January 31, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Iran wants to buy 500 planes and resume flights to U.S. (Fred Pleitgen and Jim Boulden, 1/25/16, CNNMoney)

Iran will need hundreds of new aircraft as it rejoins global aviation networks, a move that could include direct flights to the U.S. for the first time in 36 years.

Years of sanctions have left Iran's airlines with outdated and unsafe aircraft. With those restrictions now lifted, Iran is looking to spend heavily with Boeing (BA) and Airbus (EADSF), Iranian transport minister Abbas Akhondi told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


When winners are losers: Private school vouchers in Louisiana (Susan M. Dynarski, 1/28/16, Brookings)

A voucher lottery provides an unusual opportunity to measure the effectiveness of private schools. The lottery serves as a randomized trial, which is the gold standard of research methods. Random selection means that lottery winners and losers are identical, on average, when they apply for the voucher. Any differences that emerge after the lottery can therefore be attributed to the private-school attendance of the winners.

The results were startling. The researchers, a team of economists from Berkeley, Duke, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that the scores of the lottery winners dropped precipitously in their first year of attending private school, compared to the performance of the lottery losers. The effects were very large: roughly a quarter of a standard deviation in math, social studies, and science. There were no effects on reading scores. On a per-year basis, these negative effects are as large as the positive effects that a similarly-designed study found for charter schools in Boston (the authors of the Louisiana study are my collaborators in the charter research).[v] 

It's possible that the students entering private schools simply had a difficult transition year, and that's why their scores plummeted. But similar studies in charter schools, as well as other voucher studies, have found no such negative, first-year effect. The only way to know if the effect is positive or negative in the long term is to continue to track these students (using administrative data) as they progress through school. The researchers say they hope to carry out this follow-up research, assuming that the state continues to make the necessary data available.

It's also possible, as the researchers speculate, that the private schools participating in the voucher program are of lower quality than other private schools in Louisiana. They note that the private schools participating in the program experienced sharp enrollment declines right before they joined the program, which may indicate that paying parents found these schools unsatisfactory. Private schools outside the voucher program saw no similar declines.

At the very least, the results suggest that the participating private schools need to provide far more support for voucher students when they enter. If the voucher students continue to perform poorly, Louisiana needs to overhaul the criteria used for including schools in the voucher program--or shut down the program altogether.

Any system of vouchers requires testing standards and closure of underperforming schools.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Compassionate Conservatives, Hello? (Nicholas Kristof JAN. 28, 2016, NY Times)

Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached "compassionate conservatism," telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that "the hardest job in America" is that of a single mother. [...]

One of the new initiatives is "Challenging the Caricature," based on a document that will be presented at an event at Stanford's Hoover Institution next week. Written by Michael Horowitz, Michael Novak, John O'Sullivan, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez and other prominent conservatives, it calls on the right to tackle human rights issues so as to shatter "the caricatures that define conservatives as uncaring."

"Our values are regarded by millions of Americans as inconsistent with theirs and with America's inherent decency," the document warns.

Ryan moderated a forum this month on poverty that drew six Republican presidential hopefuls and tried to frame a G.O.P. perspective on the issue. "We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty," Ryan said, "when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Are the Syrian Democratic Forces any of the above? (Benedetta Argentieri January 26, 2016, Reuters)

So far, the People's Protection Units is the only force that has proved reliable and, most important, successful against Islamic State. The Syrian Kurds were able to gain back 6,800 square miles in northern Syria from Islamic State in less than a year. At least 25,000 YPG soldiers, both men and women, are fighting for freedom and equality in Syria. They established the borders of a semi-autonomous region they call Rojava in 2011. Part of it remains in Islamic State hands.

The Turkish government views Rojava as a threat to its national security. It believes that officially recognizing the region would create a domino effect and empower the Kurdish push for independence in the southeastern part of Turkey. The YPG is also linked to the PKK, which engaged Ankara in a 30-year civil war that left 40,000 dead, most of them Kurds. After two years of a tense ceasefire, frictions between the PKK and Turkey came to the forefront again this summer, and a new wave of violence has started. At the moment, 19 Kurdish-majority cities are under curfew and many are fighting against the Turkish military.

For these reasons, the United States has always been wary about openly supporting the Syrian Kurds. Since 2012, there have been several programs that involved arming, vetting, and/or training rebels and soldiers who defected from the Syrian army. But even when those efforts were ramped up in 2014, little American backing arrived for the Kurds.

The first real U.S. support to the Kurds started with the siege of Kobani. The incredible story of this town, where a handful of guerrilla fighters were ready to die in order to defy Islamic State, spread around the world and became a touchstone of modern resistance against Islamic insurgents. As public opinion grew fonder of the Kurds in Kobani, the United States started helping the guerrillas with air strikes. On Jan. 26, 2015, the YPG forced Islamic State to retreat from Kobani.

Since October 2015, the YPG has become the United States' main ally on the ground. U.S. Special Forces are reported to be in Kurdish-controlled areas, such as Hasakah and around the Tishrin Dam. Their main role is advisory and helping plan the spring campaign against Islamic State, which likely will attempt to cut off Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria, from supply routes and eventually take the city.

Though U.S. and Kurdish interests align now, the Kurds do have their own goals. It's possible that the United States is once again helping an ally that could become an enemy. Once Islamic State is defeated, the Kurds might turn around and use the same weapons provided by the United States against Turkey. 

As they should.

January 30, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Of course Obama's immigration orders are legal (Erwin Chemerinsky, 1/21/16, LA Times)

What a president certainly can do, as Obama said, is "prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day." As recently as 2012, the Supreme Court reaffirmed this principle.

In United States vs. Arizona, the court declared unconstitutional provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law SB 1070, which allowed the state to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally. The court stressed that only the executive branch of the federal government may decide whether to detain or deport someone who is not lawfully present in the United States. On numerous other occasions, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have recognized broad prosecutorial discretion to decide when to bring immigration enforcement actions.

Nor has any administration, Republican or Democrat, sought to deport every person who is illegally in the United States. For humanitarian reasons or because of foreign policy considerations or for lack of resources, the government often chooses to not deport undocumented immigrants.

Obama's action is based on exactly such concerns. It is simply impossible to kick out 11 million people, and it is not desirable to separate parents from their citizen children. Children without parents are much more likely to end up in foster care or on the streets or worse.

In 1986, President Reagan and Congress gave legal status to roughly 3 million undocumented immigrants. A year later, Reagan announced that minor children of parents granted amnesty were not subject to deportation. He did this without authorization from Congress.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush promoted a "family fairness" policy that allowed an additional 1.5 million people, roughly 40% of those in the country illegally, to stay. Again, he did this without authorization from Congress. (Today, 40% of the undocumented population amounts to 4 million people, or the number Obama protected from deportation.)

The easiest option for the Supreme Court is to rule in favor of the Obama administration by dismissing the case on jurisdictional grounds. A party can sue in federal court only if it demonstrates that it has been injured.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Prosperity Rising : The Success of Global Development--and How to Keep It Going (Steven Radelet, Jan/Feb 2016, Foreign Affairs)

Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war--even with Syria and other conflicts--has fallen by half. This unprecedented progress goes way beyond China and India and has touched hundreds of millions of people in dozens of developing countries across the globe, from Mongolia to Mozambique, Bangladesh to Brazil.

Yet few people are aware of these achievements, even though, in aggregate, they rank among the most important in human history. In 2013, the Swedish survey organization Novus Group International asked Americans how they thought the share of the world's population living in extreme poverty had changed over the last two decades. Sixty-six percent of respondents said that they thought it had doubled, and another 29 percent said that it hadn't changed. Only five percent knew (or guessed) the truth: that the share of people living in extreme poverty had fallen by half.

Perhaps that ignorance explains why Washington has done so little to take advantage of these promising trends, giving only tepid support to nascent democracies, making limited investments in economic development and in new health and agricultural technologies, and failing to take the lead in building more effective international institutions. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


This metric shows California's GDP is almost as big as China's (ValueWalk, 1/29/16)


Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Republican debate: how Donald Trump's rivals became themselves (Linda Feldmann, JANUARY 29, 2016, CS Monitor)

The result was revealing. Jeb Bush relaxed and owned his GOP "establishment" identity. He was, dare we say, almost joyful. Rand Paul returned to his libertarian roots. Chris Christie got to be the blunt-talking Jersey guy.

But the main show centered on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio - the top two Republican candidates in national polls after Mr. Trump - who pummeled each other over immigration and the fight against the Islamic State.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


He Said He Was An Undecided Iowan Until He He Received This Controversial Mailer From Ted Cruz. (Sarah Rumpf, 1/29/16, Independent Journal)

As Iowans prepare to head to the caucuses on Monday for the nation's first votes in the presidential primaries, the campaigns are pulling out all the stops. The mailer sent out by one Republican campaign, however, might end up backfiring.

Tom Hinkeldey, a resident of Alta, Iowa, tweeted a photo (which was later deleted because it included his personal address) on Friday evening of a mailer Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign sent addressed to his wife, Steffany. The mailer was a large card printed to look like a manila envelope on one side and was labeled in all capital letters, "ELECTION ALERT," "VOTER VIOLATION," "PUBLIC RECORD," and "FURTHER ACTION NEEDED."

On the other side, the mailer said in red letters at the top, "VOTING VIOLATION." The text then reads:

You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors' are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday's caucuses.

The mailer then listed his and Steffany's name, along with five of their neighbors. [...]

The reaction on Twitter was swift, and largely negative. Many viewed the mailer as a privacy violation. As the mailer notes, the information on it was pulled from public records, and that is legal, but printing the names and voter records like that, along with the implication that the neighbors are seeing the same information, is unsettling to some. The Iowa Supervisor of Elections does not actually assign voter grades like this mailer implies.

"These kind of mailers are fraught with risk," said Republican media strategist Rick Wilson, who has done some work for a Rubio Super PAC. "They do work, but the social pressure stuff has got to be subtle. This, on the other hand, is like a sledgehammer."

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Homeowners are losing $13 billion a year by not refinancing their mortgages : At least 5.2 million homeowners with good credit and equity in their property could save an average of $215 each month by refinancing their mortgages, according to a NerdWallet analysis. (Kamran Rosen, 1/30/16, NerdWallet)

American homeowners are missing out on at least $13 billion a year by not refinancing their mortgages, according to a NerdWallet analysis of mortgage loan data from Black Knight Financial Services.

Our analysis of the data -- from Black Knight's November 2015 mortgage monitor -- shows that at least 5.2 million homeowners with good credit and equity in their property could save an average of $215 each month by refinancing. We calculated the national savings total by multiplying average savings by the number of qualified borrowers.

The total savings could be even higher than $13 billion. The Black Knight report used a refinance rate of 4.71%, which is 114 basis points above the Jan. 18, 2016, rate of 3.57%.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Fed Is Freaked Out About the Financial Markets (Lawrence Kudlow, January 30, 2016, RCP)

Early in the new year, on Sunday, Jan. 3, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer delivered a hawkish speech to the American Economic Association. Completely misreading the economy, which is woefully weak while inflation is virtually nil, Fischer strongly hinted that the Fed would be raising its target rate by a quarter of a percent every quarter for the next three years. [...]

This past week, the Fed retreated in its Federal Open Market Committee policy statement. For the first time in a long while, it didn't bother with a risk assessment between inflation and employment. The whole statement had a much softer tone. It reminded me of the prevent defense of Bill Parcells' old New York Giants.

Putting it more starkly, I'd say the Fed is completely freaked out by financial markets that are turning against it.

...and all three of them have been disastrous--Greenspan's '87 crash, Bernanke's in '08 and now Yellen's.  When you raise rates into the teeth of deflation you can't expect anything different.  They need to drop rates below what they were at this last raise.  They were already usurious.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


The Decline of the Bundy Rebellion : As the Oregon occupation stretches into its 11th day, even local residents who are critical of the federal government are stepping up calls for the militia to leave. (DAVID A. GRAHAM  JAN 12, 2016, The Atlantic)

What did Ammon and Ryan Bundy learn from their father's 2014 standoff in Nevada? Not enough, apparently.

When Cliven Bundy started his showdown with the Bureau of Land Management, he quickly attracted a slew of high-profile backers: Republican Senators Dean Heller, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul; Texas Governor Rick Perry; and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has since become governor. But Bundy's hand was weak--after all, anyone who claims he isn't governed by the Constitution and refuses to pay land fees for decades has a weak claim, to say nothing of the jarring image of armed men holding off law enforcement. Bundy overplayed the weak hand, too, spouting off about "the Negro." His backers fled and the standoff ended--though he has continued to graze his cattle on federal lands and still hasn't paid the fees he owes, which could hold clues for how the Oregon standoff might end.

The Oregon standoff seems to be following a similar, though not identical, arc. At a community meeting Monday night in the town of Burns, residents vented their frustrations with the militia led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, which has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. "Our community does not want you here," Mayor Craig LaFollette said. "Leave peacefully and soon." Teenagers spoke of their fear of leaving home. One resident, Dave Brown was blunter: "There's enough crazies in this county to throw your ass out."

At least a few residents praised the militia, but as Brown's quote indicates, local people don't so much disagree with the Bundy gang's fundamental point: They, too, have serious objections to the extent of federal land ownership in the area, and to the way the federal government manages the land it owns. Many of these complaints were aired during Monday night's meeting. But the Bundys have managed to alienate the people who are their natural allies, and whose support they need for political success. In Nevada, Cliven Bundy had the advantage that he was acting in a largely deserted area--just his ranch and open federal land. That's not true in Oregon, where there's an existing community. The militia members say they are staging an occupation, but if the local population doesn't back them, it's really an invasion.

As The New York Times reported this week, the Bundy gang is the more militant, extreme wing of a movement that is widespread among Western conservatives:

Many conservatives ... criticized Mr. Bundy's gun-toting tactics, but their grievances and goals are nearly identical. And the outcry has grown amid a dust storm of rural anger at President Obama's efforts to tighten regulations on fracking, air quality, small streams and other environmental issues that put struggling Western counties at odds with conservation advocates.
Even as the standoff in Oregon was starting, the two men whose case inspired the Bundys, Dwight and Steven Hammond, said that the militia did not speak for them and urged them to go home. But as the standoff has dragged on (it's now in Day 11), the antipathy seems to be building, which is perhaps unsurprising given the impact it's having on Harney County residents' day-to-day lives. Schools reopened Monday for the first time since the standoff began, but many people are still working from home. The militia insists it's no threat to residents, but the presence of many armed people, to say nothing of the prospect of a pitched gun battle, has residents on edge.

Behind the Oregon Standoff, You'll Find Big Questions About Democracy (R. MCGREGGOR CAWLEY, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

Ryan Payne, an occupation organizer, has portrayed the action as a step toward "returning land to the people." This phrasing implies that "the people" originally "owned" the federal lands -- that the national government has somehow taken those lands away and should return them to the states. It's a recurring claim from disgruntled Westerners, but it's not exactly supported by the history of the federal estate. (Native Americans might find the argument easier to advance.) All the federal lands were acquired by the national government through purchase and treaties; the federal government is very much their original "owner." After all, every state in the union -- with the exception of the original 13 and Texas and Hawaii -- was carved out of that federal estate in the first place.

By the late 1800s, acts of Congress were reconfiguring what was then called the "public domain" by creating national parks, forests and monuments. The remainder of the land was used primarily for livestock grazing -- which, over the years, eventually reached destructive proportions. So in 1929, President Herbert Hoover established a committee to make recommendations for dealing with overgrazing. The committee recommended that the remaining public domain should be given to the states, but with two caveats. First, the federal government would retain ownership of the mineral estate of these lands: Revenue from their ores and fossil fuels would still wind up in the national treasury. Second, any lands not accepted by the states would be placed under active federal management.

The reaction of Western states to this proposal was best summarized by Gov. George H. Dern of Utah. During 1932 congressional committee hearings, Dern granted that Western states appreciated the "compliment of being assured . . . they can be trusted to administer the [lands] more wisely than it can be done from offices in the nation's capital." He then added: "They cannot help wondering why they should be deemed wise enough to administer the surface rights but not wise enough to administer the minerals contained in the public lands." Without the mineral estate and revenue associated with it, the Western states had no interest in accepting surface title to the lands.

In other words, the federal government has attempted to do what Payne, Ammon Bundy and their compatriots ask -- "return the land to the people." Had the Western states accepted the offer, we might have avoided a long train of controversies leading to the Oregon occupation. But when the Western states declined, the second caveat in the Hoover committee recommendations was put into play, and Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, establishing a permit-and-fee system for regulating grazing on the public lands. All of that was to be administered by the Department of Interior's federal Grazing Service -- an entity that would eventually become part of the Bureau of Land Management.

The grazing act was crafted by the Western livestock industry, but it didn't quite put an end to controversies between stock growers and the federal government. For years, though, those controversies tended to revolve around how much grazing was too much: Stock growers, unsurprisingly, tended to think the land could support a lot more animals than federal managers did. Both sides agreed, though, that grazing was the appropriate use for the land.

That changed in the 1960s, with the first rumblings of what would become the environmental movement. The emphasis on grazing, some advocates said, meant ignoring the recreational and environmental values of public lands. By the next decade, the nation had adopted policies requiring federal agencies to include environmental protection in their management missions. And Congress had passed legislation reclassifying grazing from the dominant use of public lands to just one use among many -- all to be weighed and administered by the land bureau.

Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson Resentenced to Five Years in Prison  (Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, October 7, 2015)

The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property.  Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out "Strike Anywhere" matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to "light up the whole country on fire."  One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.  The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations.  After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands.  Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond of using fire to destroy federal property regarding a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  An August lightning storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires.  Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several "back fires" in an attempt save the ranch's winter feed.  The fires burned onto public land and were seen by BLM firefighters camped nearby.  The firefighters took steps to ensure their safety and reported the arsons.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Another model of Christian-Muslim harmony? (Monitor's Editorial Board, JANUARY 26, 2016)

If negotiations aimed at reuniting Cyprus can conclude this spring, as seems more possible than ever, the divided Mediterranean island can also claim to be a model of Muslim-Christian reconciliation. [...]

[A]ttitudes toward reunification have shifted. Greece and Turkey are now closer, a result of their own politics and pressure from Europe. The Cyprus economy, still reeling from a financial crisis in 2013, would benefit greatly if trade and people were to flow across the island. Recent discoveries of offshore petroleum have helped push the talks along.

But perhaps most of all, the two leaders on either side, Nicos Anastasiades of the Greek Cypriots and Mustafa Akinci of the Turkish Cypriots, have formed a close relationship. They are nearing an agreement that would create a single state, one with decentralized power.

January 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Is This the End of the GOP as We Know It? : Historian Rick Perlstein on the rise of Trump, the fall of Reagan, and the fate of contemporary conservatism. (Isaac Chotiner, 1/28/16, Slate)

Are you surprised that things seem to be turning up Trump?

I had a very interesting experience this summer. I remember exactly when it was. It was when I was reading an article by [Evan] Osnos in the New Yorker about Trump. He happened to be covering the white nationalist movement, basically neo-Nazis. Coincidentally, it was right when Donald Trump burst onto the scene, and he wrote about how these guys were embracing Trump, as they never had embraced any Republican candidate before. The feeling I got was that this was the first time in a very long time that I've read anything about the Republican Party that I couldn't assimilate into my normal categories. That was a very uncanny and uncomfortable feeling for me. I realized that I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink what was going on. This is something that's very new, very strange, and very hard to assimilate into what we thought we knew about how the Republican Party worked. [...]

By the same token, things I've been tracing about conservatism and the conservative takeover of the Republican Party as a backlash against the forces of liberalism--and anger at perceived liberal elites and all of the racial entailments of that--are part of the Trump phenomenon, too. So, how these things mix together and how they produce the phenomenon we're seeing now is something that's been very humbling for me.

Do you think the things that Trump has been exploiting have always been exploitable, or do you think that some conditions, either in the Republican Party or the country at large, have changed and made Trump possible?

That's a good question. I think that people who base their political appeal on stirring up the latent anger of, let's just say, for shorthand's sake, what Richard Nixon called the "silent majority," know that they're riding a tiger. Whether it was Richard Nixon very explicitly, when he was charting his political comeback after the 1960 loss, rejecting the John Birch Society. Or whether it was Ronald Reagan in 1978 refusing to align himself with something called the Briggs Initiative in California, which was basically an initiative to ban gay people from teaching, at a time when gays were being attacked in the streets. Or whether it was George W. Bush saying that Islam is a religion of peace and going to a mosque the week after 9/11. These Republican leaders have always resisted the urge to go full demagogue. I think they understood that if they did so, it would have very scary consequences. There was always this boundary of responsibility, the kind of thing enforced by William F. Buckley when he was alive.

I think that Donald Trump is the first front-runner in the Republican Party to throw that kind of caution to the wind. As demagogic as so much of the conservative movement has been in the United States, and full of outrageous examples of demagoguery, there's always been this kind of saving remnant, or fear of stirring up the full measure of anger that exists.

Friend Perlstein ought to be worried that the demagogue is, not surprisingly, nearly as popular among Democrats as Republicans.

Trump's Lead Shrinks As Attacks On Cruz Appear To Backfire -- Poll (JOHN MERLINE1/28/2016, IBD)

Support for Trump fell to 31% among registered Republicans and Republican leaners, down from 34% in the prior IBD/TIPP Poll.

Poll: 20% of Dems would defect for Trump (Sarah Ferris, 01/09/16, The Hill)

About 20 percent of likely Democratic voters say they would buck the party and vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a general election, according to a new poll.

Unions Lean Democratic, but Donald Trump Gets Members' Attention (NOAM SCHEIBER, JAN. 29, 2016, NY Times)

[T]he union's president, Mary Kay Henry, acknowledged that Mr. Trump holds appeal even for some of her members. "There is deep economic anxiety among our members and the people we're trying to organize that I believe Donald Trump's message is tapping into," Ms. Henry said. [...]

The source of the attraction to Mr. Trump, say union members and leaders, is manifold: the candidate's unapologetically populist positions on certain economic issues, particularly trade; a frustration with the impotence of conventional politicians; and above all, a sense that he rejects the norms of Washington discourse.

"They feel he's the one guy who's saying what's on people's minds," Thomas Hanify, the president of the Indiana state firefighters union, said of his rank and file.

Mr. Hanify said that Mr. Trump has so far dominated the "firehouse chatter" in his state. While he allowed that his members tilt Republican, he estimated that most followed the lead of the union's international leadership and supported Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012.

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

He is strongest among Republicans who are less affluent, less educated and less likely to turn out to vote. His very best voters are self-identified Republicans who nonetheless are registered as Democrats. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Iran crude exports hit two-year high, up more than 20 percent for Jan-Feb (OSAMU TSUKIMORI AND AARON SHELDRICK, 1/29/16, Reuters)

Iran's oil exports are on set to rise more than a fifth in January and February from last year's daily average, data from a source with knowledge of its loading schedules shows, revealing how Tehran is ramping up sales after the lifting of sanctions.

The data is the first sign of a resurgence in crude shipments as the OPEC producer begins to raise output and clears out oil that has built up in offshore storage over the past four years of curtailed participation in world markets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Ad shift: Cruz moves to quash Rubio, not Trump (SHANE GOLDMACHER, ELI STOKOLS and KATIE GLUECK, 01/29/16, Politico)

Ted Cruz has flipped his TV strategy heading into the crucial final weekend before the Iowa caucuses, rerouting money from negative ads that had been slamming Donald Trump to hit Marco Rubio instead.

The last-minute change is a sign that, even as both the Rubio and Cruz campaigns have publicly denied it, Rubio is increasingly a threat to Cruz in the state. [...]

"I think people are starting to learn the truth about Ted on immigration and a host of other issues that shows a history of calculation," he said. "And I think it's starting to hurt him a little bit. I mean, we'll see what it all turns into."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Put a Solar Panel on It : How did a warehouse company become one of America's leaders in renewable energy?  (Daniel Gross, 1/29/16, Slate)

You may not know about Prologis, which at 97.54 megawatts trails only Walmart in the amount of installed rooftop solar capacity in the U.S. The company doesn't operate stores, doesn't fret much about what upscale American consumers think about its energy use, and doesn't even have much energy use to offset.

Despite the low profile of its buildings and its brand, Prologis is a big-time company. It's the world's largest owner and operator of warehouses, with a portfolio of thousands of nondescript one- and two-story buildings around the world. Boasting 700 million square feet of space (about 25 square miles) in 21 countries, it has a market capitalization of more than $20 billion. Thanks to emerging trends in the production and regulation of renewables, Prologis has figured out how to turn the ultimate waste of space--the flat roof of a warehouse--into an emissions-reducing, money-producing power plant.

Prologis has figured out how to turn the ultimate waste of space into a money-producing power plant.
Retailers like rooftop solar in part because the juice that the panels produce can offset the high electricity bills created by their lighting, refrigeration, heating, and computers. But warehouses have a different energy profile. Prologis' buildings just kind of sit there. "If you imagine what is inside the facility, it'll be a basic shell, concrete floor, rows of racking filled with pallets, then forklifts driving around the place," says Matt Singleton, vice president for global energy and development at Prologis. Very few people work inside the warehouses. Offices make up about 5 percent of the space.

So if solar doesn't cut the power bill much, why does Prologis like it? In a word, it's all about efficiency--of energy, yes, but also capital and space. "Traditionally the only purpose of the roof was to keep the building dry and secure," Singleton says. The company plans to own its buildings for decades. And when your capital is tied up in immobile assets for long periods of time, you want to make the best possible use of it. Most real estate owners can maximize revenues by renting out every inch of usable space at all times. But if you can find a way to produce an alternate revenue stream from the same building, it's gravy. "We were motivated to generate clean power, but also to leverage an underutilized asset," Singleton says. "This is a for-profit activity."

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Editorial: Jeb Bush is best choice for Republican nomination (Tampa Tribune, January 28, 2016)

It's time to stop treating the election of the next president of the United States like a game show without serious consequences. After more than a year of constant fundraising, meaningless opinion polls and reckless rhetoric from so many candidates, voters finally will make their voices heard starting Monday in the Iowa caucuses and eight days later in the New Hampshire primary. For Republicans fighting for both the soul of their party and the White House, the best choice is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. [...]

Bush was one of the most effective governors in Florida's history and the first Republican to serve two terms. From 1999 to 2007, he reshaped the state with a steady stream of big ideas and unbending determination. He was a hands-on chief executive who overhauled public education by introducing standardized testing, a school grading system and the nation's first statewide voucher system that now relies on business tax credits to help pay private school tuition for low-income students. He cut taxes by $19 billion, eliminated thousands of state jobs and consolidated the governor's authority over higher education and the selection of judges. He ended affirmative action in university admissions and state contracting, and he initiated the transformation of the state's Medicaid program into a privately run managed care system. His credentials as a fiscal and social conservative are in fine order, and anyone who suggests otherwise distorts his record.

Let there be no mistake. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board had serious policy disagreements with Bush on many of his priorities. We opposed tuition vouchers and unwarranted tax cuts. We vigorously protested his unprecedented efforts to force a feeding tube to be reinserted into severely brain-damaged Terri Schiavo, which the courts overturned.

Those disagreements do not diminish our respect for Bush's intellectual rigor, leadership skills and genuine commitment to helping those less fortunate. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump's New Pro-Veterans Website Directs All Donations To Trump's Personal Foundation (The Federalist, 1/28/16)

"Honor their valor," the website, donaldtrumpforvets.com, states. "Donate now to help our Veterans."

The website, which is nothing more than a single page with stock photos and a credit card donation form, claims that "100% of your donations will go directly to Veterans needs."

There's only one problem: 100% of the money raised on the site goes directly to Donald Trump's personal non-profit foundation, according to a disclosure listed at the bottom of the page.

Of course, if God had not wanted them to be shorn....

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Muslim Leaders Vow To Protect Rights Of Religious Minorities (Tom Gjelten, 1/28/16, NPR)

[A] group of Islamic scholars, Muslim leaders and government ministers from Muslim-majority countries has promised to work together to protect those minorities, saying Islam forbids religious persecution.

More than 100 countries were represented at the gathering of Muslim leaders in Marrakech this week, sponsored by the Moroccan government and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, an organization led by Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah.

One of the organizers, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf from the United States, says the meeting had one focus: the plight of religious minorities in Muslim lands.

"We have people being enslaved into sexual slavery," he told NPR from Marrakech. "We have Christian churches that have been there for long before Islam was in these lands, that are being destroyed. And we have Jews in Yemen, one of the oldest Jewish communities, now the very existence of which is threatened."

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Hutchins' Fiscal Impact Measure shows sluggish government spending contributed to weak fourth quarter GDP growth (David Wessel | January 29, 2016, Brookings)

The Fiscal Impact Measure, which tracks the contribution of local, state and federal fiscal policy to economic growth, came in slightly above zero in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the latest update released Friday, January 29th, 2016 by the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Local, state and federal fiscal policy added 0.06 percentage points to the pace of economic growth in the fourth quarter, according to the FIM. The overall economy grew an annual, inflation-adjusted rate of 0.7% in the fourth quarter, according to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis estimate. 

The fourth-quarter reading on the FIM follows positive readings of 0.22% in the third quarter and 0.47% in the second quarter; the FIM was negative for the four preceding years amid federal tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts and state and local belt-tightening.

"Today's Fiscal Impact Measure reading shows that the government sector contributed to the weakness in fourth-quarter GDP," said Hutchins Center Policy Director Louise Sheiner. 

That's the staggering thing about economic growth under the UR, that he's achieving it even as he reduces government spending and employment.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Yes, the administration is really serious about retirement (Joshua Gotbaum, 1/29/16, Brookings)

What's necessary is to rethink ERISA and that's what the administration is beginning to do.  There's still a need to protect people, but maybe the way to do it is to focus on the retirement product - on its fees, its practices, and its returns -- rather than just imposing fiduciary duty on the employer and hoping they're willing to do so.

There's no reason, for example, why many employers couldn't automatically enroll their employees in a third-party plan, have the plan file the reports and be the legal fiduciary, and have the government regulate the plan instead of the employer.  This approach, allowed under ERISA, is called a multiple employer plan, "MEP" in pension-speak.  Historically, the Department of Labor has been uncomfortable with MEPs and limited their use because of the risk that a plan participated in by many employers but operated by a third party might end up being supervised by no one at all.  Nonetheless, the administration is now advancing the MEP concept in two ways:

Using the discretion it has under ERISA, DOL now allows states to set up multiple employer plans.  DOL's reasoning is that states don't have a profit motive and are politically accountable, so it's easier to trust them and let employers "off the hook".  

Proposing that the Congress enact legislation that would enable private parties to operate MEPs, with safeguards to protect retirees.  It would be easy to conclude that this is a non-starter: thanks to the widening gap between the political parties, Congress has been unable to agree on any general pension legislation since 2006.  (The entirely sensible and once-upon-a-time bipartisan proposal to require employers to offer at least an IRA, now made annually by the administration, became a casualty of the Obamacare wars.)  Nonetheless, in recent years "open" MEPs have been proposed by both Democrats and Republicans and in the last session of Congress, a bipartisan compromise almost made it into legislation.  If the endorsement of the administration doesn't taint it, Congress might decide, finally, to act.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Bank of Japan cuts key interest rate into negative territory (Jethro Mullen, 1/29/16, CNNMoney)

Japan's central bank is stepping up its efforts to kick-start the country's struggling economy by taking a key interest rate into negative territory.

The Bank of Japan said Friday that it will cut the rate on current accounts that commercial banks hold with it to minus 0.1%, adding that it will push the rate even lower if needed. The move basically means lenders will be charged to keep money with the central bank.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


With Donald Trump Away, Jeb Bush Comes Alive (JOHN CASSIDY, 1/29/16, The New Yorker)

For two blissful hours in Des Moines, on Thursday night, with Trump having opted to skip the latest televised debate and hold a rally across town, the other Republican candidates and their backers were allowed to pretend that this world was a reality. Spared the threatening and unpredictable presence of the Fifth Avenue political destroyer, the Republicans did something very old-fashioned. They staged a regular political debate, with few theatrics or moments of high drama.

Not that it wasn't interesting. For people who are actually interested in politics, rather than in Trump's antics, the debate provided some fascinating hints as to how the G.O.P. race might have unfolded in his absence. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio competed for the title of conservative standard-bearer; the three current or former center-right governors in the race--Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich--sought to breathe new life into their moribund candidacies, and one of them, Bush, might even have succeeded. In offering up a more inclusive version of Republicanism than many of the others, and sounding more confident than on past occasions, he had his best night of the campaign. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Republican Debate: Without Donald Trump, Issues Stand Out (GERALD F. SEIB, Jan. 28, 2016, WSJ)

Donald Trump missed Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, and a funny thing happened: A serious conversation broke out.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


ARE RUMORS OF JEB!'S DEATH GREATLY EXAGGERATED? (Matthew Dickinson, 1/28/16, Presidential Power)

 In a reminder that Jeb! has the backing of much of the Republican Party establishment (he still leads all Republican candidates in endorsements), he was introduced by former New Hampshire Governor, and later Senator, Judd Gregg. Gregg noted that he supported Jeb! for three reasons: he can win the general election, he knows the issues, and he will be able to govern by working with the opposition.

Jeb! then took the floor and, after thanking New Hampshire voters for taking this process so seriously he introduced his wife Columba. Although spouses and family often figure in candidates' campaign speeches, this was the first event we attended in which the candidate spouse was there in person. Jeb! recounted how he felt like he had been struck by "a lightning bolt" when he first met Columba (presumably in a good way) and that he thereafter divided his life into BC (Before Columba) and AC (After). "I recommend love at first sight," he gushed. (Note: all quotes are based on contemporaneous tweets and notes taken during the talk and may be slightly paraphrased.)

He then launched into his campaign spiel. "I admit it. I'm a policy wonk," he began, before referencing his website.  Like many Republican candidates, but in contrast to the Democrats, the first policy issue he addressed was the war on terror. After noting that the country was on the wrong track, he referenced a recent speech he gave at the Citadel (the South Carolina military academy) in which he promised the cadets that, as President, he "would have their backs." That meant rebuilding the military by increasing troops levels to 400,000, improving force readiness ("one half don't reach that level now", modernizing the air force ("many of our planes are older than the pilots"), reforming military procurement, but also caring for our returning veterans (a theme he returned to later in the talk). The world, he argued, needs the U.S. to take a leadership role, but "our current president is leading from behind." Jeb! noted that disagreeing with the President's military policy did not make him a "war monger" or an advocate for "occupation" in the Mideast. Instead, he was following the Reagan-Bush principle of "peace through strength" which he contrasted with the "Obama-Clinton" foreign policy. He also took a shot at Clinton for her lack of transparency regarding Benghazi and her "What difference does it make?" comment designed to push back against congressional inquiries into what happened there.

Jeb then moved to domestic politics, arguing that the country needed someone who could "change the culture" in Washington, DC and "build consensus." "I've stopped watching cable television," he noted, to applause, "except for football." (Here he made the obligatory positive reference to Tom Brady and the Patriots.) To change that culture, he advocated for term limits ("It works in Florida"), and the line-item veto ("In Florida, they called me 'Veto Corleone'"). He cited his record as governor, noting a 30% increase in general revenues even though Florida "has no income tax", and an increase in the state's bond rating to AAA under his leadership. "We made government live within its mean," he boasted. He went on to advocate fixing the federal tax code, pushing for regulatory reform and encouraging energy development. "We need to make government smaller and more accountable."

Bush then finished by describing his leadership ethos, and indirectly contrasting it with Trump's. He has "a servant's heart" which he said signified strength, not weakness. In contrast, he noted, it is not a position of strength to disparage "women, Hispanics" and a "war hero" like John McCain. Nor is "insulting the disabled." He finished on an uplifting theme, arguing that "life is a gift from God...divinely inspired" and that we need to work together to create more prosperity, love and concern for others, and the freedom to pursue one's dream. "Don't believe the cable shows," he urged his audience, noting that New Hampshire voters, who take their role seriously, can make a difference in this election. He concluded by "humbly asking for your support."

In all, his opening remarks took maybe 15 minutes. The remaining 50 minute or so was spent answering questions, which covered issues ranging from early child care (Bush noted that in Florida pre-K attendance is the highest in the country, and he advocated shifting educational revenues from federal control to block grants to states); the role of nuclear weapons (Here Bush noted Trump's evident ignorance regarding what the nuclear triad referred to and, while acknowledging that a nuclear-free world is a laudable aspiration, argued that "we can't unilaterally disarm" in the face of nuclear dangers from North Korea, Pakistan and Iran); and income inequality.  To this last question Bush argued that, "It's not income inequality that is the concern ...the challenge is to encourage economic mobility" which can be done through policies designed to encourage marriage - "encouraging marriage is not politically incorrect" - increasing the reward for work - "median income is down $2,300 since Obama became president" - and improving opportunity by reforming education. To improve the economy, Bush would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that focuses on catastrophic coverage and empowers consumers to make cost-conscious health decisions, rather than imposing costs on employers as is now the case. He would also double the middle-income tax exemption as part of his simplification of the tax code.

The Seventh Republican Debate (DANIEL LARISON, January 29, 2016, American Conservative)

The frontrunner might have been wise to skip the debate after all. While he held a dueling event across town, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were confronted with video montages of their past statements on immigration, putting them each on the defensive about a contentious issue that has been elevated to new heights in the Trump era.

Both Cruz and Rubio were forced to answer for their past slipperiness and opportunism on immigration, and neither of them handled it especially well. Rubio's performance was jittery and agitated, and he spoke even more quickly than he usually does. Cruz seemed to disappear for long stretches of the debate, though he and Rubio had the most speaking time by far. Bush had a surprisingly good night, and even scored a few hits on Rubio for abandoning the Gang of Eight bill. He echoed Lindsey Graham in saying that Rubio had "cut and run" during the debate over the bill, which had the virtue of being both true and embarrassing for Rubio. The change from his previous debate performances suggests that Bush is able to do fine among conventional politicians, but he has no idea how to handle or respond to Trump.

January 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Trump Accused of Backing Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants in TV Ad (REID J. EPSTEIN, 1/28/16, WSJ)

It begins by noting that Mr. Trump is skipping Thursday's Fox News debate in Des Moines because "Trump can't handle tough questions, like why he'd let millions of illegal immigrants stay in America and even supports a pathway to citizenship."

Mr. Trump has made staunch opposition to illegal immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. In his mid-June announcement speech he referred to Mexicans as "rapists" and has since proposed deporting some 11 million undocumented people.

But the ad contains footage from a late June Chicago appearance in which Mr. Trump appears to favor allowing illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

"You have to give them a path and you have to make it possible for them to succeed," Mr. Trump says in the ad. "You have to do that."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


JUST ONE HELLO FROM MY NEIGHBOR (Emily Ibrahim, 1 . 27 . 16, First Things)

I first met Fatima at Dollar Tree. It was her bright clothing that caught my eye. A colorful piece of cloth called a malhafa was draped around her body and her head, and I knew immediately that she had traveled far, from the Saharan desert, all the way to America. I went over and introduced myself, and we immediately became friends and exchanged numbers. [...]

At one point I asked her if she had any other American friends. Though I knew she may not, I hoped that after four years of living here, she might have at least one other American friend. "Well, I do know one American woman who is married to my husband's friend. But you are my first American friend," she replied.

And then her heart spilt open to me, as she chopped her vegetables in the kitchen. She began to tell me how she wants to be friends with Americans, but no one has ever come up to her to be her friend, until I approached her at the Dollar Tree. Even though it's normal to do that in her culture, she knows it's strange here in America. She wants to make friends with Americans, but what should she do? An American woman might find it quite strange and uncomfortable if she were to randomly approach her and ask her to be her friend. She might surprise her, or worse yet, scare her.

"My neighbor is an American woman," she told me, "but she never says hello to me. I see her come and go, but not once has she said hello. I just want to be her friend. I want to be a good neighbor. When I make food, I want to bring it to her and share with her. When we have a holiday, I want her to come over and celebrate with us. When she has a holiday I want to go to her house and congratulate her. That's all I want. But she's never said 'hello' ...My heart was so happy when you said 'hello' to me in Dollar Tree."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Mass Shootings Are Contagious (Kat Long, Victoria Stern, January 1, 2016, Scientific American)

Researchers at Arizona State University analyzed news reports of gun-related incidents from 1997 to 2013. They hypothesized that the rampages did not occur randomly over time but instead were clustered in patterns. The investigators 
applied a mathematical model and found that shootings that resulted in at least four deaths launched a period of contagion, marked by a heightened likelihood of more bloodshed, lasting an average of 13 days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of all such violence took place in these windows.

Previous studies have shown that suicide can be similarly contagious. In one recent example, researchers found a correlation between celebrity suicides, like that of Robin Williams, and an increase in suicidal thoughts in an online Reddit suicide watch group for people battling depression.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


America's 'everything' fighter jet is a total disaster (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, January 27, 2016, The Week)

The F-35 is an absolute disaster, and it needs to go. The scandals around it are legion.

The supersonic stealth plane called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to be the greatest and best military plane the world has ever seen. While the United States' stealthy F-22 is an "air superiority" plane, ensuring the country's dominance over the skies, which is why exporting it is illegal, the F-35 was supposed to be able to do everything, and be the standard fighter-bomber of the U.S. and most countries with which the U.S. has friendly relations. It was supposed to be stealthy, to be able take off and land vertically, and to know everything about everything thanks to its amazing software and sensors. It can't do any of those things so far.

The program has cost $1.3 trillion so far. By comparison, the Apollo Program, which actually sent people to the moon, cost about $170 billion in 2005 dollars. The F-35 is literally the most expensive military project in history. By 2014, the program was $163 billion over budget, and seven years behind schedule.

From the beginning the F-35 was practically designed to be a horrendous boondoggle.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Welcome to the new oil order (Ed Morse, 1/28/16, Financial Times)

[T]he new energy world order is one in which the US, whose production was once half that of the other two producer giants, is now on a par with them. And that turns out to make a big difference.

In the old world oil order the US did not count -- with its declining output it was a taker of prices; with its permanent importer status, it was a bystander to global oil politics and production decision-making.

The shale revolution in the US has made a huge difference. The US is now arguably the world's largest oil liquids producer in the world, if you take into account crude oil production and other supply like liquefied petroleum gases (LPGs), biofuels output and the incremental volumetric gains from having the largest refining system in the world.

On paper the US might produce 9.3m barrels a day against Russia's 11.1m b/d and Saudi Arabia's 10.3m b/d. Add everything that looks and smells and is used as oil and the US is the biggest of the lot, producing 14.8m b/d versus the kingdom's 11.7m b/d, versus. Russia's 11.5m b/d.

We are used to old thinking -- a world of producers comprised of Opec plus critical non-Opec producers including especially Russia, Mexico, Norway, Oman and maybe a couple of others. The new order has rendered Opec irrelevant, an organisation crippled by disruptions and sanctions, with no will to work as one, able to be a negative force by bringing prices down, but incapable of finding a way to put a floor under prices.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Want to know why so many Republicans hate Ted Cruz? Read his book (Andrew Prokop, January 28, 2016,Vox)

[A]t heart, Ted Cruz is so loathed by Republicans because he's not a team player. And not only is he not a team player, but he instead constantly positions himself as working against the Republican team in general and his Senate colleagues in particular.

Being a team player is very important in politics. It's common for presidential candidates to trash Washington on the campaign trail: Barack Obama did it, and George W. Bush did it before him, and Bill Clinton did it before him. But all three were members of good standing in their respective parties -- they didn't pick gratuitous fights with their major partisan allies, and they certainly didn't portray their parties' leading electoral officials as corrupt sellouts trying to hoodwink their own voters.

Cruz has done just the opposite. For the past three years, he has been engaged in a very specific, pointed, and personal attempt aimed at painting practically every Republican in Washington as a corrupt phony and himself as the only honest man in the city. And his fellow Republicans don't like this one bit.

To understand this dynamic, all you have to do is read his autobiography. Actually, all you really have to do is read his book's introduction -- a melodramatic narrative starring Cruz's Republican colleagues, who are portrayed as corrupt hacks trying to hoodwink their own voters, in contrast to the noble and principled Ted Cruz.

...is that they wouldn't be able to pass any legislation anyway.  And it's not a bad time for 4 more years of stasis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Is 2016 the Anger Election? Not quite. (Aaron Blake January 26, 2016, Washington Post)

Donald Trump is angry. Bernie Sanders is angry. And Americans think their neighbors are very angry, too.

Except that they're simply not -- or at least, not abnormally angry. Despite the rise of two candidates who have embraced the idea of anger, our country simply isn't unusually angry about how things are going in Washington.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows just 24 percent of Americans describe themselves as "angry" about the way the federal government works. I say "just," because that's actually on the low end of where that number has been in recent years. (An additional 47 percent describe themselves as "dissatisfied but not angry.")

In October 2013, shortly after the end of the government shutdown, 35 percent of Americans said they were angry. On the eve of the 2014 election, in September of that year, the number was 25 percent.

And the economy will be doing even better in November.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Strong Iowa and New Hampshire Economies Render Pocketbook Issues Less Pressing (Kate Davidson, 1/28/16, WSJ)

Both states weathered the effects of the recession better than the rest of the country and recovered faster than many other states. New Hampshire's jobless rate was 3.1% in December--higher than just three other states--and Iowa wasn't far behind at 3.4%, according to data from the Labor Department, which puts U.S. unemployment at 5%. Of the 31 U.S. metropolitan areas with jobless rates at or below 3%, five are in Iowa and three are in New Hampshire.

Wages are also accelerating faster in the two states than they are for most Americans. Average hourly earnings for New Hampshire workers grew 4.4% in November, compared with a year earlier, and 6.5% for workers in Iowa, compared with just 2.4% for the U.S. overall.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Rouhani seals major business deals on France trip (Deutsche-Welle, 1/28/16)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani was formally welcomed to France Thursday morning at the gold-dome Invalides monument ahead of meetings with business leaders, the head of UNESCO, and President Francois Hollande. He expressed a desire to "turn the page" during the highly-anticipated visit , the first by an Iranian president since 1999.

"Let us forget the resentment," said Rouhani, weeks after Western sanctions against his country were dropped in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. "We are ready to turn the page," the president said, and create "a new relationship between our countries."

After his talk, French automaker Peugeot announced a joint venture with Iranian car manufacturer Khodro to produce 200,000 cars a year at a plant outside of Tehran. Rouhani is also expected to confirm later a purchase of 100 passenger jets from Toulouse-based aircraft firm Airbus.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Microsoft co-founder's yacht tears up protected coral reef in Cayman Islands (Oliver Milman, 28 January 2016, The Guardian)

A yacht owned by Microsoft co-founder and marine conservationist Paul Allen has ploughed into a sensitive reef in the Cayman Islands, destroying the majority of coral on the protected ecosystem.

The MV Tatoosh, a 300ft yacht owned by the billionaire Allen, ripped up 14,000 square feet of coral reef in the West Bay replenishment zone, according to local officials. About 80% of the reef, situated in a protected area, was destroyed by the ship's chain. [...]

The incident is particularly embarrassing for Allen given his foundation's work supporting marine conservation and tackling overfishing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Donald Trump will soon betray the GOP (Paul Waldman, January 28, 2016, The Week)

[T]o think that Trump won't turn on a dime the instant he has to face a general electorate, and begin advocating a whole new set of policies. He adopted an entirely new set of beliefs for this race, one attuned to what his current audience wants -- not just xenophobic, but fervently pro-life, pro-gun, pro-God, and pro-whatever else he thinks primary voters want to hear. Trump panders shamelessly to whoever he's talking to, he has no genuine ideology, and he won't feel tied to anything he's said before, any more than he's tied to his previous positions on health care or abortion.

Unlike other politicians who struggle to explain any hint of contradiction between what they're advocating now and what they've advocated before, Trump waves it all away. Remember all the painful contortions Mitt Romney went through to convince Republicans he was in complete agreement with them and had renounced his prior hints of moderation? Trump doesn't bother with that. Who cares what I said then? This is what I'm saying now, and anyone who has a problem with it is a low-energy loser.

Unlike other politicians, Trump seems to have no friends, no allies (other than the occasional crackpot like Sarah Palin or Joe Arpaio), and no commitments. He's completely unmoored from everything that gives any sort of shape and predictability to politics. Who's advocating for Trump? Today maybe it's some talk radio hosts, but if they say something he doesn't like, boom, they're dead to him. All he has is targets and enemies; any cooperation he shares with anyone is temporary and conditional on him being "treated fairly." The instant he decides he isn't, his former friend becomes his foe.

The idea of commitments is particularly key. Because Trump has no real history in conservative or Republican politics (beyond writing the occasional check) and because he isn't bothering to court the people and groups who populate the party's institutions and coalition, he has no promises to keep. Again, the contrast with Romney is instructive. By the time Romney became the GOP nominee in 2012, he had not only moved right but convinced everyone that he'd govern right. And he would have -- wherever the contents of his heart laid, he would have been dependent on the party he led to govern effectively, if at all. There was no going back.

But Trump doesn't care about the party, and it turns out that a lot of Republican voters don't either -- maybe enough to carry him to the nomination. But if he gets that nomination, he'll be confronting an entirely new set of voters he has to persuade. It won't just be angry Republicans anymore; now he'll need a majority. So he'll take those conservative policy positions he's adopted -- but which he obviously knows little about and cares about even less -- and toss them aside. And unlike other Republicans, he won't be tied down by having been too specific about any of it. When your detailed policy proposal consists of "It'll be great," you can go in any direction you want.

Once that happens, conservatives will lose their minds with rage, and they'll be right to. 

But we elected you to shaft the coloreds, not us!
Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


America ranks as the 16th least corrupt nation (Bonnie Kristian, January 27, 2016, The Week)
The United States is tied with Austria for the 16th least corrupt nation worldwide, according to a new annual report from Transparency International. The top ten list is dominated by Scandinavian countries -- Denmark, Finland, and Sweden take first, second, and third, respectively -- and New Zealand, Singapore, and Canada are the only non-European nations included there.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


1% Of Doctors Are Guilty Of Nearly A Third Of Medical Malpractice (Joshua A. Krisch, Jan 27, 2016, Vocativ)

One percent of physicians account for 32 percent of malpractice claims paid out between 2005 and 2014, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings suggest that some doctors are more likely to commit medical malpractice than others--a fact that may help healthcare systems identify problem physicians before they hurt someone.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Felony charge against refuge occupiers also used against anti-war, environmental activists (Fedor Zarkhin, 1/27/16, The Oregonian)

Federal charges against Ammon Bundy and others who occupied a wildlife refuge near Burns have been used previously against animal rights activists, anti-war protesters and Jewish extremists. [...]

Congress enacted the law forbidding impeding officers, U.S. Code Title 18, Section 372, in 1861.

January 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Another Reason to Fear Immigrants Is Debunked (TOM JACOBS, 1/17/16, Pacific Standard)

Immigration must be stopped to preserve our values! That's the subtext (or, in some cases, text) of much of the rhetoric from the current presidential campaign. Certain candidates are exploiting voters' fears that our nation will soon become unrecognizable, as foreigners arrive bringing fundamentally different attitudes.

This sort of primal anxiety, which is also being expressed in Europe, is not likely to be assuaged by a scientific study. But newly published research from the United Kingdom suggests the deep-seated dread is based on a false premise.

A study of immigrants from Bangladesh living in London finds that, by the second generation, their fundamental attitudes have shifted significantly toward a Western, individualist orientation. Parents take with them the values of their old country, but their kids are a very different matter.

For better or worse, immigrants begin to take on Western values of individualism with remarkable rapidity.

A research team led by Alex Mesoudi of the University of Exeter reports this rapid acculturation is largely attributable to the impact of the much-maligned mass media. Children of immigrants adopt some important values from their parents, but others are absorbed straight from the television.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM



Ten years ago today, Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, taking 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats (74 plus two independents). The Palestinian faction best known for a campaign of suicide bombings in the 1990s formed a new government some two months later, thrusting Palestinian nationalism into a crisis from which it has never recovered. Washington's foreign policy establishment still fails to grasp its impact, which may explain its recurring inability to broker the creation of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel.

The Hamas victory was an undeniable black eye for American efforts to democratize the Middle East as envisaged by George W. Bush. The secular Fatah faction, Washington's choice as the pragmatic incumbent ruling party in the Palestinian Authority (PA), lost the elections because of the growing (and correct) public perception that the party was ossified and corrupt.

This perception still dogs the Fatah party to this day. But Washington was willing to tolerate corruption and declining legitimacy in exchange for Fatah's readiness to engage in peace talks with Israel, whose existence Hamas refuses to recognize.

With pressure from Washington and Israel to keep Hamas from power, Fatah blocked the Islamist faction from forming a government.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


One Dead As FBI Arrests Oregon Occupation Leader And Others (Curtis Skinner and Dan Whitcomb, 1/27/16, Reuters) 

The leader of an armed occupation at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and others were arrested on Tuesday after shots were fired during a traffic stop, leaving one person dead and another wounded, the FBI said. [...]

Several media outlets, including the Oregonian and CNN, reported that law enforcement sources said LaVoy Finicum was killed. Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be arrested.

"There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them," he said in the NBC interview.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Sorry, Bloomberg: Trump Is Already A Third-Party Candidate (NATE SILVER, 1/27/16, 538)

Sanders, obviously, would be an extremely liberal Democratic nominee. Trump, perhaps less obviously, might wind up being fairly left-of-center for a Republican candidate. So the center-left Bloomberg would be swimming in a crowded lane.

We can visualize this using data from OnTheIssues.org, which categorizes the ideological position of politicians based on their public statements and voting records. OnTheIssues helpfully distinguishes between social and economic issues, allowing for candidates to be "populist" (economically liberal and socially conservative) or "libertarian" (economically conservative and socially liberal) rather than simply conventionally liberal or conservative. And because OnTheIssues has been around for some time, we can track how a candidate's positions have "evolved" with the political winds. The chart below shows the scores for Trump, Sanders and Bloomberg -- both where they stand now and how they positioned themselves earlier in their careers.

Today's Donald Trump is often described as a "populist." But if you define "populism" as OnTheIssues does, meaning someone who's socially conservative but economically liberal, that was more true of him back in 1999 and 2000. That's when Trump was considering his own independent bid for president, calling for a wealth tax on multi-millionaires while already emphasizing the importance of America "[controlling] its own borders." Recently, Trump's positions have become more conservative, although they remain fairly idiosyncratic. [...]

So while a Sanders-Trump-Bloomberg election would leave voters on the center-left with several plausible choices, other groups of voters would be neglected. Notably, there wouldn't be a true, Ronald Reagan-style conservative in the race. The election would also be something of a nightmare for libertarian-inclined voters forced to consider Sanders's big government, Trump's "yuge" government and Bloomberg's technocracy.

You might also notice some demographic similarities between Bloomberg, Sanders and Trump, all old loudmouthed white guys from New York. That's not exactly a diverse group in an election that had once seemed like it might produce the first female or Hispanic president.

Part of the challenge for everyone else is that Trump is more like a third-party candidate than a Republican in many respects, perhaps the closest thing to Ross Perot we've seen for a long time. Judging by his high unfavorable ratings, Trump's appeal is not especially broad, but it cuts through the political coalitions we're used to at some odd angles.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Subprime Reasoning on Housing (DAVID BECKWORTH and RAMESH PONNURU, JAN. 27, 2016, NY Times)

In 2006 and 2007, construction employment fell, but overall employment continued to grow, as did the economy generally. Money and labor merely shifted from housing to other sectors of the economy.

This housing decline caused financial stress by sowing uncertainty about the value of bonds backed by subprime mortgages. These bonds served as collateral for institutional investors who parked their money overnight with financial firms on Wall Street in the "shadow banking" system. As their concerns about the bonds grew, investors began to pull money out of this system.

In retrospect, economists have concluded that a recession began in December 2007. But this recession started very mildly. Through early 2008, even as investors kept pulling money out of the shadow banks, key economic indicators such as inflation and nominal spending -- the total amount of dollars being spent throughout the economy -- barely budged. It looked as if the economy would be relatively unscathed, as many forecasters were saying at the time. The problem was manageable: According to Gary Gorton, an economist at Yale, roughly 6 percent of banking assets were tied to subprime mortgages in 2007.

It took a bigger shock to the economy to bring the financial system down. That shock was tighter money. Through acts and omissions, the Fed kept interest rates and expected interest rates higher than appropriate, depressing the economy. This point is easy to miss because the Fed lowered interest rates between September 2007 and April 2008. But raising rates is not the only route to tighter money.

Between late April and early October, the Fed kept the interest rate over which it has most direct control, the federal funds rate, at 2 percent. But when the economy weakens, the "natural" interest rate -- the rate that keeps the economy on an even keel -- falls. By staying in place, the Fed's target interest rate was rising relative to that natural rate. The gap between expected interest rates and the natural rate was rising even more. Fed officials spent the late spring and summer of 2008 warning that rates would have to rise to combat inflation. Futures markets showed a sharp increase in expected interest rates.

Market indicators of expected inflation fell sharply that summer, a sign that the economy was getting weaker and monetary policy tighter. Nominal spending showed the change. After growing for years at a relatively steady rate, it began to drop.

In their early August meeting, some Fed policy makers nonetheless anticipated that they would raise rates soon. Inflation expectations and nominal spending kept falling. In mid-September, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Fed refused to cut interest rates further, citing the risk of inflation. (To his credit, Chairman Ben Bernanke subsequently admitted that not cutting rates then was a mistake.) It did not cut rates until weeks after the crisis had become undeniable.

It was against this backdrop of tighter money that the financial stress of 2007 turned into something far worse in 2008. With nominal spending falling at the fastest rate since the Depression, households, businesses and banks all had incomes lower than they had expected. That made servicing debts and paying wages harder than expected. It also lowered asset values, since those were premised on expected streams of future income.

The first folks to suffer from rate hikes are the marginal borrowers and their increased failure rates exposed the fraud behind derivatives.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Ted Cruz Isn't a 'Natural Born' Citizen (Robert Clinton Jan. 27, 2016, US News)

The more natural reading of the language and original understanding of the "natural born" citizenship requirement therefore would seem to be that one needed to be born, as the 14th Amendment put it, "in the United States," rather than that one had an American parent. The Constitution, as opposed to any statute, prescribes birthright citizenship, not lineage, as the constitutional definition of acquiring citizenship at birth. Any statute expanding that definition to take into account the massively increased mobility of American citizens since the rural agrarian roots of the Constitution in 1787 would provide a means of automatic naturalization. In short, the framers of both the original Constitution and the 14th Amendment seem to have distinguished between constitutionally and legislatively conferred citizenship. Those who acquire their citizenship by virtue of birth in the United States are, according to the 14th Amendment, constitutionally conferred citizens, which also seems to be the original understanding of "natural born" citizens. All others must secure their citizenship through legislative enactment, i.e. naturalization, whether with or without any required process or prerequisites.

The irony, of course, which cannot be lost on Sen. Ted Cruz, is that under the Constitution anyone born in the United States to a set of undocumented immigrants has a much clearer and more certain legal entitlement to run for president of the United States than he does. No wonder Cruz has railed against birthright citizenship, even though it is expressly contained in the first sentence of the 14th Amendment, a document he swore an oath of office to uphold.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Obama to Honor Americans' Wartime Efforts to Save Jews During Holocaust (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, JAN. 27, 2016, NY Times)

In a German prison camp 71 years ago, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds stared down the barrel of his Nazi captor's pistol and refused to say which of his fellow prisoners of war were Jewish.

"We are all Jews here," said Sergeant Edmonds, the highest-ranking American noncommissioned officer at Ziegenhein stalag that day, instead ordering more than 1,000 of his fellow prisoners to stand together in front of their barracks. The Geneva Convention required soldiers to provide only their names, ranks and serial numbers, not their religions, Sergeant Edmonds said, warning the German that if he shot them all, he would be tried for war crimes.

That act of defiance in January 1945 spared the lives of as many as 200 Jews, and, on Wednesday, Sergeant Edmonds will receive posthumous recognition by President Obama as the first American service member to be named Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. [...]

Also being honored on Wednesday is Lois Gunden, a French teacher from Goshen, Ind., who traveled to southern France in 1941 on a Mennonite service project and established a home there where she sheltered children, including Jews whose parents she persuaded to leave them in her care, rather than face deportation or worse.

Mary Jean Gunden, 61, Ms. Gunden's niece, said that her aunt had a "standard line" that she went to France in 1941 and ran a children's home. She was later detained in Baden-Baden, Germany, by the Nazis, and she went home in a prisoner exchange in 1944. "Unfortunately, none of us really asked a whole lot more than that," Mary Jean Gunden said. "I'm not convinced that she ever actually realized the magnitude of what she had done."

After her aunt's death in 2005, the younger Ms. Gunden, a retired college administrator, researched her past, rifling through an old trunk containing letters, journals and beach sandals for clues about what she had done in the seaside town of Canet Plage. She eventually contacted Yad Vashem with what she learned.

"Nobody talked about what happened during the war -- it's just now that people are trying to unearth what really was done and to find the stories of the people who tried to do good during these very dark times," said Eric Escudier, a municipal worker in Perpignan, France, who, with his mother and aunt, wrote a book about Ms. Gunden and the home she had established.

