of "motif" - originally a term, used in music--a recurring signature theme, weaving in and out of variant sub-themes. Think, for instance, of Beethoven"s Ninth Symphony, with its core theme weaving in and out of variable sub-themes, until the last movement explodes in the pure core motif of the Ode to Joy. There was an interesting school called "motif research" in Swedish theology and phenomenology of religion. Its best known representatives were Anders Nygren (1890-1982), author of Agape and Eros, and Gustaf Aulen (1879--1978), author of Christus Victor.

I would say that this is a question that could be asked in the aforementioned conversation between two teenagers: "But what is your faith really about?" It is similar to the question asked of Rabbi Hillel the Elder (first century BCE)--"Could you explain the meaning of Torah while standing on one foot?" After giving his answer (the Golden Rule, quoted by Jesus some decades later), Hillel added a priceless postscript: "The rest is commentary!"

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Supreme Court Won't Hear Challenge to Assault Weapons Ban in Chicago Suburb (ADAM LIPTAKDEC. 7, 2015, NY Times)

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a Chicago suburb's ordinance that banned semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

The decision not to hear the case has no precedential force, but was nonetheless part of a series of signals from the Supreme Court giving at least tacit approval to even quite strict gun control laws in states and localities that choose to enact them.

"The justices don't reveal their reasons for denying review, but one thing is clear," said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The justices certainly aren't eager to take up a Second Amendment case these days."

"One has to wonder," he said, "if the Supreme Court is having second thoughts about the Second Amendment."

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Hanukkah, Why? (EMMA GREEN  DEC 9, 2015, The Atlantic)

Like much of Jewish American life, Hanukkah's evolution in the U.S. is a story of immigrants. In the 19th century, the Jewish population in the United States was very small--roughly 250,000 by 1880, Ashton estimates. As different groups of immigrant Jews came to the country from central and Eastern Europe, a debate emerged: "What is going to be the form of Judaism that will thrive in the United States?" Ashton said. Many of the institutions of Jewish life, such as schools and synagogues, were in Europe; coming to America was starting over, and in a very new context. "Freedom of religion was a shocking experience," she said. "Jews had not encountered that before."

In the middle of the 19th century, some of the first Jews to promote Hanukkah in America were the rabbis who led the Reform Movement, which was largely based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their Judaism was intellectual and sermon-heavy--"it really had nothing for the kids," Ashton said. So "they came up with this idea of a synagogue festival for kids at Hanukkah as a way to interest kids in the synagogue: candle-lighting, singing songs, teaching the kids little skits, and then treating them to oranges and ice cream."

During this period in American history, Hanukkah wasn't really celebrated in the home beyond the lighting of the menorah, Ashton said, but it did have certain domestic qualities. "The rabbis would stand up in the front [of the synagogue] and talk to the kids, but the women organized the kids, and fed the kids, and taught the kids the songs," she said. This, in itself, was another way of reinforcing synagogue life, creating a role for women in promoting children's education.

This was in keeping with a larger trend in American culture: a sentimental Victorian fascination with domesticity. A number of home-based festivals, such as birthday parties, emerged in the second half of the 19th century, and Hanukkah crept toward the home along similar lines. One of the Cincinnati rabbis, Isaac Mayer Wise, purposefully played into this. Over the course of 39 weeks around 1860, he serialized a romance novel based on the story of the Maccabees, playing into Victorian tropes like "religious virtues, patriotism, and strong gender distinctions," Ashton writes. This was a way of educating Jews about Hanukkah, but it was also a form of reassurance: Yes, Jews could be part of American culture.

And Judaism was a real religion, that we assimilated this easily.  Islam stands no chance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


'Islamic State' tries to stop refugees from leaving (Deutsche-Welle, 12/12/15)

"The danger of abandoning Darul-Islam (Islamic territory)" is the title shown above the picture of the drowned boy.

In the article that follows, the author uses quotes from religious authorities to underpin his attempt to prove that true Muslims are not permitted to leave the self-styled "Islamic State." He goes on to describe the fate that purportedly is lying in wait in the Western world for those who desert: alcohol, drugs, the rejection of Islam. And, the author argues, it is above all refugees from Syria and Libya who are jeopardizing the lives of their children.

This warning, and indeed the entire article in "Dabiq," is an admission by "IS" that people are running away from it - a phenomenon with which the "Islamic State" has not reckoned in the least. After all, its followers see it as a drawcard for Muslims from all over the world - not as a place that people get out of as fast as they possibly can, at whatever cost.

"The interesting thing is that this refugee movement is only taking place in one direction," says best-selling German author and former Christian Democrat parliamentarian Jürgen Todenhöfer. Last year, Todenhöfer spent 10 days in the "Islamic State" and wrote a book about his experiences. "In Syria, no one leaves territories that are in the hands of the Assad regime for territories belonging to the caliphate. The direction is always the opposite one: away from the caliphate to regions that are ruled by the regime."

From the point of view of the extremists, this is the wrong direction, now that the caliphate has been "revived." According to the two-page article in "Dabiq," Muslims are permitted to seek refuge only in the "Islamic State," and are not allowed to flee from the caliphate to territories controlled by the Alawites, Shiites or the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), let alone to Europe or America, where "unbelievers" hold sway. Leaving the Islamic territory voluntarily is a "dangerous major sin," the unnamed author writes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


About That Poll That Donald Trump Says Supports His Ban on Muslim Immigrants... (S.V. Dáte, December 7, 2015, National Journal)

When Don­ald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims im­mig­rat­ing to the United States on Monday, he also cited a poll that pro­duced some sur­pris­ing stat­ist­ics. Fifty-one per­cent of Muslims in the U.S., the poll said, be­lieve that they should be al­lowed to live un­der sharia law. And 25 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the poll, be­lieve that vi­ol­ence is jus­ti­fied against those who of­fend Is­lam or the Proph­et Mo­hammed.

The trust­wor­thi­ness of that poll, however, is far from un­im­peach­able.

The poll was com­mis­sioned by the Cen­ter for Se­cur­ity Policy--which was foun­ded by Frank Gaffney, whose con­spir­acy the­or­ies about Muslims work­ing to in­sti­tute sharia law in the United States led to the Amer­ic­an Con­ser­vat­ive Uni­on to ban him from its an­nu­al Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence in 2011.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The Limits of Liberal Niceness in Aziz Ansari's Master of None : Ansari and his character, Dev, genuinely want to do good. But they're missing the political framework. (BHASKAR SUNKARA, 12/11/15, In These Times)

In one scene, an executive caught by Dev making a racist joke in an email takes him to a Knicks game to smooth things over. In a Madison Square Garden suite, the executive introduces him to Busta Rhymes, a friend, who tells Dev, "I don't think you should play the race card. Charge it to the race card-- feel me?" Originally enraged and ready to leak the remark to the press, Dev reconsiders. Maybe this guy, Dev (and the audience) wonders, isn't all that bad. Maybe he deserves a break. Hey, he has a black friend.

Faced with racism, a personal apology and courtside Knicks tickets seems to do the trick.

A companion of sorts to the episode is a New York Times piece by Ansari that ran in early November. Mirroring a story told on the show by his character, Ansari writes about how inspiring it was for him as a child to watch Short Circuit 2, a 1988 film starring an Indian scientist. Years later, when in college, he discovered that the lead actor was in fact a Caucasian in brownface.

Ansari talks about the type casting that minority actors must deal with and laments the fact that "when Hollywood wants an 'everyman,' what it really wants is a straight white guy." His solution is for the industry to change its ways and "give minorities a second look." For hesitant executives, he offers an example of such a strategy paying off: the Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, who for Ansari is an "unsung pioneer for minority actors." He argues: "There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: 'Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one's gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot that has an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States. Audiences will be confused.' Nope. They weren't."

As an Indian American, I understand where Ansari is coming from. The tokenization of minorities in popular media has only reinforced racism. But his Schwarzenegger solution leaves much to be desired. Master of None offers anti-racism at the level of representation, disconnected from class and the struggles for redistribution necessary to give it deeper substance.

The other explicitly political episode of the series, "Ladies and Gentlemen," which focuses on male privilege, falls into the same trap. It begins with two examples of the very real harassment and discrimination that women face: Dev hears a colleague's story about being followed home from a bar, and later, the director of a commercial he's working on treats the women as mere "eye candy." Dev remarks on this and the director takes it to heart, rewriting the commercial to depict women as grill masters. This leaves Dev without a role. He's a bit disappointed, but still happy enough to have made a difference.

The episode's feminism suffers from the same liberal trap as the anti-racism in "Indians on TV." Like many good people, Ansari just wants everyone to get along, be nice to each other, and make better choices. But without anything to rely on but liberal privilege politics, he presents a false trade-off between doing these nice things and one's personal material interest. The episode assumes that workers must battle each other over a finite amount of decent employment. With a jobs guarantee and higher wages for all, this wouldn't be the case.

This whinge has to be funnier than anything in the show.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


American Christians could take a lesson from Angela Merkel (Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons | December 10, 2015, RNS)

Time magazine's 2015 "Person of the Year" is a self-identified conservative Christian, but not one of the many running for president of the United States. While the dynamics of faith and politics are different in Europe, German leader Angela Merkel is an example of a conservative Christian living out her faith in the public square quite differently than we see in the U.S.

Time, which calls her "Chancellor of the Free World,"  characterizes her strong leadership of economic and political crises in Europe as "no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor's sharp sense of power and a scientist's devotion to data." She may be a quantum chemist, but she's also an Evangelical Lutheran preacher's kid with an unwavering faith.

The chancellor has described her personal faith in several interviews. "The structure of the world relating to belief is a framework for my life that I consider very important," she said in one. "I believe in God, and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life," she told a theology student during a video interview in 2012. She kept her faith mostly quiet up until that point, which is understandable given the rising secularization of Germany.

She has held firm to her socially conservative belief that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman. (She has also voted against abortion rights.) But unlike conservative Christians in America, she has strongly favored anti-discrimination legislation. "Wherever we still find discrimination, we will continue to dismantle it," she told influential YouTube star Florian Mundt.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:39 AM


Happy 100th, Frank!


Today would have been Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, and with all the countdowns of his best recordings, newspaper retrospectives and TV specials in which, for what it's worth, only Harry Connick, Jr. and Tony Bennett had the chops to pay tribute to Sinatra), I have little to add, other than to provide YouTube links to a few of my favorite Sinatra recordings.

Sinatra started out as a crooner, gaining his first fame with the big bands of Harry James and hen Tommy Dorsey. After the war, he was a solo act, and his voice had deepened, but he still played the role of a guileless romantic. In 1946 Frank recorded this version of Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful" with an arrangement by his frequent colleagues at that time, Alex Stordahl.

The mature, swinging, tough-yet-vulnerable Sinatra that defined most of his career (and the performer we think of today) emerged in 1953 when Frank moved to Capitol Records and was paired with arranger Nelson Riddle.  As famous as Sinatra had been, "I've Got the World on a String" introduced the world to a new voice, one that would become iconic, much-admired and much imitated.While Sinatra did more than anyone to sustain and validate the Great American Songbook of Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Kern, and the others, he also sang the songs of contemporary writers.  

One his great collaborators was the lyricist Sammy Cahn, who provided Frank with hits such as "Love and Marriage," "Teach Me Tonight" and "All the Way."  "The Second Time Around" shows off Frank's magnificent voice and the emotional depth he brought to a lyric, in this case a song not about the starry-eyed, whizzbang excitement of first (young) love, but the quiet joy and comfort of second love.  This is a song that only a man who has been around the block a time or two can sell, and Frank imbues it with a wistful gratitude for being granted that second chance.  

Frank was perfect for the movie version of Guys and Dolls. Of course, he probably should have played the romantic lead, Sky Masterson, instead of the comic relief, Nathan Detroit, but the studio gave Sky to Marlon Brando (!!!).  So, Brando got to sing "Luck Be a Lady" in the movie, but Frank recorded it and performed it for the rest of his career.  In this live version from the late '60's, we begin to see some of the Rat Pack mannerisms that morphed into caricature over Sinatra's later years, but his remarkable power, phrasing, pitch and diction are all there.

Frank brought palpable melancholy and vulnerability to songs like "In the Wee Small Hours" and "One for the Road," but while we empathize with him, we never pity him.  This emotional state...along with his ability to sing with incredible delicacy...served him well in the late 1960's when he paired with bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim.  In this duet medley of bossa nova hits (and one Irving Berlin tune) from a TV special one hears the simple beauty of Sinatra's voice.

December 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


This what an American college campus actually looks like:

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


White supremacist groups see Trump bump : 'He has sparked an insurgency,' Stormfront founder says. (BEN SCHRECKINGER, 12/10/15, Politico)

The Ku Klux Klan is using Donald Trump as a talking point in its outreach efforts. Stormfront, the most prominent American white supremacist website, is upgrading its servers in part to cope with a Trump traffic spike. And former Louisiana Rep. David Duke reports that the businessman has given more Americans cover to speak out loud about white nationalism than at any time since his own political campaigns in the 1990s.

As hate group monitors at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League warn that Trump's rhetoric is conducive to anti-Muslim violence, white nationalist leaders are capitalizing on his candidacy to invigorate and expand their movement.

"Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that," said Stormfront founder Don Black, who reports additional listeners and call volume to his phone-in radio show, in addition to the site's traffic bump. Black predicts that the white nationalist forces set in motion by Trump will be a legacy that outlives the businessman's political career. "He's certainly creating a movement that will continue independently of him even if he does fold at some point."

You are what you believe. One would hope he's just sayin g this stuff because it's fun and that he's not really this evil.

Donald Trump's Plan on Muslims Is Opposed by Most Americans; GOP Is Split, WSJ/NBC Poll Finds (JANET HOOK and  PATRICK O'CONNOR, Dec. 10, 2015, WSJ)

Donald Trump's proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. is opposed by a solid majority of Americans, while almost four in 10 Republican primary voters support the idea, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Putin's Quagmire in Syria Proves Obama Prescient (Ilya Arkhipov &  Henry Meyer, December 10, 2015, Bloomberg View)

U.S. President Barack Obama, facing criticism at home over his Islamic State strategy, is turning out to be right with his prediction that Vladimir Putin's own campaign in Syria will descend into a quagmire.

Many senior officials in Moscow underestimated how long the operation in support of Bashar al-Assad would take when Putin entered Syria's civil war on Sept. 30 and no longer talk in terms of just a few months, with one saying the hope now is that it won't last several years.

With the mission in its third month, Putin is pouring materiel and manpower into Syria at a pace unanticipated by lawmakers already struggling to meet his spending goals. The plunging price of oil is sapping revenue and prolonging Russia's first recession in six years, prompting the Defense Ministry this week to postpone some new weapons programs. 

Every once in a while a president stumbles into a policy that is simply genius--whether he has anything to do with it or not--encouraging Putin's suicide attack was one such instance.  And we haven't even gotten to the point where it boils down to just Putin vs ISIS yet.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Lucky he isn't Danny Dravot....
Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Jeb taps Bush alumni for early-state push : How the former Florida governor, once shy about his famous last name, is leaning on his family's network. (ALEX ISENSTADT 12/10/15, Politico)

Bush's campaign hopes to turn his family into an advantage, exploiting a network that none of his rivals can lay claim to: a nationwide group of loyal foot soldiers who, over the course of decades, have powered the Bush dynasty.

