February 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


When Bernie Sanders Thought Castro and the Sandinistas Could Teach America a Lesson (Michael Moynihan, 2/29/16, Daily Beast)

If CNN can ambush Sanders by reaching back to 1974 and his not-entirely-unreasonable criticism of the CIA, perhaps another enterprising television journalist will ask the candidate-of-consistency one of the following questions:

-- Do you think that American foreign policy gives people cancer?
-- Do you think a state of war--be it against the Vietnamese communists, Nicaraguan anti-communists, or al Qaeda's Islamists--justifies the curtailment of press freedoms?
-- Do you stand by your qualified-but-fulsome praise of the totalitarian regime in Cuba? Do you stand by your unqualified-and-fulsome praise of the totalitarian Sandinista regime in Nicaragua?
-- Do you believe that bread lines are a sign of economic health?
-- Do you think the Reagan administration was engaged in the funding and commissioning of terrorism?

A weird palette of questions, sure, but when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he answered "yes" to all of them. Hidden on spools of microfilm, buried in muffled and grainy videos of press conferences and public appearances, Mayor Sanders enumerated detailed--and radical--foreign-policy positions and explained his brand of socialism. (If you find foreign-policy debates tedious, feel free to ask Sanders if he still believes that "the basic truth of politics is primarily class struggle"; that "democracy means public ownership of the major means of production"; or that "both the Democratic and Republican parties represent the ruling class.")

In the 1980s, any Bernie Sanders event or interview inevitably wended toward a denunciation of Washington's Central America policy, typically punctuated with a full-throated defense of the dictatorship in Nicaragua. As one sympathetic biographer wrote in 1991, Sanders "probably has done more than any other elected politician in the country to actively support the Sandinistas and their revolution." Reflecting on a Potemkin tour of revolutionary Nicaragua he took in 1985, Sanders marveled that he was, "believe it or not, the highest ranking American official" to attend a parade celebrating the Sandinista seizure of power.

It's quite easy to believe, actually, when one wonders what elected American official would knowingly join a group of largely unelected officials of various "fraternal" Soviet dictatorships while, just a few feet away, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega bellows into a microphone that the United States is governed by a criminal band of terrorists.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Turkey shells Islamic State positions in Syria (AFP February 29, 2016)

Turkish armed forces shelled positions of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria in coordination with the US-led international anti-jihadist coalition, local media reported on Monday.

It's all about the Near War and we're well out of it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Warren Buffett on global warming: 'This issue bears a similarity to Pascal's Wager on the Existence of God.' (Akin Oyedele, Feb. 27, 2016, Business Insider)

From the letter (emphasis ours):

It seems highly likely to me that climate change poses a major problem for the planet. I say "highly likely" rather than "certain" because I have no scientific aptitude and remember well the dire predictions of most "experts" about Y2K. It would be foolish, however, for me or anyone to demand 100% proof of huge forthcoming damage to the world if that outcome seemed at all possible and if prompt action had even a small chance of thwarting the danger.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


About 100 Workers Walk Out at Tesla Battery Plant Building Site (Dana Hull, February 29, 2016, Bloomberg View)

At least 100 workers at the construction site for Tesla Motors Inc.'s battery factory near Reno, Nevada, walked off the job Monday to protest use of workers from other states, a union official said.

Local labor leaders are upset that Tesla contractor Brycon Corp. is bringing in workers from Arizona and New Mexico, said Todd Koch, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada.


Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Email: Nancy Pelosi Said Dealing With Obama Was Like Dealing With 'The Junior Senator From Illinois' (Chuck Ross, 02/26/2016, Daily Caller)

"When I go to the White House I feel like I'm dealing with the junior senator from Illinois," is what Blumenthal claimed Pelosi told a group of people gathered at the Democracy Alliance's annual meeting, held in mid-Nov. 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


In Interview, Donald Trump Denies Report of Father's Arrest in 1927 (Jason Horowitz, 9/22/15, NY Times)

For a story about Donald J. Trump's childhood home of Jamaica Estates, Queens, I talked to the presidential candidate about the role his father, Fred C. Trump, played in developing the neighborhood. I also asked him about a 1927 report in The New York Times, unearthed by the website Boing Boing, that listed Fred Trump as being among a group of people arrested, and then discharged, by the police in response to a Ku Klux Klan rally that had turned violent in Queens. The question, essentially, was, "Did you ever hear of this?"

Mr. Trump's barrage of answers - his sudden denial of a fact he had moments before confirmed; his repeatedly noting that no charges were filed against his father in connection with the incident he had just repeatedly denied; and his denigration of the news organization that brought the incident to light as a "little website" - shows his pasta-against-the-wall approach to beating down inconvenient story lines.

Here is a transcript of our conversation on the subject.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Deflation is back: Cue more money printing (Mark Thompson, February 29, 2016, CNN)

Consumer prices fell by 0.2% in February, pulled down by the plunging cost of energy. That's the first time inflation has turned negative since September last year.

Equally troubling the European Central Bank and its president Mario Draghi will be the drop in "core inflation" to 0.7% from 1% in January. That measure strips out energy prices, which tend to bounce around month to month.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Official results: Iranian relative moderates win majority in parliament, clerical body (ALI AKBAR DAREINI February 29, 2016, Times of Israel)

Final results released by the Interior Ministry and broadcast on state TV show that reformists, who favor expanded social freedoms and engagement with the West, and other backers of President Hassan Rouhani, won at least 85 seats. Moderate conservatives -- who split with the hard-line camp and support the nuclear deal -- won 73, giving the two camps together a majority over hard-liners in the 290-seat assembly.

Hard-liners won just 68 seats, down from 112 in the current parliament. Five seats will go to religious minorities, and the remaining 59 will be decided in a runoff, likely to be held in April. [...]

Perhaps the most surprising result of the election was the loss of seats in the Assembly of Experts by two prominent hard-liners: Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the current head of the assembly, and Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, considered the spiritual leader of hard-liners.

Reformists make big gains as Rouhani prepares to bring Tehran in from the cold (Romil Patel, February 29, 2016, IB Times)

In a five-year development plan presented to parliament last month, Rouhani revealed that the government is setting its sights on as much as $50bn (£36bn) a year in investment to push for further growth and more jobs. Tehran is also planning to pump one million barrels of oil per day in a market already flooded by oversupply after it flatly rejected support for a freeze of production.
The economy is likely to be Rouhani's primary focus, rather than radical social reform within Iran. "The goal will probably be to focus on the economics because that's something that delivers to everybody," Momani told Bloomberg's Countdown this morning. "The focus will be to talk about economic reform - part of that is going to include greater foreign direct investment (FDI) [and] allowing more foreign companies to come in."

Iran set to elect record number of women into parliament (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 29 February 2016, The Guardian)

With reformist-backed candidates securing a sweeping victory in Tehran, and moderates leading in provinces, a record number of women are set to enter the next Iranian parliament. 

Estimates based on the latest results show that as many as 20 women are likely to enter the 290-seat legislature known as the Majlis, the most ever. The previous record was set nearly 20 years ago during the fifth parliament after the 1979 revolution, when 14 women held seats. There are nine women in the current Iranian parliament. 

Eight of the women elected this time were on a reformist-backed list of 30 candidates standing in the Tehran constituency known as "the list of hope".

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


UK consumes far less than a decade ago - 'peak stuff' or something else? (Patrick Collinson, 29 February 2016, The Guardian)

The amount of "stuff" used in the UK - including food, fuel, metals and building materials - has fallen dramatically since 2001, according to official government figures.

The Office for National Statistics data released on Monday reveals that on average people used 15 tonnes of material in 2001 compared with just over 10 tonnes in 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Who Still Opposes G** Marriage, and Why  (TOM JACOBS, 2/29/16, Pacific Standard)

Those same fiercely monogamous people, it finds, tend to be predisposed to associate g**s with promiscuity.

In other words, only the knowledgable are opposed? And monogamy is hardly the primary reason--love is.

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Afghanistan to produce 4 tonnes of saffron in 2016, to replace opium harvest (Vasudevan Sridharan, February 29, 2016, IB Times)

Afghan authorities have said the country's farmers would produce more than 4,000kgs of saffron in 2016 to replace the illegal opium harvest in the strife-torn country. Officials have expressed hope that the production of saffron is picking up across Afghanistan [...]

Experts have said that an increase in the saffron production will not only help Afghan farmers to switch to legal cultivation methods, but also would bestow a self-sufficient model. Authorities cited in the GMIC statement said this would significantly boost exports from Afghanistan as well.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Scarborough: Donald Trump's Remarks on White Supremacists Are 'Disqualifying' (David Rutz, February 29, 2016, Free Beacon)

Scarborough, who has allowed Trump to phone into his show numerous times in the election cycle and has been accused of being overly cozy with the candidate, sounded disgusted after the clip of Trump played on Morning Joe.

"That's disqualifying right there," Scarborough said. "It's breathtaking. That is disqualifying right there. To say you don't know about the Ku Klux Klan? You don't know about David Duke? And the most stunning thing is ... this isn't buying him a single vote. Is he really so stupid that he think southerners aren't offended by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke?"

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Donald Trump once praised China's crackdown at Tiananmen Square as showing 'the power of strength' (Kimberly Alters)

Back in March 1990, Trump was interviewed by Playboy, and had this to say about China's leadership during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, during which unarmed students poured into Beijing's center square and were met by military troops and tanks:

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak... as being spit on by the rest of the world...

February 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Hassan Rouhani hails 'new chapter' as first results show sweeping gains for moderates (David Blair, 28 Feb 2016, The Telegraph)

Some of Iran's most notorious hardliners were cast into the political wilderness, including Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, the spiritual mentor of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who lost his place in the Assembly of Experts and came near the bottom of the poll.

...it's that Yazdi could not lose power democratically.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


What I Saw at the Revolution (Donald J. Trump, February 19, 2000, NY Times)

Don King, the boxing promoter, has stated that my recent presidential exploratory campaign was one of the greatest promotions of all time. Sadly, many have agreed with him and have thought that my foray into presidential politics was done for the purpose of further heightening the Trump name, helping to sell my new book and building even greater awareness of my various real estate developments. [...]

Although I am totally comfortable with the people in the New York Independence Party, I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep.

Now he represents their fondest dreams.
Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Iran said withdrawing all its fighting forces from Syria (AFP February 28, 2016)

Iran is withdrawing all of its 2,500-strong fighting force from Syria, Israeli television reported Sunday night.

Most of the forces have already been returned home, and the rest are on their way out, Channel 2 said. It said the decision was taken by Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Donald Trump Needs to Know More About White Supremacist Groups Before He Rejects Their Support (Chas Danner, 2/28/16, NY Mag)
Appearing on CNN's State of the Union Sunday morning, Donald Trump passed on a few opportunities, given by host Jake Tapper, to reject the support of white supremacists and recent endorser David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of Klu Klux Klan and arguably the most famous white supremacist in America. [...]

"Well I have to look at the group. I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about."

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


'Get on the Plane': Awkward Moment for Trump and Christie (HEATHER HADDON, Feb 28, 2016 , WSJ)

Donald Trump and Gov. Chris Christie shared an awkward moment on the campaign trail Saturday, when the Republican front-runner was overheard telling his highest-profile endorser to "get on the plane and go home."

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Marco Rubio Pushed for Immigration Reform With Conservative Media (JASON HOROWITZ, FEB. 27, 2016, NY Times)

[T]he media executives, highly attuned to the intensifying anger in the Republican grass roots, warned that the senators also needed to make their case to Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk radio, who held enormous sway with the party's largely anti-immigrant base.

So the senators supporting the legislation turned to Mr. Rubio, the Florida Republican, to reach out to Mr. Limbaugh.

The dinner at News Corporation headquarters -- which has not been previously reported -- and the subsequent outreach to Mr. Limbaugh illustrate the degree to which Mr. Rubio served as the chief envoy to the conservative media for the group supporting the legislation. The bill would have provided a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants along with measures to secure the borders and ensure that foreigners left the United States upon the expiration of their visas. [...]

The senators embarked on a tour of editorial boards and newsrooms, and Mr. Rubio was even featured as the "Republican savior" on the cover of Time magazine for his efforts to change immigration laws. He already was being mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender.

Rush who?

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Apple shareholders reject proposal for diversity in top management positions (Agamoni Ghosh, February 28, 2016, IB Times)

Apple Inc shareholders have rejected a proposal that would have required the board of one of the world's largest companies to adopt an "accelerated recruitment policy" for minorities among company leaders to establish a more diverse leadership. [...]

The shareholders' proposal regarding "diversity among senior management and Board of Directors" failed 94.9% to 5.1%, according to an early tally announced at Apple's annual shareholders' meeting at the company headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Hail, Caesar! (Mark Steyn, February 27, 2016, Mark at the Movies)

On the eve of the Oscars, here's a new film from the Coen brothers that's far droller and more genuinely subversive of Hollywood than the self-serving leaden propagandizing of Trumbo. [...]

The plot? Well, Lockheed have made Josh Brolin's Eddie an offer: Come and work for them - better pay, civilized hours, and you'd be spending your days on something important, not just cleaning up for circus freaks. Eddie dithers, unable to give the Lockheed headhunter a final answer. And then his biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped by Commie writers... The Coen brothers' first draft set the action in the Twenties, but at some point they decided to move it to the era of HUAC and the Hollywood Ten. And so it turns out the Lockheed guy is wrong: Eddie isn't just airbrushing problematic pregnancies and homosexual liaisons; whether he knows it or not, he's dealing with the biggest geopolitical issue of the day. A Soviet submarine even puts in an appearance.

There's none of the usual sentimentalized idealism about the red screenwriters here. It's a Soviet cell of dour, resentful, misshapen types who, having shanghaied George Clooney's character to a beach house in Malibu, explain that they've been slipping Communist sub-texts into their films for years, but are irked that the studio gets all the profits and they have to make do with their pitiful salaries. Clooney's befuddled Baird Whitlock, who spends the entire picture in his Roman centurion's garb, complete with sword, is fascinated by his kidnappers and asks them to explain this Communism business to him. The real Herbert Marcuse (John Bluthal) is present and endeavors to instruct the airheaded Baird in power differentials, and Baird responds yeah, he totally gets that because he was once on a bender in San Berdoo with Danny Kaye, and Danny Kaye made Baird shave Danny's back supposedly for an upcoming role but then it turned out it wasn't for a role, it was just 'cause Danny Kaye wanted to make Baird shave his back...

George Clooney plays this scene brilliantly, and then tops it with one in which he tells Josh Brolin that there's this big book that explains everything and it even has the same name as the studio - Capitol Pictures - but the book spells it with a K...