Just as thousands of Syrian refugees are spilling into European countries where citizens regard them with some degree of fear and suspicion, Mr. Escudier said, Ms. Gunden saw an influx of Spanish and Jewish children whose very presence in her care could put her life at risk.

January 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


U.S. and Allies Weigh Military Action Against ISIS in Libya (ERIC SCHMITT and HELENE COOPER, JAN. 22, 2016, NY Times)

While no decision has been finalized about when the United States and its allies will formally expand action in Libya against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, administration officials indicated that it might be very soon. A decision will probably come in "weeks" but "not hours," Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.

"It's fair to say that we're looking to take decisive military action against ISIL in conjunction with the political process" in Libya, General Dunford said. "The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Common Cause: The Right's Opposition to Federal Education Reform (PATRICK OATHOUT, 1/26/16, Pacific Standard)

[C]ommon Core, and, more broadly, nationalized education standards, used to be a common-sense solution (no pun intended) in education reform circles. Governor Jeb Bush, who was only a few lecterns side-stage from Rubio, is a longtime supporter of Common Core. National education standards were originally promoted by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and, of course, George W. Bush, who took national standards and testing even further with No Child Left Behind. All of which is to say: Common Core, and the philosophy behind it, was originally a conservative idea.

So what changed? Or more aptly, who or what enabled the right's opposition to Common Core? [...]

McGuinn and Supovitz's paper chronicles how teachers' unions on the left and the Tea Party on the right found a common cause in their opposition to Common Core, an occurrence that wasn't bipartisan in the sense that each side shed some of their ideology to meet in the middle, but, rather, transpartisan, meaning the issue found common opposition all over the political spectrum.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Foes May Hate Hugo Chávez but They Like His Political Playbook (NICHOLAS CASEY and PATRICIA TORRES, JAN. 26, 2016, NY Times)

Twenty-thousand people live in this concrete bastion built by former President Hugo Chávez. He gave them the keys, and they gave him their votes.

There was one thing Mr. Chávez promised but never handed over en masse, though: the property titles that would allow his supporters to sell their homes and cash out.

But now that Mr. Chávez's old adversaries have taken over Venezuela's Parliament, they are adopting the tactic and doing it one better. They want to give away the deeds to hundreds of thousands of homes that Mr. Chávez and his movement built -- and win the loyalties of the nation's poor for years to come.

Rather than handing money directly to banks to stabilize them, the bailout should have paid off mortgage debt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


See What Happened When a Man Who Appeared Homeless Walked Into a Chick-fil-A (Mariana Barillas, January 26, 2016 . Daily Signal)

A Tennessean father is crediting Chick-fil-A with helping teach his daughter "life lessons" in his viral Facebook post about a store manager's kindness towards a man in need.

"I love teaching my daughter life lessons, and I also love being there to watch other Christians teach her life lessons. Thank you, Chick-fil-A, for taking care of the latter today," wrote Joey Mustain in a post which has been shared over 43,000 times as of Jan. 26.

Mustain said in the post that he was eating at a Chick-fil-A with his daughter Stella when a "homeless traveler" walked in to see if the store could spare "any extra food." Though "people near him kept their distance," Mustain said the man was kind and conversational as he waited to speak with the store manager.

Mustain said he and his daughter then witnessed what he described as a "beautiful scene" between the two men, who have yet to be identified.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Gas price hike and subsidy cuts shake up Saudis (Ibrahim al-Hatlani, January 25, 2016, Al Monitor)

Saudi Arabia had never imposed any tax system in the past, except on foreign companies operating inside the kingdom, who are taxed 20% of their profits and 5% of annual transfers. However, the Saudi Department of Zakat and Income Tax does collect a 2% zakat (obligatory charitable payment) from Saudi and Gulf companies operating in Saudi Arabia. The total revenues of the department amounted to 30 billion riyals ($8 billion) in 2015.

Answering The Economist's question of whether he believes more taxes can be imposed in Saudi Arabia without increasing the people's representation in the Saudi monarchy, the prince said, "Again, one thing is not related to the other. This is not a decision from the government against the people." Rather, he said, the government represents the people and does not make decisions about reforms without conducting workshops that include a variety of citizens.

The prince's answer was vague. What did he mean by saying taxation and the people's representation in the Saudi monarchy are not related? Did he intend to say that the decision-makers in the ruling family -- the king and the crown princes -- will allow the people to take part in power apart from paying taxes or on the contrary?

However, the fact that the prince asserted to The Economist that he will rely on workshops to introduce new reforms to a major state such as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- while neglecting the role of elected municipal councils, the Shura Council and the need for an elected parliament -- does not bode well for the monarchy.

There are clear signs that the descendants of the founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, have the same logic as their parents in terms of making unilateral decisions. The Saudis did not know where their money went in the past and will not know where it is going now -- all they know is that they will pay a lot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Iranian president does big business in Europe (Jim Boulden, 1/26/16, CNNMoney)

Hassan Rouhani landed in Italy on Monday and within hours was striking agreements worth billions of dollars to modernize Iran's infrastructure.

Saipem (SAPMY) was one of the first companies out of the gate, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Parsian Oil & Gas Development Company.

Saipem said the agreement covered "potential cooperation in revamping and upgrading the Pars Shiraz and Tabriz [oil] refineries."

Danieli (DNIYY) said it signed agreements worth 5.7 billion euros ($6 billion) to supply heavy machinery and equipment to Iran.

These deals are among the 14 contracts, MOUs and cooperation agreements signed in Rome on Monday, according to Iran's state news agency IRNA.

Further deals worth more than $18 billion were expected on Tuesday, IRNA reported. [...]

Similar deals are expected to be unveiled in Paris on Thursday when Rouhani meets with French President Francois Hollande and business leaders.

A deal for Iran to buy more than 100 aircraft from Airbus (EADSF) is widely expected to be signed in Paris.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Obama to Urge Easing 401(k) Rules for Small Businesses (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, JAN. 26, 2016, NY Times)

President Obama will propose in his 2017 budget new rules that would make it easier for small businesses to join together to form 401(k) retirement plans for their workers, even if the businesses are in different industries, administration officials said Monday.

The officials said that the proposal, if accepted by the Republican-led Congress, could make retirement plans available to more people by reducing administrative costs and compliance issues, which are sometimes too great for a single small business to bear.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


What Ted Cruz Values : The Texan is repelling millions who believe in an America of the future, not the past. (BRET STEPHENS, Jan. 25, 2016, WSJ)

[M]aybe I wouldn't be quite so nauseated by the junior senator from Texas if the cynicism with which he mounted his attack last week on "New York values" weren't so wholly matched by the sinister taint of an ambitious sophist who takes his audience for fools. Ted Cruz is the guy who made Donald Trump look tolerant and statesmanlike. That's saying something.

Already it has been widely mentioned that Mr. Cruz's wife, Heidi, is a senior executive with Goldman Sachs, which isn't exactly an Iowa values kind of institution, and that Mr. Cruz's 2012 run for Senate was financed with the help of $1 million in low-interest loans from Goldman. Also noted is that Mr. Cruz owes his political career to the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, who is libertarian, gay, and perhaps wondering what he was thinking.

And it goes without saying that most of us would prefer the values of the lowliest New York Fire Department cadet over the cleverest Harvard Law graduate any day we need to get out of trouble that isn't of our own making.

But the deeper problem with Mr. Cruz's assault on the Big Apple isn't his personal hypocrisy, or his two-bit stereotypes, or in biting the hands that fed him. That's what we expect of politicians; the priced-in rate of running for high office. It's the full-frontal assault on millions of GOP voters who, on one issue or another, share some of those dreaded New York values. The senator is trying to do to socially moderate Republicans what Democrats did to their own social conservatives when they barred pro-life Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Convention. Yes, kids, there used to be Democrats who didn't march in lockstep with Emily's List.

There also used to be a theory of politics that, in two-party systems, it was in both parties' interests to pitch the broadest possible tent; to have, as the great Si Kenen once put it, "no enemies, only friends and potential friends."

But that's not Mr. Cruz's theory. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Power Politics : Understanding the GOP's civil war over off-the-grid energy (JOSIAH NEELEY • January 26, 2016, American Conservative)

Since 2009, prices for solar power have fallen 70 percent. These declining costs, along with a healthy helping of government subsidies, have led to a rapid increase in solar deployment. And in April, Tesla Motors announced its new Powerwall battery, which can store excess electricity generated by solar during the day for use during less sunny periods.

Since utilities also can use storage technologies, low-cost storage needn't necessarily privilege distributed generation over grid-provided electricity, and the combined cost of solar generation and storage is still above that of grid electricity in most places. Still, these developments have not only made solar installation more attractive to many consumers, they also have everyone from utility executives to political activists to tech gurus reconsidering what the future of electricity might look like.

Innovative business models also are overcoming some of the traditional challenges to distributed generation. Many consumers are wary of paying the high upfront costs involved with buying and installing solar panels. In response, solar companies have marketed solar leases, where the company pays all upfront costs and maintains ownership of the panels, while charging a set monthly fee to the homeowner. The company then acts as a middleman, reselling the excess electricity the panels generate during peak periods. [...]

The biggest battles over distributed generation involve "net metering." Required in some form in 44 states plus the District of Columbia, net metering mandates that utilities must purchase the excess electricity a homeowner generates and credit the purchase against the homeowner's power bill, often at the full retail rate of electricity. But net metering schemes tend not to acknowledge that the price of electricity reflects not only the cost of generating the power but also the cost of building and maintaining the grid. Reimbursing homeowners at the full retail rate of electricity acts, effectively, as a subsidy.

Net metering tends to be popular across the political spectrum: in a recent poll by the ClearPath Foundation, 87 percent of self-described conservative Republicans supported policies that let them sell rooftop-generated solar power back to utilities.

As long as distributed generation remained a bit player in the electrical market, utilities regarded the costs of net metering as just an annoyance. As the proportion of distributed generation grows and the cost of grid maintenance is borne by a smaller and smaller base of electrical customers without distributed generation, the matter becomes more serious. The situation is roughly analogous to electric cars not paying for road repairs via the gas tax. A few electrical cars are fine, but what happens when most cars on the road aren't paying?

Utilities aren't eager to find out, and so they have been pushing for limits on net metering, including special monthly fees on net-metered homes. Last year the Salt River Project, an Arizona utility, imposed a monthly fee of up to $50 on homes that utilize net metering, effectively wiping out any monetary gain that comes from selling back unused electricity. While the rule has been challenged in court, the Arizona Public Service (APS), the state's largest electricity provider, has pushed for similar fees. Many other states are also considering imposing fees, capping the total amount of distributed generation eligible for net metering, or doing away with the program altogether.

Utilities aren't totally opposed to solar power: they increasingly like it, so long as they own it. At the same time APS was pushing for fees on homes that used solar power, it announced its own pilot rooftop solar program, which would see the utility install systems providing up to seven kilowatts of power and give participating customers a $30 monthly credit for 20 years. A similar program went into effect earlier this year in San Antonio. As with third-party power-purchase agreements, the utility would maintain ultimate ownership of the panels and the energy they produce.

Given the arguments typically deployed by utilities against solar, it may seem strange they would embrace the same model. Ultimately, what scares utilities most about distributed generation is the danger it poses to their monopoly over electricity generation. Shielded from competition for more than a century, utilities regard any technology that moves the grid back toward a more open and decentralized system as an existential threat. For the same reason, believers in the free market ought to look at the growth of distributed generation as an opportunity to move toward a more competitive generation system.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


Majority still supports single-payer option, poll finds  (Sarah Ferris, 01/19/15, The Hill)

More than five years after the single-payer system was scrapped from ObamaCare policy debates, just over 50 percent of people say they still support the idea, including one-quarter of Republicans, according to a new poll.

The single-payer option - also known as Medicare for all - would create a new, government-run insurance program to replace private coverage. [...]

Another proposed idea under ObamaCare - the public option - also retains wide approval.

Only 13 percent of people said they opposed the public option, which would give individuals the choice of buying healthcare through Medicare or private insurers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Obama Administration Opens Doors to Trade with Cuba (Rob Garver, January 26, 2016, Fiscal Times)

The rapidly improving relationship between the United States and Cuba will take a giant step on Wednesday, with the publication of new rules from the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department meant to increase the flow of goods and services between the two countries, facilitate air travel, and loosen restrictions on U.S. financial institutions that want to provide credit and other services related to trade with Cuba.

"Today's amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations build on successive actions over the last year and send a clear message to the world: the United States is committed to empowering and enabling economic advancements for the Cuban people," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a prepared statement. "We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans and will continue to take the steps necessary to help the Cuban people achieve the political and economic freedom that they deserve."

January 25, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Deals And Warm Words Flow As Iranian President Visits Europe (Antonella Cinelli and Crispian Balmer, 1/25/16, Reuters)

An Italian government source said the Iranians would sign up to 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) worth of deals in sectors from energy to infrastructure and from steel to shipbuilding.

"This is just the beginning of a journey. There are sectors where we must work closer together," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, standing alongside Rouhani.

"I am sure this visit will be a fundamental part of our ability to overcome together the challenge of fighting terrorism, atrocity and evil that we all have to confront together," Renzi added, referring specifically to Islamic State militants, who oppose Iran and the West in equal measure.

Rouhani had originally been due to visit Europe in November but canceled the trip after an Islamic State attack on Paris, which killed 130 people.

"We have always been in the front line against terrorism ... we have to continue (cooperating with Italy) to secure a genuine peace in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya," the Iranian president said, speaking through a translator.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Donald Trump suggests he may skip Fox debate if Megyn Kelly isn't fair (Dylan Byers, 1/25/16, CNNMoney)

...imagine what Angela Merkel will do to him?

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Russian economy hit hard by sliding oil price (dEUTSCHE-wELLE, 1/25/16)

Monday's preliminary figures report the biggest contraction in GDP since 2009 when the global financial crisis triggered the Russian economy to shrink by 8 percent.

This time around the country's economy has been dealt blows by the plummeting price of oil and Western sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea. Oil prices have fallen over 70 percent in the past 15 months, and the country relies on oil and gas for over half of its budget.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Shipping Rates So Low That Renting a Ferrari Costs More (Alex Longley, January 20, 2016, Bloomberg)

China's slowing growth has crushed shipping rates to such an extent that hiring a 1,100-foot merchant vessel would set you back less than the price of renting a Ferrari for a day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Saudis 'will not destroy the US shale industry' (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 24 Jan 2016, The Telegraph)

Hedge funds and private equity groups armed with $60bn of ready cash are ready to snap up the assets of bankrupt US shale drillers, almost guaranteeing that America's tight oil production will rebound once prices start to recover.

Daniel Yergin, founder of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said it is impossible for OPEC to knock out the US shale industry though a war of attrition even if it wants to, and even if large numbers of frackers fall by the wayside over coming months.

Mr Yergin said groups with deep pockets such as Blackstone and Carlyle will take over the infrastructure when the distressed assets are cheap enough, and bide their time until the oil cycle turns.

"The management may change and the companies may change but the resources will still be there," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM



One reading during the service, about the importance of humility, included a reference that caught Trump's ear.

"Can you imagine eye telling hand, 'Get lost, I don't need you' or hearing the head telling the foot, 'You're fired, your job has been phased out?'" the reader said. "You're fired!" was Trump's signature catchphrase when he hosted "The Apprentice" television show.

"I heard that," Trump later told reporters, when asked about the reference. "I wondered if that was for me. They didn't even know I was coming, so I doubt it. But it's an appropriate phrase."

In her sermon, the pastor, the Rev. Dr. Pamela Saturnia, also made several references with resonance for the 2016 race.

"Jesus is teaching us today that he has come for those who are outside of the church," she said, preaching a message of healing and acceptance for "those who are the most unloved, the most discriminated against, the most forgotten in our community and in our world."

Among those she cited were "the Syrian refugees" and "the Mexican migrants." Trump has advocated barring all Syrian refugees from entering the country because of potential security risks and deporting all of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Is Bernie Sanders right about health care? (H. Gilbert Welch, January 24, 2016, CNN)

A single payer would rein in the medical industrial complex. It would impose discipline in the introduction of new interventions, by requiring that they be tested prior to widespread adoption. It would then have the market power to ensure genuine innovations were fairly priced.

To be sure, critics would be quick to point out the side effects of a single payer: rationing, "death panels," and even the loss of freedom itself. If it's that bad, why is single payer the dominant strategy for health-care financing in other developed nations?

OK. We all know this is going nowhere. Even though a single payer would reduce overall health expenditures (not to mention lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs), it would mean more money would have to pass through the government (read: higher taxes). That's why you don't hear any other candidates talking about it. Universal coverage by a single payer is simply not on the political horizon.

But maybe it should be.

It's a less good alternative than universal HSAs and catastrophic, but, given that modern democracies demand health care as a right, a viable one.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Is Ted Cruz Really an Awful, Terrible Jerk?  (Tim Murphy and David Corn, Jan. 25, 2016, Mother Jones)

With the bromance between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump over, the mogul turned GOP front-runner has begun trash talking the senator from Texas. "He's a nasty guy," Trump recently huffed. "Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him." For members of the politerati, this was no revelation. As Cruz has quickly climbed the political ladder, he has left a long line of associates who complain, without much prompting, that he is an insufferable schmuck.

A prominent aide to George W. Bush's 2000 campaign could barely contain himself when we asked him to discuss Cruz, who worked in the campaign's policy shop. This person described Cruz as hyper-arrogant and widely despised, and he emphasized--over and over--that the pervasive dislike of Cruz within the Bush ranks had nothing to do with ideology. (Cruz, he noted, never objected to Bush's call for compassionate conservatism, immigration reform, and national education standards, and no one on the campaign regarded him as an ideologue.) The problem was simple: his personality.

"Ted thought he was an expert on everything," says this campaign veteran, who asked not to be named. "He was a smart and talented guy, but completely taken with himself and his own ideas. He would offer up opinions on everything, even matters outside his portfolio. He was a policy guy, but he would push his ideas on campaign strategy. He would send memos on everything to everyone. He would come to meetings where he wasn't invited--and wasn't wanted." In fact, this Bush alum recalls, "the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in. People would want out of that meeting. People wouldn't go to a meeting if they knew he would be there. It was his inability to be part of the team. That's exactly what he was: a big [********]."

The Bush vet goes on: "I don't know anyone who had a decent relationship with Cruz." And when Bush became president, his top campaign aides agreed Cruz should not be offered a job in the White House. "No one wanted to work with him," this source remembers. "George W. Bush couldn't stand the guy." This person adds, "It's a real quandary for Bush campaign people: Trump versus Cruz, who to vote for? And it would be a big quandary even if it's Cruz versus Hillary Clinton. That's how much they cannot stand him."

It may be easy for someone to lob anonymous shots at Cruz. But there are plenty of others, including prominent Republicans, who have not been shy about sharing their feelings about Cruz on the record. Here is a quick guide to Cruz's loudest detractors...

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Pressure Mounts Over Trump Spokeswoman's 'Bigoted' Tweets (PETER HASSON, 01/24/2016, Daily Caller)

Since The Daily Caller first revealed Trump campaign spokeswoman's long history of targeting conservatives, Christians and Catholics in angry and sneering tweets, pressure has mounted for the spokeswoman to explain her statements, which have been slammed in the media as "bigoted," "outrageously racist," and a "goldmine of embarrassment." [...]

Even Harry Potter author JK Rowling has inserted herself into the conversation, linking to a 2012 Pierson tweet on Sunday morning and adding the caption: "Death Eaters walk among us." In the Harry Potter series, "Death-Eater" was the name given to followers of the evil Lord Voldemort. In the tweet that drew Rowling's ire, Pierson tweeted: "Perfect Obama's dad born in Africa, Mitt Romney's dad born in Mexico. Any pure breeds left? #CNNDebate"

January 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


An Endeavor to Take Trump Seriously : What happens when a reporter tries to take the GOP's man of the moment seriously? (Andy Kroll, 1/22/16, National Journal)

I told Co­hen that I wanted to un­der­stand what Trump would set out to ac­com­plish as com­mand­er-in-chief and how he'd ad­just to the very dif­fer­ent life a pres­id­ent leads as com­pared with, say, a bon vivant busi­ness mogul. Co­hen began to an­swer the lat­ter ques­tion -- "He's gonna have to downs­ize and move to the White House" -- then caught him­self and in­sisted that the rest of our con­ver­sa­tion stay off the re­cord. But he told me to send him some ques­tions and he would pass them along to Mr. Trump. 

Spit-balling with my ed­it­ors, we came up with six seem­ingly fool­proof quer­ies, each simple and eas­ily an­swer­able but de­signed to eli­cit something mean­ing­ful about Trump's plans and am­bi­tions for the of­fice he seeks. For the re­cord, here's ex­actly what I asked:

"What qual­it­ies would you look for in a vice pres­id­ent?"

"Some people say the cur­rent pres­id­ent has not done a good job of out­reach to Con­gress. How would you build re­la­tion­ships with mem­bers of Con­gress on both sides of the aisle?" 

"Aside from im­mig­ra­tion, if you were to put your name on one piece of do­mest­ic-policy le­gis­la­tion, what would it be?"

"What would be the chal­lenges of ad­apt­ing to the pres­id­en­tial life­style?"

"Who would run your busi­ness em­pire while you are in the White House?"

"Your slo­gan is 'Make Amer­ica Great Again!' What era do you think was the greatest in Amer­ic­an his­tory?"

The day I emailed those ques­tions to Co­hen, the cam­paign an­nounced that Trump was trav­el­ing to Laredo, Texas, to eye­ball the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der firsthand. Trump, of course, had caused an in­ter­na­tion­al up­roar when, in his cam­paign rol­lout speech, he claimed Mex­ico was send­ing drug deal­ers and rap­ists over the bor­der. I still wasn't sure which of my pos­sible angles I was pur­su­ing, but I booked a flight to Laredo any­way and copied the bor­der co­ordin­ates provided by the Trump cam­paign in­to Google Maps. The pin landed in a vast, un­fa­mil­i­ar ex­panse of gray. As I zoomed out, the co­ordin­ates re­vealed them­selves to be slightly off -- they had sent me to with­in a few dozen miles of the bor­der between China and My­an­mar. [...]

WHEN HE'D fin­ished his vis­it to the check­point, Trump was fer­ried to the me­dia tent in a black SUV. In his white hat, blue blazer, khaki pants, and white-leath­er golf shoes, he looked as if he'd just emerged from the club­house at the Mar-a-Lago. After a few in­tro­duct­ory com­ments from Laredo May­or Pete Saenz, the can­did­ate pro­ceeded to de­liv­er per­haps the strangest set of "pre­pared" re­marks of the en­tire 2016 cam­paign (so far). Here was a can­did­ate, mind you, who had dis­tin­guished him­self from the rest of the Re­pub­lic­an pack by savaging un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants and ac­cus­ing the Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment of send­ing rap­ists and oth­er crim­in­al miscre­ants over the bor­der. And here is Trump's state­ment at the bor­der, ver­batim and in full:

"Thank you. Well, thank you very much for be­ing here. It's been an amaz­ing ex­per­i­ence. Mex­ico is boom­ing, ab­so­lutely boom­ing. And Je­sus [Olivares], the city man­ager, and Pete have done an amaz­ing job right here. But a lot of what's hap­pen­ing here is be­cause of the fact that Mex­ico is do­ing so well. Just do­ing bey­ond what any­body ever thought. And I don't know if that's good for the United States, but it's good for Mex­ico. Any­body have any ques­tions?"

I peered around the tent. No one knew quite how to re­act. Noth­ing about the state­ment com­puted at all: Trump had come to the bor­der to praise Mex­ico? Had the weath­er got­ten to him? Had he suc­cumbed to heat­stroke? Had we?

The en­su­ing ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion was no less sur­real. Re­port­ers tried hard to ex­tract something of sub­stance, pep­per­ing Trump with ques­tions about his views on im­mig­ra­tion and im­mig­rants and bor­der se­cur­ity, and what ex­actly he pro­posed to do about any of it. It was fu­tile at best, in­furi­at­ing at worst. To wit: 

Re­port­er: "What do you say to the people I've spoken to this morn­ing in Laredo who called you a ra­cist?"

Trump: "We just landed and there were a lot of people at the air­port, and they were all wav­ing Amer­ic­an flags, and they were all in fa­vor of Trump and what I'm do­ing. Vir­tu­ally every­one that we saw, there was such a great, warm -- I was ac­tu­ally sur­prised -- but there was such great warmth at the air­port with all of those people that were there. So we're very, very honored."

Re­port­er: "There were plenty chant­ing against you."

Trump: "They were chant­ing for me."

Re­port­er: "They were chant­ing against you."

Trump: "I didn't see that."

With grow­ing des­per­a­tion, the re­port­ers turned to policy ques­tions:

Re­port­er: "What would you ac­tu­ally do to change the il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion?" 

Trump: "Well, the one thing you have to do, and as Je­sus was say­ing and as the may­or was say­ing, there is a huge prob­lem with the il­leg­als com­ing through. And in this sec­tion, it's a prob­lem; in some sec­tions, it's a massive prob­lem. And you have to cre­ate, you have to make the people that come in, they have to be leg­al. Very simple." 

Re­port­er: "What would you do with the 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants who are already here?"

Trump: "The first thing we have to do is strengthen our bor­ders, and after that, we're gonna have plenty of time to talk about it."

After just ten minutes un­der the tent, Trump thanked us, turned on his white-leath­er heel, climbed back in­to an Es­cal­ade, and sailed away to the next stop on his ma­gic­al bor­der tour. [...]

"I FEEL DIRTY," I told the Brits as we headed back to the nonprivate part of the Laredo air­port. Used. Chewed up. I couldn't help think­ing about how my tweets and pho­tos -- my mere pres­ence in Laredo -- had helped to feed the in­sa­ti­able hun­ger for at­ten­tion and con­tro­versy that keeps Trump in the news. Or how, in re­turn, he'd giv­en me -- us -- ab­so­lutely noth­ing bey­ond a few hours of cable-news-style en­ter­tain­ment. 

I de­cided to spend the night in the ter­min­al be­fore catch­ing an early con­nec­tion the next morn­ing. The young­er Brit and I ordered din­ner at the air­port res­taur­ant. He ate while ra­cing to file his story be­fore his 5:30 p.m. de­par­ture, and I picked at my brisket and eaves­dropped on the con­ver­sa­tion between him and his ed­it­or. It was a telling ex­change. Each time the Brit tried to ex­plain how use­less Trump's vis­it had been, how little had been said or done, a long pause fol­lowed. No, I could al­most hear the ed­it­or say­ing, we need some news. "I guess he did say that Lati­nos ac­tu­ally like him," the Brit fi­nally con­ceded. "Sup­pose we could go with that." A story de­scrib­ing what had ac­tu­ally gone on -- "Trump briefly vis­its bor­der, says noth­ing" -- was ap­par­ently un­think­able. 

It seems there were many sim­il­ar re­port­er-ed­it­or con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen­ing that af­ter­noon. After the Brit de­par­ted, I settled for the night in a chair across from the tick­et coun­ters and began scan­ning the vari­ous ac­counts of the day's events. I ex­pec­ted to see stor­ies con­firm­ing, per­haps even lament­ing, the ab­surdity and fu­til­ity of it all. In­stead, what I read floored me. We'd all gone to the same events, heard the same re­marks, yet the stor­ies ten­ded to de­scribe Trump's vis­it in the same terms as a run-of-the-mill pres­id­en­tial cam­paign event -- as if it had been just the kind of per­form­ance that a Jeb Bush or a Scott Walk­er, say, might have giv­en if they'd sched­uled a day at the bor­der. In the clichés and tropes so com­mon to polit­ic­al journ­al­ism, Trump was be­ing de­scribed by per­fectly re­spect­able journ­al­ists as "de­fi­ant" and show­ing "flour­ishes of bravado"; his trip was a "whirl­wind" that led to "yet an­oth­er day of the head­line dom­in­ance that has made him the sum­mer's sen­sa­tion." (The prize for the gush­ing-est sen­tence about Trump's bor­der tour goes to the NPR re­port­er who, on the next day's Morn­ing Edi­tion, de­scribed Trump's jet as a "sump­tu­ous, red-white-and-blue Boe­ing 757 with his name in huge gold let­ters that in lower­case mean 'to sur­pass,' 'to outdo.'"Š" Oy.)

Polit­ic­al re­port­ers are pro­grammed to cov­er pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates in a ri­gidly spe­cif­ic way. Present them with a purple-state gov­ernor or an am­bi­tious young U.S. sen­at­or, and they can per­form ad­mir­ably. Drop in an ab­er­ra­tion like Don­ald Trump -- a sort of pseudo-can­did­ate who de­fi­antly knows noth­ing about the very is­sues he's run­ning on and who openly mocks the ac­cep­ted cus­toms and niceties of Amer­ic­an cam­paigns -- and they don't know how to re­act, how to re­cal­ib­rate. To be fair, some did at­tempt to con­vey the bizarre empti­ness of Trump's rhet­or­ic and the point­less­ness of his vis­it, not­ing in journo-speak that he'd said "vir­tu­ally noth­ing" or that he'd "ducked" ques­tions about fix­ing the na­tion's im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem. 

Pop­u­list sup­port isn't what fuels Trump. He mostly feeds off of us, the me­dia. And we ob­lige him.

But if it was head­lines Trump wanted -- and you know it was -- pretty much every­one com­plied. The New York Times: "Don­ald Trump, at Mex­ic­an Bor­der, Claims Close Ties to His­pan­ics." Los Angeles Times: "At Texas-Mex­ico bor­der, Don­ald Trump cites 'great danger' from im­mig­rants." The Dal­las Morn­ing News: "Trump does Texas: At bor­der, he blasts naysay­ers, pre­dicts vic­tory." The cam­paign could hardly have writ­ten them bet­ter it­self.

Mean­while, I still had a story to write -- with the lux­ury of far more time than the daily re­port­ers but without a single sub­stant­ive word from Trump, or his col­leagues, to put in the thing. The next morn­ing, on a stop­over as I flew back east, 
I called Mi­chael Co­hen to ask him about the status of the ques­tions I'd sent -- the ones about Trump's do­mest­ic-policy pri­or­it­ies and his ideas for im­prov­ing re­la­tions between the White House and Con­gress. Co­hen scoffed. "These are really kinda silly ques­tions," he told me. "Where's Melania gonna put her ward­robe? Who really cares?" Nev­er mind that I hadn't asked any­thing about Trump's wife or her clothes. 

Co­hen told me to call Hope Hicks, she of the mid­day nap, and whittle my ques­tions down to one or two. Back in Wash­ing­ton, I did just that. She took my call, put me on hold, brought me back on the line, then said she had to take an­oth­er im­port­ant call. "I'll call you right back," she said. I nev­er heard from her again. 

So this is my story, such as it is. I have zero to re­port about Trump's plans for ac­tu­ally be­ing pres­id­ent -- ex­cept that, from all avail­able evid­ence, he hasn't giv­en it a mo­ment's thought. My brief ad­ven­ture in Trump­ing, in fact, left me con­vinced that the whole point of this cam­paign -- the sum total of all the "there" that is there -- is the spec­tacle it­self, the loud, fast-mo­tion visu­al feast provided by an in­sa­ti­able yet boxed-in press corps track­ing the man's every odd move and un­ac­count­able ut­ter­ance. 

Be­com­ing pres­id­ent of the United States is, for Trump, be­side the point. Sure, he's ahead in the polls, some­times by double di­gits, but at this early date, those num­bers are ab­stract and al­most en­tirely mean­ing­less -- a fact that Trump prob­ably un­der­stands quite well. There's no deny­ing that his pug­na­cious at­ti­tude touches something raw in a swath of the Amer­ic­an elect­or­ate; however, I'd ar­gue that pop­u­list sup­port isn't what fuels Trump, either. He mostly feeds off of us, the me­dia. And we ob­lige him. Trump didn't fly to Texas for the Lare­doans; he didn't go to the bor­der to show he could be "pres­id­en­tial." He flew to Texas for me and the Brits and CNN. 

Think of it this way: If Trump's poll num­bers were to com­pletely bot­tom out next week, but the press was still fol­low­ing his every move, would he con­tin­ue to cam­paign? I'd wager that he would keep go­ing, polls be damned, with the same glee­ful vig­or. But if the op­pos­ite happened -- soar­ing poll num­bers and no round-the-clock press? I think it's a safe bet that Trump would pack it in and move on to his next "GREAT" thing. Hon­estly: If a Trump rally in Ce­dar Rap­ids or Spartan­burg goes un­covered live by CNN or Fox, did it really even hap­pen?

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM

Odds Are on the GOP to Win the White House, Unless...  (Eric Pianin, January 24, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Using economics models as a forecaster is another way to predict presidential winners. Yale professor Ray Fair developed the Fair model, which focuses exclusively on Gross Domestic Product growth per capita and the inflation rate to predict what share of the popular vote the Democrats and Republicans are likely to pick up.

"Because this recovery has been so sluggish, even though inflation has also been low, almost any realistic assumptions about how the economy might perform between now and Election Day leads to a Republican victory," Rattner asserts.

To be more precise, the model - using consensus estimates of how well the economy will perform this year--suggests that the Democrats will pick up no more than 46 percent of the vote. That would mean a landslide victory for the GOP.

As for the accuracy of this technique, Rattner says the model has only been wrong three times dating back to 1916. However, Democrats can take heart: One of the few times the model was dead wrong occurred in 2012, when it projected Obama would get only 49 percent of the vote against Republican Mitt Romney but wound up receiving 51.3 percent.

The danger is a GOP nominee with high enough negatives to match the UR's, as Mitt had in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


On Bureaucracy and the Left (Guy Patrick Cunningham, January 21st, 2016, LA Review of Books)

Bureaucracy, like almost all human inventions, is a tool, and it reflects political priorities. It will never, on its own, be able to counteract power imbalances, because those imbalances will influence the laws that set the perimeters bureaucracy acts within, the priorities executives set for regulators, and the market signals that regulators look to for information. But it is not the source of those imbalances, and any critique of bureaucracy worth keeping needs to acknowledge this. To Graeber's credit, he readily acknowledges that there are situations where bureaucracy is not only useful but necessary, offering organ donation programs as an example where waiting lists, lotteries, and paperwork are the safest ways to tame an inherently arbitrary process. More importantly, he embeds his criticisms of bureaucracy in a much larger intellectual framework. For Graeber, the bureaucratization of society is a part of something even more troubling: "The gradual fusion of public and private power into a single entity, rife with rules and regulations whose ultimate purpose is to extract wealth in the form of profits."

Before launching into his critique of total bureaucratization, though, Graeber turns his attention to the more prevalent, conservative critique of bureaucracy, specifically as articulated by Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises in his 1944 book Bureaucracy. This is important, because the Austrian critique still influences thinkers and regulators from across the political spectrum. For example, Sunstein's Valuing Life owes no small debt to von Mises's fellow Austrian School economist Friedrich Hayek -- Sunstein even explicitly credits Hayek with forging many of his ideas. Since Sunstein served as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) during most of Barack Obama's first term, he shows the impact of the Austrian School critique in the mainstream American politics, even among liberals. In Graeber's summary, von Mises argues "that by definition, systems of government administration could never organize information with anything like the efficiency of impersonal market pricing mechanisms." Hayek famously developed this line of thought even further, and this is what appeals to Sunstein, who advocates "government by discussion," and details how the Obama-era OIRA "aggregates" information from a variety of public and private sources, as well as incorporating market cues, in an effort to alleviate this inefficiency. So the laissez-faire Austrian School not only influences how we talk about bureaucracy, but how the regulatory state itself operates.

Graber however, finds that critique lacking. First he notes that von Mises's ideas about bureaucracy are rooted in the belief that the kinds of welfare states then being constructed in nations like France and the United Kingdom would inevitably lead to "fascism" -- a prediction that has quite obviously not come true in the 70-plus years since Bureaucracy's publication. He also objects to the way von Mises fails to account for the way bureaucracies and markets actually come into being, noting that, "Historically, markets are generally either a side effect of government operations [...] or were directly created by government policy." Indeed, much of Graeber's most famous book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, concerns itself with explicating that history. The result, in Graeber's view, is that markets and bureaucracy cannot be separated. He points at the explosion of legal clerks, registrars, and police during the British Industrial Revolution as one example of this process. He argues that "even right-wing critics like von Mises were willing to admit -- at least in their academic writing -- that markets don't really regulate themselves, and that an army of administrators was indeed required to keep any market system going."

It's worth noting that the deregulation of the post-Reagan/Thatcher years -- which was often executed in the name of Austrian School principles -- hasn't reduced the role of bureaucracy in everyday life. Graeber himself labels deregulation a "scam," and half-jokingly asserts the "Iron Law" that:

[A]ny market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.

Financial markets in particular are symbiotic to government. After all, governments maintain currencies, enforce debts (especially through the court system), and underwrite financial institutions. Graeber puts it succinctly: "There's no such thing as an 'unregulated' bank. Nor could there be." Certainly, it's fair to wonder how a nation where most bank deposits are insured by the federal government (and where economic crises are answered with massive public bailouts for financial institutions) could ever really "deregulate." So Graeber is correct that any real left-wing critique of bureaucratization needs to reckon with the financialization of the American economy.

But Graeber takes this reckoning and uses it to introduce an even more potent conversation about structural violence and its effects. Graeber traces the arbitrariness of bureaucracy to the violence underlying society's institutions: "All of these are institutions involved in the allocation of resources within a system of property rights regulated and guaranteed by governments in a system that ultimately rests on the threat of force." Throughout history, property rights have only existed when backed by some form of government. 

...we should amend the Constitution to require that all government regulations and hirings have sunset clauses.
Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


 'Hillarycare' Did, and Didn't, Lead to Obamacare : The real precursor was Mitt Romney's plan, say people who wrote the president's health care law. (Sahil Kapur, January 22, 2016, Bloomberg)

[O]bama's plan more closely resembles the Massachusetts overhaul signed into law in 2006 by the state's then-governor, Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent in 2012. But people who helped write the 
Affordable Care Act give Clinton credit for laying the political groundwork that helped Obama succeed where her husband, former President Bill Clinton, failed.

"The Affordable Care Act was modeled after Romney's Massachusetts plan, not the 1993 Bill Clinton plan," said Timothy Jost, an expert on health care law. "The 1993 plan and the ACA are very different proposals." 

Obama's plan is a federal version of Romney's in its basic structure: A regulated marketplace that prohibits insurers from refusing coverage for sick people, or charging them higher prices; requires most people to buy coverage; and provides subsidies to low-income people to help them afford coverage. The goal of both plans was to preserve most existing coverage while extending it to the uninsured.

Clinton's plan, by contrast, was more ambitious in its scope and would have been more disruptive for the vast majority of Americans who receive insurance coverage through an employer or through Medicare or Medicaid, the government programs for the elderly and disabled and for the poor. The sprawling proposal sought to achieve universal health coverage by offering all Americans a standard minimum-benefits package and imposing limits on out-of-pocket expenses, along with a broad requirement that employers provide insurance.

"It did try to impose a fundamentally new system," Jost said, arguing that many people would have seen their coverage--or the source of it--change.

"For all the criticism that the ACA has caused disruption, it's remarkably incremental compared to what the Clinton administration proposed back in the 1990s," said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation who worked in the Clinton administration and helped develop the proposal. "The ACA leaves the current private insurance system largely unchanged for the majority of people who get coverage through their employers. The Clinton Health Security Act would have required most people to switch their health insurance coverage to new health insurance alliances, and it imposed caps on how fast premiums could rise."

Too bad Mitt didn't have sense enough on being better at administering it than the UR.
Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Donald Trump Jokes He Could 'Shoot Somebody' Without Losing Support (BEN GITTLESON JOHN SANTUCCI, Jan 23, 2016, ABC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump joked today that he could "shoot somebody" in New York City but still not lose what he called his loyal supporters.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" Trump said to laughter at a rally he held at a Christian college in northwest Iowa. "It's like, incredible."

As he spoke, the billionaire put his fingers into the shape of a gun and acted out pulling the trigger.

January 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Should Business Travel Be Obsolete? (Ricardo Hausmann, JAN 20, 2016, Project Syndicate)

Think about it: You can call, email, and even watch your counterparty on FaceTime, Skype, or GoToMeeting. So why do companies fork out more than $1.2 trillion a year - a full 1.5% of the world's GDP - for international business travel?

The expense is not only huge; it is also growing - at 6.5% per year, almost twice the rate of global economic growth and almost as fast as information and telecommunication services. Computing power has moved from our laptops and cellphones to the cloud, and we are all better off for it. So why do we need to move brains instead of letting those brains stay put and just sending them bytes? Why waste precious work time in the air, at security checks, and waiting for our luggage?

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


A dark-horse GOP candidate is creeping up in New Hampshire (Maxwell Tani, Jan. 19, 2016, Business Insider)

All but one of the major polls conducted this month included in the RealClearPolitics average of recent surveys have found Kasich's support in the double digits in the Granite State.

A Monmouth University poll released last week, for example, found Kasich tied with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for third place, with both candidates garnering 14% support. A NH1 survey released last week, meanwhile, found him tied with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) at 12% for the same spot. 

Kasich initially embraced a role as a leading Trump critic. But more recently, he has been relatively muted in his rhetorical attacks Trump, focusing primarily on mobilizing support in New Hampshire.

In an interview with Time magazine, Kasich said he still has confidence that he'll prevail in New Hampshire because of his executive experience and optimistic message.

"People will settle down and start looking for someone who is a reformer and who has accomplished things," Kasich said. "I believe that, at the end, they will want someone who can land the plane."

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-
Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Russia's Math Geniuses Work Mainly in the West (Leonid Bershidsky, 1/21/16, Bloomberg View)

Between 1992 and 2008, the average Soviet émigré published 20 more papers than the average American, and those papers received 143 more citations. In short, the Soviet émigrés originated in the upper tail of the skill distribution of mathematicians in the Soviet Union and quickly moved into the upper tail of the skill distribution in the American mathematics community.

In certain areas, such as integral and differential equations, Russians were more advanced than Americans. On arrival to the West, they pushed local researchers aside in these fields. Eventually, they found a way to banks and trading firms just as the demand for "quants" increased and the financial industry's tech revolution began.

This made several markets more competitive, but in the end it resulted in a significant transfer of knowledge to the West. The ex-Soviets would, for example, cite previously little-known work that had been published in the Soviet Union, and thus enrich the available research base. In business, too, they used techniques and approaches that hadn't been common in the West before their arrival.

It's clear that the West benefited from the influx: This is a textbook case proving the usefulness of skilled immigration. The effect on Russia itself, the donor country, is less well-researched.

Timorin and Sterligov used the Web of Science academic database to locate publications by mathematicians with common Russian last names. In 1994, about 70 percent of such scientists were affiliated with Russian institutions. That proportion dropped sharply in the 1990s, to about 50 percent. The Timorin-Sterligov paper sheds some light on where most of the mathematicians went; unsurprisingly, more than a third of those who moved West in 1993-2015 went to the U.S., with France a distant second. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Immigration not going to stop Germany's demographic problem (Deutsche-welle, 1/20/16)

According to a report published by Germany's Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) on Wednesday, the recent influx of refugees is not going to solve the dilemma caused by the country's aging population. In a nation where a strong social benefits system depends on a young workforce paying into it, some had hoped immigration would help slow down the decline of tax income generated by a low birthrate among Germans.

However, as the report suggested, these hopes may be dashed by the fact that the increased migrant population could only have short-term effects. Indeed, the demographic difference between the old and young in Germany is so vast that even the current unprecedented level of immigration cannot reverse the trend.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


The decline of Bitcoin shows you can't engineer past government (Ryan Cooper, January 20, 2016, The Week)

One consistent idle daydream on the American right is somehow living outside of government. From Ayn Rand's "Galt's Gulch," where a bunch of plutocrats secede from America to gleefully watch society collapse without its job creators, to nutty Silicon Valley plans for "seasteading," somebody is always working on a government-free society.

Over the last few years, many technology-minded thinkers and programmers have made such ideas a reality. Perhaps most notable is Bitcoin, the first fully decentralized currency and payment system. With big government interference all but impossible, surely this virtual money would be the dawn of a new age of freedom.

Nope! The Bitcoin system has all but seized up, and people are abandoning it in droves. The reason is simple: poor governance. It turns out one cannot engineer one's way past politics.

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


Pro-life laws in 2016 will focus on unborn child's suffering (COURTNEY CRANDELL,  Jan. 19, 2016, World)

In 2015, the fight against abortion began with a setback when a highly publicized 20-week abortion ban failed to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives despite its Republican majority. But the pro-life movement regrouped and accomplished legislative victories on the state and federal level, making last year one of the most life-affirming since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) celebrated the 2015 victories in two recent reports that also outlined legislative priorities for 2016. Pro-lifers hope last year's momentum will carry through to November and help sweep a pro-life president into the White House.

According to AUL's 2015 legislative session report, 48 states introduced about 315 measures related to abortion, a 17 percent increase over 2014. And state lawmakers enacted 30 of those measures, which included 20-week abortion bans, abortion facility regulations, chemical abortion regulations, and admitting privilege requirements.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Nine Tales of Trump at His Trumpiest (MATT LABASH, 2/01/16, Weekly Standard)

If you're the sort of person who's been conditioned to accept reality-show excess as entertainment, which is to say the sort of person who lives in America, then what's not to love? There's the supermodel wife and the gold-covered "Trump"-embossed Boeing 757. There's the garishly decorated three-story Trump Tower penthouse that had a New Statesman writer, after a tour, calling Trump "a man whose front room proved that it really was possible to spend a million dollars in Woolworth's." There's that hair that looks like a mac-'n'-cheese-colored nutria that was hit by an oil truck. There's the permanent pucker, which at rest makes Trump look like a puzzled duck working out long-division problems in its head.

And who doesn't admire his fiscal conservatism? ("The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes.") His impeccable manners? (To Larry King: "Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad.") His commitment to diversity? ("I have a great relationship with the blacks.") Who couldn't appreciate the executive know-how and tested mettle that come from telling La Toya Jackson "you're fired" on Celebrity Apprentice?

And as if all that doesn't qualify Trump to Make America Great Again®, he's a man who knows his own mind, except when he changes it. (Trump has switched his party registration five times since 1987, once every 5.8 years.) He's a man who tells it like it is, except when he's lying. ("Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest and you all know it!") He's a man of rich contradictions. ("I'm actually very modest," he once bragged.)

But to lovingly catalog all of Trump's gaffes is a pointless exercise. Even calling them "gaffes" is a bit of a misnomer. Gaffes are what stop normal politicians. But a gaffe can't actually be considered a gaffe if, say, you give a speech in the belly of the evangelical beast, Liberty University, and show your total ignorance of the Bible (an amazing holy book, right up there with The Art of the Deal) by calling Second Corinthians "Two Corinthians," and yet you still sop up 42 percent of evangelical voters, as Trump did in a recent New York Times/CBS poll. Second-place Ted Cruz (or should I say "two place") only managed 25 percent. Expecting a gaffe to stop Trump, at this late date, is like expecting a traffic cone to stop a runaway train.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Why Trump and Sanders See Losers Everywhere : Competition and the Zero-Sum Fallacy (STEVEN HORWITZ, January 20, 2016, The Freeman)

Think of the ways Trump and others on the political right talk about international trade. The basic framework is to see other countries as enemies in competition with us. The goal of trade policy is somehow to "beat" them, because if they are "winning" by selling us a lot of stuff, we must be losing. The result is mistaken policies such as Trump's proposed 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.

We see the same us-and-them thinking on the left, where progressives perceive a persistent battle between capital and labor, each trying to defeat the other. For leftists, capital is always the winner and labor is always the loser -- unless the government intervenes. The appropriate policy response, from this perspective, is either to limit capital's gains or, if you're a bit more radical, to help labor vanquish capital once and for all. One of the related beliefs on the left is that the wealth of capital comes at the expense of labor. That is, capital's gains come from labor's losses.

Both arguments share the underlying belief that the winners' gains must come at the losers' expense. Economic activity, and specifically wealth creation, is at best seen as what economists would call a "zero-sum game." [...]

Market economies, however, are not zero-sum games. Consider the profits of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or any of thousands of lesser-known inventors who have become fabulously wealthy by providing us with products and services that we value. Their gains are not our losses. To the contrary: markets are what we call positive-sum games. Entrepreneurs make huge profits, but they can only do so by providing us with products and services we value more than what we give up to obtain them.

Every time you get something yummy from a food truck, for example, you demonstrate the mutual benefit of trade: the truck owner gets your money and you get something delicious to eat. You both gave up something you valued less than the thing you acquired. Trade is made of win.

Even Walter Mondale supported NAFTA. Who was the last nominee this retrograde on economics?

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


New Study Supports Evidence That CO2 is Actually Making Forests More Resilient (Michael Bastasch, 1/19/16, Stream)

A new study supports evidence that rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions are making American forests healthier and more resilient. In fact, U.S. forests are likely to get even healthier over the next few decades.

"We found that trees are tolerant of rising temperatures and have responded to rising carbon dioxide," according to a recent study by scientists with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.

Scientists reviewed a slew of studies to see what scientists found in regards to how global warming would impact forest health. While there seems to be disagreement over the future of forest health in a warmer world, scientists found "United States forest health has improved over recent decades and is not likely to be impaired in at least the next few decades."

"We find that plants can shift their optimum temperature for photosynthesis, especially in the presence of elevated CO2 , which also increases plant productivity," scientists wrote. "Additionally, elevated CO2 increases water use efficiency and protects plants from drought."

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Here's How Iran Will Rejoin the Global Financial System (Jonathan Saul, 1/23/16, Reuters )

[F]or Iran to resume business with the global banking world - for the first time since 2012 - its banks need to be linked to overseas lenders on SWIFT. The system, the Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is used to transmit payments and letters of credit.

"We have sent almost 40 SWIFTs to different banks around the world and we have requested that now that the sanctions are lifted, we would like to exchange documents and whether they will consider a correspondent banking relationship," said Parviz Aghili, chief executive and managing director of Tehran-based Middle East Bank. "Some of them have come back and have asked for various questions, for documents they need."

"My feeling is it is going to take a couple of weeks or so before we start to see proper re-engagement. It will be slowly, slowly," he said in an interview.

Aghili said other Iranian banks were in the same situation regarding SWIFT as his company, which is listed on the Tehran Stock Exchange and has total assets of around $1 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Can John Kasich excel in the year of the angry candidate? (Ruth Marcus, January 22, 1016, Washington Post)

In the year of the angry candidate and the even angrier voter, John Kasich stands out as the self-proclaimed "prince of light and hope."

As Kasich instructed voters at a town hall meeting here -- his second in this town, population 1,444 -- "If you want to just yell and scream at the other side, you should not vote for me. . . . Don't vote for me."

Little about Kasich's message is standard political operating procedure. He is more apt to mention God on the campaign trail than he is his Democratic opponents, much less his Republican ones.

"This is not a political speech -- this is a life talk," Kasich told workers at a warehouse in the town of Bow, observing that "the Lord has put his hand on me for some reason. But he's got his hand on everybody in this room if you let him." Then he wondered, "What do you think? Am I out of my mind here telling you this stuff?"

His style is folksy and meandering, bordering at times on goofy. One minute he's talking about streamlining government regulations, the next he's musing about parking. "You ever notice, you're at a crowded mall and somebody's getting ready to back out, and you're waiting there. Did you ever notice how long it takes them to leave that space? Huh?"

Kasich has a reputation for prickliness, yet he seems the happiest warrior on the 2016 campaign trail, with a message that is distinctly populist and bipartisan. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


NFL Coaches Are Getting Away With Crimes Against Middle-School Math (BENJAMIN MORRIS, 1/21/16, 538)

The opportunity for the Packers to cap off that already legendary drive with a counterintuitive but mathematically sound two-point attempt -- whether successful or not -- had the potential to be another such reason-affirming moment for me. [...]

Now, don't get me wrong: That the Packers should have gone for two wasn't obvious. But just because it wasn't obvious doesn't mean the call was difficult. This requires no advanced math and could literally be on a middle school homework assignment.

The question is: Which is greater, the chances of (1) Aaron Rodgers converting that 2-point conversion, or the chances that the Packers (2) make the extra point and (3) win in overtime? To make this comparison, we need to know or estimate three numbers.

Let's start by looking at league averages:

Two-point conversion success rate: Since 2001,3 teams have converted 47.2 percent of their 2-point tries from the 2-yard line (431 of 913).
Extra point success rate: Since the inception of the longer extra point this season, NFL kickers have made 94.3 percent of their attempts from the 15-yard line (1,131 of 1,199).
Expected winning percentage in overtime: Since 2001, the away team has won in overtime 45.5 percent of the time (110 of 242 overtimes that produced a winner).
With these numbers (which used only division), we can find our chances of winning for each option using -- wait for it -- multiplication.

Go for two: With no time left, this is exactly equal to the estimated 2-point success rate: 47.2 percent.
Send to overtime: Chances of making extra point multiplied by chances of winning in overtime. 94.3 percent * 45.5 percent = 42.9 percent.
There, we already have a baseline 4.3 percentage point advantage to going for two for a typical road team in the Packers' position, using nothing but grade-school mathematics.

But those are just baselines, right? Everyone from coaches to media to fans will tell you that averages miss the hundreds of situation-specific factors at play. This is a technically true but often misleading rejoinder -- and one that's almost always used only to defend the status quo.

But in the spirit of accuracy and transparency, I've tried to refine the assumptions that go into that calculation above.

Two-point conversion success rate: Adjusting for team strength and refining the data to the most comparable situations boosts our estimate to 48.8 percent.
Extra point success rate: Adjusting for league trends and kicker Mason Crosby's skill raises our estimate to 95.9 percent.
Expected winning percentage in overtime: Adjusting for the overtime rules changes and playoff dynamics lowers our estimate to 42.6 percent.
If you would like a little more detail about how I arrived at those estimates, here is a longish footnote.4

So here's where we stand under our revised assumptions:

Go for two: Equals estimated 2-point success rate: 48.8 percent.
Send to overtime: Chances of making extra point multiplied by chances of winning in overtime. 95.9 percent * 42.6 percent = 40.9 percent.
Naturally, these educated guess assumptions could be off in various respects, but that 8 percentage point gap is hard to overcome. When people who argue that there's too much uncertainty to buck the status quo actually list the variables they have in mind (unfortunately, they often don't), they tend to overestimate the amount that situation-specific variables affect the balance of probabilities. And the variables cited often don't even cut the way they think they do. For example: In this case, an oft-cited factor is that the Packers' receiving corps was weakened by injuries, including the loss of Randall Cobb earlier in the game. But, as I discussed in the footnotes, anything that makes the Packers weaker relative to the Cardinals is likely to hurt their chances in overtime more than their chances of converting the 2-point try.

Thus, our best (and perhaps slightly conservative) estimate is that the Packers cost themselves about 7.9 percent of a win by kicking rather than going for two, and this whole thing could have been avoided if NFL coaches took the time to sit down and learn some basic percentages.

Watching two of the NFL's longest serving coaches--Bill Belichick and Andy Reid--mishandle the play clock at the end of the Pats/Chiefs game was excrutiating.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Jeb Bush's Ads Take on a Negative Sheen (BETH REINHARD, Jan. 22, 2016, WSJ)

The paper trail from the super PAC behind Mr. Bush, Right to Rise USA, started with half a dozen fliers on the former Florida governor's record but now consists mostly of negative ads about his rivals, particularly Sen. Marco Rubio.
It is the same story on television: After two months of exclusively pro-Bush spots, anti-Rubio ads make up all the commercials now airing in New Hampshire and South Carolina and half in the other early-voting state of Iowa, according to Mr. Rubio's media tracker.

Right to Rise added an anti-John Kasich ad to the scrum in New Hampshire late Thursday, and a super PAC behind the Ohio governor responded with a commercial accusing Mr. Bush of "desperately slinging mud at fellow Republicans."

The super PAC onslaught reflects the increasingly bitter skirmish for third place among candidates not named Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Though Mr. Bush's campaign is brandishing a new video starring his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, and radio ads about his antiabortion, pro-gun record, the big money behind him is overwhelmingly negative.

"We have been equal opportunity with the candidates in this race," said Right to Rise spokesman Paul Lindsay, noting the super PAC also ran ads hitting Mr. Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "Candidates should be able to handle being scrutinized on their records in the primary, otherwise, how are they going to stand up to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic machine?''

Right to Rise is sinking him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Ian Rankin: 'Rebus has elements of a maverick American PI' : About to embark on an American books tour, the author of the Rebus novels explains why crime fiction is a means of exploring the dark side of the modern world (Colin Drury, 22 January 2016, The Guardian)

"The great thing about America," he says, "is I always come back with more books and more tip-offs of who to read. It's a country in love with crime fiction."

Talking to the 55-year-old is hugely enjoyable. He's wry, straightforward and affable. His mop-top and lack of airs can lull you into forgetting how ultra-successful he is. It shouldn't. This is the single biggest-selling British crime author alive. He's been awarded an OBE, had his work translated into 36 languages and amassed a personal fortune estimated at £25m ("Hasn't someone just sat in the pub and made that up?" he once scoffed).

Quite often, these days, he is accused of writing literature.

That may be because his works are more than mere whodunnits. The fact the Rebus series is set in real time in a real city means contemporary social issues form a constant backdrop. Immigration, addiction, sectarianism and the corruptive nature of finance have all been addressed. [...]

Rankin himself was born in Fife in the former mining village of Cardenden ("full of scooter hooligans"). He moved to the capital for university and wrote his earliest novels while studying a PhD in literature. He was first published at age 26 and the debut Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, came a year later in 1987.

"I never had any desire to write crime actually," he says. "Back then no one was writing about contemporary Edinburgh and I couldn't understand why. It's such a Jekyll and Hyde city; it's cultured and historic but it also had the worst heroin problem in western Europe and appalling HIV rates. There was real poverty. And those contrasts should be meat and drink to a writer. Rebus started as a vehicle for that."

For a decade after that first book the character remained obscure. Rankin and wife Miranda Harvey - the parents of two sons, both now in their 20s - struggled to make ends meet. He suffered panic attacks for a time. It was only when 1997's Black and Blue was named novel of the year by the UK Crime Writers' Association that fans came flocking.

But why does Rebus, a hard-drinking, hard-bitten loner, resonate with readers around the world?

"I don't know," admits Rankin. "He's an outsider, and people are perhaps drawn to that. We like those who bend rules; we get a vicarious thrill from being alongside them. He works for the police but he has elements of a maverick American PI and that may widen the appeal."

Rankin's prose probably help too. His influences include US legends Lawrence Block and James Ellroy. He once had dinner with the latter - "surprisingly quiet, very thoughtful, a good listener".

Yet Rankin's work is definitively his own. Fast, gothic, abrasive; it's been called tartan noir. Plots tend to start small and spread into arcs of power abuse. Not that he plans it, as such.

"When I'm writing," he admits, "I won't know whodunnit until maybe two thirds of the way through. Until then I know as little as my detective. I just make it up as I go along. It's nerve-wracking, actually. You'll be half through and not know your conclusion. You worry one of these days the ending won't come. I'll be left with only two-thirds of a novel."

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Europe is in crisis. Once more, America will have to step in to save us (Natalie Nougayrède, 23 January 2016, The Guardian)

Europe today is in such a shambles that it is not absurd to ask whether the US should again do something about it, or whether the old continent even matters to American strategic interests any more. The answer to both questions should be a resounding "yes".

It is obviously unrealistic to think the US is likely to repeat the kind of assistance it deployed in 1947. But the US urgently needs to seriously re-engage on European matters. Failing that, it risks seeing the European project unravel, with more disorder pouring into and across the continent and, ultimately, the loss of key allies.

Europe is currently struggling with the danger of Brexit and major security threats (which include terrorism, and Russian aggression), as well as the political fallout of the refugee crisis. It's not that US action in itself would miraculously solve all these problems, but its aloofness has arguably contributed to making them worse.

On three key European issues America needs to speak out more and act more - and soon. First, Barack Obama needs to make it plain that a British departure from the EU would not only risk breaking Europe altogether, but would spell the end of anything that still smacks of the "special relationship" between the US and Britain. Some American officials say it in private, but unfortunately not in public: Britain must remain a member of the EU if it is to retain any significant interest for the US, and the international stage at large.

Second, the US needs to show more commitment to Europe's security. Some things have been done within Nato since Russia launched a military offensive in Europe; but more US political leverage is needed if a common European defence policy is to become fact. It is not enough to state, as Washington often has, that Europeans need to "share the burden" of collective security.

Third, the US cannot continue to treat the refugee crisis destabilising Europe as if it were a far-flung problem that doesn't affect its direct interests. Around 4.5 million refugees have fled the Syrian civil war. The US has taken just 2,600.

Europe has three problems, that we can only help to a very limited degree : (1) a most likely unreversible demographic decline; (2) public alienation from an illegitimate transnational government; and (3) a failure of Southern Europe to reckon with the end of the Second Way.

As to the first, it would take a Christian revival to reverse the population implosion, but admitting as many immigrants as they can entice to come would help too.  They should particularly focus on trying to steal Latinos away from us by offering free housing.