His supporters do not lack for energy. Many of them are prepared to spend their upcoming weekends braving the frigid winters of Iowa and New Hampshire, knocking on doors, planting yard signs and making sure people vote for Bush.

"I'm a Florida boy. I'm not a fan of the cold," said Fritz Brogan, a Washington, D.C., restaurateur and fundraiser who served as an aide in the George W. Bush White House and said he is among an army of volunteers planning to come out in force. "But I'll do it for Jeb Bush."

"There is no doubt that this is an advantage for the campaign," he added. "I think this is a secret weapon."

"He's got bunch of supporters around the country who will do whatever they can to help his effort," said David Bates, who served as George H.W. Bush's deputy chief of staff during his vice presidency and then was secretary to the Cabinet after the elder Bush won the White House. Bates, who has known Jeb Bush for decades, plans to go to New Hampshire right before the Feb. 9 primary to canvass for him.

In addition to the White House alums, Bush's aides say they they're reaching out to a number of prospective volunteers, including the candidate's former staffers from his terms as governor and a group of students and young professionals. Last month, Bush's son Jeb Bush Jr. emailed supporters asking them to fill out an electronic form allowing them to detail their availability to help out.

"I know you have already gone above and beyond, but I am asking you to go the extra mile," he wrote. Bush volunteers are expected to begin working in Iowa on Jan. 2.

"One important key for our campaign in getting voters committed to Jeb Bush is sharing his story -- as a governor, as a leader, as a businessman, and as a father, husband and grandfather," explained Kristy Campbell, a Bush spokeswoman. "We think validators can serve an important role in our ground game in early states and throughout the calendar."

By the time of the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, Bush's campaign hopes to have enlisted White House alumni from around the country. Most of them will fan out to the nearest early voting state: Those living on the West Coast, for example, are expected to focus their efforts in Nevada.

"I think it will be a pretty massive undertaking," said Brogan, who can recall working for Bush's 1998 gubernatorial campaign as a youth organizer. Last week, Brogan hosted Bush at Chinese Disco, a popular Georgetown bar he co-owns.

Helping to lead the alumni effort are Bates; Brian McCormack, a vice president for political and external affairs at the Edison Electric Institute who served as Vice President Dick Cheney's personal aide and also worked for George W. Bush; Lanny Griffith, George H.W. Bush's assistant secretary of education; and Therese Burch, a co-founder of a lifestyle advisory company who was a top advance and scheduling aide in George W. Bush's White House and also worked for his father.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Christmas Comes Early for Teachers Unions and Obama Administration With No Child Left Behind Rewrite (Lindsey Burke, December 10, 2015, Daily Signal)

"It's like Christmas Day," exclaimed Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. García was referring to passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama--who similarly referred to the new law as a "Christmas miracle"--earlier Thursday. [...]

According to Politico, "victory certainly didn't just land in the laps of union leaders. The National Education Alliance and the American Federation of Teachers are on track to spend $3.7 million combined lobbying Capitol Hill before 2015 is done.

"The National Education Alliance calculates that it has held 2,300 face-to-face meetings with lawmakers this year. Members have sent 255,000 emails to Capitol Hill and made 23,500 phone calls, according to NEA's calculations."

Politico goes on to report:

In February, it spent $500,000 on an ad buy targeting Senate HELP Committee members' districts, calling on them to replace the law... the AFT calculates it had 200 in-person meetings with lawmakers, made 125,000 phone calls and submitted more than 20,000 online comments to members of Congress.

The proposal's elimination of Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP) has rightly drawn the support of the vast majority of analysts and education stakeholders. AYP was the overly prescriptive federal mandate that undergirded the foundation of No Child Left Behind; it required that all students achieve proficiency by the 2014-15 school year or have a state risk federal sanctions. In addition to eliminating AYP, the new law also eliminates the so-called "highly qualified teacher" provision, which established federal credentialing requirements for teachers. 

The chest-thumping on the Right over this surrender to the "unions and Educrats" would be hilarious if they hadn't undone decades of conservative hard work and success.  Pure reaction always results in loss rather than gain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


This Evangelical Leader Says US Has 'Responsibility' to Accept Syrian Refugees (David Brody, December 10, 2015, Daily Signal)

Russell Moore, one of the nation's leading evangelical Christian voices, says America has a moral obligation to take in Syrian refugees fleeing the brutality of the terrorist army known as the Islamic State, or ISIS.

"We have a responsibility as a country to this region of the world," Moore said in an interview with The Daily Signal. "We do have some culpability here."

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


A realignment of Iran's political factions underway as elections loom (Gareth Smyth, 11 December 2015, The Guardian)

Broad support for President Hassan Rouhani's government is not just over its foreign policy but also its desire to revive the economy and private sector. From this follows all the speculation in Tehran that principle-ists like Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker, and Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, a seasoned strategist, will help organise an electoral list for parliament broadly backing the president.

This coalition would stretch from Larijani and Nategh-Nouri, close supporters of the leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, though 'pragmatic' conservatives Rouhani and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to some reformists, including Mohammad Khatami.

This is why the GOP set up the vote so that they couldn't stop the deal.

December 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Our Duty as American Muslims : We are the only ones who can lead a winning fight against the radicalism crippling our faith. (KHURRAM DARA, Dec. 9, 2015, WSJ)

[I]n order to lead this fight with unified support, certain things will have to change. We can't call out prejudice against our faith without also calling out the gender inequality and homophobia that we find in some of our communities. We can't be champions of our own religious freedom without also championing the rights of all traditions across the globe that wish to peacefully practice, including other Muslim sects we may disagree with doctrinally. We have to change the way we think about Islamic law and vilify the medieval judicial practices that persist in the Middle East. And we must have uncomfortable but necessary conversations about where much of the funding for this cancerous supremacist ideology is coming from--Saudi Arabia.

We carry with us a responsibility to our country, our faith and our children. The majority of us are here because our parents or grandparents emigrated from oppressive and illiberal nations for the promise of a better life in America. But the way things are heading, our children may grow up with less opportunity and freedom than we did. I can think of no greater defeat and surrender to radicalism than that.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


The National Dialogue Quartet, democracy group in Tunisia, collects Nobel Peace Prize (DOROTHEE THIESING, 12/10/15, Associated Press)

This year's Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, collected their award in Norway on Thursday, appealing for international cooperation to make the global fight against terrorism a top priority.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Western Officials: Iran Retreating From Syria Fight (Eli Lake, 12/10/15, Bloomberg View)

U.S. officials tell me they are seeing significant numbers of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops retreat from the Syrian combat zone in recent weeks, following the deaths and wounding of some of top officers in a campaign to retake Idlib Province and other areas lost this year to opposition forces supported by the West and Gulf Arab States. As a result, the Russian-initiated offensive that was launched in September seems to be losing an important ally.

On Friday at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Russia's initial plan was to take back Idlib and other cities that had fallen under rebel control within three months. "It's not going to happen because of the military difficulties," he said, adding that the campaign to date looked to be a "failure." He cited the "incompetence" of Syria's army as well as "the lack of determination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps."  

Putin wants to preserve the regime, which Iran has no interest in. 

December 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


Jeb Bush Has an Unlikely Group of Supporters: Millennials (CANDACE SMITH, Dec 9, 2015, ABC News)

[T]he millennials present on Wednesday could care less about the latest polls.

Tori Purtell, a freshman economics major at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, said it was too early to make up her mind. But after hearing Bush, she said she's now seriously considering him, along with Rubio.

"He just has this amazing charisma to him...he's very relatable but you can tell that he has just has a brilliant mind, you want to hear what he has to say and do," she said.

She added, "I wish I could listen to him talk all day, he was amazing."

Tommy Royer, a sophomore studying business at Saint Anselm College, admitted that Bush isn't the candidate typically thought of as being able to attract young voters.

"I mean [he's] not necessarily the normal candidate that appeals to young people but what I'm more concerned about is that he seems like a real person. He gave us real answers, it wasn't all completely based on politics, which I really like," Royers said.

Bush's campaign is not neglecting the youth population. His son, Jeb Jr., has hosted dozens of events focused on young voters, and the campaign also has organized support at 450 college campuses in 45 states.

Bush also reflected on his relationship with his father and how how he "idolized" him.

"I realized if I tried to achieve what I thought my dad was that I would be good about 50 percent of the way there. I could either accept that as a traumatic experience and go get therapy and live a miserable life or I could accept being half the man my dad was or is and still live a life of purpose and meaning," Bush said.

The former Florida governor spoke on immigration and the need to defeat ISIS along with the importance of candidates having a strategy to defeat them. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Bush continued his denunciation of Trump's plan to ban all Muslims entering the country. Bush has called Trump "unhinged" and said that Trump's comments marginalize Muslims and play into the terrorist group's hands. Today, he supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netaynahu's condemnation of Trump's comments.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Muhammad Ali: 'There is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people' (Catherine Garcia, 12/09/15, The Week)

"I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people," the former heavyweight champion of the world told NBC News. "True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion." Ali called on his fellow Muslims to "stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda," and said such extremists "have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody."

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 PM


Labour is falling apart, but don't blame Jeremy Corbyn for its collapse (Roy Greenslade, 7 December 2015, The Guardian)

Tony Blair's success in winning three consecutive general elections, despite launching an unpopular war, concealed some uncomfortable truths. The party's rightist stance attracted votes from the Tories but it upset those offended by its technocratic, bureaucratic and bland political underpinning.

At the same time, it alienated both old-style leftwingers and also the emergent generation without any cold war memories.

The situation hardly changed when Gordon Brown, infinitely less able than Blair as a leader, took over. Even so, the outcome of the 2010 general election came as something of a shock to Labour's system. 

It watched glumly as the Lib-Dems, foolishly believing they had also turned a corner as an electoral choice, went into coalition government with the Conservatives.

Labour's response was to turn its back on its rightwing leadership and opt for a vaguely left-of-centre character, Ed Miliband, who lacked the guile or the personality to re-energise a party that did not recognise its glue was coming unstuck.

In May this year, Labour's fabric was torn apart. It lost Scotland to a party espousing a heady mixture of nationalism and socialism (or, at least, anti-Toryism). It lost England and Wales to a Conservative party that does not conceal its agenda (even if it conceals the effects of carrying it out).

With Miliband having opened Labour's doors, and its levers of power, to many thousands of people, there was no stomach to return to the Blairite agenda by electing any of the three candidates who carried varieties of his torch.

Immediate confrontation for Corbyn
So, out of the blue (or should that be red?) in walked Corbyn. The ageing figure of the left got a massive majority courtesy of the expanded public membership and found himself immediately confronted by a hostile parliamentary party... and an equally hostile press.

A formal SDP-style split has not occurred thus far. But the party no longer makes any sense in its current form. Despite strolling to the Oldham by-election victory, the party is generally regarded by the majority of its MPs, political journalists and their editors, as unelectable.

Yet, if some way were found to tip Corbyn out of office before he proves the naysayers right about his unelectability, it is obvious that his army of supporters would walk away.

And that cataclysmic event has the potential to precipitate the creation of a new party of the left because they would realise the hopelessness of changing Labour from within and quit.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


In Defense of No Child Left Behind (Michael Hansen Dec. 9, 2015, US News)

In summarizing the first category of evidence - on whether No Child Left Behind was successful - virtually all rigorous studies I know of show at least a neutral effect on learning or more commonly, in many grades and subjects, significantly positive gains for students overall. This is true of studies looking at national data from the nation's report card (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), as well as data from big states like Florida and Texas.

The issue of reductions in achievement gaps is a separate issue, and I'd characterize this as slightly more mixed - some studies find improvements while others point to greater student segregation (a trend now decades-long) undermining real opportunities for improvement. I don't know of any study that shows evidence of gaps being universally worse as a result.

Most of these evaluation studies rely on accountability-induced variations in pressure to perform and therefore should be interpreted as pointing to accountability as the primary mechanism for gains under No Child Left Behind. And notably, though testing and reporting will continue in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's next incarnation, accountability falls to the states.

A separate piece of evidence is the long-term trend results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2012 is the most recent year for which the long-term trend report is available), which shows broad improvements in performance for most grades and subjects and reductions in achievement gaps. The long-term trends are large enough that they should still remain significant in 2014 in spite of the slight drop that year. The 1999 long-term trend report (the only long-term trend report predating No Child Left Behind enactment) was not nearly as rosy on these counts. Though National Assessment of Educational Progress trends alone cannot definitively point to No Child Left Behind as the cause for these gains, student learning has been moving in the right direction in the No Child Left Behind era.

December 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Finland's Finest: The Seven Symphonies Of Jean Sibelius (Tom Huizenga, 12/08/15, NPR)

Today, Sibelius provokes far less critical dissention. Michael Steinberg, author of the book The Symphony: A Listener's Guide, counted himself among the composer's legion of fans.

"He is one of the great symphonists," Steinberg, who died in 2009, told NPR seven years earlier. "And 'great' is a word I'm inclined to be fairly stingy with. I am so moved by the strength of the vision, the individuality of the vision. Here is an unmistakable voice that says, in virtually every phrase, 'Jean Sibelius was here.'"

Steinberg sat down to talk with NPR about Sibelius and his seven symphonies (an Eighth was composed but mysteriously disappeared). The audio excerpts that follow here are doubly satisfying -- not only to recall Steinberg's enlightening yet down-to-earth way of explaining music, but also to hear the sounds of a composer whose symphonies evoke the great forests and fables of Finland and adventures far beyond and deep within.

Finland: On the trail of Jean Sibelius (Harriet O'Brien, 08 Dec 2015, The Telegraph)

It was an epic landscape. From my hilltop vantage point I gazed across a tremendous lake draped in mist and surrounded by a great swathe of fir trees. A luminous quality to the light added to the drama of standing on hallowed ground. In this country of hushed, snowclad winters, golden summers and prodigious forests, the rousing yet serene music of Jean Sibelius's Finlandia is practically a national anthem and they say it was probably inspired by this view over Lake Aulanko. Probably: the element of equivocation contributed to the feeling of having stepped into a magnificent legend.

A couple of residents in the town of Hameenlinna had directed me to this famous spot in the Aulanko Nature Reserve, adding that to appreciate the spirit of Sibelius I should listen as much as look. So I tuned into the quiet, increasingly absorbed by the percussion of wind in the trees and the hammering of a woodpecker.

I had come to this big little country (marginally smaller than Germany, Finland has a population of 5.5 million) at the outset of commemorations for the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth. From China and Japan to the United States and Britain, a host of events this year bear testimony to how much the music of Sibelius is globally admired. For Finns, Sibelius is the equivalent of Elgar and Shakespeare in one; a cultural colossus who encapsulates the spirit of the country. In 1865, when he was born, Finland had been governed by Russia for 56 years. By the time independence was granted in 1917, Sibelius had written many major works including five symphonies and a number of stirring orchestral pieces, such as the Karelia Suite, most of them largely composed as expressions of Finnish nationalism. As the country subsequently struggled through civil war, then world war, then the tense years of the Cold War (with the Soviet Union looming over an 830-mile border), the music of Sibelius was a balm of Finnishness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


In nations with significant Muslim populations, much disdain for ISIS (JACOB POUSHTER, 11/17/15, Pew Research)

 According to newly released data that the Pew Research Center collected in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, people from Nigeria to Jordan to Indonesia overwhelmingly expressed negative views of ISIS.