And Brolin rises from his desk and starts slapping Clooney around, and tells him he never wants to hear that again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Trump retweets Mussolini quote (Neetzan Zimmerman, 2/28/16, The Hill)

The GOP front-runner proudly highlighted early Sunday morning a striking quote attributed to him by a Twitter user: "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep."

"@ilduce2016: "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep." - @realDonaldTrump #MakeAmericaGreatAgain"

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2016

Trouble is, that quote is actually attributed to fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Indeed, the username of the Trump follower who brought the quote to the billionaire businessman's attention --@ilduce2016 --was a likely giveaway that he was a staunch admirer of the Axis leader, as was his use of a photoshopped composite of Mussolini with Trump's iconic coiffure for his Twitter avatar.

"Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy."  It more accurately captures his personality and appeal.
Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Albanian newsreaders strip down to boost audience (AFP, 28 February 2016)

Faced with tough competition to win over audiences, an Albanian TV channel is taking a literal approach towards giving viewers the "naked" truth - by employing almost-topless newsreaders.

Wearing open jackets and nothing underneath, the young women reading the headlines on Zjarr TV are an unprecedented sight in the conservative Balkan country, where they first appeared on television and Internet screens last year.

The channel's owner says audiences haven't stopped growing since.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The Reality of the Resurrection (Robert Barron, 2/24/16, Real Clear Religion)

This scene reminded me of debates that were fashionable in theological circles when I was doing my studies in the 1970's and 1980's. Scholars who were skeptical of the bodily facticity of Jesus's resurrection would pose the question, "What would someone outside of the circle of Jesus's disciples have seen had he been present at the tomb on Easter morning or in the Upper Room on Easter evening?" The implied answer to the query was "well, nothing." The academics posing the question were suggesting that what the Bible calls resurrection designated nothing that took place in the real world, nothing that an objective observer would notice or dispassionate historian recount, but rather an event within the subjectivity of those who remembered the Lord and loved him.

For example, the extremely influential and widely-read Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx opined that, after the death of Jesus, his disciples, reeling in guilt from their cowardice and betrayal of their master, nevertheless felt forgiven by the Lord. This convinced them that, in some sense, he was still alive, and to express this intuition they told evocative stories about the empty tomb and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Roger Haight, a Jesuit theologian of considerable influence, speculated in a similar vein that the resurrection is but a symbolic expression of the disciples' conviction that Jesus continues to live in the sphere of God. Therefore, Haight taught, belief in the empty tomb or the appearances of the risen Lord is inessential to true resurrection faith. At a more popular level, James Carroll explained the resurrection as follows: after their master's death, the disciples sat in a kind of "memory circle" and realized how much Jesus meant to them and how powerful his teaching was and decided that his spirit lives on in them.

The great English Biblical scholar N.T. Wright is particularly good at exposing and de-bunking such nonsense. His principal objection to this sort of speculation is that it is profoundly non-Jewish. When a first century Jew spoke of resurrection, he could not have meant some non-bodily state of affairs. Jews simply didn't think in the dualist categories dear to Greeks and later to Gnostics.

The second problem is that this post-conciliar theologizing is dramatically unhistorical. Wright argues that, simply on historical grounds, it is practically impossible to explain the rise of the early Christian movement apart from a very objective construal of Jesus's resurrection from the dead. For a first-century Jew, the clearest possible indication that someone was not the promised Messiah would be his death at the hands of Israel's enemies, for the unambiguously clear expectation was that the Messiah would conquer and finally deal with the enemies of the nation. Peter, Paul, James, Andrew, and the rest could have coherently proclaimed -- and gone to their deaths defending -- a crucified Messiah if and only if he had risen from the dead. Can we really imagine Paul tearing into Athens or Corinth or Ephesus with the breathless message that he found a dead man deeply inspiring or that he and the other Apostles had felt forgiven by a crucified criminal? In the context of that time and place, no one would have taken him seriously.

Risen's far more reasonable and theologically compelling answer is that, yes indeed, if an outsider and unbeliever burst into the Upper Room when the disciples were experiencing the resurrected Jesus, he would have seen something along with them. Would he have fully grasped what he was seeing? Obviously not. But would the experience have had no objective referent? Just as obviously not.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Sanctions lifted, Tehran looks to boost financial ties with Swiss (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 28, 2016)

The leaders of Switzerland and Iran agreed Saturday to establish a "road map" for bolstering trade and diplomatic ties between the two nations, with Tehran courting the banking giant as key to boosting its financial situation after years of punishing sanctions. [...]

While the Swiss statement noted human rights as a subject of discussion between the two countries, Iranian leaders used the visit to celebrate Iranian "democracy" in the form of Friday's elections to parliament and the Assembly of Experts, as well as to chide other Western powers who have been more critical of Iranian human rights abuses and its role in several conflicts throughout the Middle East.

The Mehr News Agency quoted Iran's Rouhani as saying Saturday: "One major principle that brings Iran and Switzerland close is believing in independence, national sovereignty, democracy, and this very election, all of which serve as the main pillars to these countries' close ties."

In their meeting, the two leaders discussed practical steps for boosting economic ties, according to Iranian reports. Rouhani told media outlets that he and Schneider-Ammann had agreed that Switzerland would help Iran obtain full membership in the World Trade Organization, where it has been an observer since 2005. The two countries would also finalize several unfinished memorandums of understanding related to scientific cooperation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Rouhani allies sweep Tehran seats from conservatives (AFP February 28, 2016)

Reformist allies of Hassan Rouhani swept all 30 parliamentary seats in the Iranian capital, handing the moderate president a major boost on Sunday in elections seen as vital to his government.

The List of Hope, a pro-Rouhani coalition of moderates and reformists, was on course to wipe out its conservative rivals in Tehran with 90 percent of the votes counted from Friday's general election. [...]

The landslide in the capital in Iran's first election since a landmark nuclear deal last year ended a 13-year standoff with the West was a major fillip for Rouhani. [...]

There was further good news for the president in preliminary results from the second election that took place on Friday, for the Assembly of Experts, a powerful committee of clerics that monitors the work of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani and his close ally Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former two-term president, held the first two places among the 28 clerics seeking one of the 16 places reserved on the assembly for Tehran.

Fourteen of those on the Rouhani-Rafsanjani list for the assembly were in the top 16, with more than a third of votes counted.

February 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Jean-Marie Le Pen endorses Trump days after ex-KKK leader urges support (Alan Yuhas, 27 February 2016 , The Guardian)

Donald Trump received a vote of confidence on Saturday from Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader of France's Front National who in the past has said the Nazi occupation was not "particularly inhumane" and suggested Ebola could solve Europe's "immigration problem".

"If I were American, I would vote Donald Trump," Le Pen tweeted on Saturday about the Republican frontrunner for president. "But may God protect him!"

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer endorses Donald Trump (Jeva Lange, 2/27/16, The Week)

Brewer is perhaps best remembered for her controversial decision to make it a misdemeanor crime for an immigrant to be in Arizona without proper registration documents. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Iran elections: moderates lead Assembly of Experts race in Tehran (Deutsche-Welle, 2/27/16)

In the capital Tehran, 13 out of the top 16 Assembly of Experts candidates were on a list supported by Rafsanjani, media reports said.

With 1.5 million ballot papers counted out of 3.9 million cast in Tehran, Rafsanjani was in first place with 692,000 votes. Rouhani was just behind with 652.000, ISNA reported.

Everything opposition talking point you heard during the "debate" was wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Stuff Keeps Getting Cheaper (Justin Fox, 2/26/16, Bloomberg View)

The great durable-goods deflation is what I'll focus on today. It does not appear to be driven by central banks and their ability to create and destroy money. "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon," Milton Friedman wrote, and that presumably means that deflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, too. But monetary forces sweeping across the whole economy don't explain why durable-goods prices would follow such a different trajectory than other prices. So what does explain it?

One explanation is that goods (both durable and nondurable) are tradeable while services generally are not. That is, unlike most services, goods are bought and sold across national borders. So the rise of China as a giant new low-cost producer of manufactured goods in the 1990s and 2000s put lots of downward pressure on durable-goods prices, but not so much on nondurable goods (the three main categories of nondurables are food, energy and clothing, and China is a big exporter of only the third) and none at all on services.

The other explanation is that manufacturers of durable goods keep getting better at making them. The economics term for this is multifactor productivity growth, and it's been much higher for the past few decades in durable-goods manufacturing than in nondurable-goods manufacturing. Productivity growth in services is harder to measure, but seems to have been lower than in manufacturing (although there's some argument about that).

It's not just that durable-goods manufacturers have gotten more efficient in making things. It's also that they churn out products that are often vastly superior to those of the past, most notably computers and other electronic devices. Government inflation measures in the U.S. incorporate "hedonic quality adjustments" to try to reflect such improvements. These adjustments are often criticized by skeptics as a manipulation of the inflation rate, but they can't really be avoided. Yes, an iPhone costs a lot more than a Princess telephone did 25 years ago, but it is capable of exponentially more. And a low-end Android phone that does almost as much as an iPhone costs less than a Princess does now!

Technological progress (the driving force behind multifactor productivity growth, and also of the huge gains in living standards over the past two centuries) is a wonderful reason for persistent durable-goods deflation. Global competition isn't bad either. Brian Barnier, the consultant and economic-data maven who gave me the initial idea for this column, sees goods deflation as a cause for economic optimism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


21 Questions For Donald Trump (David Cay Johnston, July 10, 2015 , National Memo)

I have covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years -- including breaking the story that in 1990, when he claimed to be worth $3 billion but could not pay interest on loans coming due, his bankers put his net worth at minus $295 million. And so I have closely watched what Trump does and what government documents reveal about his conduct.

Reporters, competing Republican candidates, and voters would learn a lot about Trump if they asked for complete answers to these 21 questions.

So, Mr. Trump...

1. You call yourself an "ardent philanthropist," but have not donated a dollar to The Donald J. Trump Foundation since 2006. You're not even the biggest donor to the foundation, having given about $3.7 million in the previous two decades while businesses associated with Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment gave the Trump Foundation $5 million. All the money since 2006 has come from those doing business with you.

How does giving away other people's money, in what could be seen as a kickback scheme, make you a philanthropist?

2. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman successfully sued you, alleging your Trump University was an "illegal educational institution" that charged up to $35,000 for "Trump Elite" mentorships promising personal advice from you, but you never showed up and your "special" list of lenders was photocopied from Scotsman Guide, a magazine found at any bookstore.

Why did you not show up? [...]

5. The biggest gift you have talked about appears to be an easement at the Palos Verdes, California, golf course bearing your name on land you wanted to build houses on, but that land is subject to landslides and is now the golf course driving range.

Did you or one of your businesses take a tax deduction for this land that you could not build on and do you think anyone should get a $25 million tax deduction for a similar self-serving gift?

6. Trump Tower is not a steel girder high rise, but 58 stories of concrete.

Why did you use concrete instead of traditional steel girders?

7. Trump Tower was built by S&A Concrete, whose owners were "Fat" Tony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul "Big Paul" Castellano, head of the Gambinos, another well-known crime family.

If you did not know of their ownership, what does that tell voters about your management skills?

8. You later used S&A Concrete on other Manhattan buildings bearing your name.


9. In demolishing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, you had no labor troubles, even though only about 15 unionists worked at the site alongside 150 Polish men, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site.

How did you manage to avoid labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections while using mostly non-union labor at a union worksite -- without hard hats for the Polish workers?

10. A federal judge later found you conspired to cheat both the Polish workers, who were paid less than $5 an hour cash with no benefits, and the union health and welfare fund. You testified that you did not notice the Polish workers, whom the judge noted were easy to spot because they were the only ones on the work site without hard hats.

What should voters make of your failure or inability to notice 150 men demolishing a multi-story building without hard hats?

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


The Robots Are Coming for Wall : Street Hundreds of financial analysts are being replaced with software. What office jobs are next? (NATHANIEL POPPER, FEB. 25, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

I met with Nadler later that day in his own office, across the street from the Goldman building, on the 45th floor of 1 World Trade Center. His dozen or so employees shared a large room decked out in typical start-up style, including an aquarium and large speakers playing electronic music. Nadler has an office off to the side with little more than a large desk, made out of reclaimed telephone poles, and a large upholstered leather chair with matching ottoman. After closing the door, Nadler, who has curly dark hair and pale skin, sat on the ottoman, folded his bare feet under him and told me about the day's feedback from Goldman. This included some tips on what they wanted in the next report, and a good dose of amazement at Kensho's speed. ''People always tell me, 'I used to spend two out of five days a week doing this sort of thing,' or 'I used to have a guy whose job it was to do nothing other than this one thing,' '' Nadler said.

This might sound like bragging. But Nadler was primarily recounting those reactions as a way of explaining his concern about the impact that start-ups like his are likely to have on the financial industry. Within a decade, he said, between a third and a half of the current employees in finance will lose their jobs to Kensho and other automation software. It began with the lower-paid clerks, many of whom became unnecessary when stock tickers and trading tickets went electronic. It has moved on to research and analysis, as software like Kensho has become capable of parsing enormous data sets far more quickly and reliably than humans ever could. The next ''tranche,'' as Nadler puts it, will come from the employees who deal with clients: Soon, sophisticated interfaces will mean that clients no longer feel they need or even want to work through a human being.

''I'm assuming that the majority of those people over a five-to-10-year horizon are not going to be replaced by other people,'' he said, getting into the flow of his thoughts, which, for Nadler, meant closing his eyes and gesticulating as though he were preaching or playing the piano. ''In 10 years Goldman Sachs will be significantly smaller by head count than it is today.''

Goldman executives are reluctant to discuss the plight of their displaced financial analysts. Several managers I spoke to insisted that Kensho has not yet caused any layoffs, nor is it likely to soon. Nadler had warned me that I would hear something like that. ''When you start talking about automating jobs,'' he said, ''everybody all of a sudden gets really quiet.''

Goldman employees who lose their jobs to machines are not likely to evoke much pity. But it is exactly Goldman's privileged status that makes the threat to its workers so interesting. If jobs can be displaced at Goldman, they can probably be displaced even more quickly at other, less sophisticated companies, within the financial industry as well as without.

Greater productivity was just sound economics until they started coming for the white collar boondoggles....

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


WHAT IS A ROBOT? (SCOTT DADICH, 02.24.16., Wired)

ASK ANDY RUBIN, father of Android, that question and he holds up the middle three fingers of his left hand. "First," he says, grabbing his index finger, "a robot must sense." Next finger: "It must compute." Ring finger: "Then, it must actuate."