With regard to the second, the institution of Europe should be stripped down to just a trade union, which should join NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  

The third requires a transition from defined benefit to defined contribution social welfare and, given the decline of labor, should steal a march on us and adopt a guaranteed basic income. Some of the money for this can come from doing away with their militaries altogether, which are a nostalgic waste of money.

The authors "solutions" would only exacerbate the problems Europe faces.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Robert Harris recommends 6 books about the final years of the Roman republic (Robert Harris, January 23, 2016, The Week)

Rubicon by Tom Holland (Anchor, $17). The best modern single-volume account of the last 30 years of the republic. In his 2003 book, Holland provides vivid character sketches of the era's political leaders, including that fascinating, inflexible Roman neocon, Cato the Younger, who inspired a generation to fight tyranny and helped lead it to disaster.

Cicero by Anthony Everitt (Random House, $17). Everitt's 2001 biography is the best at illuminating the life of a man who can lay claim to being the world's first professional politician.

I'd add Adrian Goldsworthy's Caesar : Life of a Colossus.  But all of the Anthony Everitt bios are good and I'm listening to Rubicon on the dog walk and it's tremendous. 

January 22, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


The Undead Religious Right: Why I Cannot Support Ted Cruz (Matthew Lee Anderson, 1/13/16, Mere Orthodoxy)

How did we get here? For the past thirty years, evangelicals have sowed an anti-political wind, and now in 2016 they are reaping the Trump whirlwind. Having stoked the affections of alienation and disenfranchisement, evangelical leaders have this cycle scrambled to prevent the laity from voting on them. But those political passions have deep roots, which is why popular evangelical support for Trump has not (yet) diminished. In 2010, James Davison Hunter's To Change the World argued that the Religious Right's political approach has been shaped by a Nietzschean will to power, which aims to  enforce its will through "legal and political means or to threaten to do so," rather than persuading others or negotiating compromises. This interdependence between the evangelical world and the government has a long history in American life: From Prohibition to the Comstock Laws, evangelicals have been particularly keen to pursue legal remedies for moral problems. Paradoxically, then, while evangelical Protestants have made much in recent years about maintaining a sphere of life beyond the reach of the state (the family, the church, and so on), they themselves have been an instrumental part of the politicization of everything.

On marriage, the recent source of so much consternation within the evangelical world, the problem of how the church and state interact is particularly acute. As University of Chicago legal theorist Mary Anne Case has observed, evangelical Protestants are uniquely dependent upon the State for their marital practices. As they do not have their own formal divorce or annulment proceedings and courts, evangelicals have outsourced such statuses to the states. Such intimate integration of the church and state, Case argues, has a historical lineage: The Puritans themselves viewed marriage as a political contract, rather than a sacrament, to the extent that in some cases preachers were not present so as to not confuse the church and the state.

This narrow identification between the religious community and the political order, however, has generated a strong sense of grievances at the shifts in political opinion, grievances that the Roman Catholic community and Black Protestant churches do not feel as acutely given their long history as outsiders. As Case writes, for evangelicals, marriage law "could be put in service of sectarian ends by groups that substituted capture of the state institution for development of their own clearly religious alternatives." When those institutions were lost (as the public schools were in the 1960s), an acute but understandable sense of oppression gripped the evangelical political life. Hunter's analysis concurs, identifying ressentiment as the corollary of the political will to power. For evangelicals,"injury--real or perceived--leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on whom they see as responsible."

Such an anti-politics of resentment, alienation, and disenfranchisement is at the heart of Trump's appeal, even if the issues that he has been most vocal on are not traditional social conservative concerns. But ressentiment is not rational to begin with; it is not rooted in a deliberative, robust account of the common good, even if it uses such rhetoric to justify itself. The energy that generates ressentiment is more primal, more visceral--and hence, like Falstaff, less bound by particular moral outlooks than it might seem. The strange willingness of social conservatives to sometimes overlook the wildly disparate moral characters from their own outlooks of those who seek their votes--as evangelicals almost did in 2012 in their flirtations with Newt Gingrich--represents a willingness to sacrifice their principles on the altars of political power. This is the political ethos the Religious Right has fostered within their constituency for thirty years--and now, at the hands of Trump, it has finally born its nihilistic fruit.

Donald Trump may not be palatable to the establishment Religious Right--but Ted Cruz is, and as a candidate whose sole accomplishment seems to be 'disruption', he promises evangelicals Trumpism with a veneer of respectability. The galvanizing support by the traditional evangelical leadership class for Cruz was as predictable as the Cruz-Trump love affair. Cruz has followed the Reagan-Huckabee playbook of wooing evangelicals impeccably, while holding the decisive advantages over Huckabee and Santorum of not being either of them. In Cruz, conservative evangelicals have the embodied promise of a younger, chaos-light candidate who is firmly and securely one of their own--that is, one who shamelessly subordinates the religious life to the pursuit of political power.

Compare Cruz's courtship of conservative evangelicals with Marco Rubio's. Rubio endorsed Mike Huckabee in 2008 (disclosure: as did I), so he has roots in the social conservative world. Rubio's stance on abortion is impeccable for social conservatives, and his personal life seems to exude the family-first conservatism that social conservatives have (ostensibly) made their distinctive witness. Rubio even packs more theological freight into a five-minute explanation of salvation than many evangelical preachers. As a religious conservative, Rubio seems almost too perfect. Consider the astonishing fact that on a November Sunday in Iowa, Rubio went to church--that is, he went to church to go to church, rather than to shill for votes. His decision to forgo campaigning that day "raised questions" among those who have apparently forgotten the 10 Commandments--which evangelicals infamously have sought to keep in public places, even if they have not taken them all to heart.   

Ted Cruz went to church in Iowa, too, one week after Rubio. And there he made it obvious (if anyone could doubt it) that he is willing to pander to evangelicals in ways that clearly make Rubio squeamish. Cruz reduced the evangelical megachurch he visited to a glorified campaign rally, complete with Cruz 2016 slides on the screens behind him. What began with Reagan's delicate "I endorse you" to an extra-ecclesial gathering has culminated in the shameless, overt subordination of the inner life of the church for political gain.

Indeed, no religious arena has been immune to Cruz's political ambitions. He announced his campaign at Liberty University, which bills itself as the world's largest Christian university, and indelicately placed his own political hopes in the hands of the conservative evangelical community. "Imagine," he bluntly put it, "millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values," before turning his family into a political prop to demonstrate his social conservative bona fides. On the day of an important Iowa social conservative event, the Presidential Family Forum, Cruz not-so-subtly announced the formation of a "Prayer Team." Direct contact with the Almighty about all matters Cruz comes with strings, though: Team Cruz will require your name and address, please. "The prayers of [middle-class, registered Republicans] availeth [many votes]." So the Bible says somewhere, I think. Most perniciously, Cruz managed to turn an event about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East into a news story about himself, proving in the most abhorrent of ways that absolutely nothing is sacred when everything is political.

Cruz's unsavory use of the religious life for his own advancement, however, is the playbook that the Religious Right has written for itself, creating a vicious cycle that identifies the evangelical world with such shameless politicking. Attempt to carve out a path respects the church's independence, avoid subordinating the Christian life to political ambitions, and many conservative evangelicals will simply tune out. Pandering is the litmus test for politically conservative religious 'authenticity.' Evangelical pastors and laypeople who are more careful in their theological politics are understandably invisible to the media in political seasons--which rewards the Religious Right with the attention they crave, and is instrumental to their ongoing power.

Ignore the fact that such an empty political cycle lacks the robust theological sensitivity that Scripture requires of the people of God. Overlook, if you will, the idea that Cruz's naked flattery toward evangelicals and Trump should make anyone who has read Proverbs cautious. Remember, instead, the jilted feeling evangelicals have had from political leaders who promised evangelicals the moon and did not deliver: that alone should require from evangelicals a healthy skepticism about Cruz's promises. And then consider that Cruz's overt religiosity--which itself should make evangelicals wary--appears to some people who knew Cruz in the past to be a learned art.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


George Washington's Constitution : Review of Imperial from the Beginning: The Constitution of the Original Executive, by Saikrishna Bangalore Prakash (KURT LASH. New Rambler)

The ghost of George Washington haunts almost every page of Saikrishna Prakash's new book, Imperial from the Beginning: The Constitution of the Original Executive.  It is a man, not a text, that dominates Prakash's investigation of the creation of the American Presidency.  From the Philadelphia Convention where Washington presided over (and likely influenced) the drafting of Article II, to the military quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion with Washington riding at the head of the new federal army--it is the "imperial" presence and practices of General Washington that Prakash believes generally represent the original understanding of Executive Power.

This is a wonderful book for legal history buffs and anyone interested in the American Presidency.  In addition to illustrating Prakash's formidable grasp of historical theories of executive power, Imperial from the Beginning serves as a nice corrective to those who insist that the Founders abandoned altogether any notion of monarchical power.  As Prakash recounts, the American Constitution created a quasi-monarchical Chief Executive whose powers were but partially constrained by Congress and the Courts. Understanding these powers requires less an investigation of the text than an exploration of a man. Washington's practices as our first chief executive established traditions and understandings that have informed every subsequent presidency. In Washington, America came as close as it ever would to having a King and, according to Prakash, his practices illuminate the original understanding of executive power.

Prakash's central claim is that the simple words "[t]he executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America" (Art. II, Sect. 1, cl. 1) had the profound effect of transferring to the Chief Executive a complete set of quasi-monarchical powers.  All additional texts relating to the President and the Executive Branch either clarify or constrain this original unenumerated grant of power. Understanding the grant therefore requires understanding the full meaning of two words, "executive power," and the implications of granting such power to a single individual. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Are beards good for your health? (BBC Magazine, 20 January 2016)

In this study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, they swabbed the faces of 408 hospital staff with and without facial hair.

They had good reasons for doing so. We know that hospital-acquired infections are a major cause of disease and death in hospitals, with many patients acquiring an infection they didn't have when they went in. Hands, white coats, ties and equipment have all been blamed, but what about beards?

Well, the researchers were surprised to find that it was the clean-shaven staff, and not the beardies, who were more likely to be carrying something unpleasant on their faces.

The beardless group were more than three times as likely to be harbouring a species known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus on their freshly shaven cheeks. MRSA is a particularly common and troublesome source of hospital-acquired infections because it is resistant to so many of our current antibiotics.

So what's going on? The researchers suggested that shaving might cause micro-abrasions in the skin "which may support bacterial colonisation and proliferation".

Perhaps. But there was another more plausible explanation staring them in the face. That beards fight infection.

Unlikely? Well, driven by curiosity we recently swabbed the beards of a random assortment of men and sent them off to Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist based at University College London, to see what, if anything, he could grow.

Adam managed to grow over 100 different bacteria from our beards, including one that is more commonly found in the small intestine. But, as he quickly explains, that doesn't mean it came from faeces. Such findings are normal and nothing to worry about.

Far more interesting, in a few of the petri dishes he noticed that something was clearly killing the other bacteria. The most obvious suspect was a fellow microbe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Why Are Corporations Hoarding Trillions? (ADAM DAVIDSON, JAN. 20, 2016, NY Times)

There is an economic mystery I've been struggling to understand for quite some time, and I'm not the only one who's confused: Among financial experts, it is often referred to as a conundrum, a paradox, a puzzle. The mystery is as follows: Collectively, American businesses currently have $1.9 trillion in cash, just sitting around. Not only is this state of affairs unparalleled in economic history, but we don't even have much data to compare it with, because corporations have traditionally been borrowers, not savers. The notion that a corporation would hold on to so much of its profit seems economically absurd, especially now, when it is probably earning only about 2 percent interest by parking that money in United States Treasury bonds. These companies would be better off investing in anything -- a product, a service, a corporate acquisition -- that would make them more than 2 cents of profit on the dollar, a razor-thin margin by corporate standards. And yet they choose to keep the cash.

They have simply noticed, before consumers have, that falling costs mean that cash is making more like 4%.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Two Versions of America Emerge in the Presidential Campaign (Ronald Brownstein, 1/22/16, National Journal)

In 2012, whites ac­coun­ted for about 90 per­cent of both the bal­lots cast in the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial primar­ies and the votes Mitt Rom­ney re­ceived in the gen­er­al elec­tion. The last time whites rep­res­en­ted 90 per­cent of the total Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion was 1960. Eth­nic groups now equal just over 37 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans. But voters of col­or ac­coun­ted for nearly 45 per­cent of Pres­id­ent Obama's votes in 2012. Eth­nic minor­it­ies likely won't equal that much of the total pop­u­la­tion for about an­oth­er 15 years.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Could Universal Health Care Save U.S. Taxpayers Money? : Despite popular perceptions, countries with universal health coverage spend less. (Kimberly Leonard Jan. 22, 2016, US News)

Opponents of universal health care have long argued that such a system in the U.S. would increase costs to taxpayers, but it seems the current system is already doing that.

A paper released Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health found that in 2013 taxpayers funded 64.3 percent of health care, which is more public dollars per person than people pay in many other nations, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Sweden. The figure marks a 4.5 percent increase since 1999, when taxpayer dollars made up 59.8 percent of total heath care spending. 

Here are some key findings from the report:

1. We're spending a lot total, and per person.

Government spending on health care in 2013 totaled $1.9 trillion, or $5,960 per capita. When including private spending on health care, total spending was $9,267 per person. Sweden was the only country that's private and public spending, taken together, exceeded the U.S.

Here's how the U.S. compares to other countries. 

At 11.2 percent, tax-funded health spending in the U.S. also accounted for a larger share of gross domestic product than total health expenditure of other nations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Conservatives against Trump ( NR SYMPOSIUM, January 21, 2016, National Review)

When they stop giving by-lines to the likes of Andrew McCarthy and Mark Krikorian they'll gain some of the credibility they need to criticize the Trump candidacy they helped create.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


The Dark History of Liberal Reform : A new history of early 20th-century American progressivism puts eugenics at the center. (MALCOLM HARRIS, January 21, 2016, New Republic)

The 1926 case Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes is a favorite liberal American story. On one side, a substitute accused of teaching evolution, the famed progressive attorney Clarence Darrow, and science itself. On the other, the state of Tennessee, creationism, and the populist demagogue William Jennings Bryan, who by the end of the trial was only days from death. Scopes lost the battle, but reason and progress won the war and the film adaptation. The Scopes Monkey Trial, as it was called, is a progressive touchstone, and in the minds of many it continues to describe the difference between the two mainstream American political ideologies.

When one revisits the primary material, however, the mainstream liberal narrative is far too simple. Jennings Bryan railed against evolution, true, but not just evolution as we understand the theory today. His never-delivered closing statement indicted the "dogma of darkness and death" as a danger to the country's moral fabric. It sounds far out, but at the time evolution came with a social agenda that its proponents taught as fact. Jennings Bryan didn't use its name; today, we call it eugenics.

Scopes was charged for teaching from a textbook called A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems, published in 1914. The book taught Darwin's doctrine as fact, but it didn't leave his conclusions there. The author, George William Hunter, not only asserted the biological difference of races, he insisted on the vital importance of what he called "the science of being well born"--eugenics. Like most progressives of the time, Hunter believed in "the improvement of man" via scientific methods. That meant promoting personal hygiene, proper diet, and reproductive control. A Civic Biology also has suggestions for what to do with "bad-gened" people, in a section called "The Remedy." "If such people were lower animals," the books says, "we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity would not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe." [...]

It's impossible to understand early twentieth-century progressives without eugenics. Even worker-friendly reforms like the minimum wage were part of a racial hygiene agenda. The progressives believed male Anglo-Saxons were the most productive workers, but immigrants and women were willing to accept lower wages and displaced white men. Capitalism was getting in the way of human improvement, promoting inferior genes for near-term profits. "Competition has no respect for the superior races," Leonard quotes the economist John R. Commons on Jews. "The race with lowest necessities displaces others." Commons found common cause with the xenophobic wing of the organized labor movement.

The minimum wage, in addition to providing some workers with a better standard of living, would guard white men from competition. Leonard is worth reading at length:

A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.

If Leonard didn't have the quotes from prominent progressives to back up his claims, this would read like right-wing paranoia: The state's most innocuous protections reframed as malevolent and ungodly social engineering. But his citations are genuine. Charles Cooley, a founding member of American Sociological Association, warned that providing health care and nutrition for black Americans could be "dysgenic" if not accompanied by population control. The eugenicists weren't just dreaming: Between 1900 and the early 1980s, over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized under the law.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Trump Has Never Voted In A Republican Primary (Eric Owens, 01/22/2016, Daily Caller)

A search of the New York state voter rolls shows that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has never cast a vote in a Republican presidential primary election in the state in which he has long been a resident.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Actress Charlotte Rampling says #OscarsSoWhite movement is racist -- against whites!  (GERSH KUNTZMAN, 1/22/16,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A top white actress dropped a bombshell on the #OscarsSoWhite movement, declaring that black actors "did not deserve" to be nominated for Academy Awards this year.

British star Charlotte Rampling -- nominated this year for her leading role in "45 Years" -- said in a French radio interview Friday that all the talk of an Oscars whitewash is actually anti-white.

"It is racist to whites," Rampling told Europe 1. "One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list."

When the Academy nominates more blacks next year won't it just be quota hiring, not recognizining talent?

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Vladimir Putin asked Bashar al-Assad to step down (Sam Jones in London, Erika Solomon in Beirut and Kathrin Hille in Kazan, 1/22/16, Financial Times)

Just weeks before his death on January 3, Colonel-General Igor Sergun, director of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency, was sent to Damascus on a delicate mission.

The general, who is believed to have cut his teeth as a Soviet operative in Syria, bore a message from Vladimir Putin for President Bashar al-Assad: the Kremlin, the Syrian dictator's most powerful international protector, believed it was time for him to step aside.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


Is Ted Cruz Eligible to Run for President? Here Are the Theories (Margaret Hartmann, 1/22/16, NY Magazine)

Like many issues surrounding Ted Cruz, the eligibility controversy appears to be partially fueled by the fact that pretty much everyone hates him. One scholar Donald Trump frequently cites when making his Cruz birtherism argument is Harvard's Laurence Tribe, who was once the senator's professor. He's the scholar Trump mentioned in the last debate, prompting Cruz to dismiss him as "a left-wing judicial activist" and "major Hillary Clinton supporter."

In a recent Boston Globe op-ed, Tribe said he actually believes Cruz is eligible to be president -- but that's because unlike Cruz, he's not an "originalist," or "one who claims to be bound by the narrowly historical meaning of the Constitution's terms at the time of their adoption." Tribe argues that the sort of judge Cruz admires -- one who refuses "to discard the Second Amendment's 'right to bear arms' as a historical relic, or to limit that right to arms-bearing by members of today's 'state militias,' the national guard" -- should stick with the sexist 1790 definition of a "natural born citizen" and find Cruz ineligible for the presidency.

It appears Tribe's aim wasn't to derail Cruz's campaign, but to needle him for his opposition to "living constitutionalists," like his old professor. Apparently, the dispute between Cruz and Tribe dates back several decades:

When Cruz was my constitutional law student at Harvard, he aced the course after making a big point of opposing my views in class -- arguing stridently for sticking with the "original meaning" against the idea of a more elastic "living Constitution" whenever such ideas came up. I enjoyed jousting with him, but Ted never convinced me -- nor did I convince him.

At least he was consistent in those days. Now, he seems to be a fair-weather originalist, abandoning that method's narrow constraints when it suits his ambition.

Other scholars aren't arguing against Cruz simply because they find him irritating and his position ironic. Earlier this month, Mary Brigid McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener University's Delaware Law School, said Cruz is ineligible, writing in the Washington Post:

The concept of "natural born" comes from common law, and it is that law the Supreme Court has said we must turn to for the concept's definition. On this subject, common law is clear and unambiguous. The 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, the preeminent authority on it, declared natural-born citizens are "such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England," while aliens are "such as are born out of it." The key to this division is the assumption of allegiance to one's country of birth.

McManamon, an originalist, takes issue with Katyal and Clement's Havard Law Review op-ed, saying the laws they cite are new statutes passed by Parliament rather than longstanding English common law. "While it is understandable for a layperson to make such a mistake, it is unforgivable for two lawyers of such experience to equate the common law with statutory law," she writes. "The common law was unequivocal: Natural-born subjects had to be born in English territory. The then-new statutes were a revolutionary departure from that law."

Writing in Salon this week, Harvard Law professor Einer Elhauge agreed with McManamon that what the framers had in mind was the English common law meaning of "natural born": someone born within a U.S. territory. He also argues that even if there are other methods by which one can become a citizen at birth, the word "natural" is "a limiting qualifier that indicates only some persons who are born citizens qualify" for the presidency.

Furthermore, Elhauge says that if we're willing to accept that a naturalized citizen (say, Arnold Schwarzenegger) is ineligible for the presidency, the idea that an American born abroad can't be president either is reasonable:

The concern at the time was obviously that foreign-born persons might not be as loyal to the U.S. One might think that concerns about disloyalty are odd for persons who have lived in the U.S. as citizens for a long time, but that oddity was also true at the founding. Moreover, no one claims the clause means that naturalized citizens (who may have lived in the U.S. since they were small children) are eligible to run for president, even though they had to do far more to prove their loyalty to the U.S. than someone born abroad who happened to have one U.S. citizen parent.

The line between those born in the U.S. versus abroad to U.S. parents certainly seems debatable. But it is no less sensible than the alternative line between those born abroad to U.S. parents versus those have been naturalized citizens for decades. This is one of those issues where general principles (even living ones) do not dictate any particular dividing line, and we need some technical fixed rule.  Unfortunately for Ted Cruz, that technical rule does not permit his candidacy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Samantha Power: Liberal War Hawk : Liberal interventionist Samantha Power - along with neocon allies - appears to have prevailed in the struggle over how President Obama will conduct his foreign policy in his last months in office, promoting aggressive strategies that will lead to more death and destruction, writes Robert Parry. (Robert Parry, 6/15/15, Consortium News)

[I]n Power's view, the overthrow and punishment of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad takes precedence over shielding Alawites and other minorities from the likely consequence of Sunni-extremist vengeance. And she has sided with the ethnic Ukrainians in their slaughter of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

In both cases, Power spurns pragmatic negotiations that could avert worsening violence as she asserts a black-and-white depiction of these crises. More significantly, her strident positions appear to have won the day with President Barack Obama, who has relied on Power as a foreign policy adviser since his 2008 campaign.

Power's self-righteous approach to human rights - deciding that her side wears white hats and the other side wears black hats - is a bracing example of how "human rights activists" have become purveyors of death and destruction or what some critics have deemed "the weaponization of human rights."

We saw this pattern in Iraq in 2002-03 when many "liberal humanitarians" jumped on the pro-war bandwagon in favoring an invasion to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein. Power herself didn't support the invasion although she was rather mealy-mouthed in her skepticism and sought to hedge her career bets amid the rush to war.

For instance, in a March 10, 2003 debate on MSNBC's "Hardball" show -- just nine days before the invasion -- Power said, "An American intervention likely will improve the lives of the Iraqis. Their lives could not get worse, I think it's quite safe to say."

US position on Assad hasn't changed, ambassador says; he 'will have to go' (Associated Press  DECEMBER 16, 2015)

The United States' ambassador to the United Nations says the U.S. position on Syrian President Bashar Assad has not changed: "There is going to have to be a political transition, and Assad will have to go."

January 21, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 PM


Deflategate, one year later: The anatomy of a failed controversy (MICHAEL MCCANN, Jan. 18, 2016, Sports Illustrated)

The controversy that became known as Deflategate started when Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass thrown by Brady in the second quarter of the AFC championship game. Colts personnel believed the football seemed a little light, and when an intern measured its air pressure, he found the intercepted football to be less than 12.5 pounds per square inch or PSI, the basic unit for measuring pressure. This was significant since NFL rules require that game footballs fall within a range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI. Those rules also assign a minimum penalty of a $25,000 fine to those who tamper with game footballs' air pressure and other qualities. The NFL regulates the PSI of footballs to ensure uniformity in how games are played and, although many football players downplay its competitive significance, slightly under-inflated footballs may be easier to catch.

Colts officials then alerted the referees about the intercepted football's air pressure and the referees in turn alerted NFL officials. Referees and league officials then tested the same intercepted football three times, yielding results of 11.45 PSI, 11.35 PSI, and 11.75 PSI. The league then ordered that the Patriots' other 11 footballs be tested at halftime; four Colts footballs were also tested at that time. While two different types of gauges were used and produced inconsistent results, all 11 of the Patriots footballs and three of the four Colts footballs measured under 12.5 PSI. The footballs were then re-inflated and used in the second half. Brady actually performed better using the re-inflated footballs, completing 12 of 14 passes.

The ball deflating was not terribly surprising, given that the game was played in weather conditions--cool and rainy--that tend to cause footballs to lose pressure. Even in good weather, footballs lose pressure as they are used. Indeed, as Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor John Leonard has demonstrated, the PSI measurements taken at halftime are consistent with Ideal Gas Law, a basic scientific formula used to measure pressure when temperature, volume and number of gas moles are known. His findings are consistent with the findings of others, including data scientist Nick Kistner, three authors at AEI and University of New Hampshire science professors Michael Briggs and Martin Wosnik.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Countering China: Back to the Philippines (DANIEL Z. KATZ, Jan. 19, 2016, WSJ)

For the past two years, Chinese territorial encroachment in the South China Sea has surged to unprecedented levels. Last week the Philippine Supreme Court handed down a decision that could provide the ideal way for the U.S. to respond.

In April 2014, Washington and Manila signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement permitting the U.S. to construct facilities in the Philippines and rotate forces through the islands. On Jan. 12 the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that the "executive agreement" signed by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin does not require Senate approval. This clears the way for the return of U.S. forces to help counter China's growing military power and territorial aggressiveness.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Unorthodox Playbook Is Aiding GOP Candidate John Kasich (REID J. EPSTEIN, Jan. 19, 2016, WSJ)

LEBANON, N. H.--While the rest of the Republican presidential field is betting on an electorate furious with President Barack Obama and angry with career politicians, John Kasich is making the opposite wager.

The Ohio governor is stumping across New Hampshire highlighting his experience in Congress, backing such issues as the Iran nuclear deal and campaign-finance reform that are usually supported by Democrats and painting himself as an uplifting alternative to the doom-and-gloom tone dominating the GOP primary.

There is some evidence this approach is working. Mr. Kasich is second to front-runner Donald Trump in each of five public polls of New Hampshire voters in the past month. An American Research Group survey released Tuesday showed him at 20%, up six percentage points from earlier in the month. Mr. Trump leads at 27%, the poll found.

As the presidential primaries approach, much attention has been paid to the political front-runners Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, but voters in New Hampshire may shake up the race. WSJ's Jerry Seib explains why. Photo: AP
"I'm not sugarcoating anything, but I'm not walking in there as the prince of darkness," Mr. Kasich said during an interview on his campaign bus. "I'd rather be the prince of light, the prince of hope." [...]

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of GOP primary voters nationwide showed Mr. Kasich with just 3% support and he remains unknown by 18%--the largest percentage in the GOP presidential field.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Medicare Paperwork for All (Peter R. Orszag & Timothy G. Ferris, 1/21/16, Bloomberg View)

One step that should be taken immediately is to simplify the transaction process involved in billing and processing claims. Medicare's processing costs are relatively low, in part because administrative contractors streamline the payment process. All health-care payments could be gradually moved to this platform.

Such a change could be made in steps. First, state Medicaid programs could begin using regional Medicare administrative contractors to process claims. Then Medicare Advantage programs, which are private insurance plans that currently enroll about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, could be required to do the same. Next, the government could either require or provide incentives for self-insured employer plans to use the system. Ultimately, the economies of scale would become large enough to encourage private insurers to adopt the system, too. Policy makers could add incentives, if need be.

This reform would be practical and generate larger benefits than may be immediately apparent. The Medicare administrative process is already regionalized and subject to competition among processing contractors. It already includes standards for efficiency and provider education, and requires transparency in processing.

At the same time, doctors and other care providers would save money and effort by dealing with just one payment-processing system, and the consistency in paperwork would reduce errors. Various studies estimate that providers could save as much as 25 percent on claims processing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


The Truth About Islam : Of course it isn't a religion of violence. If it were, why would so many Muslim societies be so peaceful? (Andrew Mack, 1/21/16, Slate)

Given today's headlines, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the 1970s there were no major conflicts involving Islamist radicals being waged around the world. This raises an obvious question. If Islam is in fact an inherently violent religion, how do we account for these--and many other--long periods of peacefulness within Muslim societies?  

The reality is that Islam--like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions--is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism--or indeed principled nonviolence.

Thus ISIS and other extreme Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their ultra-violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations have minimal support among Muslims around the world and tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam. 

In October 2014, the first opinion polls on public attitudes toward ISIS were published in three Arab countries for the Fikra Forum. The findings were instructive. Just 3 percent of Egyptians held favorable views of ISIS. The figure for Saudi Arabia was 5 percent and for Lebanon less than 1 percent. A year later Pew Research found that just 1 percent of Lebanese held "favorable opinions" of ISIS, 3 percent in predominantly Sunni Jordan, and 1 percent in Israel. In the Palestinian territories the figure was 6 percent, but even here a massive 84 percent held unfavorable opinions of ISIS. Previous polls revealed very similar trends about Muslim opinions toward al-Qaida.

Discussions about the violence of contemporary Islam focus overwhelmingly on armed conflict and terrorism. But a more appropriate metric for determining the propensity for violence of a particular society, culture, or religion is the incidence of intentional homicide.

In almost all societies it is murder, not war, that accounts for the large majority of intentional killings. And perpetrating homicide, unlike embarking on wars or terror campaigns, does not require long preparation, intensive organization, a huge range of weaponry, complex logistics, political mobilization, intensive training, or a great deal of money--which is one reason why war and terrorism death tolls around the world are far smaller than the number of homicides. It is far more difficult to mount an armed campaign against a state than to kill an individual.

And even today, wars directly affect only a relatively small minority of countries. All countries suffer from homicides, however. In 2015, the Global Burden of Armed Violence published by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, found that between 2007 and 2012, for every individual killed in war or terror campaigns around the world, seven individuals were murdered. Worldwide, for most people, in most countries, most of the time, murder is a far greater threat to human security than organized political violence.

So if there really is an inherent--Islam-driven--propensity for deadly violence in Muslim societies, we should expect to find that the greater the percentage of Muslims in society, the greater would be the numbers of homicides. In fact, the reverse is the case: The higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

In 2011, a major study by University of California, Berkeley, political scientist M. Steven Fish presented cross-national statistical data showing that between 1994 and 2007, annual homicide rates in the Muslim world averaged just 2.4 per 100,000 of the population. That was approximately a third of the rate for the non-Muslim world and less than the average rate in Europe. It is also approximately half the homicide rate in the United States.

In comparing individual countries, the difference is even greater. 

The other reality is that we've killed more Muslims in the Middle East than any Muslims have, but we don't say that makes Christianity a religion of violence.
Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Why Don't Americans Save More Money? (DWYER GUNN, 1/21/16, Pacific Standard)

[O]nly 41 percent of households in the survey had $2,000 of liquid savings on hand (the cost of the median household's priciest financial shock).

"More than half of households (54 percent) could not replace one month's income using their liquid savings," concludes the second Pew brief. "Over a quarter of households do not have enough liquid savings to replace even one week of income."

When it comes to retirement savings, people choose the default option, or the "path of least resistance."

While low-income families are, unsurprisingly, generally worse off, even high-income families lack sufficient emergency savings. The Pew Center's research indicates that 25 percent of high-income households have "less than 13 days' worth of income in liquid savings." Meanwhile, 25 percent of households making less than $25,000 a year have no liquid savings at all, and the typical household in this income bracket has only six days' worth of income in liquid savings.

Why would you keep that much money in an account making 0% interest?

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Markets Are Scaring Themselves : China is not as big a deal as investors think, and their reading of oil prices is economically strange. (ALAN S. BLINDER, Jan. 20, 2016, WSJ)

Start with trade. If Chinese growth slows (as is happening, though who knows by how much), many countries' exports will shrink. That's a big deal to some countries--especially emerging markets that rely heavily on commodity exports--but not to the U.S.

The Chinese export to us about three times as much in goods and services as we export to them. That isn't a problem; bilateral trade is not supposed to be balanced. But it means that China is far from our leading export market--nothing like, say, Canada or Mexico.

Here's the math: Over the first three quarters of 2015, the latest data available, exports to China made up less than 1% of U.S. GDP. Let's imagine that Chinese purchases of U.S. products dropped by 10%, an implausibly steep decline. (For reference, the drop from 2014 to 2015 was zero.) Even such an extreme event would cut U.S. exports by less than 0.1% of GDP--an amount beneath notice.

Yes, there is a secondary effect: Weakness in China can damage nations that rely heavily on exporting to China. And if those nations sag, they will buy less from us. So let's double the estimate. That would still cut less than 0.2% from the U.S. growth rate. More severe outcomes are possible, but unlikely. So a China-induced trade contraction should be on our worry list, but not near the top. [...]

What about oil prices? Here, it appears, the markets have even got the direction wrong. Ask yourself: When the price of something you buy goes down, does that make you better off or worse off? No, it isn't a trick question. The obvious answer is the correct one. Other things equal, each of us is better off when the prices of things we buy, including oil, go down.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


The Blunders of Statesmen : EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is adapted from Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, edited and with an introduction by George H. Nash (HERBERT HOOVER  November 14, 2011. National Review)


THE RECOGNITION OF COMMUNIST RUSSIA IN 1933 Roosevelt's second lost statesmanship was in recognition of Communist Russia in November 1933. Four presidents and five secretaries of state -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- had (with knowledge of the whole purpose and methods of international Communism) refused such action. They knew and said the Communists would be able to penetrate the United States, carrying their germs of destruction of religious faith, freedom of men, and independence of nations. They considered our recognition of Soviet Russia would give it prestige and force among other nations. All of Roosevelt's puerile agreements with them that they would not deal in their wickedness within our borders were on the record repudiated in less than 48 hours. A long train of Communists and fellow travelers were taken into the highest levels of administration, fifth-column action spread over the country, with a long series of traitorous acts during his remaining 12 years in the presidency.   [...]

ALLIANCE WITH STALIN Indeed the greatest loss of statesmanship in all American history was the tacit American alliance and support of Communist Russia when Hitler made his attack in June 1941. Even the false theory that American military strength was needed to save Britain had now visibly vanished. By diversion of Nazi furies into the swamps of Russia, no one could any longer doubt the safety of Britain and all the Western world. These monstrous dictators were bound to exhaust themselves no matter who won. Even if Hitler won military victory, he would be enmeshed for years trying to hold these people in subjection. And he was bound even in victory to exhaust his military strength -- and the Russians were bound to destroy any sources of supplies he might have hoped for. His own generals opposed his action. American aid to Russia meant victory for Stalin and the spread of Communism over the world. Statesmanship again imperiously cried to keep out, be armed to the teeth and await their mutual exhaustion. When that day came there would have been an opportunity for the United States and Britain to use their strength to bring a real peace and security to the free world. No greater opportunity for lasting peace ever came to a president and he muffed it.  [...]

THE ECONOMIC SANCTIONS ON JAPAN OF JULY 1941 The eighth gigantic error in Roosevelt's statesmanship was the total economic sanctions on Japan one month later, at the end of July, 1941. The sanctions were war in every essence except shooting. Roosevelt had been warned time and again by his own officials that such provocation would sooner or later bring reprisals of war. [....]

THE SACRIFICE OF THE BALTIC STATES AND EAST POLAND AT MOSCOW, OCTOBER 1943 The twelfth error of lost statesmanship was the sacrifice of free nations at the foreign-ministers meeting at Moscow in October 1943. Here amid words of freedom and democracy not a word of protest was made against the known Russian intentions to annex the Baltic States, East Poland, East Finland, Bessarabia, and Bukovina (which he had in his agreement with Hitler). This acquiescence marked the abandonment of the last word of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter. 

TEHERAN AND ITS SACRIFICE OF SEVEN MORE NATIONS The thirteenth and possibly one of the greatest of all confused wanderings in Roosevelt's and Churchill's statesmanship was at Teheran in December 1943. Here was confirmation of the acquiescence at the Moscow Conference of the annexations; here was the acceptance of Stalin's doctrine of a periphery "of friendly border states" -- the puppet Communist governments over seven nations. Fidelity to international morals and their own promises of independence of nations and free men demanded that Roosevelt and Churchill at Teheran stand firm against Stalin once and for all. There were by this time no such military perils of Stalin's making a separate peace that could justify these agreements, acquiescences and appeasements. 

YALTA -- THE SECRET AGREEMENTS ON THE DOWNFALL OF NATIONS The fourteenth fatal loss of statesmanship was by Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta in February 1945. Not only were all Stalin's encroachments on the independence of a dozen nations ratified, but with a long series of secret agreements other malign forces were set in motion that will continue to plague the world with international dangers for generations. Knowing that Stalin had already created Communist puppet governments over seven nations, Roosevelt and Churchill sought to camouflage their lost statesmanship with gadgets entitled "free and unfettered" elections, "representation of all liberal elements." Even the strongest defender on military grounds of appeasement at Teheran could no longer defend it at Yalta. Here at least a stand might have been made for decency and free mankind which would have left America with cleaner hands and the moral respect of free men.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


The aliens are silent because they are all extinct  (Dr Phil Dooley, Australian National University)

Life on other planets would likely be brief and become extinct very quickly, say astrobiologists from ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

In research aiming to understand how life might develop, the scientists realised new life would commonly die out due to runaway heating or cooling on their fledgling planets.

"The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens," said Dr Aditya Chopra, lead author on the paper, which is published in Astrobiology.

"Early life is fragile, so we believe it rarely evolves quickly enough to survive." 

Short version, Creation is uniquely fine-tuned.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


TED CRUZ'S HOWITZER : Equal parts drill sergeant, data junkie, brawler, and entrepreneur, Jeff Roe will do anything to win. Just watch. (ANDY KROLL, JANUARY 20, 2015, nEW rEPUBLIC)

The Cruz campaign's success so far confirms what many people who've watched Roe's ascent have been saying for years. "I've believed for some time that Jeff Roe is a Karl Rove-level political talent," said Gregg Keller, a former executive director of the American Conservative Union. "I've done four or five presidential campaigns. I've run campaigns in virtually every state in the country. And I have not come across an operative of my generation who I believe is more talented than Jeff Roe."

The canny strategy and smooth, on-message operation of the Cruz campaign have gotten plenty of attention. But the man behind it has not. He prefers it that way. Out on the trail, Roe generally sticks close to the Cruz campaign bus rather than follow his candidate into small-town coffee shops and local libraries. When he does venture off the bus, though, you can't miss him. The guy's big, all gut and jowls, resembling a political cartoonist's idea of a fat cat, but dressed in jeans and an oversized "Cruz 2016" fleece. He has a thin goatee, a gelled flick of hair, and thick hands often wrapped around an empty soda bottle for catching the spit juice from his beloved Red Man Golden Blend chewing tobacco.

What we've yet to see in this campaign is Roe's other trademark attribute: the brass-knuckled approach to winning that's made him many enemies. From his earliest days running state and local campaigns, he's taken a scorched-earth approach to politics. Roe and his tactics have been blamed for damaging opponents' lives and reputations, and even for contributing to a gubernatorial candidate's suicide. (Roe doesn't exactly hide from this reputation: His web site features headlines describing him as "ruthless" and a "leading practitioner of hard-ball politics.")

On an early January swing through Iowa, Roe tended to linger at the crowd's edge or at the back of whatever room he was in, studying the size of the crowd, monitoring his Blackberry. That's where I found him during a Cruz stump speech in Spirit Lake, Iowa, standing near the untouched salad buffet at a Godfather's Pizza. For weeks, I'd gotten nowhere emailing and calling Roe for an interview. He grimaced at hearing my request in person, but then spoke to me for a while, staying off the record. (We would subsequently talk twice more in person and twice by phone.) In recent months, I've also interviewed more than 30 of Roe's friends, past and present colleagues, and candidates who've tangled with him in the past.

The portrait that emerges is of a sleepless, methodical operative--"machine-like," as a former client put it--who has made himself into the quintessential Svengali of our money-drenched, hyperpolarized era. You could form a support group with all the scarred and embittered candidates out there, Democrats and Republicans alike, who've ended up on the wrong side of Jeff Roe. "He's the best of the worst," said one Kansas City Republican who was beaten by a Roe client. "The guy's a scoundrel--and probably worse," said a Democrat who ended up on the wrong side of Roe. "Be careful," said another Democrat when I told her I was writing about Roe. "He's dangerous. Call your mom. Tell her you love her." [...]

In February 2015, nearly a year after Cruz had hired him, he produced a radio ad attacking a Republican primary candidate for Missouri governor named Tom Schweich. Roe was an adviser and friend of Schweich's main GOP rival, Catherine Hanaway. The radio ad--which aired only a handful of times in the lead-up to the GOP's annual Lincoln Days celebration--mocked the physical appearance of Schweich, who suffered from Crohn's disease which kept his weight around 140 pounds, comparing him to Barney Fife, the bumbling deputy on The Andy Griffith Show, and painting him as a weakling. If Schweich were nominated for governor, the spot vowed, Democrats would "squash him like the little bug that he is." 

Even before the ad aired, Schweich had been fighting a war inside his own head. He believed that the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party had spread false rumors that he was Jewish (Schweich was Episcopalian, though he had a Jewish grandfather). Schweich wanted to out the chair as a liar and a bigot, but his closest friends advised against it, leaving Schweich feeling personally and politically isolated. (John Hancock, the chairman, told me he may have mistakenly said Schweich was Jewish, but doesn't specifically recall doing so.) A few days after the ad ran, Schweich fatally shot himself in the head. The spot had been formally sponsored by a group called Citizens for Fairness in Missouri, but after Schweich's death, Roe told a local reporter he had produced and paid for it as a response to Schweich's attacks on Hanaway.

Roe was vilified. In his eulogy for Schweich, who he'd mentored, former U.S. Senator John Danforth, a friend of Schweich's and the closest thing to political royalty in Missouri, railed against Roe's attacks without mentioning him by name. "Words do hurt," Danforth said. "Words can kill." Roe told me that Schweich's death was "awful" and a "terrible situation." He added, "My heart aches for his family, his close family, extended family." But he expressed no regrets. "That's not the way I live," Roe said. "I live in the windshield, I don't live in the rearview mirror."

On the Cruz campaign, the first glimpse of Roe's negative tactics surfaced in mid-January, when Cruz ripped Trump for his "New York values." But while Roe's infamous "San Francisco style values" attacks destroyed Kay Barnes in 2008, "New York values" did not go down so well. (Roe declined to comment on his role in "New York values.")

It was an attack that could play well in the heartland, but it drew immediate wrath in New York. "Drop Dead, Ted," the New York's Daily News declared on its cover, accompanying the headline with a picture of the Statue of Liberty flipping the bird. The attack not only led to uncomfortable questions from the media and at least one academic about the implied anti-Semitism of singling out New York for scorn, it opened the door for a genuinely moving response from Trump, at the January 14 Republican debate, about how New Yorkers responded to September 11. In the aftermath, even Cruz's own allies questioned his campaign's judgment. "It would have been better on the part of Ted Cruz not to have had that exchange" with Trump, said Representative Steve King, a key Cruz surrogate, on CNN.

However "New York values" plays out down the line, it certainly sounded like pure Jeff Roe. And the deeper into the race Cruz goes, the greater the need for Roe's negative tactics may be. What might Roe have in store for Trump, Rubio, or Hillary Clinton? And will it help Cruz, or blow up in his face?

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Kasich is finally getting his moment (Scot Lehigh, JANUARY 21, 2016, Boston Globe)

Since the turn of the year, Kasich has generated real traction here with his folksy, optimistic, mild-mannered approach. And you can see it now in the interest voters are showing in a candidate whose brand of politics is unlike anything his Republican rivals are offering. [...]

You could also discern the difference at a midday town hall meeting Kasich held in Concord. He was tired of hearing his Republican rivals spent so much of their debating time castigating Obama, he said. It's time to look forward.

Further, the problems this country faces really aren't that difficult to fix, he said; they can all be remedied if leaders are willing to work together in bipartisan fashion.

His own political gift, he said, sounding a bit like presidential-power theorist Richard Neustadt, was an ability "to get people to do things they don't want to do but know they should."

Talking with him on his campaign bus, I asked if he thought his gloom-and-doom rivals had made a mistake in the angry tone they've adopted.

Kasich declined to criticize his rivals, but said he thought people wanted to look forward rather than back.

The problems the country faces "can all be fixed," he said, but "it is going to take creativity and people working together."

After the long succession of major-party nominees pledging to do the same, only to be frustrated once in office, why should voters believe he can do it?

Kasich said he wasn't bragging that he was "the greatest thing since sliced bread," but said he had demonstrated, both in Congress and as governor of Ohio, the ability to reach across the aisle, work in bipartisan fashion, and achieve results.

"We balanced the budget, fixed welfare," he said. "I did it with Democrats, Republicans. It is something I have been able to do all my lifetime."

That may be overly optimistic as far as governing in today's toxic Washington is concerned.

But right now, forward-looking Republican optimism is finding a real audience in New Hampshire.

Here, anyway, John Kasich's moment has arrived.

January 20, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


Poll: Majority of Americans Want Restrictions on Abortion (Mariana Barillas / January 20, 2016 , Daily Signal)

"Americans want commonsense legislation that limits abortion and they want it by wide margins," Knights of Columbus official Patrick Kelly says. (Photo: iStock)
A new poll shows the majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion, including those who describe themselves as pro-choice.

A survey conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, found 8 in 10 Americans, including 66 percent of pro-choice supporters polled, would restrict abortion to the first trimester of a pregancy.

Six in 10 Americans believe abortion is "morally wrong," with one-third of pro-choice respondents agreeing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Low oil prices complicating life for the European Central Bank (DAVID McHUGH, 1/20/16, AP)

 Low oil prices are complicating life for the European Central Bank in its struggle to push up the worrisome low inflation in the 19 nations that use the euro currency.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Senate Democrats use Trump card to block Syrian refugees bill : Syrian refugees can thank Donald Trump for helping keep America's doors open. (Julian PecquetPosted January 20, 2016, Al Monitor)

Ahead of the Jan. 20 vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sought to force a companion vote on Trump's proposal to ban Muslims. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, denounced the idea as "bringing the circus to town."

"I hate to see the Democratic leader try to trivialize this very important national security debate and discussion by injecting presidential election politics right in the middle of this," Cornyn said.


Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


U.S. illegal immigrant population falls below 11 million, continuing nearly decade-long decline, report says (Jerry Markon, January 20, 2016, he Washington Post)

The illegal immigrant population in the United States has fallen below 11 million, continuing a nearly decade-long decline that has the potential to reshape the debate over reforming the nation's immigration system, according to a study released Wednesday.

The total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003, says the report from the Center for Migration Studies, a New York think tank. The number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008, the report says, driven primarily by a steady decline in illegal migrants from Mexico.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Oregon militia members blow 'battle trumpet' shofars (GABE FRIEDMAN, January 20, 2016, JTA)

Hold onto your ten-gallon hats (and your shofars) -- the standoff in Burns, Oregon, just got a little bit Jewish. [...]

On Sunday, Blaine Cooper -- one of the leaders of the standoff with the federal government and the head of an informal citizen militia in Arizona -- uploaded a video to Facebook showing two of the militants blowing what any Jew would recognize as serious shofars.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Trump's bad bet (Robert O'Harrow Jr., January 18, 2016, Washington Post)

Determined to move forward, he turned to the very junk bonds he had derided in the hearing. He agreed to pay the bond lenders 14 percent interest, roughly 50 percent more than he had projected, to raise $675 million. It was the biggest gamble of his career. [....]

"I didn't want to have any personal liability, so I used junk bonds. I accept the blame for that, but I would do it again," he said. But Trump vehemently denied that the deal represented a personal failing or affected his personal wealth.

"This was not personal. This was a corporate deal," he said. "If you write this one, I'm suing you."

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Ruble Tumbles to Record as Oil Slump Hinders Russia's Recovery (Ksenia Galouchko, January 20, 2016, Bloomberg)

The currency weakened as much as 3.2 percent to 81.0700 against the dollar, surpassing the previous record it touched when Russia's financial-market turmoil peaked in December 2014. Unlike then, when the central bank stepped in to shore up the ruble amid a crisis in confidence in the country due to sanctions over Ukraine, now Governor Elvira Nabiullina says the ruble is trading at a fair value and doesn't need support.

..but he's so decisive when he bumbles!

January 19, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


For the sake of the Republican party, both Trump and Cruz must lose (Michael Gerson, January 18, 2016, Washington Post)

Donors, analysts and media are naturally drawn to the horse-race aspect of politics: establishment vs. anti-establishment, insider vs. outsider. But Trump is proposing a massive ideological and moral revision of the Republican Party. Re-created in his image, it would be the anti-immigrant party; the party that blows up the global trading order; the party that undermines the principle of religious liberty; the party that encourages an ethnic basis for American identity and gives strength and momentum to prejudice.

We are already seeing the disturbing normalization of policies and arguments that recently seemed unacceptable, even unsayable. Trump proposes the forced expulsion of 11 million people, or a ban on Muslim immigration, and there are a few days of outrage from responsible Republican leaders. But the proposals still lie on the table, eventually seeming regular and acceptable.

But they are not acceptable. They are not normal. They are extreme, and obscene and immoral. The Republican nominee -- for the sake of his party and his conscience -- must draw these boundaries clearly.

Ted Cruz is particularly ill-equipped to play this role. He is actually more of a demagogue than an ideologue. So he has changed his views on immigration to compete with Trump -- and raised the ante by promising that none of the deported 11 million will ever be allowed back in the country. Instead of demonstrating the humane instincts of his Christian faith -- a faith that motivated abolition and the struggle for civil rights -- Cruz is presenting the crueler version of a pipe dream.

For Republicans, the only good outcome of Trump vs. Cruz is for both to lose. The future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


MLK: 'A Just Law Is a Man-Made Code That Squares With...the Law of God' (Terence P. Jeffrey, January 19, 2015, CNS)

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy are arrested in Birmingham, Ala., on Good Friday 1963 for marching in protest of that city's racist segregation laws. (AP Photo)
When the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was thrown in jail in Birmingham, Ala., on Good Friday 1963, for marching to protest that city's racist segregation laws, he wrote a letter in which he explained the moral and religious foundation of law itself.

Citing the Catholic saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, King, a Baptist clergyman, said that a just law is one that comports with the law of God and an unjust law is one that doesn't.

"You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws," King wrote. "This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws.

"One may well ask, 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?'" King continued. "The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'

"Now, what is the difference between the two?" wrote King. "How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."

The Declaration of Independence, which invokes the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," roots the founding of America in the same principle that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., rooted the Civil Rights Movement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


ISIS cuts its fighters' salaries by 50% (Jose Pagliery, January 19, 2016, CNN Money)

Wartime pressure on the Islamic State is forcing it to slash its fighters' salaries by half, according to documents leaked from inside ISIS territory.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


How Drones Are Rapidly Making the F-35 Obsolete (T.X. Hammes, 1/19/16, Defense One )

Rather than simply arguing about more money for legacy systems, we need to think through how we will gradually phase them out over the next decades while using the savings to shift to a new approach to war.

Today, the vast majority of U.S.procurement spending goes toward very mature weapons: F-35s, LRS-Bs, aircraft carriers, and systems that support them. These technologies came to the fore in the 1930s and '40s. Unfortunately, even massive investment in mature technologies brings only minor increases in capability. One oft-expressed rule of thumb is that the last 5 percent of capability adds 50 percent to the cost of a weapon.

This is of particular concern because of the rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing and nanoexplosives, composite materials and energy-reflecting coatings, and improved energy densities in gel fuels. Taken together, these technologies mean that long-range, autonomous, stealthy, precision weapons will soon be cheap and ubiquitous. These new systems will challenge the dominance of the last century's weapons and change warfare dramatically at the operational and tactical levels.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Iran Is About to "Drown" the World In Oil (Jordan Weissmann, 1/19/16, Slate)

Say what you will about the geopolitical merits of the Iran nuclear deal: It's probably going to guarantee your gasoline will be dirt cheap for the foreseeable future. So says the International Energy Agency, which on Tuesday predicted that "unless something changes, the oil market could drown in over-supply" in 2016.

In a way, that's sort of an understatement; markets have been gagging on hydrocarbons for a while now, as global production has grown way, way faster than demand. The world's swelling glut of crude has already driven prices down to about $28-to-$29 a barrel this year, which should in turn lead to a bit less drilling--the IEA expects that, outside OPEC, the world is eventually going to pump 600,000 fewer barrels a day. But the agency also writes that "this will inevitably be largely offset by higher production from Iran," which is promising to immediately jack up its oil output by 500,000 barrels per day now that it's been freed of sanctions. Assuming the overall oil output ultimately stays rougly steady, the world could find itself producing 1.5 million more barrels of oil per day than it needs in the first half the year, leading to bigger crude stockpiles and even lower prices.  

...America and the Shi'a are conspiring against them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Q&A: WSJ's Interview With John Kasich in New Hampshire (REID J. EPSTEIN, 1/19/16, WSJ)

WSJ: How much of your success is due to the fact that you haven't been in the crosshairs of the super PAC ads or attacks from other candidates?

Mr. Kasich: I think the reason we've done well is I've had a positive message and a message of experience and accomplishment. Contrary to what the national media says, I have found it to be very welcoming. I have not found a lot of anger. And I think our town halls have been great, they've been a great source of volunteers and people thank us all the time for the kind of campaign we've run. You know, if you want to attack me, that's fine, but get ready. I'm no cupcake here. I think the Bush slime machine is getting ready to ramp up.

WSJ: It feels like you're talking to a different electorate, one that's not as dark and doom-and-gloom as other Republicans.

Mr. Kasich: One thing I learned in New Hampshire. There is an establishment lane, an anti-establishment lane and, as one reporter said, there's a Kasich lane. If you go into a room of 100-plus people, and you want to be the prince of darkness, you can be it. But I don't operate in the dark, I operate in the light. And I am very, very positive about our ability to fix this country and people respond to it. You come to a town hall and people laugh, they get a lot of information, they leave and we sign a lot of people up. I don't believe this whole business about everybody being angry. I haven't experienced it. And I couldn't figure out why. Are people just not coming to my town halls that are angry? No, it's because we have a different way of approaching it. So I'm not a big guy that believes that you gain energy from demonizing other people. I think you gain energy from giving people hope.

WSJ: You don't think that Republican voters in 2016 are angry about the last eight years with Barack Obama in the White House?

Mr. Kasich: I think they're upset, yes. But I don't think they live in the doldrums. What I've seen is, people laugh. They want to know that you get them. The thing is, I relate exactly to what they're concerned about. I come from that stock, never having a say, thinking that the big people will always call the tune. That's where I come from. At the end of it, I believe we can solve anything. I believe people working together can lift everybody. And that's what I tell them. I'm not sugarcoating anything, but I'm not walking in there as the prince of darkness, I'd rather be the prince of light, the prince of hope.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Sorry, the Bible doesn't promise to make America great again (Russell Moore. January 14, 16, Washington Post)

[T]he fact is 2 Chronicles 7:14 isn't talking about America or national identity or some generic sense of "revival." To apply the verse this way is, whatever one's political ideology, theological liberalism.

This verse is a word written to a specific people - the people of God - who were coming home from exile. They were coming home from a time in which they were dominated and enslaved by a foreign power. At a time when they needed to be reminded of who they were, who God was and what he had promised to do, this passage was given to them to point them back to Solomon's reign, reminding them of what Solomon did when he built the temple, the house of the Lord, the place of the gathering of the worship of God.

After all, it seemed as though the house of David was gone. It seemed as though even after a new temple was built, it wasn't the "real" temple, because it's not what it was before. The questions that God's people were asking at this point were, "Where is God? What is our future as the people of God?"

When God said to them, "If my people who are called by name," he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying "I will be their God" and "They will be my people." That's what "My people" means.

God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God's people and would see the future God has for them.

If we don't understand the question of who we are, first and foremost, as the people of God, then we are going to miss this. If we take this text and bypass the people of God, applying it to America in general or the Bible Belt in particular, as though our citizenship as Americans or Australians or Albanians is the foundation of the "covenant" God has made with us, the problem is not just that we are misinterpreting the text; the problem is that we are missing Christ.

When we apply texts like this to the nation, apart from the story of Scripture, we do precisely what the prosperity gospel preachers do.

The prosperity gospel teachers are drawn, after all, to passages from Deuteronomy and elsewhere promising material and physical blessing for those who are obedient, and material and physical curses for those who are disobedient. The message is that those who obey God's word will abound with money and health, while those who disobey will face poverty and illness. They misuse the word of God, though, by abstracting the promises of God from Jesus Christ. He is the one who, obedient to God, receives God's blessing, and he is the One who, bearing the sins of the people, receives God's curse (Gal. 3). To apply these to the people directly, bypassing Christ, is to preach a false gospel of approaching God apart from a Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). A prosperity gospel applied to a nation is no more biblical than a prosperity gospel applied to a person.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Toshiba built a giant robot to help clean up Fukushima's dangerous nuclear reactors (OWEN WILLIAMS, 1/19/16, Next Web)

Toshiba, the same company that happens to make consumer laptops, has built a huge robot to help with cleanup efforts in Japan, following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

The new robot, which was custom built by Toshiba, has been designed to help decommission reactor 3, which exploded when hydrogen built up and the reactor melted down following the disaster.

With two unique arms, Toshiba's robot can pick up objects from inside the radioactive pool and cut them into smaller pieces, as well as remove spent fuel rod assemblies permanently.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Why hasn't the mystery of Gulf War Syndrome been solved? (Claire Bates & Justin Parkinson, 1/19/16, BBC News Magazine)

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Cosmic cycles, not carbon dioxide, control climate (Viv Forbes, 20 January 2016, Online Opinion)

The daily solar cycle causes continual changes in temperature for every spot on Earth. It produces the frosts at dawn, the mid-day heat and the cooling at sunset. It is regulated by rotation of the Earth.

Superimposed on the daily solar cycle is the monthly lunar cycle, driven by the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. These two cycles interact to produce variations in atmospheric pressure and tides, and currents in the oceans and the atmosphere. These are the daily weather makers.

The yearly seasonal cycle is caused as the tilted axis of Earth's rotation affects the intensity of solar energy received by each hemisphere. This produces spring, summer, autumn and winter for every spot on Earth.

Then there is the 22 year sun-spot cycle, which correlates with cycles of floods and droughts. Sunspot cycles are indicators of solar activity which causes periods of global warming and cooling.

Earth's climate is also disrupted periodically by the effects of changing winds, ocean hot spots and submarine volcanism that produce the El Nino Southern Oscillation.

The least recognised but most dangerous climate cycle is the glacial cycle. We live in the Holocene Epoch, the latest brief warm phase of the Pleistocene Ice Age. The climate history of the Holocene, and its predecessor the Eemian, are well documented in ice core logs and other records in the rocks. Each cycle consists of a glacial age of about 80,000 years followed by a warmer age of about 20,000 years, with peak warming occurring over about 12,000 years. Our modern warm era commenced 12,000 years ago, so it is probably nearing its end.

There have been eight warm eras separated by long glacial winters over the last 800,000 years of the Pleistocene. In every beat of this cycle, the vast ice sheets melt, sea levels rise dramatically, coral reefs and coastal settlements are drowned, and forests and animals re-colonise the higher land released from the ice. Warm climate animals such as hippos, water buffaloes and elephants got as far north as Germany in the last warm era. Then suddenly the ice returned, covering the northern hemisphere as far south as Chicago and London, destroying the forests, lowering the seas, stranding the relocated coral reefs and eliminating unprepared species. (Some dopey grizzly bears got stranded in the Arctic Ice and the most enterprising of them survived to evolve into white grizzlies now called polar bears.)

This regular repetition of natural climate change is partially explained by the Milankovitch cycles relating to changes in Earth's precession, orbit and tilt. These drive variations in solar energy received by Earth and have the greatest temperature effect on the large land masses of the Northern Hemisphere.

On an even longer time scale, oscillation of the solar system through the plane of the Galaxy seems to trigger magnetic reversals and violent spasms of volcanism, crustal movements glaciation and species extinction. Earth is never still for long.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Comedy for college kids? Fuhgettaboutit (Lawrence J. Siskind, 1/18/16, Times of Israel)

The ruling orthodoxy on college campuses these days is political correctness. Universities have become incubators of intellectual uniformity. Many elite colleges seem determined to eliminate any Republican or conservative influence from their faculty lounges. As this blog has previously reported, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees in the last election went to Barack Obama. At Princeton, according to an analysis by the university newspaper, only one faculty member and a janitor donated to the campaign of Mitt Romney. At Bowdoin, a top liberal arts institution, 100% of the donations went to Obama. And the trend cannot be explained as support just for the nation's first black President. It is wider than that. Federal Election Commission data for the period of 2011 to 2014 shows that 99% of the political donations of Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences went to liberal campaigns.