One exception was Pakistan, where a majority offered no definite opinion of ISIS. The nationally representative surveys were conducted as part of the Pew Research Center's annual global poll in April and May this year.

In no country surveyed did more than 15% of the population show favorable attitudes toward Islamic State. And in those countries with mixed religious and ethnic populations, negative views of ISIS cut across these lines.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


An Easy Way the Pentagon Could Save $5 Billion a Year (Kellie Lunney, 12/08/15, Government Executive)

Converting 80,000 full-time jobs held by active-duty service members to civilian positions could yield between $3.1 billion and $5.7 billion per year in eventual savings, the nonpartisan CBO estimated. CBO analyzed compensation costs, including pay, health insurance, and other benefits that military personnel and civilian employees receive.

"CBO estimates that if all the services adopted the approach of the service with the smallest percentage of military personnel in each commercial occupation, about 80,000 active-duty positions could be available for conversion," the analysis said. CBO said the services could consider conversion as a way to help them comply with sequestration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Indiana Archbishop welcomes Syrian family, defies governor's refugee ban (Molly Jackson, DECEMBER 8, 2015, CS Monitor) 

And in Indianapolis, Ind., the Catholic Archdiocese has gone one step further, hosting a Syrian family of four over the express wishes of state Gov. Mike Pence, who asked Archbishop Joseph Tobin not to pay for the family's resettlement after Mr. Pence ordered state agencies to block federal funding for Syrian refugees.

"The family arrived safely in Indianapolis last night," Tobin wrote in a church statement Tuesday morning, saying that he had "prayerfully considered" the governor's request. "For 40 years the Archdiocese's Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition."

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


The New Attack on 'One Person, One Vote' : It's been settled law for five decades--but now the Supreme Court might shoot it down. (Ari Berman, NOVEMBER 25, 2015, The Nation)

The Supreme Court ended this perversion of democracy in a series of landmark cases in the 1960s, most notably Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, ruling that legislative districts had to be roughly equal in population. "The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing--one person, one vote," wrote Justice William Douglas. 

...the admission implicit in "law for five decades" that the law was otherwise for fourteen decades or Justice Douglas's necessary failure to cite the actual Constitution, which, of course, explicitly rejects one man, one vote in creating a Senate and then an Electoral College system.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Rouhani ups election ante  (Rohollah Faghihi, December 8, 2015, Al-Monitor)

Beyond seeking a second term, President Hassan Rouhani is seemingly setting his sights on another key Iranian state institution -- the Assembly of Experts. This important clerical body supervises the performance of the supreme leader and is also tasked with one day selecting the successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [...]

Rouhani is considered to have been a disciple of Rafsanjani since the beginning of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He has served as Rafsanjani's right hand in various positions over the years, particularly during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Of note, Rafsanjani announced his nomination for the assembly vote a few months ago. Thus, Rouhani's likely candidacy in the election would join that of Rafsanjani and possibly Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic Imam Ruhollah Khomeini. Together, they form a strong trio vis-a-vis hard-line conservatives Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. In fact, the main contest will likely be between this moderate trio and the hard-liners. [...]

Now with Rouhani's possible assembly candidacy while serving as president, in addition to the likely expanded presence of moderate candidates, the chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts may very well end up in the hands of the moderates once again.

Reformist political analyst Leylaz told Al-Monitor, "Every vote for Rouhani as the moderate president of Iran is tantamount to voting for the whole moderation camp." Furthermore, according to Falahatpishe, the conservative former MP, "Rouhani's nomination will embolden the moderation camp in the election, intensifying the competitive atmosphere." There is also another potential dimension to Rouhani's likely candidacy in the coming elections. One Reformist political analyst who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said, "There is the possibility that Rouhani may attempt to chair the Assembly of Experts."

Many have described the coming assembly election as one of the most critical after the Islamic Revolution. In this vein, Rafsanjani has called for a high voter turnout, from "nationalists" to "revolutionaries." This is driven by the view among moderates that their chances will improve the more voters cast their ballots in the election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Electoral authority: Venezuelan opposition coalition wins 'supermajority' in National Assembly (HANNAH DREIER, 12/08/15, Associated Press)

Venezuela's opposition won a key two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in legislative voting, according to final results released Tuesday, dramatically strengthening its hand in any bid to wrest power from President Nicolas Maduro after 17 years of socialist rule. [...]

The "supermajority" gives the Democratic Unity opposition alliance a strong hand in trying to unseat Maduro, as well as the votes needed to sack Supreme Court justices, initiate a referendum on the president's mandate and even convoke an assembly to rewrite Hugo Chavez's 1999 constitution.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


On declining teacher autonomy: It's for real (Nat Malkus, 12/08/15, AEI)
Conventional wisdom about the past decade of education reforms has been that a number of policies have reduced teachers' autonomy and constrained how and what they teach. Whether it is blamed on No Child Left Behind, Common Core, the meddling district, the scripted curriculum, or the foolish local principal, the widely held belief is that teachers have been losing their autonomy. My colleague Rick Hess even wrote a book to help teachers work around those familiar constraints and assert more autonomy.

Now, the problem with conventional wisdom is often that it is not always right (teacher shortages are a case in point). But when it comes to teacher autonomy in public schools, new data back up the conventional wisdom.  A report released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics (which I co-authored when working for a prior employer) looked at teacher reports of classroom autonomy in 2003-04, 2007-08, and 2011-12. From 2003 to 2012, there were statistically significant declines in teacher autonomy.  

Conservatives spent twenty years trying to enact educational standards that would strip classroom decisions away from teachers and administrators, until W achieved it with NCLB.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


The Islamophobe Behind Trump's Hate : Frank Gaffney and his anti-Muslim cohorts laid the groundwork for Trump's rise. (Michelle Goldberg, 12/08/15, Slate)

In the past couple of years, the political influence of Frank Gaffney, who the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes," appeared to be on the wane. In 2011, he was banned from the Conservative Political Action Conference after claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the group organizing the event. The next year, Gaffney, who was advising Michele Bachmann on foreign policy, concocted a theory that the Muslim Brotherhood had penetrated the State Department via Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's aide. When five members of Congress, including Bachmann, asked for an investigation of the conspiracy, leaders of the Republican Party, including then-House Speaker John Boehner, forcefully rebuked them. (Soon Bachmann would leave Congress, depriving Gaffney of an important political collaborator.) The most recent Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, largely refused to countenance Gaffney-style anti-Sharia conspiracy theories. Chris Christie smacked them down as well.

Despite the efforts of Gaffney and his allies, "Islamophobia was the dog that didn't bark in the 2012 election," says Matthew Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Slate contributor. "But the rise of ISIS and all these spectacular, graphic attacks did what they're designed to do, which is to provoke fear and to provoke hysteria and create fertile ground for these kind of wild claims about the Islamic threat." It has given Gaffney, and the network of anti-Islam groups of which he is a central part, a new level of power and relevance.

Can Pamela Geller and Mark Krikorian be far behind?

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


The Ties That Bind Jihadists : Scholars explore the culture of radical Islam (Ursula Lindsey NOVEMBER 30, 2015, The Chronicle Review)

Thomas Hegghammer has spent the past 14 years studying jihadist groups. As director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, Hegghammer has, like most scholars of radical Islam, focused on the groups' military tactics and political statements, their doctrines and leaders.

But he has come to believe that what jihadists do in their spare time -- the jokes they tell, the poems they compose and recite, the ways they interpret each other's dreams and cry publicly -- is equally important to gaining a deeper understanding of militant groups.

Jihadist culture is "one of the last major, unexplored frontiers of terrorism research, one that merits an entire new research program," Hegghammer argued in a lecture he gave at the University of St. Andrews in April.

He is one of a growing number of scholars studying the mundane, or seemingly superfluous, activities of jihadists as a window onto the appeal and staying power of Islamic extremism.

He credits several scholars -- including Manni Crone, Behnam Said, and Elisabeth Kendall -- with groundbreaking work on particular cultural practices that accompany radicalization. But he argues that few attempts have been made to link such studies and examine culture "as a category of rebellious activity."

"We are just scraping the surface," he says.

Other scholars agree. That more work has not been done on jihadist poetry, for example, is "astonishing," says Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. Poetry has always been a key feature of jihadist groups. "There is virtually no speech by Osama bin Laden in which he doesn't recite poetry," says Haykel. [...]

The burgeoning study of jihadist culture is deeply multidisciplinary, with contributors to a forthcoming volume, edited by Hegghammer, hailing from the fields of musicology, literature, and anthropology as well as political science. The book, tentatively titled "Jihadi Culture: What Militant Islamists Do When They're Not Fighting," will be published by Cambridge University Press next year.

By Hegghammer's definition, jihadist culture includes activities that do more than fulfill basic military needs. Some of those are quite unexpected. Public displays of weeping are an aspect of jihadist culture that intrigues Hegghammer, who notes that the practice is so common that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq until his death, in 2006, was known as "the slaughterer" but also as "he who weeps a lot."

The homoeroticism here reminds one of Lee Harris's comparison of Al Qaeda to ancient boys' gangs.  As we've long said, if we had intelligence services they would be playing up this gay death cult angle.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Oil prices dive below $37 to lowest level in seven years (Matt Egan, 12/08/15, CNN MOney)

Oil fell another 2% on Tuesday and collapsed below $37 a barrel for the first time since the depths of the Great Recession in February 2009.

A massive supply glut has wiped out two-thirds of oil's value after it peaked at nearly $108 a barrel in June 2014.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Fewer Americans Struggling With Medical Bills (Robert Preidt, 12/08/15, HealthDay)

During the first six months of 2015, about 44.5 million people under 65 (16.5 percent) had problems paying their medical bills. That number was down from 56.5 million (21 percent) in 2011, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The report also found that fewer children were in families that had trouble paying their medical bills. In 2011, 23 percent of children under 17 lived in families that had difficulty paying for medical care. During the first six months of 2015, that percentage had dropped to 18 percent, the report revealed.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM


This conservative wunderkind is taking France by storm (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, December 8, 2015, The Week)

Marion is outspoken about her Catholic worldview, in a country where that is strange for any politician; even the FN's official line is that it is a defender not of Christian values, but of French laïcité against Muslim influence. Marion is unapologetic about her stance on social issues: She opposes abortion, even as the FN has softened its (never very hard) stance on the issue, and has stated forthrightly that if elected to head her region, she would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood (Marine disavowed those comments).

She has also bucked her party on economics. She is unashamed of being pro-business and pro-free markets, again a tremendous oddity in France. She founded a group called Cardinal to solicit policy proposals from business owners.

She is, in other words, the closest thing to a U.S.-style conservative in France.

Which is exactly the sort of politics that has never worked in France, going as it does against nearly every sacred cow of contemporary French politics -- religion in public life, moralism on social issues, the role of the market. And yet Marion keeps winning.

Politically, this strategy is very deft. If Marine's strategy succeeds, Marion is no longer just a last name and a pretty face, but the head of a constituency that must be appeased. And if it fails, Marion looks like a leader-in-waiting.

But the implications may be much broader. France had the stirrings of a "free market populist" movement with the Pigeon uprising of business owners and independent contractors revolting against high taxes. More importantly, France is a fiercely secular and libertine country -- but nonetheless one where more than a million people marched against a same-sex marriage bill, and one where an assertive Catholicism is slowly but surely surging.

It's still an open question how this will impact French politics, if at all. Will France's Catholic revival produce a revanchist, identity politics-driven Christian right? Will it just provide fuel for France's main right-wing parties, which care nothing for the issues dear to Catholics ? Will it provide a template for a new engagement in politics? Or will this revival of social conservatism, combined with outrage at high taxes, debts, and deficits, produce a kind of French version of the Tea Party?

(Full disclosure: I'm a French Catholic who is conservative on social issues and supports the free markets, but fears the politicization of the Church and disagrees with the FN's positions on immigration and dislikes its rhetoric. I have, obviously, very mixed feelings about all this.)

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Stephen Colbert Used to Be the Toughest Interviewer in Late-Night : What happened? (Justin Peters, 12/08/15, Slate)

During the first three months of the Colbert Late Show--his first show aired on Sept. 8--there has been a clear stylistic gap between the show's opening segments, which are often weird and wonderful and memorable, and the interviews, which are far more boilerplate. In fact, many of his celebrity interviews have been surprisingly awkward, while many of his political interviews have been surprisingly tame. During his first week hosting the show, his interviews with celebrities like George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson were startlingly banal, hinging on unsuccessful comedy bits that seemed designed to camouflage the fact that Colbert didn't have all that much to say to them. The host almost seemed to be rolling over and allowing Clooney and Johansson to self-promote, which is not at all his usual style.

Has Network Television Defanged Colbert's Political Bite? (Jeremy Stahl, 12/08/15, Slate)

Losing Colbert felt to many liberals like the loss of political oxygen. More than any other recent popular satirist, he was a voice that absorbed this country's worst mass delusions--whether they were about a nefarious "gay agenda," a global warming "conspiracy," the premise that half of the country was made up of mindless moochers addicted to the government teat, or any other false threat in the culture wars--and exposed these ideas and those who propagated them as frauds.

Colbert did something very nearly the opposite of what liberals wanted to believe he did.  In persona, he let them safely laugh at all those politically incorrect things they aren't supposed to find funny because, "in real life he's a liberal."  These was never any chance his show could withstand his reversion to political sensitivity.

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Obama Has Failed to Live Up to Promises on Campaign Finance, Progressive Group Charges (Russ Choma, Dec. 8, 2015, Mother Jones)

President Barack Obama has been a vocal critic of the unraveling of campaign finance regulations by conservatives in government. But on Tuesday, a group led by several prominent liberals assailed the president's record on the issue, arguing that he has done little to address the situation and has, in several key areas, made things worse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Trump and the Joys of Hatred  (Paul Berman, The Tablet)

His supporters, then, the ones who have been around the block, who know how presidential elections go--what are they dreaming of? I think they support the Donald precisely because he is ridiculous. His impudence is his appeal. They cannot have given any serious thought to the economy or immigration or any of the major issues. They like how he insults his interviewers. Has he mocked a woman journalist's period? Hah hah!--what other politician would dare do such a thing? Has he insulted John McCain? Here is bravery, given that everyone knows that McCain is a war hero. Has he ordered Jorge Ramos, the Univision news anchorman, to be escorted from the room? All the better! They like the fact that Trump doesn't give a damn about being respectable or likable or courteous. He burps in your face. They will vote for such a man. [...]