On first blush, that's a bit amorphous. It's a broad definition, but it's not wrong. A traffic signal, for example, could be said to be a robot. Consider the last time you rolled up to a red light. The metal of your car tripped a magnetic detector embedded in the asphalt, which sent a signal (hey--car here!) to a processor. That data fed into an algorithm that, given a bunch of other variables, triggered a state change in the signal: red to green. Depending on the city you live in, this is most likely a pretty simple, decades-old industrial bot. From this perspective, not much separates the traffic light from a Roomba or a robot arm on an assembly line. None of these devices are "smart," marketing claims notwithstanding. They just follow rules.

But multiply and amplify that kind of computation--in fact, move beyond it with deep learning and networks that think like brains--and you get something far removed from industrial step-and-repeat machines. They don't just follow rules; they gather data about their environment, understand it, and react. In fact, the first robot with artificial intelligence that you or I are likely to own may very well be a car that knows how to drive itself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Meet Is Murder : They're boring. They're useless. Everyone hates them. So why can't we stop having meetings? (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, FEB. 25, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

Early this year in the sun-streaked offices of Spring, a handsomely capitalized shopping start-up in Manhattan's Flatiron district, Octavian Costache, the company's chief technology officer and one of its founders, claimed a spot near the bright new kitchen to make a speech at a weekly all-hands meeting. For several months, I'd been working as a consultant to the company, and, though this way my last day, it was the first time I'd heard Costache address the team. I was excited. Costache, a 34-year-old Romanian with a dimpled, affable face, previously worked at Google, where he helped build Gmail's multiple-inbox capability and various features of Google Maps. He commands rapt attention at Spring. But on this morning, Costache didn't want to talk about software. He wanted to talk about meetings.

Specifically, he wanted to talk about meetings as thieves: of joy, of productivity, of mental freedom. Citing a distinction first made by Paul Graham, the prominent venture capitalist, Costache told the room that some people thrive on meetings. These he called Managers, people who require a weekly calendar splotched to saturation with hourly changes of venue and cohort. But there are Makers, too -- poetic souls whose well-being can be shattered by an ill-timed ''sync,'' ''brand lab'' or ''share-out'' in a conference room. Makers can't live like Managers. They require ''Maker hours'' -- long, unspoiled afternoons to muse, contemplate the verities, build digital things and play stress-relieving games of Carcassonne. They need rich, solitary, germinative time. In Graham's formula, Makers flourish in four-hour stretches, which absolutely must -- on pain of inhibiting a company's growth -- be kept unblemished by meetings.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Flying Scotsman: World famous steam locomotive makes glorious return (David Sim, February 25, 2016, IB Times)
Rail enthusiasts have lined the tracks from London to York to see the glorious return of one of the world's most famous trains. Shrouded in steam, the Flying Scotsman pulled out of King's Cross station at 7.40am with around 300 passengers.

The historic steam engine, which was retired from service in 1963, has been lovingly restored to her former glory in British Rail Brunswick green livery after a 10-year revamp costing £4.2m ($5.8m).

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


BUFFETT: 'The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.' (Myles Udland , 2/27/16, Business Insider)

"[T]he babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history."

Buffett adds:

American GDP per capita is now about $56,000. As I mentioned last year that - in real terms - is a staggering six times the amount in 1930, the year I was born, a leap far beyond the wildest dreams of my parents or their contemporaries. U.S. citizens are not intrinsically more intelligent today, nor do they work harder than did Americans in 1930. Rather, they work far more efficiently and thereby produce far more. This all-powerful trend is certain to continue: America's economic magic remains alive and well.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


The myth of the plucky Kurdish warrior : Our favourite allies in Iraq and Syria have problems and divisions of their own (Paul Wood, 27 February 2016, The Spectator))

The Kurds have pushed Isis back, taking territory they hope will one day form the borders of an independent state. The Arabs who live there are seen as a threat to that ambition. A report from Amnesty International last month is a reminder to western governments that in supporting the Kurds they are intervening to help one side in a civil war. Amnesty accuses Kurdish forces of 'destroying entire villages' in areas captured from Isis in northern Iraq, something it says may amount to war crimes. 'When the Peshmerga retook the village the houses were standing,' one Arab resident tells Amnesty's researchers. 'Later they bulldozed the village. There is nothing left.' There are dramatic satellite pictures: one before-and-after image of a village shows 95 per cent of the buildings razed.

The report details such destruction in the countryside around Jalawla, where our frightening brush with Isis took place. A Kurdish general there told me the town and its villages were 90 per cent Arab because Saddam had colonised the place in the 1970s. And most of the Arabs sympathised with Daesh (Isis), he said. He was probably right on both counts. But that makes it no less of a crime that, as one recent visitor to the region told me, houses are daubed with graffiti saying 'Kurds only -- Arabs out.'

The Kurdish representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, is acutely aware that the West went to war twice, in Bosnia and in Kosovo, over 'ethnic cleansing'. Brought up in the UK, she was a journalist on the Observer in London at the time. She tells me that where damage has been done, 'in all cases, either the village has been destroyed by Daesh or by airstrikes.' She also says that many Arabs chose to leave voluntarily 'because frankly they know they shouldn't have been there in the first place'.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Politics of Passion: A Lesson from The Federalist Papers : In an era when Americans seek political leaders who display "authenticity" rather than prudence, a look back to the Federalist Papers makes clear the importance of a politics based on moderation rather than passion. (Nathan Schlueter , February 25th, 2016, The Public Discourse)

Back in September, Jonathan Merritt wrote that "Donald Trump is immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married, and until recently, pro-choice. By conventional standards, evangelical Christians should despise him. Yet somehow, the Manhattan billionaire has attracted their support." Merrill doesn't mention that Trump has said his sister--a federal judge who ruled in favor of partial-birth abortion--would be a "phenomenal" Supreme Court Justice, or that Trump has donated to Planned Parenthood, or that Trump fully supported TARP and the auto bailout, or that Trump has spoken in favor of a single-payer health system (i.e., socialized medicine), or that Trump once berated Romney for being too strict on illegal immigration. The list is endless.

There is no evidence that a Trump presidency would promote evangelical values; in fact, there is more evidence that he would oppose them. Yet Trump continues to be the favorite candidate of evangelical voters. They do not seem to be asking the most basic questions, like whether this candidate has the right principles; whether the candidate offers a realistic plan for realizing those principles within the constraints of our political system; and whether the candidate demonstrates the character, experience, and virtue to make that plan succeed. How do we account for this evident discrepancy between these voters' principles and their expressed political preferences?

Many American citizens today are angry, frustrated, and not a little bit frightened--and with good reason. Every day, news from abroad is filled with stories of social, economic, and political breakdown, not to mention warfare, violence, oppression, and deprivation. Meanwhile at home we witness firsthand the unraveling of social and familial bonds, an anemic economy, an unsustainable welfare state, and a class of political and economic elites that seem either incapable of or unwilling to address our deepest problems. Perhaps worst of all, our hard-won political victories seem to have done nothing to slow the decline.

If Homer were to write an epic for our time, it might begin, "Sing, goddess, the anger of American conservatives / and its devastation, which put pains a thousandfold upon the nation." [...]

It is notable that the only moral virtue specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is prudence, and that The Federalist Papers begin with a plea for moderation. Meanwhile today, these two virtues are commonly treated with suspicion, if not outright contempt: Prudence is equated with unprincipled pragmatism, and moderation with servility and cowardice. Then why did the Founders consider these two related virtues the very foundation of a free society and free government?

The answer is simple: Political liberty depends on citizens' interior liberty, and interior liberty is only possible with prudence and moderation. Prudence is the intellectual virtue ordered to truth in action. It helps human beings deliberate well about what is truly good, and directs the will to these ends like an arrow to its target. Moderation is the moral virtue that prevents passion from blinding prudence--not just base passions like envy, lust, and greed, but even more noble passions like anger, which is related to a love of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Mark Zuckerberg reportedly condemns Facebook employees for defacing Black Lives Matter messages (Ethan Chiel, February 25, 2016, Fusion)

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO and our future virtual overlord, has reportedly taken his staff to task for scrawling "all lives matter" over "black lives matter" messages written on the walls of the social network's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

The message, posted yesterday as a "private memo...on a company announcement page for employees only," was obtained by Gizmodo and refers to "several instances of people crossing out 'black lives matter' and writing 'all lives matter' on the walls of MPK. [sic]" Zuckerberg is presumably referring to the Facebook signature wall that is a feature of a number of the company's offices worldwide.

This is, apparently, not the first time this problem has reared its head at Facebook. The post continues:

Despite my clear communication at Q&A last week that this was unacceptable, and messages from several other leaders across the company, this has happened again. I was already very disappointed by this disrespectful behavior before, but after my communication I now consider this malicious as well.

And they wonder that Trump being un-PC resonates?

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Iowa team victim of racially motivated 'Trump' chants during playoff game (Cam Smith, 2/25/16, USA TODAY)

As reported by Iowa NBC affiliate WHO, among other outlets, the Perry boys basketball team was targeted by fans of opposing Dallas Center-Grimes because of the team's mixed ethnic background; Perry's team features players of white, African American, Latino and Native American descent, reflecting the school's 48 percent minority population while Dallas Center-Grimes' roster is entirely white, like much of the state. Among the chants used by the Dallas Center-Grimes fans were "Trump, Trump, Trump" and "USA, USA." as well as actual details from Trump's proposed immigration plans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Unless you speak English, the Internet doesn't care about you (Kristen V. Brown, February 18, 2016, Fusion)

If you are an English speaker surfing Wikipedia, there are more than 5 million articles for your perusal. English Wikipedia is a labyrinth of links that could have you clicking for years, but if you speak a different language, you might click through everything in just a couple of minutes.

In Swedish, the second most popular language on the crowd-sourced encyclopedia, there are nearly 3 million articles. But if you live in neighboring Norway, there are less than half a million entries. If you are one of the 10 million people who speak Zulu, there are less than a thousand. And if your only tongue is Hiri Motu, one of the official languages of Papua New Guinea, well Wikipedia probably just isn't for you: Wikipedia indexes just three articles in the language so Wikipedians closed the language's encyclopedia.

English is the metric language.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Iran elections: early results show reformists and moderates lead race (Ian Black, 26 February 2016, The Guardian)

Votes are being counted in Iran's hard-fought elections with the first unofficial results showing gains for supporters of President Hassan Rouhani that could help promote greater opening to the west and limited advances at home.

Friday's polls for the parliament and the assembly of experts - its role is to choose the Islamic Republic's clerical supreme leader - were extended for nearly six hours due to a turnout that was estimated to have been around 70% and which would likely favour the reformist-moderate camp. [...]

Early returns show that none of the competing factions will win a majority in the 290-seat majlis, or parliament, but reformists and moderates are apparently on track to win their strongest presence since 2004 at the expense of conservative "principalists." Broader support in parliament will strengthen Rouhani's hand - though under Iran's hybrid political system key decisions still rest with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

February 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 PM


Chris Christie Endorses Donald Trump and Calls Marco Rubio 'Desperate' (Maggie Haberman, 2/26/16, NY Times)

Mr. Christie, noting he has been friends with Mr. Trump for a decade, said that he was "proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump."

Mr. Trump "will do exactly what needs to be done to make America a leader around the world again," he said.

But his backing of Mr. Trump comes after weeks of him saying that it was time for the "entertainment" portion of the race to end, while citing the type of executive leadership that a governor has as most important in electing a president.

AG suits him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Sanders on dealing with Putin: 'I took on a lot of people as mayor of Burlington' (DANIEL STRAUSS 02/26/16 10:15 AM EST

Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed to his leadership as mayor of Burlington as a qualification for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin if he is elected president.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Labour Party could lose 24 seats under redrawing of UK electoral map for 2020 (Brendan Cole, February 25, 2016, IB Times)

The Labour Party could face an even tougher task to get back into power in 2020 than it already does as plans to redraw the electoral map of the UK show how they could lose 24 seats compared with the Tories' 14.

In addition, the draft plans revealed by the Office for National Statistics would mean that Wales could lose up to a quarter of its MPs while northern England could see 15 parliamentary constituencies scrapped.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Think Hillary Clinton Will Crush Donald Trump in the General Election? Don't Be So Sure. (Josh Voorhees, 2/25/16, Slate)

Trump continues to defy pretty much every political commandment in the Beltway bible, along with basic societal norms to boot. He began his campaign with a rambling speech that compared Mexicans to rapists and murderers, and somehow still managed to continue to shock with his unveiled racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia in the months that followed. Certainly, that would make him less appealing to the general public, right? Wrong.

He went from trailing Clinton in the head-to-head polls by 20 points last summer to down only 4 points today. His favorability ratings tell a similar story. Last May, when few actually believed he'd give up his reality television career to run for president, his favorable-unfavorable split among all Americans--not just Republicans--was at negative-47 points. Today, after eight months of demagogy, it's improved to negative-21. (In that same period, Hillary's split moved in the opposite direction, from negative-3 to negative-12.) Trump, meanwhile, has built a far broader coalition of conservative voters than anyone expected--just look at the record number of voters who have turned out for the first four contests of 2016. Entrance and exit polls suggest he's popular among wide swaths of the GOP electorate, including both those who describe themselves as "very conservative" and those who see themselves as "moderate." In a year that has been defined by anti-establishment anger, it's also not unthinkable to imagine a scenario in a general election fight with Clinton where Trump peels off a small though significant slice of Sanders supporters--particularly given the subtle threads of misogyny that have been spotted running along the far fringes of Bernie's legion of fans.

Hold on, I'm not done.

The Trump-will-get-crushed theory rests on two central pillars. The first is that independents will take one look at the real estate tycoon and go running into the arms of Clinton. The problem, though, is that there are far fewer swing votes in play than many Americans like to believe. Partisanship dominates modern elections in ways it never did when Barry Goldwater or George McGovern were buried underneath November landslides. Party loyalty will convince many conservative-leaning independents to rethink their personal feelings about Trump--just as it will do the same for those liberal-leaning independents who remain skeptical of Clinton. There's unlikely to be enough true undecideds left in the middle to turn the election into a blowout.