To put this in perspective, compare Cornell to Kazakhstan. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that nation has been ruled by one man, Nursultan Nazarbayev. He has a perfect electoral record.  After his reelection last April with over 97% of the vote, Nazarbayev felt compelled to publicly apologize for his margin: "I apologize that for super-democratic states such figures are unacceptable: 95 percent participation and more than 97 percent [of ballots cast for him]. But I could do nothing. If I had interfered, I would have been undemocratic."

So the odds of finding a conservative faculty member at Cornell are slightly less than the odds of finding any opposition to Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen made a funny movie (Borat) about Kazakhstan. Couldn't we also use a satire about Cornell?

That's why stand-up comedy is vital to college campuses. Stand-up comedians, like medieval jesters, are needed to ridicule the regnant political orthodoxy, to disclose its contradictions, and to pierce its sanctimony. Faculty members won't do so, because they are the advocates of that orthodoxy. Administrators won't because they either advocate it, or lack the spine to oppose it.

That leaves it up to Jerry Seinfeld and company. But many of them have gone on strike.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Libya rivals announce unity government as part of UN-backed plan (Associated Press in Benghazi, 19 January 2016)

Representatives of Libya's rival factions have formed a unity government aimed at stemming the chaos that has engulfed the country.

The Unity Presidential Council, which has been negotiating through a UN-brokered process, agreed on a 32-member cabinet made up of representatives from across the country. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Freed Iranians Never Boarded Flight Out of US (JUSTIN FISHEL MIKE LEVINE  Jan 19, 2016, ABC News)

It turns out that so-called "prisoner swap" with Iran didn't involve much of a swap. When given the chance, none of the Iranians freed from U.S. custody chose to return to Iran, according to U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations. [...]

Afghahi's attorney, David Gerger, said the pardon was the right decision and that his client never posed any threat.

"Right now, Mr. Afghahi is spending some precious time with his family in the United States...and probably getting the first good night sleep and hot cup of coffee he's had in nine months," Gerger said in a statement to ABC News on Tuesday. "As far as next steps, the family will be making all those decisions as soon as possible."

An attorney for Mechanic, Joel Androphy, said his client is also spending time with family in Texas, namely his wife. Androphy accused the federal government of bringing an unjust case against Mechanic, saying authorities had illegally obtained evidence.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing Faridi, Kent Schaffer, said his client has no plans to ever leave the United States.

"Mr. Faridi is here in Houston," Schaffer told ABC News. "He has not been in Iran in years, has no plans to go there, and will remain here at his home. He is an American and will remain in America."

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Jeb gets education right (Frederick M. Hess, January 18, 2016, National Review)

[T]he plan is first-rate. It's as notable for what's not there as for what is. Eschewing divisive pandering on "racial achievement gaps," the plan bracingly argues that education must better serve all Americans. Its first paragraph proclaims, "Choice, innovation and transparency have transformed practically every part of our lives, and yet our schools remain artifacts of another century."

There's no talk of the Common Core. Instead, there's a sharply worded commitment to freeing states from Washington's whims. The plan argues, "Empowering individuals doesn't require additional money or programs designed by Washington. What we need is a national focus on fueling innovation and providing quality choices for every student in this country." The plan calls for reducing the size of the U.S. Department of Education by 50 percent and for expanding choice, promoting transparency, and reducing regulations in order to support innovation.

The boldest strokes are in higher education, with a proposal to replace today's "confusing, burdensome" federal loan program with an income-based financing system. Every high-school graduate would be given access to a $50,000 line of credit (about the amount currently available to independent undergraduates), with students repaying the loan as a percentage of their future income. Economically successful students would pay back up to 1.75 times the amount borrowed, while others would pay back less. The presumption is that the new program would cost no more, on balance, than today's system. In addition to the $50,000, low-income students would also have access to a revamped Pell grant.

Families would be able to turn existing 529 plans into Education Savings Accounts, allowing individuals and families to save tax-free for lifelong education -- from early-childhood programs through mid-career job retraining. The plan would encourage giving to low-income children by making contributions to their accounts tax-deductible. Bush would allow states to take the potpourri of existing federal early-childhood programs and voucherize them for eligible families. This is a nifty way to allow those states that opt in to cut through the web of regulations accompanying the $22 billion now disbursed through 44 federal programs.

Bush's plan calls for doubling federal support for charter schooling and for supporting the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program -- while making clear that all new spending is to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the education budget. The plan shows a clear, principled respect for state authority while allowing states (if they so wish) to use funds in ways that support and expand choice. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


MI5 named Britain's most gay-friendly employer (AFP, January 19, 2016)

 Britain's MI5 spy agency was on Tuesday named the country's best employer for promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender diversity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Islamic State's double standards sow growing disillusion (HAMZA HENDAWI, January 19, 2016, Times of Iasrael)

 Mohammed Saad, a Syrian activist, was imprisoned by the Islamic State group, hung by his arms and beaten regularly. Then one day, his jailers quickly pulled him and other prisoners down and hid them in a bathroom.

The reason? A senior Muslim cleric was visiting to inspect the facility. The cleric had told the fighters running the prison that they shouldn't torture prisoners and that anyone held without charge must be released within 30 days, Saad told The Associated Press. Once the coast was clear, the prisoners were returned to their torment.

"It's a criminal gang pretending to be a state," Saad said, speaking in Turkey, where he fled in October. "All this talk about applying Sharia and Islamic values is just propaganda, Daesh is about torture and killing," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Gas for 46 cents a gallon. Really (Matt Egan, January 18, 2016, CNN Money)

At least three gas stations in the Houghton Lake region engaged in a price war that briefly let drivers pay less than 50 cents a gallon on Sunday.

January 18, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


The Gospel According to Trump (McKAY COPPINSJAN. 18, 2016, NY Times)

In the Gospel According to Trump, there is only one blessedly normal, all-American faith: mainline Protestant Christianity. The Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Baptists -- those believers who once made up this country's midcentury religious mainstream -- are Mr. Trump's "chosen ones." He regards their customs and values as essentially as American as apple pie, while all other faith communities, even other forms of Christianity, seem to rest somewhere on a spectrum from exotic to sinister.

Take Mr. Trump's bizarre speech last month to the Republican Jewish Coalition, where he kept inexplicably returning to the same well-worn tropes that anti-Semites have been using for a century. "I'm a negotiator, like you folks," he proclaimed to the crowd. Later, he sought to signal defiant distance from the Republican establishment by informing them: "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money."

While speaking to a crowd of Florida supporters in October, Mr. Trump publicly hinted that there might be something nefarious about Ben Carson's Seventh-day Adventist faith. "I'm Presbyterian," Mr. Trump said. "Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."

More recently, he tried to blunt Ted Cruz's surge in the Iowa polls by using the senator's Cuban heritage to exoticize his Christian faith. "I do like Ted Cruz," Mr. Trump said at a rally in Des Moines, "but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba."

There is an absurdity in seeing Donald Trump trying to play the role of 2016 religion referee. This is a man whose sincerest praise for the Bible is to deem it even better than his best-selling book "The Art of the Deal," a man whose most famous religious experience is having reportedly struck up a romance with his second wife among the pews of a Manhattan church (while he was still married to Ivana).

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


'Jihad' comedy causes stir on Belgium stage (Deutsche Welle, 1/18/16)

In the midst of this tension, Saidi decided there must be a funny side to the phenomenon, even if he had to create it himself. The playwright wrote up three hapless characters to be sucked in to supporting Islamist militants, confronting head-on what he considers the stereotypes and mistakes of Muslim society, basing the plot on his and his friends' life stories. 

Defiantly, Saidi called his comedy "Djihad" (the French spelling). "In my vision as an artist it was important to say we can use any word," he explained, without concern as to whether that word is "sacred" to one religion or another. "People were scared at the beginning because they said 'what is that - 'Djihad'?" Saidi recalls with a laugh. "And when I told the press it was a comedy, it was worse! 'What? A comedy? Are you crazy, man?' " [...]

The three young Belgian friends sit on a park bench in Brussels and decide their lives are so lackluster and directionless that they might as well become foreign fighters in Syria, as Belgians have in fact done in record numbers per capita. But their innocence and camaraderie, laced with constant jokes, make people forget they're headed off to supposedly become ruthless killers. They are just young men who haven't gotten a good start in life, who deserve a second chance.

Sitting in the Syrian desert, they recount their lost loves: For Reda, it's the non-Muslim girl, Valerie, his mom forbade him to marry; for Ben, it's Elvis, whom he's devastated to learn has a "Jewish" middle name: "Aaron." Ismael wanted to be an artist but was told the Quran doomed artists to hell. They confront and decide to reject these dogmatic religious restraints, with a loose plan to go back to Brussels and follow their reinvigorated dreams. 

The "secret", Saidi says, is that "Djihad" is Muslims making fun of Muslims first. "I'm laughing about me," he explains, "and then I'm laughing about society." It's a formula some authorities believe can be so potent for addressing both radicalization and isolation that the Belgian Education Ministry latched onto "Djihad" just three weeks after its five-show run and subsidized its performances for schools, calling it a "public service." Now there have been more than 100 showings with more to come; tens of thousands of people have seen it. It's being translated into Dutch and this troupe will take it to Paris this spring.

The default Western position should be mockery of ISIS.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Turkish school hit by cross-border fire (Deutsche-Welle, 1/18/16)

Turkey's military says radar showed that the fire had originated from "Islamic State" outposts inside Syria, the Reuters news agency reported. The Turkish army retaliated "in kind" against the Islamist militants after the firing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Islam's Path to Modernity  (Mohammad Fazlhashemi, JAN 18, 2016, Project Syndicate)

In fact, the Quran does defend principles like liberty, impartiality, and righteousness, which indicates a fundamental respect for justice and human dignity. The problem, as emphasized by the Iranian theologian Mohsen Kadivar, is that many parts of sharia law are linked to pre-modern social structures, which deny women or non-Muslims the same protections as Muslim men receive.

It does not help that, as George Mason University's Abulaziz Sachedina points out, men have been the ones to interpret Islam's holy texts. This, rather than those texts' true content, is the root cause of legal discrimination against women in Muslim countries.

The theologian Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Fazel Meybodi points out that Islamic law regarding punishment - which includes brutal practices like stoning and amputation - originates from the Old Testament. Islam did not invent these punishments; they were simply the prevailing practices of the time.

As societies progress and evolve, so must the rules and standards that govern them. As the Iranian theologian Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari of the University of Tehran emphasizes, many of the ideas associated with justice and human rights, as we understand them today, were completely "un-thought" in the pre-modern era. But Muslims cannot simply disregard such ideas on the grounds that humans had not developed them at the time the Quran was written.

With the abandonment of outdated notions of tiered justice and the recognition of the liberty and dignity of all individuals, Shabestari believes that it will become possible to realize the Quran's message that there should be no compulsion in religion. People's religious decisions should be driven by their sense of faith, rather than their desire to retain their civil rights.

According to the philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, this distinction between religious beliefs and civil rights should be obvious. But interpretations of Islamic law have traditionally been so focused on questions about mankind's various duties that they have failed to recognize it. For Soroush, however, the denial of human rights based on "a person's beliefs or absence of belief" is undeniably a "crime."

The school of Muslim thought promoted by these scholars, who come from both Sunni and Shia backgrounds, offers a way forward for Islam. Its adherents know that key Islamic concepts, beliefs, norms, and values can be harmonized with modern social structures and understandings of justice and human rights. By recommending ways to do so, they are reaffirming the durability of the core Islamic tradition.

As with Catholicism and Judaism, Sunni Islam just needs to conform itself to the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Ultra-low interest rates could be here to stay, says Bank of England adviser (Larry Elliott, 18 January 2016, The Guardian)

The prospect of ultra-low interest rates persisting for years to come has been conjured up by a leading Bank of England policy after a further fall in oil prices and shares in London sinking to their lowest level since late 2012.

Gertjan Vlieghe, one of the nine members of Threadneedle Street's monetary policy committee, the body that sets the official cost of borrowing, said debt, demographics and distribution of income could all depress interest rates.

With population decline in the rest of the world, ever fewer workers making ever more products ever more cheaply, and only the Anglospheric/Scandinavian economies remaining viable, how would interest rates go up?

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Advantage Iran in Lebanese political proxy battle with Saudi Arabia (Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen,  18 January 2016, The Guardian)

The endorsement of Michel Aoun, a former general and foe-turned-ally of the Syrian regime, comes after a nearly two-year standoff that has paralysed decision-making in Beirut and despite Saudi Arabia wanting his arch-rival Samir Geagea to take the post.

Geagea has instead yielded to Aoun in a move that is now likely to anchor Iran's influence in Lebanon. [...]
The Saudi-backed "March 14" bloc, which accounts for most of the country's Sunnis, and which is strongly supported by Riyadh, remained bitterly opposed to the deal until it was announced by both men on Monday night, and Geagea may face difficulties convincing them to back Aoun.

Aoun has enthusiastically supported Iran's role in the region and his election would mark an extension of Tehran's influence at a time when an ongoing tussle for power and influence saw Saudi Arabia sever diplomatic relations in the lead-up to the nuclear deal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


The North Dakota Crude Oil That's Worth Less Than Nothing (Dan Murtaugh, January 18, 2016, Bloomberg)

Flint Hills Resources LLC, the refining arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch's industrial empire, said it offered to pay $1.50 a barrel Friday for North Dakota Sour, a high-sulfur grade of crude, according to a corrected list of prices posted on its website Monday. It had previously posted a price of -$0.50. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


J Street takes aim at GOP senators who opposed Iran deal (JTA, January 17, 2016)

J Street will focus this year on unseating Republican senators in Illinois and Wisconsin who led opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

A number of years ago, we were at the neighborhood 4th of July barbecue and a few of us were discussing nuclear weapons with a Dartmouth professor who is a leading authority in the field.  It was his position that such weapons are so terrible that no one would support using them.  We argued that the American people would like nothing better than to nuke Iran.  A couple years later, he and another of the neighborhood professors who were there published a journal article concluding precisely that:

Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons 

How strong are normative prohibitions on state behavior? The authors examine this question by analyzing anti-nuclear norms, sometimes called the "nuclear taboo," using an original survey experiment to evaluate American attitudes regarding nuclear use. The authors find that the public has only a weak aversion to using nuclear weapons and that this aversion has few characteristics of an "unthinkable" behavior or taboo. Instead, public attitudes about whether to use nuclear weapons are driven largely by consequentialist considerations of military utility. Americans' willingness to use nuclear weapons increases dramatically when nuclear weapons provide advantages over conventional weapons in destroying critical targets. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


What can Jeb's plan do for higher education? (Beth Akers, 1/18/16, Brookings)

The big idea at the heart of the plan is to reduce the risk of borrowing to go to college by adopting a system that would function like an income share agreement between the student and the government.

There are three main elements to this aspect of the plan:

Each individual could access $50,000 of credit towards educational expenses over their lifetime.

Borrowers would repay by committing a set fraction of their income over 25 years, rather than repaying based on a fixed rate of interest. So borrowers with high earnings will pay back more than they've borrowed (up to a limit), while borrowers with low earnings will pay far less.

Collections would be through the tax system, in place of the dizzying complexity of the current repayment system. (PLUS loans for both parents and graduate students would be eliminated).


In addition to these far-reaching reforms of the federal loan program, Bush's plan also creates a "skin-in-the-game" system for institutional accountability. He proposes that institutions take on some liability when their students fail to fully repay their debts.  Many oppose this additional layer of regulation, but it's a reasonable model that does have precedent in other markets. For instance, state unemployment insurance programs are partially funded by higher payroll taxes from employers who have laid off more employees in the past.

Promoting innovation

The plan also creates opportunity for innovative business models in higher education through a reform of the rules for institutional access to federal aid. Here the plan is thin on the details, but it endorses a new pathway to eligibility based on performance outcomes rather that the traditional model of accreditation. Encouraging innovation is the right idea, but the success of this proposal would completely depend on how it's implemented.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You're a Trump Supporter : And it's not gender, age, income, race or religion. (MATTHEW MACWILLIAMS 1/17/2016, Politico)

[T]rump's electoral strength--and his staying power--have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it's very possible that Trump's fan base will continue to grow.

My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted in the last five days of December under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Running a standard statistical analysis, I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter's preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.

Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to "make America great again" by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

Not all authoritarians are Republicans by any means; in national surveys since 1992, many authoritarians have also self-identified as independents and Democrats. And in the 2008 Democratic primary, the political scientist Marc Hetherington found that authoritarianism mattered more than income, ideology, gender, age and education in predicting whether voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. But Hetherington has also found, based on 14 years of polling, that authoritarians have steadily moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party over time. He hypothesizes that the trend began decades ago, as Democrats embraced civil rights, gay rights, employment protections and other political positions valuing freedom and equality. In my poll results, authoritarianism was not a statistically significant factor in the Democratic primary race, at least not so far, but it does appear to be playing an important role on the Republican side. Indeed, 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters I surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale--more than twice as many as Democratic voters.

If only he were a Pinochet....

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Why Israel is keeping a close eye on Iran's parliamentary elections (Ben Caspit, January 18, 2016, Al Monitor)

Senior IDF officials speak of the nuclear agreement in very dissimilar terms, using concepts unlike those embraced by Israel's political leadership.

"It is true," confirmed one top military source, speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. "There is not a single expert in the IDF who believes that the Iranians have abandoned their nuclear aspirations. On the other hand, international pressure, sanctions and the clandestine campaign have induced them to sign the nuclear agreement, and it is our assessment that they will implement it meticulously. The agreement creates a 10- to 15-year window, which provides us with an enormous opportunity. We are talking about a strategic turning point. For the last 15 years, Iran has followed a steady vector leading to nuclear capacity. Now it has all been blocked, rolled back and frozen at a reasonable distance from that goal. This is real news." [...]

"The agreement removes the Iranian nuclear threat from the agenda for 10 to 15 years," said another senior defense official on condition of anonymity. "That is a lot more than an Israeli military attack or even an American assault would achieve. An achievement of this magnitude must not be belittled." [...]

The IDF regards this election as a pivotal event that could indicate in which direction the Iranian people are heading. Within Iran, there is a historic clash of titans between two conflicting trends: continued domination of the revolution by the Quds Force and generals like Qasem Soleimani, or the desire for normalcy and the good life shared by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people -- who, according to most Western experts, are now fed up with the Islamic Revolution.

A top Israeli intelligence official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "We saw this trend in the 2009 riots, which were suppressed with considerable force. The ensuing election of [President Hassan] Rouhani was evidence that the real will of the Iranian people had not changed. The people want freedom. Right now, we don't know what will happen in the elections for the Majlis. Will the Quds Force be able to stir the pot and tilt the results in their favor?"

Another area where it is possible to identify signs of the structural conflict between the forces of Iranian radicalism and supporters of normalcy within the country is the attitude toward losses suffered by Iranian forces in the war with Syria. According to information that has reached the West, Iran has contributed some 2,500 elite Revolutionary Guard Corps troops to the fight in Syria. They have suffered about 170 casualties, with hundreds more (between 300 and 400) wounded. As a result of these losses, Tehran has ordered at least some of these forces home, replacing them with Shiite volunteer militias from Iraq and Iran.

"It was surprising to see the Iranian sensitivity to casualties," said an Israeli official. "We did not expect that. This is an important statement. Iranian society is drawing closer to normalcy and Western values. The ability to throw thousands of troops into a campaign and sustain heavy losses can no longer be taken for granted. The process is fascinating."

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM



The massive construction waste collapse last month in Shenzhen reflects a wider phenomenon: the waning of the megacity era. Shenzhen became a megacity (population over 10 million) faster than any other in history, epitomizing the massive movement of Chinese to cities over the past four decades. Now it appears more like a testament to extravagant delusion.

In 1979, Shenzhen was a small fishing town of roughly 30,000 people when it became a focus of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's first wave of modernization policies. Now it is a metropolis of 12 million whose population grew 56 percent between 2000 and 2014. For years, it stood as the brash wunderkind of Chinese cities, proud of its gleaming infrastructure that is now increasingly suspect.

The Shenzhen collapse came four months after a similar deadly public safety disaster in Tianjin, another relatively new megacity, where an explosion at a chemical warehouse killed 173 people. And of course, there is the widespread urban air pollution that is hazardous in Beijing and simply noxious elsewhere. Simply put, the once compelling "economies of scale" offered by increasing the size of cities have broken down in urban agglomerations over 10 million people, where their size has now become encumbrances to further growth, not to mention the happiness and health of their citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites (GINA KOLATA and SARAH COHEN, JAN. 16, 2016, NY Times)

There is a reason that blacks appear to have been spared the worst of the narcotic epidemic, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a drug abuse expert. Studies have found that doctors are much more reluctant to prescribe painkillers to minority patients, worrying that they might sell them or become addicted.

"The answer is that racial stereotypes are protecting these patients from the addiction epidemic," said Dr. Kolodny, a senior scientist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and chief medical officer for Phoenix House Foundation, a national drug and alcohol treatment company.

The key to health reform is cutting consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Denmark broke world record for wind power in 2015 (Arthur Neslen, 18 January 2016, The Guardian)

Denmark produced 42% of its electricity from wind turbines last year according to official data, the highest figure yet recorded worldwide.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Donald Trump Is Really Unpopular With General Election Voters (NATE SILVER, 1/18/16, 538)

Contra Rupert Murdoch's assertion about Trump having crossover appeal, Trump is extraordinarily unpopular with independent voters and Democrats. Gallup polling conducted over the past six weeks found Trump with a -27-percentage-point net favorability rating among independent voters, and a -70-point net rating among Democrats; both marks are easily the worst in the GOP field. (Trump also has less-than-spectacular favorable ratings among his fellow Republicans.)

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Did Putin's Diplomatic Coup with Iran Hurt Him More than It Helped? (Rob Garver, January 18, 2016, Fiscal Times)

A report released over the weekend found that Iran has materially complied with all of the requirements of the agreement the Islamic Republic worked out with the United States and other world powers to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure. Nuclear materials have been shipped overseas, out of the reach of any elements within Iran interested in building nuclear weapons. A key reactor's core was filled with cement, ruining it for any future use. [...]

Now, here comes Iran, loosed onto the international oil markets for the first time in a generation. Iran sits on about 10 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, and its ability to add more supply to an already-saturated market is more bad news for Russia.

The oil markets, to be sure, have largely priced in the lifting of sanctions on Iran, but what's not clear is whether the full impact on Russia's currency, the ruble, has been felt yet. The ruble, which as recently as two years ago traded near 30 to the dollar, is now as weak as it has ever been. It takes 77 rubles to buy one dollar, and the trajectory has been steadily upward since last spring.

The ruble's tumble has multiple reasons, including international sanctions related to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but the impact on Russian citizens is the same regardless of the cause: their buying power has been dramatically reduced.

The next Russian leader to understand economics will be the first.

January 17, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Saudi Arabia is in a state of panic (Tom Kool, 1/17/16, OilPrice.com )

3. Iran has assumed a very significant leadership role among Shia Arabs

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are currently locked in a bitter proxy war on two fronts: Syria and Yemen.

Iran has the support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, along with support from the majority of Shiites in Iraq. More to the point, Iran has even managed to grow its Shiite support base among Sunni-ruled nations. The execution of Shia Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr by the Saudis is an indirect acceptance of the growing influence of Iran among the suppressed 15 percent Shiite population in Saudi Arabia. This shows that the Saudi leadership is feeling threatened on their own soil.

4. Saudi Arabia cannot defeat Iran in a direct war

Iran is a much larger nation than Saudi Arabia by population and has held its own in numerous long wars. By comparison, the Saudis have an army that is inexperienced, led by loyalists of the Royal family who occupy plum postings. These are not the war-hardened generals of Iran.

While Saudi Arabia has a nice arsenal with the latest weaponry, the kingdom is heavily dependent on the West for its use and maintenance. Its indecisive and ineffective handling of three conflict fronts--Iraq, Syria, and Yemen--give us no confidence in its ability to take on Iran.

5. Saudi Arabia knows it won't have U.S. support for a direct war with Iran

The painfully misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are enough to deter the current U.S. administration from entering into full-fledged war in the Syrian and Yemen theaters. Washington's non-committal stance, along with efforts to broker a deal with Iran, should serve as very loud signals to Saudi Arabia.

The message to the kingdom is this: Don't go to war with the hope that that U.S. will support you. And without the West, Saudi Arabia knows it stands no chance of winning a war against Iran. The royal family will probably not take the risk of losing power by indulging in such a war.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Isis fighters abduct up to 400 civilians in major attack on Deir ez-Zor (Kareem Shaheen and Agence France-Presse, 17 January 2016, The Guardian)

Deir ez-Zor city, the capital of the province, is mostly under Isis control except for a few districts still held by forces loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad. Residents there have endured months of siege by the militants.

The offensive in Deir ez-Zor may be intended to burnish the terror group's image in its redoubts in Syria and Iraq, having lost much territory in recent months to different forces. In Iraq, it has lost the city of Ramadi to an army-led campaign, as well as the city of Sinjar, the ancestral home of the Yazidi community, to an offensive by the Kurdish paramilitary, the peshmerga.

In northern Syria, close to the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate in Raqqa, the militants have lost vast tracts of land to an American-backed offensive by Kurdish militias, whose forces are now just 30 miles from the city.

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


The Biggest Dinosaur In History May Never Have Existed (DAVID GOLDENBERG, 1/11/16, 538)

This week, the American Museum of Natural History in New York will unveil its newest exhibit to the press: the skeleton of a huge plant-eating sauropod that many paleontologists think is the largest dinosaur ever discovered. The animal is new enough that it doesn't yet have a proper scientific name -- it's being called Titanosaur for now. It is 122 feet long and 19 feet high at the midpoint of its back, a specimen so big that its head will peek out of the great hall of the Wallach Orientation Center and into the elevator bank on the fourth floor. Its dorsal vertebrae will brush the lofty ceiling.

But in the museum's files is buried a description of a vertebra for a dinosaur that would have been 55 percent longer than the Titanosaur -- and bigger than any animal ever known. The only problem: The vertebra described has been missing for more than 100 years, and many people think that it may never have existed at all, or at least not as it was described in the first place.

The missing dinosaur is known as Amphicoelias fragillimus, and the only recorded evidence of its existence -- a piece of vertebra1 measuring almost 5 feet tall -- is said to have been dug up just outside of Cañon City, a small town in central Colorado that for a few short years in the late 1800s was the dinosaur capital of the world. Along with dozens of bones from other dinosaurs, the partial vertebra is listed on the manifest of a freight train that went to Philadelphia, where it was first described and sketched in a paper by famed paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. Around the time of Cope's death in 1897, the Amphicoelias bone is said to have been sent with the rest of his massive collection to the American Museum of Natural History, where it was received and catalogued as FR 5777: "Amphicoelias fragillimus, Holotype."

But when museum President Henry Osborn and his colleague Charles Mook finally got around to analyzing the collection more than two decades later, there was no Amphicoelias bone to catalog. 

One more make believe dinosaur story hardly matters.  Even funnier was the story this week that paleontologists now claim they engaged in mating dances.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Deciphering Iran's Prisoner Swap and Broader Communication (HALEH ESFANDIARI, 1/17/16, WSJ)

The release of the Americans could not have happened without participation of Iranian intelligence officials, who have long held that dual nationals and Iranian intellectuals and activists are acting on behalf of the U.S. government as part of an effort to destabilize the regime in Tehran. It's too early to tell how deep a shift in thinking this represents.

The prisoner exchange appears to be another sign that President Hassan Rouhani's more moderate approach to foreign policy is meeting with some success. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly barred negotiations with the U.S. on any topic but the nuclear issue. Clearly, however, he is willing to give Mr. Rouhani some room to maneuver in foreign relations. The challenge for Mr. Rouhani now is to secure the supreme leader's backing for more moderate policies at home, particularly the release of the many writers, artists, female activists, and intellectuals unfairly festering in Iranian prisons.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Free and fair elections attract investment, no matter who's elected. Here's why. (Mike Touchton January 8, 2016, NY Times)

If developing countries want to be prosperous and attract international investment, they should hold free and fair elections. That's the takeaway from my analysis of data on elections and net investment flows in 157 countries between 1990 and 2013, which I presented in a recent paper in International Interactions.

Over the past years, illiberal democracy has been spreading across the developing world. By "illiberal democracy" I mean countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and Hungary, which hold elections but curtail civil liberties, where constitutions limit power in theory but where in practice the rule of law is flexible at best, and no one holds leaders to account.

For them, it may be useful to know that simply holding free and fair elections makes a big difference in attracting investment, whether a right- or left-leaning party wins the election or whether the country has a broader commitment to political rights.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


President Joko Widodo of Indonesia Visits Attack Site (Joe Cochrane, 1/14/16, NY Times)

"We condemn actions that disrupt public security and disturb the peace of the people and sow terror," Mr. Joko said earlier in the day. "I have instructed the police chief and the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs to pursue and arrest the perpetrators and their networks."

"The people do not need to be afraid and should not be defeated by these terrorist acts," he added. "I hope that people remain calm because it is all controllable."

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Immigrant Song : How America gets assimilation (mostly) right. : a review of A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story by Tom Gjelten  (June Shih, January/February 2016, Washington Monthly)

Despite their radically different and often traumatic experiences in their home countries, Gjelten's families' lives, once they arrived in the United States, did not disturb the centuries-old American immigrant narrative. All were pulled to America by the promise of greater economic opportunity or political freedom for themselves, or at least for their children. They struggled with prejudice, language barriers, and poverty, but by dint of hard work met with some success, especially when measured against what they had left behind. The stories are indeed moving: A Korean couple goes to work in the chicken-processing plants on Maryland's Eastern Shore and carefully saves enough money to buy a gas station. A Bolivian father learns to fix cars by reading how-to manuals in the Fairfax County Public Library with a Spanish-English dictionary at his side. A Salvadoran hotel maid, though still struggling after twenty years to build a housecleaning business, finds satisfaction in being able to keep her children safe: "I come into my apartment and lock the door, and I see my children sleeping," Maria Quintanilla Call says. "That's what America has given me. I can sleep peacefully here and not think somebody is going to come in the night." A teenager arrives from Libya speaking little English, but wins admission to Georgetown, and finds in America the freedom to become a more devout Muslim.

Fairfax County, Gjelten argues, is a model for how America can absorb its newest immigrants: "The way [Fairfax] responded and the way it incorporated its new population might suggest how America could handle the challenges it had taken on by opening its doors as wide as it did after 1965." And indeed, the narrative is littered with good men and women doing the right thing, from the high school counselors and principal who found ways to defuse conflict between immigrant gangs, to the English as a Second Language teachers, friendly librarians, Jesuit priests, and well-meaning cops.

But not all the stories of assimilation are uncomplicated. We hear from Tom Davis, the former Republican congressman, who as a Fairfax County supervisor made the decisive vote in approving the construction of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in 1993. "Certain things in life go to the core of who you are and this was one of those core issues," Davis said. The mosque is now a hub for Muslim life in Washington, D.C., but also made national headlines for its former imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, who turned out to be an extremist with ties to the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists, and was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

We meet Robert Frye, a longtime African American member of the Fairfax County school board, who fought to ensure that Fairfax County public schools served new immigrants' children and did not segregate them into failing schools, even when some argued that immigrant children drained resources from poor African American students. "These families came here through tremendous effort," he said. "And a part of their vision was to have their kids go to an American school. They did not want an immigrant school."

A key factor in the successful absorption of immigrants in Fairfax County was due not to anything the county affirmatively did, but to timing. Gjelten notes that the post-1965 immigrants did not move into inner-city ethnic ghettos--the Chinatowns or Little Italys of previous generations--but directly into integrated suburban neighborhoods. The civil rights movement, after all, had not just opened America's doors to immigrants of color, it had also opened up neighborhoods and schools. With regular exposure to neighbors and classmates of different races and religions, the second generation of Gjelten's families inevitably became "broad-minded, respectful of cultural differences and universal in outlook, perhaps even to a greater extent than their parents may have expected or wanted." Reflecting on the fact that a Roman Catholic priest had been his strongest ally when he started a Muslim Students Association chapter at Georgetown, Esam Omeish, the Libyan teenager turned successful doctor profiled in the book, recognized that such broad-mindedness would have been unthinkable in other countries.

It is perhaps this genuine embrace of the ideal of integration and equality that makes the America immigrant experience so much more successful than in Europe and other parts of the world. The idea of America as an imperfect country inspired by, built on, and ever striving to honor the principle of equality is one that empowers immigrants to recognize their ability to become Americans.

As a second-generation American who was always self-conscious about my race, I nevertheless felt empowered by the American story. In second grade, when assigned to make a collage of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I cut out a picture of President Jimmy Carter, pasted it on a piece of paper, and said I wanted to be the first woman president. I bought tricornered hats and quill pens and rolled up my pants into breeches so that I could dress up as my hero Thomas Jefferson, the author of the phrase "All men are created equal." The civil rights struggle for an America where one could be "judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" was a source of inspiration and comfort that I, too, fully belonged in America and was an American.

..about the persitent poverty and cultural struggles of blacks in America is that, because they were brought here as slaves, Africans were deprived of the normal immigrant experience that all other groups enjoyed.  Indeed, as he demonstrates, Africans and Haitians who immigrated voluntarily have achieved upwards mobility and affluence at the same rate as other cohorts.  One form of reparations that would benefit everyone is suggested above : move inner city blacks out of the ghetto and to the suburbs.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Saudi Arabia Is the George W. Bush of the Middle East : Riyadh has a clear strategy - just not one that Washington should endorse. (REZA MARASHI, JANUARY 5, 2016, Foreign Policy)

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia's top geopolitical goal has been to maximize its power at Iran's expense. The nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran has kicked Saudi Arabia's fear of Iran's geopolitical rise into overdrive. Riyadh sees Tehran's reintegration into global political and economic structures as a threat to its own regional power.

But Saudi Arabia's paranoia is not solely reserved for Washington's Iran policy. The Saudi government has viewed most U.S. regional preferences since 2003 as threats to Saudi power, including but not limited to: support for the post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq; Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in Egypt (and support for the Arab Spring in general); ending Riyadh's disastrous military adventure in Yemen; and preferring a political solution over Saddam-style regime change in Syria. American and Saudi interests are diverging on multiple fronts. Riyadh's latest escalation will exacerbate tensions with Iran in ways that make U.S. diplomatic objectives for Syria and Yemen difficult, if not impossible.

What's worse is that Saudi Arabia chooses to address its geopolitical fears by promoting anti-Shiite and anti-Iran sectarianism. The Saudi government's analyses of the situations in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen have been identical and disturbingly unsophisticated: Shiite Muslims are the bad guys, and Shiite Iran is interfering in Sunni Arab affairs. This message empowers the Middle East's worst ideologues -- the kind who think the Islamic State is admirable and the 9/11 attacks might not have been such a bad thing.

His own, accurate, arguments contriovert his thesis.  Every American action since W began the WoT has empowered the Shi'a and the push for universal self-determination at the expense of Sunni autocrats.  Saudi Araia is the Saddam Hussein of the Middle East.  America and Iran are the W.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Will robots knock out Israel's best jobs? (SIMONA WEINGLASS January 11, 2016, Times of Israel)

 Close to half of all jobs that exist today in the developed world will be performed by computers and robots in the next two decades, according to a watershed 2013 paper by Oxford University economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. Now, the Taub Center for Social Policy Research in Jerusalem has applied Frey and Osborne's methodology to the Israeli job market.

It is small comfort to learn that in Israel only 41 percent (as opposed to 47% in the United States and 54% in Europe) of jobs are at high risk of disappearing in the next decade or two, according to Shavit Madhala-Brik, who authored the paper.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Donald Trump Ramps up Attacks on Ted Cruz, Says 'He's a Nasty Guy' (JOHN SANTUCCI  Jan 17, 2016, ABC News)

"I don't think Ted Cruz has a great chance, to be honest with you," Trump told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on "This Week" Sunday. "Look, the truth is, he's a nasty guy. He was so nice to me. I mean, I knew it. I was watching. I kept saying, 'Come on Ted. Let's go, okay.' But he's a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him. He's a very -- he's got an edge that's not good. You can't make deals with people like that and it's not a good thing. It's not a good thing for the country. Very nasty guy."

On the campaign trail, Trump is now questioning the freshmen Texas senator for a loan, first reported by The New York Times, that Cruz took out from Goldman Sachs during his 2012 Senate run that he failed to disclose in federal campaign finance documents.

Mr. Cruz's problem isn't just that he behaves in such a manor that no one likes him but that, because of that, there's no one to defend him and many willing to turn the shiv. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Tories undermining Labour funding with 'partisan' trade union bill (Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour, 11 January 2016, The Guardian)

In one of the strongest attacks on a government by a retired senior civil servant, Bob Kerslake said the bill marked a "partisan and disproportionate" attempt to improve the position of the Conservatives at the expense of Labour.

Lord Kerslake rounded on the government in a Guardian article on Monday as the House of Lords prepared to debate the bill designed to tighten the rules of trade union funding.

A confidential Labour party document released to the Guardian revealed that the party faced an expected £6m drop in its annual income as a result of the changes to the political levy being introduced in the trade union bill, making it impossible for it to maintain its current structure, staffing or offices.

...that the Left is unwilling to submit its ideas to market forces.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The Radical New Face of the Jewish Settler Movement (Naomi Zeveloff, January 11, 2016, Forward)

The hilltop youth have always had power, which they wielded through violent acts, often under the cover of night. But for most Israelis, these were distant events perpetrated by extremists in the West Bank, a kind of Wild West they rarely think about or visit. Now, ironically, the efforts of Israel's security services to suppress the hilltop youth have brought this cohort into the daylight -- and given them a voice.

Their breakthrough into mainstream discourse may seem sudden to many Israelis. But the hilltop youth is a phenomenon long in the making. Their roots go back to Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza, the Palestinian territory that Israel occupied and today blockades on the Mediterranean coast. Israeli troops forcefully evacuated some 8,600 Jewish settlers, most of whom resisted nonviolently. In taking this action, the state provoked a generational rupture in the settler movement with implications few understood at the time. Settler elders had promised that God himself would ensure that the Jewish state's army would never force them to forsake their settlement, known as Gush Katif, in what they saw as the biblical Land of Israel. But God failed to intervene, and a generation of young people lost trust in their parents.
Their mentality was: "Why should I listen to you? You didn't succeed in your big project. So if you didn't succeed, it means I can try as well as you can try," said Shimi Friedman, an anthropologist at Ariel University, in the settlement of the same name.

Now, 10 years on, the hilltop youth are an established entity. Several hundred adolescents from both sides of the Green Line -- including some girls -- roam the West Bank hills. Some are yeshiva dropouts. Others are students of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh of Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, in Yitzhar. Ginsburgh, a prominent scholar of Kabbalah and a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, has concocted a potent ideological brew for this new generation of Jewish radicals, spouting mystical admonitions to live in nature and Kabbalah-based rationales for Jewish racial superiority and violence against Arabs.

Meanwhile, two other prominent rabbis at Od Yosef Chai have given the hilltop youths' penchant for attacking Arabs even stronger religious legitimacy. In their 2010 book, "The King's Torah (Torat Hamelech), Part One: Laws of Life and Death Between Israel and the Nations," Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur declared, "The prohibition 'Thou Shalt Not Murder'" applies only "to a Jew who kills a Jew." Non-Jews, they wrote, are "uncompassionate by nature" and assaults on them "curb their evil inclination," while infants and children of Israel's enemies may be killed, since "it is clear that they will grow to harm us."

Up until 2013, Od Yosef Chai yeshiva received government funding and support. It has also received money from American donors. While "The King's Torah" sparked a scandal in the mainstream press, the book's wide dissemination in Israeli bookstores, and its enthusiastic endorsement by several prominent rabbis gave the authors' ideas currency.

Still, some scholars say that the hilltop youth are acting not on any religious authority but on their own violent convictions. For years, its members have been committing vigilante acts against Palestinians, torching olive groves and defacing mosques. But until recently, Israeli leaders in the mainstream have been reluctant to label them terrorists -- a term usually reserved for Arabs. Israeli courts have also done little to punish this kind of behavior. In 2013, Israel's defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, defined price tag activity as "illegal organizing." And according to a report by the Israeli rights group Yesh Din, just 7.4% of complaints filed by Palestinians from 2005 to 2014 have ended in indictments against Israeli civilians.

Now, the arson attack in the Palestinian village of Duma last July, which killed an 18-month-old infant and his parents, appears to show that the hilltop youth are capable of not only destruction, but murder, too.

Jerusalem church defaced with anti-Christian graffiti (TAMAR PILEGGI, January 17, 2016, Times of Israel)

"Christians to Hell," and "Death to the heathen Christians, the enemies of Israel," were among the slogans painted on the walls of the Benedictine monastery, which lies just outside the walls of the capital's Old City. "The revenge of the people of Israel is yet to come," read another epithet written next to a depiction of a bloody sword. [...]

Dormition Abbey, which is located right next to the Cenacle -- which Jews revere as the site of King David's Tomb and Christians as the room of the Last Supper -- outside Zion Gate, was the site of graffiti attacks in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, hours after Pope Francis celebrated mass at the abbey, arsonists set fire to the compound, causing minor damage to its structure.

Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi condemned the graffiti as a religious hate crime, and slammed the "inadequate" response by Israeli authorities. In a statement Sunday morning, he warned against underestimating the impact of such attacks and called on police to put an end to them.

In recent years, Israeli nationalist vandals have targeted mosques and churches, in addition to Palestinian private property, on dozens of occasions -- including the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, in northern Israel, which was badly damaged in a fire when arsonists set it ablaze in 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


The most striking aspect of Europe's newest nation: Its normalcy (Elizabeth Zach, 1/14/16, Washington Post)

Like many Americans, I had barely paid attention to the war; I also knew little about the peace accord in place since 1999 and still thought of the country as possibly dangerous. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, though Serbia still claims the land as its own. Of 193 U.N. member states, 110 (including the United States) have recognized Kosovo as a legitimate nation. It's also the first in the Balkans to have elected a female president.

Before my visit, I read a brief history of the territory and the war, but it wasn't until I got there that I felt simply impressed at how the peace has held.

I say this with reference to the country's demographics and structure: 92 percent Albanian, with Serbs, along with other ethnic minorities, accounting for the remaining 8 percent. I discovered that there's no wall like there used to be in Berlin, no demilitarized zone like what separates the Koreas. There are Serb towns, or enclaves, but there are also century-old mosques and churches alongside one another.

I found a normalcy I wasn't expecting, such as dozens of shops selling elaborate formalwear, and a thriving cafe culture. Some say the best macchiatos in Europe can be had in Pristina, at intimate cafes such as Soma Book Station, where I spent one pleasant afternoon admiring the handsome bookshelves (and baristas). I also saw scores of new homes, financed largely by remittances from families living abroad, and I met Albanians and Serbs who had fled Kosovo during the war but had since returned to rebuild their lives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


With A Boost From Lyft, Chevrolet Bolt EV Is Guaranteed To Be A Winner (Joann Muller, 1/17/16, FORBES)

General Motors new Chevrolet Bolt is the first long-range electric car that real people can afford to buy.  [...]

The Bolt is virtually guaranteed to be a winner, even if it turns out there's not much demand from retail buyers. Why? Because it's the perfect vehicle to take advantage of the explosive trend in ride-sharing.

It's no coincidence that the day before GM unveiled the Bolt EV it announced a whopping $500 million investment in Lyft, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service. GM now owns an estimated 9 percent of Lyft, which valued itself at $5.5 billion after its latest $1 billion funding round. GM President Daniel Ammann will join Lyft's board and together, the two companies plan to develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Oil price woes deepen as Iran vows to add 500,000 barrels a day (Katie Allen, 17 January 2016, The Guardian) 

"With consideration to global market conditions and the surplus that exists, Iran is ready to raise its crude oil exports by 500,000 barrels a day," the deputy oil minister, Amir Hossein Zamaninia, was quoted as saying by the Shana news agency.

But Rouhani also suggested the new era could reduce Iran's dependence on oil. He described the deal as a "turning point" and an opportunity for Iran's economy to cut its "umbilical cord" to oil while prices were low.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Iranians jubilant as country wakes up to first day without sanctions (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 17 January 2016, The Guardian)

Iranians have greeted with jubilation the end to a decade of financial stringency under sanctions after western officials formally lifted a complex network of punitive measure as the landmark nuclear deal was implemented.

The IAEA is satisfied with Tehran's literally concrete moves to comply with Vienna, but hopes that it would bring movement in other realms remain unfulfilled

President Hassan Rouhani hailed a "golden page" in the country's history and a "turning point" in its economy as he delivered his budget before the Iranian parliament on Sunday, promising internal development and more stability in the region.

"We should use this opportunity for the country's growth and development and people's welfare, as well as the security and stability of the region," Rouhani told Iranian parliamentarians. "This would not possible unless we all unite with each other."

January 16, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


Citigroup Says Iron Ore Risks Tumbling Into $20s on Demand (Jasmine Ng, January 13, 2016, Bloomberg)

"There's a strong possibility that iron ore falls below $30 in 2016," Citigroup Inc. Head of Asia Commodity Research Ivan Szpakowski said in an interview on Thursday after the bank cut price forecasts through to 2018 in a report. In the first half, "the biggest pressure is actually from the demand side. It's actually going to come from weak steel demand in China," said Szpakowski. [...]

Iron ore has been routed as the world's largest miners including Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton Ltd. in Australia and Brazil's Vale SA expanded low-cost output while demand growth stalled in China. Lower costs including freight and energy and weakening currencies in producer nations are enabling suppliers to reduce their break-even rates and withstand lower prices. Costs had fallen more than expected, the bank said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


Citigroup Says Iron Ore Risks Tumbling Into $20s on Demand (Jasmine Ng, January 13, 2016, Bloomberg)

"There's a strong possibility that iron ore falls below $30 in 2016," Citigroup Inc. Head of Asia Commodity Research Ivan Szpakowski said in an interview on Thursday after the bank cut price forecasts through to 2018 in a report. In the first half, "the biggest pressure is actually from the demand side. It's actually going to come from weak steel demand in China," said Szpakowski. [...]

Iron ore has been routed as the world's largest miners including Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton Ltd. in Australia and Brazil's Vale SA expanded low-cost output while demand growth stalled in China. Lower costs including freight and energy and weakening currencies in producer nations are enabling suppliers to reduce their break-even rates and withstand lower prices. Costs had fallen more than expected, the bank said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 PM


Multinationals ready to jump into Iran market (AFP January 17, 2016)

Since that deal was reached in July, delegations of officials and business executives from Germany, France and Italy have headed to Iran to prepare the ground to win back some of the market share lost to emerging nations like China and Turkey, or countries like Russia and Japan which kept friendly relations with Tehran.

Germany's BGA foreign trade federation believes Berlin will have a difficult time reclaiming its former status as Iran's largest trade partner as Chinese firms have swooped in during sanctions.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Ming of China, the top buyer of Iranian crude, said during a recent visit that Beijing intends to fully exploit the potential for cooperation with Tehran in the manufacturing sector and construction of infrastructure.

US companies like Boeing and General Electric are also interested in the opportunities in Iran, but are handicapped by the fact that Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Tehran for 35 years and will keep certain sanctions in place.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are looking for foreign firms to help modernize the country's infrastructure, which has suffered from a lack of investment and technology as the economy was largely cut off from the outside world for the past decade.

A resumption of trade should also help put the Iranian economy, which suffers from high unemployment and hyperinflation, back on its feet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Al-Qaeda threatens Saudi over jihadists' executions (AFP, January 11, 2016)

The Saudi-Yemeni and North African branches of Al-Qaeda have threatened to avenge Saudi Arabia's execution of more than 40 jihadists, calling the measure a "foolish act."

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


7 reasons not to be pessimistic about stocks today (JEFF REEVES, 1/15/16, mARKETWATCH)

Oil: Cheap energy prices are causing plenty of pain, from lost jobs across the industry to the threat of bankruptcy for overleveraged companies. However, the rough math on Wall Street is that every penny we see shaved off from gas prices equals an extra $1 billion in discretionary income for American consumers. Separately, a recent study showed that for every dollar consumers save at the pump, they spend an extra 73 cents elsewhere in their communities. Since consumer spending is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, cheap oil has enough benefits in broad economic stimulus to outweigh the specific troubles of energy companies.

Insulation from China: I recently wrote a column on why China's crash isn't as bad as you think, and the most compelling reason is the relative insulation of the U.S. economy and stocks from the Chinese market. Citigroup estimates that only 0.7% of overall GDP has direct China exposure, and the very nature of China "A" shares limit foreign investors from deploying too much capital in that country. While China's slowdown matters, it matters much more to trading partners in emerging markets than the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


7 reasons not to be pessimistic about stocks today (JEFF REEVES, 1/15/16, mARKETWATCH)

Oil: Cheap energy prices are causing plenty of pain, from lost jobs across the industry to the threat of bankruptcy for overleveraged companies. However, the rough math on Wall Street is that every penny we see shaved off from gas prices equals an extra $1 billion in discretionary income for American consumers. Separately, a recent study showed that for every dollar consumers save at the pump, they spend an extra 73 cents elsewhere in their communities. Since consumer spending is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, cheap oil has enough benefits in broad economic stimulus to outweigh the specific troubles of energy companies.

Insulation from China: I recently wrote a column on why China's crash isn't as bad as you think, and the most compelling reason is the relative insulation of the U.S. economy and stocks from the Chinese market. Citigroup estimates that only 0.7% of overall GDP has direct China exposure, and the very nature of China "A" shares limit foreign investors from deploying too much capital in that country. While China's slowdown matters, it matters much more to trading partners in emerging markets than the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio jabs leading rivals Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (STEVE PEOPLES, 1/16/16, Associated Press)

In a swipe at the his party's front-runners, Republican White House hopeful Marco Rubio charged Saturday that anger alone isn't enough to qualify someone to be president.

"Being angry about the direction of our country by itself will not be enough," the Florida senator said, as he courted Iowa voters ahead of the state's Feb. 1 caucuses. "We also have to have someone for president who knows exactly what they're going to do when they get there." [...]

In a debate this week, Trump declared that he "gladly" accepted "the mantle of anger."

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


MAKING THE GARDEN (Christopher Alexander, February 2016, First Things)

It has taken me almost fifty years to understand fully that there is a necessary connection between God and architecture, and that this connection is, in part, empirically verifiable. Further, I have come to the view that the sacredness of the physical world--and the potential of the physical world for sacredness--provides a powerful and surprising path towards understanding the existence of God, whatever God may be, as a necessary part of the reality of the universe. If we approach certain empirical questions about architecture in a proper manner, we will come to see God.

Only in the last twenty years has my understanding of this connection taken a definite form, and it continues to develop every day. It has led me to experience explicit visions of God, and to understand, in some very small measure, what kind of entity God may be. It has also given me a way of talking about the divine in concrete, physical terms that everybody can understand.

There can be little doubt that the idea of God, as brought forth from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has ­slowly become tired . . . to such an extent that it has difficulty fitting into everyday twenty-first-century discourse. As it stands, it is almost embarrassing to many people, in many walks of life. The question is: Can we find a way to mobilize, afresh, the force of what was once called God, as a way of helping us to recreate the beauty of the Earth?

The view put forth here does not leave our contemporary, physical view of the universe untouched. Indeed, it hints at a conception which must utterly transform our conception of ourselves and our place in the universe. It shows us, in a new fashion, a glimpse of a beauty and majesty in the smallest details of human existence.

All this comes from the work of paying attention to the Earth, its land and rocks and trees, its buildings, the people and ants and birds and creatures all together, and the blades of grass. It comes from realizing that the task of making and remaking the Earth--that which we sometimes call architecture--is at the core of any commonsense understanding of the divine. [...]

As my colleagues and I continued experiments in which we did our best to apply these principles to real building projects, it became more and more clear that we needed to sharpen our idea of health and clarify the target of this work. It was urgent to develop a more solid conceptual and experimental foundation that could provide us with practical ways of judging which environments, and which kinds of environments, were indeed most successful in sustaining or promoting health.

This task began to lead, for the first time, to empirical hints of the presence of God. In effect, we began to discover a new kind of empirical complex in buildings and works of art that is connected with the human self, spirituality, social and mental health, God, ways of understanding the role that love plays in establishing wholeness, the role of art, and ­conscious awareness of the human being as part of some greater spiritual entity. These arguments were later conveyed in the four books of The Nature of Order.

I would like to summarize our work by explaining this new kind of empirical complex in the following way. In any part of what we call nature, or any part of a building, we see, at many levels of scale, coherent entities or centers, ­nested in each other, and overlapping each other. These ­coherent entities all have, in varying degree, some quality of "life."

For any given center, this quality of life comes about as a result of cooperation between the other living centers at several scales, which surround it, contain it, and appear within it. The degree of life any one center has depends directly on the degrees of life that appear in its associated centers at these different scales. In short, the life of any given entity depends on the extent to which that entity had ­unfolded from its own previous wholeness, and from the wholeness of its surroundings.

When one contemplates this phenomenon soberly, it is hard to imagine how it comes about. But what is happening is, in effect, that life appears, twinkling, in each entity, and the cooperation of these twinkling entities creates further life. You may view this phenomenon as ordinary. Or you may think of it as the Buddhists of the Hua-Yen canon did, when they viewed it as the constantly changing God-like tapestry that is God, and from which life comes.

In this view, architecture contributes to the world to just that extent to which it plays its role in this tapestry, and that, in turn, comes about as a result of the extent to which a building, or an outdoor place between buildings, or a doorway, is composed ­entirely of entities that are themselves whole and entire, and which--each one of them--make us feel whole and entire. This is, in any case, an attempt to make a picture of the whole.

With this, with a searchlight focused on the whole, I could no longer really avoid the topic of God.

I suppose it is fair to say that there are two approaches to the reality of God. One is faith; the other is reason. Faith works easily when it is present, but it is luck, or one's early history in family life, or a blinding insight of some kind, that determines whether one has faith. Reason is much harder. One cannot easily approach the reality of God by means of reason. Yet in twentieth- and twenty-first-century discourse, reason is almost the only way we have of explaining a difficult thing so that another can participate.

It is reason--the language of science, and its appeal to shareable, empirical observation and reasoning--that has given our modern era its strength. Yet one is unlikely to encounter God on the basis of reason. There can, however, be a persuasive logic that deals with the whole, and with the deeply enigmatic problems that the concept of the whole opens.

My life began with childlike faith. After then going through the dark forests of positivistic science, to which I gladly gave myself for so many years, I was finally able, through contemplation of the whole, to emerge into the light of day with a view of things that is both visionary and empirical.

It is a view that has roots in faith, and from it builds bridges of scientific coherence towards a new kind of visionary faith rooted in scientific understanding. This new kind of faith and understanding is based on a new form of observation. It depends for its success on our belief (as human beings) that our feelings are legitimate. Indeed, my experiments have shown that in the form I have cast them, feelings are more legitimate and reliable, perhaps, than many kinds of experimental procedure.

It is in this way that I was led from architecture to the intellectual knowledge of God. It was my love of architecture and building from which I slowly formed an edifice of thought that shows us the existence of God as a necessary, real phenomenon as surely as we have previously known the world as made of space and matter.

During my years at Berkeley, I never taught or spoke about God explicitly as part of my work as an architect. As professor of architecture, I tried to teach and write in ways that were consistent with my background in science and mathematics. It would have seemed incongruous to bring God into my discussions of architecture because I was simply trying to find out what was true and write it down. A fairly straightforward process, I thought, following well-tested methods of scientific inquiry. So that is what I set out to do, and that is what I did. In my heart, I was always dimly aware that I did maintain an inner knowing that the best way to produce good architecture must somehow be linked to God--indeed, that valuable architecture was always about God, and that this was the source of any strength I had in being able to identify the real thing. But in the early days these stirrings were very much private, interior to me, and subdued.

You see, then, how it is that the careful study of architecture led me--and I believe would inevitably lead any careful and empirical thinker--to thoughts about the nature of things, and the simultaneous existence of what we may call the objective (outer) nature of things, typically dealt with in science, and at the same time of what we may call the subjective (or inner) nature of things.

What is new is the discovery that the so-called subjective, or inner, view of things is no less objective than the objective or mechanical view of things. When questions about the subjective are asked carefully, and in the right way, they are as reliable as the experiments of physics. This understanding has led to a new view of experiment that uses the human being as a measuring instrument and leads to reliable, shared results when properly done.

This has all come to light because of my intense interest in and focus on architecture. In conventional philosophy, there is nothing that allows one to test the reality of God, or of visions inspired by God. But we ask people to compare two buildings, or two doorways, and to decide which one is ­closer to God, different people will answer this ­question in the same way, and with a remarkably high ­reliability.

All this has a unique ability to point to the reality of God. In theory, other disciplines such as ethics might seem to have more claim to illuminate discussion of God. But the tangible substance of architecture, the fact that in good architecture, every tiny piece is (by ­definition) suffused with God, either more or less, gives the concept of God a meaning essentially translated from the beauty of what may be seen in such a place, and so ­allows it to disclose God with unique clarity. ­Successful architecture ultimately leads us to see God and to know God. If we pay attention to the beauty of those places that are suffused with God in each part, then we can conceive of God in a down-to-earth way. This ­follows from an awareness in our hearts, and from our ­active effort to make things that help make the Earth ­beautiful.

All "modern art" is reactionary and the reaction is against beauty. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


The Wealth of Everyone : Real Heroes: Adam Smith (LAWRENCE W. REED, January 08, 2016, The Freeman)

Wealth was not gold and silver in Smith's contrarian view. Precious metals, though reliable as media of exchange and for their own industrial uses, were no more than claims against the real thing. All of the gold and silver in the world would leave one starving and freezing if they couldn't be exchanged for food and clothing. Wealth to the world's first economist was plainly this: goods and services.

Whatever increased the supply and quality of goods and services, lowered their price or enhanced their value made for greater wealth and higher standards of living. The "pie" of national wealth isn't fixed; you can bake a bigger one by producing more.

Baking that bigger pie, Smith showed, results from investments in capital and the division of labor. His famous example of the specialized tasks in a pin factory demonstrated how the division of labor works to produce far more than if each of us acted in isolation to produce everything himself. It was a principle that Smith showed works for nations precisely because it works for the individuals who make them up.

He was consequently an economic internationalist, one who believes in the widest possible cooperation between peoples irrespective of political boundaries. He was, in short, a consummate free trader at a time when trade was hampered by an endless roster of counterproductive tariffs, quotas, and prohibitions.

Smith wasn't hung up on the old mercantilist fallacy that more goods should be exported than imported. He exploded this "balance of trade" fallacy by arguing that, since goods and services constituted a nation's wealth, it made no sense for government to make sure that more left the country than came in.

Smith would have scoffed at the current notions that adding human capital for free via immigration and physical capital ever cheaper via imports and automation represent problems, rather than blessings.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Right of Reagan : How the Extremism of Today's Republican Presidential Candidates Sets Them Apart from Their Conservative Idol (Charles Posner, Molly Cain, Anna Chu | Monday, September 14, 2015, Center for American Progress)

Clearly, part of the Reagan mystique is tied to the fact that he found a way to achieve something elusive to subsequent conservatives on the national stage: the ability to appeal to independents and Democrats and win the popular vote in presidential elections. Republicans have achieved this feat just twice in the seven elections that have followed the Reagan presidency. In fact, President Reagan enjoys an overall high favorability rating--60 percent of Americans approve of Reagan, more so than any of the current GOP candidates.

How did Ronald Reagan appeal to Americans beyond his conservative base of supporters? Part of the answer is that President Reagan was able to mix pragmatism with conservatism. And at critical moments on critical issues, Reagan took positions that are anathema to the leaders of today's Republican Party--advancing sensible immigration reform, supporting pollution control, curbing nuclear arms, closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, and advocating gun background checks. As president, Reagan passed immigration reform with a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. He also passed a landmark treaty on the climate and raised taxes 11 times. He even negotiated with America's main adversary, the Soviet Union, signing a treaty with the communist nation to reduce nuclear weapons.

...they omit the most important way in which Reagan was to the left of even the New Democrats : he saved Social Security virtually unchanged because he was a genuine New Deal Democrat. This even at a time when Margaret Thatcher was followiing Augusto Pinochet's lead and reforming Britain's welfare net.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


The Jedi Knights Templar (Dylan Pahman, 1/13/16, Acton)

The Templars were created in the twelfth century to defend Jerusalem and pilgrims who journeyed there. They were named for their origin at the site of the biblical King Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 5-8). They took monastic vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity, but they also carried swords and fought as knights. Their original rule was written, in part, by the Western saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Disappointed with the conduct of other knights, who "despised the love of justice," the Knights of the Temple were meant to "defend the poor, widows, orphans and churches."

The Knights managed to get an order from the pope exempting them from local laws, allowing them to move freely across Europe and to operate tax-free. In addition, as Andy Hill wrote for GB Times, "The rise in power of the Templars went [hand] in hand with an impressive fundraising campaign, under which people, some of them kings, donated vast sums of land and wealth to the order." Like many medieval monastic orders dedicated to material simplicity, the Templars soon found themselves with the embarrassment of riches, which they shrewdly used to protect pilgrims from the dangers of carrying large amounts of gold on their journeys by creating the first international banking system.