[W]ith each new acquisition or product, he inscribed that name in ever gaudier letters into the American landscape. "Trump: the Fragrance" was always a joke, along with "Trump," the vodka (which failed, though my own liquor store stocks it). But the jokes and non-jokes cleverly established a brand, which stands for a combination of good workmanship (Trump has constructed many buildings, none of which have fallen down) and execrable taste. He has also made a point of inhabiting the gossip pages, married to one fashion model or another, or dating this lady or that in a spirit of conquest--Carla Bruni, though he claims to regret having failed to date Princess Diana--which, after a while, led to a television career, where he turns out to be exceptionally talented.

It is because he is a fanatic of his own cause. [...]

 The Donald tells his followers not to accept the poor refugees from Syria, and the followers feel entitled to shiver in horror and fear. The Donald is right now whipping up a hatred for Muslims in New Jersey. I would imagine that, all over the country, his followers are pounding the table in contemptuous disdain for New Jersey Muslims. Who will it be next week? Probably more Muslims. Trump has discovered that, for him, there is no downside in conjuring hatreds of this sort. The respectable journalists indignantly reveal that his claims vary from the reality, but this merely allows him to display still more disdain for the respectable journalists, who surely figure in his own mind as the true enemy. And so he will continue, and his followers will feel that, during the course of his campaign, they have been able to live life more intensely even than in the glorious times gone by when they used to watch Trump dismiss his flunkies on The Apprentice.

The Trump candidacy ought to remind us of the ancient reality that politics is not necessarily the home of the rational--a truth to be found in the pages of Suetonius.

Perhaps a society that has become so decent over the past 50 years just needs a release valve so folks can vent fury before they return to normal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


The Roots of San Bernardino's Sorrow: How a Mass Murderer Is Made : How do individuals become radicalized to the point where they choose to massacre innocents? (TOM JACOBS  DEC 7, 2015, Pacific Standard)

Terrorism researchers emphasize that there is no single path that leads to mass murder, and the motivations behind such attacks are often a mix of the political and personal. In a 2010 paper, Australian sociologist Ramón Spaaij reported that "lone-wolf terrorists tend to create their own ideologies that combine personal frustrations and aversion with broader political, social, or religious aims."

In a 2014 paper that asks "What moves an individual from radical opinion to radical action," Bryn Mawr University researchers Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko write that there are "at least two profiles for lone-wolf terrorists."

"Statistical studies indicate that may be called a disconnected-disordered profile: Individuals with a grievance and weapons experience who are socially disconnected and stressed with a psychological disorder," they write, while others "have a caring-consistency profile: They felt strongly the suffering of others and a personal responsibility to reduce or revenge this suffering."

McCauley and Moskalenko suspect the first group is more common, "not least because self-sacrifice for others is less common than self-interest." But perhaps because such people fit the stereotype of the dangerous loner, it's arguable that we pay insufficient attention to those in the second category.

McCauley and Moskalenko "emphasize the practical, situational requirements for crossing the gap between radical opinion and radical action." They argue that "the most dangerous indicator of potential for lone-wolf terrorism is the combination of radical opinion with means and opportunity for violent action."

To put it plainly: If terrorists were not able to get their hands on guns, ammunition, bomb-making equipment, and the like, they would not be able to act on their violent impulses.

Aside from the issue of tighter restrictions on firearms, the other question that always arises after such tragedies is the state of the perpetrator's mental health. Indeed, in his look at lone-wolf terrorists, Spaaij finds high rates of "psychological disturbance."

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


What we know about gun violence may surprise you (Marc Ambinder, December 7, 2015, The Week)

The first thing to know is that violent crime of all types is down. In the United States, there are half as many gun homicides today as there were in 1997.

Why? Steven Pinker has a number of theories that try to bridge the gap between psychology, evolution, and criminology. More (and better, but more aggressive) policing has helped; new technology like cell phones make it easier for people to get help when they're shot, easier for police to track criminals, easier for emergency room doctors to more effectively treat gunshot wounds. The decline in the use of lead, which, it seems, fritzes the brain of people who grow up with it in their walls, probably helped too. [...]

A large majority of Americans support specific gun control measures, like federal tracking of gun sales, when asked. [...]

The U.S. accounts for 87 percent of the world's gun death rate for children under 14.

What percentage of gun deaths comes from mass shootings versus gang/drug violence or domestic violence situations? A fairly tiny fraction. Miniscule, even. Slightly more than one percent, Terrorism? Less than one half of one percent.

The plurality of gun deaths are suicides, Vox notes. [...]

The mentally ill committed, at most, five percent of all gun homicides each year. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Iraq retakes large part of Ramadi from IS -- officials (AFP, December 8, 2015)

Iraqi security forces on Tuesday recaptured a large area on the southwestern side of Ramadi from the Islamic State, which overran the city in May, officials said.

Retaking the al-Tameem area from IS is a significant breakthrough for Iraqi forces, which have been fighting for months to secure territory around Ramadi, a major city west of Baghdad and the capital of the vast Anbar province.

December 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Manchester singer advances to 'La Banda' finals (Union Leader 12/06/15)

Manchester High School West student Richard Camacho is one of seven finalists in a Univision Network talent-search show that aims to create a five-member Latino boy band.

When the season finale of "La Banda" airs at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13, the Dominican-American will be among the final seven singers vying for a spot in the band, which will win a recording contract with Sony Music Latin.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Money is flying out of China (Heather Long, 12/07/15, CNN Money)

On Monday, China's central bank reported $3.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, the lowest level since early 2013. November was one of the biggest drops ever.

Many investors are trying to get at least some of their money out of the country. Many Chinese see better opportunities abroad, whether it's real estate in New York or London, pricey art, or stocks and bonds in other countries.

Exact data is hard to come by from China, but Capital Economics forecasts that November set a record for people moving money out of China -- so-called capital outflows.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Syria says US-led airstrikes kill 3 of its soldiers (ZEINA KARAM and BASSEM MROUE, 12/07/15, Associated Press)

In a letter to the United Nations, the government in Damascus said four aircraft from the coalition targeted the army camp in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Sunday night. In addition to the casualties among the troops, it said the attack destroyed armored and other vehicles, and a weapons and ammunition depot.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


China Wants to Replace Millions of Workers with Robots (Will Knight, December 7, 2015, Technology Review)

China is laying the groundwork for a robot revolution by planning to automate the work currently done by millions of low-paid workers. [...]

The scale and importance of China's robot ambitions were made clear when the vice president of the People's Republic of China, Li Yuanchao, appeared at the country's first major robotics conference, held recently in Beijing. Standing onstage between two humanoid entertainment robots with outsized heads, Li delivered a message from China's leader, Xi Jinping, congratulating the organizers of the effort. He also made it clear that robotics would be a major priority for the country's economic future.

Many of the robots on show at the conference's exhibition hall were service or entertainment robots such as automated vacuum cleaners, cheap drones, or quirky looking machines designed to serve as personal companions. But there were also many industrial robots that signaled the real impetus for China's robot push: its manufacturing sector.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Global emissions to fall for first time during a period of economic growth (Adam Vaughan, 7 December 2015, The Guardian)

Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will fall in 2015, researchers have said, in what would mark the first time they have declined while the economy has grown substantially.

Emissions have fallen in previous years but only because of financial crashes, such as the global slump in 2007.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


How the Low-Tax U.S. Stacks Up Against Other Countries (RICHARD RUBIN, 12/07/15, WSJ)

The latest cross-country comparisons show that U.S. governments collected 26% of gross domestic product in revenue in 2014, well below the average of 34.4%, according to data released recently by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The U.S. number includes federal, state and local taxes and is higher than only South Korea, Chile and Mexico, among the 30 countries for which data is available. By comparison, the world leader, Denmark, now collects more than half of GDP in tax revenue, and large economies such as the U.K., France, Germany and Italy are all well over 30%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Venezuela elections: Turning point for world's worst economy? (Patrick Gillespie, 12/05/15, CNNMoney)

Venezuela is the world's worst economy this year.

But Venezuelans voted for change Sunday, offering the best hope for a turnaround in 16 years.

The country's broad opposition party, Democratic Unity, won a majority of seats in Congress. The vote was a huge blow to President Nicolas Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

It's one of the biggest wins for the opposition party since Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, began his rule in 1999.

Venezuela's economy has tanked -- it's expected to shrink 10% this year. Inflation has risen 159% and it's expected to rise 204% next year, according to IMF. Its currency, the bolivar, is worth less than a penny on the black market exchange rate, after having lost 81% of its value against the dollar this year.

Maduro's government can't pay for basic imports like diapers and flour. That leaves many Venezuelans waiting in line for several hours outside grocery stores with empty shelves. The unemployment rate is expected to be 14% this year and 
18% next, according to the IMF. In 2014 it was 7.9%.

The Democratic Unity's victory could be the change that Venezuela needs to turn its economy around

Bolivarism wasn't an alternative either.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Obama says Muslims 'must confront' extremist ideology 'without excuse' (Catherine Garcia, December 6, 2015, The Week)

Obama said the killers behind last week's mass shooting in San Bernardino, California -- which he called an "act of terrorism" -- went down the "dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West." In order to defeat terrorism, Obama said the U.S. must "enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away in suspicion and hate. That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse."

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Sharon Jones Has Your New Hanukkah Anthem and a Delightful Video to Go Along With It (Jesse David Fox, 12/05/15, Vulture)

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


A Wooden Train Set Like No Other : So perfectly designed you don't even need glue to put it together. (Robby Berman, 12/05/15, Slate)

The video above comes from a Kickstarter campaign that's already exceeded its funding goal more than six times over. It's easy to see why. The intricately detailed working models UGEARS is producing are just amazing, and they look like a tremendous amount of fun to build and, well, play with.

The star attraction of the video is a picture-perfect locomotive capable of riding five meters of rail. What makes this and other UGEARS products so cool is that there's no metal whatsoever involved. Each model is primarily wood, with an engine powered by rubber bands.

December 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Homeopathy won't cure you - unless you have a little faith (Eva Wiseman, 6 December 2015, The Guardian)

More and more, I realise our lives are based on faith. Not in a goddy sense, more a domestic, personal, dull-edged way. Relationships, for example: faith. The economy: faith. Health: faith. I come to this having spent some time recently thinking about placebos, as I watch ministers consider whether homeopathy should be put on a prescription "black list". I don't believe in homeopathy, and I say that as someone who really loves little sugary sweets.

Every ounce of science says there is no way it works, there is no way that diluting an ingredient until there are no molecules left, diluting it so extremely that it equates to one molecule of the substance in a sea whose diameter is "roughly the distance from the earth to the sun", will cure what ails you. There is no evidence that homeopathy will help your eczema, or your hay fever, or your ear infection.

But as I read the scoffing responses to the conversation - that people who do choose to spend their cash on placebos are fools - I'm surprised to disagree. [...]

If we call something medicine, then often it works. Our human bodies are dying to believe. In many cases, placebos have been shown to work. It's the taking of the pill, the conversation, the little bottle, the kiss on the bruise. Because simply believing in a treatment, scientists agree, can be as effective as the treatment itself. People who suffer from headaches will associate the shape, the colour and the taste of a pill with a decrease in pain. Recently, a study suggested that even if you know the pill you're taking is a placebo ("I shall please" in Latin), it will still benefit you. Even if you know it's sugar, your body will read the ritual around it as a cure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


The fear and loathing in Labour and the question of accountability (Andrew Rawnsley,  6 December 2015, The Guardian)

When Labour went down to defeat last May, Hilary Benn came close to quitting the shadow cabinet. "He almost did a Harriet," says one of his friends in reference to Harriet Harman's decision to retire from the front rank. Having turned 60, he thought his race was almost run. Even if he had the ambition, he had no prospect of ever leading the Labour party. Other MPs had always spoken of him as one of the nicest men in parliament, but they also struggled to pick out anything notable from his career, even though it had encompassed seven years in the cabinet. I recall one of his colleagues saying to me: "I like Hilary as much as the next person, but what is the point of him?" Where his father, Tony, had been a mesmerising rhetorician and a massively polarising figure, the cautious Hilary seemed the exact opposite: neither offensive nor inspirational to anyone. Among the wider public, in so much as he was known at all, it was for being the son of a much more famous Benn.

That changed in the 15 minutes that it took him to deliver his electrifying speech at the climax of the marathon debate on Syria. It was a bravura performance for both reminding the left of its proud history of fighting fascism and for confronting the absurd claim of some opponents of action against Isis that all the moral arguments are their exclusive property. For added piquancy, it was delivered in front of and in defiance of that disciple of the elder Benn, a scowling Jeremy Corbyn. After delivering a piece of oratory as powerful as anything ever produced by his father, Hilary Benn is now a polarising figure himself. Only the polarities are inverted. The sort of people who worshipped the elder Benn have been enraged by the son. "Hilary Benn, shame on you!" chanted some of the protesters in Parliament Square. The sort of people who were frightened by his father express admiration for the son. [...]

What is he up to? What does he want? How does he plan to get it? This is being most intensely asked by those around Jeremy Corbyn where Mr Benn was already identified as an enemy for heading resistance to the leader over Europe and the nuclear deterrent. "They are completely paranoid," remarks one member of the shadow cabinet. I guess his team would reply that Mr Corbyn has plenty to be paranoid about.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Allied airstrikes kill 'Islamic State' militants (Detsche-Welle, 12/05/15)

At least 32 "Islamic State" militants have been killed and more than 40 wounded in airstrikes in Syria's Raqqa province. The bombings were reportedly carried out by the US-led coalition.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that more that 15 explosions had hit "Islamic State" (IS) facilities in the group's de facto capital in north-eastern Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


'YouAintNoMuslimBruv' takes Twitter by storm (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 6, 2015)

Sky News reported that witnesses had said the lone suspect spoke of Syria and had "apparently shouted, 'This is for Syria,'" although it did not quote anyone.

In video footage, an onlooker is heard shouting "You ain't no Muslim, bruv" as the 29-year-old suspect, reeling after being hit with an electric stun gun, is pinned down and handcuffed.

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


French far-right sees record surge in first poll since attacks (AFP, December 6, 2015)

France's far-right National Front saw record-high results in regional polls on Sunday, held under a state of emergency just three weeks after Islamic extremists killed 130 people in Paris.

The National Front (FN) came first with between 27.2 and 30.8 percent of the vote nationwide, and found itself topping the list in at least six of 13 regions, according to early estimates.

Remember how folks used to worry about European transnationalism?  Nationalism was always the inevitable future.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


For one family fleeing Syria, a haven in New England : Since the Paris attacks, the program to settle Syrian refugees in the US has come under scrutiny. The experiences of one family - the Alnasars - in Massachusetts show how they have embraced their new life, despite many challenges. (Elodie Reed, DECEMBER 5, 2015, CS Monitor)

[T]heir story is a picture of how mundane and how profound life in America can be for Syrian refugees. Aside from the new baby born this year, their lives appear unremarkably normal. For the Alnasars, this may be the most remarkable thing of all.

Interviewed twice this fall before the political fallout from the Paris attacks, the Alnasars regard their new life in America as a "safe haven," as Mr. Alnasar puts it. [...]

In the case of the Alnasars, their Arabic-speaking team brought them to an apartment in a downtown Westfield neighborhood just blocks from grocery stores, barbershops, and churches. Inside, mattresses and blankets were laid out, couches were in place, halal food was in the fridge, and the heat - important to a family moving from a warm climate to New England in November - was on.