The second pillar is that a large chunk of hard-core conservatives simply won't be able to bring themselves to pull the lever for Trump and will either vote for Hillary, stay home, or vote for a third-party candidate, which would be the same as staying home. The first scenario would be laughable--this is Hillary freaking Clinton we're talking about--but the latter two can't be taken as a given on a grand scale, especially in a campaign that has now turned, at least in part, into a referendum on the future of the Supreme Court. Democrats tell themselves that the chance to replace the late Antonin Scalia will energize their base, and it likely will. But so too will it likely fire up conservatives who will spend the summer being warned of all they will lose if Clinton wins the White House and is given the chance to replace their conservative hero with a liberal villain. Yes, many in the Republican Party will fear they won't like Trump's pick for the high court, but they'll certainly like it more than anyone Clinton would nominate. The Donald, meanwhile, could put such worries largely to rest by simply announcing a party-approved nominee as his pick while the election is still going on. National Review readers might not want to vote for Donald J. Trump, but I bet they could pull the lever for him if they convince themselves they're voting to give Don R. Willett or someone else from their SCOTUS wish list a lifetime appointment.

Might have to add a few cabinet announcements and the Chief of Staff to that...
Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Ur-Fascism (Umberto Eco, JUNE 22, 1995, NY Review of Books)

Nazism was decidedly anti-Christian and neo-pagan, while Stalin's Diamat (the official version of Soviet Marxism) was blatantly materialistic and atheistic. If by totalitarianism one means a regime that subordinates every act of the individual to the state and to its ideology, then both Nazism and Stalinism were true totalitarian regimes.

Italian fascism was certainly a dictatorship, but it was not totally totalitarian, not because of its mildness but rather because of the philosophical weakness of its ideology. Contrary to common opinion, fascism in Italy had no special philosophy. The article on fascism signed by Mussolini in the Treccani Encyclopedia was written or basically inspired by Giovanni Gentile, but it reflected a late-Hegelian notion of the Absolute and Ethical State which was never fully realized by Mussolini. Mussolini did not have any philosophy: he had only rhetoric. He was a militant atheist at the beginning and later signed the Convention with the Church and welcomed the bishops who blessed the Fascist pennants. In his early anticlerical years, according to a likely legend, he once asked God, in order to prove His existence, to strike him down on the spot. Later, Mussolini always cited the name of God in his speeches, and did not mind being called the Man of Providence.

Italian fascism was the first right-wing dictatorship that took over a European country, and all similar movements later found a sort of archetype in Mussolini's regime. Italian fascism was the first to establish a military liturgy, a folklore, even a way of dressing--far more influential, with its black shirts, than Armani, Benetton, or Versace would ever be. It was only in the Thirties that fascist movements appeared, with Mosley, in Great Britain, and in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Spain, Portugal, Norway, and even in South America. It was Italian fascism that convinced many European liberal leaders that the new regime was carrying out interesting social reform, and that it was providing a mildly revolutionary alternative to the Communist threat.

Nevertheless, historical priority does not seem to me a sufficient reason to explain why the word fascism became a synecdoche, that is, a word that could be used for different totalitarian movements. This is not because fascism contained in itself, so to speak in their quintessential state, all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions. Can one conceive of a truly totalitarian movement that was able to combine monarchy with revolution, the Royal Army with Mussolini's personal milizia, the grant of privileges to the Church with state education extolling violence, absolute state control with a free market? The Fascist Party was born boasting that it brought a revolutionary new order; but it was financed by the most conservative among the landowners who expected from it a counter-revolution. At its beginning fascism was republican. Yet it survived for twenty years proclaiming its loyalty to the royal family, while the Duce (the unchallenged Maximal Leader) was arm-in-arm with the King, to whom he also offered the title of Emperor. But when the King fired Mussolini in 1943, the party reappeared two months later, with German support, under the standard of a "social" republic, recycling its old revolutionary script, now enriched with almost Jacobin overtones.

There was only a single Nazi architecture and a single Nazi art. If the Nazi architect was Albert Speer, there was no more room for Mies van der Rohe. Similarly, under Stalin's rule, if Lamarck was right there was no room for Darwin. In Italy there were certainly fascist architects but close to their pseudo-Coliseums were many new buildings inspired by the modern rationalism of Gropius.

There was no fascist Zhdanov setting a strictly cultural line. In Italy there were two important art awards. The Premio Cremona was controlled by a fanatical and uncultivated Fascist, Roberto Farinacci, who encouraged art as propaganda. (I can remember paintings with such titles as Listening by Radio to the Duce's Speech or States of Mind Created by Fascism.) The Premio Bergamo was sponsored by the cultivated and reasonably tolerant Fascist Giuseppe Bottai, who protected both the concept of art for art's sake and the many kinds of avant-garde art that had been banned as corrupt and crypto-Communist in Germany.

The national poet was D'Annunzio, a dandy who in Germany or in Russia would have been sent to the firing squad. He was appointed as the bard of the regime because of his nationalism and his cult of heroism--which were in fact abundantly mixed up with influences of French fin de siècle decadence.

Take Futurism. One might think it would have been considered an instance of entartete Kunst, along with Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. But the early Italian Futurists were nationalist; they favored Italian participation in the First World War for aesthetic reasons; they celebrated speed, violence, and risk, all of which somehow seemed to connect with the fascist cult of youth. While fascism identified itself with the Roman Empire and rediscovered rural traditions, Marinetti (who proclaimed that a car was more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace, and wanted to kill even the moonlight) was nevertheless appointed as a member of the Italian Academy, which treated moonlight with great respect.

Many of the future partisans and of the future intellectuals of the Communist Party were educated by the GUF, the fascist university students' association, which was supposed to be the cradle of the new fascist culture. These clubs became a sort of intellectual melting pot where new ideas circulated without any real ideological control. It was not that the men of the party were tolerant of radical thinking, but few of them had the intellectual equipment to control it.

During those twenty years, the poetry of Montale and other writers associated with the group called the Ermetici was a reaction to the bombastic style of the regime, and these poets were allowed to develop their literary protest from within what was seen as their ivory tower. The mood of the Ermetici poets was exactly the reverse of the fascist cult of optimism and heroism. The regime tolerated their blatant, even though socially imperceptible, dissent because the Fascists simply did not pay attention to such arcane language.

All this does not mean that Italian fascism was tolerant. Gramsci was put in prison until his death; the opposition leaders Giacomo Matteotti and the brothers Rosselli were assassinated; the free press was abolished, the labor unions were dismantled, and political dissenters were confined on remote islands. Legislative power became a mere fiction and the executive power (which controlled the judiciary as well as the mass media) directly issued new laws, among them laws calling for preservation of the race (the formal Italian gesture of support for what became the Holocaust).

The contradictory picture I describe was not the result of tolerance but of political and ideological discombobulation. But it was a rigid discombobulation, a structured confusion. Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations.

So we come to my second point. There was only one Nazism. We cannot label Franco's hyper-Catholic Falangism as Nazism, since Nazism is fundamentally pagan, polytheistic, and anti-Christian.

Many of us would have been fascists in Italy, Spain and Chile.  Nearly none of us would have been Nazis or Communists.  And given the degree of liberty and prosperity we enjoy today, only the disordered are ur-fascist.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr supporters protest corruption in Baghdad (Callum Paton, February 26, 2016, IB Times)

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims, supporters of the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have taken to the streets of Baghdad to protest corruption in the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. [...]

Protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square shouted slogans of "no to corruption and the corrupt" and speaking on stage Sadr told the masses they should be prepared to continue their protest movement. He spoke from a stage emblazoned with the Iraqi flag, flanked by members of his paramilitary organisation Saraya al-Salam.

"Abadi must carry out grassroots reform," Sadr said. "Raise your voice and shout so the corrupt get scared of you," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


What Is The Real Unemployment Rate? (BEN CASSELMAN, 2/26/16, 538)

The "labor force participation rate" -- the share of adults who are either working or actively looking for work -- is near a three-decade low, which might seem to suggest that there are lots of people waiting to return to the job market. But a big part of that decline is due to the retirement of the baby boom generation. And even controlling for the aging population, labor participation was falling long before the recession, for reasons that are only partly understood.

The White House, in its report, estimates that the combination of demographics ("aging trends" in the chart below) and other long-term trends ("residual") together account for the vast majority of the decline in labor force participation since 2009. Only the small sliver in the middle of the chart is due to the state of the economy. In the Obama administration's estimation, there are about half a million Americans who should be in the labor force but aren't. If they were counted as unemployed, the jobless rate would be about 5.2 percent, only a few ticks higher than the official rate.

The White House, of course, has an incentive to make the economy look as good as possible. So as a check on their number, I built my own simple model (an updated version of the one I used in this story a few years ago) to estimate how many people are still missing from the official unemployment rate. (I'll put the details in a footnote,1 but essentially I just assumed that prerecession trends held steady.) My model estimates there are as many as 1.5 million people who should be included in the unemployment rate. That's triple the White House's estimate, but it still implies the "real" unemployment rate is down to 5.8 percent.

The difference between 4.9 percent and 5.8 percent is small but significant. Many economists consider 5 percent to be a rough long-term floor for the unemployment rate (other economists think the floor is lower); unemployment can't drop much below that threshold without triggering inflation. But if there are really hundreds of thousands or even millions of willing workers just waiting to get back into the labor market, that means there is room for job growth to continue without driving up inflation. The participation rate has edged up in recent months, suggesting that the stronger economy is drawing workers off the sidelines. 

You have to work really hard to not find a job today.
Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Less than Zero in Japan (Koichi Hamada, 2/26/16, Project Syndicate)

In a bold attempt to reflate the Japanese economy, the Bank of Japan has now pushed interest rates on deposits into negative territory. Though this policy is not new - it is already being pursued by the European Central Bank, the Bank of Sweden, the Swiss National Bank, and others - it is uncharted ground for the BOJ. And, unfortunately, markets have not responded as expected.

In theory, negative rates, by forcing commercial banks essentially to pay the central bank to be able to park their money, should spur increased lending to companies, which would then spend more, including on hiring more employees. This should spur a stock-market rebound, boost household consumption, weaken the yen's exchange rate, and halt deflation. But theory does not always translate into practice; while the BOJ's introduction of negative rates almost immediately pushed the interest-rate structure lower, as expected, the policy's effects on the yen and the stock market have been an unpleasant surprise.

One reason for this is widespread pessimism about Japan's economy, reinforced by volatility in China, monetary tightening in the United States, and the collapse in world oil prices. But, as BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda recently reported to the House of Councillors, Japan's economic fundamentals are generally sound, and pessimistic predictions are greatly exaggerated.

Japan's population shrinks for first time since 1920 (Vasudevan Sridharan, February 26, 2016, IB Times)

Japan's population has shrunk for the first time since 1920, according to the official census data released by Tokyo authorities. The numbers have fallen nearly by one million scaling it to 127.1 million in the last five years.

Japan's internal affairs ministry cited a number of reasons including deaths surpassing the birthrate and other social factors for the drop. The government has officially declared the population is in a declining trend. This makes Japan the only country among the world's 20 most populous countries that has a downward trend.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


The new Chevrolet Volt is something to get charged up about (Charles Fleming, 2/26/16, LA Times)

The 2016 Chevrolet Volt features a new body, a new motor and a new battery that give the vehicle more space, more power and greater range. It now seats five and can travel up to 53 miles on all-electric power between charges.

Quiet, comfortable, stylish and qualifying for government tax breaks and rebates, the Volt is a very appealing car. The 2016 model is even $1,200 cheaper than the 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Some conspiracy theorists really believe Katy Perry is JonBenét Ramsey (The Week, 2/26/16)
The conspiracies swirling around the death of Antonin Scalia are so last week -- now, everyone's talking about how pop singer Katy Perry is really JonBenét Ramsey, the child beauty pageant participant who was murdered 20 years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Iranian officials push for large election turnout (Arash Karami, February 25, 2016, Al Monitor)

President Hassan Rouhani's office sent a text message to voters, saying, "Dear people of Iran, the country needs your votes. Friday, Feb. 26, will determine a hopeful future for Iran." At a Cabinet meeting, Rouhani again encouraged Iranians to vote in what he called "fateful" elections. [...]

A number of grand ayatollahs in Qom also called for Iranians to participate in the elections. Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani said, "Participating in the elections is a religious and Islamic duty." Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi said that even if some people are upset with some institutions in the country, they should still not boycott the elections. Ayatollah Jafari Sobhani, Ayatollah Javadi Amoli and Seyed Mohammad Ali Alavi Gorgani also encouraged Iranians to vote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Kurds close in on Isis capital of Raqqa as ceasefire looms (Umberto Bacchi, February 26, 2016, IB Times)

Kurdish militias are eyeing the Islamic State's (Isis) de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa after capturing a strategic town to its east, as regime forces were also taking on the jihadis and other rebel groups in a last gasp push just hours before a truce is due to take effect. The People's Protection Units (YPG) and allied Arab forces have consolidated their hold on Shadadi, which fell earlier this week with the backing of US air strikes.

YPG supporters shared a symbolic video online said to show a female fighter taking down the IS (Daesh) flag from a mast in the main square, replacing it with the yellow emblem of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) umbrella group. [...]

With its nearby oilfields, Shadadi was a strategic prize for its location on an IS supply route connecting Raqqa and Mosul - which has now been cut off. A swift IS attempt to retake the town has been repelled. The victory left the jihadi group's de facto capitals in both Syria and Iraq isolated and more sensitive to a possible offensive.

February 25, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Poll: Trump's negatives among Hispanics rise; worst in GOP field (Dan Balz and Scott Clement February 25, 2016, Washington Post)

Strongly negative views of Trump have intensified over the past seven months, as the New York billionaire has repeatedly pressed his call to build a wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border and seek to deport undocumented immigrants currently residing in the country.

Today, 8 in 10 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Trump. That includes more than 7 in 10 who have a "very unfavorable" impression of him, which is more than double the percentage of any other major candidate.

Those findings compare with a Univision survey taken around the time of Trump's announcement last summer, when just more than 7 in 10 had a negative view of him and fewer than 6 in 10 said they had a "very unfavorable" impression.

Should Trump become the Republican nominee, his current low standing among Hispanic voters could jeopardize the party's hopes of winning the general election in November. In current matchups with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Trump scores worse among Hispanics than any of the three other leading Republican candidates -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


The Pentagon, the CIA, and the Saudis vs. Vladimir Putin (STEPHEN SESTANOVICH, Feb 25, 2016, WSJ)

An energy setback was, of course, predictable. Russia's understanding with Saudi Arabia had to be accepted by other producers, and when Iran's oil minister called the idea of a production freeze "ridiculous," prices resumed their downward slide. What Mr. Putin probably didn't expect was how tough the Saudi response would be. Within hours, Ali al-Naimi, the kingdom's petroleum minister, warned publicly that his country was ready to let the price of oil sink to $20 a barrel if necessary to put high-cost energy producers out of business. It would be hard to imagine worse news for Russia than oil at $20.