The story of the Knights' demise is fascinating, but too complicated to tell here. The Knights were disbanded and many burned at the stake due to charges of immorality and heresy, in part surrounding their secretive initiation rite. The truth of the matter is debated to this day, but the seeming injustice of the event started rumors that the Knights hadn't truly died out but rather went underground.

Enter the Jedi. The Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III) tells of the demise of the Jedi, betrayed by one of their own and the corrupt emperor of the very government they had sworn to protect. By the time of the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), the Jedi have drifted into legend. Many people, such as Han Solo, even doubted the existence of the Force. In "The Force Awakens," the new heroine of the series, Rey, at one point exclaims that she thought Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi and hero of the first films, "was a myth."

When she and ex-stormtrooper Finn meet Han Solo and his sidekick Chewbacca, Finn asks Han what he knows about the location of Luke. "There were a lot of rumors. Stories. People who knew him best think he went looking for the first Jedi temple," Han explains. To this, Rey replies in disbelief, "The Jedi were real?" Han continues, "I used to wonder about that. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the Dark Side and the Light. The crazy thing is ... it's true." The effect would be like learning that all the modern-day conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar were actually true.

The parallels with the Templars don't stop at the Jedi's unjust demise or the fact that Luke "went looking for the first Jedi temple" either. According to Peter Konieczny, Star Wars creator George Lucas even originally named them the "Jedi Templar" rather than the Jedi Knights.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


William Boyd: how David Bowie and I hoaxed the art world : David Bowie didn't just publish my fake biography of an invented artist, he also wrote the jacket blurb and launched it - on April Fool's day - at Jeff Koons' studio (William Boyd, 12 January 2016, The Guardian)

He was a genial and unassuming presence at the regular Modern Painters editorial meetings and when, in one of them, I suggested the idea of creating a fictional artist it was Bowie who said that the concept would work far more efficiently if it were published as a book.

And so it came to be. I invented a dead American "artist" I called Nat Tate and wrote his biography. Then the team at Modern Painters and 21 transformed the text into a small, beautifully made and copiously illustrated artist's monograph. However, there's absolutely no denying the fact that it was Bowie's participation in the eventual hoax that gave it media heft. He published the book, he organised the launch party (on April Fool's Day, 1998) in Jeff Koons's studio in Manhattan - Koons was a friend of Bowie - and it was Bowie who read out extracts of the book, absolutely deadpan, to the assembled New York glitterati. The clincher was his statement in the blurb that he was convinced that, "The small oil I picked up on Prince Street, New York, must indeed be one of the lost Third Panel Triptychs. The great sadness of this quiet and moving monograph is that the artist's most profound dread - that God will make you an artist but only a mediocre artist - did not in retrospect apply to Nat Tate." Who wouldn't be swayed by that eloquent testimonial?

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


To fight Isis we need to learn from the era of Calvinism : What Syria is going through at this time is no worse than what Germany experienced in the Thirty Years War that ended in 1648 (Andreas Whittam Smith, 16 December 2015, The Independent)

As I learn of fresh Isis atrocities, I cannot help reminding myself that Europe was once in a similar situation to that in which the Middle East finds itself today. I am referring to the period of the Reformation, which started soon after Luther nailed his 95 theses to door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Saxony, in October 1517. Luther had denounced what he saw as the corrupt practices of his Church. Before long, his followers, who later became known as Protestants, broke away from the authority of the Pope in Rome.

This Protestant versus Catholic division - our version of Islam's Sunni versus Shia - was replicated all over Europe. In Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, what started as disagreement and protest later morphed into religious persecution and then, often enough, into civil war.    Only when these conflicts came to an end in the mid-1600s was this nightmare, which lasted 140 years, brought to a close.

What Syria is going through at this time is no worse than what Germany experienced in the Thirty Years War that ended in 1648. The historian Norman Davies describes the post-war scene thus: "Germany lay desolate. The population had fallen from 21 million to perhaps 13 million. Between a third and half of the people were dead. Whole cities like Magdeburg stood in ruins. Whole districts lay stripped of their inhabitants, their livestock, and their supplies. Trade had virtually ceased."

Nor is the Syrian calamity any more disastrous than the English Civil War, which petered out in 1651. Read what the Cambridge historian, Robert Tombs, has to say about the conflict: "The Civil War was the most lethal conflict England had suffered since the Conquest. A recent estimate suggests around 86,000 killed in combat, nearly all soldiers; another 129,000, mostly civilians, succumbed to the diseases that accompanied war; and infant mortality reached the highest level ever recorded. These losses, in a population of 4-5 million, are proportionately much higher than those England suffered in the First World War."

From a historical perspective, the remarkable thing about the WoT is its rapidity and lack of mass death.
Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


What Donald Trump's Plaza Deal Reveals About His White House Bid (DAVID SEGAL, JAN. 16, 2016, NY Times)

Mr. Trump quickly agreed to a price of slightly more than $400 million, an unprecedented sum for a hotel at the time. Just a few years later, the Plaza wound up in bankruptcy protection, part of a vast and humiliating restructuring of some $900 million of personal debt that Mr. Trump owed to a consortium of banks.  [...]

By 1990, the Plaza needed an operating profit of $40 million a year to break even, according to financial records that Mr. Trump disclosed at the time. The hotel had fallen well short of that goal, and with renovating expenses, in one year it burned through $74 million more than it brought in. [...]

"The fact is, you do feel invulnerable," Mr. Trump told Timothy O'Brien, author of "Trump Nation," discussing this period in his life. "And then you have a tendency to take your eye off the ball a little bit and hunt around for women. And hunt around for models."

A lack of focus was not Mr. Trump's only problem

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


ISIS just messed with the wrong Islamic country (Shikha Dalmia, January 15, 2016, The Week)

ISIS's November terrorist attack in Paris might have made a bigger splash around the world, but its Istanbul attack Tuesday might actually prove its undoing. That's because it might finally persuade Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who commands the second largest NATO army after America, to stop playing footsie with this noxious outfit and start dealing with it.

This was not ISIS's first hit-job on Turkish soil -- nor the bloodiest. The 10 lives it claimed -- mostly German tourists -- were less than the 30 killed in a July attack in Suruc, a town in the southeast, or the 100 killed in an October attack in Ankara, the national capital. (No one took responsibility for the Ankara attack but it was widely considered to have ISIS fingerprints). But the big difference is that ISIS's bombings in Turkey have largely targeted its Kurdish minority whose nationalistic insurgency Erdogan considers a mortal threat. Suruc is a Kurd-dominated town and the Ankara attack went after a pro-Kurdish rally. So it was convenient for Erdogan to look the other way.

But even before the latest bombing, turning a blind eye was getting harder to do. Now it will be nearly impossible.

...is that it forces every contradiction in the Islamic world.

Turkey cannot effectively fight ISIS unless it makes peace with the Kurds (Ömer Taşpınar, 1/14/16, Brookings)

On the one hand, Ankara has hardened its stance against ISIS by opening the airbase at Incirlik in southern Turkey for use by the U.S-led coalition targeting the organization with air strikes. However, Erdogan doesn't fully support the eradication of jihadist groups in Syria. The reason is simple: the Arab and Turkmen Islamist groups are the main bulwark against the expansion of the de facto autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. The AKP is concerned that the expansion and consolidation of a Kurdish state in Syria would both strengthen the PKK and further fuel similar aspirations amongst Turkey's own Kurds.

Will the most recent ISIS terrorist attack in Istanbul change anything in Turkey's main threat perception? When will the Turkish government finally realize that the jihadist threat in the country needs to be prioritized? If you listen to Erdogan's remarks, you will quickly realize that the real enemy he wants to fight is still the PKK. He tries hard after each ISIS attack to create a "generic" threat of terrorism in which all groups are bundled up together without any clear references to ISIS. He is trying to present the PKK as enemy number one.

Under such circumstances, Turkish society will remain deeply polarized between Islamists, secularists, Turkish nationalists and Kurdish rebels. Terrorist attacks, such as the one in Istanbul this week and the one in Ankara in July that killed more than 100 people, will only exacerbate these divisions.

Finally, it is important to note that the Turkish obsession with the Kurdish threat has also created a major impasse in Turkish-American relations in Syria. Unlike Ankara, Washington's top priority in Syria is to defeat ISIS. The fact that U.S. strategy consists of using proxy forces such as Syrian Kurds against ISIS further complicates the situation.

There will be no real progress in Turkey's fight against ISIS unless there is a much more serious strategy to get Ankara to focus on peace with the PKK. Only after a peace process with Kurds will Turkey be able to understand that ISIS is an existential threat to national security.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Half The World Lives On 1% Of The World's Land (Ben Schiller, 1/16/16, Co.Exist)

Though the world has 7.5 billion people in it already, most places are far from overcrowded. Look at these maps created by Max Galka. The yellow parts show areas where population density is more than 900 people per square mile. The black areas show areas with less than 900 people per square mile.

As you can see: there is a lot more black. In fact, all the yellow on the maps account more than half of the global population, despite being only 1% of the overall land space. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


How to Win the War on Terror  (Hernando de Soto, JAN 14, 2016, Project Syndicate)

In Britain's American colonies before 1776, and throughout France in the years leading up to 1789, ordinary people became convinced that their lives, assets, and businesses had been subject for too long to the predations of arbitrary rulers. That same estrangement is felt nowadays in the Middle East and North Africa.

After all, the Arab Spring began when a poor Tunisian entrepreneur, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in December 2010 to protest the merciless expropriation of his business. He committed suicide - as his brother Salem told me in an interview recorded for American public television - for "the right of the poor to buy and sell."

Within 60 days of Bouazizi's death, his message galvanized the Arab world. Sixty-three more small entrepreneurs across the greater Middle East replicated his self-immolation, inciting hundreds of millions of Arabs to take to the streets and topple four governments. The force of their rage continues to destabilize the entire region.

The West didn't grasp this message. As usual, it focused on macroeconomic adjustment and technical assistance, failing even to consider the property rights of the poor majority. This is an old problem: instead of remembering that property rights are what emancipated their societies from sovereign bullies, left-leaning Westerners think that protecting property is rightist dogma, conservatives take legal property rights for granted, and economists associate them with real-estate deals and carpentry.

The West's failure to encourage Arab governments to establish, protect, and enhance their citizens' property rights (and provide them with the means) created a vacuum, into which stepped the region's romantic nationalists and their terrorist offshoots, which are now sending their foot soldiers to Europe. Of course, these fanatics will not be able to boost living standards for the poor - far from it, as the predatory rule of the so-called Islamic State in its self-proclaimed caliphate proves. But in an atmosphere of deprivation and frustration, those who make false promises easily attract adherents.

How long will it take the West to remember that democratic capitalism requires strong property rights to set clear boundaries beyond which the state may not go?

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Taxes Chased GE Out of Connecticut (Lawrence Kudlow, January 16, 2016, RCP)

GE's decision to leave Fairfield for Boston is another sad marker in the downhill slide brought about by Connecticut's high-tax, high-regulation, anti-business policies of the last 25 years.

Gov. Dannel Malloy accelerated the state's economic free-fall with another huge tax hike passed last summer. Despite his 2014 reelection promise of no new taxes, Malloy signed a $2 billion tax hike that falls heavily and businesses and individuals. This came only a few years after his near $1.5 billion tax hike.

Does anyone doubt that massive tax hikes on successful earners and corporations drive those same folks out of state? That's the new Connecticut story. A recent Pew poll shows that 60 percent of current residents want out.

Why does CT want to punish residents and businesses?

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


US drone strike kills three suspected al-Qaida fighters in Yemen, tribesmen say (Associated Press,  16 January 2016)

The latest strike comes amid reports of divisions and defections among al-Qaida's rival group, the Islamic State affiliate in Yemen, as a defected group leader gave an online testimony, claiming that Isis fabricated videos to exaggerate their strength and presence.

In testimony posted online by al-Qaida supporters, a man calling himself Antar al-Kanadi said he defected from Isis because its leadership had become too extreme. Al-Kanadi's allegations seem to match reports elsewhere of dissension within the Yemeni Isis ranks.

According to The Long War Journal, which monitors militant group activity, more than a dozen Isis leaders and scores of their fighters have rebelled against the top leader, Abu Bilal al-Harbi, for alleged violations of Shariah law.

"Seventy members of the Islamic State's Yemeni branch announced their 'defection' from the Islamic State's wali in a letter published online on 15 December," it said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


$29 Oil and the Dollar (WSJ, Jan. 15, 2016)

While not ignoring the fundamentals of oil supply and demand, especially lower oil demand from slower growth in China, Morgan Stanley estimated that increasing dollar strength could take the oil price down to $20 a barrel.

The Fed's inevitable unwinding of its post-panic monetary exertions explains part but not all of the dollar's rebound. Central banks in Japan and Europe have been pursuing a devaluation strategy and capital flight from China is causing the yuan to depreciate. As more investors demand dollars, the greenback strengthens and the chances of currency markets overshooting grows.

If oil does fall to $20, the economic pain is likely to be considerable throughout the oil patch and commodity markets. Energy bankruptcies will proliferate. Eventually low prices will lead to cuts in supply and oil will find a bottom. But the carnage might be reduced if the dollar stabilized against major currencies. Meantime, the world desperately needs pro-growth economic policies, but it's hard to see where they'll be coming from any time soon.

...the supply and demand of dollars is, which is why our falling deficit is catastrophic for the global economy.  Alan Greenspan was right : they need the safe haven that only we can provide.

Why Isn't Anyone Talking About The Deficit Anymore? (ANDREW FLOWERS, 1/16/16, 538)

Most GOP candidates this cycle aren't even paying lip service to the conservative goal of not adding to the deficit; they're not trying to hide that their tax plans would add billions and in some cases trillions of dollars to the deficit. Mitt Romney's tax plan in 2012 purported to be deficit-neutral. Not so this cycle among Republican candidates, Strain said. "A lot of these candidates, even with dynamic scoring, are just losing so much money," he said. (Candidates of both parties routinely make cosmetic improvements to their tax plans by using dynamic scoring -- the process of factoring in higher government revenue and better economic growth.) And that may factor into how much they're willing to talk about federal debt. "You can't talk about it and then try to make it worse," Strain said.

Perhaps this is simply a reflection of an improving budget outlook. But political calculations surely matter, too. By bringing up the deficit, Republican candidates could be opening themselves up to the retort that it has declined under a Democratic administration. Sure enough, Obama bragged about "cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters" in his final State of the Union address Tuesday night.

And it's not just GOP candidates, either. Members of Congress utter the words "deficit" or "debt" far less frequently than they did a few years back. That's according to Capitol Words data provided by the Sunlight Foundation, which mines the Congressional Record to measure how frequently politicians use certain words.

Total mentions in Congress of "deficit" peaked in 2011 at 8,101. The count declined to 1,543 mentions in 2015. The use of "debt," too, has fallen precipitously since 2011.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Cruz plotting new attacks on Trump : 'He's pro-choice. He's pro- gay marriage. He's against traditional values. He's New York, and he's got to talk about that.' (KATIE GLUECK and BEN SCHRECKINGER, 1/16/16, Politico)

It's a dramatic shift for Cruz, who until this week either ignored or laughed off Trump's occasional swipes, instead describing him at every turn as a "friend" whom he "likes and respects," and appearing deeply reluctant to acknowledge disagreement with even Trump's most controversial comments. [...]

Asked what he meant by Trump's "background," Sweet continued, referencing a Trump appearance at a cattle call in Iowa last summer. "I think it's interesting that Trump ... basically said at [a] family values forum he's never asked for forgiveness, but yet he is Christian. I would ask most Christians the question, 'What is the first thing you do to become a Christian?' Christians know what the answer to that question is."

Charlie Condon, the former attorney general of South Carolina and a newly minted surrogate, was more pointed in discussing Trump's "background," a preview of the potentially nasty nature of the new Cruz-Trump dynamic.

"A thrice-married man is going to come into South Carolina expecting to be the Republican nominee?" Condon asked incredulously. "He's pro-choice. He's pro- gay marriage. He's against traditional values. He's New York, and he's got to talk about that." [...]

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski threw a punch of his own. "What are they, Calgary values?" he asked of Cruz's beliefs.

As Cruz and Trump look increasingly like each others' chief competitors for the nomination, some conservatives worry that the rancor between them only undermines the chances of either winning the nomination, strengthening the hand of the establishment wing of the party instead.

The two of them, with their already high unfavorability ratings, have no choice but to go hammer and tongs, essentially disqualifying themselves and each other, leaving the path to the nomination open for Jeb, provided that the latter switches to a positive message of achievement and proposed policies.  Every cycle is the same for the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Smart robots could soon steal your job (Ivana Kottasova, January 15, 2016, CNN Money)

So far, robots have mainly been replacing manual labor, performing routine and intensive tasks. But smarter machines are putting more skilled professions at risk.

Robots are likely to be performing 45% of manufacturing tasks by 2025, versus just 10% today, according to a study by Bank of America. And the rise of artificial intelligence will only accelerate that process as the number of devices connected to the Internet doubles to 50 billion by 2020.

By the same year, nearly half of all U.S. jobs will be at high risk of being lost to computers, according to experts at Oxford University, with an additional 20% facing medium risk. Jobs previously thought of as secure and now considered at risk include data analysts and bankers.

The prices of robots and computers are falling, making them even more attractive to employers. Costs have declined by 27% over the past decade and are expected to drop by another 22% in the next decade, the Bank of America report stated.

It was all fun and games 'til they came for white peoples' jobs.  Now we'll get a minimum basic income.
Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Iranian state television announced Saturday that the government has freed 4 dual-nationality prisoners (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 1/16/16, Associated Press)

Iranian state television announced Saturday that the government had freed four dual-nationality prisoners, and a person close to Iran's judiciary confirmed to The Associated Press that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was one of them.

The report did not identify the prisoners and the person in Iran was speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to publicly speak to the media. Rezaian is a dual Iran-U.S. citizen who was convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial in 2015.

More fruit of earning back their trust.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Isn't is something of a miracle that gas is below $2 per gallon and cheaper than almost any liquid consumers buy? (Mark J. Perry, January 15, 2016, AEIdeas)


Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


The Irony of Anti-Immigration Racism :Closing our borders won't stop the U.S. from becoming a majority-minority nation. (Reihan Salam, 1/16/16, Slate)

[C]oulter's thought experiment is interesting all the same, because it demonstrates that people who fear the browning of America have already lost. The demographic transformation of the United States into a more diverse society is at this point inevitable. The real long-term effect of immigration takes shape as immigrants have children and then as their native-born children have children of their own. If you can't deport Nikki Haley, you'll have to learn to live with the fact that her descendants will live alongside yours.

There is a widespread perception that advocates of reducing immigration, and of reducing less-skilled immigration in particular, are at least partly motivated by racism. And of course there are plenty of people who believe that racism is doing all of the work of driving anti-immigration sentiment. If you believe (as I do) that there are perfectly sensible reasons to be skeptical about mass immigration--perhaps you're concerned about the ability of less-skilled immigrants to lead dignified lives without a great deal of taxpayer-funded public assistance--this assumption can be frustrating. In "The Hidden Immigration Consensus," political scientists Jens Hainmueller and Daniel Hopkins surveyed Americans on their attitudes toward different kinds of immigrants, and they found a broad consensus. Whether respondents scored high or low on an index of ethnocentrism (i.e., racial prejudice), they had a strong preference for admitting educated, English-speaking immigrants in high-status occupations. Hainmueller and Hopkins found many respondents who were free of racial prejudice yet who nevertheless believed that it made sense for the U.S. to strongly favor immigrants who were capable of providing for themselves and their families. I'd put myself in this category.

Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that at least some anti-immigration sentiment is motivated by racism. So consider this a public service announcement to the racists of America: There's a really good chance that halting immigration will not accomplish what you want it to accomplish. I know this might blow some racist minds, so allow me to explain.

Among Americans under the age of 18, non-Hispanic whites will be in the minority by 2020, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census. What this means is that as older, whiter generations climb the stairway to heaven, they will be replaced by younger, less-white generations that will become the crotchety old people of the future. By the time 2040 rolls around, there is a decent chance that the elderly gentleman demanding that you get off his lawn will be nonwhite. (Truthfully, there's a pretty good chance that this elderly gentleman will be me and that by 2040, I mean next week.) This generational replacement will take place regardless of what happens to future immigration levels. As of 2012, the median age of non-Hispanic whites was 42 while that of Hispanics was just 27. The median ages for blacks and Asians were somewhere in between, at 32 and 35 respectively. What this means is that a higher proportion of Hispanics, and to a lesser extent blacks and Asians, are of childbearing age as compared to non-Hispanic whites. Halting all immigration would certainly delay the majority-minority crossover--the moment when non-Hispanic whites will no longer be in the majority of all Americans--but it won't prevent it from taking place.

The lesson Pete Wilson taught is that you can ride one last racial panic to victory, if you're willing to sacrifice the future.  Not a bad deal for the old white folk who'll be dead soon enough not to care.   

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Israel faces no existential threats, says departing Mossad chief (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 16, 2016)

Israel is no longer facing any existential threats, Tamir Pardo, the outgoing head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, said in an interview published Saturday. But he warned that the nature of the challenges that the Jewish state must meet has shifted dramatically in recent years.

"The greatest challenge faced by every head of the organization is to adapt to reality," he said. "This is a profoundly different reality to the one that existed when I was drafted into the IDF in 1971. Then we dealt with entirely different issues, as the threats were different. Hezbollah was an entirely different entity, Iran has completely changed, and even Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not what they once were."

January 15, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 PM


Taiwan elects first female president (Tom Phillips, 16 January 2016, The Guardian)

Analysts have said growing public dissatisfaction with the outgoing KMT president, Ma Ying-jeou, and an economy that weakened dramatically last year, helped propel Tsai to victory. Her success ends eight years of KMT rule, during which there has been an unprecedented thaw in relations between the self-ruled island and China.

Ma, who gained the presidency in 2008, had faced increasing criticism for what critics describe as his opaque style of governance and the widespread perception that his pro-China policies had failed to deliver significant economic gains.

His detente with Beijing culminated in a historic cross-straits summit with Xi Jinping last November but critics said the blossoming trade and tourism ties had done little to improve ordinary people's lives.

"Over the past four years, I've travelled around Taiwan, I've seen the suffering of the people and I've heard the public's call for change," Tsai told her final campaign rally on Friday. "Democratic politics is responsible politics, if [a government] cannot do it well, then we change it."

Tsai's victory will alarm China's Communist party leaders, who still view Taiwan as part of their country's territory and hope one day to reabsorb the island, which has ruled itself since 1949. Beijing's army of internet censors blocked her name on Saturday night as the scale of the DPP victory became apparent.

"[The election result] could exert a profound influence on the region," the party-run Global Times tabloid warned this week in an editorial. "It adds uncertainties to Taiwan's mainland policy as well as the situation across the straits."

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


The New York Times is reporting that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz failed to disclose a second loan (Associated Press Jan. 15, 2016)

The New York Times is reporting that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz failed to disclose a loan from Citibank that was used to help finance his successful 2012 Senate campaign.

The newspaper says the Texas senator sent a letter Thursday to federal election officials acknowledging his failure to report the loan.

Ted Cruz Issues 'Apology' to New Yorkers 'Let Down By Liberal Politicians' After 'New York Values' Swipe (ABC NEWS Jan 15, 2016)

Ted Cruz has doubled down on his swipe at "New York values," issuing an "apology" to the "millions of New Yorkers who've been let down by liberal politicians."

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Speaker Paul Ryan Ducks Question on Ted Cruz's Eligibility, Teases 2016 Agenda (BENJAMIN SIEGEL ALI WEINBERG  Jan 15, 2016, ABC News)

Ryan, who said he did not watch the GOP presidential primary debate Thursday night in Charleston, South Carolina, ducked questions about Sen. Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president, which Republican front-runner Donald Trump has called into question.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


9/11 Widower Invites Ted Cruz to Learn About 'New York Values' (JENNIFER HANSLER Jan 15, 2016, ABC News)

Sept. 11 widower James Smith knows something about New York values. Smith's wife, Moira, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She was the only female law enforcement official killed that day.

When Smith, a retired NYPD officer himself, heard about Ted Cruz's "New York values" remark earlier this week, he took to Facebook to invite the Republican candidate to the Big Apple.

"I was disappointed by your disparaging remarks about New York values somehow being different from Iowa and New Hampshire values," Smith wrote. "I invite you to come to the National 9-11 Memorial and Museum and see for yourself, and perhaps learn something about, the values of New Yorkers."

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Trump's New York Advantage : Disdain for half the country won't create a conservative majority. (WSJ, Jan. 15, 2016)

But Mr. Trump is a better politician than we ever imagined, and he is becoming a better candidate. The Texan was asked about his "New York values" gibe, and he said with almost a sneer that "you know, I think most people know exactly what New York values are." Pressed on the point, Mr. Cruz then rang the Iowa conservative bells of "socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media."

Mr. Trump struck back that "conservatives actually do come out of Manhattan, including William F. Buckley and others, just so you understand." He then won the round in a knockout by invoking the response of the firefighters, police and the entire city after 9/11. "When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York," he said."

The exchange was all the more notable because Mr. Trump delivered the message in an un-Trumpian way: deliberate, almost softly. It showed a more gracious candidate than the name-caller he has often been and suggested he might possibly be able to appeal to a larger set of voters than he has so far.

The exchange also exposed a couple of Mr. Cruz's weaknesses. One is his opportunistic, implausible populism. The Texan is a Princeton debate champion who attended Harvard Law School, clerked at the Supreme Court, worked in the Justice Department and held the second highest legal job in Texas. If he's an Everyman from the provinces, Hillary Clinton is Mother Teresa.

As for New York values, Mr. Cruz's wife works for Goldman Sachs, which is headquartered in evil Manhattan and which lent him as much as $500,000 so he could float his 2012 Senate campaign. We're willing to credit Mr. Cruz's explanation that his failure to report that loan to the Federal Election Commission was a "paperwork error," and he did report it on his Senate public disclosure form. But his Goldman ties show that Mr. Cruz certainly knows all about "money" as a New York value.

The other problem with the Princetonian's anti-New York riff is that it echoes Sarah Palin's 2008 disdain for the part of the country that she said wasn't "real America." Mr. Cruz is playing the same kind of polarizing politics to win over conservatives in Iowa, but showing contempt for half the country is not a way to build a governing conservative majority.

Mr. Cruz doesn't want a conservative majority; he wants a smaller, more ideologically pure, Republican party.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Iran without sanctions: European firms ready to pounce (Jim Boulden, 1/165/16, CNNMoney)

That day could come as soon as this weekend, and when it does the European Union will immediately lift most of its economic sanctions.

"Companies will want to move quickly once the sanctions are actually lifted, so many have already made provisional agreements with local partners," said Padraig O'Hannelly, editor of Iran Business News.

With China's economy cooling, and many other emerging markets struggling, the prospect of doing business with Iran is appealing to many European firms. Their American rivals may miss out, however, because the United States will leave many of its sanctions in place.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


By 'New York values' did Ted Cruz mean 'Jewish'? (Mark Silk, January 15, 2016, Religion News Service)

So Ted Cruz goes on Massachusetts radio and says that Donald Trump "embodies" them. And at Thursday's (Jan. 14) Republican debate, he doubles down and says "everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro- gay-marriage, focus around money and the media."

Trump wins the hand by playing the 9/11 card: "When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York..."

All Cruz can do is lamely clap.

"New York" certainly can serve as code for "Jew" throughout what The New Yorker's Saul Steinberg (yes, a Jew) famously portrayed as the American Outback -- in national politics no less than in other venues.

To Jesse Jackson, the city was ipso facto a Jewish place called Hymietown. As he confided to the Washington Post's Milton Coleman when he was running for president in 1984, "That's all Hymie wants to talk about, is Israel; every time you go to Hymietown, that's all they want to talk about." When Coleman reported the remark, all hell broke loose.

Or take the iconic TV show "West Wing," which in its inaugural episode had an irate Christian conservative say to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, "It was only a matter of time with you, Josh. That New York sense of humor was just a little..."

"She meant Jewish," ..." Communications Director Toby Ziegler says to Lyman. "When she said New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me."

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Things Just Got Even Worse For Coal (Tim McDonnell, Jan. 15, 2016, Mother Jones)

Just a few days after President Barack Obama promised new actions on climate change during in his final State of the Union address, his administration has unveiled a sweeping overhaul of how coal can be extracted from federal land.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Friday that she was placing a moratorium on new coal mining leases on public land and that her department would begin a multiyear review of how those lease contracts are awarded. The policy change is likely to make the leases more expensive for mining companies, to generate increased royalties for the government, and to offset the damage coal production and consumption do to the environment.

"We haven't done a top-to-bottom review of the coal program in 30 years," Jewell told reporters. She added that her department will search for ways "to manage [coal] in a way that is consistent with the climate change agenda."

Always bet on the Commander in Chief over General Moroni.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


The Boys Who Got to Remake an Economy : They embraced free-market economics in America. Then Chile's dictator let them transform an entire society. (Tania Opazo, 1/15, 16, Slate)

The film recounts how in 1956 the University of Chicago and Santiago's Universidad Católica--with the help of Ford Foundation--signed an exchange agreement to send young economics students to the United States to learn more about "monetarism," the theory that governments should refrain from regulating the market, whenever possible, with the exception of managing the money supply. The idea, radical in the United States for years following the New Deal, was developed by Friedman in the 1940s and under his leadership of Chicago's economics department became the intellectual center of free-market economics in America. "This exchange was part of the State Department's investment plan to expand their influence in Latin America, in a moment when they were concerned about the growth of Soviet ideas in the region. It is clear evidence of America's foreign-policy influence in Chile," Fuentes told me.

Around 25 Chilean students came to Chicago between 1956 and 1961. Some of them bought video cameras, an unimaginable purchase in Chile in those years, and recorded their time in Chicago, footage that is used in the film. They filmed their parties, their study sessions, and their walks around the campus. They recorded their everyday lives as normal students, long before they became the economic leaders of Chile's military government.    

Back in Chile, the Chicago Boys hoped to implement some of what they had learned in America. So they started to build an economic program, which they presented to the presidential candidate Jorge Alessandri, who lost to the Socialist Salvador Allende in 1970.

During Allende's rule, the Chicago Boys continued working on their economic project, which was finally named el ladrillo--the brick, because it was so big. Chicago alum Sergio de Castro authored their final recommendation, which they delivered to Navy Admiral José Toribio Merino.

Merino would be part of the junta that overthrew Allende in a CIA-backed coup in 1973, installing Gen. Augusto Pinochet as the new head of state. De Castro became the economic minister and later the treasury minister. The other Chicago Boys also joined the military government, occupying Cabinet positions during the 17 years of dictatorship.

Their program centered on reductions to fiscal spending to solve high inflation and economic difficulties. They opened the economy to foreign imports, privatized dozens of state companies, and removed most government controls on private economic activity. At the same time, as it was opening up the Chilean economy, the regime was clamping down on political opposition. In Pinochet's nearly 20 years in power, thousands of people were killed or "disappeared."

But while it came under heavy human rights criticism, Chile was the first country to apply Friedman's economic principles, and, years later, the famous economist called this process, lead by his disciples, "the Miracle of Chile." Friedman himself visited Chile and met with Pinochet in 1975, where he praised the economic measures taken by the Chicago Boys and Pinochet's government. The connection with the dictator has been one of the most controversial aspects of Friedman's legacy in the United States.

To Carola Fuentes, Chile was the first (and most radical) experiment in what we call now neoliberalism: "We helped to shape the economy of other countries. You can't imagine Margaret Thatcher's reforms, in the United Kingdom, and Ronald Reagan's, in the United States, without Chile."

Because the Anglosphere and Scandinavia are all democracies, we're just getting there slower.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Saudi Arabia's oil strategy tears OPEC apart (John Defterios, 1/15/16, CNNMoney)

OPEC's last big foray to move the market came in 2009, when crude shot up to $147 a barrel.

Saudi Arabia opened the taps to bring prices lower, then dialed them back when oil collapsed to $40 a barrel. Prices then stabilized, but since then, the U.S. added four million barrels a day of production, which has been a global game changer.

Chris Faulkner, CEO of Dallas-based oil fracker Breitling Energy, is convinced OPEC will not reverse its stance even if U.S. output falls from a peak of 9.6 million barrels a day to an estimated 8 million by the end of 2016.

Faulkner says he constantly gets asked, "when is America going away?" in reference to shale production. The reality is the small and medium sized players are elastic and can rev back up if oil recovers and stabilizes at $50.

This is why the U.S. shale revolution, and Russia's record output of nearly 11 million barrels a day, are creating unprecedented tension within OPEC.

Nigeria's Kachikwu said there was a near mutiny at OPEC's December meeting, with African and Latin American producers threatening to walk out as a block because of the pain they're feeling.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


The High Cost of a Bad Reputation : Life lessons that Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz should have learned decades ago. (PEGGY NOONAN, Jan. 14, 2016, WSJ)

The second thing she and Mr. Cruz are both learning, I suspect, is something most people learn by their 20s: It matters what people think of you. It's important that people have a high opinion of your essential integrity, trustworthiness and good faith. It matters that they like you. Mr. Cruz, when challenged by Mr. Trump, could have used some backup from prominent Republicans, but they didn't throw him a lifeline. John McCain: "I am not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it's worth looking into." You know why Mr. Cruz had no backup? Because almost no one who works with him likes him. They haven't experienced him as a trustworthy person of good faith. They waited, as people do, for a chance to hurt him, and when they got it they did.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Israel Quietly Courts Sunni States (RORY JONES, Jan. 14, 2016, WSJ)

Growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have raised hopes in Israel that officials can build closer ties with the Gulf monarchies based on their shared animosity toward Tehran.

Led by Dore Gold, director-general of the foreign ministry, Israel has stepped up efforts to mend and improve ties in the region--all in a bid to counter Iranian influence and the threat of Islamic extremism.

A long-standing hawkish ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Gold said Israel and Sunni Arab states face a shared threat in Iran.

Not so much Iran as democracy, which is why the Shi'a and America are the common enemy..

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Iran's hard-liners: Just say no to diplomacy (Arash Karami, January 14, 2016, Al Monitor)

Not all Iranian media were happy to see the successful efforts of diplomacy, however. Raja News, which is linked to the Endurance Front, a hard-line political group and Rouhani's most vocal critic in parliament, wrote that the negotiations between Kerry and Zarif had violated Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's guidelines that bilateral negotiations between Iran and the United States should be restricted to the nuclear issue. Raja referenced Khamenei's March 2015 speech in which he said, "The negotiations with America are about the nuclear issue and nothing else."

The article said Western media reported the pending release of US sailors after Zarif and Kerry spoke by phone. IRGC officials later said those reports were "speculation" and pointed out that no Iranian official had yet publicly confirmed that the sailors would be released. The articled argued that this was not the first time that non-nuclear discussions between the United States and Iran had taken place. Raja claimed that when Iran diverted its aid ships meant for Yemen to Djibouti in May, it was due to US pressure and came after a conversation between Kerry and Zarif.

Raja said the recent phone discussions between Kerry and Zarif are evidence that the Rouhani administration's "primary project is to expand ties with America at all levels."

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Meetings Waste Money, And Now You Can Calculate Just How Much (Ben Schiller, 1/15/16, Co.exist)

It's well known that companies waste a lot of time and money organizing and having meetings. We waste time endlessly emailing to find time-slots that suit everybody. We waste time waiting for everyone to arrive. We waste time discussing irrelevant points and tangential agendas.

Senior executives say more than half their meetings are "ineffective" or "very ineffective," a recent Bain & Company survey found. One large company studied by the consultants wasted a total of 300,000 hours a year as a result of just one weekly executive meeting, such was the "ripple effect" of one meeting leading to another. Moreover, Bain says the problem is getting worse. The amount of time devoted to meetings has increased each year since 2008, partly because meetings are now easier to organize and, because of video-conferencing technology, we no longer all have to be in the same room.

...all they really do is keep you from web-surfing alone in your office.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Can economics change your mind? (Tyler Cowen, January 15, 2016, Marginal Revolution)

[H]ere are just a few examples of where I have changed my mind due to economic evidence: [...]

6. The social marginal value of health care is often quite low, much lower than I used to realize.  By the way, hardly anyone takes this on consistently to guide their policy views, no matter how evidence-driven they may claim to be.

This example is why we'll end up with universal HSAs. The electorate in modern democracies demands universal health care, but doesn't need it.  So we'll provide a baseline level of coverage but put the rest of the money into accounts that will grow wealth, which they actually do need.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Has Belgium created 'a system of apartheid'? (Tim Whewell, 1/15/16, BBC Magazine)

At a police training academy on the outskirts of Brussels, new recruits are wrestling one another to the ground - practising techniques of unarmed restraint. There are about 40 of them - fresh-faced young people in their 20s, men and women - but what's immediately noticeable is that with one exception, they're all white.

Watching them is Paul Jacobs. For 20 years he dealt with discrimination complaints in the Belgian police - and he's just finished a session teaching this class "inter-cultural communication".

They discussed why so many Belgian youngsters go to fight in Syria - a higher proportion, relative to the population, than from any other country in Europe. And a heated argument broke out when Suhaila, the only non-white recruit - from a Moroccan background, like many Belgian Muslims - said she could understand why young Muslims might become jihadis.

Paul Jacobs argues that Belgium's internal divisions make it harder to accept diversity

"The whole class was reacting - over-reacting," Jacobs says. "It was the first time they had talked with someone of a Moroccan background."

For a visitor to Brussels, where more than a quarter of the population is Muslim, that's a surprising thought. But Paul Jacobs is not surprised.

"I am a little bit scared to use this term," he says. "But I think we live in a system of apartheid. You really have ghettos. And what is more important, and more dangerous, is not that people aren't living together - it's the mental ghetto."

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


A Walk on the Wild Side : Rachel Howzell Hall on The Crossing by Michael Connelly   (Rachel Howzell Hall, January 15th, 2016, LA Review of Books)

THE FIRST TIME I met LAPD detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, he was investigating the decades-old murder of a 12-year-old boy left in a shallow grave in City of Bones (2002). This case haunted Harry, with memories from his own traumatic childhood coloring his perceptions. He said wonderful things, honest things: "If we can't be honest with ourselves, how can we ever tell the truth to the people out there?" and "In every murder is the tale of a city." He fell for a dame with a badge, and life took a left turn. A perfect, beautiful novel. I cared about Harry. I didn't want him to hurt. My wish for a happy, healthy Harry did not come true, and we were all left with a bruised cop -- and a fierce avenger for those stolen from us and from the City of Angels. [...]

In The Crossing, Harry crosses many bridges. The first bridge: he has been forced to retire from the LAPD as a result of his maverick ways. From active person to AARP member, Harry is set to spend his days restoring an ancient Harley-Davidson. Even that simple act is awash with his former life: the paper beneath the bike's carburetor is an old story about politics and the justice system -- a life Harry is no longer a part of. For now.

Harry never gets past reading the instructions before he gets the call from The Lincoln Lawyer himself, Michael McCon -- I mean, Mickey Haller, Bosch's half-brother. Haller, a defense attorney, is representing Da'Quan Foster, an ex-Rollin' 40s Crip turned painter. Foster has been charged with the brutal rape and murder of West Hollywood City Manager Lexi Parks. Haller knows in his gut that despite his past, Foster is innocent. And he wants Harry to help him free his innocent client. Of course, Harry is reluctant to help the other side -- he is a cop, damn it. But something's not right about this case. And that poor old Harley-Davidson will just have to wait. "He [Harry] realized he had been wrong to think that restoring the old motorcycle could take the place of anything."

Her complaint in the review is about that which makes the character. [City of Bones was the basis of the tv series.]
Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


REVIEW of Chuck Norris vs. Communism (ALICE NICOLOV 15 January 2016, OpenDemocracy)

The documentary, by Romanian filmmaker and editor Ilinca Calugareanu, investigates how Romanians in the '80s were given their first snapshot of modern-day America, enemy of the Communist state, via black-market Hollywood blockbusters. It follows the story of state translator Irina, who is scouted by the faceless Zamfir to dub illegal VHS tapes for sale to the curious, the brave, and those able to get their hands on VCRs. (Zamfir's job remains a mystery until the end of the film when his security service connections are revealed.)

These people would then host private 'screenings' of Rocky or The Delta Force, introducing a whole generation of Romanians to American cinema. The documentary claims that these illicit private screenings "sparked a revolution" from Romanian living rooms. It's a big claim.

Twenty-five years after the Iron Curtain fell, a wave of post-communist nostalgia amongst the older generations of Eastern Europe, teamed with a keen interest among the younger generation, has given rise to documentaries, TV shows and films trying to address anew the question, 'what was life like under communism'? Oral testimony, as used overwhelmingly in "Chuck Norris vs. Communism", is vital to get information about former communist states as the security services had such control that private letters and diaries are few and far between. It is important that people like Calugareanu start to record these testimonies and make them available.

The film brings us straight into the lives of very ordinary people as they laugh together about their 'movie nights', clearly enjoying the opportunity to talk about their experiences and reminisce with affection about the 'good times' they had under communism. As one interviewee says, the movie nights were a way to 'spite the regime' in a non-confrontational way, and we see how important these gathering were to forming relationships. It gave a grim society a space to relax and forget about food queues and a diet of state-controlled TV. 

...is that the war of ideas wins itself.
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


They are Not Everywhere. They are Not Like Us. (AUSTIN RUSE, 1/15/16, Crisis)

Two of the great propaganda achievements of the radical homosexual movement are the now internalized beliefs that they are everywhere and they are just like us. [...]

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a measly 1.8 percent of adult men and 1.4 percent of adult women identify as homosexual. This translates into a tiny 2.1 million men and 1.7 million women. This is less than half the number of Methodists in the United States. [...]

Are they like the rest of us? Certainly. They are children of God, made in his image and likeness, and deserving of their human dignity. But, in the choices they make, in their attractions and in their behavior, and in the results of both, they are profoundly different.

Robert Reilly wrote a very important book--Making Gay Okay--that raised the central issue that has been ignored in the messaging of the marriage debate. The marriage debate became about what was best for children. Children certainly do deserve a mother and a father. In fact, they have a human right to know their mother and father, though death and divorce often violate this right. But we cannot deliberately choose to violate this right of theirs. All true and very effective.

Reilly argues, however, that you cannot talk about homosexuals and the changes they propose without talking about that dirty little thing called sodomy. And this is how they are profoundly different from us.

January 14, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Goldman Sachs agrees to tentative $5.1B mortgage settlement (Kevin McCoy, Kaja Whitehouse and Paul Davidson, 1/14/16, USA TODAY)

Goldman Sachs Group (GS) has reached a nearly $5.1 billion tentative settlement of a federal and state investigation of the investment banking giant's handling of mortgage-backed securities before the national financial crisis, the bank said Thursday. [...]

Generally speaking, many such loans proved to be riskier than advertised to buyers, and ultimately helped spark the 2008 financial crisis. Other major banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America, have reached similar, multi-billion dollar settlements.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


ISIS Fails To Achieve Its Goals With Indonesian Terror Attack (Walter Lohman, January 14, 2016, Daily Signal)

 With all condolences to the victims, one thing is for sure, the terrorists will lose this round, too.

The Indonesian people are nothing if not resilient.

It is a very difficult calculation to make, but ISIS may have actually come out on the losing end of this one attack itself. Five of the attackers are dead. And for all the momentary mayhem, all reports seem to indicate life returning to near-normal in the area of the attack remarkably quickly.

If the numbers don't matter and what really counts is the sense of terror that the attacks produce, the perpetrators seem to have failed on both scores. Beyond this, and as importantly, there must be a great deal of intelligence to gather in the aftermath of the attack, intelligence that could contribute to winding down the ISIS threat in the same way that Indonesian authorities disrupted and wound down terrorist networks since the 2009 attacks on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Some small German towns want to host more refugees. So why can't they? (Rachel Stern, JANUARY 12, 2016, CS Monitor)

Situated at the foot of the Harz Mountains in northern Germany, the town of Goslar thrills tourists with its winding cobblestone streets and thatched timber homes. But under the surface of its picture-book charm lies a demographic time bomb.

Goslar's population of 50,000 is dwindling by about 2,000 people a year as young people leave for better opportunities in cities. Faced with an uncertain future, Mayor Oliver Junk contends that the way to revitalize the town is to accept more refugees.

"The refugees that come can profit our country," Mr. Junk says. "They are not a burden, but rather an opportunity."

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Ted Cruz Didn't Report Goldman Sachs Loan in a Senate Race (MIKE McINTIRE, JAN. 13, 2016, NY Times)

As Ted Cruz tells it, the story of how he financed his upstart campaign for the United States Senate four years ago is an endearing example of loyalty and shared sacrifice between a married couple.

"Sweetheart, I'd like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign," he says he told his wife, Heidi, who readily agreed.

But the couple's decision to pump more than $1 million into Mr. Cruz's successful Tea Party-darling Senate bid in Texas was made easier by a large loan from Goldman Sachs, where Mrs. Cruz works. That loan was not disclosed in campaign finance reports.

Those reports show that in the critical weeks before the May 2012 Republican primary, Mr. Cruz -- currently a leading contender for his party's presidential nomination -- put "personal funds" totaling $960,000 into his Senate campaign. Two months later, shortly before a scheduled runoff election, he added more, bringing the total to $1.2 million -- "which is all we had saved," as Mr. Cruz described it in an interview with The New York Times several years ago.

A review of personal financial disclosures that Mr. Cruz filed later with the Senate does not find a liquidation of assets that would have accounted for all the money he spent on his campaign. What it does show, however, is that in the first half of 2012, Ted and Heidi Cruz obtained the low-interest loan from Goldman Sachs, as well as another one from Citibank. The loans totaled as much as $750,000 and eventually increased to a maximum of $1 million before being paid down later that year. There is no explanation of their purpose.

Neither loan appears in reports the Ted Cruz for Senate Committee filed with the Federal Election Commission, in which candidates are required to disclose the source of money they borrow to finance their campaigns.

...is that full disclosure is the best disinfectant.

Cruz Shifts on Snowden: 'Now Clear' He's a 'Traitor' (MICHAEL WARREN, 1/14/16, Weekly Standard)

Texas senator Ted Cruz now says Edward Snowden is a "traitor" who should be "tried for treason." Cruz told the New York Times in a statement his current view on the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked the details of a classified surveillance program.

" It is now clear that Snowden is a traitor, and he should be tried for treason," he said, according to the Times.

That's a shift from Cruz's position in 2013 after Snowden went public about the NSA's program. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Richard Dawkins Reveals Best Argument for God He's Ever Heard (STOYAN ZAIMOV, 1/12/16, CHRISTIAN POST)

[Dawkins said] that the best argument he has heard of concerns a "deistic God, who had something to do with the fine tuning of the universe."

"It's still a very, very bad argument, but it's the best one going," he added, noting that a major problem with the argument is that it leaves unexplained where the fine tuner came from.

A labradoodle doesn't know where his designers came from either.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


In new scandals, Catholicism feels the birth pains of reform (John L. Allen Jr., 1/12/16, Crux Now)

Another way of looking at both the choir scandal and Vatileaks, therefore, is that they are the birth pains of reform.

"Birth pains" is a Biblical image, drawn from Matthew 24 where Jesus discusses the end-times: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom," he says. "There will be famines and earthquakes from place to place."

"All these," he says, "are the beginning of the birth pains ... but the one who perseveres to the end will be saved."

Without going too far down the road of apocalyptic speculation, the wisdom contained in the passage is that periods of transition are often marked by great tumult, but the upheaval can be a herald of something better to come.

No doubt, it's frustrating for many Catholics that media outlets have given great prominence to reports of scandal, without equal emphasis on the fact that someone in the Church unearthed the failures in an effort to make things right.

In other words, the coverage is often all Good Friday, no Easter Sunday.

The plain fact of the matter, however, is that the harder the Church tries to confront its failures, the more ugly truths are going to surface, which likely will mean more bad news cycles. For people who don't follow such stories closely, it may seem all this is terribly damaging to the Church's image, but insiders will realize it's the price of change.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


A Jewish ISIS Rises in the West Bank : They reject modern political states and their institutions. They want to return to an imagined earlier era of religious order. They are extreme, fundamentalist, and violent. What separates so-called Hilltop Youth from young Jihadis? (Hillel Gershuni, January 11, 2016, Tablet)

To be a Hilltop Youth is to first disaffiliate with all establishments in Israel. Especially the settlements. These young Hasidic-looking men and women make their homes out of trucks, cars, trailers, caves--anything suitable for a makeshift shelter--atop the hills of Judea and Samaria. They see themselves as connected to the Land of Israel, not to any of the institutions of the Israeli state. The very violent group among them consists of no more than a few dozen core members and a few hundred more who support them in public demonstrations and on social media. Some in Israel refer to them in disgust and horror as "Jewish ISIS," and while there's a great distance between Al Baghdadi's practice of beheading, burning alive, and massacring thousands of people and the violence of extreme members of Hilltop Youth, there is indeed a deep connection between the two phenomena.

ISIS is not just a state--it's an idea, and a powerful one: throwing away modern norms and acting to revive the golden age of the Islamic Caliphate. And just like the Caliphate, the methods to achieve it are pre-modern: "Din Muhammad Bissayf," the religion of Muhammad is [enforced, spread] by the sword. The success of such cruel methods within the blurry borders of Iraq and Syria has drawn young enthusiastic Muslims from around the world to Syria. Similarly, ideas of reviving the thousands-of-years-old Kingdom of Judea draw young enthusiastic men and women to the hilltops, where the leaders and idea-men of the Hilltop Youth promise their followers a sense of authenticity in a post-modern world. As with ISIS, this authenticity is predicated on destroying all institutions of the State of Israel, which is undeserving of recognition.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


Making the Turn from Insurgent to Establishment (Nancy LeTourneau, 1/14/16, Washington Monthly)

[I]t is fascinating to listen to Sam Stein's podcast with the 2004 insurgent candidate Howard Dean. [...]

Here's what Dean said:

I was an insurgent candidate who couldn't make the turn to become an establishment candidate.

People don't want an insurgent as president. They love insurgents because they are always mad at the government. But at the end of the day, if you are going to be president, you've got to look like one and I never quite could bring myself to do that.

They [his supporters] were deeply invested in having somebody who wasn't going to be putting up any with crap from the establishment. And having been a governor for six terms, I knew very well that the governor has to put up with crap from everybody. Your job is to make things work and that means that you can't exclude people, whether you like them or not...

It's fun for voters to vent in meaningless primaries, where they can cast protest votes.  But eventually you have to offer them a reason to vote for you.  Mr. Dean governed VT so conservatively that there was nothing for him to offer Democrats.  Likewise, the Republican protest candidates have nothing to run on, having never done anything.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


The China Bubble Pops (Robert Samuelson, January 13, 2016, Washington Post)

     The worst outcome -- a doomsday scenario -- would have China fostering worldwide deflation. Its growth would continue to deteriorate sharply, extending the decline in commodity prices and the weakness of global trade. Around the world, there would be more production cuts, layoffs and bankruptcies.

     Without predicting this sort of calamity, some observers see the present slowdown as the start of a long descent. "China is going to stagnate," says Derek Scissors, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute. That doesn't mean a collapse, he says, but rather a slow drift to growth rates of 1 percent to 2 percent. These would equal today's American and European rates, even though China won't have caught up with U.S. and European living standards.

     China faces two problems, says Scissors, that dampen economic growth: high debts and an aging and stagnant population. The older population will shrink the size of the labor force; fewer workers will crimp the economy's output. (Between 2015 and 2040, China's working-age population 15-to-64 will fall by about 14 percent, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. That's nearly 140 million people.)

     Meanwhile, debt -- for households, businesses and government -- soared by $20 trillion in the past eight years, says Scissors. Debt service will squeeze borrowers' ability to spend and propel economic growth.

Not only is everything we buy going to be even cheaper, but all the money in China will flow to US securities.  The global economy desperately needs us to add debt, which they'll be happy to fund for free.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Officer hands out an astounding 19,000 parking tickets in a year (Aaron Short, January 10, 2016, NY Post)

New York City's top traffic agent is a relentless, ruthless street-sweeper who slings summonses at a rate of one every 9 minutes, 45 seconds.

South Brooklyn's orange tsunami, Arnous Morin, 53, wrote nearly 19,000 parking tickets in fiscal year 2015, an average of 76 per day he worked, city rec­ords analyzed by The Post and AAA Northeast show.

The one-man ticket blitz dished out 4,000 more summonses than the city's No. 2 traffic cop.

And Morin's base pay of $36,000 was eclipsed 33 times over by the amount of fines he generated for city coffers -- $1.2 million.

Morin, who was a Catholic-school principal in his native Haiti, is unapologetic about his lack of mercy for motorists.

"Never, never. It's never OK to break the law," he told The Post at his Canarsie home. "The law is hard, but it's the law. You can't break the law for any reason."

The most productive employee in America would have to be an immigrant.

January 13, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


$10 oil: Crazy or the real floor beneath the oil crash? (Matt Egan, January 13, 2016, CNN Money)

Just this week Morgan Stanley warned that the super-strong U.S. dollar could drive crude oil to $20 a barrel. Not to be outdone, Royal Bank of Scotland said $16 is on the horizon, comparing the current market mood to the days before the implosion of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Standard Chartered doesn't think those dire predictions are dark enough. The British bank said in a new research report that oil prices could collapse to as low as $10 a barrel -- a level unseen since November 2001.

To put that in context, average U.S. gas prices slipped to $1.12 a gallon back then. American drivers are already cheering a steep decline in gas prices below $2 a gallon in recent weeks.

A "floor" in oil prices can only be put in once the "entire market" agrees prices have "undershot too far," Standard Chartered said. "That is likely to be a very low price," the firm said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Obama Uses State of the Union to Defend His ISIS Strategy (Martin Matishak, January 13, 2016, Fiscal Times)

"The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It's not even close," the president said. "We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that's the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead. They call us."

Obama devoted the lion's share of the speech's foreign policy section to the war on ISIS, acknowledging the threat posed by terror groups like it and al-Qaeda. But he pushed back against the type of rhetoric that has become a trademark of the GOP presidential primary.

"But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands," Obama said, in what may have been a jab at Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), who have painted the conflict as a war between civilizations. "Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians, they have to be stopped, but they do not threaten our national existence."

The president rattled off familiar talking points about the progress being made by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, including nearly 10,000 airstrikes and reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. He also called on lawmakers to vote on a new war powers resolution.

"Take a vote," he said. "But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America's commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden."

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Under Ted Cruz's own logic, he's ineligible for the White House (Laurence H. Tribe   JANUARY 11, 2016, Boston Globe)

People are entitled to their own opinions about what the definition ought to be. But the kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the Supreme Court is an "originalist," one who claims to be bound by the narrowly historical meaning of the Constitution's terms at the time of their adoption. To his kind of judge, Cruz ironically wouldn't be eligible, because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and '90s required that someone actually be born on US soil to be a "natural born" citizen. Even having two US parents wouldn't suffice. And having just an American mother, as Cruz did, would have been insufficient at a time that made patrilineal descent decisive.

This narrow definition reflected 18th-century fears of a tyrannical takeover of our nation by someone loyal to a foreign power -- fears that no longer make sense. But the same could be said of fears that a tyrannical federal army might overrun our state militias. Yet that doesn't lead Cruz -- or, more importantly, the conservative jurists he admires -- to discard the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" as a historical relic, or to limit that right to arms-bearing by members of today's "state militias," the national guard.

On the other hand, the kind of judge I admire and Cruz abhors is a "living constitutionalist," one who believes that the Constitution's meaning evolves with the perceived needs of the time and longstanding practice. To that kind of judge, Cruz would be eligible to serve because it no longer makes sense to be bound by the narrow historical definition that would disqualify him.

When Cruz was my constitutional law student at Harvard, he aced the course after making a big point of opposing my views in class -- arguing stridently for sticking with the "original meaning" against the idea of a more elastic "living Constitution" whenever such ideas came up. I enjoyed jousting with him, but Ted never convinced me -- nor did I convince him.

At least he was consistent in those days. Now, he seems to be a fair weather originalist, abandoning that method's narrow constraints when it suits his ambition.

When you've conceded the Originalist position to Professor Tribe, you've demonstrated that all comedy is conservative.
Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


'IS wants to weaken the government in Ankara' : For a long time, 'IS' fighters left and entered Syria across theTurkish border, but lately, Ankara has been actively combatting the group. Turkey has thus become IS enemy number one, says Middle East expert Günter Meyer. (Deutsche Welle, 1/13/16)

Turkey has often been accused of turning a blind eye to IS in its own country. It is said that Turkey even tolerates it, as foreign fighters have unrestricted entry to Turkey in their travels to Syria. Why is IS fighting Turkey, of all countries?

From the Turkish viewpoint, in the past, IS has supported the two most important goals Erdogan wants to reach in Syria. One goal is to bring down the Assad regime in Damascus and replace it with a pro-Turkish, Sunni regime. The other one is to do anything in his power to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region or state along the southern Turkish border to Syria. So the early "Islamic State" military victories against the Kurds in northern Syria and the capture of Kobane were thus in Turkey's interest.

But a turning point has come, especially because Turkey has allowed the US to use the Incirlik air base to launch air strikes against IS. German reconnaissance missions are also launched from Incirlik. That is obviously not in the interest of the terrorist group.

Turkey has thereby become part of the anti-IS coalition, which it also weakens by fighting against the Kurds. How does that work?

In the past, Turkey has not only supported the delivery of weapons and other logistic supplies to IS but it has also permitted free access of foreign IS supporters to Syria. Wounded IS fighters have been treated in Turkish hospitals. Financial support for IS sympathizers from the entire Islamic world has been organized in Turkey. The country has also benefited from the purchase of Syrian oil and thus guaranteed a main source of IS revenue. But we have now clearly reached a turning point: Turkey's support of IS has been dwindling - mainly because of US pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Hello from the other side: When 2016 reporters swapped beats (Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald, 1/12/16, MSNBC)

What stood out most talking to voters?

Benjy: I was caught off guard by how specific and personal Democratic voters' issues tended to be. One woman told me she had lost a job because she had to take care of a sick relative and wanted paid family leave. Another woman told me her insurance stopped covering a certain medication that had grown too expensive and she liked how Clinton and Sanders talked about lowering drug prices. One man told me his wages were stagnant at his hotel job and he was looking for policies to increase them.

"We're talking about bread-and-butter issues," Phyllis Thede, an Iowa state representative backing Clinton, told me when I asked about her constituents' top concerns.

By contrast, Republican voters tend to be excited by more abstract issues: One of the most common answers I get from Cruz voters when I ask about their leading concern is "the Constitution." There are fewer "I have a specific problem in my own life, and I'd like the government to do x about it" responses.

Hardv to believe this can come as a surprise to folks who cover politics.  It's why women are liberal and men are conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


No Hope for Greatness : In his final State of the Union address, Obama urges Americans to fulfill his failed promise. (Ron Fournier, 1/13/16, National Journal)

In a rare em­brace of fail­ure and hu­mil­ity, Barack Obama said Tues­day night that "one of the few re­grets of my pres­id­ency" is the fact that par­tis­an ran­cor has worsened un­der his watch. The pres­id­ent seems to fi­nally real­ize that break­ing the found­ing prom­ise of his polit­ic­al ca­reer will hurt him in the eyes of his­tory.

In his fi­nal State of the Uni­on ad­dress, Obama called for "a bet­ter polit­ics," say­ing the na­tion's large and linger­ing prob­lems can only be solved if Amer­ic­ans "can have ra­tion­al, con­struct­ive de­bates."

Had it been de­livered by a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, the speech would have been tre­mend­ous. But in the hands of a time-worn lead­er sev­en years in­to a pres­id­ency that began with such prom­ise, Obama's sen­ti­ments were sadly fa­mil­i­ar, al­most hol­low: well-writ­ten and well-in­ten­tioned but, like the bal­ance of his pres­id­ency, a dis­ap­point­ment. [...]

He said demo­cracy "grinds to a halt without a will­ing­ness to com­prom­ise; or when even ba­sic facts are con­tested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our pub­lic life with­ers when only the most ex­treme voices get at­ten­tion. Most of all, demo­cracy breaks down when the av­er­age per­son feels their voice doesn't mat­ter; that the sys­tem is rigged in fa­vor of the rich or the power­ful or some nar­row in­terest."

He con­tin­ued: "Too many Amer­ic­ans feel that way right now. It's one of the few re­grets of my pres­id­ency -- that the ran­cor and sus­pi­cion between the parties has got­ten worse in­stead of bet­ter. There's no doubt a pres­id­ent with the gifts of Lin­coln or Roosevelt might have bet­ter bridged the di­vide, and I guar­an­tee I'll keep try­ing to be bet­ter so long as I hold this of­fice."

Obama has long meas­ured his leg­acy against the greats-writ­ing speeches aimed for carved gran­ite, and un­spool­ing policies geared to­ward trans­form­at­ive change.

He failed. They failed. We failed. Be­cause, as Obama re­minded us, no lead­er can force change without an en­gaged and will­ing pub­lic. Look­ing bey­ond his pres­id­ency, still hop­ing for change, Obama said, "It will de­pend on you."