Thinking back, Zaid says the neighborhood somehow felt familiar, though one thing was off: "Here the homes and apartments are made out of wood," he says. Back in Syria, everything was constructed from steel and concrete.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Most Americans see Muslims like any other group after California shooting - poll (GINGER GIBSON, 12/04/15, Reuters)

Just days after two Muslims were accused of gunning down 14 people in California, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 51 percent of Americans view Muslims living in the United States the same as any other community, while 14.6 percent are generally fearful.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Palestine's Abortion Problem : Around 40 percent of women in the West Bank have had abortions, though the procedure remains illegal in Palestine. So guess where they go. (YARDENA SCHWARTZDECEMBER 4, 2015, Foreign Policy)

While abortion is outlawed by the Palestinian government, there is no punishment for women who end their own pregnancies: This has led to the spread of at-home abortion methods, such as jumping off of staircases or inserting sharp instruments into the body. Last November, a woman in Nablus died from internal bleeding after she tried to end her pregnancy by having her young son jump on her belly, according to Ali Shaar, a Palestinian physician who works as the national program officer for reproductive health at the U.N. Population Fund's assistance program for the Palestinians.

Abortion is illegal in most of the Middle East, but what sets Palestinian women apart from those in other Arab countries is that they live just several miles -- sometimes less than one mile -- from a country where abortion is completely legal, easily accessible, and even government-funded.

"The Palestinian Authority is basically encouraging unsafe abortionsThe Palestinian Authority is basically encouraging unsafe abortions," says Amina Stavridis, director of the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFFPA), a Jerusalem-based non-profit organization.

Israel, despite its religious, right-wing government, is among the world's most liberal countries when it comes to abortion. Women must apply to a medical committee in order to obtain a surgical abortion, but 98 percent of requests are approved.

Get it to 100% and Palestine will never be a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


In Shia Muslims' holiest site, a new openness to other faiths (N.P. AND ERASMUS, 12/05/15, tHE eCONOMIST)

[A]s an Economist colleague has discovered, inter-religious diplomacy is a rather new feature of life in Najaf, the Iraqi city which is the most revered place in Shia Islam.  

On one recent day, there was a surprising scene, when set against the hatreds engulfing the wider Middle East. Inside the bejewelled Imam Ali Shrine, the holiest place for Shia Islam, a turbaned cleric was leading a delegation of women representing what remains of Iraq's colourful sectarian make-up. The party included Melkite and Orthodox Christians, Sunni Muslims and members of smaller religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Mandeans. They also visited an 11-story academy for inter-religious studies, under construction opposite the shrine's gates. And in an apparently unprecedented gesture, a Grand Ayatollah, one of four clergy of that rank in Najaf, invited them in for a bite to eat.

These days, news stories about religion in Iraq usually focus on the ghastly deeds of Islamic State which controls a swathe of the country's Sunni-dominated territory and has slaughtered or expelled rival religious groups. The inter-faith diplomacy of the country's Shia ayatollahs has gone almost unnoticed, though it deserves some attention.

Take another recent vignette. Jawad Al-Khoei, a Shia cleric who is preparing the new study centre, reacted in a rather unexpected way when a Christian bishop was about to enter the Imam Ali Shrine and discreetly tried to hide his crucifix in his cassock. "I told [the Christian prelate] he could only enter if he kept it [in view]," recalls Mr Khoei, who is a prominent representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most revered leader of Shia Islam. He adds that he is discussing a papal visit to Najaf with the Vatican. Another of Mr Sistani's representatives in Lebanon gives sermons in Beirut's Christian churches.

It was not always so. A century ago, the country's Shia clergy considered it sacrilege to shake hands or sit at table with non-Muslims, on grounds that the presence of non-believers would render their food impure. But now a historical reversal seems to be going on. For centuries, Iraq's multi-faith tradition has been preserved under Sunni leadership; now, as Sunni fanatics assault that tradition, the Shia clerics of Najaf are keen to emphasise their openness to others.

It's the Third Great Foundation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Finland plans to give every citizen a basic income of 800 euros a month (Olivia Goldhill, 12/05/15, Quartz)

The Finnish government is currently drawing up plans to introduce a national basic income. A final proposal won't be presented until November 2016, but if all goes to schedule, Finland will scrap all existing benefits and instead hand out 800 euros per month--to everyone.

It sounds far-fetched, but it's looking likely that Finland will carry through with the idea. Whereas several Dutch cities will introduce basic income next year and Switzerland is holding a referendum on the subject, there is strongest political and public support for the idea in Finland. [...]

It may sound counterintuitive, but the proposal is meant to tackle unemployment. Finland's unemployment rate rose to 11.8% in May (though it was back down to 8.7% in October) and a basic income would allow people to take on low-paying jobs without personal cost. At the moment, a temporary job results in lower welfare benefits, which can lead to an overall drop in income.

Previous experiments have shown that universal basic income can have a positive effect. Everyone in the Canadian town of Dauphin was given a stipend from 1974 to 1979, and though there was a drop in working hours, this was mainly because men spent more time in school and women took longer maternity leaves. Meanwhile, when thousands of unemployed people in Uganda were given unsupervised grants of twice their monthly income, working hours increased by 17% and earnings increased by 38%.

December 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Corbyn's 'new politics' means the self-righteous left wallows in its cruelty (Nick Cohen, 12/05/15, The Guardian)

Stereotypes aren't always pernicious. Leftwingers have benefitted for years from being typecast as decent people. They may possesses the self-righteousness of "a teenager who had just become a vegetarian", as Jess Phillips, the marvellous Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, warned. But like teenage vegetarians, they mean well. If the world does not always turn out the way they planned, that is the world's fault. It would be a better place if it did as the left told it to, sat up at the table and ate its greens.

Stereotypical rightwingers could not be more different. They are sexist, racist and hypocritical. Tories are motivated by greed and prejudice. The far right is driven by brutish blood lusts.

The hold of these stereotypes among the progressive, university-educated middle classes explains why you never hear a rightwing political comedian on Radio 4 or see a leftwing villain in a television drama. Comics and writers tear into Daily Mail and Sun readers but never Guardian and Observer readers. They assume that you are virtuous.

Anyone who saw Gordon Brown and his aides in action, or watched the student left ban speakers for disagreeing with them, has found the myth of leftwing decency hard to swallow. But it has taken the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn's "new politics" to finish it off.

Mind you, this is the Guardian.  Which points out the danger of elecying a First or Second Way leader in the modern Anglosophere : even his putative allies will get tired of covering for him.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


New software watches for license plates, turning you into Little Brother : How long until a license plate reader data blackmail-style website appears? (Cyrus Farivar, Dec 5, 2015, Ars Technica)

We now live in a world where if you have an IP-enabled security camera, you can download some free, open-source software from GitHub and boom--you have a fully functional automated license plate reader (ALPR, or LPR).

Welcome to the sousveillance state: the technology that was once was just the purview of government contractors a few years ago could now be on your own street soon.

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Russian truckers threaten crippling Moscow traffic jam in rare protest (Andrew Roth, 12/04/15, Washington Post)

The root of their anger is a new road toll system called Platon (derived from the Russian "Pay-per-ton"), which will levy tolls on trucks weighing over 12 tons, raising hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The truckers complain that the new tolls will bankrupt them. They are also angry that the company managing the system is owned by the son of one of President Vladimir Putin's oldest friends. The Kremlin denies nepotism played a role.

Economic discontent among average Russians is of deep concern to the Kremlin, which counts blue-collar workers among its political base. Putin devoted considerable time in a nationally televised address on Thursday to highlight the bright spots in Russia's battered economy and encouraged officials to "treat civil society and business as equal partners."

"These are the beginnings of the political consequences of the economic crisis, and that is going to be the topic of 2016," said Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist and a senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. "The truckers are something like the foam on the waves signifying the coming storm."

Moscow's massive anti-Putin protests sparked by rigged elections four years ago were overtly political, while the truckers at the Ikea on Friday said their demonstration was "economic in nature" and not directed against Putin.

But the source of anger is similar in both cases, Schulmann said.

"In fact, these protests are driven by the same thing: the discrepancy between society's expectations and the decisions made by the government," she said. "There is no channel for feedback."

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


How one Jewish keyboardist strives to fix the world : American musician Jamie Saft taps into Jewish spirituality, blues, jazz and other influences in the service of 'tikkun olam' (LISA KLUG, December 5, 2015, The Tablet)

For piano virtuoso and composer Jamie Saft, music is a means to help people feel happier and at peace. As Saft explains, "That is the deepest spiritual practice of which I can conceive."

That winning approach has led Saft to collaborate with some of the music industry's biggest names: the Beastie Boys, The B-52's, John Zorn, Donovan and scores of others. On stage, Saft leads both the New Zion Trio and the Jamie Saft Trio and is a core member of a spate of bands, including Electric Masada, The Dreamers, Kingston Yard, Whoopie Pie, Swami LatePlate and many more.

His long list of credits includes composing original film scores for the Oscar nominated "Murderball" and the Sundance winner, "God Grew Tired Of Us," and has scored for Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, Vice TV, NFL Football, CBS and A&E. He runs the independent record label Veal Records as well as Potterville International Sound in Kingston, New York in the Hudson Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.

In this interview with The Times of Israel, Saft -- who was raised in a strong Conservative Jewish household and attended Camp Ramah in New England for many years -- shares more about his work and musical influences.

What is the essence of your music?

To constantly push forward to new realms in sound, I try and constantly redefine all parameters within my music at every moment of every day of my life. Music, and specifically making records, has always been my primary interest and focus.

I always try to use my selfish interest in making records in the service of the tikkun olam [the Jewish concept of "repairing the world"]. No matter the style, sound, or density of the music, it should always be put forth with the primary intent of making the world better or improving the world. I work to make everything I do musically have that guiding principle every day. Honoring and respecting the tradition while constantly pushing the music towards new areas is also important to me.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Five ways the US can reduce mass shootings . (Patrik Jonsson,  DECEMBER 5, 2015, CS Monitor)

1)  Threat assessment

In a nondescript FBI building near Washington, D.C., sits Behavioral Unit No. 2, a federal threat assessment laboratory that disseminates its strategies to pinpoint potential havoc-makers to local police departments. Its mission to spot potential domestic mass shooters was added onto the FBI's profiling wing in 2010, as an outgrowth of counter-terror activities going back to 9/11. Many of its interventions don't involve arrest, but rather helping someone get help to address mental health issues.

It is not a perfect system. Santa Barbara police supposedly versed in threat assessment visited Elliot Rodger on a so-called welfare, or check-up, call from his mother. Everything seemed fine to the officers, but they failed to ascertain whether he had recently purchased a gun, a standard question that threat assessment professionals say can be crucial in stopping a shooter in the planning stages. A few days later, Mr. Rodger killed six people during a campus rampage in Isla Vista.

But despite such failures, the American government, as well as states, already has investigators combing leads for any common thread of danger. It's a strategy in its infancy, but proponents say the tactics, which when used correctly don't violate individual constitutional rights, can be further shifted from terrorism to mass shootings.

Unit No. 2 has been involved in at least 500 interventions that might have ended in mass shootings. "Threat assessment has been America's best and perhaps only response to the accelerating epidemic of active shooters and mass shootings," Tom Junod reported for Esquire last year.

2)  Common sense gun controls

No, the science is not settled on whether stronger gun control laws actually quell mass gun violence. In the case of San Bernardino, the weapons were bought legally. Also, California already has some of the strongest gun control laws in the country.

But "there's such a clear middle ground" in the gun control debate "because you can stem gun violence without taking away guns," says Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society, at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn.

Experts would like to see more of that middle ground employed.

The 2009 Heller decision by the US Supreme Court did guarantee the right of Americans to have access to firearms for personal protection, but left municipalities and states with room to regulate weaponry among the citizenry. And some of those legal checks on gun ownership have proven effective in saving lives.

When Connecticut enacted a law in 1995 that required that people purchase a permit before purchasing a gun, studies found a 40 percent reduction in the state's homicide rate.

When Missouri in 2007 repealed a similar permit-to-purchase law, the state saw a 16 percent increase in suicides with a gun.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


A new Taliban breakaway group claims support for peace and women's rights (Sudarsan Raghavan November 8, 2015, Washington Post)

A new Taliban splinter faction claimed Sunday that it was ready to engage in peace talks with the government and that it would allow women to be educated and to work. If genuine, this suggests a distinct split with the insurgents' core leadership.

"We have realized this now, that under an Islamic system all rights of human beings -- both men and women -- need to be implemented 100 percent," Abdul Manan Niazi, the deputy head of the breakaway group, told the BBC's Dari service.

The group emerged last week at a meeting of Taliban fighters in western Farah province, appointing a former Taliban governor, Mohammad Rasool, as its leader. It is unclear how much support within the insurgency the new faction has. But it does represent a direct challenge to Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who took control of the movement after it emerged this summer that the Taliban's supreme leader Mohammad Omar had been dead for more than two years. [...]

On Sunday, Rasool's group sought to portray itself as more open-minded than the core leadership. In the BBC interview, Niazi, a former Taliban governor, said that Mansoor had killed Omar, although he did not offer any evidence. He also called for an end to infighting among all Afghans. And he said the group did not approve of the use of suicide bombings and other types of attacks on Afghan military and civilian officials.

"From now on, we Afghans are not in favor of revenge seeking," Niazi said.

He added that the recent Taliban attacks in Kabul and the takeover of Kunduz in late September had been "launched for Mansoor's personal power."

"We announce to all Afghans that it is enough and to put aside Afghan fratricide," Niazi said. "Let us find out who the source of the war in Afghanistan is, and where it comes from and how to prevent it."

At the same time, Niazi echoed the Taliban's core leadership when it came to peace talks: No discussions should occur unless all U.S. and foreign troops depart the country.

And Mansoor only launched the futile attack on Kunduz in order to gain credibility for his own peace offerings.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


'Little' Melvin Williams, Baltimore drug kingpin who appeared on 'The Wire,' dies (Jacques Kelly, 12/03/15, The Baltimore Sun)

Known as "Little Melvin" -- or Slim or Black, for his preference for dark clothing -- he once ruled the illegal drug trade along Pennsylvania Avenue. He served many years in federal prison for drug and gun convictions, and was one of the first criminals profiled on the BET program "American Gangster."

In later years, he said he had undergone a personal redemption. He spoke out against drug use and counseled young men to steer clear of the gang culture.

"He became the symbol of crime problems in the city, whether he wanted to or not," former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "In his later years, he tried to improve himself and help the community." [...]

In a video posted on YouTube in 2012, Mr. Williams said he had sold $1 billion worth of illegal narcotics in his lifetime. He spoke against drug use and trafficking.

Mr. Williams was born in Baltimore and raised on Madison Avenue. His father drove a cab; his mother was a nurse's aide. He attended Garnet Elementary School and spent some time at Frederick Douglass High School before transferring to City College. He dropped out in the 11th grade.