The second bit of bad news had to be even more of a surprise for Mr. Putin. While he has had his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, negotiating a Syria cease-fire with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. military and intelligence leaders have been telling the White House that they don't like the deal. Defense Secretary Ash Carter thinks it is a "ruse," a senior administration official told The Journal. Mr. Carter, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and CIA Director John Brennan have told the president that such an agreement with Russia threatens U.S. alliances in the region. Their proposals include more economic sanctions and more support for Syrian anti-government forces--even, perhaps, if a cease-fire takes hold.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Is the recovering economy actually repressing Democratic turnout? (Jeff Spross, 2/25/16, The Week)

...doesn't mean it doesn't matter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Donald Trump Has Turned Away Hundreds of American Workers to Hire Cheap Foreign Labor Instead (Eric Levitz, 2/25/16, NY Mag)

Since 2010, nearly 300 United States residents have applied for jobs at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, but only 17 were hired. Meanwhile, Trump pursued more than 500 visas for foreign workers at the resort, the New York Times reports.

Trump's fondness for guest workers was brought to national attention by Reuters last summer, when the news service reported that the Donald had sought visas for over 1,000 foreign laborers since 2000. [...]

In truth, there are plenty of reasons for employers to prefer guest workers over Americans, even if the former boast no superior qualifications. While foreign employees must receive an area's "prevailing wage," as determined by the Labor Department, they have no power to leave their jobs without forfeiting their right to reside in the country. This leaves guest workers with no leverage to request raises and discourages many from reporting mistreatment or abuses on the job.

Trump's claim that he has only turned away American workers due to insufficient qualifications is undermined by his own rhetoric at a Republican debate in November.

"Wages are too high," Trump said, when asked if he would support raising the minimum wage. "We're not going to be able to compete against the world."

Trump's preference for guest workers is likely driven by the need to compete in the hospitality industry's "free-market." According to the Times, many other clubs in the Palm Beach area also rely on foreign employees. 

...is that no one can really take his anti-immigration and anti-trade rhetoric seriously.  Of course, the downside is you can't take his anti-abortion rhetoric seriously either.  Or anything else he says, for that matter....

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Former KKK grand wizard David Duke is hoping for a President Trump (Becca Stanek, 2/25/16, The Week)

David Duke, a white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, sees voting for anybody but Donald Trump as the equivalent of committing "treason to your heritage."

"I'm not saying I endorse everything about Trump, in fact I haven't formally endorsed him," the former Louisiana state representative said Wednesday on his radio show, the David Duke Radio Program. "But I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action. I hope he does everything we hope he will do."

It's what Nationalism is.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Even hardliners want reform : A backlash is taking place against conservatism (The Economist, Feb 27th 2016)

IRAN'S holiest city, and also its second-largest, has long been a conservative bastion. In parliamentary elections in 2012 Iran's most right-wing party, the Paydari or Stability Front, won all of Mashhad's five seats. In local elections the year after it won an outright majority and left the reformists with none. But after the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, reformists backed by the city's businessmen are attracting packed audiences to their hustings for elections due on 26th February. The conservatives may have expanded the complex around the shrine of Reza, Shia's eighth imam, but only the reformists can attract the foreign investment the city needs to fill it.

Their demands include a new railway to halve the time of travelling the 900 kilometres (560 miles) from Mashhad west to Tehran, the capital; highways designed to turn the city into Central Asia's conduit to the Middle East; and leisure centres to diversify a rigidly spiritual form of tourism. Some suggest promoting the city not just as Imam Reza's burial place, but also Harun al-Rashid's, the eighth century caliph who presided over the golden age of Sunni Islam. "We have to replace the anti-Westerners," says a businessman who says the conservatives blocked his joint venture with an Italian company, worth €400m ($440m), for a theme park.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Democrats Are the Real Conservatives of 2016 (Sam Tanenhaus, 2/25/16, Bloomberg View)

[G]reat Society Democrats, like the New Deal Democrats they replaced, are keen to hold on their gains and advances -- which include twice electing Barack Obama. They also distrust novelty.

This has been the case for some years now. And there is more involved than race. At the outset of 2008 election, African-American voters favored Clinton over the upstart Obama by as much as 25 percent. The shift toward Obama came only after he proved his viability and showed Great Society Democrats he really was one of them.

As we might expect of conservative voters, these Democrats turn out in high numbers in presidential election years. A bigger percentage of African-Americans than whites voted in the 2012 election. They are also expected to vote at a higher rate than either Latinos or Asians in 2016.

All this leaves Bernie Sanders in a paradoxical position. His bold agenda of economic "revolution" seems geared to this Democratic base. Yet it seems skeptical of him. This frustrates many of his supporters, including some influential African-American activists and intellectuals.

"You can go down Sanders's platform issue by issue and ask, 'so how is this not a black issue?'" the political scientist Adolph Reed, a prominent socialist, told an interviewer in January. "How is a $15 minimum wage not a black issue? How is massive public works employment not a black issue? How is free public college higher education not a black issue?" Cornel West, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Spike Lee have said much the same thing.

They have a point. In theory, Sanders's program should resonate with African-Americans since they as a group were hit especially hard by the Great Recession and have not reaped many benefits from the recovery. The obstacle is their conservatism. They are "values voters," many of them churchgoers, and may feel a stronger bond with Clinton, their fellow Great Society Democrat, who talks often of her Methodist upbringing and faith.

Bernie is more wedded to the Second Way than Hillary (as is Trump).  To win the general she'll need to portray herself as the second coming of Bill, who initiated the Third Way here.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


New 'Passive Wi-Fi' breakthrough using 10,000 times less power will save your smartphone battery (Mary-Ann Russon, February 25, 2016, IB Times)

Computer scientists and electrical engineers from the University of Washington (UW) in the US have found a way to make Wi-Fi much more energy efficient so that it stops placing a strain on your smartphone or tablet battery.

The researchers have developed a new technique for generating Wi-Fi that uses up to 10,000 times less power than the typical Wi-Fi does today, and even more surprising, this "Passive Wi-Fi" also uses 1,000 times less energy than both Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


The Ugliest Campaign Ever (Martin Longman, 2/25/16, Political Animal)

"Don't vote for a Cuban" seems like a pretty straightforward campaign motto for Donald Trump at this point. True, it's not his campaign that is making these robocalls. Instead, it is a Super PAC associated with the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist organization that loves them some Donald.

Their message is admirably concise.

"The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called 'racist,'" the call said. "I am afraid to be called racist. Donald Trump is not a racist, but Donald Trump is not afraid. Don't vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump."

February 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Innovation in the U.S. Relies on Foreigners, New Study Shows (GEORGIA WELLS, 2/24/16, WSJ)

More than one-third of the U.S.-based innovators--scientists and engineers responsible for the advances that drive tech--were born outside the country, according to recent a survey of about 900 patent holders and award-winning scientists in the U.S., conducted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank. That represents a disproportionately high number of foreigners, since foreign-born people make up 13.5% of all U.S. residents, the study says.

"We are dependent on immigrants with science and technology expertise," says Robert Atkinson, an author of the report and president of the foundation. "They are making it possible for U.S. companies and foreign companies in the U.S. to gain market share and hire more scientists and engineers."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Global Warming Hiatus Is Real : The rate of temperature increase has been dramatically slower than predicted, says Nature Climate Change. (Ronald Bailey|Feb. 24, 2016, Reason)

Now a group of climate researchers in Nature Climate Change have published an article, "Making sense of the early-2000s warming," that argues the hiatus is real and not well understood. Interestingly, it includes as co-authors some of the more prominent climate researchers who have challenged the notion of the "pause." For example, last June, Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann crowed:

Just out in Science is a new article by Tom Karl of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center and colleagues driving another stake through the heart of the supposed "hiatus" or "pause," i.e. what I like to call the "Faux Pause."

I expect this article will be attacked by climate change deniers who are unhappy to see the demise of a narrative they helped frame, a narrative that arguably took hold due in part to the "seepage" of contrarian framing into mainstream climate science discourse.

Mann is now a co-author on the new study that pulls that stake out:

It has been claimed that the early-2000s global warming slowdown or hiatus, characterized by a reduced rate of global surface warming, has been overstated, lacks sound scientific basis, or is unsupported by observations. The evidence presented here contradicts these claims.

Has Mann become climate change "denier" now? 

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


How Donald Trump Won Nevada's Cliven Bundy Vote (Grace Wyler, February 24, 2016, Vice)

In theory, what we might call the Bundy constituency should have been a strong base of support for Cruz, a Texas senator who has staked his entire career on the kind of anti-government confrontation that Bundy sympathizers seem to love. In the lead-up to the Nevada caucuses, Cruz's campaign actively courted these voters, working the land use issue into his speeches, and putting out a campaign ad promising that, if elected president, he "will fight day and night to return full control of Nevada's lands to its rightful owners--its citizens."

In contrast, Trump, a champion of eminent domain, has been on what one would assume is the wrong side of the issue. "I don't like the idea because I want to keep the lands great," he said when asked about transferring control of federal land to the states by Field and Stream magazine last month. "You don't know what the state is going to do."

And yet it was Trump, not Cruz, who appeared to win the land use movement's votes in Nevada on Tuesday. While exit polls didn't ask about the issue specifically, Trump won definitively among voters who said they were angry or dissatisfied with the federal government. Among the six in ten Nevada Republicans who said they preferred a candidate from outside the system, Trump won by a whopping 71 percent. More tellingly, perhaps, he won among those who described themselves as "very conservative," beating Cruz 38 percent to 34 percent.

...whereas his vote is all about how people feel.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Isis video targets Twitter and Facebook CEOs over suspended accounts (Nellie Bowles, 24 February 2016, The Guardian)

Islamic State has released a 25-minute video featuring the faces of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg being riddled with mock bullet holes.

Isis has begun to respond with increasing urgency as Facebook and Twitter have attempted to block terrorist content on the network. Representatives from both companies were among those who met senior White House officials in January to discuss how to deal with terrorism online.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Academic Drivel Report : Confessing my sins and exposing my academic hoax.  (Peter Dreier, 2/24/16, American Prospect)

Six years ago I submitted a paper for a panel, "On the Absence of Absences" that was to be part of an academic conference later that year--in August 2010. Then, and now, I had no idea what the phrase "absence of absences" meant. The description provided by the panel organizers, printed below, did not help. The summary, or abstract of the proposed paper--was pure gibberish, as you can see below. I tried, as best I could within the limits of my own vocabulary, to write something that had many big words but which made no sense whatsoever. I not only wanted to see if I could fool the panel organizers and get my paper accepted, I also wanted to pull the curtain on the absurd pretentions of some segments of academic life. To my astonishment, the two panel organizers--both American sociologists--accepted my proposal and invited me to join them at the annual international conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science to be held that year in Tokyo.

I am not the first academic to engage in this kind of hoax. In 1996, in a well-known incident, NYU physicist Alan Sokal pulled the wool over the eyes of the editors of Social Text, a postmodern cultural studies journal. He submitted an article filled with gobbledygook to see if they would, in his words, "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions." His article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" (published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue), shorn of its intentionally outrageous jargon, essentially made the claim that gravity was in the mind of the beholder. Sokal's intent was not simply to pull a fast-one on the editors, but to challenge the increasingly popular "post-modern" view that there are no real facts, just points-of-view. His paper made the bogus case that gravity, too, was a "social construction." As soon as it was published, Sokal fessed up in another journal (Lingua Franca, May 1996), revealing that his article was a sham, describing it as "a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense ... structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics."

Sokal's ruse was more ambitious than mine. He wrote an entire article. I simply wrote a 368-word abstract. He submitted his for publication. I just submitted mine to a conference. Although his paper was filled with absurd statements, it actually reached a conclusion--however bogus--that gravity was still an idea open to serious debate. In doing so, Sokal actually had a serious point to make about the silliness of much "post-modern" thinking that viewed science as a version of the humanities where all views should be given equal weight. 

My paper had no point at all. It was filled entirely with non-sequiturs. I didn't even bother to mention anything about "the absence of absences," because I had no idea what it meant and would have thus revealed my ignorance of the panel's organizing theme. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


How Networks Topple Scientific Dogmas : The Peer-to-Peer Republic of Science (Max Borders, February 24, 2016, FEE)

[T]he problem doesn't just affect the soft sciences, according to science writer Ron Bailey:

The Stanford statistician John Ioannidis sounded the alarm about our science crisis 10 years ago. "Most published research findings are false," Ioannidis boldly declared in a seminal 2005 PLOS Medicine article. What's worse, he found that in most fields of research, including biomedicine, genetics, and epidemiology, the research community has been terrible at weeding out the shoddy work largely due to perfunctory peer review and a paucity of attempts at experimental replication.

Richard Horton of the Lancet writes, "The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue." And according Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman, writing in Vox,

Another review found that researchers at Amgen were unable to reproduce 89 percent of landmark cancer research findings for potential drug targets. (The problem even inspired a satirical publication called the Journal of Irreproducible Results.)

Contrast the progress of science in these areas with that of applied sciences such as computer science and engineering, where more market feedback mechanisms are in place. It's the difference between Moore's Law and Murphy's Law.

So what's happening?

Science's Evolution

Three major catalysts are responsible for the current upheaval in the sciences. First, a few intrepid experts have started looking around to see whether studies in their respective fields are holding up. Second, competition among scientists to grab headlines is becoming more intense. Third, informal networks of checkers -- "amateurs" -- have started questioning expert opinion and talking to each other. And the real action is in this third catalyst, creating as it does a kind of evolutionary fitness landscape for scientific claims.

In other words, for the first time, the cost of checking science is going down as the price of being wrong is going up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Isis in Libya: French Special Forces operating secret ground war against Daesh (Callum Paton, February 24, 2016, IB Times)

A report in Le Monde has claimed France is operating a secret war in Libya, authorised by the French President Francoise Hollande. It cited reports on the internet which claimed French Special Forces had been spotted operating in eastern Libya since mid-February 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Defeated by Iran, the Saudis wash their hands of Lebanon (AVI ISSACHAROFF, February 24, 2016, Times of Israel)

The bottom line seems to be that Saudi Arabia -- one of the most important allies of the former Lebanon, the moderate, modern, advanced Lebanon that for decades was controlled by a Christian Maronite-Sunni alliance -- has decided to pull away, to wash its hands.

It is giving up on its allies and leaving Lebanon in the control of Iran, Hezbollah and the new alliance that has taken shape there between various Christian Maronites (Michel Aoun and his men) and the Shiites, who today constitute the country's largest community.

Most of the WoT is about empowering the Shi'a at the expense of their oppressors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The 'Vimto Caliphate' - Islamic State group mocked over fake blood claims (BBC Trending, 24 February 2016)

The Islamic State group (IS) is being mocked online after claims it faked footage of battles in its propaganda videos, and even used the soft drink Vimto as fake blood.