His en­emies say he fun­da­ment­ally trans­formed the coun­try in a bad way. His al­lies say he was trans­form­at­ive in the best sense of the word. The fact is, bar­ring un­fore­seen events in his eighth year, Obama will be re­membered as a good man--and maybe a good pres­id­ent--who non­ethe­less failed to be great.

Indeed, historical assessments of his presidency will be identical to those of W.  This is too bad in the sense that the bitter partisanship of two parties that no longer have any differences prevented greater progress on the issues we all agree upon.  But, look at the presidencies that are the model of "greatness".  Do we really wish the Red States had broken away from the Union so that he could have waged a war to save it?  Or that a Nazi and a Communist superpower existed so that he could defeat the one and save the other?  

Thankfully, we live in profoundly normal times and are faced by no existential challenges.  The best a president can hope for in such times is to be considered "good."  Historians will look back at how the UR continued the WoT and Reformation of Sunni Islam that W began; the expansion of free trade (several of which agreements he was handed by W) and the passage of the Heritage mandate that will be the basis of our eventual universal health program and they'll consider him a figure of continuity, not of tranformation, but one who did reasonably well in conjunction with a Republican Congress and Court.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


'Defenders of the Unborn,' by Daniel K. Williams (KRISTIN DOMBEK, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times Book Review)

From the perspective of our historical moment, it's hard to imagine a country where the most prominent voices against abortion were Catholic physicians, and evangelical Protestants were either in favor of lifting restrictions on abortion, or didn't really care. A country where Democrats and the Black Panthers opposed abortion, and Ronald Reagan, like most conservatives, supported it. Where more men than women supported legalizing abortion, and Hugh Hefner was one of those men, leading one activist to call legalized abortion the "final victory of the Playboy philosophy." Where opposition to abortion found common cause with opposition to the exploitation of women, to the abandonment of the poor, to big business and to the Vietnam War.

While the language of genocide seems disingenuous to progressives now, Williams's characters remind us that in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade, the Nuremberg trials were fresh in the minds of Americans, as was the forced sterilization of poor women and women of color. Many liberals were understandably suspicious of any policy or law that seemed to promote population control funded by a government they suspected of systemic racism. As the Louisiana Right to Life Association put it in 1972: "Abortion is advocated as a way of reducing the number of illegitimate children and reducing the welfare rolls. Who do you think abortionists have in mind?" During the 1960s, the group that polled highest in the objection to abortion was African-Americans.

This progressive movement was winning before Roe v. Wade, Williams persuasively argues, because it shared language and values with the decade's social justice causes. Even if you don't buy that language now, it's hard to read this history without believing that its adherents genuinely meant it. Legal in some form in 16 states, abortion had become much more visible in the late 1960s. An ecumenical, liberal coalition of anti-abortion allies began to share fetal photographs, abortion videos and the tales of horrified nurses with legislators, and even some who had supported liberalization changed their minds. In 1971, in every single one of 25 legislative battles, attempts to broaden abortion's legality were thwarted by activists fighting for "life."

As Justice Ginsburg has confessed, the impetus for abortion was genocidal.
Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Obama and Nikki Haley: in State of the Union speeches, a common message : At a time when fiery rhetoric appears to be ascendant, both President Obama and GOP responder Nikki Haley called for tolerance and lowered voices. (Linda Feldmann, JANUARY 13, 2016, CS Monitor)

On State of the Union night, an extraordinary thing happened: The Democratic president and the Republican tasked with responding to his address issued the same message. [...]

Both, in their own way, implicitly went after the loudest voice in the political arena: Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, whose calls to ban Muslims from entering the country and harsh rhetoric against illegal immigrants have dismayed both Democrats and the Republican establishment.

Instead of settling for VP, she should have gotten into this race.

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


Kerry Thanks Iran for Quick Release of U.S. Sailors (THOMAS ERDBRINK, HELENE COOPER and DAVID E. SANGERJAN. 13, 2016, NY Times)

The quick release of the sailors stands in sharp contrast to the episode eight years ago involving the British marines, which developed into a major international standoff.

In 2007, 15 British marines were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards Navy, which accused them of entering Iranian waters. The sailors were held for 13 days before the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad, then the president, set them free during a televised farewell ceremony in which they were given new suits and carpets as parting gifts.

A prominent conservative Iranian analyst with ties to the senior leadership emphasized that in the current incident, both sides had sought to keep tensions low.

"This time, the Americans were cooperative in proving their innocence, and they quickly accepted their faults without resistance," the analyst, Hamidreza Taraghi, said in a phone interview. "The sailors apologized for having strayed into Iranian waters."

Also playing a role was the strong relationship that has developed between Mr. Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, during negotiations on the nuclear deal, Mr. Taraghi said.

It's just how allies roll...

Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM


Obama is right. America remains pretty awesome. But we can be even more awesome. (James Pethokoukis, January 13, 2016, AEI)

[A]merica continues to grow much faster than its advanced economy competitors. (Great Stagnation? Are you talking about China?) No large economy generates as many high-impact new companies as America, and no large economy is as competitive. The US remains the top destination for the world's job seekers. Among most advanced economies, the working-age population will shrink over the coming decades. But America's will grow. And given the difficulty of measuring the new digital economy with old wheat-and-steel economy metrics, Goldman Sachs warns that Americans should "be skeptical of confident pronouncements that the standard of living is growing much more slowly than in the past." [...]

So what to do? Modernize the safety net. Remove regulations that impede corporate competitiveness. Tax what we don't want, not what we do.

January 12, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Why are white supremacists backing Trump? (Husna Haq, JANUARY 12, 2016, CS Monitor)

Homes across Iowa began receiving pro-Trump robocalls Saturday, weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

The group behind the calls is American Freedom Party (AFP), a white supremacist group that endorsed the Republican candidate on Friday, calling him their "Great White Hope." 

"We don't need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump," Jared Taylor, a white nationalist and editor of the supremacist magazine American Renaissance, says on the call.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Germany's buzzword of the year takes political correctness to task (Deutsche-Welle, 1/12/16)

"Gutmensch," an overly politically correct person, has been named Germany's buzzword of the year 2015. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Return of incandescent light bulbs as MIT makes them more efficient than LEDs (Sarah Knapton,  11 Jan 2016, The Telegraph)

They refer to the technique as 'recycling light' because the energy which would usually escape into the air is redirected back to the filament where it can create new light.

"It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted," said Professor Marin Soljacic.

Usually traditional light bulbs are only about five per cent efficient, with 95 per cent of the energy being lost to the atmosphere. In comparison LED or florescent bulbs manage around 14 per cent efficiency. But the scientists believe that the new bulb could reach efficiency levels of 40 per cent.

And it shows colours far more naturally than modern energy-efficient bulbs. Traditional incandescent bulbs have a 'colour rendering index' rating of 100, because they match the hue of objects seen in natural daylight. However even 'warm' finish LED or florescent bulbs can only manage an index rating of 80 and most are far less.

They'll never match the sweet glow of whale oil lamps....

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


As Trump's Attacks Continue, Cruz Finds It Tough to Stay on the High Road (PATRICK O'CONNOR, 1/12/16, WSJ)

Responding to Donald Trump's questions about his eligibility to be president, Mr. Cruz suggested Democrats were cheering for the celebrity businessman to win the nomination because he would be easier to beat in a general election.

"The past couple of elections we saw the Democrats thrilled they got the nominee they wanted to run against in the general election," Mr. Cruz told reporters after a campaign event at a gun range here. "It seems the Hillary folks are very eager to support Donald Trump."

Dangerous territory for the legislator.  Donald Trump has 100% name recognition and, while people overwhelmingly dislike him , they aren't going to suddenly discover they don't like him.  These are the first impressions Mr. Cruz is making on most people and, between Trump's attacks and his own, his negatives will skyrocket.  Never introduce yourself while snarling.

Ted Cruz is not eligible to be president (Mary Brigid McManamon January 12, 2015, Washington Post)

[S]en. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not a natural-born citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States.

The Constitution provides that "No person except a natural born Citizen . . . shall be eligible to the Office of President." The concept of "natural born" comes from common law, and it is that law the Supreme Court has said we must turn to for the concept's definition. On this subject, common law is clear and unambiguous. The 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, the preeminent authority on it, declared natural-born citizens are "such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England," while aliens are "such as are born out of it." The key to this division is the assumption of allegiance to one's country of birth. The Americans who drafted the Constitution adopted this principle for the United States. James Madison, known as the "father of the Constitution," stated, "It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. . . . [And] place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States."

Cruz is, of course, a U.S. citizen. As he was born in Canada, he is not natural-born.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Oil crashes to $30 a barrel (Matt Egan, January 12, 2016, CNN Money)

Oil plummeted below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since December 2003. The latest wave of selling leaves crude oil down 19% this year alone. It represents an incredible 72% plunge from crude oil's June 2014 peak of almost $108.

"The fundamental situation for oil markets is much worse than previously thought," Barclays commodities analysts wrote in a client note.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Putin hints at offering asylum to Assad in Russia' (AP, January 12, 2016)

"We granted asylum to Snowden," he said referring to the American whistleblower Edward Snowden. "That was more difficult than (it would be) to shelter Assad."

Dude's gonna run out of white flags.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


What Happens If Ted Cruz Is Brought Down by a 'Birther' Catastrophe? (Ed Kilgore, 1/12/16, New York)

Here's the crucial finding:

Only 32% of Iowa Republicans think someone born in another country should be allowed to serve as President, to 47% who think such a person shouldn't be allowed to serve as President. Among that segment of the Republican electorate who don't think someone foreign born should be able to be President, Trump is crushing Cruz 40/14.

So is the "Cruz birther" issue already baked into the numbers? Not exactly.

Despite all the attention to this issue in the last week, still only 46% of Iowa Republicans are aware that Cruz was not born in the United States. In fact, there  are more GOP voters in the state who think Cruz (34%) was born in the United States than think Barack Obama (28%) was. 

How can anyone not enjoy politics?

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


US bombs pile of Islamic State cash in Iraq (ROBERT BURNS January 12, 2016, Times of Israel)

The official, who was authorized to discuss details only on condition of anonymity, said Monday that two 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) bombs targeted the facility.

The officials said the amount of cash destroyed is believed to be in the millions of dollars, but the exact amount is unknown.

It was at least the second time the US has bombed the Islamic State's cash stockpiles. Combined with attacking the militants' oil resources, it is part of an effort to sap their financial strength.

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Let's tap into Islam's heritage of critical education to defeat extremism in schools (Abdullah Sahin, 12 January 2016, The Guardian)

My research has revealed three types of "religiosities". The first is an exploratory religious identity, mostly observed among female and younger age groups who want the relevance of Islam to be demonstrated rather than merely asserted; the second is a "diffused identity" where Islam only functions as a cultural sentiment; the third is a "foreclosed" religiosity, rendering individuals vulnerable to radical voices. In response, I've developed a critical and reflective Islamic education programme to meet the changing needs of British Muslim children.

Various Muslim faith leaders and teachers have now been trained in this programme. The evidence shows it offers a practical model for addressing the foundations of radicalisation among British Muslim youth, and enables direct action at community level. Beyond primary prevention, this model should also be part of the rehabilitation of returning foreign fighters and others who have undergone Islamic indoctrination.

The kind of inclusive religious education provided in many community schools would complement such an approach by enabling students, including young Muslims, to develop a contextual understanding of Islam and its contemporary expressions. Instead of surveillance, schools need to encourage collaboration between RE teachers and Muslim educators. This would help pupils to be better informed about Islam and build competence among Muslim students to challenge rigid interpretations of their own religion. [...]

Islamic extremism can be defeated by robust and competent internal Islamic intervention. The struggle against extremism needs to include a measured, long-term educational response where Muslim communities, without being stigmatised, can join wider civil and educational efforts to counter it.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


How Ukraine Weaned Itself Off Russian Gas (Leonid Bershidsky, 1/12/16, bLOOMBERG vIEW)

Not so long ago, Russia could bend Ukraine to its will by threatening to cut off natural gas supplies. Now, Russia is offering discounts, but Ukraine is not interested because it's getting plenty of gas in Europe. This change reflects developments in the European gas market that don't augur well for one of Russia's biggest sources of export revenue.

It'd be more impressive if it weren't just Putin they were schooling.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


The Brutalism of Ted Cruz (David Brooks, JAN. 12, 2016, NY Times)

[I]n his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. Cruz's behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy.

Traditionally, candidates who have attracted strong evangelical support have in part emphasized the need to lend a helping hand to the economically stressed and the least fortunate among us. Such candidates include George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

But Cruz's speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional tone he sets is jarring.

Cruz lays down an atmosphere of apocalyptic fear. America is heading off "the cliff to oblivion." After one Democratic debate he said, "We're seeing our freedoms taken away every day, and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously."

As the Republican strategist Curt Anderson observed in Politico, there's no variation in Cruz's rhetorical tone. As is the wont of inauthentic speakers, everything is described as a maximum existential threat.

January 11, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Sean Penn's trek to Sierra Madre left direct trail to El Chapo, Mexico says (David Agren, 11 January 2016, The Guardian)

Sean Penn's foray into the world of gonzo journalism led directly to the capture of Mexico's most wanted criminal, said the country's attorney general on Monday, as leaked photographs appeared to show that the Hollywood star was under surveillance as he made his way to meet Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

Mexico's attorney general, Arely Gómez, said that Penn's journey to the rugged Sierra Madre mountains was "essential" to tipping them off to the drug lord's whereabouts, according to Reuters.

All comedy is conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Why the U.S. economy could keep growing until 2020 (Matt Egan, January 11, 2016, CNN Money)

1.) Fundamentals are looking solid: The latest economic reports suggest the American economy continues to look like the best house in a bad neighborhood.

The U.S. added about 200,000 jobs a month in 2015, its second-best year of employment gains since 1999.

The labor strength is buoying consumer confidence, a powerful force in an economy that is mostly driven by consumer spending. The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index averaged 92.9 last year, the highest since 2004. That's a big improvement from the 2008 low of 55.

That confidence is also driving home buying, which continues to rebound from the recession lows.

2.) Fewer Americans are drowning in debt: Consumers have been hard at work repairing their balance sheets. Morgan Stanley notes that the amount of debt relative disposable income has come down a lot. It currently stands at about 106%, down from 135% in 2008.

The ratio of payments to after-tax income has slipped near the lowest levels of the past three decades.

In another sign of improved finances, the percentage of loan balances that are over 90 days delinquent recently fell below 4% for the first time since the recession ended.

3.) Corporate America isn't overly exuberant: Morgan Stanley sees little evidence that CEOs have overextended themselves into a situation that will create a bubble. If anything, big companies are still reluctant to splurge on big items that drive growth.

...declining commodity costs, especially energy; new trade deals coming on-line; government borrowing costs are minimal; etc. 

State of Obama's Union Is Booming (Matthew A. Winkler, 1/11/16, Bloomberg View)

Market prosperity has been built on a solid economic foundation. The unemployment rate has declined the most in any five-year period since 1989, from its 10-percent peak in October 2009 to 5 percent last December. The budget deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product has plummeted 7.7 percentage points from a high of 10.1 percent in 2010, the biggest favorable reversal in at least 50 years. 

That's helped propel the value of U.S. companies to half the world's publicly-traded equity for the first time since 2001. The 10 companies with the highest market capitalization are American -- the first time that's happened since Ronald Reagan was president.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


A new lithium-ion battery that won't catch on fire : Researchers at Stanford University used nanotechnology to solve a longstanding problem among electrically-driven devices, from airplanes to so-called hoverboards. (Michael D. Regan, JANUARY 11, 2016, CS Monitor)

Researchers at Stanford University have created a lithium-ion battery that won't catch fire, following a rash of incidents involving devices powered by the rechargeable batteries.

The batteries are made to turn off before they can reach temperatures causing them to overheat, according to an announcement made by the university on Monday. The study appeared in the journal Nature Energy.

The invention may mitigate the drumbeat of recalls of products that run on lithium-ion batteries, which are used in an array of electronic contraptions from vehicles and airplanes to computers and so-called hoverboards.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Iran rejects assessment by UN nuclear agency that it did past work on nuclear arms (GEORGE JAHN, 1/11/16, Associated Press)

Implementation day will come once the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has fulfilled its commitments, and diplomats on Monday told The Associated Press that could happen within a week. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment on the process.

Iran's Fars news agency reported a key step toward that goal, saying that technicians have dismantled the core of the Arak heavy water reactor on Monday and filled it with concrete.

The probe had to be formally ended as part of the July 14 nuclear agreement. The IAEA board closed the books on the investigation last month, even though Amano repeated an assessment he made in his final report on the issue in November that Iran worked on "a range of activities relevant" to making nuclear weapons, with coordinated efforts up to 2003 tapering off into scattered activities into 2009.

Iran's rejoinder, dated Jan. 7 and posted on the IAEA's website, will neither affect Amano's finding nor delay implementation of the deal, but its low-key language in disagreement with the agency assessment is in contrast to past bitter recriminations both against the IAEA and against the U.S., which has been among Tehran's most vehement critics for its alleged past weapons work.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


"Misery Index" at lowest level since 1950s (Fred Dews, January 11, 2016, Brookings)

The "Misery Index," an economic measure invented by former Brookings economist Arthur Okun in the 1970s that combines the unemployment rate with the inflation rate, has been at its lowest levels over the past year since the 1950s according to calculations by Senior Fellow Gary Burtless. In recent year-end commentary about the job market, Burtless, the John C. and Nancy D. Whitehead Chair, explained that "Back when politicians and voters cared more about inflation than they currently do," Okun proposed this indicator "to summarize the dual hardships of inflation and unemployment." The Index stood at 5.5 in November 2015 and averaged 5.37 over the period January-November 2015. It reached an all-time high, 21.98, during the final year of Jimmy Carter's presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM


Fed Sent Record $97.7 Billion in Profits to U.S. Treasury in 2015 (BEN LEUBSDORF, Jan. 11, 2016, WSJ)

The Federal Reserve handed over a record $97.7 billion in profits to the Treasury Department in 2015, according to preliminary figures released Monday.

The Fed uses revenue from various sources, including interest from its big portfolio of bonds and other assets, to cover its operating and other expenses. The rest of the money is sent to the Treasury to help pay the federal government's bills.

In 2014, the Fed sent a then-record $96.9 billion to the Treasury.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Rouhani promises 'year of prosperity' for Iranians (AFP, January 11, 2016)

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged Monday that his country was about to enter "a year of economic prosperity," with sanctions lifted, and said his government had delivered on its promises. [...]

Speaking near Bushehr, a southern port city on the Gulf, Rouhani, a moderate cleric, also drew attention to elections on February 26 in which his allies are looking to make gains in parliament.

"I promise the nation of Iran that next year, with sanctions behind us and by young people's efforts, will be a year of economic prosperity," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


NH staff at pro-Carson super PAC quits to volunteer for Cruz (John DiStaso, Jan 11, 2016, WMUR)

All five paid New Hampshire staffers at the pro-Ben Carson 2016 Committee super PAC quit their posts on Sunday to become volunteers for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, WMUR.com has learned.

January 10, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


The God Profusion : Europe's churches are empty--but don't take that as a sign of reason's triumph. More than half of Icelanders believe in elves and trolls. : a review of THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH By Rodney Stark (NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY, Jan. 3, 2016, WSJ)

Mr. Stark pushes back against the secularization thesis in several ways. In a section called "The Myth of Medieval Piety," he notes, for example, that during the so-called Dark Ages of Europe--when religion supposedly stifled the life of the mind and benighted the populace--more than 90% of the population lived in rural areas, while churches were to be found mostly in towns and cities: "Therefore hardly anyone could have attended church. Moreover, even after most Europeans had access to a church, whether Catholic or Protestant, most people still didn't attend, and when forced to do so, they often misbehaved."

In short, the poor and less educated are not by definition more pious. As for the other half of the secularization thesis, Mr. Stark shows that, in one country after another today, more educated people are choosing religion in larger numbers than their less educated peers. This is certainly true in the United States, where college-educated Americans are more likely to attend religious services than their counterparts with only a high-school diploma.

Indeed, religious fervor has taken hold in many countries where modernity is a settled fact. In majority-Muslim countries the percentage of people attending mosque is highest among those with a college education. Mr. Stark writes that the people in these countries who are most offended by Western culture tend not to be village hicks but people living in modernized, urban areas.

Scholars like Philip Jenkins have for years observed that in the Southern Hemisphere religious belief--particularly Christianity and Islam--has been spreading rapidly. Here Mr. Stark cites a poll that he trusts: the Gallup World Poll, which has been conducted annually since 2005 and now includes more than a million interviews from 163 different countries. According to Gallup, almost all South American countries are now less than 5% secular. While Catholicism used to be the dominant form of Christianity, because it was the official religion of the colonizing powers, Protestantism "has become a major religious presence in most of Latin America."

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


How to Watch All the TV You Want Without Paying a Cable Bill (Jacob Davidson, April 6, 2015, TIME)

Cutting the cord is easier than ever. Here are five different ways to ditch cable--and save hundreds of dollars in the process.

The notion of getting all the video entertainment you want without paying a massive cable bill--a.k.a. cord cutting--has gone from a tech-world fantasy to a viable mainstream option in what seems like a matter of months.

The reason? The recent emergence of new streaming services like Dish Network's Sling TV, which includes a sampling of the most popular "basic" cable channels, and HBO Now, the only streaming service to include HBO shows, has coincided with Amazon and Netflix coming into their own as producers of serious television. The result is that virtually every class of TV watcher can find most of what they need without paying a cable bill.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Obama seeks optimistic tone for his final State of the Union speech (Michael A. Memoli and Christi Parsons, 1/09/16, LA Times)

Instead he will speak in broad terms Tuesday about America's potential and his vision of a nation that builds things, adapts to a changing environment and looks forward with hope, reprising some of the aspirational refrains that first helped him win the White House in 2008.

"America can do anything," Obama said Saturday in a weekly radio address that aides described as a preview of his speech. "Even in times of great challenge and change, our future is entirely up to us."

The upbeat, and to some extent self-congratulatory, tone serves as a marked contrast to the president's vast challenges and apparent frustration only weeks before the Iowa caucuses formally start the electoral race for his successor.

People don't generally like to be told that they are just being petulant, so it's a hard needle to thread.  Above all, you can't be seen to blame them, as Jimmy Carter seemed to in the malaise speech.  The Oval should be studying FDR, Reagan and W to see how to pitch optimism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Why China's Stock Market Crash Could Spark a Trade War (Chris Matthews, JANUARY 7, 2016, Fortune)

Earlier this year, China allowed its currency, the renminbi, to trade within a wider band around the value of the dollar, to which its value is pegged. But instead of rising in value, the renminbi fell against the dollar, and on Thursday the Chinese government allowed (or forced, depending on whom you ask) its currency to go down again, to its lowest value against the dollar in five years.

For some, this smacks of rank currency wars, with China fighting its quickly weakening economy with a cheaper currency to boost exports. Others argue that with the dollar stronger today than it has been in decades, it only makes sense to allow the yuan to weaken in response to this.

But wherever you come down on China's motivations for its devaluation, it's clear that a cheaper renminbi will send ripple effects through the global economy. And that's likely why stocks in the U.S. and elsewhere plunged on Thursday.

The biggest fear is a deepening of a trade war that is being fought between the world's economies over a very limited supply of global demand. One of China's main competitors in the region, Vietnam, has moved three separate times this year to devalue its currency, with the last coming in August. "The policy action today is positive in its promptness in response to China's devaluation," Eugenia Fabon Victorino and Irene Cheung, analysts at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., said in a research note at the time.

Meanwhile, other big exporters like Japan and Korea, have been watching the moves in the renminbi closely. Korea's won hit a three year low earlier this year, while the Japanese central bank has been engaged in massive monetary stimulus in recent years. The Japanese government argues that this is purely to stimulate domestic demand, but economists like Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute have argued that Japan's tactics are different than, for instance, the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing, and that currency manipulation on the part of Japan has cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands of jobs per year.

As economist and China expert Michael Pettis has argued, what China's troubles today underscore is the dearth of demand in the global economy. There are virtually no economies on earth today that are growing quickly as the result of rising incomes. Instead China's rapid growth, until recently, has mostly been the product of a government policy that encourages excessive investment and keeps wages low in order to boost exports and employment. The few large economies that run trade deficits, though, like the United States and the U.K., don't have the capacity to buy everything that China and the rest of the world's exporters are trying to sell.

A world competing to sell us stuff cheaper and then forced to put the money into our securities as far as the eye can see. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Battlefields of the mind : To defeat Islamic extremism in the intellectual arena, Britain must understand it better (Bagehot, Jan 9th 2016, The Economist)

Such thinking has been circulating in Whitehall for a decade, but the radicalising effect of IS and the exit of civil libertarian Liberal Democrats from the government in May have given Mr Cameron the impetus and political freedom to pursue it more forcefully (in Downing Street this is seen as one of the four main issues that will define his second term). So last July the anti-extremism "Prevent" programme was expanded to give public bodies like schools, universities and prisons a statutory duty to shield their charges and monitor them for signs of radicalisation. In a speech a month later Mr Cameron pledged more, adding: "Let's not forget our strongest weapon: our own liberal values." [...]

The answer is for schools and councils to work with Muslim leaders. But which? Sifting out those energetically committed to fighting radicalism can be beyond well-meaning but strained local branches of the British state. Consider the Prevent grants that end up in the hands of ideologically contentious groups. Or the revelation in November that a community centre in north London was inadvertently hosting proselytising sessions for IS. Or the blind eye turned by local authorities to the recent infiltration of some Birmingham schools by Islamists.

Many of the more exciting anti-radicalisation initiatives are led by Muslims themselves and take place outside the Prevent framework. Mr Mahmood, wary of its brand, independently mentors young men. Alyas Karmani, a Bradford imam who has aptly compared the psychological function of IS guns to penis extensions, is similarly sceptical of Prevent. Abu Khadeejah, a Birmingham-based Salafist, posts theologically justified critiques of IS on his blog. Yet such types face intimidation and even physical danger. One anti-jihadist Muslim activist tells how a critic threatened him by drawing a finger across his throat.

What to do? In the short term the government should consider renaming and relaunching Prevent, a good programme with a bad reputation. But a generational struggle over ideas and minds requires a generational answer: a dramatic improvement in mutual understanding between different parts of an increasingly diverse society. That means more briefing on the nuances of British Islam for local authority figures (Ms Bowen's book, "Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent", is a good start), arm's-length liaison bodies for Muslim moderates uncomfortable about engaging with the state, efforts to reverse the decline of religious studies and better policing of fashionable but often unaccountable "faith schools". One Prevent officer in London jokes that more students should be encouraged to study theology. Why not? In a battle of ideas, knowledge is the most powerful of weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Dumper truck driver goes on two hour rampage after row over air conditioning (Tom Whitehead, 10 Jan 2016, The Telegraph)

Churchill went crazy after rowing with his bosses because his cabin was too hot but was told to get on with his job, Norwich magistrates' court heard.

Imagine if he actually did manual labor?

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Egypt's President Turns to Religion to Bolster His Authority (DECLAN WALSH, JAN. 9, 2016, NY Times)

 When President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi opened a much-heralded extension to the Suez Canal in August, the official Friday Prayer sermon that week hailed it as a "gift from God."

When Egyptian voters elected a new Parliament in December, a preacher on state TV urged its members to "obey those in authority, specifically the highest authority," and referred indirectly to Mr. Sisi as "God's shadow on earth."

And when a Russian airplane leaving the Sharm el Sheik resort crashed in the Sinai Desert in October, killing 224 people and crippling Egyptian tourism, the Ministry of Religious Endowments encouraged clerics to vacation at the deserted resort -- notable because many observant Muslims here view it as a sinful fleshpot.

Fears of Islamist rule helped propel Mr. Sisi, then a military general, to power in 2013 following giant protests that led to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government. But as Mr. Sisi wrestles with militant attacks and a struggling economy, he has increasingly turned to religion to bolster his authority and justify a crackdown on his rivals.

January 9, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


'I went to join Isis in Syria, taking my four-year-old. It was a journey into hell' (Kim Willsher,  9 January 2016, The Guardian)

Sophie Kasiki stared at the photograph of a young English-speaking boy in a camouflage uniform and black bandana covered in Arabic calling for unbelievers to be killed in the latest Islamic State propaganda.

Her eyes welled and she swallowed hard. "That could have been my son," she said, her firm voice wavering. "That's hard for me to say and makes me want to cry. I would have killed us both rather than let him become a killer, rather than let him fall into the claws of those monsters."

The "monsters" she is referring to are Islamic State, and Kasiki weighs her words; she knows her four-year-old son was only ever at risk of falling into the jihadis' lair because she had taken him there.

Kasiki is one of the few western women who have been to the capital of the Isis-declared caliphate at Raqqa in Syria and returned to recount the tale. It was, she said in her first interview with a British newspaper, like a journey into a hell from which there seemed no return.

"I have felt so guilty. I have asked myself how I can live with what I have done, taking my son to Syria," she told the Observer. "I have hated those who manipulated me, exploited my naivety, my weakness, my insecurity. I have hated myself."

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


The Hyperloop Is Finally Being Built -- See the Photos Here (Ruth Reader, January 8, 2016, Yahoo)
A series of pipes that just arrived in a Nevada desert could be the future of transportation in the U.S.

Hyperloop Technologies is starting to test a high-speed transit system that doesn't involve railways, according to a new video from CNNMoney. The Hyperloop technology was first outlined by Elon Musk in 2013.

What is the Hyperloop? Potentially the fastest-ever way to travel. The basic principles are this: Rather than using rail and a train, the Hyperloop uses a long, depressurized tube to shoot a cylindrical pod carrying people or goods 700 miles per hour to a given destination. CEO of Hyperloop Technologies Rob Lloyd tells CNNMoney the fundamentals are actually quite simple. 

"You just remove the pressure from an enclosed environment -- you can think of that as a tube. You remove the friction of wheels by levitating that pod inside the tube, and then it takes a very little amount of energy to move that pod at incredible speed," he says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Catalan separatist parties agree regional government deal, new leader (Deutsche-Welle, 1/09/16)

Catalan separatists have struck an eleventh-hour deal to form a regional government that will work towards independence from Spain. The agreement required controversial secessionist leader Artur Mas to step aside. [...]

New elections might have led to a setback for the wealthy, 7.5-million-strong northeastern region's push for independence. Riding a wave of secessionist sentiment at the polls in September, Junts pel Si and the more radical, far-left CUP party together won a majority of seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament. The Catalan parliament in Barcelona passed a plan in November for breaking away from Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


A Placebo Treatment for Pain (JO MARCHANT, JAN. 9, 2016, NY Times)

This phenomenon -- in which someone feels better after receiving fake treatment -- was once dismissed as an illusion. People who are ill often improve regardless of the treatment they receive. But neuroscientists are discovering that in some conditions, including pain, placebos create biological effects similar to those caused by drugs. [...]

Placebo effects in pain are so large, in fact, that drug manufacturers are finding it hard to beat them. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Armed man claiming to be Jesus plotted to kidnap Obamas' dog (AFP, January 9, 2016)
Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Rest in Peace, Florence (JACK FOWLER, January 6, 2016, National Review)

Florence King was one of the premier writers of the 20th century. In particular, as a book reviewer, she was unrivaled. And was there a better scourge of multiculturalism than the crotchety, gin-swilling, chain-smoking, off-colored prose perfectionist who fired off verbal mortars from a nicotine-and-tar patina-d apartment on Caroline Street? I don't think so. She is an important part of the history and fiber of this institution known for harboring great writers. Her thousands upon thousands of adoring fans -- many of whom she counted as pen pals (she loved getting letters from her readers) -- will agree. 

One private thing: Florence was spiritual -- at least that she felt the spirit of a few departed souls, especially her famous Granny. That led her to think, maybe . . .  A few months back she asked me to pray for her, and I did, and she was happy to know that rosaries on Bill Buckley's old beads were being said for her. It gave her comfort, and maybe there were other consequences. But tonight I will say another prayer for her, and I hope you will too, because if you were someone who derived great enjoyment from reading Florence King, know that, at the end, she sought peace, and if we can help her rest in it, we should.

Florence King (1936-2016) : Andrew Ferguson's memoir of a Southern Lady  (ANDREW FERGUSON, 1/18/16, Weekly Standard)

The best of Florence is in her books anyway, particularly Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, one of the most exquisitely controlled pieces of writing I know of, seamlessly hilarious, nostalgic, ironic, and wise. It tells of an only child growing up in an eccentric family in the 1940s and '50s, and it will last as long as Americans want to know the tactile reality of one part of their past, what it felt like to be someone many years before they were born. Maybe it won't last so very long, after all.

I intend this tribute to be about Florence and not about me, of course, but I will close with a note that complicates the sadness at her death. I loved Florence King. I loved her writing, I relied on her kindness, and I treasured her friendship. It didn't last, though. She was famously changeable. I can trace the arc through my sheaf of old faxes. Some time around 1999, she failed to answer one of my letters. In a week or so I sent another, sliding the pages into the maw of the fax machine and listening for the scratchy sound that meant the fax had gone through. I waited a day and nothing came back. I tried again. After a month I faxed a new letter, full of gossip and jokes, and when I didn't hear from her I phoned her and left a message on her machine. She didn't answer.

Several years later I published a book, and out of nowhere--I was told this long after the fact--she approached the editor of another magazine, an acquaintance of mine, and asked to review it. She wrote a rave, to use a term she liked. It was the kind of implausible praise a writer dreams someone will someday write about him, and I never heard from her again, and I never knew why.

Florence King, acerbic conservative writer, dies at 80 (Matt Schudel, January 7, 2015, Washington Post)

For many readers, regardless of political persuasion, her saving grace as a writer was a tart, well-tailored wit that made her one of the most provocative and uncompromising prose stylists of her generation.

"You can't pretend to be witty because wit is dry, subtle, lacerating, cynical, elitist, and risque -- all impossible to fake," she wrote in a 2004 essay. "Humor, on the other hand, is broad, soothing, positive, inclusive, and smutty -- to make sure everybody gets it. Pretending to be humorous is easy and a great many people are doing it."

Miss King's best-known book, "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" (1985), was an embroidered memoir of her coming of age in Washington, where she was reared by a British father, a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking mother and a maternal grandmother with fond recollections, real or imagined, of an aristocratic heritage in Virginia.

Writer Carolyn See, reviewing the book in the Los Angeles Times, called it "so original, so odd, so wonderful, so bizarre and finally so heart-wrenching that it can't easily be summed up. . . . This is a stunning book, a masterpiece."

Florence King, 1936 - 2016: a great American conservative (The Spectator, 7 January 2016)

Let's not get sentimental -- she would not have liked that -- but Florence King, the American writer and splendid reactionary, has died. It is sad because Florence was brilliant, brave and most of all funny. Her best-known work, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, is a tremendous book -- essential reading, I'd say, for anyone who wants to understand spirited American conservatism, rather than the lobotomised crap churned out on TV or talk radio, or by Republican Party candidates. She deserves to be better known, though it is heartening today to see fans sharing her quotes on Twitter. (My favourite: 'while watching 'Psycho' a single question ran through my head: "Where can I get a shower head with that kind of capacity?"')

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


The left's own war on science : The witch hunt against Napoleon Chagnon shows us what happens if scientists challenge the core beliefs of 'progressives' (Toby Young, 1/08/16, The Spectator)

In 2000, in a book called Darkness in El Dorado, the journalist Patrick Tierney accused Chagnon and his collaborator James Neel of fomenting wars among rival tribes, aiding and abetting illegal gold miners, deliberately infecting the Yanomamö with measles and paying subjects to kill each other. Shockingly, these charges were taken at face value and widely reported in liberal publications like the New Yorker and the New York Times. (A headline in the Guardian read: -'Scientist "killed Amazon Indians to test race theory".') Many of Chagnon's colleagues turned on him, including the American Anthropological Association, which set up an task force to investigate. Chagnon was not allowed to defend himself and this task force published a report 'confirming' several allegations. As a result, Chagnon was forced into early retirement. In her book, Dreger summarises the thought crime that turned him into such a plump target: 'Chagnon saw and represented in the Yanomamö a somewhat shocking image of evolved "human nature" -- one featuring males fighting violently over fertile females, domestic brutality, ritualised drug use and ecological indifference. Not your standard liberal image of the unjustly oppressed, naturally peaceful, environmentally gentle rainforest Indian family.'

In a 50,000-word article published in 2011 in a peer-reviewed journal, she painstakingly rebutted all the charges against Chagnon, detailing the various ways in which Tierney had fabricated and misrepresented the evidence. Chagnon has now been exonerated and resumed his career.

Dreger has not abandoned her own liberal convictions. She believes the search for scientific truth and social justice go hand in hand and ends her book with an plea to academic colleagues to defend freedom of thought. But her title, Galileo's Middle Finger, suggests the progressive left may not survive these clashes with heretical scientists. In comparing Chagnon to the Italian astronomer, she implies that the church of progressive opinion will face the same fate as the theologians who insisted the Earth was the centre of the universe. Eventually, the truth may prove too much. I recently interviewed Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, and he's confident that the liberal left can survive without the myth of the noble savage. I'm not so sure.

It can't.  The entire Left project--starting with the French Revolution--is premised on a denial of The Fall.
Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia (ANNA MARIA BARRY-JESTER, 1/08/16, 538)

By the 1950s, MSG was found in packaged food across the U.S., from snacks to baby food. (Sand said in his 2005 paper that his 1953 edition of "The Joy of Cooking" referred to monosodium glutamate as "the mysterious 'white powder' of the Orient ... 'm.s.g.,' as it is nicknamed by its devotees.") Soon, though, MSG's chemical nature would turn against it. After the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and federal bans on sweeteners that the Food and Drug Administration deemed carcinogenic,3 consumers began to worry about chemical additives in their food. In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter from a doctor complaining about radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants. He mused that cooking wine, MSG or excessive salt might be to blame. Reader responses poured in with similar complaints, and scientists jumped to research the phenomenon. "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" was born.

Early on, researchers reported an association between consuming MSG and the symptoms cited in the New England Journal of Medicine. Inflammatory headlines and book titles followed: "Chinese food make you crazy? MSG is No. 1 Suspect," wrote the Chicago Tribune, while books titled "Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills" and "In Bad Taste: The MSG Symptom Complex" prompted FDA reviews and "60 Minutes" investigations, as Alan Levinovitz, a professor of Chinese philosophy at James Madison University, chronicled in a 2015 book about food myths.

But those early studies had essential flaws, including that participants knew whether or not they were consuming MSG. Subsequent research has found that the vast majority of people, even those claiming a sensitivity to MSG, don't have any reaction when they don't know they are eating it.

That MSG causes health problems may have thrived on racially charged biases from the outset. Ian Mosby, a food historian, wrote in a 2009 paper titled "'That Won-Ton Soup Headache': The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG and the Making of American Food, 1968-1980" that fear of MSG in Chinese food is part of the U.S.'s long history of viewing the "exotic" cuisine of Asia as dangerous or dirty. As Sand put it: "It was the misfortune of Chinese cooks to be caught with the white powder by their stoves when the once-praised flavor enhancer suddenly became a chemical additive."

The concern wasn't just among the public, however. From the late 1960s to early 1980s, "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" was considered a legitimate ailment by many in the medical establishment, according to Mosby's research.

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


The Republican Governors' Advantage (Joe Klein, Jan. 6, 2016, TIME)

"It hit me like a brick wall the first day I campaign here last year," said Jeb Bush, whose daughter has fought addiction problems. "Two people in the hotel lobby told me they had lost loved ones to drug overdoses. I met two others before the day was over."

Bush is extraordinary on this issue, in his restrained way; the other two governors were excellent, too. The problem is horrendous, but it was a pleasure to hear politicians speaking about an issue that they had really worked on and worried about. They were fluent on the value of drug courts, where addicts can choose a course of treatment rather than punishment. They were united in their belief that addiction-as opposed to drug-dealing-needs to be treated rather than punished. Each had a story about the careless pill-pushing of the medical profession. [...]

John Kasich, dressed casually in a blue shirt, showed emotion-he told a story about a woman he knew who'd overcome addiction-and an easy fluency on the issue. At one point, Kasich gave credit to the Democratic Mayor of Cleveland for his cooperation in establishing a treatment policy. "You can't have wars between the parties on this issue," he said. "It's too important. I know this is a Republican primary, but too bad!" He added, to cheers.

And it was striking how different-how refreshing-the tone in Hooksett was from the rabidly soundbitten demolition derbies on television. It was also a nice reminder that governors have a presidential advantage that doesn't manifest itself in the quick-draw world of debates: they know stuff. They've studied issues and decided things. In this case, all three had come to very similar decisions-and could cite optimistic statistics to support the policies they had enacted. There were no wild claims or attacks; they were specific in their answers before a tough, concerned audience; sanity prevailed.

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


No one stays in the Top 1% for long (Tami Luhby, January 7, 2016, CNN Money)

The Top 1% is often considered an exclusive, monolithic group, but folks actually rise up into it and fall out of it quite often. That's because their incomes can vary widely year to year.

Some 11% of Americans will join the Top 1% for at least one year during their prime working lives (age 25 to 60), according to research done by Thomas Hirschl, a sociology professor at Cornell University. But only 5.8% will be in it for two years or more.

As for holding onto this status for at least 10 years? Only a miniscule 1.1% of Americans are this fortunate.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


I am French : a review of Who is Charlie? Xenophobia and the New Middle Class by Emmanuel Todd, translated by Andrew Brown  (Jeremy Harding, 1/21/16, London Review of Books)

Todd identifies two tranches of post-Christian France: one that moved away from religion - a move made by entire parishes, not individuals - in the 18th century, and another that only began to desert the faith in the 1960s. The first is located in an area he calls 'the Paris Basin', the geological term for a large part of north and central France, running from the Ardennes down to the northern edge of the Massif Central. It's clear from the maps in the book that these early defectors were also plentiful in the Aquitaine Basin. Together they show up on the maps as a continuous north-south swathe of unbelievers running down the middle of the country with a southwesterly bulge towards the Atlantic coast. In addition a corridor from the Paris Basin connects this central body of non-churchgoers to a large annexe of like-minded people in the south-east - a stretch of Mediterranean coast and its hinterland corresponding roughly to the administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. In terms of size, the centre and the annexe account for about half the country. Everywhere else people remain devout for very much longer. Todd refers to the first group - the precocious unbelievers in the Paris Basin and the southeastern annexe - as 'the centre' and the dawdling faithful as 'the periphery'.

Another of the maps assigns 'equality in family structures' by area ('equality' here refers to old rules of inheritance). It shows that property was likely to be evenly distributed in the centre, where families 'were obsessed with the division of inheritances into equal parts', while in the religious periphery it was likely to pass by primogeniture to the first male child. These two different traditions, like their irreligious and religious equivalents, persisted side by side without much difficulty, and Todd believes that 'without the counterweight of peripheral France', the egalitarianism at the centre 'would have produced disorder rather than a doctrine of liberty and equality'. We're beginning to see where he wants to take us: Islam, like Christianity, ought to be an inoffensive presence in a country whose inhabitants, since the end of the war in the Vendée, have lived together as believers and agnostics, non-egalitarians and egalitarians, without the kind of fissure that appeared last year in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings - and which has widened, since the book was published, as a result of the new round of murders in Paris last November.

Subsequent maps confirm Todd's view that 'the egalitarian temperament' in France today resides in the big central tranche of early unbelievers. He ascribes a points system from zero to three for equality: the centre and annexe score high, as you'd expect, and the periphery much lower. A left-leaning Eurosceptic, he also maps reactions to the advent of the single currency and the proposal for a European constitution. Sure enough, conservative cultures on the periphery led the narrow victory in France's Maastricht referendum in 1992, and the 'No' vote corresponds loosely to the old egalitarian map of the Paris Basin. As for the European Constitutional Treaty of 2005, in which the 'social Europe' which the left had hoped for was conspicuously absent, a majority voted against, as they did in the Netherlands. The spread of French votes for and against shows a rough coincidence of 'No's with the egalitarian swathe of the Paris Basin, but the spatial distributions are messy: comparing this new map to earlier ones is like staring at a bowl of cereal you've just dropped and remembering how it looked when you had it in your hand.

What are we being told? Apparently whatever changed between 2005 and 2015 - a change for the very worst in Todd's view - was driven neither by the founding generations of unbeliever-egalitarians, nor by North African migrants, but by the generations of French on the periphery who forsook religion late in the day, from the 1960s onwards. In an earlier book Todd and Hervé Le Bras, an INED colleague, came up with the name 'zombie Catholics' for this large segment of the French population that still carries the moral and sociological baggage of devout Christianity even though it is no longer practising. Zombie Catholics prefer authoritarian values to egalitarian ones, and they are in search of a universalising, transcendent faith to replace the one they have abandoned. They are the new reactionary force shaping the cultural politics of France in the 21st century.

But how is this force on the periphery - its territory more or less the same as it always was - redefining the temperament of the nation without eating into the home turf (also more or less the same) of the old egalitarian centre? Todd's answer is that there are two crises of faith in France: one in the recently godless periphery, the other in the old heartland of godlessness, where militant unbelief no longer makes sense now the clerical monster that gave meaning to atheism has ceased to exist. (In the centre, the egalitarian temperament began to founder in the mid-1970s: we see this in the collapse of Communist Party membership, which came not with the fall of the Soviet Union, but almost a decade earlier when the decline of peripheral Catholicism had already begun.) And so, as the periphery casts about for certainties, the centre is also looking this way and that for a new vitality. Both are confronted with 'the boundless void of a godless and atheist world' and both have found a born-again affirmation of secular values in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders. 'The demonisation of Islam' anchors this new ecstatic consciousness in the real world and fulfils 'the intrinsic need of a completely dechristianised society'.

It is, perhaps, understandable that people who don't believe in anything look for something to believe against, but it's not something you can build a new culture around.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Iranian general says Saudi Arabia faces imminent collapse (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 9, 2016)

The Saudi regime "will collapse in the near future if it keeps on its sectarian policies in the region," deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami said, according to the Fars news agency.

Riyadh's execution last Saturday of a prominent Shiite cleric unleashed a wave of anger across the Shiite world, most prominently in Iran.

"The Saudi rulers will be buried under the avalanche that they have created," Salami said.

He echoed comments made on Monday by Iran's Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, who said that "By adopting terroristic and inhuman policies, the [Saudi] regime will not achieve enhanced security. On the contrary it will face imminent downfall."

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


'Dictator,' by Robert Harris (TOM HOLLAND, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times Book Review)

Cicero, the Roman statesman whose talent for oratory was such that he remains to this day a byword for eloquence, has always divided opinion. A key player in the death agony of Rome's traditional republican system of government, he was lauded by his admirers as a defender of constitutional propriety and dismissed by his foes as a vacillating opportunist. Posterity has proved similarly conflicted. While America's founding fathers revered him as a model of civic duty, he was excoriated by the most formidable German classicist of the 19th century, Theodor Mommsen, as a precursor of that lowest class of writer, a "newspaper columnist." A person's attitude to Cicero can often be most revealing.

What, then, does it say about Robert Harris that he should have made Rome's greatest orator the hero not just of one novel but of an entire trilogy? Perhaps that he likes and respects politicians to a degree unusual among contemporary writers. This is not to say that he gives them a free pass. His portrait in "The Ghost Writer" of a former British prime minister not a million miles from Tony Blair was notably unforgiving, and the character sketches he provides in "Dictator" of some of the giants of Roman history, from Pompey to Julius Caesar, are similarly unsparing. Nevertheless, Harris clearly prefers activists willing to get their hands dirty to those who sit on the sidelines, preserving the spotlessness of their virtue. As a former correspondent for the BBC and political editor for The Observer, he is as well qualified as anyone to appreciate that nothing is ever achieved in a democratic system of government without a measure of give-and-take. "Dictator" is the work of a novelist who refuses to buy into the fashionable dismissal of politicians as inherently contemptible.

"How easy it is for those who play no part in public affairs to sneer at the compromises required of those who do." So declares the narrator of "Dictator" in the early pages of the novel. As he did in "Imperium" and "Conspirata," the first two volumes of the series, Harris ventriloquizes through the person of Tiro, a slave who served Cicero as his secretary and reputedly invented the Latin shorthand system. As a character, he is so pallid as to be almost invisible, barely intruding on the action except every so often to fall ill. "I seem to have been blessed," he admits, "with the sort of personality that nobody notices." Yet it is precisely this transparency that makes him so well suited to Harris's purposes. Ultimately, "Dictator" is interested in a single theme: the great game of Roman politics. Tiro, almost constantly by his master's side, provides the perfect bird's-eye view.

Mr. Harris is one of the great conservative novelists of the age.  Indeed, his worst book, The Ghost Writer, is almost laughable because (spoiler alert), the key reveal is that the Cherie Blair character had worked for the CIA, which is supposed to somehow call into question Tony's support for removing Saddam Hussein?  No, I didn't get it either.  For her secret past to be scandalous wouldn't she have had to have worked for the KGB?

But we just got a review copy of Dictator via the Amazon Vine program (happy to send it on if someone wants it) and it was terrific.  There is a fair amount of street violence and warfare, but the real thrills lie in the political manuevering and the struggle of Cicero and Cato (in particular) to preseve the Republic against the increasing dicatorial rule of the various triumvirates generally and the personal aggrandizemnent of power by Pompey, Caesar and Octavian/Augustus personally.    Simply to survive, Cicero is required to make compromises and even flee into exile periodically, disappointing allies and followers.  But these actions provide one last opportunity to save the ancient Roman Republic--with its separation of powers, term limits, universal laws, and the like.  Crucially, he--and everyone else but Julius Caesar himself--underestimates Octavian's desire for absolute power and is disarmed by his rhetorical regard for the old system.  The result is a tragedy, not just for Cicero but for Rome and the world as well.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Saudi Aramco I.P.O. Prospect Reflects Kingdom Looking Beyond Oil (STANLEY REED, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times)

"There is a political agenda behind this," said Valérie Marcel, an independent consultant and author of a book on national oil companies. "I think they are responding to the expectations of a new generation."

As the Saudi kingdom is engaged in a face-off with Iran that has further escalated tensions in the Middle East, it is well aware of the need to address the rising desires of its own people, despite the erosion of Saudi Arabia's vast wealth.

In the view of Ms. Marcel and other Saudi watchers, the country's new leadership is trying to use the oil price collapse over the last two years to remake the economy and shift away from an oil-funded, government-dominated system to one where private business has a larger role. The leaders were appointed by King Salman, who came to power early last year after the death of his brother King Abdullah.

"They are using this crisis as an opportunity to make structural changes in the economy" that should have been made several years ago, said Rachel Ziemba, an analyst at Roubini Global Economics in New York.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


Robust Hiring in December Caps Solid Year for U.S. Jobs (PATRICIA COHEN, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times)

The last time the American economy registered such a prolonged stretch of impressive job creation, Facebook didn't exist and Beyoncé was still a member of Destiny's Child.

For all of 2015, the nation added 2.65 million jobs, capping a two-year, back-to-back gain that was the best since the late 1990s, the government reported on Friday.

"I think this really is illustrative of the fact that economic momentum in the United States is still awfully strong," said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. "In spite of the craziness we've seen from Asian markets this week, the fundamentals here at home are still solid."

Of course, the Asian markets are hardly crazy, which is one of the key fundamentals for our economy : their plummeting fundamentals contribute to our deflation in the price of goods, cheap borrowing and higher stock prices.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Police deploy in force at Cologne demos (Deutsche-Welle, 1/09/16)

Some 1,700 police officers were deployed in Cologne's inner city on Saturday to ensure that the planned demonstrations were peaceful, a spokesman said.

Supporters of the North Rhine-Westphalian branch of the "anti-Islamization" organization PEGIDA plan to march through the city together with members of the far-right party Pro Köln. An opposing alliance of groups has called for a counter-demonstration.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Silently protesting Muslim woman ejected from Trump rally (Jeremy Diamond, Sat January 9, 2016, CNN)

A Muslim woman wearing a hijab was escorted out of Donald Trump's campaign event on Friday by police after she stood up in silent protest during Trump's speech.

Rose Hamid, a 56-year-old flight attendant sitting in the stands directly behind Trump, stood up Friday during Trump's speech when the Republican front-runner suggested that Syrian refugees fleeing war in Syria were affiliated with ISIS.

Trump has previously called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Despite her silence, Trump supporters around her began chanting Trump's name -- as instructed by Trump campaign staff before the event in case of protests -- and pointed at Hamid and Marty Rosenbluth, the man alongside her who stood up as well.

As they were escorted out, Trump supporters roared -- booing the pair and shouting at them to "get out." One person shouted, "You have a bomb, you have a bomb," according to Hamid.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Germany's Post-Cologne Hysteria (Anna Sauerbrey, JAN. 8, 2016, NY Times)

But as quick as the right was to use the attacks as a wedge against refugees, the left moved just as fast to deflect the blame. Heiko Maas, the minister of justice and a member of the Social Democrats, said on Tuesday that "organized crime" was behind the attacks, though no evidence exists for such a connection (he has since threatened to deport foreigners found guilty in the attacks).

In other words, precisely when the country needs a coolheaded conversation about the impact of Germany's new refugee population, we're playing musical chairs: Everybody runs for a seat to the left and to the right, afraid to remain in the middle, apparently undecided.

The irony is that the Cologne attacks, by highlighting the issue of refugees and their culture, raise an incredibly important question and at the same time make it almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation about it.

Integration will fail if Germany cannot resolve the tension between its secular, liberal laws and culture and the patriarchal and religiously conservative worldviews that some refugees bring with them. We cannot avoid that question out of fear of feeding the far right. But integration will also fail if a full generation of refugees is demonized on arrival.

This isn't the first wave of migrants to postwar Germany, and it's not the first time that the left and the right have played their respective roles of under- and overestimating the challenges of integration.

The left has long ignored the established correlations between crime and the poverty and poor education that plague refugee communities; the right has long overestimated the link between the refugees' culture and criminal activity, even when studies show no such link exists (excepting so-called crimes of honor, which are extremely rare).

The real question we should be asking is not whether there is something inherently wrong with the refugees, but whether Germany is doing an effective job of integrating them -- and if not, whether something can be done to change that.

None of this, however, fits into a TV sound bite or a tweet. Even if it did, it would probably fail to reach its audience in the heated atmosphere of the moment.

...is whether Germany has any culture remaining to integrate them into?
Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Value time rather than money to boost happiness, says research ( AFP, January 9, 2016.

In a new study published on Thursday, a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia have shown that you can make yourself happier by trying to spend your time in meaningful ways, rather than spending it making money. [...]

After looking at six studies and a total of 4690 participants, the team found that slightly more than half of the participants reported prioritising their time more than money, and there was a link between treating time as a priority and increased happiness.

This prioritisation of time over money also occurred consistently on a small, daily basis, as well as for major life events.

"It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritising time is associated with greater happiness," said lead researcher Ashley Whillans from the University of British Columbia.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Marriage Matters : Conservatives and liberals should agree: Children benefit from two-parent households and government can help. (Ron Mincy and Robert Doar, Jan. 7, 2016, US News)

We agree that marriage matters. Marriage is more than just a mechanism through which households receive two incomes. In the United States, the institution of marriage is the most reliable way for children to get what they most need: two consistent and engaged parents. While we know it is difficult to find solutions to issues that so deeply involve personal choice, we believe that any serious agenda to help the poor must rest on strategies to strengthen families. 

First, we believe leaders from all sectors have a responsibility to be clear and direct about how hard it is to raise a child without two committed parents; and that in the U.S., marriage is the easiest way to obtain such parenting. Just as we've seen reductions in smoking and teen pregnancy after public information campaigns, we propose an effort of similar scope to promote the value of committed co-parenting and marriage. America's college graduates appear to have been influenced by a similar cultural expectation: The birth rate for unmarried college graduates is 9 percent compared to more than 50 percent for women with a high school degree or less. When it comes to marriage before childbearing, American elites should not be afraid to preach what they practice.

Second, we ought to enable responsible childbearing by making women and men aware of their options for planning pregnancies through birth control, and ensure access to effective contraceptives.

We also recognize that, in addition to increasing the share of stable two-parent families to make parenting easier, we must help to close the parenting gap between low-income families and better-off ones. Here, government can play a positive role by supporting programs that teach parents the practices and skills needed to achieve the high goals parents have for their children. 

Evidence-based home visiting programs, such as the largely successful Nurse Family Partnership funded by the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, provide critical education and guidance that help the mother and father better care for their children. We encourage continued funding of that program and increased efforts by states to tie their spending to evidence-based models. Government cannot effectively raise a child, but it can allocate its funding to efforts that have been proven to help close the parenting gap.

Finally, the economic struggles of men without a college degree have made marriage less attractive to women in low-income communities. Improving family life requires that disconnected men be helped to gain their footing in the labor market. Enhancing the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless adults and noncustodial parents, as President Barack Obama and Speaker Paul Ryan have proposed, could help encourage employment and increase earnings.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Prosperity Rising : The Success of Global Development--and How to Keep It Going (Steven Radelet, 12/14/15, Foreign Affairs)

Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war--even with Syria and other conflicts--has fallen by half. This unprecedented progress goes way beyond China and India and has touched hundreds of millions of people in dozens of developing countries across the globe, from Mongolia to Mozambique, Bangladesh to Brazil.

Yet few people are aware of these achievements, even though, in aggregate, they rank among the most important in human history. [...]

Global poverty is falling faster today than at any time in human history. In 1993, about two billion people were trapped in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1.90 per day); by 2012, that number had dropped to less than one billion. The industrialization of China is a big part of the story, of course, but even excluding that country, the number of extreme poor has fallen by more than 400 million. Since the 1980s, more than 60 countries have reduced the number of their citizens who are impoverished, even as their overall populations have grown.

This decline in poverty has gone hand in hand with much faster economic growth. Between 1977 and 1994, the growth in per capita GDP across the developing countries averaged zero; since 1995, that figure has shot up to three percent. Again, the change is widespread: between 1977 and 1994, only 21 developing countries (out of 109 with populations greater than one million) exceeded two percent annual per capita growth, but between 1995 and 2013, 71 such countries did so. And going backward has become much less common: in the earlier period, more than 50 developing countries recorded negative growth, but in the later one, just ten did.

The improvements in health have been even bigger. In 1960, 22 percent of children in developing countries died before their fifth birthday, but by 2013, only five percent did. Diarrhea killed five million children a year in 1990 but claimed fewer than one million in 2014. Half as many people now die from malaria as did in 2000, and deaths from tuberculosis and AIDS have both dropped by a third. The share of people living with chronic hunger has fallen by almost half since the mid-1990s. Life expectancy at birth in developing countries has lengthened by nearly one-third, from 50 years in 1960 to 65 years today. These improvements in health have left no country untouched, even the worst-governed ones. Consider this: the rate of child death has declined in every single country (at least those where data are available) since 1980.

Meanwhile, far more children are enrolling in and completing school. In the late 1980s, only 72 percent of all primary-school-age children attended school; now, the figure exceeds 87 percent. Girls in developing countries have enjoyed the biggest gains. In 1980, only half of them finished primary school, whereas four out of five do so today. These leaps in education are beginning to translate into better-skilled workers.

Then there is the shift to democracy. Prior to the 1980s, most developing countries were run by left- or right-wing dictators. Coups and countercoups, violence and assassinations, human rights abuses--all formed part of regular political life. But starting in the 1980s, dictators began to fall, a process that accelerated after the Cold War. In 1983, only 17 of 109 developing countries qualified as democracies, based on data from Freedom House and the Center for Systemic Peace; by 2013, the number had more than tripled, to 56 (and that's not counting the many more developing countries with populations of less than one million).

As those numbers suggest, power today is far more likely to be transferred through the ballot box than through violence, and elections in most countries have become fairer and more transparent. Twenty years ago, few Indonesians could have imagined that a furniture maker from central Java would beat one of Suharto's relatives in a free and fair election, as Joko Widodo did in 2014. Nor would many have predicted that Nigeria, then still under military rule, would in 2015 mark its first peaceful transfer of power between parties, or that Myanmar (also called Burma) would hold its most successful democratic election the same year. Across the developing world, individual freedoms and rights are honored to a much greater degree, human rights abuses are rarer, and legislative bodies have more power.

Yes, many of these new democracies have problems. And yes, the march toward democracy has slowed since 2005--and even reversed in some countries, such as Thailand and Venezuela. But in many more--from Brazil to Mongolia to Senegal--democracy has deepened. Never before in history have so many developing countries been so democratic. 

As states have become wealthier and more democratic, conflict and violence within them have declined. Those who think otherwise should remember that as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s, much of the world was aflame, from Central America to Southeast Asia to West Africa. There were half as many civil wars in the last decade as there were in the 1980s, and the number of people killed in armed conflicts has fallen by three-quarters.

Three major forces sparked this great surge in development progress. First, the end of the Cold War brought an end to the superpowers' support for some of the world's nastiest dictators and reduced the frequency of conflict. As ideas about economic and political governance began to change, developing countries introduced more market-based economic systems and more democracy. Second, globalization created vast new opportunities for economic growth. Increased flows of trade, investment, information, and technology created more jobs and improved living standards. Third, new and more effective leaders--in politics, business, religion, and civil society--began to forge deep change. Where courageous figures, such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa, stepped forward, countries progressed; where old-style dictators, such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, remained in power, countries languished.