At age 26, as Mr. Williams was gaining notoriety, he was asked by authorities to help quell the riots ignited by the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He appeared with Maj. Gen. George Gelston, the commander of the Maryland National Guard, on the front page of The Baltimore News American.

Mr. Williams left prison in 2003 after attorney Michael E. Marr had argued successfully that he didn't meet the technical requirements for the federal career criminal laws that prosecutors had used to send him to prison for what could have been the rest of his life.

"He was one of the most unusual clients because he was so straightforward and honest with me, the courts and police," said Howard L. Cardin, another attorney who represented him. "He would say, 'You can trust me.'"

Mr. Williams told Mr. Cardin he would not return to his former ways.

"He expressed that in a couple of reasons: 'What I did was wrong. And the kids who are out there today selling drugs are just killing one another. There is no honor. No way would I go near that,'" Mr. Cardin said.

"Melvin was determined to become a mentor and a role model. He had been through it all because he had grown up on the streets," he said. [...]

"I am proud to call Little Melvin a friend of mine," said the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, the church's senior pastor. "As a teen I had heard about him and one day, years later, I mentioned from the pulpit there were people selling drugs on Etting Street. After the service, Melvin went and talked to them. They stopped selling drugs."

Mr. Reid said Mr. Williams was "a man's man who had a serious religious conversion while he was behind prison bars."

Most recently, Mr. Williams operated an indoor flea market on West North Avenue near Smallwood Street.

"He had Saturday training sessions for young people in his building on North Avenue," said Dr. Philip Leaf, director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "He told them to take their assets and do something personally and do something for your community."

He also brought in lawyers to talk about the criminal justice system and procedures, Dr. Leaf said.

"He had a civic pride and was concerned about people getting hurt."

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


How Jane Austen's Emma changed the face of fiction (John Mullan, 5 December 2015, The Guardian)

Emma, published 200 years ago this month, was revolutionary not because of its subject matter: Austen's jesting description to Anna of the perfect subject for a novel - "Three or four families in a country village" - fits it well. It was certainly not revolutionary because of any intellectual or political content. But it was revolutionary in its form and technique. Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions. The novel bent narration through the distorting lens of its protagonist's mind. Though little noticed by most of the pioneers of fiction for the next century and more, it belongs with the great experimental novels of Flaubert or Joyce or Woolf. Woolf wrote that if Austen had lived longer and written more, "She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust". In Emma, she is.

To measure the audacity of the book, take a simple sentence that no novelist before her could have written. Our privileged heroine has befriended a sweet, open, deeply naive girl of 17 called Harriet Smith. It is a wholly unequal relationship: Emma is the richest and cleverest woman in Highbury; Harriet is the "natural daughter of someone", left as a permanent resident of the genteel girls' boarding school in the town. While cultivating their relationship, Emma knows very well that Harriet is her inferior. "But in every respect as she saw more of her, she was confirmed in all her kind designs."

The sentence is in the third person, yet we are not exactly being told something by the author. "Kind designs" is Emma's complacent judgment of herself. Even the rhyme in the phrase makes it sound better to herself. In fact, the kindness is all in the mind of the beholder. Emma has set out to mould Harriet. Emma's former companion, Miss Taylor, has got married and become Mrs Weston, leaving her solitary and at a loose end. Harriet will be her project. Her plans are kind, she tells herself, because she will improve this uninstructed and wide-eyed young woman. We should be able to hear, however, that her designs are utterly self-serving. Soon she is persuading Harriet to refuse a marriage proposal from a farmer who loves her, and beguiling her with the wholly illusory prospect of marriage to the smooth young vicar, Mr Elton.

Take another little sentence from much later in the novel. By now Emma is convinced that Harriet, scorned by Mr Elton, can be paired off with the highly eligible Frank Churchill. The only impediment seems to be the inflexible Mrs Churchill, Frank's adoptive mother, who expects him to find a much grander wife. Then news arrives of Mrs Churchill's sudden death. Emma meets Harriet, who has also heard. "Harriet behaved extremely well on the occasion, with great self-command." Obviously she is learning self-possession from her patron. "Emma was gratified to observe such a proof in her of strengthened character."

Except that this is all twaddle. Harriet does not give a fig for Frank and never has. Emma has elaborately deluded herself again. The narration follows the path of Emma's errors. Indeed, the first-time reader will sometimes follow this path too, and then share the heroine's surprise when the truth rushes upon her. Yet it is still a third-person narrative; Emma is not telling her own story. We both share her judgments and watch her making them.

The subject matter is, of course, far more revolutionary.  The novel is an extended argument against the use of "expertise" to determine the course of others' lives. It is the End of History in novel form.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Why the U.S. should cut corporate tax rates (Michael Hiltzik, 12/04/15, LA Times)

Big controversies often arise from big numbers, and on the surface the cost in U.S. tax revenue from the corporate tax avoidance scheme known as "inversion" looks like a big number: potentially $20 billion over 10 years, according to a congressional estimate last year.

But since the corporate income tax is projected to bring in some $4.5 trillion over the same period, inversions might cost less than half a percent of corporate tax receipts.

That suggests that the real issue for U.S. lawmakers shouldn't be the particular method corporations use to avoid U.S. taxes, but why they would go to such great lengths to do so. [...]

One hesitates to reward corporate tax shenanigans with lower tax rates, but the logic of restructuring U.S. corporate taxes to match our foreign rivals' has become inescapable. Says Kleinbard, "The right solution is worldwide tax consolidation at a fair rate" to shut down corporations' efforts to play one country's tax regime off against another's. The reform might reduce the U.S. corporate rate from 35% to somewhere in the mid-20s, he says, but the result will be a cleaner, fairer and perhaps even a more productive corporate tax.

Which begs the question of why we don't want corporations to maximize productivity.  Tax their consumption, not their profits.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


How Football Manager changed the game (Simon Parkin, 5 December 2015, The Guardian)

Townsend is an avid player of Football Manager, a football-themed video game that launched in 1992 under the name Championship Manager, in which he also features as a player. The simulation game has been cited in divorce papers as a contributing factor in the breakdown of two marriages to date. Every year more than eight million players log in (more than half playing on pirated copies of the game) and attempt to take their chosen club, be it one of the heavyweights of the English premiership, known as the Premier Division, in Football Manager's parlance, or a local team from some far-flung parish, to victory.

The game can appear, to the uninitiated, to be little more than a series of soccer-themed spreadsheets. And yet, within the neat rows of familiar and not-so-familiar names, a fully rounded representation of the beautiful game is hidden. Transfers, public relations, training regimes, injuries, diet: no aspect of the modern game of football is left un-simulated by Football Manager's purring algorithms. Even the matches themselves play out on screen, as players pace the living-room floor, peeking through a cage of fingers at the unfurling action. Those who succumb to the spell can find it unbreakable. In 2015, Football Manager players spent an astonishing average of 252 hours playing the game during the course of the year, a statistic that includes people who bought the game in a sale and never booted it up.

Townsend immediately recognised the headline's font. He duly tweeted a screenshot of the conversation with his girlfriend to the game's official Twitter account, along with the question: "Do you wanna tell her or shall I?" The tweet was reportedly viewed more than a million times. While the headline may have been fake, the data upon which Football Manager builds is fanatically accurate. Sports Interactive, the London-based studio behind the game, employs no fewer than 1,300 researchers around the world, ranging from bloggers who every week watch promising youngsters on the training field up to professional consultants who survey the first teams playing under the Friday night lights. Football Manager's database bulges with information on 320,000 active players, drawn from 116 divisions in 51 countries and lists up to 250 data points on each individual, such as their fitness, stamina, acceleration and speed, all of which is used to bring verisimilitude to the game.

Outside of the computer game too, Sports Interactive's vast scouting network has become a high-value asset, one that even professional recruiters such as André Villas-Boas, former manager of Tottenham, admit to using to help guide their transfer decision-making. For smaller clubs, recruiting talent from relatively obscure clubs around the world and selling them on for significant profit is an essential way to run the business. Football Manager's database offers fortune-changing tipoffs. Since Villas-Boas went public with his secret, many others have joined him. In 2013 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer credited the game with helping him to prepare for life as a manager, while, in 2008, Everton signed an official deal to use Football Manager's database to search for players and staff. When Alex McLeish was manager of Rangers, he was tipped off by his son, a keen Football Manager fan, about a young player he'd spotted playing for Barcelona B in the game. The boy urged his father to sign the player. McLeish ignored the advice, telling his son that he'd never heard of the player. In doing so, he overlooked a young Lionel Messi.

The game's database is so highly regarded that most days Sports Interactive fields a call from a sore player complaining that their stats in the game aren't accurate. "You hear about footballers racing one another in training to see whether the game is right about who is quickest," explains Miles Jacobson, Football Manager's director. "Players can get very upset."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Plastic bag usage down 78% since introduction of 5p charge, says Tesco (The Guardian, 5 December 2015)

The introduction of the 5p charge has prompted shoppers to use almost 80% fewer single-use plastic bags, Tesco said.

Figures from the supermarket show online shoppers are also opting to cut down on plastic, with the number of "bagless" deliveries increasing by half.

Tesco reported that the 78% plunge in single-use bags has exceeded its expectations by about 10% since the government introduced the levy in October this year in a bid to reduce non-recyclable litter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


A Victory for Women at War (MARIETTE KALINOWSKI, DEC. 4, 2015, NY Times)

The ability of women to perform in combat will be a direct result of how they are trained. If you consistently train women to march and fight under 85-pound loads, they will match or exceed these demands. But we have to move beyond simply demanding equal performance, and look to the potential to transform gender relations in military culture. In the best-case scenario, full integration may reduce the risk of sexual harassment and assault. Discrimination and rape are used as tools of dominance and control, but if the last point of control is removed, perhaps the motivation to enforce the status quo will disappear. Change could extend to life outside the military as well. Narrow and distorted messages about young women and their bodies could be challenged. Women could be raised to know that weight training and functional applications of strength are a form of empowerment consistent with feminism.

The military is certainly taking a positive step in this direction, but there are times when this still seems to me like wishful thinking.

The admittance of women to combat jobs perfectly illustrates the fact we'll never fight a conventional war again.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Viral meme says gun homicides are down 49 percent in past 12 years (Louis Jacobson, June 16th, 2014, Politifact)

In the social media wars over gun control, a new social-media meme makes the case that gun violence is wildly exaggerated by the media.

"Gun homicide is down 49 percent in the past 12 years. Only 12 percent of Americans know that. Tell us again how unbiased our media is," the Facebook post said.

A reader sent us the posting and asked us to fact-check it. We'll focus our attention on the claim about gun homicides, but we'll also touch on the media question later on.

Trends in gun homicide

We began by looking at year-by-year statistics on gun homicides compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the meme's language was clear about focusing on "homicides," we didn't include statistics for suicides, gun shootings with undetermined causes, or "legal interventions," such as justified shootings by police. The most recent data is for 2010, so we went as far back as 1998 to define the 12-year period. [...]

This disproves the clear wording of the meme. Over the past 12 years, the number of gun homicides is down 6 percent, and the rate of gun homicides is down 16 percent. Both are well below the 49 percent claimed in the post.

However, we also found that the statistic did come from somewhere.

The 49 percent decline emerged from 2013 report by the Pew Research Center. It found that gun homicides (or more specifically, the rate of gun homicides per 100,000 residents) had declined by 49 percent between their peak in 1993 and 2010, a period of 17 years. We double-checked Pew's calculations of the CDC figures and found that they were correct. Between 1993 and 2010, the gun homicide rate fell from 7.02 per 100,000 to 3.59 per 100,000, or a decline of precisely 49 percent. [...]

It's possible to chalk this mistake up to a simple typo -- after all, if the claim had said 17 years rather than 12, it would have been correct. However, the time frame raises important issues.

For one thing, the CDC data show that the big decline in gun homicides came between 1993 and 2000, which happens to coincide with the years Bill Clinton was president. While Clinton and his policies are hardly the only reason for this decline, his signing of tighter gun-control legislation makes him unpopular among the kinds of gun supporters who might have created this meme. By contrast, by framing the decline as happening over the past 12 years, the meme implies that George W. Bush -- a president much more friendly to gun-rights supporters -- can take some credit for the decline.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Republican Presidential Primary Polls in Historical Perspective (Lakshmi Ketineni and Randy Yeip,  Dev. 4, 2015, WSJ)


The 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, was in fourth place just 10 days before the Iowa caucuses. He had spent most of 2007 trailing far behind Rudy Giuliani. Four years ago, Mitt Romney led early but was overtaken by three different candidates before voting began. The current campaign is notable for how large the GOP field is. Donald Trump has dominated the conversation but hasn't yet managed to lift his average above 30%.

December 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor wounded in gunfight, says Kabul (Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul and Jon Boone in Islamabad,  3 December 2015, The Guardian)

The Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who is facing increasing dissent from his own ranks, has been seriously wounded in a gunfight in Pakistan, the Afghan government has said. [...]

As Omar's deputy who oversaw statements issued in the leader's name after his death, Mansoor's credibility is severely strained. Media reports of his wealth, including property holdings in Dubai, have put a further dent in his image. While his predecessor was known for his ascetic lifestyle, Mansoor is viewed as a pragmatist - some would say opportunist.

"For the ideological Taliban, Mullah Mansoor is a criminal, a mafia boss, a drug dealer. It is only those Taliban who fight under instructions from the Pakistani intelligence who see Mansoor as a leader," said Ali Mohammad Ali, a security analyst in Kabul.

Since he was elected swiftly after Omar's death, rivals have accused Mansoor of assuming power without the necessary consensus.

The potential demise or incapacitation of Mansoor could throw the Taliban into another power struggle, which would probably be prolonged since this time as there is no obvious heir. Despite recent military gains, including the temporary capture of the northern city of Kunduz, the Afghan Taliban is struggling to maintain unity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


U.S. Plans to Ease Myanmar Trade Sanctions (Josh Rogin, 12/04/15, Bloomberg View)

[F]ollowing a warming of relations with the Myanmar government and under pressure from the U.S. business community, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control is set to issue a general license that would in effect provide permission for U.S. businesses and banks to pay fees for the use of the Asia World port in Yangon, even though the money flows into the coffers of Asia World and the Burmese regime, two administration officials who work on the issue told me.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Shock poll finds Hillary Clinton more trusted on terrorism than her GOP rivals (Greg Sargent November 23, 2015, Washington Post)

On the question of who is more trusted to handle terrorism, Clinton leads Trump among Americans by 50-42; she leads Ben Carson by 49-40; she leads Ted Cruz by 48-40; she leads Marco Rubio by 47-43; and she leads Jeb Bush by 46-43. In fairness, the last two of those are not statistically significant leads, and among registered voters, her lead "slims or disappears." But this poll does suggest at a minimum that there is no clear edge for the GOP candidates over Clinton on the issue.