BBC Monitoring reports that the claims were contained in a video featuring an alleged IS defector, and came from a rival jihadi group which is vying for influence in Yemen.

The video begins with the defector describing how he was asked to attack mosques by IS commanders. But the section of the video that really captured the imagination of Twitter users outlines alleged IS trickery in filming fake battle scenes which the group falsely claimed as genuine military victories.

The defector describes how he was enlisted to fake fights and raids in front of the camera. In some scenes, he says, IS fighters pretended to be dead Houthi rebels and were daubed with fake blood in the form of the soft drink Vimto.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


What Today's Republicans Don't Get About Reagan (JACOB WEISBERG, FEB. 24, 2016, NY Times)

HE supported the biggest amnesty bill in history for illegal immigrants, advocated gun control, used Keynesian stimulus to jump-start the economy, favored personal diplomacy even with the country's sworn enemies and instituted tax increases in six of the eight years of his presidency.

He was Ronald Reagan.

The core beliefs that got Reagan elected and re-elected were conservative: lower taxes, smaller government and a stronger, more assertive military. But Reagan was also a pragmatist, willing to compromise, able to improvise in pursuit of his goals and, most of all, eager to expand his party's appeal.

...the fact that he was the last New Dealer, saving Social Security, rather than reforming it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The Bundys Are Bumbling Villains In This Western (Gene Lyons, February 24, 2016, National Memo)

Apart from the needless death of one True Believer in a cowboy hat who committed what city folks call "suicide by cop"--announcing his determination never to be taken alive and then reaching for his pistol--the rest of Bundy's sagebrush revolutionaries eventually surrendered without incident. Most are headed to Federal prison.

The ignominious end of their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon should serve as an object lesson to crackpot insurrectionists across the West. No, the public won't come rushing to your support. Local ranchers wanted nothing to do with the uprising. A bird sanctuary was badly chosen place to make a stand. Put it this way: millions of Americans enjoy hiking, hunting, and bird-watching.

Cow-watching, not so much.

Nor have you intimidated the U.S. government. "Who are those guys?" Butch and Sundance wanted to know. But any two-bit drug dealer in Baltimore or New York could have told them that you can't go around pointing guns at Federal agents and start traveling the countryside holding press conferences.

How foolish would you have to be to imagine you could? The Bundy sons vowed a bloody standoff at the Malheur refuge, and then announced a public meeting in the next county 100 miles away. Only one highway links the two places. FBI agents and Oregon state cops set up a roadblock at a remote spot and bagged the lot.

Family patriarch Cliven Bundy next announced his intention to show up in Oregon to support the remaining occupiers. But you can't take no shooting iron on a commercial airline flight. Secure in the knowledge that he and his posse would be unarmed, agents met him at the gate. They'd been waiting almost two years for the old fool to set himself a trap.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


How to beat Donald Trump (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 24, 2016, The Week)

[M]aybe you think that cutting corporate taxes and deregulating the economy would help. I think it would! I also think that the chance of Trump's voters actually buying that line, after being fed it for 30 years and not seeing results, is zero.

There's one candidate who actually has a policy proposal that could help Trump voters and actually bring jobs back from China. His name is Marco Rubio and the policy is wage subsidies.

As the name suggests, this would be a tax cut or credit that would fatten working people's paychecks, even as it would lower the cost of hiring them. That would actually bring a lot of jobs back from China.

Will a wonky policy like this actually appeal to Trump voters? Or do they just want to hear empty sloganeering? Here's the thing: I actually believe voters -- yes, even voters without college degrees -- are smart and can understand things when properly explained to them.

"Here's what I don't understand. In this country, we have a tax on jobs. Every employer has to pay 15 percent on top of what he pays you to the government, just to hire you. It's literally a tax on jobs. I don't want to tax jobs, I want to encourage jobs by saying instead of taxing jobs, we're going to help hard-working Americans." That's not hard to understand. And it says, "I don't just pretend to care about you, I have a plan."

His voters want more money from government and we know how to give them more most effectively.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Trump Is A Rump, But He Has A Point : I'll vote for anybody you put up against Donald Trump, but neither do I believe that everything he says is untrue or without merit. In fact, he's hit on one big true idea our society has lost (Bill James, FEBRUARY 24, 2016, The Federalist)

Now, having said all of that, having hopefully dispelled any notion that I am a closet Trump supporter, let me speak on behalf of Donald Trump, or at least Trump's supporters, for the rest of this article. What Trump is advocating, I believe, is courage; not that this is all that he is advocating, but this is a critical part of what he is advocating.

I believe in courage. I am all for politicians displaying courage, and I think Trump has done a better job of displaying real courage than anyone else running this year. Trump has had the courage to say and do things that people tell him he can't do. We need that in a president. We need somebody who is willing to stand up and say "You don't make the rules for me. I make the rules for me." I applaud Trump for being that person.

Also, Trump is advocating real democracy in a way that the other candidates are not, and in a way that is too subtle for most of the talking heads to understand. We have in this great nation a class of professional do-gooders who have made a lot of rules for the rest of us, and who have, with the knowing co-operation of the media, forced the rest of us to comply with their rules. Most of us never voted upon or agreed to these rules. Some of these rules are good and proper, and some are useless and counter-productive.

Trump is saying "screw you" to the professionally self-righteous and to those people who are trying to force him to obey these rules that the nation has been forced to accept by leaders who lacked the courage to stand up to it all.

The rules to which I refer are emanations and outgrowths of completely legitimate rules (and laws) that were adopted for sound reasons. Let's start with racism. Indeed, these rules do generally start with opposition to racism. It used to be, in my lifetime, that one could express open hostility toward people of other races. It used to be that you could use racial slurs on radio or TV, and use them in the most pejorative way, not teasing or mocking but carrying real menace. You can't do that now.

That's great. In no sense should we retreat from that. Oliver Wendell Holmes's dictum that freedom of speech does not extend to the right to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater may reasonably be extended to mean that no one has an inherent right to say disparaging things about a group of people while those people are in real danger of suffering serious consequences from being treated unfairly by our society.

But extend that idea out without resistance, extend it outward without respect for its natural boundaries and without any respect for the other valid principles with which it may come in conflict, and here is where you wind up. A couple of years ago I described Gino Cimoli, a 1950s outfielder, as. . . I forget what the words were, but it focused on him being Italian. He was super-Italian, actually. He was part of the same Bay-Area Italian culture that gave us the DiMaggios, Ernie Lombardi, Billy Martin, Cookie Lavagetto, and many others. He dressed like he came straight out of "Goodfellas": sunglasses, slicked-back hair, high-gloss shine on his shoes, and glittery suits.

But when I described him this way, I heard immediately from the self-righteous rules makers: No, no, no--you can't characterize him by his ethnic origins. It's racist stereotyping.

Well, but Gino Cimoli wasn't ashamed of being Italian. He was extremely proud of it. He wanted to be Italian; he wanted everybody to know that he was Italian. You couldn't miss it. And I hadn't in any way insulted him by pointing it out. Why, then, are we not permitted to say what is true?

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Muslim clerics slam ISIS, call it 'un-Islamic' (Syed Mohammed, Feb 24, 2016, TNN)

As many as 300 Muslim clerics passed a resolution against the Islamic State and other terror outfits on Tuesday, unequivocally describing them as un-Islamic.

The move to condemn the terror organisation, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), came at the culmination of a three-day international conference on "The Determined Stand of Muslims Against the IS," organised primarily by All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member and noted scholar Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani.call it 'un-Islamic'

"Terror outfits like the ISIS are not even remotely associated with the idea of Islam. Their deeds and actions are absolutely un-Islamic and against humanity," read one of the eight resolutions. Quoting a verse from the Quran, another stated that the Sharia forbids the killing of innocent people. "Islam teaches Muslims to respect and to protect life, wealth, assets and dignity of people irrespective of their beliefs. It does not permit any group to take law into its hands," it read.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


President Rouhani texts citizens 'dear people of Iran, the country needs your vote' (Harriet Sinclair, February 24, 2016, IB Times)

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has issued a reminder to citizens to vote in the upcoming elections on 26 February, reaching out to people via text message. On the last day of campaigning, on 24 February, his message asked voters to help choose "a hopeful future" for the country.

His text said: "Dear people of Iran, the country needs your vote. Let's decide on a hopeful future for Iran on Friday."

It comes as some young people said they would not be voting at all, preferring instead to campaign for regime change.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Abortion Clinics Are Closing at a Record Pace (Esmé E Deprez, February 24, 2016, Bloomberg Business)

Abortion access in the U.S. has been vanishing at the fastest annual pace on record, propelled by Republican state lawmakers' push to legislate the industry out of existence. Since 2011, at least 162 abortion providers have shut or stopped offering the procedure, while just 21 opened.

At no time since before 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, has a woman's ability to terminate a pregnancy been more dependent on her zip code or financial resources to travel. The drop-off in providers--more than one every two weeks--occurred in 35 states, in both small towns and big cities that are home to more than 30 million women of reproductive age.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


The best predictor of Trump support isn't income, education, or age. It's authoritarianism. (Matthew MacWilliams, February 23, 2016, Vox)

A voter's gender, education, age, ideology, party identification, income, and race simply had no statistical bearing on whether someone supported Trump. Neither, despite predictions to the contrary, did evangelicalism.

Here is what did: authoritarianism, by which I mean Americans' inclination to authoritarian behavior. When political scientists use the term authoritarianism, we are not talking about dictatorships but about a worldview. People who score high on the authoritarian scale value conformity and order, protect social norms, and are wary of outsiders. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they support aggressive leaders and policies.

Authoritarianism and a hybrid variable that links authoritarianism with a personal fear of terrorism were the only two variables that predicted, with statistical significance, support for Trump.

Put simply, Trump won South Carolina because of the overwhelming, unyielding support of authoritarian voters. 

Has any people ever had less to worry about than white America men in 206?

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Libya: Benghazi celebrates after government forces seize control of areas once controlled by Islamic militants (Alex Wheeler, February 24, 2016, IB Times)
Forces loyal to Libya's eastern government have seized control of two key neighbourhoods in Benghazi, building gains made against Islamic fighters. According to Libyan military, they now have full control of the districts of Boatni and Laithi, while claiming advances in other locations.

Residents of Benghazi celebrated alongside the loyalist fighters, with some flashing victory signs next to the bombed-out shells of buildings, while others fired celebratory shots into the air. Many Libyan's returned to their homes for the first time in months to examine the damage.

February 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Exoplanet Census Suggests Earth Is Special after All : A new tally proposes that roughly 700 quintillion terrestrial exoplanets are likely to exist across the observable universe--most vastly different from Earth (Shannon Hall, February 19, 2016, Scientific American)

More than 400 years ago Renaissance scientist Nicolaus Copernicus reduced us to near nothingness by showing that our planet is not the center of the solar system. With every subsequent scientific revolution, most other privileged positions in the universe humans might have held dear have been further degraded, revealing the cold truth that our species is the smallest of specks on a speck of a planet, cosmologically speaking. A new calculation of exoplanets suggests that Earth is just one out of a likely 700 million trillion terrestrial planets in the entire observable universe. But the average age of these planets--well above Earth's age--and their typical locations--in galaxies vastly unlike the Milky Way--just might turn the Copernican principle on its head.

We are all Designist now....
Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Isis facing shortage of foreign fighters after rise in battlefield deaths and desertions (Jigmey Bhutia, February 23, 2016, IB Times)

Islamic State (Isis) for the first time is facing a shortage of foreign fighters in its ranks following rising battlefield deaths and desertions, a US intelligence report has revealed. The fall in the number of fighters from abroad joining Isis (IS) in Iraq and Syria has caused its force to shrink 20%, from 31,000 to 25,000.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Two Iran ex-presidents urge voters to back moderate bloc (AFP February 23, 2016)

"After the successful first step in 2013, this coalition should take the second step for the Majlis (parliament)," [Khatami] said in a four-minute video, dubbing a joint ticket of reformists and moderates as "a list of hope".

He was referring to incumbent Hassan Rouhani's 2013 presidential election victory which led to a nuclear deal that ended a 13-year standoff with world powers.

In this week's election, Rouhani is looking to overturn the majority in parliament of conservatives who resisted the nuclear deal and have also opposed his broader outreach to the West.

Despite the ban on use of his image or words in Iran's print and broadcast media, Khatami, who served as president from 1997 to 2005, remains an important figure in the pro-Rouhani coalition, the Alliance of Reformists and Government Supporters.

"I suggest that all blocs agree to present the list as the list of hope to the people," he said.

The message was simultaneously distributed on the smart phone messaging app, Telegram.

Khatami said voters should also support lists headed by Rouhani and former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the second election taking place Friday, that of the country's Assembly of Experts. [...]

In a barely veiled dig at hardliners, Khatami's predecessor, Rafsanjani, said the elections were "a valuable opportunity to prevent institutionalization of political radicalism and religious extremism in society."

Voters' support for moderates would "prove to the world" that rather than the "extremism of a limited group" the true Islam "avoids war and bloodshed in favor of kindness, peace and brotherhood," said Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Mystery deaths of 13 bald eagles in Maryland prompts investigation by US Fish and Wildlife Service (Mary PapenfussFebruary 23, 2016, IB Times)

US wildlife officials are investigating the mysterious deaths of 13 bald eagles found on a Maryland farm not far from the Nation's capitol. It's the biggest single die-off of the iconic symbol of America in the state in 30 years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


No gears, no gasoline, no problem: check out this hydrogen-powered car (Belinda Smith, 2/23/16, cOSMOS)

With a carbon fibre and aluminium outer shell weighing less than 40 kilograms, keeping the weight of the whole car around 500 kilograms, the Riversimple Rasa is incredibly fuel-efficient, able to traverse 500 kilometres on just 1.5 kilograms of hydrogen.

It can go from zero to 100 kilometres an hour - top speed - in around 10 seconds, thanks to an 8.5 kilowatt fuel cell stack adapted from those usually found in forklifts which powers in-wheel electric motors. The same motors double as brakes.

And its only byproduct? Water.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Goat in driver's seat milks attention, flashes hazard lights (AP, Feb. 23, 2016)

 A goat caused a commotion over the weekend when it was spotted in the driver's seat of a vehicle in a Massachusetts parking lot, flashing its owner's lights.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


World Getting Safer, No Daily Threat of Armageddon (Marian Tupy, February 23, 2016, Reason)

Since the end of the Cold War, wars have become rarer. International conflicts are way down, though civil wars and armed conflicts have been on the uptick. Moreover humanity's destructive potential-while still considerable-has been declining. Consider that in 1986, the Soviet Union had over 40,000 nuclear warheads, while the United States' nuclear arsenal peaked in 1967 at over 31,000 warheads. Last year, both countries' nuclear arsenal contained less than 5,000 warheads each.