Contrary to Samuel Huntington, there is no viable alternative to democracy/capitalism/protestantism and that Anglosphere model works for all peoples.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Anger grows in Saudi Arabia's Shiite areas after executions (Reuters, January 7, 2016)

Since Saturday's execution of four Shiite Muslims in Saudi Arabia, hundreds or thousands of the minority sect have marched nightly in protest, and their anger could herald wider unrest.

The execution of one of them, dissident cleric Nimr al-Nimr, caused an international crisis as Shi'ite Iran and its allies responded angrily, but it also caused upset in his home district of Qatif, where many saw his death as unjustified.

"People are angry. And they are surprised, because there were positive signals in the past months that the executions would not take place. People listen to his speeches and there's no direct proof he was being violent," a Qatif community leader said by phone.

The protests in Qatif, an almost entirely Shi'ite district of about a million people in the oil-producing Eastern Province, have been mostly peaceful, though a fatal shooting and gun attacks on armored security vehicles have also taken place.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM



January 8, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


North Korea is heading for a cataclysmic collapse -- and nobody cares (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, January 7, 2016, The Week)

The regime cannot go on indefinitely. It is astonishingly corrupt and criminal. Even if it wanted to, it probably couldn't manage a China-style policy of opening up its economy to raise people's standards of living while maintaining an authoritarian government to prevent societal collapse. The technocratic know-how simply isn't there. And the only thing holding the regime together is absolute fear, and the total brain-washing of the population -- brainwashing which is slowly dissolving as, inevitably, mobile phones and media, including Bibles, seep into the country.

When it does eventually collapse, it will be a humanitarian disaster on a scale perhaps not seen since World War II. North Korea's people are famished. To say that alcoholism is rampant is an understatement.

Millions of refugees will stream over the borders. On one side, there's China and Russia, who aren't exactly global models of efficiency and humanitarianism. South Korea is a highly-advanced economy -- indeed, in some areas, more advanced than the U.S. -- but it's still a small nation ill-prepared to cope with the collapse of its similar-sized neighbor.

The fall will be a humanitarian disaster, but it will also be a security nightmare. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Texas Drops Planned Parenthood From HIV Prevention Program (Alexa Ura, Dec. 22, 2015, Texas Tribune)

Amid an ongoing battle over Planned Parenthood's participation in the state Medicaid program, Texas health officials are cutting off funding to a Planned Parenthood affiliate for an HIV prevention program.

In a notice received by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast late Monday, an official with the Department of State Health Services informed the Houston-based provider that it would not renew its contract for HIV prevention services.

The long-standing grant, which funds HIV testing and prevention services, was set to expire on Dec. 31, according to the notice which was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

"There will be no further renewals of this contract," a DSHS official wrote in the notice to Planned Parenthood.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Fear and loathing in Saudi Arabia (Kenneth M. Pollack | January 8, 2016, Brookings)

At the broadest level, when the Saudis in Riyadh look at the Middle East around them, they see a region spiraling out of control. Since 2011, they have witnessed a massive increase in general instability across the region, with "the people" increasingly willing to protest or even overthrow their rulers. The complacency and popular "inertness" that categorized the Arab populations for decades is gone. That clearly worries the Sauds, the kingdom's ruling royal family, who have always preferred a docile populace.

Civil wars are raging in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, spilling refugees, terrorists, armed militants, and powerful, radical ideas over onto their neighbors. Already, spillover from these civil wars has created nascent civil wars in Egypt and Turkey. It is eroding the stability of Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, and even Kuwait. It has also created vast new opportunities for Iran to destabilize and rearrange the region to suit its own interests.

Indeed, both the civil wars and the spillover they generate have also produced a general mobilization of the Middle East's Shiites, instigated and led by Iran. And that includes the Shiites in the Saudi kingdom. Officials in private and press reports occasionally note that hundreds of Saudi security service personnel have been killed and wounded in operations in the Eastern Province, the home to the vast majority of the kingdom's Shiites. Americans tend not to pay attention to these operations because we see them as proof that the Saudis have things well in hand; but another way to look at it is that the Saudis are fighting pitched battles with someone in the cities of the Eastern Province. In other words, there seems to be a much higher degree of mobilization and violent confrontation among the Saudi Shiites than most realize.

Then there are Saudi fears about the oil market. Everyone seems to believe that the Saudis are purposely not cutting back production to kill off North American shale producers. But that is absolutely not what the Saudis are saying, either in private or public. Instead, they are saying that they can no longer control the oil market because there are too many other sources and all of the OPEC countries cheat like crazy whenever Riyadh tries to orchestrate a production cut. This has happened to them repeatedly over the past 20 to 30 years. They try to cut production to prevent oil prices from dropping, and the rest of OPEC takes advantage of it to pump as much as they can, contrary to what they promised and agreed to. The result is that there is no overall supply curtailment and the Saudis lose market share. This time around, they have stated that they cannot realistically control the OPEC oil supply, so they are not going to try to do so. Instead, they are going to fight for market share. But doing so means having to win a race to the bottom, with the result that their oil revenues are plummeting.

So that is another element of fear for them: They can no longer control the oil market the way they once did, and the low price of oil is obviously killing them. It has become so bad that they are now talking about real economic austerity, including repealing subsidies on gasoline and other fuel that average Saudis now see as part of their rights as citizens. Repealing subsidies and other austerity measures is always a very unpopular move and can easily cause widespread popular unrest -- one need only remember events in Greece last year. The fact that the Saudi government now feels forced to take this route speaks to how desperate its financial situation is--and, given how it conjures the threat of popular mobilization that makes it so uneasy, it can only make the Saudis that much more apprehensive.

Meanwhile, the region's civil wars have the Saudis so frightened that they have intervened in unprecedented ways. They have poured tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars into Syria and Yemen and to a lesser extent Iraq and Libya. They are pouring tens of billions more into Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and Bahrain to shore up their governments, prevent state collapse under the strain of the spillover from neighboring civil wars, and thus prevent more civil wars on their own borders. But these increased foreign-policy costs coupled with reduced oil revenues have forced the Saudis to draw from their sovereign wealth fund at a rate of $12 to 14 billion per month--a pace that will wipe out those reserves in less than three years, but is likely to cause severe domestic political problems (including dissension within the royal family) long before.

And there sits Iran, at the intersection of all of these problems, from the Saudi perspective. The Saudis think the Iranians are to blame for the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and (to a lesser extent) Iraq by mobilizing Shiites to destabilize the kingdom and its Sunni Arab allies. (They also blame the United States for the Iraqi civil war, appropriately, I might add.)

Our credit is not parenthetical, and primary, rather than subsidiary to Iran's.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Time to let Taiwan into the TPP : The Premier of Taiwan argues that it's time for his country to join the pact. (MAO CHI-KUO 12/21/15, TIME)

The conclusion of negotiations on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in October is expected to have profound impacts on economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region. Tighter economic and trade relations promote stable regional development, and peace in the Asia-Pacific in turn serves U.S. interests.

There are currently 11 other nations in the agreement, from Canada to Singapore, all coming together to forge new standards and fostering a new level of openness in world commerce. As a critical link in the region's supply chain, Taiwan should no longer be excluded.

Taiwan is among the U.S.'s longstanding strategic and trade partners in this part of the world. The two countries share the values of democracy, freedom and human rights, and Taiwan is the U.S.'s 10th-largest trading partner. Over the years as it has worked side by side with the U.S. on challenges in the international competitive environment, Taiwan has proven its ability to fill a crucial role in the global supply chain.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Mexico's Soda Tax Linked to Reduced Consumption (Robert Preidt, Jan. 7, 2016 (HealthDay News)

The 10 percent sales tax was introduced Jan. 1, 2014. One year later, sales of sugary drinks were down 12 percent while sales of untaxed beverages -- mainly bottled water -- were up 4 percent, according to the study published Jan. 6 in the journal BMJ.

The short-term impact of taxing sugary drinks appears to be "moderate but important," said study author Shu Wen Ng, a research associate professor in the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues. Further monitoring is required "to understand purchases longer term, potential substitutions, and health implications," they said in a journal news release.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Millennials Are Leading the Way on Savings : Workers are saving more of their pay for retirement, led by the youngest workers. (STAN CHOE, 1/07/16, AP)

Workers are saving more for retirement, and the youngest -- not exactly known for squirreling money away -- are boosting their savings rates faster than any other age group.

Millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 are saving a median of 7.5 percent of their pay for retirement, including whatever match they get from their jobs, according to a survey by Fidelity Investments of 4,650 households with at least $20,000 of annual income. That's up from 5.8 percent two years ago, when the last survey was conducted, and it is the largest jump among all age groups.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Will a new solar-powered polymer help keep us warm? (Ben Thompson, JANUARY 8, 2016, CS Monitor)

While recent advances in solar technology have made the process of harvesting the sun's energy less costly and more widespread than ever, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a new way to farm and store solar heat, according to a university news release.

MIT professor Jeffrey Grossman, postdoctoral researcher David Zhitomirsky, and graduate student Eugene Cho say they have created a new type of polymer film that can soak up energy from the sun during the day and store it for a later release of heat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


China Heightens the Contradictions (Michael Schuman, 1/08/16, Bloomberg View)

The government's model encouraged private enterprise, foreign investment and international trade while keeping the "commanding heights" of the economy -- the financial sector, critical industries -- firmly in state hands. The system may have run counter to classical economics, but it was effective, transforming China from an impoverished basket case to the world's second-largest economy, and earning Beijing's policy makers a reputation for sagacity and infallibility.

The problem is that this tension between state and market becomes more dangerous as an economy advances. We know this is true from the experiences of Japan and South Korea, which both used systems similar to China's, produced similar results and then suffered similar problems. China's current woes of high debt, excess capacity and a strained financial sector are all creations of the state-market conundrum. The only way to solve it is for the state to allow the market to hold more and more sway over the economy. That allows resources to be allocated more wisely, productivity to improve and entrepreneurship to flourish. Yet it also requires the party to relinquish control.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Cancer screening benefits are overstated, experts claim (James Meikle,  6 January 2016, The Guardian)

The benefits of cancer screening have been overstated and the practice may not even save lives, experts in the US and Germany have claimed.

While there may be fewer deaths from the specific cancer for which screening takes place, little account is taken of the harm some patients suffer psychologically and medically because of overdiagnosis and complications from treatment, an article and editorial in the BMJ medical journal suggest.

An analysis by Vinay Prasad at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, and colleagues suggests screening tests may be giving "false positive" results (suggesting abnormalities that turn out not to be there) and finding harmless cancers that might never have caused symptoms.

When it comes to prostate cancer screening, generally accepted now as unreliable, men diagnosed with the diseases are more likely to have a heart attack, take their own lives in the year after diagnosis or die of complications from treatment, they say.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


The End of Union Politicking? : The Supreme Court could help taxpayers (and the labor movement) by dealing a blow to public sector unions. (Peter Roff, Jan. 8, 2016, US News)

The Supreme Court has already guaranteed in the case of Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education that public sector employees are protected by the First Amendment from being forced to join a union. However, because many state governments only recognize labor unions as the collective bargaining agents for state employees, people like Friedrichs end up caught in the middle of what should be an obvious conflict in constitutional rights.

As the Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based think tank, argues in a white paper on the case, the argument put forward by the plaintiffs is that "collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently political, and government unions devote more of their resources to their political agenda that just the small portion of dues which goes to directly support political candidates or causes."

The Center for Individual Rights explains the problem this way: "Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union's negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial." Or, to put it another way, everything the public sector unions do is inherently political because the entity with whom they must negotiate is the government.

If the court agrees, and there is every indication it may, a victory by Friedrichs and the Center for Individual Rights could mean the end of collective bargaining in the public square.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


The truth about Islamic State: it's in crisis : Isis is losing territory. Recruits are deserting. But the hardcore fanatics will never surrender (Paul Wood, 9 January 2016, Spectator)

We have become wearily used to such brutal 'propaganda by deed'. Isis's new year message to Britain is much the same as it was last year: Be afraid! We are coming for you! It is still chilling. But Isis is not the force it was 12 months ago, and its video nastiness seems now more a sign of weakness than strength. The group has suffered a string of defeats in recent months. The tally so far includes the town of Kobani in northern Syria; Sinjar, in Iraq, which fell to the Kurds in November; and Ramadi, taken back by the Iraqi army two weeks ago. Fighters who promised to love death as we much as we love life appear to be losing their nerve. In Sinjar, there are reports that two 'brigades' of fighters deserted. In Ramadi, there was no bitter struggle to the last suicide vest. Instead, Isis melted away, leaving behind booby traps and car bombs to slow the Iraqi advance. So far, US officials claim, American bombs have killed 20,000 Isis jihadis.

A friend of mine, a diplomat, has developed sources within the group and he describes a very different Isis from the one we see in their propaganda videos: 'Morale is plummeting within Isis, especially among foreign fighters,' he says. 'Many European foreign fighters in particular are packing it in. Many want to defect. Whole units have just gone away in Iraq... the Islamic State is in crisis.' There was a struggle within the Isis leadership between hawks and doves, the diplomat said, with the hardliners gaining the upper hand. But they were frustrated at being unable to mount big, shock attacks as they did in 2014 -- because of western bombing. 'Inherent Resolve [the US-led campaign against Isis] is much more effective than it is given credit for... the further expansion of Isis has been stopped.'

The leadership is still striving to attract new recruits to 'God's Kingdom on Earth'. A video in English and French shows an Isis loyalist taking his three small daughters to the shops -- all well-stocked -- and then to a fairground. 'Brothers and sisters, come to caliphate,' says the narrator, making a special appeal for engineers, doctors and nurses.

Only Westernization can provide that sort of life.

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


China spent $500 billion to prop up the yuan last year (Charles Riley, January 7, 2016, CNN Money)

Beijing burned through a record $108 billion in foreign exchange reserves in December as it sought to brake a sharp devaluation of its currency.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


IS leader's threat to Israel a sign of setbacks, expert says (ERIC CORTELLESSA January 7, 2016Times of Israel)

Despite an audio recording that surfaced last week of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, threatening to turn Israel into "a graveyard" for Jews, one of Washington's leading counterterrorism experts doesn't think such rhetoric forebodes any shift in the organization's agenda.

Amid a series of recent setbacks -- including losses on the ground in Iraq and Syria and an intensified international effort to stem the flow of foreign fighters and funding -- Baghdadi's message comes at a time when the Islamist terror cell needs to inspire Salafi jihadists to "circle the wagons around a common enemy," said Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


The Origins of Government (Daniel Strand | January 7, 2016, Providence)

Historically, Christians have talked about the fall of Adam in conjunction with the origins of government. The divide between Protestants and Catholics on this issue is more pronounced as Catholics, under the influence of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, emphasize the goodness of hierarchy and government before the fall whereas Protestants, more influenced by Augustine and Luther, tend to view government as a remedial institution to deal with sin after the fall, believing that in the beginning God never intended for one man to rule another.

The role of government is different from that of salvation. God has provided for the salvation of humankind, for the straightening of the "crooked timber" in Jesus Christ, but not all individuals will be saved by this grace in this life and shall continue to walk in rebellion. People--including Christians!--will commit crime, steal, murder, rape, abuse, and destroy, as well as cheat on their taxes. Until the return of Jesus to reign in the kingdom of peace and to judge the nations, government does the work of upholding the righteousness of God in the civil community.

The Anglospheric difference has been rooted in not expecting overmuch from merely human institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Refugee influx helps halt decline in Germany's population (Alberto Nardelli, 6 January 2016, The Guardian)

The population growth has been particularly concentrated among those of working age. The number of people employed in Germany hit 43 million in 2015, according to data released by Destatis, the German statistics office, on Tuesday. The figure represents the highest number of people in work since German reunification. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed people has dropped below 2 million for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. [...]

Net migration has exceeded 300,000 every year since 2011, hitting 676,730 in 2014, according to data published by Germany's federal office for migration and refugees.

By contrast, in 2014 for example, 714,927 births and 868,373 deaths were recorded.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


5 Reasons the U.S. Is Great for Innovation : This is what sets America apart when it comes to thinking of the next big thing. (Gary Shapiro Jan. 8, 2016, US News)

2. The culture of American exceptionalism that has graced this nation since our founding encourages risk-taking. In the U.S., more so than anywhere else, success born of risk-taking and innovation is handsomely rewarded, and failure is viewed properly as a tool for learning.

Our country's credo of persistence is "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Consider Thomas Edison, who said of repeated setbacks in his quest to invent a practical light bulb, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

The U.S. is, and always has been, exceptional in terms of innovation, and the world wants to emulate us. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in this regard, China proves the point. As TechCrunch noted, the word "innovation" was mentioned no fewer than 71 times "in a communiqué issued after the Chinese Communist Party's recent plenary meeting, which focused on China's next five-year plan." If Beijing is serious about fostering innovation, it should focus less on five-year plans and allow consumers access to different ideas.

3. We are a nation of immigrants who have come together from all corners of the globe. Immigrating to the U.S. to create a better life is a mindset that encourages our best and brightest, regardless of their backgrounds or birthrights, to rise to the top. The diverse histories immigrants bring with them to our shores contribute new perspectives and great ideas. That's why Congress should authorize an increase in the cap on the number of H-1B non-immigrant high-skilled visas that can be issued annually.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


New Education Law Sparks Civil Rights Concerns (Rachel M. Cohen, 1/08/16, American Prospect)

[Civil rights leaders] have voiced concerns that ESSA, which largely leaves accountability goals up to the states, could leave marginalized students even further behind.

Their big fear is that under the new law, states may not hold schools truly accountable for poor performance, making it harder to close the "achievement gap" for disadvantaged students. Despite all of the No Child Left Behind Act's flaws, education researchers found that it led to small but substantial gains in student achievement, particularly for black, Hispanic, and low-income students.

The new law has placed two key progressive constituencies--unions and civil rights groups--at odds. Unions are celebrating the return of power to states and local districts, and an end to continuous testing mandates. But a broad coalition of civil rights groups that includes the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP, has cautioned that the Every Student Succeeds Act must not let states off the hook for failing to educate the nation's most vulnerable students.

That was the whole point of the reform.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


French losing out on jobs due to poor English (The Local,  08 Jan 2016)
"Having a good level of English isn't considered as a 'plus' in the French job market anymore, it's a 'must'," the company said. 
It added that speaking English opened doors in an ever shrinking world, but that fewer than ten percent of French people have an 'advanced' level of English - the level required by the vast majority of small, medium, and large firms in order to get an international management position.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


American employers added a strong 292,000 jobs in December (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, 1/08/16, AP)

American employers added a strong 292,000 jobs in December, suggesting that the U.S. economy is so far defying global trends and growing at a solid pace.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate remained 5 percent for a third straight month. More Americans started looking for work, and most found jobs.

January 7, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Defeating Islamist Extremists in 2016 (Tony Blair, 1/04/16, Project Syndicate)

The Centre on Religion and Geo-Politics at my foundation tracks this extremism every day, and its research makes for fascinating, if alarming, reading. It shows clearly that uprooting this ideology will require digging deep.

To this end, I have advocated an internationally agreed "Global Commitment on Education": each and every country has a responsibility to promote cultural and religious tolerance and to eradicate cultural and religious prejudice within its education system.

We must also support those who confront extremist doctrine. Many brave and serious theologians - like those from Cairo's al-Azhar mosque or Mauritania's Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah - are showing how the true teaching of Islam leads to reconciliation with the modern world.

This alliance with Muslim leaders who are prepared to lead the fight against the perversion of their faith is crucial. We sometimes regard the Middle East as a mess to avoid. But - as if we needed another reminder - the November 13 carnage in Paris showed the futility of a hands-off approach.

Instead, we should think of the Middle East and Islam as being in a process of transition: the Middle East toward rule-based and religiously tolerant societies, and Islam toward its rightful place as a faith of progress and humanity. Seen in this way, this is not a mess to avoid, but a life-and-death struggle in which our own fundamental interests are at stake.

Accordingly, we should promote those working for an open-minded future for the Middle East and Islam. The Gulf States, Egypt, and Jordan are our allies: where they face the challenges of modernization, we should stand ready to help.

Finally, we must recognize in the coming year the crucial importance of resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is not only important in its own right; it would also contribute to good international and interfaith relations - and powerfully reassert the principle of peaceful coexistence on which the international order rests.

One of the most interesting take-aways from reading about ISIS is not just how out of step their ideology is with other Muslims, but the extent to which it depends on the immediate success of establishing the caliphate and the imminence of the Mahdi.  They were warned against this by other Islamicists groups for precisely the reason it is useful to us--as we defeat them on the one hand and the Mahdi doesn't show up, on the other, they are delegitimized. Combined with their disastrous policies of committing violence against fellow Muslims, the battle for hearts and minds can be won easily.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


The Expanse is the best new science fiction series in years : Put simply, this show is your new crack. (Annalee Newitz - Jan 5, 2016, Ars Technica)

Based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), The Expanse is both a mystery and a political thriller. A cold war has been heating up between Mars and planetoid Ceres in the Belt. The militant Belter separatist group OPA is staging protests because the wealthy cities of Mars get all their water from ice miners in the Belt, but those miners are living in decayed, oxygen-starved habitats. Earth's fleet could be deployed to "reduce tensions" at any moment, which would put Mars and Earth at odds too.

Caught up in political machinations far above their paygrade are Jim Holden (Steven Strait), an officer on the ice freighter Canterbury, and Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), a craggy cop from Ceres. Holden and Miller are sucked into two parts of the same mystery, for very different reasons. When the Canterbury responds to a distress call from a ship called Scopuli, Holden leads an away team to investigate--only to witness a cloaked ship blow up the Canterbury, leaving him and a few crew members stranded on their tin can of a shuttle. Back on Ceres, Miller is investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao, the daughter of a rich family from Luna. After poking around, Miller realizes that Mao was on the Scopuli before the Canterbury answered its distress call.

Possibly the only person who stands a chance of figuring out the big picture here is Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a U.N. Deputy Undersecretary who is a brilliant, 23rd-century Machiavelli. She knows all the power players, and isn't afraid to torture a Belter or two to get the information she wants. Still, when the story breaks about the Canterbury's destruction, she's stumped. The incident has turned into a viral media shitstorm, prompting more protests from Belter activists with the OPA and leading some to speculate that a military standoff between all the planets is imminent. Who is behind the attack, and what do they stand to gain from systemwide war?

And that's just the very beginning of a story that moves at a breakneck pace, but still takes the time to make its far-future world feel lived-in and realistic. The little details of this universe are so finely rendered that they become stories unto themselves, like the way interracial tensions developed on Ceres between humans who grew up gravity-deprived and spindly, versus those whose gravity-rich childhoods allow them to pass as Earthers. There is none of that clumsy Star Trek-style of representing exoplanetary civilizations, where we journey to worlds whose inhabitants are all "listeners" or "warlike." Instead, there are political factions whose members stretch across worlds. And planets (or planetoids) whose populations are fragmented by class, race, and ideology. The politics here are nuanced, and we are always being asked to rethink who is right and who is wrong, because there are no easy answers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Saudi Arabia Has Bigger Problems Than Iran (Tobin Harshaw, 1/07/16, Bloomberg View)

Facing this budget crunch, the young prince did what you might expect from a modern monarch: He called in the consultants. With advice from McKinsey & Co., Mohammed bin Salman has outlined a plan that will impose taxes and cut billions in electricity, gasoline and water subsidies, particularly among the wealthiest. The government has begun issuing sovereign bonds, its first since 2007, rather than further draw down its $635 billion in reserves. Some state-controlled functions, such as airports, will be privatized.

Above all, the plan calls for diversifying the economy away from oil, which provides 80 percent of budget revenue. The imported number crunchers say a "productivity- and investment-led transformation" could add 6 million jobs by 2030. Sure. Mohammed bin Salman wasn't alive to see all of them, but there have been at least 10 previous official development plans for the kingdom since 1970, and each has put economic diversification at the top of the agenda.  

Perhaps 11th time will be the charm. Maybe the Saudis and their Gulf allies can forge a truce in Yemen that lasts more than a couple of days. Perhaps rising Sunni rivals such as Qatar, which notably did not break off diplomatic relations with Iran this week, can be brought into line at the emergency meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council scheduled for Saturday.

But none of this will ease the royal family's existential fears, or its horror over the Arab Spring of 2011. Particularly chilling was fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, abandoned by his longtime U.S. allies.

The House of Saud has long kept the populace in line by spreading out oil riches, what the scholar Toby Craig Jones calls "the very social contract that informally binds ruler and ruled." Now, a population of which a large majority is under 30  will be the first in memory to face economic privation. It may want a greater say in its future.

"Part of the leverage the regime has had on their people is that they don't impose taxes and therefore people don't expect representation," said Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh. "But once they pay taxes, you're likely to see an increase in political unrest."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Is Turkey heading to partition? (Kadri Gursel, January 4, 2016, Al Monitor)

Watching how its red lines -- the product of misguided policies -- lose their meaning in the face of regional realities is certainly not easy for Ankara to stomach.

For the rest of the world, meanwhile, the problem is an Ankara that constantly postpones to do its part in the struggle against IS due to its long-standing Kurdish policy, which has now become a stumbling block for everyone.

One key reason why Ankara saw the PYD as a threat greater than IS was its fear of the geopolitical risks bound to arise if a long stretch of Syrian territory along the border, running westward from Iraq, fell under the control of a Kurdish organization affiliated with the PKK, which is considered a threat to Turkey's unity. The war against the PKK inside Turkey further magnified these risks for Ankara. Second, Ankara worried that the Kurdish cantons the PYD established would strengthen its own Kurds' drive for autonomy. Should the Kurdish cantons win recognition as part of a political settlement in Syria, the Kurdish problem in Turkey -- home to the largest Kurdish population in the Middle East -- will stick out even more prominently as it dies after decades of nonsolution. In short, it was Turkey's own Kurdish problem that forced it to draw a red line along the Euphrates' western bank.

The Euphrates represents a separating line not only in Syria but in Turkey as well, marking the historical and geographical epicenter of the Kurdish problem, which stretches eastward from the river. Beyond the massive destruction and civilian deaths in urban areas, Ankara's war on the PKK since July has also been destroying the emotional bridges over the Euphrates connecting the Kurdish-majority east to western Turkey.

One signal of the breaking bonds came from Diyarbakir, whose ancient Sur district has for weeks been the theater of curfews and clashes, with the security forces battling PKK militants with heavy weapons. On Dec. 26, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), an umbrella organization for Kurdish civic society groups, convened an emergency meeting in Diyarbakir. Speaking at the gathering, Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the Kurdish-dominated Peoples' Democratic Party, said, "This resistance will lead to victory. The Kurds from now on will hold the political will in their lands. The Kurds will perhaps have an independent state, a federal state, cantons or autonomous regions." True to style, the Turkish media highlighted Demirtas' emphasis on an "independent state."

The DTK stirred even more indignation in western Turkey the following day with a final declaration that announced "a decision for autonomy" for the Kurds. The 14-point declaration called for the creation of "democratic autonomous regions" across Turkey, to be governed by elected autonomous organs, running the realm of education among others. The other fields it listed for autonomous governance included health services, the courts and justice affairs, transport, energy, public order and budget management.

Though the DTK decision is hardly applicable today, it is significant for showing that autonomy will be the minimal condition the Kurdish movement will impose on any future negotiations for a settlement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Some GOP Governors Flip for Medicaid Funds -- on Their Terms (Eric Pianin, January 5, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Newly ensconced Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) last week backed away from his campaign pledge to repeal expanded Medicaid coverage for 400,000 low-income people in the face of the widespread popularity of the program.

Early on, the Tea Party conservative vowed to dismantle the hallmark program of outgoing Democratic governor Steve Beshear that reduced the percentage of uninsured Kentuckians by half. But with polls showing that 72 percent of state residents favored the Obamacare program, Bevin toned down his threat.

And then you have to govern....
Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


3D-Printed E-NABLE Hand Makes 8-Year-Old 'Little Cool Hand Luke' Look Awesome (Lecia Bushak, 8/27/15, 

3D-printing has already revolutionized medicine, with the technology providing patients with full skull reconstruction, 3D-printed organs and splints, and reconstructed nose cartilage. The arena of 3D-printing has only been expanding and has become more accessible over the years -- to the point where now, many people can 3D-print medical devices from their own homes.

That's what happened to Luke Dennison, an 8-year-old who was born without fingers in his left hand, the cause of a genetic condition. But as his father says in the video, this hasn't stopped him from living a normal, happy life -- especially since he has the help of a 3D-printed hand from e-NABLE, a digital community of volunteers who 3D-print and build prosthetic hands for children all over the world.

"What originally started out as a couple of guys who created something to help one child in need... has grown into a world wide movement of tinkerers, engineers, 3D print enthusiasts, occupational therapists, university professors, designers, parents, families, artists, students, teachers, and people who just want to make a difference," the e-NABLE website states.

Luke's father, Gregg, reached out to e-NABLE and has worked with them to develop Luke's prosthetics from his very own home. Gregg now has an Ultimaker 3D printer that allows him to design various prosthetic hands for his son -- and he can even choose different styles and colors, depending on what Luke wants at the time.

"If something breaks, you can just print out a new part right on the spot," Aaron Brown, an e-NABLE volunteer who builds prosthetics for kids, said in the video.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Are these futuristic high-altitude balloons the brave new world of solar energy? (Adam Epstein, December 16, 2015, Quartz)

One way to improve the efficiency of solar panels is to place them where clouds can't interrupt their energy production. Even in the sunniest parts of the world, clouds can still cause fluctuations in energy output. So what better place to put solar panels than above the clouds?

The idea is not without major hurdles, but some energy scientists think it's worth trying. Researchers at NextPV--a multinational lab jointly operated by France's CNRS and the University of Tokyo--are developing solar panels attached to high-altitude balloons that would hypothetically float 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in the sky. That's well above where most clouds reside.

"Anywhere above the planet, there are very few clouds at an altitude of 6 km--and none at all at 20 km," writes CNRS French director Jean-François Guillemoles, in an article on the lab's website. "As the sky loses its blue color, direct illumination becomes more intense: the concentration of solar energy results in more effective conversion, and hence higher yields."

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


A Thatcherite revolution : Saudi Arabia is considering an IPO of Aramco, probably the world's most valuable company (The Economist, Jan 7th 2016)

SAUDI ARABIA is thinking about listing shares in Saudi Aramco, the state-owned company that is the world's biggest oil producer and almost certainly the world's most valuable company. Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom's deputy crown prince and power behind the throne of his father, King Salman, has told The Economist that a decision will be taken in the next few months. "Personally I'm enthusiastic about this step," he said. "I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco."

The potential listing comes as Saudi Arabia grapples with the damage wreaked on its economy by an oil-price collapse to below $35 a barrel, as well as mounting tensions with its arch-rival Iran, following the execution of Saudi cleric Nimr Baqr al-Nimr in early January. It is just one possible step in an ambitious plan to balance the budget and throw open the country's closed economy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


The First Person in Line to Hear Trump in Vermont Is Not a Trump Supporter (Jaime Fuller, 1/07/16, New York)

Burlington, Vermont, is a city of about 40,000 people. Donald Trump is visiting on Thursday night, and his campaign has given out 20,000 free tickets to supporters.

The space where he will be speaking can only fit around 1,400 people. At least 6,500 people are expected to attend.

So Trump's visit to a state that last voted for a Republican president decades ago is starting off about as well as you'd expect. [...]

"If Phish was holding a free concert at the Flynn and gave away 20,000 free tickets, we would cancel the event out of public safety concerns," Burlington police chief Brandon del Pozo added to the Burlington Free Press. "We are committed to accommodating the campaign because political speech is the very essence of the First Amendment."

Local alt-weekly Seven Days went to check the line snaking out in front of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts earlier today. At the front of the line was a local who has no intention of voting for Donald Trump and had been waiting since 4:30 a.m. to get inside. "I just want to ask [Trump] a question that will bother him," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


First Drive: Chevrolet Bolt Is A Shocker That Might Convince You To Buy An Electric Car (Joann Muller, 1/07/16, FORBES)

General Motors Wednesday introduced the Chevrolet Bolt, the first long-range, plug-in electric car that real people can afford to drive.

Priced around $30,000 (after government rebates), the five-passenger Bolt has an electric range of around 200 miles, more than enough for families to use as their daily driver without fear of running out of juice. Most people would never need to recharge anywhere but home. But if you do, you can refill the battery to 80 percent of capacity in about 30 minutes.

I got an opportunity to drive an early production version Wednesday morning, before its official debut at CES, the huge consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, and it's fair to say the Bolt exceeded my expectations. By a lot.

It's peppy and responsive as you'd expect an electric car to be, and handles corners like a little rally car. Braking feels, well, normal, which is somewhat unique for an electric car. In stop-and-go traffic, you don't even need to use the brake. Shift into low and it's capable of one-pedal driving. Lift your foot off the accelerator and it stops. Touch the pedal again and you're off.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Unfriended: How Russia's Syria quagmire is costing it Middle Eastern allies (Pavel K. Baev, January 7, 2016, Brookings)

[I]t has transpired by now that Russia's actions have been insufficient for changing the course of war. Hundreds of sorties have provided close air support to government forces, but the quality of Bashar Assad's troops is such that they cannot execute a successful offensive. Russia cannot curtail the intensity of its air campaign because its allies on the ground might panic and run, but the track record of technical failures and crashes in the air force is so dismal that a disaster at the crowded air base outside Latakia could strike any day. There is no chance of creating anything resembling a victory in Syria that could possibly cover up such a setback. [...]

Upon launching its bold intervention in Syria, the Russian leadership had some expertise on the friendly environment in the Tartus-Latakia area, but little understanding of the consequences of joining the motley Shiite alliance led by Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to explain to Putin that such an alliance was a bad idea, ramping up airstrikes against Hezbollah in order to make his argument more convincing. Still, he could not dissuade Moscow from delivering to Iran the long-contracted S-300 surface-to-air missiles, a weapon system that is disturbing to Israel and Saudi Arabia alike. This physical manifestation of Russia-Iran alliance-building has produced new tensions in the South Caucasus, which Turkey follows very closely. It also upsets many Muslims inside Russia (Tatarstan in particular), who fear the escalation with Turkey signals that tensions go beyond just a personal row between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

Moscow now finds itself in a very awkward position in the region, particularly vis-à-vis Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions, which have sharply escalated after the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on January 2. Over the past year, and particularly since Russia's Syrian intervention, Putin has networked extensively with the Saudi royal family and other Gulf leaders--but now these ties are coming undone because Russia is perceived as Iran's ally. Turkey has greater flexibility--and even mediating ability--in these sectarian and geopolitical conflicts, but Russia has become a part of the problem. Moscow could have cherished hopes that the Saudi-Iranian conflict would push the oil price up, but the market has not obliged. And in the tight Syrian-Turkish corner, even if Putin resists the temptation to break out of his current predicament by making a rash proactive move, it would only amount to sitting and waiting for bigger troubles to come.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Trump Goes 'Birther' on Cruz -- and the White House Loves It (Martin Matishak, January 7, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Donald Trump's efforts to stir up controversy over Ted Cruz's citizenship has earned the Republican presidential frontrunner some unlikely admirers.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest seemed to enjoy the situation.

"It would be quite ironic if after seven or eight years of drama around the president's birth certificate, if Republican primary voters were to choose Sen. Cruz as their nominee -- somebody who actually wasn't born in the United States and only 18 months ago renounced his Canadian citizenship," Earnest said, his sense of schadenfreude almost palpable.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Saudi Arabia's Fragile State (David Ignatius, January 06, 2016, Washington Post)

Saudi Arabia is a frightened monarchy. It's beset by Sunni extremists from the Islamic State and Shiite extremists backed by Iran. It's bogged down in a costly and unsuccessful war in Yemen. And it mistrusts its superpower patron and protector, the United States, in part because of America's role in brokering the nuclear deal that ended Iran's isolation.

Countries that feel vulnerable sometimes do impulsive and counterproductive things, and that has been the case recently with the Saudis.  

Compounding Saudi Arabia's external problems is its internal ferment. King Salman's ambitious son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 30, has devised a plan for modernization and economic growth, with input from McKinsey & Co. and other global consultants. The plan makes all the right recommendations: boost private enterprise; diversify the economy away from dependence on oil exports; reduce the stultifying role of the Saudi state. But these reforms would challenge powerful senior princes and disrupt a society that is resistant to change.

A defensive, anxious Saudi leadership tried to show its resolve with last week's execution of 47 extremists. Though global attention was focused on the death of Shiite cleric Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, most of the executed men were Sunni radicals who were allied with Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Some Saudi-watchers think that killing Nimr was partly a cover for the execution of the radical Sunnis. Regardless of the motivation, Nimr's execution was a mistake.

The Sa'uds were never going to survive the WoT, which was premised on universal self-determination in the Middle East.  The declining significance of oil and the official alliance of Christianity and the Shi'a just hastens the inevitable.  

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


Unifying the Struggle Against ISIS (Frank Walter Steinmeier, 1/06/16, Project Syndicate)

The strategy's third component is the most difficult to realize and yet the most important. In the long term, the conflicts and chaos that enabled ISIS to spread in the first place can be overcome only if all population groups in Iraq and Syria have a shared political perspective.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has launched a courageous reform program to pave the way toward greater political participation by Sunnis. In Syria, such a political process is of course still a long way off; nonetheless, we must do all we can to work in this direction.

German foreign policy is at the forefront of these efforts. I have had countless (and often difficult) talks in Riyadh, Tehran, Ankara, Beirut, Amman, and Vienna in the last year to help bridge the divide between countries in the region - and thus rein in their proxy forces battling one another in Syria.

I am heartened by the fact that, for the first time after almost five years of civil war, we succeeded in bringing all key states to the negotiating table in Vienna and agreed on a road map for a ceasefire and a political transition process. It's too early to celebrate, but there is finally a minimal consensus - shared not just by Russia and the United States, but also by Iran and Saudi Arabia - on a way forward to resolve the Syria conflict. The meeting of Syrian opposition groups in Riyadh in December was the first step on this path.

Achieving a political agreement will be a long and arduous journey, and the outcome is not entirely in our hands. Some of the partners who we need on board are pursuing interests very different from ours. Some are at loggerheads with one another.

Every natural nation in the Middle East is going to get to govern itself democratically.


Terror Expert Charles Lister: 'Islamic State Is a Convenient Obsession' :  Interview Conducted by Samiha Shafy, 1/05/16, Der Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: This moderate or mainstream opposition is said to be fractured and badly organized. Is that a fair assessment?

Lister: I have been in close contact with all major opposition groups on the ground since late 2011, and I have increasingly found that the armed opposition is not as disunited as people think. We tend to think that a group like the FSA cannot possibly get on with a more conservative group like Ahrar al-Sham, because their ideologies are so different. But when you actually sit down with them, discussing their political vision for Syria, they tend to be very similar. There is a shared sense of nationalism that can unite the opposition.

SPIEGEL: How has the Russian intervention changed the situation?

Lister: When Russia first intervened, Moscow's message was that this would be a temporary operation, and that it was a fight against terrorism. But it quickly became clear that they were just bolstering the Assad regime. By now, Russia is in Syria for the long haul. In the beginning, observers talked about how this intervention was going to radicalize the opposition, to make everyone more Islamist. I think what has happened is not so much a religious but a political radicalization. Many of these groups have adopted a hard line towards Russia's role in determining Syria's future.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Jeremy Corbyn is untouchable now : As the Labour leader's strength grows, more and more moderates will be discarded (James Forsyth, 1/06/16, Spectator)

Dugher's sacking indicates how much Corbyn's position has strengthened since he won the leadership last September. He is still not in total control, as demonstrated by the survival of Hilary Benn as shadow foreign secretary despite his disagreement with the leader over Syria. But he is more secure than in his first days in the job, when chief whip Rosie Winterton was effectively instructed to get bums on the front bench by any means necessary. The result was a shadow cabinet that included people who had never met the leader and others who were bitterly opposed to his politics. Now, Corbyn has a team with views closer to his own. Crucially, the new shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry, is another unilateralist.

The events of the past few months have vindicated those who simply refused to serve under Corbyn because they so profoundly disagreed with him. Labour figures who took the opposite course lent credence to the idea that the shadow cabinet would represent the full spectrum of Labour opinion. But the sackings of Dugher and the Blairite Europe spokesman Pat McFadden show that Corbyn intended to have such people on his front bench only for as long as necessary. And as his strength grows, more moderates will be discarded. By accepting a job, then being sacked, Dugher and McFadden confirm that if anyone is in charge of today's Labour party, it is Corbyn.

The removal of Dugher has also demonstrated that Tom Watson, the deputy leader, cannot protect those who fall on the wrong side of Corbyn. Many in the parliamentary Labour party were relying on Watson, the only person other than Corbyn with an individual mandate, to shield them from the leader and, perhaps more importantly, his supporters. The removal of Dugher, one of Watson's best friends in the shadow cabinet, shows the limits of the deputy leader's power.

Corbyn's consolidation of his position has not been accompanied by any public surge in support for him. In fact, the opposite has happened. According to the latest YouGov poll, 60 per cent of voters now think he is doing a bad job as Labour leader. And it isn't just the opinion polls; Labour is doing even more badly in local council by-elections than it was in the last parliament.

It's a Freedom Caucus wet dream.

January 6, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


How Trump-Style Politics Turned California Into a Blue State (JASON L. RILEY, Jan. 5, 2016, WSJ)

Mr. Wilson, who was first elected in 1990, signed a large tax increase that infuriated conservatives and damaged his poll numbers. Eager to change the subject as he began campaigning for a second term, the governor became a vocal supporter of Proposition 187, a referendum that denied illegal aliens and their children access to schools and health care. The referendum passed (though it was later gutted by the courts) and Mr. Wilson won re-election, but the victory turned out to be shallow, while the subsequent political damage ran much deeper.

Mr. Wilson's support among Hispanics was 47% in 1990. Four years later it was 25%, and ethnic voting patterns would run against Republicans for another decade. The party lost state assembly seats for three successive elections. Mr. Wilson's would-be GOP successor, Dan Lungren, carried only 17% of the Hispanic vote just eight years after Mr. Wilson had won close to half of it.

Nationally, what was once a stronghold state for Republicans became easy pickings for Democrats. Between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won California in nine of 10 presidential elections, but Democrats have won the state in the past six contests. The 1996 Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole, won only 6% of California's Hispanic vote, compared with former Gov. Ronald Reagan's 35% in 1980 and 45% in 1984. Republicans held half of California's U.S. House seats in 1994. Today they hold 26%, and their U.S. Senate candidates regularly lose.

It seems lost on Donald Trump that demographic trends that have played out in California over the past quarter-century are no longer unique to the Golden State. But it behooves Republicans to recognize these patterns and adjust their rhetoric accordingly. Today, more minority babies than white babies are born in the U.S. each year. "The shift toward a nation in which no racial group is the majority" is already taking place," writes demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution in his book, "Diversity Explosion." "In 2010, 22 of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas were minority white, up from just 14 in 2000 and 5 in 1990."

Part of the problem in California was that the GOP's perceived animosity toward Hispanics gained notice from other nonwhite voting blocs, which led to a drop in support among the Chinese and Koreans who had a history of voting Republican. The decision to double down on white voters in a state that was becoming less white haunts the party to this day.

It's awfully hard to convince folks that you only hate some of the "other"--even if it were true.

The GOP Has Stopped Hiding Its Identity Politics (Michael Graham, JANUARY 5, 2016, The Federalist)

Conservatives once hated identity politics and victimhood--but then again, we once supported free trade, too. Perhaps our disdain for tribalism was always a high-minded, yet doomed, effort to suppress the natural, carnal state of a fallen humanity. You and I may view politics as being about ideas and human flourishing, but a lot of people believe it's really about power--about making sure scarce resources are allocated to "our" people.

But what about people like me who don't have a "people?" Where does that leave us?

Now, I'm not going to join the liars on the Left who smear all Trump supporters as racists and xenophobes. But I'm also not going to deny there's a "What's in it for us white people?" element among his support. It's one thing to support enforcing America's immigration laws (I do) and deporting people for being here illegally (we should). It's another to oppose immigration because you think there's something wrong with Mexicans.

Unlike many of the Trump fans I hear from, I don't care that America will become a minority-white country. I care about whether the next generation believes in the American ideas of liberty, opportunity, and equality under the law.

I want a tax policy that promotes the most wealth and most jobs for the most people. I don't care if those jobs go to white guys or Hispanic transgenders. I want to replace the government-run school system, not because it failed a white redneck kid like me (it did), but because every motivated student who escapes an academic cesspool for education success will become a happy, productive, low-crime, taxpaying citizen.

I want to fight Islamists, not because they're Muslims, but because they're anti-rational, murderous loonies who are, alas, inspired by a major world religion that still refuses to reform itself.

These are the ideas I "identify" with. I honestly believe that if those of us who share these ideas will reach out in smart ways to our fellow Americans of all races/genders/incomes/etc., we can persuade a majority to join us.

Many people on the talk-radio Right don't agree. Some never really believed in small government to begin with and always wanted a government that used its power to help "Us" over "Them."

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


How Campaign Finance Reform Contributed to Polarization : A new book shows how party money goes toward more moderate candidates. (SETH MASKET  JAN 4, 2016, Pacific Standard)

Parties, it turns out, tend to support relatively moderate candidates. They do so because, as the authors note, "parties are the sole political organization whose primary goal is to win elections." This is a key point. Issue activists, individual donors, and others tend to back relatively extreme candidates precisely because they want those candidates to move the government in one direction or another. They have a set of issues they care about--abortion, corporate tax rates, minimum wage levels, etc.--and they fiercely want to change the direction of government on those issues. They may end up giving to candidates to reward them for their past stances on issues and to encourage them to remain steadfast to their agenda.

The formal parties, by contrast, are chiefly concerned with winning and holding majorities in Washington, D.C., and in the state capitols. They send their money where it is most needed--usually to competitive districts where relatively moderate candidates are in close races.

So what happens when you cut party funding out of the equation? That's what a lot of states have done in recent decades, placing limits on what individuals can give to parties and what parties can contribute to candidate coffers. Basically, this hurts the more moderate candidates. The money still in the system comes disproportionately from more ideologically extreme donors and goes to more polarized candidates.

Only allow non-individuals to contribute to parties.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


The Future of Work: Rebooting Work--Programming the Economy for People (DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF  JAN 4, 2016, Pacific Standard)

Digital and robotic technologies offer us both a bounty of productivity as well as welcome relief from myriad repeatable tasks. Unfortunately, as our economy is currently configured, both of these seeming miracles are also big problems. How do we maintain market prices in a world with surplus productivity? And, even more to the point, how do we employ people when robots are taking all the jobs?

Once you stop looking at jobs as fundamentally a means of redistributing wealth, the problems don't seem so big.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Where American Families Are Moving (Joel Kotkin, January 06, 2016, New Geography)

[S]ince 2011, less-dense ZIP codes have been growing far faster than the more dense ones.

The desire for affordable, single-family homes is driving this trend. Over 80 percent of married couples live in such housing, compared to barely 50 percent of households of unrelated individuals and single. The choice to move to the suburbs also reflects the preference for a safer setting. FBI crime statistics show the violent crime rate in the core cities of major metropolitan areas is nearly 3½ times higher than in the suburbs. Given the murder rate in many major cities, this gap can be expected to grow.

Another key motivation in choosing the suburbs, especially for families with children, is frustration with the quality of urban public education. Suburban schools still consistently out-perform those of inner cities in terms of achievement, graduation and college admission.

In the coming years the progressive penchant for enforced densification--contrary to the preferences of most Americans--could cause some serious intra-party rifts, even in areas that today are reliably Democratic "blue." The biggest opposition to building more single family housing has often been in liberal bastions such as Marin County, Calif., Boulder, Colo., and Westchester County, N.Y., the official residence of Hillary and Bill Clinton after they left the White House. As one Bay Area blogger observed, "suburb-hating is anti-child"--because it seeks to undermine neighborhoods with children.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM



"These systems use electric motors and generators that work together with turbine engines to distribute power throughout the aircraft in order to reduce drag for a given amount of fuel burned," Amy Jankovsky, a NASA engineer said. "Part of our research is developing the lightweight machinery and electrical systems that will be required to make these systems possible."

The researchers think that these advances could make flying up to 30 percent more fuel efficient. Considering that commercial airlines in the United States used over 8.9 billion gallons of fuel last year, that's a huge chunk of gas saved, and a large reduction in carbon emissions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Chevy unveils new all-electric 2017 Bolt (Jackie Wattles, January 6, 2016, CNN Money)

The Bolt is meant to be an affordable long-range electric vehicle, and the company's follow up to the acclaimed Chevy Volt.

The car was introduced as a concept in January 2015, and the company is set to start production by the end of this year.

The 2017 Bolt will come with bells and whistles including a mobile app that will "enable car sharing" and "advanced GPS routing," GM (GM) CEO Mary Barra said in a statement Wednesday. [...]

It also has an expected sticker price of $30,000 after tax incentives, making it cheaper than electric cars with comparable range.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Islamic State threatens to destroy Saudi prisons after executions (Reuters, 1/06/16))

Islamic State threatened to destroy Saudi Arabian prisons holding jihadists after Riyadh's execution of 47 people including 43 convicted al Qaeda militants.

The militant group, which has claimed responsibility for attacks in the kingdom and stepped up operations in neighboring Yemen, singled out the al-Ha'ir and Tarfiya prisons where many al Qaeda and Islamic State supporters have been detained.

January 5, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


States Pass More Pro-Life Laws Saving Babies From Abortions in Last 5 Years Than the Previous 15 (STEVEN ERTELT   JAN 4, 2016, LifeNews)

If there's any one indication the pro-life movement is winning the abortion battle lately, it's in the passage of pro-life laws protecting women and unborn children from abortion. In the last five years total, state legislatures have approved more pro-life laws against abortion than in the previous 15 years combined.

This information comes from a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion organization formerly affiliated with the Planned Parenthood abortion business.

Including the 57 abortion restrictions enacted in 2015, states have adopted 288 abortion restrictions just since the 2010 midterm elections swept abortion opponents into power in state capitals across the country. To put that number in context, states adopted nearly as many abortion restrictions during the last five years as during the entire previous 15 years. Moreover, the sheer number of new restrictions enacted in 2015 makes it clear that this sustained assault on abortion access shows no signs of abating.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


New Evidence on the Phony 'Retirement Crisis' : A CBO study shows that Social Security benefits are far from meager, despite progressive claims. (ANDREW G. BIGGS, Jan. 4, 2016, WSJ)

The bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board appointed an expert panel, headed by Boston College economist Alicia Munnell, to look into the issue. After almost a year of deliberations, the panel recommended in September that replacement rates be calculated relative to an average of several years of late-in-life earnings. Years of very low earnings should not be counted, it said, since many people shift to part-time work before retirement. The panel also said the focus should be on individuals with reasonably full working careers, since replacement rates aren't very meaningful for individuals with short careers.

Following the panel's recommendations, economists at the Congressional Budget Office compared retirees' Social Security benefits to the inflation-indexed average of their last five years of substantial earnings, defined as annual earnings equal to at least half the individual's career-long average. The calculations were restricted to retirees who had earned at least 10% of the national average wage over at least 20 years of work.

The results are striking: The CBO projects that a typical middle-income individual born in the 1960s and retiring in the 2020s will be eligible for a Social Security benefit equal to 56% of his late-in-life earnings. For individuals in the bottom fifth of lifetime earnings, Social Security replaces about 95% of their substantial late-in-life earnings.

Even so, the CBO excluded the spousal or widow's benefits that more than one-third of female retirees receive on top of the benefit based on their own earnings. Among retired women who receive these auxiliary benefits, the average total monthly benefit was $1,128, versus $634 based only on their own earnings. In short, the true replacement rates for many retired women are significantly higher than CBO figures show.

Add in 401(k) and other plans, and it should not be difficult for a typical worker to achieve a total replacement rate of 70% or even 80% through individual savings and Social Security benefits. Total retirement savings measured by the Federal Reserve are at record levels relative to personal incomes, additional evidence that this goal can be reached.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Why the libertarian moment fizzled (Damon Linker, January 5, 2016, The Week)

Let your mind drift back to a distant, barely remembered past -- to the days before Donald Trump seemed capable of wrecking the conservative movement and breaking apart the GOP, before Jeb Bush proved himself to be the Little Candidate Who Couldn't, before Ted Cruz stopped being hated by just about every member of his party. Yes, there was a time, not quite a year-and-a-half ago, when journalists seriously suggested that the country was entering a "libertarian moment" and wondered whether Rand Paul's presidential campaign would serve as its vanguard and herald. [...]

Yeah, not so much.

The 2016 election cycle is certainly shaping up to be a transformational one for Republicans, just not in a libertarian direction. If anything, Trump's astonishing polling strength (combined with Paul's consistent weakness) has revealed how soft support is for the more libertarian positions favored by the party's elite and its leading donors. In place of open borders, Trump promises mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. In place of cuts in taxes and spending, Trump promises to protect Social Security and Medicare while jacking up taxes on the rich. In place of strategic retrenchment on foreign policy, Trump promises, well, very little beyond a shift to a hard-nosed calculation of national interest backed up by boasts about his personal brilliance and unwavering toughness.

So much for a libertarian moment. A quasi-authoritarian moment might be more like it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Can George W. Bush save Jeb's campaign? (Husna Haq, JANUARY 5, 2016, CS Monitor)

In a recent interview with Fox News, Bush hinted that brother George W. Bush may join him on the trail to save his struggling campaign.

"It is something to consider because he is very popular. And I also know I need to go earn this," Bush said. "My brother has been a strong supporter and I love him dearly. He'll continue to play a constructive role."

By and large, Jeb's comments mark a departure from the Bush campaign's strategy so far, which has relied on the family's fundraising network to raise large sums of campaign funds, while publicly and loudly distancing itself from the Bush name. Still, it's clear the 2016 candidate has wrestled with the issue. He's famously called his brother out for not reining in congressional spending - but, after Mr. Trump ridiculed the president in a recent debate, he also defended his brother's record on terrorism in what has been called one of his strongest moments.

There's reason to take a gamble with George W. Bush. It may shore up Jeb's standing with conservatives, as well as remind conservative voters of a largely well-liked and respected political family.

While George W. Bush's approval rating was a dismal 22 percent when he left office, he has since gained in popularity. A New York Times/CBS News survey from this spring found that 71 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of George W. Bush, compared with only 10 percent who said they did not.

They should do the Gerald Ford/Joe Garagiola shtick and have W interview him for blocks of tv time.  Make normal guy likability an asset.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr: Shia cleric was a thorn in Saudi regime's side : Nimr, whose execution has sparked condemnation across the Middle East, was a vocal backer of pro-democracy protests (Mark Townsen,  2 January 2016, The Guardian)

Nimr's staunch and vocal support of the movement in regions where the Shia have a majority but have frequently complained of marginalisation, saw the 56-year-old cited as the driving force behind the protests while affording him hero status among Saudi's Shia youth.

To the Sunni kingdom's ruling elite, however, Nimr had become a high-profile thorn in its side. Inspired by the Arab spring, Saudi Arabia's mass anti-government protests of 2011 included public speeches by Nimr that urged an end to the Al Saud monarchy and pushed for equality for the state's Shia community.

According to his supporters, the cleric was careful to avoid calling for violence and eschewed all but peaceful opposition to the government. On one occasion, he urged protesters to resist police bullets using only "the roar of the word". As his role in the protests became more prominent, he warned the Saudi authorities that if they refused to "stop bloodshed", the government's repressive tendencies risked it being overthrown.

Bahrain is toast too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Why Mormon leaders are 'deeply troubled' by Oregon militiamen (Mark A. Kellner, January 5, 2016, RNS) 

The statement came after release of a 20-minute YouTube video by Ammon Bundy, a Mormon and the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher whose disputes with federal authorities gained notoriety in recent years. Ammon Bundy said he and his brother, Ryan, came to help defend Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers who were convicted of arson involving federal lands.

"I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds," Ammon Bundy said in the video, "and that if it was not corrected, it would be a type and a shadow of what would happen to the rest of the people across this country."

Bundy later said in the video, "I began to understand what we were supposed to do is we were supposed to get together individuals all across this country that understood and cared about what was happening and understood that our Constitution was being violated that is hanging by a thread."

The phrase "hanging by a thread" is taken from accounts of the so-called "White Horse Prophecy," attributed to LDS church founder Joseph Smith Jr.

Although unsubstantiated, the vision attributed to Smith talks about the U.S. Constitution, saying it would "hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber" and only be rescued by a "white horse," a reference to Revelation 6:1-8.

"There's a strain of Mormonism that's very strongly right-wing," said Boyd Jay Petersen, program coordinator for Mormon studies at Utah Valley University in Orem. "Joseph Smith claimed the U.S. Constitution was inspired and a lot of people think it's Scripture."

Petersen said the protesters' statements "were sounding so Mormon" the LDS church felt it "needed to place itself outside of that."

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Patriots had one of 2015's lowest fumble rates after Deflategate (Sam Galanis, 1/5/16, NESN)
When the New England Patriots were first implicated in Deflategate, some pointed to their low fumble rates as proof they were using under-inflated footballs before the 2014 AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

But detractors won't be able to use that statistic anymore.

Even with new protocols and stricter ball handling in the NFL, New England enjoyed the lowest fumble rate in the league in 2015, Sports Illustrated's Michael Lopez wrote Tuesday. In fact, the Patriots turned in one of their best fumble rates in the past decade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


When I Supported The Terrorists (David Marcus, JANUARY 5, 2016, The Federalist)

It was a chilly night in Philadelphia, back in the early '80s when it still looked like it does in the first "Rocky" movies. The crowd, some holding signs, marched in its circle, chanting the name Bobby Sands. Across the ocean, in the infamous H-Block prison in Northern Ireland, Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army, lay dying of his hunger strike. It is a very early memory of mine, and one that underscores a basic fact about growing up in my Irish Catholic family. We supported the IRA.

Like most American supporters of the IRA, we did not celebrate the death of innocents, we did not hate Protestants, and we did not provide any material support. We did, however, believe that the United Kingdom was an occupying force in Northern Ireland, which the Irish people had a right to fight. Since a standard military engagement was out of the question, that left only acts of terror. [...]

There is little similarity between the goals and techniques of ISIS and those of the IRA. The latter was not typically targeting Americans, and they were not seeking to expand territorial control beyond the borders of the island. But there are striking similarities between the actions of the IRA and those of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas. In fact, the Irish and Palestinian terror organizations often worked in concert.

What I regret most is the negative attitude I felt toward anything English for much of my life.
In retrospect, I regret my feelings about the IRA, though clearly I had no impact on events. What I regret most is the negative attitude I felt toward anything English for much of my life. It took me until well into my twenties to read English history and philosophy without a bias against it. That was a loss for me, especially in terms of understanding the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Trump and Cruz send shivers down GOP spines : The prospect of either man as the Republican nominee is setting off alarm bells among officials and operatives across the country. (ALEX ISENSTADT, 01/05/16, Politico)

One growing worry about Trump or Cruz, top party officials, donors, and operatives across the country say, is that nominating either man would imperil lawmakers in down-ballot races, especially those residing in moderate states and districts.

"At some point, we have to deal with the fact that there are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became the nominee," said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "We'd be hard-pressed to elect a Republican dogcatcher north of the Mason-Dixon or west of the Mississippi."

"Trump and Cruz are worrisome to most Republican candidates for governor, senator and Congress," said Curt Anderson, a longtime GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee political director. "Some will say they are not worried, but they are."

Romney has been calling around to former advisers to sound them out about the race, and to kvetch about Trump's surprising durability. But in the immediate term, at least, he has expressed unwillingness to lend his hand to a stop-Trump effort -- or to endorse a candidate more palatable to a GOP establishment paralyzed by his rise and worried that nominating him or Cruz would scupper an opportunity to control both the White House and Congress in 2017.

The concern is particularly acute in the Senate, where Republicans are fighting to preserve a relatively slim four-seat majority, defending more than half a dozen seats in hard-to-win swing states. Among them: Ohio, a presidential battleground state where Republican Sen. Rob Portman faces a perilous path to reelection.

When Trump traveled to the state in November, he met with Matt Borges, Ohio's Republican Party chairman -- who warned the front-runner that "divisive rhetoric won't help us carry Ohio."

"It's time for people who have never won squat here to listen to the people who have been doing it for decades," Borges said in an interview. "I'm just looking out for how we win in November."

In Wisconsin, some party officials fret that a Trump or Cruz nomination could sink Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who faces a tough race against his predecessor, Russ Feingold.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Time to Talk Robots (Emma Roller JAN. 5, 2016, NY Times)

Republicans aren't the only ones obsessing over reclaiming these factory jobs. Last month, Hillary Clinton mentioned factory closings when she released her own plan to restore manufacturing jobs through a network of tax credits and federal funding for research. Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, in criticizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has argued that such international trade deals are to blame for the loss of manufacturing jobs in this country.

The problem with this sort of rhetoric is that a lot of the manufacturing jobs the United States lost over the past 50 years didn't go overseas; they simply disappeared with the advent of new technology.