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


Woodrow Wilson and Cecil Rhodes must fall (Karen Attiah November 25, 2015, Washington Post)

Let's be clear. Wilson was not just a personal racist, as in someone who had mean feelings against black people. As president, his white supremacist policies of segregation destroyed the lives of black professionals in the federal government. A powerful essay by Gordon J. Davis in the New York Times illustrates how Wilson's directives purged blacks from federal government jobs, including Davis's grandfather, who never recovered from the loss of income and became "a broken man" by the end of Wilson's first term. As Corey Robin notes in Salon, "if there's any erasing going on here, it's in the daily practices of Princeton. In those campus tours, those campus addresses, the general celebration of the man. Why haven't we heard criticism of how the past is being erased by Princeton's celebration of Wilson?"

Wilson is credited for helping found the League of Nations, the precursor to today's United Nations. But that Wilson's name is on Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs is a cruel irony, given that his legacy in the League of Nations has also been whitewashed. Wilson took his bigotry and pandering to Southern Democrats to the global stage when he opposed the Racial Equality Proposal put forth by Japan in 1919, that stated that a basic tenet of the League of Nations should be to accord "equal and just treatment . . . making no distinction, in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality."

December 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Paul Ryan Pitches 'Confidence' to a Timid GOP (RUSSELL BERMAN, 12/03/15, The Atlantic)

In Paul Ryan's view, the Republican Party in the Obama years has been too timid.

That may be a tough argument to believe, given that the GOP has resisted Obama's policies with more fervor than any opposition party in modern memory. But the new House speaker's critique is not that Republicans have been afraid to oppose the president; it's that they've been content to do only that.

In a speech Thursday laying out his legislative vision for the House, Ryan called on conservatives to summon the "confidence" to put forward a competing policy platform in 2016 that would give a new Republican president a legislative mandate. "Our number-one goal for the next year," Ryan declared, "is to put together a complete alternative to the Left's agenda."

Making the GOP the "alternative party" and not merely the "opposition party" has been a recurring rhetorical theme for Ryan in the last several years--from his time as the chairman of the House Budget Committee to his run for vice president, and most recently, during his abrupt elevation to speaker of the House. But now as the most powerful Republican in the country, he has the opportunity to show what he means. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Fat-shaming works. Why else would I heave myself up and down hills for hours every day? (Rod Liddle, 5 December 2015, The Spectator)

I work hard to stay well below 14 stone -- ten miles a day walking up and down hills, heaving with exertion, all so that I am not 'fat-shamed' by the generally lithe smug-monkeys of the south-east, who are also much richer than I am. How they keep so thin and affluent is a mystery to me, because I almost never see them out exercising when I'm panting like a recently gassed badger, the dog yapping at me to keep up. Perhaps their thinness is genetic, much as is their money. But whatever, 'fat-shaming' has become a sort of pastime or form of political activism in this region, and especially in London. There is a social media community called Overweight Haters Ltd, which has taken to handing out printed cards to morbidly obese people on public transport. One fat woman 'tweeted' her displeasure at being handed one: 'It's really not glandular -- it's your gluttony,' the card informed her, with a mixture of glee and disgust. 'You are a fat, ugly human.' The card listed the reasons why being overweight was essentially sociopathic (which of course it is): 'We object to the enormous amount of food resources you consume while half the world starves,' and stuff about how much fat people cost the beleaguered NHS.

When I first read this, I must admit I was in two minds. I suspect colloquial fat-shaming is more useful than any number of asinine government or third-sector programmes designed to combat obesity without making lard-mountains feel bad about themselves. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Ben Carson repeatedly mispronounces 'Hamas' while blasting Obama's understanding of the Middle East (Jeva Lange, 12/03/15, The Week)
It's been a bit of a weird day for anyone attending the Republican Jewish Coalition's 2016 forum in Washington, D.C. First, Donald Trump tried to win over the audience by cracking borderline anti-Semitic jokes. And that might not have even been the biggest gaffe of the day: Following Trump's uncomfortable speech, Ben Carson mispronounced the name of the militant Palestinian group Hamas multiple times -- while criticizing President Obama's understanding of the Middle East.

His continuance in the presidential race and defenses of same are the equivalent of a quota hire.
Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Putin Looks Homeward, Hates What He Sees (Leonid Bershidsky, 12/3, 2015, Bloomberg View)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's twelfth state of the nation address Thursday showed that he understands the need to refocus on domestic issues after two years of grandiose and traumatic external expansion. It also showed that he still has no idea what to do to pull Russia out of its economic quagmire.

Last year's annual address was heavy on biting remarks about Ukraine's attempts to leave the Russian sphere of influence, revisionist history to justify Russia's annexation of Crimea and sarcastic anti-Western rhetoric. This time around, Putin cut his mentions of foreign policy in half. focussing on his other losses....

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


The Secret History of Guns : The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership--and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers--the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there's no resolution in sight. (ADAM WINKLER,  SEPTEMBER 2011, The Atlantic)

The Founding Fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that, were they running for office today, the NRA would not endorse them. While they did not care to completely disarm the citizenry, the founding generation denied gun ownership to many people: not only slaves and free blacks, but law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.

For those men who were allowed to own guns, the Founders had their own version of the "individual mandate" that has proved so controversial in President Obama's health-care-reform law: they required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters--where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.[...]

TODAY, THE NRA is the unquestioned leader in the fight against gun control. Yet the organization didn't always oppose gun regulation. Founded in 1871 by George Wingate and William Church--the latter a former reporter for a newspaper now known for hostility to gun rights, The New York Times--the group first set out to improve American soldiers' marksmanship. Wingate and Church had fought for the North in the Civil War and been shocked by the poor shooting skills of city-bred Union soldiers.

In the 1920s and '30s, the NRA was at the forefront of legislative efforts to enact gun control. The organization's president at the time was Karl T. Frederick, a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer known as "the best shot in America"--a title he earned by winning three gold medals in pistol-shooting at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games. As a special consultant to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Frederick helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a model of state-level gun-control legislation. (Since the turn of the century, lawyers and public officials had increasingly sought to standardize the patchwork of state laws. The new measure imposed more order--and, in most cases, far more restrictions.)

Frederick's model law had three basic elements. The first required that no one carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit from the local police. A permit would be granted only to a "suitable" person with a "proper reason for carrying" a firearm. Second, the law required gun dealers to report to law enforcement every sale of a handgun, in essence creating a registry of small arms. Finally, the law imposed a two-day waiting period on handgun sales.

The NRA today condemns every one of these provisions as a burdensome and ineffective infringement on the right to bear arms. Frederick, however, said in 1934 that he did "not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses." The NRA's executive vice president at the time, Milton A. Reckord, told a congressional committee that his organization was "absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation." According to Frederick, the NRA "sponsored" the Uniform Firearms Act and promoted it nationwide. Highlighting the political strength of the NRA even back then, a 1932 Virginia Law Review article reported that laws requiring a license to carry a concealed weapon were already "in effect in practically every jurisdiction."

When Congress was considering the first significant federal gun law of the 20th century--the National Firearms Act of 1934, which imposed a steep tax and registration requirements on "gangster guns" like machine guns and sawed-off shotguns--the NRA endorsed the law. Karl Frederick and the NRA did not blindly support gun control; indeed, they successfully pushed to have similar prohibitive taxes on handguns stripped from the final bill, arguing that people needed such weapons to protect their homes. Yet the organization stood firmly behind what Frederick called "reasonable, sensible, and fair legislation."

One thing conspicuously missing from Frederick's comments about gun control was the Second Amendment. When asked during his testimony on the National Firearms Act whether the proposed law violated "any constitutional provision," he responded, "I have not given it any study from that point of view." In other words, the president of the NRA hadn't even considered whether the most far-reaching federal gun-control legislation in history conflicted with the Second Amendment. Preserving the ability of law-abiding people to have guns, Frederick would write elsewhere, "lies in an enlightened public sentiment and in intelligent legislative action. It is not to be found in the Constitution."

In the 1960s, the NRA once again supported the push for new federal gun laws. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, who had bought his gun through a mail-order ad in the NRA's American Rifleman magazine, Franklin Orth, then the NRA's executive vice president, testified in favor of banning mail-order rifle sales. "We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States." Orth and the NRA didn't favor stricter proposals, like national gun registration, but when the final version of the Gun Control Act was adopted in 1968, Orth stood behind the legislation. While certain features of the law, he said, "appear unduly restrictive and unjustified in their application to law-abiding citizens, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with."

A GROWING GROUP OF rank-and-file NRA members disagreed. In an era of rising crime rates, fewer people were buying guns for hunting, and more were buying them for protection. The NRA leadership didn't fully grasp the importance of this shift. In 1976, Maxwell Rich, the executive vice president, announced that the NRA would sell its building in Washington, D.C., and relocate the headquarters to Colorado Springs, retreating from political lobbying and expanding its outdoor and environmental activities.

Rich's plan sparked outrage among the new breed of staunch, hard-line gun-rights advocates. The dissidents were led by a bald, blue-eyed bulldog of a man named Harlon Carter, who ran the NRA's recently formed lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. In May 1977, Carter and his allies staged a coup at the annual membership meeting. Elected the new executive vice president, Carter would transform the NRA into a lobbying powerhouse committed to a more aggressive view of what the Second Amendment promises to citizens.

The new NRA was not only responding to the wave of gun-control laws enacted to disarm black radicals; it also shared some of the Panthers' views about firearms. Both groups valued guns primarily as a means of self-defense. Both thought people had a right to carry guns in public places, where a person was easily victimized, and not just in the privacy of the home. They also shared a profound mistrust of law enforcement. (For years, the NRA has demonized government agents, like those in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency that enforces gun laws, as "jack-booted government thugs." Wayne LaPierre, the current executive vice president, warned members in 1995 that anyone who wears a badge has "the government's go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.") For both the Panthers in 1967 and the new NRA after 1977, law-enforcement officers were too often representatives of an uncaring government bent on disarming ordinary citizens.

A sign of the NRA's new determination to influence electoral politics was the 1980 decision to endorse, for the first time in the organization's 100 years, a presidential candidate. Their chosen candidate was none other than Ronald Reagan, who more than a decade earlier had endorsed Don Mulford's law to disarm the Black Panthers--a law that had helped give Reagan's California one of the strictest gun-control regimes in the nation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


The number of times Obama has had to respond to mass shootings during his presidency is staggering (Business Insider, 12/03/15)

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Donald Trump Stumbles in Pitch to Republican Jews With Stereotype-Filled Spiel (Nathan Guttman,December 3, 2015, The Forward)

Instead of usual applause lines, The Donald chose to invoke borderline anti-Semitic stereotypes and bypassed Middle East policy softball questions that are dear to this audience.

"You're not going to support me because I don't want your money," Trump teased the crowd of 700 Republican Jewish Coalition activists and top donors gathered in Washington to hear all 14 presidential candidates give their spiel. "You're not going to support me even though I'm the best thing that will ever happen to Israel," Trump went on, explaining that Jewish voters "want to control" their politicians by the donations they give them.

Trump, seemingly unaware of the stereotypes he had been referring to, sought time and again to establish a kinship with the Jewish audience based on shared negotiating skills. "I'm a negotiator, like you folks," Trump said, later turning to the crowd and asking: "Is there anyone in this room who doesn't negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I've ever spoken."

Dude, you're attacking the wrong immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Donald Trump Stumbles in Pitch to Republican Jews With Stereotype-Filled Spiel (Nathan Guttman,December 3, 2015, The Forward)

Instead of usual applause lines, The Donald chose to invoke borderline anti-Semitic stereotypes and bypassed Middle East policy softball questions that are dear to this audience.

"You're not going to support me because I don't want your money," Trump teased the crowd of 700 Republican Jewish Coalition activists and top donors gathered in Washington to hear all 14 presidential candidates give their spiel. "You're not going to support me even though I'm the best thing that will ever happen to Israel," Trump went on, explaining that Jewish voters "want to control" their politicians by the donations they give them.

Trump, seemingly unaware of the stereotypes he had been referring to, sought time and again to establish a kinship with the Jewish audience based on shared negotiating skills. "I'm a negotiator, like you folks," Trump said, later turning to the crowd and asking: "Is there anyone in this room who doesn't negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I've ever spoken."

Dude, you're attacking the wrong immigrants.

December 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The Truth of Jonathan Pollard : The scale of damage done by the convicted spy to U.S. security should not be discounted upon his release. (PHILIP GIRALDI • December 2, 2015, American Conservative)

Jonathan Pollard, the former United States navy intelligence analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel, was released from prison on parole on November 20th upon completion of a 30-year prison term. Pollard, perhaps uniquely among convicted felons, left the federal penitentiary in North Carolina and traveled to New York City where an apartment in Manhattan and a job at an unidentified investment bank were awaiting him. He was united with his second wife Esther, an Israeli citizen whom he had met and married while incarcerated. By some accounts, Pollard likely has a million-dollar-plus nest egg waiting for him in a bank account somewhere outside the United States, representing his accumulated earnings dutifully deposited for him by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad to compensate him for his arrest and the time spent in prison. Pollard's first wife Anne, who also did prison time, is currently suing the Israeli government for compensation for her own pain and suffering now that her former husband has been released. [...]

As much of the narrative being promoted by the mainstream media is completely false and even hypocritical, it is important to correct the record to demonstrate just exactly what Pollard was as well as what damage he did. Those who are calling for Pollard's freeing from probation both in Israel and among Israel's friends in the U.S. should look to the example of how Israel has itself treated Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed the existence of Israel's nuclear arsenal in 1986. He was drugged and kidnapped, convicted in a secret trial, and spent 18 years in prison, 11 of which were in solitary confinement. Since his release in 2004, he has not been allowed to leave Israel or speak to journalists and has been re-arrested a number of times.

It is difficult to find a moral high ground when it comes to spying, but Pollard's friends pretend that the espionage was carried out to help a small and vulnerable ally better defend itself. There is no evidence that Pollard ever thought in those terms himself, and the Pentagon investigation concluded that he was only motivated by money. He reportedly wanted to get rich and before he approached the Israelis he offered to sell his information to several other countries, including Pakistan and then-under-apartheid South Africa. After Pollard was caught, he pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified information and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987.

Over the years since Pollard was sentenced I have had the good fortune to speak to several former senior intelligence officials who were involved in doing the damage assessment of what the Israeli spy exposed. They were sworn to secrecy on the details of what actually occurred but were able to make some general comments. They agreed on several points, namely that Pollard was the most damaging spy bar none since the Rosenberg espionage ring betrayed U.S. nuclear secrets to the Soviets in the 1940s; that Pollard exposed entire intelligence collection and deterrent systems that had to be recreated or abandoned at a cost of billions of dollars; and that Pollard, who has never shown any genuine remorse for what he did, should never be released from prison.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Deaths outnumber births in Spain (Reuters, 2 December 2015)

Spain, long concerned about its ageing population and emptying countryside, has passed a milestone in population decline, recording more deaths than births in the first half of this year.

Deaths exceeded births by more than 19,000 in the first half of 2015, a turnaround from a year earlier when there were nearly 4,000 more births than deaths, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


White House Rejects Pentagon Plan to Close Guantanamo as Too Costly (GORDON LUBOLD and  CAROL E. LEE, Dec. 1, 2015, WSJ)

The Pentagon's latest cost estimate for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and building an alternative in the U.S. topped a half billion dollars, prompting the White House to reject it and send the plan back for revisions, according to administration officials.