British, French and Israeli stockpiles are lower than they used to be, though Chinese, Pakistani and Indian stockpiles are increasing. And while today it is still possible for a terrorist group to detonate a dirty bomb in a Western metropolis, a world-ending nuclear Armageddon is no longer a daily threat.

Truth is that by yesteryear's standards, Americans are safer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


'Who Are You?' Watch UK's Top Socialist MP Humiliated With Roars Of Laughter (Guy Bentley, 02/23/2016, Daily Caller)

After Prime Minister David Cameron delivered his statement on the newly negotiated terms of Britain's EU membership, the socialist leader of the Labour Party stood up to throw in his two cents about the PM's deal and the upcoming referendum. 

"Last week -- like him -- I was in Brussels, meeting with heads of government and leaders of European socialist parties," said Corbyn, "One of whom said to me," but before Corbyn could finish his sentence, Conservative MP Chris Pincher shouted across the chamber "who are you."

The chamber roared with laughter and even Corbyn's own shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham couldn't keep a straight face.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Trump's Family Endured Anti-Immigrant Zeal (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/23/16, Bloomberg View)

With his American money, Friedrich Trump was a gift to his German community, but the German bureaucracy under Kaiser Wilhelm II kicked him out. Despite repeated appeals for German citizenship (Trump had become an American so he could vote in the presidential election after Washington became a state in 1889), he was suspected of having fled Germany to dodge the draft and returning only when he was no longer eligible.

So, Wilhelmian bureaucrats bear the ultimate responsibility for the emergence of presidential candidate Trump. That, however, is not the part of the family story I really want to hear from him.

During World War I, when hamburgers were called Wilsonburgers and sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage," President Woodrow Wilson banned German men from planes and boats and ordered 600,000 German aliens to register with the police. Many German immigrants changed their names because they felt -- and often were -- threatened. The Trumps didn't, according to Blair: They "hunkered down to avoid suspicion," but remained a German-speaking household. Their children, second-generation Americans, grew up speaking German, too, "but the bitter experience of having been tarred by their German ancestry had left scars on the Trump children."

What German immigrants endured during World War I was just a warning to Frederick Trump, the candidate's father and the man who made the family rich. World War II taught him he had to forget his heritage. Blair wrote:

As the children searched the skies for Messerschmidt planes, Fred Trump was silent about his own German background. Although he had spoken German when he had visited Kallstadt just before the Depression, in America only his parents' generation spoke the language in public. He began to deny that he knew German and didn't teach it to his children. Eventually, he started telling people that he was of Swedish ancestry. Mindful of the growing prominence of Jews in the real estate industry and local politics, he became so active in Jewish philanthropies that people often assumed he belonged to that faith.

Donald Trump picked up the Swedish lie and stressed his mother's Scottish heritage, especially as he promoted his golf courses in Scotland. More recently, he has had to acknowledge his German roots, but the people of Kallstadt don't root for him the way Slopnice roots for Sanders, who has visited the town. I suspect it's not only because Trump defies fact-checking, and truthfulness is an important virtue in Germany.

The similarity between the way the U.S. treated Germans during the world wars and the way Trump wants it to treat Muslims is striking. And if, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. had as restrictive an immigration policy as Trump proposes, his grandfather couldn't have come in the first place -- or returned when Germany rejected him.

A decent Atlantic Wall would have kept the Huns out.....

February 22, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


The U.S. Economy Is in Good Shape (Martin Feldstein, 2/22/16, WSJ)

We are essentially at full employment, with an overall unemployment rate of 4.9% and 2.5% among college graduates. Tight labor markets are leading to increases in hourly earnings and in the producer prices of services. Total payroll employment is up more than 600,000 in the past three months, and the ratio of employment to population, which has been at very low rates for several years, is inching up.

Households are in good shape: Real disposable income is up at a 3.5% annual rate, and the total value of homes is 7% higher than a year earlier. The Congressional Budget Office and others predict that real GDP growth this year will be above 2.5%.

Although the money incomes of middle-class households have been rising very slowly for three decades, the focus on cash income is misleading. The CBO explains that once corporate and government transfers are added to market incomes, and federal taxes are subtracted, the real income after transfers and federal taxes is up 49% between 1979 and 2010 for households in the lowest income quintile (with average total incomes of $31,000 in 2010). Real income is up 40% between 1979 and 2010 for households in the middle three quintiles (with average total incomes of $60,000 in 2010).

Even that understates the true growth rates of real incomes, because government statistics don't fully capture improvements in the quality of goods and services.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


What the Combination of Electric Cars and Software May Yield : NextEV's Padmasree Warrior says the auto market is poised for an upheaval (ROBERT MCMILLAN, Feb. 21, 2016, WSJ)

WSJ: Where will the electric car take off first?

MS. WARRIOR: I think China, definitely. That's why we are prioritizing that. For various reasons: I think there is an increasing consumer buying power there; families are going to larger vehicles there, which means they will consume more gas.

China is one of the largest markets for vehicles. Car ownership is not only a practical mode of transportation, but is also a symbol of financial success. Having said that, it is no secret that some of the major cities in China are struggling with pollution, and electric vehicles can be a large part of the solution. Additionally, there are government incentives in China to drive the adoption of electric vehicles.

It's interesting that at CES, which is a consumer electronics show, there is just so much discussion about cars and vehicles. And a lot of those are electrified. I feel like I've seen this movie before, with the smartphones a few years ago. The cellphone was never a consumer electronic device, and then that changed, and it changed all of our lives.

Vehicles are very personalized things today. The challenge and the opportunity is how do you make it a platform for other things besides just movement from point A to point B.

In the next decade, the car will be the smartest device that people will own, and NextEV wants to bring the mobile Internet experience to the vehicle. In other words, why can't your car be as easy to own, operate, update and personalize as your smartphone?

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Frenchmen performed [***] acts on horses (for 10 months) (The Local, 22 Feb 2016)

Emunclaw on the Seine?

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Former Bush backers are rallying around Rubio (Ben Shull, 2/22/16, The Week)

Three Republican members of the U.S. House from South Florida -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- announced their support for Marco Rubio in a press conference today in Miami. The kicker? All three had backed Jeb Bush for president before the former Florida governor ended his campaign Saturday after a poor showing in the South Carolina primary.[...]

Politico reported yesterday that Nevada Sen. Dean Heller -- another erstwhile Bush supporter -- switched his allegiance to Rubio after the former Florida governor dropped out. Rubio has also recently won the backing of North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, today, Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Sometimes you just have to settle.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


An Iraqi Sunni state is a prerequisite to defeating ISIS (Alon Ben-Meir, 23 February 2016, Online Opinion)

One of the main prerequisites to defeating ISIS in Iraq and stabilizing the country is the establishment of an independent Sunni Iraqi state alongside the current Shiite government and the autonomous Kurdish entity. As long as the Sunni Iraqis do not know what the future has in store for them, they will be unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to battle ISIS only to benefit the Shiite government in Baghdad, which they despise even more than ISIS. Concurrently with the fight against ISIS, the Obama administration must begin to negotiate with the Shiite government in Baghdad over the future status of the Sunnis in Iraq.

For the White House to still believe that Iraq somehow can be stitched together following the defeat of ISIS is a gross illusion. Iraq's partition into three entities became de facto immediately following the Iraq war in 2003.

Having lost their dominance of Iraq to the Shiites in 2003 after 81 years of continuous rule, the Sunnis still refuse to accept what they consider to be a historic travesty. This was further aggravated by eight years of the Shiite government led by Nouri al-Maliki, who abused his power and marginalized, mistreated, and victimized the Sunni community.

Delaying the partition just created space for extremists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Portugal wants more refugees to help revive dwindling population (OLIVIER DEVOS February 22, 2016, AFP)

 Traditionally a country of emigration, Portugal has offered to take up to 10,000 migrants from countries struggling to cope with the influx, to help maintain its own population. [...]

Portugal is little known and "needs to make its voice heard to migrants arriving in Europe," head of the Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR) Teresa Tito Morais, said.

"The arrival of refugees will benefit the regions in the country that have become deserted," Tito Morais said.

"A large number of Portuguese have emigrated and certain regions need to regain some life."

The country was hard hit by the global financial crisis and, as elsewhere, unemployment took a toll among the country's young people, forcing many to leave in search of jobs. Unemployment remains high at 12 percent.

Nearly half a million Portuguese have left the country either permanently or temporarily in the last four years.

Portugal's birth rate is also the weakest in the European Union.

If the current decline continues, the country could lose 20 percent of its population by 2060, dropping from 10.5 to 8.6 million residents, according to the National Institute of Statistics in Portugal.

The idea to welcome refugees was launched in September by Braganca, a small town in northeast Portugal that counts some 35,000 residents, with hopes of reviving its declining population.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Where the Sun Doesn't Set on Solar (Alan Neuhauser Feb. 22, 2016, US News)

On Monday, the California firm Solar Reserve unveiled the world's first solar plant able to generate power 24/7 without any kind of coal- or gas-fired backup - and not just for one or tens or hundreds of homes, but on a "utility scale:" for tens of thousands of households.

"This is really the only large-scale storage project in the U.S. that doesn't need natural gas backup," CEO Kevin Smith says. "It's significant. We can put it in the middle of nowhere - in Africa or the California desert."

The plant, built in Tonopah, Nevada - population 2,478 - already works: Since the fall, the lights in Las Vegas and Reno have blinked with power generated three hours away at the site, known as Crescent Dunes. These days, it's churning out 110 megawatts from noon to midnight - roughly the 12-hour window of peak demand in Vegas, and enough electricity for 75,000 homes.

The process it uses is different than typical photovoltaic solar panels. It's known as thermal solar: 10,347 curved mirrors sit in a circle 1.73 miles across, following and focusing the sun's rays onto black tubes coiled around the top of a tower. Inside, more than 3 million gallons of liquid salt - kept at 500 degrees in a so-called "cold tank" to stay molten - flow through the tubes, baking until they reach 1,050 degrees. The fluid then plunges into a pair of 40-foot-tall insulated tanks, which hold the heat until it's needed to turn water into ​​​​steam. The steam spins a turbine to create electricity.

For the next 25 years, the company has contracted with NV Energy, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, to pump electrons into the grid. By day, the 640-foot tower casts an otherworldly glow that prompted one airline passenger to write on the blog UFOsightingsdaily.com ​that it has the "appearance of a landed UFO on the ground."​ Once stored inside the insulated tanks, the heat won't dissipate for weeks, if needed, and there's enough salt to provide 10 hours of steady power.

"We can store energy in it, extract the energy, recharge it almost like a battery being charged and discharged," Smith says. "Because that storage is flexible, we can design the facility to meet demand whenever the utility wants." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The economy is very peaceful today. That's bad news. (Jeff Spross, February 22, 2016, tHE wEEK)

If you want an uncomfortable but useful insight into American employment, there's a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics you should see.

It's not terribly complicated. It just documents the number of work stoppages involving 1,000 workers or more -- either from strikes or lockouts -- going back from 2015 to 1947. As Ben Casselman noted at FiveThirtyEight, in 1952, a whopping 470 work stoppages happened across the American economy. Fast forward to last year, and there were only 12.

So the American economy has gotten a lot more peaceful in the last few decades. Good, right?

Thanks, Gipper!

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Syria: Deadly Isis bombings in Damascus and Homs may derail provisional ceasefire agreement (David Sim, February 22, 2016, International Business Times)
Bombings claimed by Islamic State (Isis) in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs have killed nearly 130 people. Meanwhile, the country's warring factions fight for the northern city of Aleppo and world powers chase an elusive cease-fire. [...]

Russia's foreign ministry has said it strongly condemns the recent terrorist attacks in Syria, saying they were aimed at wrecking peace efforts. "We are convinced that such abhorrent criminal acts need adequate... reaction from the international community," the Russian ministry said in an online statement.

The deadly blasts may strengthen the government's argument that it should press ahead with a major offensive in the north of the country, where troops backed by Russian air strikes are battling to seal off Aleppo, once Syria's largest city and commercial hub. Aleppo is divided between the government and its opponents, while IS holds a wide front to the east of the city.

It doesn't matter who Putin and Assad want to fight.  They're at war with ISIS on our behalf and they're expendable.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Exclusive: Bob Dole Endorses Marco Rubio in 2016 Race (JONATHAN KARL RICK KLEIN ARLETTE SAENZ  Feb 22, 2016, ABC News)

"Now that my good friend Jeb Bush is no longer running, I'm supporting Rubio," Dole told ABC's Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein in an interview for their new podcast "Powerhouse Politics" on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


The Good News on Generic Drugs (Alex Tabarrok, February 22, 2016, Marginal Revolution)

[T]he big news about generic drugs is good news. Generic drug prices are falling. Three recent studies of generic drug prices all point in the same direction. Express Scripts, a large prescription drug manager, found that:

From January 2008 through December 2014, a market basket of the most commonly used generic medications decreased in price by 62.9%.

In an excellent overview the Department of Health and Human Services concluded that:

...drug acquisition costs fell for a majority of generic Medicaid prescriptions measured by both volume and total generic expenditures.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Moderate Republican John Kasich Defunds Planned Parenthood (Eric Levitz, 2/22/16, NY Mag)

John Kasich, winner of the 2016 Jon Huntsman Memorial Prize for most moderate candidate in the GOP field, has cut off all state funding to Planned Parenthood in Ohio.

The governor signed a bill on Sunday that prohibits the Buckeye State from contracting with any entity that performs abortions.

That's what moderation looks like in a Puritan Nation.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


U.S. recession fears fade after market rally (Patrick Gillespie, 2/22/16, CNNMoney)

The Atlanta Fed now projects a solid 2.6% growth between January and March compared to a year ago.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Powerful crap: The quest to turn smelly sewage into sweet biodiesel : (David MacNeal - Feb 22, 2016, Ars Technica)

"By the time it gets here, David, it's no longer my poop," says microbiologist Todd French with conviction. "I don't want you to think there's solid turds coming in over there. When we get it as sludge, it's far removed from what it was when it left your body. That's all bacteria that has grown and fed off this stuff."

French is trying to reassure me. We're gazing down into a concrete vat filled with a churning tide of gray and green water at the Ernest E. Jones Wastewater Treatment Plant in Starkville, Mississippi. A gust of wind kicks an odor off the frothy surface; a spittle-sized drop of foam has hit my lip. Students in French's program must get hepatitis shots and boosters before helping French in his audacious quest to convert sludge like this into biodiesel; I furiously rub my finger over the spot, removing as many dermis layers as possible.