James Sherk, a research fellow in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, said the trend in machines taking over factory work that was previously done by humans has been going on since the 1950s. But for presidential candidates, it's a lot easier to blame other countries rather than robots.

"It's those basically rote, repetitive tasks where you're fixing the same thing," he said. "It's very hard to imagine any of those positions coming back. Basically, a robot is a lot more affordable than a human employee."

The skills needed to work on a factory floor today are quite different than they were 20, 10 or even five years ago. Don't blame stingy companies or over-regulation by the government; blame the rapid progress of technology.

Mark Muro, the policy director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, said candidates should recognize that because of advances in technology, manufacturing simply does not employ as many people as it once did. Then again, that level of honesty doesn't make for as much of a feel-good message.

"My fear is that the Republicans to date may not fully understand what modern advanced manufacturing is," he said. "It's not necessarily thousands of people pouring into the plant as in the old days."

Instead of talking down to blue-collar workers, candidates should admit that trying to restore manufacturing to what it once was in this country is not an attainable, or even a desirable, goal. This is not to say the government should not work to bring jobs back to the United States, or that manufacturing as an industry is not valuable to the American economy. But many of the jobs politicians want to restore aren't on the table anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Natural Gas Prices Finish Down 19% for the Year (NICOLE FRIEDMAN, Dec. 31, 2015, WSJ)

The natural-gas market posted its second straight year of losses in 2015 due to a growing oversupply of the fuel.

After posting a 32% loss in 2014 amid robust production, prices slid another 19% this year due to still-ample output and surprisingly weak demand. A strong El Niño weather pattern has reduced the need for heating fuels in the U.S. in recent months, pushing natural-gas supplies to a record in November. Natural-gas prices fell to a 16-year low on Dec. 17.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Jewish Israeli passengers force Arabs off Athens-Tel Aviv flight (SUE SURKES AND AFP January 5, 2016)

A group of Jewish Israeli travelers forced the Greek national carrier Aegean Airways to take two Arab co-nationalists off a flight from Athens to Tel Aviv for fear that the pair could be terrorists.

During the incident Sunday, the Israelis stood up and prevented the flight from taking off, the airline said.

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Five reasons so many Iranians are rushing to run for office (Ali Omidi, January 4, 2016, aL mONITOR)

[T]he surge in the number of registered candidates can be traced to five main motivating factors. [...]

Second is the Reformists' strategy. Supporters of the Rouhani administration, including Reformists, have adopted the strategy of introducing a lot of candidates in the hopes that if their leading figures are disqualified, lesser-known Reformists will be given the chance to run for parliament and pursue the Reformist agenda. This strategy is useful for mobilizing people in order to change the political makeup of parliament and the Assembly of Experts, both of which are currently dominated by non-Reformists. Prominent Reformists can of course wield more influence and be more effective compared to second- or third-rate colleagues. However, the Reformists are not going to give up easily. They are hoping to at least increase the political cost for the Conservatives if the Guardian Council engages in mass disqualifications of registered candidates. [...]

Last but certainly not least is that the outcome of the latest presidential elections continues to impact Iranian politics. The 2013 presidential vote proved that by participating in elections and supporting a certain candidate, people can overcome some of their economic and political problems. Indeed, Iranians realized that by taking part in polls and electing Rouhani, they could help solve the nuclear crisis, which had been ongoing since 2003. It should not be overlooked that a majority of people believe that they can influence the politics of their country by casting their ballots. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


'The English and Their History,' by Robert Tombs (PETER HITCHENS, DEC. 31, 2015, NY Times Book Review)

[Robert Tombs] pauses frequently to examine the curious way in which the English have idealized and sometimes blackened their own past. He often seeks to rescue that past from those who try to make their own eras look good by slandering their forebears as worse and more wretched than they actually were. "Treating the past as grotesque and inferior is the attitude of the tourist who can see nothing 'Abroad' but dirt and bad plumbing," he says. The English, he argues, were almost always prosperous, well fed, well housed and lightly governed, once the Norman Conquest had settled the fundamental question of who controlled the central state and ensured the coasts were safe from invasion.

Even in times of revolt, religious strife and civil war, the English held back from the merciless ferocity of Continental Europe. And separation from that continent allowed England to benefit fully from repeated strokes of good luck: a language of wonderful flexibility and subtlety; a legal system that held the state in check and nurtured an astonishing combination of order and liberty; a political system that preserved ancient safeguards against despotism, long after these had been plowed under by French, Spanish and German autocrats.

The longevity of English institutions and customs is not merely picturesque, but also a living record of safety, prosperity, strength, civil peace, and political and economic stability. Laws grew thick and strong, like a great forest, and men sheltered contentedly beneath them.

And from the earliest years of this lucky millennium, a picturesque legend of England and its history began to influence the way its people and rulers behaved. The real Alfred the Great and the legendary King Arthur both stood in Englishmen's minds for an ancient liberty to which all men constantly sought to return.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Obama's Middle East Balancing Act Tilts Toward Iran (Josh Rogin & Eli Lake, 1/04/16, Bloomberg View)

As the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia heats up, the Barack Obama administration is trying to straddle the fence and not take sides, but its actions tell a different story -- they all seem to favor Tehran.

January 4, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Shin Bet uncovers Jewish extremist plot to destroy state (Ben Caspit, January 4, 2016, Al Monitor)

The Shin Bet seized "documents of the revolt" and others outlining the theology of the members of this sect, who were organized in compartmentalized terror cells of three to five members each. The cells operated secretly and independently of one another, and each knew nothing about the activities of other cells. Infiltrating this gang with Shin Bet agents is almost impossible, reminiscent of attempts to insert agents into extremist Islamic terror organizations.

These group members share an extremist messianic ideology. They are closely familiar with one another, grew up together and became radicalized together. They hold the rest of the world in suspicion and are well versed in interrogation and efforts to track them. They live in West Bank outposts, know how to survive in nature and find refuge in caves and abandoned structures. They are able to exist in wild territory, disconnected from civilization for many long days.

Ben Uliel grew up in the Etzion settlement bloc, the son of a Karmei Zur settlement rabbi who is viewed as moderate and statesmanlike. He lived for a period in the illegal outpost Geulat Tzion. Ben Uliel was interrogated over several long weeks until he confessed to the murder of the Dawabsha family, and even reconstructed the act in front of Shin Bet interrogators in the middle of the night, in the same spot where the murder took place. Now his family and friends claim that his confession was extricated from him under torture and is therefore not admissible.

Thus the Shin Bet faces a complicated legal battle to authorize this confession and add additional testimony such as hidden details that Ben Uliel supplied regarding the terror site and the testimony of a minor who worked with him to plan the attack.

The cracking of the "revolt cell" has sparked a fierce political controversy in Israel. The extremist right calls for making a distinction between Arab terror and Jews who perpetrate crimes and holds that torture must not be used against citizens of the state. But the vast majority of the political map supports the decision to use torture against such suspects. Even Education Minister Naftali Bennett and most of his colleagues in HaBayit HaYehudi say that "terror is terror." They are keenly aware that these poisonous weeds who grew up in their garden plots endanger the State of Israel no less (and maybe even more) than the Arab enemy.

The group's staggering ideological doctrine is laid out in detail in a number of documents that were seized by the Shin Bet. According to them, the State of Israel -- which it calls the "kingdom of malice" -- "has no right to exist and we must operate to destroy it, then build a Jewish kingdom." Members of the cell commit themselves to appoint a king who will rule over the nation and force it to obey the harshest of religious precepts. The documents contain detailed instructions on how to burn down mosques or churches and how to shift from inflicting damage and burning down Arab possessions to burning down homes with Arabs living inside. The Shin Bet identified the moment in which the group transitioned from inflicting property damage to inflicting physical harm, in order to create as much chaos as possible on the ground and promote their agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM

...AND SAFER...:

New York City Became a Slightly Safer City Last Year -- and a Much Safer One If You're a Cop (Eric Levitz, 1/04/15, New York)

New York City's overall crime rate declined only slightly in 2015, but the number of crimes against police officers plunged, according to statistics updated by the NYPD on Monday.

There were 241 fewer assaults against cops last year than there were in 2014, an 18 percent drop. Incidents of resisting arrest fell by 21 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


With Iran Over Saudis (Noah Feldman, 1/04/15, Bloomberg View)

The rapidly escalating conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, sparked by the execution of a Saudi Shiite activist, may seem like the natural outgrowth of a decade's Sunni-Shiite tensions. But more than denominational differences, what's driving the open conflict is the Saudis' deepening fear that the U.S. is shifting its loyalties in the Persian Gulf region from its traditional Saudi ally to a gradually moderating Iran. And in a sense, they're right: Although the U.S. is a long way from becoming an instinctive Iranian ally, the nuclear deal has led Washington to start broadening its base in the Gulf, working with Iran where the two sides have overlapping interests. Of which there are many these days.

The Christian/Shi'a alliance was always inevitable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


2015 was the year Congress started working again (Matthew Yglesias, January 4, 2016, Vox)

Among some of the things Congress accomplished: The main federal statute governing K-12 education got an overhaul. So did the federal disability insurance system. A long-running dispute about federal highway funding got resolved, as did a long-running dispute about Medicare payments. Last but by no means least, December saw a whole bunch of tax changes featuring good news for low-wage workers and a broad set of business interests. Congress even passed a law to ban microbeads in bath products to help protect the nation's fisheries.

These aren't all good bills, and almost none of them are what anyone would consider a great bill, but in a way that's the point. Legislation passed in 2015 because congressional leaders went back to doing what congressional leaders are supposed to do in times of divided government: compromise to pass bills that don't thrill anyone but do make both sides happier than they would be in the absence of a bill.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Ted Cruz to armed Oregon protesters: 'Stand down' (Julie Kliegman, 1/04/16, The Week)

"Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds," Cruz told reporters in Iowa on Monday. "But we don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence, and to threaten force and violence against others. So it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation."

Many of Cruz's opponents for the Republican presidential nomination have stayed silent on the issue, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also weighed in Monday, telling an Iowa radio station, "You cannot be lawless."

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


The Rise of the Doomsday Conservatives (JIM GERAGHTY, January 4, 2016, National Review)

The American Right is divided between those who think our country has serious problems and those who think it is teetering on the edge of collapse. Donald Trump's rise has been fueled by the latter group, which sees itself as Cassandra, accurately surveying and desperately trying to revive a "crippled America," as Trump titled his book. The edge-of-extinction crowd hasn't just failed to persuade the rest of the Right; they've failed to persuade the mass of voters. Americans tell pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction, but they're not apocalyptic about it. To everyone else, the Doomsayers come across as paranoid, race-obsessed hysterics. [...]

[I]f you think a strong national defense, strong family values, free-market economics, and respect for the rule of law only benefit white America, and can only be preserved by them, you're out of your mind. Try telling the 233,000 African-American members of the military that they're incapable of keeping Americans safe. Tell the 42 percent of Asian-Americans who profess faith in Christ that their lives don't preserve and promote Judeo-Christian values. Tell the 55,000 Hispanic police officers that they're culturally incapable of upholding the rule of law. Tell the immigrants starting 520 new businesses per month that they can't strengthen American capitalism. According to apocalyptic conservatism, Clarence Thomas, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Thomas Sowell are part of the problem, not the solution.

The aspect that makes it seem particularly racial is that the elderly whites who feel this way actually lived through WWII and the Cold War and watched us come out even stronger.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


The Armed Oregon Ranchers Who Want Free Land Are Already Getting A 93 Percent Discount (LEAH LIBRESCO, 1/04/16, 538)

In a news conference Sunday, Ammon Bundy explained that he was there in protest of the "unconstitutional transactions of land rights and water rights."

Those transactions, though, can be a pretty good deal, regardless of their constitutionality. According to a 2015 report by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bureau of Land Management's fees for grazing cattle on public land are much lower than the fees charged by private landowners, and they've only become cheaper in recent years.

In 2012, the bureau's fees for grazing were 93 percent cheaper than the average market rate in 16 Western states ($1.35 versus $20.10 per AUM, which is a fancy acronym for the amount of land needed to support a cow and her calf for a month1).

How the Leader of the Oregon Armed Protest Benefited From a Federal Loan Program (Russ Choma, Jan. 4, 2016, Mother Jones)

As one of the leaders of a band of armed, anti-government activists who have taken over a National Park Service building in Oregon, Ammon Bundy has denounced the "tyranny" of the federal government. And he has brought a new round of attention to the anti-government militia movement that in 2014 rallied behind his father, Cliven Bundy, when the elder Bundy and armed supporters confronted federal agents in Nevada. But not long ago, Ammon Bundy sought out help from the government he now decries and received a federal small-business loan guarantee.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Saudi Arabia May Have Picked a Fight It Can't Win (Rob Garver, January 4, 2016, Fiscal Times)

In a part of the world where half a dozen long-lived regimes have been completely or partially overthrown since 2001, the possibility that rulers currently enjoying the financial security derived from extensive oil reserves might lose their access to that resource unexpectedly is a very real worry. [...]

Whether the execution of the cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was meant as a provocation or not, the result has been a sharp escalation of tension that is rattling not just global oil markets (prices were on a rollercoaster all Monday morning) but in the perception of the Saudi government's ability to continue paying its debts. On Monday, investors began demanding higher rates of return on the kingdom's debt securities.

That's in part because, should things go from bad to worse between the two regional powers, Saudi Arabia may have picked a fight it can't win.

"The Saudis aren't quite as clever as they think they are," said Hanke. "Iran holds almost all the cards in the Gulf because of the Strait of Hormuz. If they shut it down, that's the end of the game."

Is Saudi Arabia next target of Islamic State? : Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be forced to shift priorities (Al Monitor, 1/03/06)

The United States and its allies expect Saudi Arabia to step up in battling IS and al-Qaeda, and in the end, that is how the alliance will be judged, at least in Washington and European capitals. The threat from IS to the kingdom is likely to grow. Saudi security forces broke up a cell linked to IS in 2014, and the terrorist group claimed credit for two bombings in 2015 that killed 36 people. IS continues to hold ground in Iraq and Syria, maintains a cell network in Europe and is expanding its presence in Afghanistan, Yemen and North Africa. The kingdom is, of course, not a "fragile" state like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya or Afghanistan, but neither is France or Belgium. Unlike Syria and Iraq, which have ethnically and religiously diverse populations, Saudi Arabia's population is 85-90% Sunni Muslim. And if IS continues to lose ground in Syria and Iraq, as it did in Ramadi last week, it may seek other nearby targets to rally its followers. As this column reported in December, the kingdom's hosting of the Syrian opposition conference last month may eventually serve to turn IS and al-Qaeda on the Saudi and Western-backed armed groups, which have been mostly preoccupied with fighting the Syrian government until now. In other words, IS may be taking the fight to Saudi Arabia, even if the kingdom would prefer to keep its prime focus on Bashar al-Assad and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


The War on Women Is About to Get a Whole Lot Worse : If you thought 2015 was bad for abortion rights, wait until you see 2016. (Nina Liss-Schultz, Jan. 4, 2016, Mother Jones)

Between the shooting deaths of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court's decision to hear its first abortion-related case in nine years, and the more than 50 new abortion restriction laws enacted by state governments, abortion access was one of the most important issues of 2015. With presidential politics and ongoing legal challenges in the states, abortion rights will continue to be under fire in 2016.

"Last year's big events, like the Planned Parenthood videos and the Supreme Court case, have actually ginned up even more interest in restricting abortion," Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, tells Mother Jones. "If it was possible, they've actually added more energy to decreasing abortion access."

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Russia's military: Don't believe the hype (Kyle Mizokami, January 4, 2016, The Week)

 Almost all of the Russian Ground Forces' tanks and armored vehicles date back to the 1980s. Russia's lone carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was launched in 1990. All three types of Russian heavy bombers pounding Syria were built by the Soviet Union and only inherited by Russia.

In 2010, the Russian government announced an ambitious program to replace 70 percent of Cold War-era equipment with new weapons by 2020. The spending program would cost at least $700 billion and included a new generation of tanks, a new class of aircraft carriers, and new generation of heavy bombers.

International sanctions, brought on by Russia's annexation of the Crimea as well as plunging oil prices have quickly taken a heavy toll on the economy. The Russian economy has slipped into recession, with GDP alone slipping 4 percent in the past 12 months.

A falling economy has affected military spending. In 2015, Russia's defense budget increased by a staggering 33 percent. However, before the year was over some of that spending had to be taken back, and the increase was revised downward to 25 percent. Unable to forecast an end to Russia's economic problems, the defense budget is slated to go up less than 1 percent in 2016.

Needless to say, Russia's ambition to spend $700 billion on armaments is as dead as Julius Caesar.

Meanwhile, Russian defense projects, already struggling to catch up with 21st century warfare, are also running into difficulties. The high profile PAK-FA project designed to produce a fighter the equal of the American F-22 Raptor has stalled over technical issues, and the Russians now plan on buying -- initially, anyway -- a mere squadron's worth of jets. That's a tenth of what they were originally going to buy.

Russian promises to build new aircraft carriers and a new generation of heavy bombers have been merely promises.

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Who Lost the Saudis? (WSJ, Jan. 3, 2016)

That headline question may seem premature, but it's worth asking if only to reduce the odds that the Saudis are lost as we enter the last perilous year of the Obama Presidency. Iran and Russia have an interest in toppling the House of Saud, and they may be calculating whether President Obama would do anything to stop them.

The WoT has two branches--the democratization of the Middle East, particularly the liberation of the Kurds and Shi'a from Sunni domination, and the crushing of Salafist ideology--which meet at the toppling of the Sa'ud regime.

Why does Britain still cosy up to these butchers? MICHAEL BURLEIGH examines the impact of Saudi Arabia's decision to execute 47 prisoners including Shiite cleric (MICHAEL BURLEIGH, 1/03/15, THE DAILY MAIL)

The latest men executed were different from the minor drug traffickers, foreign servants who have killed an employer, or 'sorcerers' and 'witches' who make up the usual cast of victims. 

For sure, they included several Al Qaeda terrorists, among them bearded ideologue Fares al-Shuwail, and Adel al-Dhubaiti, who in 2004 murdered BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers and left reporter Frank Gardner for dead. Few will mourn either of them.
But the Saudis took the opportunity to add in four individuals from the Shia sect of Islam - a minority in Saudi Arabia which is predominantly of the Sunni faith - including the prominent dissident cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

It is unclear, as yet, whether he was beheaded or shot, but his death has caused outrage among Shia Muslims from Lebanon via Iran and Iraq to Pakistan. And it risks setting a centuries' old feud between Sunni and Shia ablaze across the whole of the Middle East.

In Iran's capital, Tehran, angry crowds have already set light to a Saudi embassy that only reopened a few weeks ago, and the regime's clerical and secular leaders have vowed to avenge Nimr's death.

Ominously, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iraq's Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and Lebanese Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrullah, have warned the House of Saud that it will pay 'a heavy price' for executing Nimr.

The point is that Nimr was not a 'terrorist' as Saudi Arabia claims, but a cleric of considerable eminence and a peaceful dissident, who in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring denounced the discrimination and persecution that his fellow Shia endure in the kingdom's oil rich Eastern Province.

His execution is a deliberately provocative act clearly aimed at infuriating Iran and the entire Shia world. The animosity between Sunni and Shia goes back to the 7th century and concerns who should succeed the Prophet Mohammed - a blood relation (Shia) or anyone of sufficient distinction (Sunni).

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM



The Strongest Prejudice Was Identified

If you were on a selection committee tasked with choosing someone to hire (or to admit to your university, or to receive a prize in your field), and it came down to two candidates who were equally qualified on objective measures, which candidate would you be most likely to choose?

__A) The one who shared your race
__B) The one who shared your gender
__C) The one who shared your religion
__D) The one who shared your political party or ideology

The correct answer, for most Americans, is now D. It is surely good news that prejudice based on race, gender, and religion are way down in recent decades. But it is very bad news--for America, for the world, and for science--that cross-partisan hostility is way up.

My nomination for "news that will stay news" is a paper by political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, titled "Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization." Iyengar and Westwood report four studies (all using nationally representative samples) in which they gave Americans various ways to reveal both cross-partisan and cross-racial prejudice, and in all cases cross-partisan prejudice was larger.

January 3, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


The GOP's Primary Rules Might Doom Carson, Cruz And Trump (DAVID WASSERMAN, 1/03/16, 538)

In reality, the GOP nominating contest will be decided by an intricate, state-by-state slog for the 2,472 delegates at stake between February and June. And thanks to the Republican National Committee's allocation rules, the votes of "Blue Zone" Republicans -- the more moderate GOP primary voters who live in Democratic-leaning states and congressional districts -- could weigh more than those of more conservative voters who live in deeply red zones. Put another way: The Republican voters who will have little to no sway in the general election could have some of the most sway in the primary.

As The New York Times' Nate Cohn astutely observed in January, Republicans in blue states hold surprising power in the GOP presidential primary process even though they are "all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats." This explains why Republicans have selected relatively moderate presidential nominees while the party's members in Congress have continued to veer right.

The key to this pattern: "Blue-state Republicans are less religious, more moderate and less rural than their red-state counterparts," Cohn concluded after crunching Pew Research survey data. By Cohn's math, Republicans in states that Obama won in 2012 were 15 percentage points likelier to support Romney in the 2012 primary and 9 points likelier to support McCain in 2008 than their red-state compatriots. Romney and McCain's advantage in blue states made it "all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination," Cohn wrote.

Blue-state Republicans have already propelled moderates in the 2016 money chase. According to Federal Election Commission filings, donors in the 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992 have accounted for 45 percent of Rubio's total itemized contributions, 45 percent of Bush's, 53 percent of Fiorina's and 85 percent of Chris Christie's. By contrast, they've provided just 20 percent of Cruz's contributions and 36 percent of Carson's. For comparison, blue-state Republicans cast just 37 percent of all votes in the 2012 GOP primaries.2

But their real mojo lurks in the delegate chase. The electorate that nominates GOP presidential candidates is much bluer than the ones that nominate other GOP officials, a distinction that is almost impossible to overstate. Look at where the Republican Party lives: Only 11 of 54 GOP senators and 26 of 247 GOP representatives hail from Obama-won locales, but there are 1,247 delegates at stake in Obama-won states, compared with just 1,166 in Romney states.

What's more, an imbalance lies in a nuance of the RNC's delegate allocation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Why Armed Protesters Took Over a U.S. Wildlife Refuge Building (MARINA KOREN, 1/03/15, The Atlantic)

Bundy and the armed protesters took over the headquarters of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, which was closed for the holiday weekend, after participating in a peaceful rally in Burns, Oregon, in support of the Hammonds. Bundy said that the property, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is "owned by the people, and it has been provided to us to be able to come together and unite to make a hard stand against [government] overreach."

When the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the ​minimum mandatory sentence for arson on federal land--five years--was unconstitutional, according to the U.S. district attorney's office in Oregon. The trial court agreed and reduced the sentence. But an appeals court eventually upheld the federal law, and a judge imposed the mandatory sentence last October, with credit for time the Hammonds already served. The father served three months, while the son, who was also found guilty of committing arson on public lands in 2006, served one year, according to the Associated Press.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Venture capitalist is investing in firms that use computers to improve healthcare : Former Stanford professor Vijay Pande says the fast-declining cost of computing could change medicine the same way that the Industrial Revolution changed how we do just about everything.  (Melody Petersen, 1/03/15, LA Times)

[Former Stanford professor Vijay Pande] said he believes that the fast-declining cost of computing could change medicine the same way that the Industrial Revolution changed how we do just about everything.

Pande said it took 10 years and $3 billion to map the first human genome, and now a person's DNA can be sequenced for $300.

One promising application, he said, is using machine learning or artificial intelligence to try to teach computers to perform tasks such as spotting tumors in medical scans. The idea is not to replace doctors but to give them the tools to work more accurately and efficiently, he said.

See the most-read stories this hour >>
Another potential investment opportunity is in digital therapeutics, in which patients' conditions are monitored remotely with sensors on their smartphones. Software can then coach the patients to control their illnesses through exercise, diet and other behavioral treatments that don't have the harmful side effects of traditional drugs.

Those are just two uses of computers in medicine that Andreessen Horowitz is calling Bio 2.0.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Jeremy Corbyn's plans for a 'revenge reshuffle' would leave the party looking like a 'religious cult' (Laura Hughes, 03 Jan 2016, The Telegraph)

Jeremy Corbyn's plans for a so-called "revenge reshuffle" would leave the party with a "politburo of seven" and looking like a "religious cult", a senior shadow cabinet member has said.

Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary, has warned against such a move and said he does not believe the rumours of a reshuffle are accurate.

The Labour leader is expected to reshuffle his top team next week, and oust moderate critics of some of his policies.

The Liberty Caucus can only dream....
Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Slowdown in Chinese manufacturing deepens fears for economy (Katie Allen, 1 January 2016, The Guardian)

The latest in a string of downbeat reports from showed that activity at China's factor ies cooled in December for the fifth month running, as overseas demand for Chinese goods continued to fall.

Against the backdrop of a faltering global economy, turmoil in the country's stock markets and overcapacity in factories, Chinese economic growth has slowed markedly. The country's central bank expects growth in 2015 to be the slowest for a quarter of a century. [...]

A series of interventions by policymakers, including interest rate cuts, have done little to revive growth and in some cases served only to heighten concern about China's challenges.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Government can, should, support religion, Justice Antonin Scalia tells Metairie crowd (Brett Duke, 1/02/16, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Government support for religion is not only justified by the Constitution, it was the norm for hundreds of years and it helped the United States become a free and prosperous nation, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday in Metairie.

Speaking before a small crowd at Archbishop Rummel High School, Scalia delivered a short but provocative speech on religious freedom that saw the conservative Catholic take aim at those who confuse freedom of religion for freedom from it.

The Constitution's First Amendment protects the free practice of religion and forbids the government from playing favorites among the various sects, Scalia said, but that doesn't mean the government can't favor religion over nonreligion.

That was never the case historically, he said. It didn't become the law of the land until the 60s, Scalia said, when he said activist judges attempted to resolve the question of government support of religion by imposing their own abstract rule rather than simply observing common practice.

If people want strict prohibition against government endorsement of religion, let them vote on it, he said. "Don't cram it down the throats of an American people that has always honored God on the pretext that the Constitution requires it."

Citing a quotation attributed to former French President Charles de Gaulle, Scalia said "'God takes care of little children, drunkards and the United States of America.'" Scalia then added, "I think that's true. God has been very good to us. One of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor."

..not what 5 justices preferred 200 years later.

January 2, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


A Smarter Plan to Make Retirement Savings Last (TERESA GHILARDUCCI and HAMILTON E. JAMES, JAN. 1, 2016, NY Times)

We need a bolder plan, which we are calling the guaranteed retirement account (G.R.A.). Under our proposal, all workers and employers will have to make regular payments into a G.R.A., which builds until retirement age, then pays out a supplemental stream of income until that person and his or her beneficiary die. [...]

In our plan, the more than 95 million workers without a pension plan would each have his or her own G.R.A. managed by an independent federal agency. Workers and employers would each contribute a mandatory minimum of 1.5 percent of the salary or contract. The current tax deduction for retirement savings would be converted to a $600 refundable tax credit to pay for the contributions of households below median income.

Workers could not withdraw money early, even for emergencies -- and they won't like that. But allowing exceptions creates a slippery slope. Just as Social Security is protected from early withdrawal, retirement accounts should be used for old-age income. Employers won't like paying more. But in return, they are free from administrating and worrying about providing retirement plans if they don't offer a 401(k) or pension. In the long run, employers would benefit because a nation of financially secure retirees would pre-empt higher corporate taxes.

Individuals would not make investment decisions directly. Instead, low-fee diversified retirement portfolios would be created by a board of professionals who would be fiduciaries appointed by the president and Congress and held accountable to investors. The fees and investments would be much less prone to corruption because the managers' income would not depend on the investments, the fees would be disclosed, and the accounts separated from government funds and owned by the individuals.

Since contributions would be pooled and fees kept low, a guarantee of a return of around 3 percent -- about half the expected return on stocks over the long term -- would be essentially costless even as the underlying rate fluctuated with the market and inflation. For someone making an average salary of about $48,000, a 3 percent contribution would yield about $170,000 over a lifetime. Three percent is not an adequate saving rate, it is a starting base. Our plan would provide a lifelong annuity, like a defined benefit plan, so no one would face the risk of outliving his or her money.

Any remainder should go into the heirs' accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


California cranks out new businesses and jobs despite criticism (Chris Kirkham, 1/02/16, LA Times)

The Golden State perennially ranks at the bottom of national surveys gauging business friendliness. Chief Executive magazine recently called it a "deeply troubled" state, where companies are so over-regulated that "most cannot afford to do business."

But a new study drawing on more than three decades' worth of census business-formation data tells quite a different story.

California has spawned new businesses at one of the fastest rates in the nation over the last decade, and faster than the U.S. economy overall, the report found. The state is also a leader in job creation tied to those new businesses: In 2013, California added jobs from newly established businesses faster than all but four other states.

"Does this mean California is business-friendly? Of course not," said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, who helped prepare the study. "It means that being 'business friendly' is not the be-all and end-all of economic development."

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Islamic State's Deep, Poisonous Roots (ANDREW HOSKEN, Jan. 1, 2016, WSJ) 

The group's forerunner, known by the name Tawhid Wal Jihad, was founded in 1999 by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had already been planning world domination for much of the decade. Zarqawi, born in the Jordanian city of Zarqa, was a petty criminal who caught religion and replaced an aimless, poverty-stricken existence with jihad.

While in prison in 1996, Zarqawi and his mentor, Muhammad al Maqdisi, took into their confidence a Jordanian journalist named Fouad Hussein, who was held for a period in the same facility. In a 2005 Arabic-language book, Mr. Hussein outlined Zarqawi's seven-step plan for establishing a caliphate, an explicitly Islamic empire that would claim authority over all Muslims and dominate the region. They envisaged unleashing chaos by toppling governments in the Middle East, which would create the vacuum that the caliphate needed to flourish.

By the time of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the group was already lying in wait. Zarqawi aimed to foment a civil war between the two major sects of Islam, his own Sunnis and the "apostate" Shiites. He was helped immeasurably by the coalition's decision to wash away all vestiges of Saddam Hussein and his Baath party. The dictator and his acolytes were Sunnis who for decades had persecuted Iraq's Shiite majority.

After the fall of Saddam, many Sunnis, suddenly out of power and fearing reprisals, turned to Zarqawi's toxic strain of Islamist violence. Look closely at the leaders of ISIS and you will find among them some of Saddam's army officers and secret policemen--such as Haji Bakr, Abu Muslim al Turkmani, and Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, all now believed dead.

In late 2004 Tawhid Wal Jihad became "al Qaeda in Iraq," and Zarqawi had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Yet Zarqawi quarreled constantly with al Qaeda over tactics and targets.

That same year, for example, Ayman al Zawahiri--then a top al Qaeda official and now the group's leader--wrote to Zarqawi asking him to stop beheading hostages and killing Shiites, which was alienating Muslims and harming the image of jihad. Zarqawi refused.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless (Joseph Stromberg and Estelle Caswell, October 8, 2015, Vox)

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world.

About 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that produces and markets the test makes around $20 million off it each year.

The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.

"There's just no evidence behind it," says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who's written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. "The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you'll be in a situation, how you'll perform at your job, or how happy you'll be in your marriage."

January 1, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Mapped: The Islamic State Isn't Doing as Well as You Think (PAUL MCLEARY, DAN DE LUCE, C.K. HICKEY, DECEMBER 30, 2015, Foreign Policy)

The Islamic State began 2015 in control of vast swaths of Syria and Iraq and at one point this summer controlled three of Iraq's biggest cities. The terrorist group ends the year in far worse shape, with a U.S.-led air campaign hammering its fighters from the skies while Iraqi soldiers, Iranian paramilitary operatives, Shiite militias, Syrian rebels, and Kurdish Peshmerga battle them on the ground.

The map below shows where the Islamic State stands at year's end. In Syria, the militant group managed to seize Palmyra in May but elsewhere has been forced to give up a sizable stretch of land along the Turkish border in the face of a concerted push by Kurdish fighters backed up by U.S.-led air power. And in Iraq, Baghdad's slow-moving army has managed to score three significant victories, dislodging the Islamic State from Tikrit in March and Baiji in October, and this week wresting control of the pivotal western city of Ramadi back from the militants.

The most remarkable thing about the current phase of the WoT is that it's a casualty-free exercise for us.

The Obama worldview : Obama has given US foreign policy something it sorely lacked-intellectual clarity (Robert Fry,  December 31, 2015, Foreign Policy)

Obama has pulled America back from its speculative adventures. Now, in the Middle East, the US is moving from the role of regional arbiter towards the role of regional mediator. By refusing to commit US ground troops in Syria, by conceding a role for Russia, by demanding that Saudi Arabia accept its responsibilities and by getting Iran back into the community of nations, Obama has created the possibility that the region--and Islam--might recognise the need to order its own affairs.

We lay down the rules, they do the fighting for us.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Sinking Giggling into the Sea : a review of The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson edited by Harry Mount  (Jonathan Coe, 07/18/13, London Review of Books)

Steve Fielding, an academic, went further and argued in 2011 that in accepting this view of politicians as uniformly corrupt and useless, the public are embracing a dangerous new stereotype, since it 'can only further reinforce mistrust in the public realm, a mistrust that some political forces seek to exploit'. 'Comedy,' he continued, 'has always relied on stereotypes. There was a time when the Irish were thick; the Scots were careful with money; mothers-in-law fierce and ugly; and the Welsh stole and shagged sheep. The corrupt politician is one such stereotype, one that is neither racist nor sexist and seemingly acceptable to all.' The idea that politicians are morally inferior to the rest of us is 'a convenient view, for it means we, the audience, the voters, are not to blame for anything: we are not to blame because we are the victims of a politics gone wrong.'

Fielding's remarks were eloquent and timely; but it is remarkable how fully they were anticipated by Frayn in 1963. Even then - in the very year of That Was the Week That Was - Frayn was using the same analogy, and could see, just as clearly, how anti-establishment comedy was letting its audience off the hook: 'To go on mocking the Establishment,' he wrote, 'has more and more meant making the audience laugh not at themselves at all, but at a standard target which is rapidly becoming as well-established as mothers-in-law. To do this is not to undermine but to confirm the audience's prejudices, and has less in common with satire than with community hymn-singing - agreeable and heartwarming as that may be.' And Frayn, indeed, was echoing what James Sutherland had pointed out seven years earlier when he said that 'certain kinds of satirical writing (political satire is a good example) are not normally intended to convert one's opponents, but to gratify and fortify one's friends.' Or perhaps we should give the final, gloomiest word on this subject to William Cowper, writing in 1785:

Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay? ...
What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaimed
By rigour, or whom laughed into reform?
Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.

Despite all this, it always seems that successive generations of entertainers, bent on laughing people out of their follies and vices, remain optimistic about the power of anti-establishment comedy at the outset of their careers: it's only later that reality kicks in. When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. John Bird: 'Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.' Barry Humphries: 'Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There's an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.' Christopher Booker: 'Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, "Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea," and I think we really are doing that now.'

The key word here is 'giggling' (or in some versions of the quotation, 'sniggering'). Of the four Beyond the Fringe members, it's always Peter Cook who is described as the comic genius, and like any genius he fully (if not always consciously) understood the limitations of his own medium. He understood laughter, in other words - and certainly understood that it is anything but a force for change. Famously, when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on 'those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War'. And his comment about giggling (or sniggering) as we sink beneath the sea was developed in a Beyond the Fringe sketch called 'The Sadder and Wiser Beaver',​4 about a bunch of young, would-be radical journalists who won't admit they have sold their soul to a rapacious newspaper proprietor:

COOK: Whenever the old man has a cocktail party, there's about ten of us - young, progressive people - we all gather up the far end of the room and ... quite openly, behind our hands, we snigger at him.

BENNETT: Well, I don't know, that doesn't seem very much to me.

COOK: A snigger here, a snigger there - it all adds up.

The sketch makes it clear that laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest, but that it actually replaces protest - a point also developed by Frayn in his introduction. Ruminating on where the sudden public appetite for satire might have come from, he wrote:

Conceivably the demand arose because after ten years of stable Conservative government, with no prospect in 1961 of its ever ending, the middle classes felt some vague guilt accumulating for the discrepancy between their prosperous security and the continuing misery of those who persisted in failing to conform, by being black, or queer, or mad, or old. Conceivably they felt the need to disclaim with laughter any responsibility for this situation, and so relieve their consciences without actually voting for anything which might have reduced their privileges.

The appeal of the funny Colbert in a nutshell and why he's failing now that he's serious.

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


US and allies conduct 24 air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq (Reuters, 1 January 2016)

The US and its allies conducted 24 air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq on Thursday, the US military said on Friday.

It said in a statement the strikes targeted Isis positions in seven areas. Four strikes near the city of Ramadi, the centre of which fell to Iraqi forces this week, hit a large tactical unit and destroyed a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device facility, five militant fighting positions and two heavy machine guns.

Near Tal Afar, 11 strikes destroyed nine bunkers, five culverts and four bridges used by the militants. Near Mosul, three strikes struck a tactical unit and destroyed two heavy machine guns, six fighting positions, a weapons cache and a trench.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


In The New Year, Conservatives Should Modernize (Not Moderate) (Matt K. Lewis, 12/31/2015, Daily Caller)

The other way seeks to "modernize, but not moderate." Rather than abandoning first principles in favor of nationalist platitudes and rhetoric, this way seeks to apply conservative policy ideas to 21st century challenges, while simultaneously expanding the base of Americans who vote conservative. (This way actually might keep America great.)

This theory suggests that conservatism can become more attractive to modern Americans than liberalism, and can win in a free market of ideas.

One such evangelist of modernization is Alex Castellanos, the longtime Republican political consultant who heads a PAC called New Republican. Castellanos is passionate about fixing the Republican brand and is astounded that the GOP doesn't already own the twenty-­first century. He argues quite convincingly that big-­government liberalism is tantamount to a top-­down command-­and-­control assembly line system that worked in the Industrial Age, but is antiquated in the modern era.

While writing my book, I spent some time with Castellanos. In between puffs of smoke, he showed me a picture of classical liberal economist Adam Smith and harrumphed, "We were right too early."

A few seconds later, he continued. "This whole 'all men are created equal' thing"--he paused to hold up his iPhone--"it's never been more true."

This is a conflict of visions. People who agree with Trump doubt conservatism can win the hearts and minds of diverse Americans. People who agree with Castellanos think the only thing stopping conservatism from flourishing as a superior philosophy is the cultural baggage and identity politics perpetuated by men like Mr. Trump.

Trump is essentially an American Jeremy Corbyn, which is why he's indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Iraq Says It Exported More Than 1 Billion Barrels of Oil in 2015 (Khalid Al-Ansary and Kadhim Ajrash, January 1, 2016, Bloomberg)

Iraq said it exported 1.097 billion barrels of oil in 2015, generating $49.079 billion from sales, according to the oil ministry.

It sold 99.7 million barrels of oil in December, generating $2.973 billion, after selling a record 100.9 million barrels in November, said oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad. The country sold at an average price of $44.74 a barrel in 2015, Jihad said.

Even the most optimistic among us could hardly have envisioned how well destabilizing one regime would work, from delegitimizing Middle Eastern dictatorship to allying us with the Shi'a to destroying the oil cartel.
Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Can working less make you more productive? : Long hours in the office are nothing to boast about, business guru Margaret Heffernan tells Lucy Kellaway. (BBC, 29 December 2015)

...you're saving your employer money by surfing the web for those 6 hours a day.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Is Trump "taking advantage" or American anxieties? (Elizabeth McElvein, 12/31/15, Brookings)

Speaking to NPR's Steve Inskeep in a year-end interview, the president highlighted Americans' concerns about demographic change and experiences of diminished economic opportunity:

"But I do think that when you combine that demographic change with all the economic stresses that people have been going through because of the financial crisis, because of technology, because of globalization, the fact that wages and incomes have been flat lining for some time, and that particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck, you combine those things and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear. Some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That's what he's exploiting during the course of his campaign."

The American Values Survey, a collaboration between the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution, substantiates the President's claims by clarifying the identity and outlook of Trump's supporters. A majority (55 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support Trump are white working-class Americans. In contrast, only 35% of those supporting other Republican candidates identify as white and working-class.

Trump supporters differ most from those supporting other Republican candidates on issues of immigration. Nearly seven in ten (69 percent) Trump supporters say that immigration is a critical issue to them personally, compared with only 50 percent of those supporting other GOP candidates. Eight in ten Trump supporters say that immigrants today are a burden to the U.S. because they take American jobs, housing and healthcare; just 56 percent of those supporting other Republican candidates say the same. And roughly three quarters (74 percent) of Trump supporters agree that discrimination against white (non-Hispanic) Americans has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. This sentiment is shared by only 57 percent of those supporting other Republican candidates.

The PRRI-Brookings Survey also finds that white, working-class anxiety about demographic change is linked to experiences of diminished economic opportunity. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of white-working class Americans say illegal immigrants are at least somewhat responsible for America's current economic conditions, compared to only 44 percent of white college-educated Americans who say the same. Concerns about the U.S. economy span the political and demographic spectrums, but 78 percent of white working-class Americans believe the United States is still in a recession, compared to just 62 percent of white college-educated Americans.

Can 62% of educated Americans really think this is a recession?

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


It's not chaos. It's Trump's campaign strategy. (Paul Schwartzman and Jenna Johnson, December 9, 2015, Washington Post)

[W]hile it may seem like a lurching, chaotic campaign, Trump is, for the most part, a disciplined and methodical candidate, according to a Washington Post review of the businessman's speeches, interviews and thousands of tweets and retweets over the past six months.

Trump delivers scores of promises, diatribes and insults at breakneck speed. He attacks a regular cast of villains including undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, his GOP rivals and the media. He keeps the narrative arc of each controversy alive with an endless stream of statements, an unwillingness to back down even when he has misstated the facts -- and a string of attacks against those who criticize him.

All the while, his supporters see a truth-talking problem solver unlike the traditional politicians who have let them down. Spending remarkably little, he dominates yet another news cycle, and his Republican rivals languish in his shadow. [...]

The Post's analysis found several qualities to Trump's approach. First is a pattern of experimentation that suggests that he is testing his insults and attacks as he goes along. Like a team of corporate marketers, Trump understands the value of message-testing -- but he appears to do it spontaneously, behind the lectern and on live television.

After 74-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, underwent outpatient surgery for a hernia, Trump tried joking about it. At a rally in Georgia on Nov. 30, Trump said the condition was caused by "carrying around too much tax problems." The response from the audience was tepid.

Trump tried again at a rally two nights later in Virginia: "He was carrying around the tax code he wants to make larger." It still didn't get many laughs -- and Trump stopped trying.

Another quality to Trump's words is the kernel of truth that often exists in even his most inflammatory statements. He told supporters that Obama would allow 200,000 or 250,000 Syrian refugees into the country, describing the level as "insane." In fact, the administration has agreed to admit only 10,000. Trump has refused to backtrack, once explaining that his larger number comes from a "pretty good source."

These patterns of speaking, along with his charm and sometimes lavish praise for people he likes, resonate with many conservative voters who are looking for someone to trust over the mainstream media. They see Trump as genuine and honest, one of the few politicians who don't lie to them, even if his comments are not fully true.

With each new uproar, the analysis also showed, a largely predictable cycle unfolds. It begins with Trump's bombast. Next comes condemnation and predictions that his candidacy is doomed, followed by his tendency to keep going without backing down. The pattern has repeated with many of his major controversies.

Trump often provokes a fresh, whiplash-inducing controversy that eclipses the current one, triggering a new round of free media coverage that cements his place at the forefront of the news cycle.

...is that while ostensibly anti-media he's completely dependent on it.

Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


Saudi Arabia's economic time bomb (Luay Al-Khatteeb, 12/31/15, Brookings)

The rapid depletion of Saudi's foreign exchange funds is rather alarming. During 2015, the Kingdom's central bank reserves have dropped from $732 billion to $623 billion in less than 12 months. Based on current levels of spending and deficit, and assuming budget priorities remain static, with oil market conditions to stay unchanged, and regional tensions do not escalate, their reserves give them a fiscal buffer of five years at best.

The 2014-2015 declines in oil prices differ from historic episodes. This time it's oversupply driven by unprecedented production levels from conventional and non-conventional producers. Advance technologies and unconventional sources of supply to the energy mix have made the competition fierce over market share. To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia will have to compete with aggressive oil production plans projected by Iraq and Iran. This will undoubtedly glut the market with further oversupplies of 3 million barrel a day.  If this unsustainable financial decline continues at its present rate, the dollar exchange rate to the riyal will be endangered and the government will not be able to keep the peg. This may have serious ramifications on the U.S. dollar if other Gulf Cooperation Council countries follow suit.

Annual subsidies on oil and gas are costing the Kingdom around $61 billion and nearly $10 billion for electricity and water. As a result of current fiscal reforms enacted by the government, they have now increased rates on natural gas to +66%, ethane +133%, and gasoline +50%. Although this could be seen as a massive increase in prices by local consumers, the increases remain relatively low compared to international markets. This slight increase in prices which is being replicated across the GCC, is seen more as an austerity package alongside increase in taxes than strictly adhering to the International Monetary Fund recommendations. The impact of such measures are yet to be clearly tested and assessed in terms of local acceptance but provided the local cost of goods and services remain stable, job creation for locals in the public sector increases and welfare benefits remain as they are, citizens of KSA are unlikely to put pressure on the Government.

As for defence spending, the 2016 budget has featured the largest single allocation in the budget at 213 billion riyals ($56.79 billion) to the military and security services, comprising more than 25 percent of the total budget. According to IHS, Saudi defence could reach as much as $62bn by 2020, in part due to KSA's military interventions in the region. It is worth noting Riyadh's defence budget had been rising by 19 per cent a year since the Arab uprisings of 2011 which clearly reflects the growing domestic and regional pressures felt by the authorities.

Furthermore, budgeted allocations may not necessarily include off balance sheet financial commitments allocated to countries that opted to join Saudi Arabia's military coalitions and campaigns in the Middle East.

The Ticking Time Bomb

Sharp decline in oil prices, cost of subsidies and military spending, including the war in Yemen and supporting rebels in Syria, are all factors that will continue impacting the Kingdom's financial position. However, the 'mother of all problems' facing the nation is not a growing budget deficit, regional terrorism and sectarian tensions but the growing and endemic youth unemployment that continues to endanger Saudi Arabia's national security. Saudi Arabia needs to increase public-private sector cooperation to absorb millions of unemployed youth and avoid rendering them to the abyss of terrorism or civil unrest.

Despite the Kingdom's 23 per cent budget allocation to education and training, SR 191.6 billion ($51 billion), Saudi Arabia's youth unemployment is now the biggest socio-economic challenge that is crippling if not seriously undermine the Government's hold on power.

Two-thirds of the Saudi population - of 30.8 million - are under the age of 30. According to official statistics, the unemployment rate for Saudis aged 15 to 24 is 30 percent. A published paper by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2011 suggests that thirty-seven percent of all Saudis are 14-years-old or younger! Saudi Arabia needs to create at least 3 million new jobs by 2020.

The Saudi government will also need to release immense pent up social pressure by adopting genuine grass root policies adhering to democracy and human rights principles under international laws and conventions. It should not be forgotten that Government's accountability and protection should be truly expressed to the 10 million expat community living in the Kingdom including children born to Saudi mothers but foreign fathers. For example, children who are born to Saudi mothers despite being entitled to education at primary, secondary and undergraduate levels and have a right to work are not citizens with unqualified rights of residency or state pensions, unlike children born to Saudi fathers.

The End of History comes to everyone.

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


Despite the Trump disaster, the Republican Party is in great shape (Matthew Yglesias, December 30, 2015, Vox)

The basic truth is this: Whatever the merits of orthodox American conservative economic policy (I am skeptical, personally) the reason its proponents are pushing the envelope so hard is pretty clear -- the strategy is working fairly well and the odds of it achieving massive political success are decent.

Frum paints a highly entertaining and largely accurate portrait of the internal dynamics that have fueled Trumpism but is fundamentally too skeptical that the non-Trump faction's strategy will succeed in the end on its own terms. Beinart's thesis about a boom-time for American liberalism contains important elements of truth, but also skirts far too much of the core center of what American political conflict is about.

Both articles severely understate the possibility that one year from today we may well be looking at a President-Elect Rubio (or Bush or Christie or Cruz) backed by congressional majorities and downballot dominance not seen since the depths of the Great Depression. The kind of solid wall of Republicanism that may well take office in 2017 would be unlikely to endure very long, but it would be empowered to enact sweeping changes in American public policy that would make all of this winter's liberal smugness look absurd. [...]

Sentiment had shifted strongly to the right before Ronald Reagan's election, but the longer the conservative icon remained in offie the more the public swung left. Conversely, the Obama presidency has been associated with a bunch of high-profile liberal policymaking that the public senses has perhaps gone too far.

This backlash to Obama-ism isn't unusual or unprecedented in scale. But its interaction with the Democratic collapse in state government leads to some unfortunate consequences for liberals. The presence of so many Republican governors and state legislatures means that the overall trajectory of American public policy during the Obama years simply hasn't been all that left-wing -- things like the Affordable Care Act and Obama's historic carbon control rules have been partially offset by anti-union legislation, regressive state tax reforms, and serious cutbacks in education spending. But public perceptions of politics are dominated by the presidency, so the mood has swung right in reaction to Obama just as it would have had the Democratic Party in general been more successful in the Obama years.

While the UR has governed identically to W, he is perceived as Left, just as W was perceived as Right, and Clinton was perceived as Left, and so the identical reaction is ocurring.  The only real question of 2016 is whether we get a Republican or a Democrat who pushes the exact same Third Way policies as Bill/W/Barrack.Irrespective, we'll get movement towards greater free trade, more consumption based taxation and transfer of the safety net from defined benefit to defind contribution.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


As GOP Whip, Rubio Helped Ex-Con Brother-in-Law Get Real Estate License (Margaret Hartmann, 12/31/15, New York)

While serving in Florida's House of Representatives, Marco Rubio had a number of financial problems, including misuse of a Republican Party credit card. The senator's messy finances may become a bigger campaign issue if he moves up in the race, and now the Washington Post has added a much simpler ethical issue to the list. The paper reports that in July 2002, when Rubio was majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives, he sent a letter on official stationery recommending that the Florida Division of Real Estate grant his brother-in-law a real-estate license. The problem: Rubio failed to note that Orlando Cicilia is married to his sister, Barbara, and Cicilia had recently been released from prison after being convicted of distributing $15 million worth of cocaine.

"I have known Mr. Cicilia for over 25 years," Rubio wrote, without noting that he was living with Rubio's parents at the time. "I recommend him for licensure without reservation. If I can be of further assistance on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me directly."

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


In 2015, TV Broke Ground By Showing Relatable Women In Hijab (Neda Ulaby, 1/01/16, NPR : Morning Edition)

The Great British Bake Off was the most popular program in Britain in 2015, and the show boasts a devout following in the U.S. [Ed. Note: If you're part of that U.S. following, be warned: We're about to discuss the most recent season, which hasn't yet aired in the U.S.]

The show's latest winner, Nadiya Hussain, spent weeks whipping up traditional British pastries such as cream horns and iced buns, all while wearing a crisp white apron and a traditional black headscarf. "Nadiya has brought something special to The Bake Off," raved judge Paul Hollywood during the show's October finale. "Her ideas have flair. Her emotion, her passion were all in her bakes. She just nailed the whole final and that was the best tasting final we ever had."

Hussain's win was widely seen as a triumph of British multiculturalism. And by regularly showing a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman outside the context of hate crimes, terrorism or politics, The Bake Off is part of a small but significant shift in how hijab-wearing women were represented on TV in 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals (Jesse Singal, 12/30/15, New York)

I first read Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science when I was home for Thanksgiving, and I often left it lying around the house when I was doing other stuff. At one point, my dad picked it up off a table and started reading the back-jacket copy. "That's an amazing book so far," I said. "It's about the politicization of science." "Oh," my dad responded. "You mean like Republicans and climate change?"

That exchange perfectly sums up why anyone who is interested in how tricky a construct "truth" has become in 2015 should read Alice Dreger's book. No, it isn't about climate change, but my dad could be excused for thinking any book about the politicization of science must be about conservatives. Many liberals, after all, have convinced themselves that it's conservatives who attack science in the name of politics, while they would never do such a thing. Galileo's Middle Finger corrects this misperception in a rather jarring fashion, and that's why it's one of the most important social-science books of 2015.

At its core, Galileo's Middle Finger is about what happens when science and dogma collide -- specifically, what happens when science makes a claim that doesn't fit into an activist community's accepted worldview. And many of Dreger's most interesting, explosive examples of this phenomenon involve liberals, not conservatives, fighting tooth and nail against open scientific inquiry. [...]

This should stand as a wake-up call, as a rebuke to the smugness that sometimes infects progressive beliefs about who "respects" science more. After all, what both the Bailey and Chagnon cases have in common -- alongside some of the others in Galileo's Middle Finger -- is the extent to which groups of progressive self-appointed defenders of social justice banded together to launch full-throated assaults on legitimate science, and the extent to which these attacks were abetted by left-leaning academic institutions and activists too scared to stand up to the attackers, often out of a fear of being lumped in with those being attacked, or of being accused of wobbly allyship.

It's hard not to come away from Dreger's wonderful book feeling like we're doomed. Think about all the time and effort it took her -- a professionally trained historian as equipped as anyone to dig into complex morasses of conflicting claims -- to excavate the full details of just one of these controversies. Who has a year to research and produce a fact-finding report that only a tiny percentage of people will ever read or care about? Who's going to figure out exactly how some contested conversation between Mike Bailey and a young transgender woman in Chicago in two thousand whatever actually went down? Dreger herself is transparent about the fact that these days she can only afford to do what she does because her physician husband has a high-paying job at a medical school. There aren't a lot of Alice Dregers. Nor are there, these days, a lot of investigative journalists with the time and resources to understand complicated debates involving controversial science. There is, however, a lot identity-driven content on the internet, because it's easy to produce and tends to travel well. If you're a writer or an editor looking for a quick hit, outrage at a perceived slight against some vulnerable group is a surefire bet.

While the false charges against Chagnon and Bailey were certainly helped along by the internet, neither episode occurred in our present age of bottomless social-media outrage. Imagine if the Bailey controversy dropped tomorrow. Imagine how various outlets, all racing to publish the hottest take and all forced to rely on only those sparse, ambiguous scraps of evidence that filter down in the first days of an uproar over an unfamiliar subject, would cover it. If anything, all the incentives have gotten worse; if anything, the ranks of dedicated, safely employed critical thinkers in a position to be the voice of reason have thinned. In all likelihood, the coverage today would be far uglier and more prejudicial than it was when the scandal actually broke.

Science can't function in this sort of pressure-cooker environment. The way things are heading, with the lines of communication between scientific institutions and the general public growing increasingly direct (a good thing in many cases, to be sure), and with instant, furious reaction the increasingly favored response to anything with a whiff of injustice to it -- details be damned --  it will become hard, if not impossible, for careful researchers unencumbered by dogmatic ideology to make good-faith efforts to understand controversial subjects, and to then publish their findings. Chagnon and Bailey, after all, were good-faith researchers. They had both demonstrated, in the way only years of diligent scholarly work can, that they were fascinated by and cared deeply about their subjects. In their published writing, both men surfaced and amplified stories about hidden communities that never would have reached the wider world otherwise. And yet all this work counted for zilch, because when controversy erupted, they fit an easy-to-process, irresistible story line: They were white men exploiting vulnerable populations for personal gain. Imagine being a young psychologist genuinely interested in transgender issues, with a genuine desire to study them rigorously. What would the Bailey blowup tell you about the wisdom of staking your career on that field of research?

We should want researchers to poke around at the edges of "respectable" beliefs about gender and race and religion and sex and identity and trauma, and other issues that make us squirm. That's why the scientific method was invented in the first place. If activists -- any activists, regardless of their political orientation or the rightness of their cause -- get to decide by fiat what is and isn't an acceptable interpretation of the world, then science is pointless, and we should just throw the whole damn thing out.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


The book every new American citizen -- and every old one, too -- should read : To mark my first year of U.S. citizenship, I read Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America." Turns out, it explains everything. (Carlos Lozada, December 17, 2015, Washington Post)

Sure, I passed the citizenship test, even practicing the list of 100 questions with my kids. (They'll ace elementary school civics now.) But for the advanced coursework, my instinct was to turn to a book. What could I read that would guide me through the chaos that is democracy in America?

Fortunately, there's this little book called "Democracy in America" -- written 175 years ago by, of all people, some know-it-all foreigner.

It's embarrassing to admit that I'd never read Alexis de Tocqueville's classic work until now, but I'm glad I picked this year to do it. Few books have been so often cited and imitated, so I won't presume to offer more insight than this: "Democracy in America" is an ideal book to read as a new citizen. Yes, it's really long and stuffed with annoying, self-referential French digressions. (I can say that sort of thing now, I'm American!) But it also explains perfectly to a brand-new compatriot so much of the essential minutiae of life here, so much of what America is and was, so much of what it risks losing.

"Democracy in America," for example, explains why Americans always want you to join things and sign stuff. As soon as they welcome you to the whole, the parts start claiming you. It could be your race or ethnicity or sexual identity. Or your hobby, your school, your politics, your team. Where do you belong? Which identity is strong enough to get you to commit and be counted? With options multiplying, "American" is just the beginning.

Tocqueville obsesses over this freedom of association. "In America, citizens of the minority associate primarily to ascertain their numerical strength and thereby weaken the moral ascendancy of the majority," he writes. "The second purpose of association is to promote competition among ideas in order to discover which arguments are most likely to make an impression on the majority, for the minority always hopes to attract enough additional support to become the majority and as such to wield power."

I first grasped this when I arrived here after high school and collegiate groups tried to mark their territory. Would I join the Hispanic Americans organization? The international students? Pick! Now I get to vote, but I have to register with a party. In America, you're always taking sides. "There is only one nation on earth where daily use is made of the unlimited freedom to associate for political ends," Tocqueville writes. Americans not only use it daily but obsess over whether that's enough. Bowling alone is frowned upon, FYI.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Outside the box: a Sunni endgame in Syria, Iraq?  : A series of related events point to a possible endgame scenario in Syria and Iraq. (Fernando Betancor, 12/31/15, openDemocracy)

In October, a group of 53 Saudi imams unaffiliated with the government called for a jihad against the Russian, Iranian and Syrian governments. The group went even further than official condemnation and likened the Russian intervention to the 1980 war in Afghanistan--which led to the birth of Al Qaeda, in case anyone has forgotten. It is significant that the Saudi government allowed or was not able to stop the communication; the former would indicate approval of the intensified message while the latter would imply weakness and the desire of the Saudis to avoid internal dissension from the more radical clergy. [...]

Also on 9 December, Syrian opposition groups agreed to a Saudi-proposed framework for talks and to unify in the face of a Russian-backed loyalist resurgence. The road remains rocky as many of the rebel groups courteously despise each other, but the possibility of a unified Sunni rebel front is highly significant.

These events occur in the context of a significant offensive by Assad's loyalist forces, backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, to recapture the initiative and retake critical territory around Hama, Aleppo and Homs. The fighting has been intense and the progress has been slow--mainly because of the anti-tank guided weapons the Gulf states have been providing to the Syrian rebels--but progress is being made. The immediate threat to Latakia and the Alawite heartland has eased; the beleaguered garrison of Kweiras AFB has been relieved after a two-year siege; and the threat to the strategic north-south supply lines has been pushed back. It is not victory; but for a regime on the point of collapse just three months ago, it is an important turnaround.

Many of the rebel groups courteously despise each other, but the possibility of a unified Sunni rebel front is highly significant.

This has put a great deal of pressure on the Saudis. Their Syrian proxies are suffering serious setbacks; in Iraq, the victories are being won either by Shia Hashed militias (Bayji, Ramadi) or else by the Kurdish Peshmerga (Sinjar). The Gulf states don't have any beef against the Kurds per se, but the Iraqi Shia militias are being openly trained and supplied by Iran. King Salman is not secure enough on his throne to suffer grievous loss of prestige lightly; he faces the very real possibilities of either a palace coup or a radicalisation of his already radical subjects should his leadership lead to a Sunni defeat in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey is also under pressure. President Erdogan faces plenty of domestic opposition due to his authoritarian manner and the vast corruption of his AKP apparatchiks; only by picking a fight with the Kurds and taking a hardline in Syria was he able to secure a narrow parliamentary majority in a November second election, after the previous one delivered a hung parliament. Furthermore, the country faces a resurgent Russia that has thrashed Georgia, occupied Crimea, is playing footsy with Azerbaijan and Armenia, and now has the better part of a frontal aviation regiment in Syria with ground troops to defend their bases. After 400 years of fighting off the Russians, the last thing the Turks want is to be encircled by them.

These setbacks seem to have brought the 'Sunni coalition' closer together. Goaded on by the United States, the Turks and Saudis may be prepared to move beyond supplies and munitions to use of ground forces in an effort to redress the situation.