The tight-fisted war-monger....

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


ISIS Promise of Statehood Falling Far Short, Ex-Residents Say (BEN HUBBARD, DEC. 1, 2015, NY Times)

After the Syrian government stopped paying him, a technician who had spent two decades pumping the country's oil received an enticing offer: do the same work for the jihadists of the Islamic State -- starting at three times the salary.

He was soon helping to fill tanker trucks with crude oil to fund the Islamic State. But frequent executions of those suspected of spying and deadly airstrikes by government jets made life hard, and he grew angry that the country's resources were financing the jihadists while schools and hospitals were being shut down.

"We thought they wanted to get rid of the regime, but they turned out to be thieves," the technician said after fleeing to this city in southern Turkey.

The Islamic State claims to be more than a militant group, selling itself as a government for the world's Muslims that provides a range of services in the territory it controls.

But that statehood project is now in distress, perhaps more so than at any other time since the Islamic State began seizing territory in Iraq and Syria, according to a range of interviews with people who have recently fled. Under pressure from airstrikes by several countries, and new ground offensives by Kurdish and Shiite militias, the jihadists are beginning to show the strain.

A cult promising a return to 7th century governance can't deliver a decent living standard?  Who'da thunk?

This is, of course, one of the reasons ISIS can't afford to win.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Cost Still Delays Healthcare for About One in Three in U.S. (Andrew Dugan, 12/02/15, Gallup)

Slightly fewer than one in three Americans (31%) say that they or a family member have put off any sort of medical treatment in the past year because of the cost. This is essentially unchanged from the 33% who said this in 2014, and the figure has remained steady for the past decade. The majority of Americans (68%) say they did not have to put off care because of the cost.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Islamic State group releases video purporting to show beheading of Russian spy (JIM HEINTZ, 12/02/15, Associated Press)

The Islamic State group on Wednesday released a video in which a Russian-speaking man confesses to spying for Russia's security service and then is shown apparently being beheaded by another Russian-speaking man.

The whole adventure has been so humiliating, it's no wonder he's looking to retreat.

December 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Could this Quran curb extremism? (Daniel Burke, 11/27/15, CNN)

Ten years in the making, "The Study Quran" is more than a rebuttal to terrorists, said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian-born intellectual and the book's editor-in-chief. His aim was to produce an accurate, unbiased translation understandable to English-speaking Muslims, scholars and general readers.

The editors paid particular attention to passages that seem to condone bloodshed, explaining in extensive commentaries the context in which certain verses were revealed and written.

"The commentaries don't try to delete or hide the verses that refer to violence. We have to be faithful to the text, " said Nasr, a longtime professor at George Washington University. "But they can explain that war and violence were always understood as a painful part of the human condition."

The scholar hopes his approach can convince readers that no part of the Quran sanctions the brutal acts of ISIS.

"The best way to counter extremism in modern Islam," he said, "is a revival of classical Islam."

At the Georgetown panel, after a musician played a Persian lute, Nasr introduced his hand-picked translation team as "his children." All are his former students and Muslims, the scholar said, a condition he set before signing the contract with the publisher, HarperOne.

The book has been endorsed by an A-list of Muslim-American academics. One, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, called it "perhaps the most important work done on the Islamic faith in the English language to date." [...]

On many pages of "The Study Quran," that commentary takes up more space than the verses, making the book resemble a Muslim version of the Jewish Talmud.

And for the first time in Islamic history, said Nasr, this Quran includes commentary from both Shiite and Sunni scholars, a small but significant step at a time when the two Muslim sects are warring in the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The Myth of the Lying Muslim: 'Taqiyya' and the Racialisation of Religious Identity (Shakira Hussein, 11/30/15, ABC Religion and Ethics)

[M]uslims living in the West have experienced the racialisation of Muslim identity, both in the form by which identity is ascribed to them and in the nature of their response. Muslims have been subjected to a series of moral panics over issues ranging from terrorism to sexual violence, through to the role that they are said to play in suffocating free speech. Concepts supposedly derived from Islamic theology are often cited as evidence that Muslims are inherently hostile Others.

Consider the concept of taqiyya - or "action of covering, dissimulation" - which can be traced back to internal Muslim sectarian conflict and "denotes dispensing with the ordinances of religion in cases of constraint and when there is a possibility of harm." Defined by The Oxford Dictionary of Islam as the "precautionary denial of religious belief in the face of potential persecution," in academic scholarship it is most commonly described as a Shi'a justification for false denials of faith told as a means of surviving Sunni persecution.

Allegations of taqiyya still feature in intra-Muslim disputes, particularly those across the Sunni/Shi'a divide but also between secular and Islamist political parties. Such allegations have arisen in Turkish political discourse, where Kemalist politicians and commentators have accused religious movements and political parties of engaging in taqiyya (or "takiyye"), concealing their Islamist agenda beneath a democratic facade.

However, in post 9/11 anti-Muslim discourse, taqiyya has been redefined as a religious obligation for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims not simply for survival, but in order to serve the expansionist agenda of their religious community. According to the taqiyya-focused strand of the anti-Muslim moral panic, Muslims stand condemned for their participation in this hidden agenda even when no criminal or anti-social behaviour is apparent.

Taqiyya scare-mongering has a strong online presence and is beginning to enter mainstream media as a counterpoint to reassurances from "moderate" Muslims that their religious community poses no threat to non-Muslims. This paranoia reaches its logical conclusion with the "secret Muslim" rumours surrounding U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama's visible otherness as the first black President is not considered a legitimate target in mainstream political discourse. Instead, he is under fire for his alleged invisible, clandestine identity as a Muslim. The fact that Obama's father and stepfather were at least nominally Muslim and that he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia is cited as evidence for such claims. Despite his public identity as a churchgoing Christian, his family links with Islam have generated allegations that he is really a secret Muslim and his presidency is part of a sinister Islamic plot.

Other prominent public figures have faced equally far-fetched accusations of taqiyya. After Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner was forced to resign following revelations that he had sent explicit photographs by text message to various young women, neoconservative public relations consultant Eliana Benador speculated darkly in a blog post (later removed) for the Washington Times website on why Weiner's Muslim wife had chosen to maintain her marriage to her disgraced Jewish husband: "It is also important, when looking at this situation, to remember that observant Muslims practice Taqiyya, an element of sharia that states there is a legal right and duty to distort the truth to promote the cause of Islam."

While this is an extreme example of the racialisation of Muslims, it is part of a wider trend in which Muslims are not criticised for their beliefs, as much as they are assigned spurious beliefs on the basis of a sometimes very tenuous religious affiliation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Kurdish fighters say US special forces have been fighting Isis for months (Fazel Hawramy and Shalaw Mohammad in Kirkuk and David Smith in Washington, 30 November 2015, The Guardian)

On a damp afternoon in Iraqi Kurdistan, a 29-year-old peshmerga fighter named Peshawa pulls out his Samsung Galaxy mobile phone, flicks hurriedly through his library until he finds the video he wants, and presses play.

The clip, filmed just after dawn on 11 September, shows four tall and western-looking men in the heat of a battle against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. "These are the Americans," says Peshawa in a secretive tone.

One is crouched behind a machine gun firing round after round from the top of a fortified mound; another lies on his front a few feet away, legs outstretched and taking aim at the enemy with a long rifle. A third wields a long-lens camera taking photo after photo, and the last stands back, apparently overseeing the others during the combat south-west of the city of Kirkuk. 

The footage, Peshawa says, is evidence that US special forces have been waging a covert war on the frontline in Iraq for months. Such a claim could alter the feverish debate over whether Barack Obama should move farther and faster against Isis in the wake of the Paris attacks.

...we're too locked in our reactionary loop to give him any credit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Venezuela: 'Ours is a nation of thugs' (Andres Schipani, 11/30/15, Financial Times)

Venezuela's descent into hoodlum state from beacon of revolutionary socialism -- a picture of Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, hangs above Carlos's head -- has been spectacular.

Three decades ago, Venezuela boasted some of Latin America's highest living standards. Today, after 17 years of revolution, most people cannot find toilet paper in shops -- even though the country has larger oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.

Corruption is rife and violence is out of control: 25,000 murders last year made Venezuela one of the deadliest countries in the world.

But this weekend Venezuelans will elect the 167 members of the National Assembly and, for the first time in 17 years, the vote will probably end the socialist government's majority. It promises to be a decisive moment.

It just shouldn't still be this hard to learn that there is no alternative to democratic capitalist protestantisn.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Hillary Clinton's Middle-Class Tax Pledge Divides Democrats (Sam Frizell,  Nov. 25, 2015, TIME)

The no-new-taxes pledge is emblematic of the broader concerns about a Clinton presidency raised by the progressive side of the party. Critics say it is a crafty political move that would limit the ambition of proposals on everything from expanding Social Security to healthcare reform. It reinforces a long-running Republican argument that some would prefer to defeat head on. And, to put it simply, it makes it hard to pay for things Democrats want.

At the heart of the debate, critics of Clinton's pledge say, is how committed the Democratic Party will be to a progressive agenda in the coming years.

"There are situations where the middle class would clearly benefit by paying for government program rather than the private sector," said Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America and brother of 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean. "As Democrats, we can't get into this discussion of, 'I'm not going to raise taxes, and the others are tax-and-spend liberals.'"

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


3-D Printers Can Now Make Pills That Deliver A Customized Dose Of Medicine (Adele Peters, 12/01/15, Co.Exist)

In the prototype, researchers can type in individual data from a particular patient, and the algorithm calculates the best dose for them. Then it sends data to a 3-D printer to print out the ideal pill. "Going back to the clothing store analogy...we now custom measure and tailor your suit," Pu says.

It's something that isn't possible today with most drugs. "The biggest challenge currently is technology," he says. "Pills are currently made by customized dies which are not easily adjustable. This keeps the cost down and also speeds up production. However, it also means these mass produced pills cannot be individualized for each unique patient."

The researchers are developing their technology to make it affordable enough to use on a large scale, and tweaking their algorithm to better predict the perfect dose for an individual. But this might be how you get your medicine soon.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


The End of Europe (SAMUEL GREGG, 11/29/15, Crisis)

To de Gaulle's mind, Europe was essentially a spiritual and cultural heritage, one worthy of emulation by others. Europe's nations, de Gaulle wrote, had "the same Christian origins and the same way of life, linked to one another since time immemorial by countless ties of thought, art, science, politics and trade."

On this basis, de Gaulle considered it "natural" that these nations "should come together to form a whole, with its own character and organization in relation to the rest of the world." However, de Gaulle also believed that without clear acknowledgment and a deep appreciation of these common civilizational foundations, any pan-European integration would run aground.

Today's European crisis reflects the enduring relevance of de Gaulle's insight. This is true not only regarding the quasi-religious faith that some Europeans place in the type of supranational bureaucracies that drew de Gaulle's ire. It also applies to the inadequacies of the vision that informs their trust in such institutions. Until Europe's leaders recognize this problem, it is difficult to see how the continent can avoid further decline, whether as a player on the global stage or as societies that offer something distinctly enriching to the rest of the world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


The view from Iraq (Michael Rubin, November 25, 2015, AEI)

For too many in the United States, Iraq is a political football. Democrats see it as original sin and calculate that if it descends into hell, that they can blame its failure on President George W. Bush's initial decision to invade and oust Saddam Hussein.

Republicans, on the other hand, readily blame Iraqi failures on President Barack Obama's fulfillment of his campaign promise to withdraw completely from Iraq.

Many military officers who served at the height of the surge as well as the aides and advisers who accompanied them, meanwhile, have their conception of Iraq frozen in 2006 and 2007, and ignore the political evolution both of Iraqi politicians and the militias upon which they too often rely.

They do not see that not only Kurdistan but also southern Iraq is secure, and southern Iraq's economy is booming. Iraq 2015 is not Iraq 2005. Rather, it is a country on a precipice, able to see hope and desperate for re-engagement.

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Why I Miss George W. Bush (MEHDI HASAN, NOV. 30, 2015, NY Times)

AS a Briton who, like millions of my compatriots, opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, I did not expect to ever find much to admire about President George W. Bush. But as a Muslim who has come to work in America, I have recently had to revise my opinion.

Less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 2,996 people, President Bush held a news conference at the Islamic Center of Washington. "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," he said, flanked by imams and community leaders. "Islam is peace."

It was a message repeated often in the months and years afterward. "Our war is against evil," the president said, "not against Islam."

Fourteen years later, such remarks seem distant, if not improbable, amid the miasma of anti-Muslim hate and fearmongering fostered by the Republican candidates for president.

The warm liberal reassessments of the George W. Bush presidency will only be outdone by the loving conservative ones of the Obama presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Jeb Bush on picking a vice president: 'I think she will be a great partner' (Justin Green, 12/01/15, The Week)
Has Jeb Bush already got a certain someone in mind for a running mate? Answering an audience question about vice presidents at a town hall meeting in Waterloo, Iowa, Bush let it slip that, "Should I be elected president, I would have my vice president -- I think she will be a great partner."

That's a logical ticket.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Negotiators strike deal on five-year, $305B highway bill (Keith Laing - 12/01/15, The Hill)

House and Senate negotiators struck an agreement Tuesday on a $305 billion highway bill that would extend federal transportation funding for five years, setting up an eleventh-hour dash to win approval in both chambers.

The resulting 1300-page bill, paid for gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, comes just days before transportation spending is set to expire on Dec. 4.

The measure calls for spending approximately $205 billion highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years. It also reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank's expired charter until 2019. 

Lawmakers expressed confidence that the package will win approval in both chambers in time to beat the rapidly approaching Friday deadline.  

Another win for Paul Ryan, another loss for the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


The moral case alone is not enough to justify Syria air strikes (Robert Fry, November 30, 2015, The Prospect)

[D]avid Cameron's pitch rested as much on moral exhortation as the cold eyed calculus of strategic planning.

His central, and rhetorical, thesis was simple: how can we stand back when others go in harm's way to defeat an organisation that threatens us all? Quite simply, it is morally indefensible to accept a free ride on the back of military operations--and potentially military sacrifices--made by our friends and allies and we must accept our share of the burden. The House of Commons will deliver its verdict next week, but that outcome may owe more to the bizarre internal contortions of the Labour Party and the insistence of the SNP on having an opinion on everything but responsibility for nothing, than the Prime Minister's excursion into moral philosophy. [...]

As a convinced interventionist, I want the arguments to stack up and that is far more likely to work around a theme of coalition building than one of shining moral example. In the contemporary world, all countries seek coalitions. They represent a collective solution to the dilemmas faced by nations, like us, that cannot act decisively alone, or nations, like America, unwilling to act decisively alone. Within this context, burden sharing is an entirely legitimate and laudable aim but it should not, as the Prime Minister is in danger of doing, be confused with high moral purpose.

In the Anglosphere, the moral case alone is always sufficient, but does not necessarily compel action.  W shocked Tony Blair when he told him he'd understand if the Labour Party wouldn't go along with the war and we'd not hold it against them and he allowed Blair to rely on the WMD argument, although we'd already decided on regime change based solely on the moral case.