But French tells me he's ingested "mouthfuls" of the water without ill effects. "You don't have to worry about getting anything... too much," he says.

French, it should be clear, has a very different perspective on sludge. He takes a sniff of the ripe air around us. "That's money," he says. "That's what it smells like."

February 21, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Among Iranian Reformists, hope goes hand in hand with pragmatism (Jean Aziz, February 21, 2016, Al Monitor)

At first glance, Qom appears to be the Vatican City of Shiites to the first-time visitor. There are countless mosques, and various sermons simultaneously echo from different pulpits. In the main street, leading to Lady Fatima Masuma Shrine -- one of the largest Shiite shrines in Iran -- it seemed as if clerics were holding a massive protest. Hundreds of clerics wearing black and white turbans paced the streets and sidewalks while carrying their laptops, books and files. When asked about the crowd, Al-Monitor's guide and translator explained that we were approaching the Shiite seminary -- the most prominent in the world, besides that in Najaf in Iraq. The guide, a seminary student himself, told Al-Monitor that this seminary hosts around 45,000 clerics, including students, teachers and senior clerics.

At an office near the seminary, Al-Monitor met with a group of university lecturers who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their full names, and the names of their universities, not be disclosed.

Mohammad, a political science and international relations professor, was not really interested in Al-Monitor's questions about Shiism, religious authorities and traditions. Instead, as soon as the subject of Iran after the nuclear deal arose, he immediately said that his country "took too long to sign that deal. It could have done so 10 years ago at least. But former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevented this, which cost the country and pushed it to pay a useless price." His colleague, Mostafa, a professor of Islamic studies, told Al-Monitor, "Iran gained nothing from those strict policies. Instead, it suffered an economic blockade that made it regress for long years." He added, "When Iranians visit Turkey, they realize the vast difference in prosperity and development. Iran is currently trying to recover from the losses it suffered."

Indeed, the burden appears heavy. Hassan, an economics professor, told Al-Monitor, "There are around 8 million unemployed people in Iran ... which means that 10% of the population has no source of income. This is not a negligible figure, especially as 65,000 of the unemployed hold doctorates in various disciplines." Hassan further explained, "People paid the price for an ideological stance and wrong political priorities. For years, we have been asking our officials to reach an understanding with Washington to solve the local and regional problems. We would tell them how unreasonable it is to support parties outside Iran with money and supplies, while some Iranian regions have not been reconstructed following the damage caused by the Iranian-Iraqi war in the 1980s."

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


God Loved Alexander Hamilton : But did this particular Founding Father love God? (Susan Lim/ FEBRUARY 15, 2016, Christianity Today)

That God loved Alexander Hamilton is undeniable. But did Hamilton love God? Historians of the Revolutionary period are often asked about issues of faith. Did the Founding Fathers believe in God? Were they really Christians? For Alexander Hamilton, the answer was yes. Records indicate that Hugh Knox, a Presbyterian minister in St. Croix, influenced Hamilton at a young age. Knox's sermons and passion for God seemed to have affected Hamilton on a fundamentally core level. Hamilton's own desire to pursue godly living was ignited in St. Croix, and he carried this aspiration with him when he set sail for New York to further his education.

As a student at King's College (Columbia University today), his fellow classmates commented on Hamilton's sincere heart for worship and that he often went above the prescribed prayers and mandatory chapels. Chernow writes that Robert Troup, Hamilton's classmate at King's, confessed he had "often been powerfully affected by the fervor and eloquence of [Hamilton's] prayers" and that Hamilton "was a zealous believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity."

Like most faith journeys, Hamilton's ebbed and flowed between skepticism and belief. But at the end, his verdict was clear: "I have examined carefully the evidence of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity, I should rather abruptly give my verdict in its favor."

Hamilton's analytical mind sought for proofs of religion and not merely emotional satisfaction. He studied A View of the Evidences of Christianity in search of reasonable answers to an elusive faith. As a child of the Enlightenment and relentless pursuer of the truth, Hamilton despised religious fanaticism and searched for "logical proofs." With the legal mind and intellectual tenacity he applied to the US Constitution and Federalist papers, Hamilton surveyed the Scriptures and religious evidence. "I have studied [Christianity] and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man," he concluded.

To make such a declaration was not easy. Enlightenment ideals had swept into the colonies decades earlier, and Deism contended against traditional Christianity in fundamental ways.

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


Wealthy donors drawn to Rubio White House bid after Bush drops out (MICHELLE CONLIN AND GRANT SMITH, 2/21/16, Reuters)

Within minutes of Jeb Bush dropping out of the presidential race Saturday night, some of his donors were preparing to throw their financial support behind Marco Rubio, who has emerged as the strongest candidate among the establishment wing of the party.

"Jeb's network is already naturally migrating to Marco," said Gaylord Hughey, a top Bush fundraiser from Texas, echoing what four other top donors told Reuters. "It's the clear path."

"It's a stampede," added another donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to give Bush some time after dropping out before he went public with his support of Rubio, the U.S. senator from Florida.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Islamic State finds 'diminishing returns' on Twitter: report (DUSTIN VOLZ, 2/18/16, REUTERS)

The Islamic State's English-language reach on Twitter has stalled in recent months amid a stepped-up crackdown against the extremist group's army of digital proselytizers, who have long relied on the site to recruit and radicalize new adherents, according to a study being released on Thursday.

Suspensions of English-speaking users affiliated with Islamic State from June to October 2015 have limited the group's growth and in some cases devastated the viral reach of specific users, according to the report from George Washington University's Program on Extremism, which analyzed a list of accounts promoted by the militant group.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


General Sherman's Destructive Path Blazed a New Strategy : Sherman's devastating march led to the kind of warfare that culminated in World War II. (Jay Tolson June 24, 2007, US news)

Speaking at the 1880 reunion of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union general best known for his destructive march through the Confederacy's heartland uttered the words that would be reshaped for posterity: "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys," the 60-year-old William Tecumseh Sherman declared, "it is all hell."

Remembered more pithily as "War is hell," the phrase distilled a sentiment that Sherman had voiced on many occasions, including once before the mayor and town council of Atlanta after he had brought that key Confederate city to its knees. The fact that this grand master of scorched-earth devastation abhorred war was, in his mind, neither an irony nor a contradiction. Sherman simply saw his approach to war as the best way of limiting its lethal potential.

Others, and not only partisans of the Confederacy, see it differently. To them, Sherman's devastating march through the South opened the way to the kind of warfare that culminated in World War II. Called total war, it goes beyond combat between opposing military forces to include attacks, both deliberate and indiscriminate, upon civilians and non-military targets. 

It's not terrorism when we do it. It's just holding people responsible for their governments (or failure to govern themselves).

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


A Conservative's Odyssey: Russell Kirk and Twentieth-Century American Conservatism (Samuel Gregg, 2/17/16, Acton Commentary)

Kirk--like William F. Buckley, Jr.--considered it necessary for American conservatism to distinguish itself from the "extremes of the movement." Kirk was thus among the first on the right to excoriate the John Birch Society (in the pages of the Jesuit magazine America, no less). Kirk also dismissed Ayn Rand as a "freak" and argued that conservatism was damaged by "absurd simplifiers who fancy that calling everyone in Washington a communist [is] hunky-dory." Kirk was especially censorious of anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic tendencies among segments of the American right during the 1950s and 1960s. Not only did Kirk regard such mindsets as wrong in themselves (even before he converted to Catholicism); he plainly viewed them as counterproductive, not least because so many of the American non-left's intellectual heavyweights were Jews or Catholics. Clearly, those inclined to view Kirk as naively inattentive to issues of presentation amid the complexities of American politics are mistaken.

The picture of the American conservative moment that emerges from this book is one characterized by surprisingly deep fractures that, in many respects, have never been resolved. Some may be beyond resolution. This makes it all the more ironic that one of the most revealing aspects of Birzer's book is the degree to which Kirk worked with and even promoted people with whom he had intellectual disagreements.

Traditionalists may be surprised, for example, to learn just how much Kirk admired Leo Strauss's thinking. "Even as late as 1990," Birzer writes, "on the eve of an implosion of even a semblance of unity within intellectual conservatism, Kirk continued to praise Strauss." Kirk was particularly taken with Strauss's conception of natural rights. Certainly, the two men disagreed in their interpretation of Burke, and Kirk strongly disapproved of some of Strauss's followers. None of this, however, impaired what Birzer describes as the positive influence exerted by Strauss on Kirk's thought.

Other friendships developed by Kirk with figures such as the sociologist Robert Nisbet, the novelist Flannery O'Connor, and the political philosopher Eric Voegelin were characterized by a similar pattern: affirmation of many points in common and recognition of a mutual seriousness of purpose, accompanied by clear but civil disagreement about other important issues.

Given Kirk's interest in helping to mold American conservatism into a movement through which many people with not always compatible positions could collaborate in a common struggle against modern liberalism and the left more generally, some may find it paradoxical that, as Birzer highlights, Kirk consistently rejected the typical right-left division of modern politics. In part, this flowed from Kirk's principled rejection of ideology.

Kirk understood ideology as "inverted religion." Here, one senses Voegelin's influence. With this phrase, Kirk rejected the tendency to think that we can realize heaven on earth through implementation of a political program. Whether such agendas were derived from socialism, libertarianism, progressivism, or even conservatism was, for Kirk, irrelevant. According to Kirk, there was a straight line between ideology in this sense and regimes willing to abandon all natural and legal restraints in order to realize political goals. Historically speaking, this has predominantly manifested itself on the left, assuming demonic form in the case of Communist governments. But there have also been instances in which ideology, in Kirk's sense of the word, has flourished among sections of the right--nationalism (as distinct from patriotism) being a prominent example.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM

W JR?:

Jeb Bush is out. But Marco Rubio is the real Bush in the 2016 race. (James Poulos, February 21, 2016, The Week)

It is Rubio who has embraced Dubya and his frightfully damaged legacy as if it were the greatest inheritance of all, and Rubio who channels Bush's cocky and Christian compassion more than anyone else in the field. Rubio, more than anyone, would set out to follow in Bush's foreign policy footsteps. Rubio, one feels, has already memorized his rousing address unveiling his signature guest worker program.

Now that he doesn't have to differentiate himself from the other moderates anymore he can run full on compassionate conservatism and differentiate himself from the candidates of hate.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


The Age of Secular Stagnation: What It Is and What to Do About It (Larry Summers, February 15, 2016, Foreign Affairs)

[T]he secular stagnation theory offers the most comprehensive account of the situation and the best basis for policy prescriptions. The good news is that although developments in China [8] and elsewhere raise the risks that global economic conditions will deteriorate, an expansionary fiscal policy by the U.S. government can help overcome the secular stagnation problem and get growth back on track.

Just as the price of wheat adjusts to balance the supply of and demand for wheat, it is natural to suppose that interest rates--the price of money--adjust to balance the supply of savings and the demand for investment in an economy. Excess savings tend to drive interest rates down, and excess investment demand tends to drive them up. Following the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell, it is common to refer to the real interest rate that balances saving and investment at full employment as the "natural," or "neutral," real interest rate. Secular stagnation occurs when neutral real interest rates are sufficiently low that they cannot be achieved through conventional central-bank policies. At that point, desired levels of saving exceed desired levels of investment, leading to shortfalls in demand and stunted growth.

This picture fits with much of what we have seen in recent years. Real interest rates are very low, demand has been sluggish, and inflation is low, just as one would expect in the presence of excess saving. Absent many good new investment opportunities, savings have tended to flow into existing assets, causing asset price inflation.

For secular stagnation to be a plausible hypothesis, there have to be good reasons to suppose that neutral real interest rates have been declining and are now abnormally low. And in fact, a number of recent studies have tried to look at this question and have generally found declines of several percentage points. Even more convincing is the increasing body of evidence suggesting that over the last generation, various factors have increased the propensity of populations in developed countries to save and reduced their propensity to invest. Greater saving has been driven by increases in inequality and in the share of income going to the wealthy, increases in uncertainty about the length of retirement and the availability of benefits, reductions in the ability to borrow (especially against housing), and a greater accumulation of assets by foreign central banks and sovereign wealth funds. Reduced investment has been driven by slower growth in the labor force, the availability of cheaper capital goods, and tighter credit (with lending more highly regulated than before).

Perhaps most important, the new economy [9] tends to conserve capital. Apple and Google, for example, are the two largest U.S. companies and are eager to push the frontiers of technology [10] forward, yet both are awash in cash and are under pressure to distribute more of it to their shareholders. Think about Airbnb's impact on hotel construction, Uber's impact on automobile demand, Amazon's impact on the construction of malls, or the more general impact of information technology on the demand for copiers, printers, and office space. And in a period of rapid technological change, it can make sense to defer investment lest new technology soon make the old obsolete.

Various studies have explored the impact of these factors and attempted to estimate the extent to which they have reduced neutral real interest rates. The most recent and thorough of these, by Lukasz Rachel and Thomas Smith at the Bank of England, concluded that for the industrial world, neutral real interest rates have declined by about 4.5 percentage points over the last 30 years and are likely to stay low in the future. 

Now consider the world.  

*Here is the most important fundamental : we're reaching the tipping point where global population begins declining, instead of rising.  What happens to demand then?  

*Second, as human labor is replaced by automation, the cost of goods will decline precipitously, with services to follow. What happens to employment then? What happens in an economy with permanent, healthy, deflation?

*Third, with developing economies having topped out before their societies ever became affluent, the only safe harbor economies are in the already developed world and only in half of it at that (the Anglosphere and Scandinavia.) With our own citizenries and the rest of the world buying only our own securities, what happens to our costs of borrowing and strength of currency? 

*Fourth, given that every nation of the Anglosphere/Scandinavia is moving towards a Third Way social welfare net--defined contribution replacing defined benefit--which relies on all individuals having eventually massive investment accounts, and a system of taxing consumption, we're headed into an epoch when conservation of capital only accelerates.

Given these factors what is the neutral real interest rate?  Is it even zero%, or is it necessarily lower?

Now ask this question, is an economy where we are all required to do ever less labor while developing ever more personal capital stagnant in any meaningful sense?

One is tempted to compare this to that other mythological period of secular stagnation--the "Dark Ages"--which only saw Europe become universally Christianized and produced capitalism and the Scientific Revolution.

The robot economy may already have arrived (FRANCESCA BRIA 20 February 2016, Open Democracy)

We shouldn't underestimate the scale of the current technological transformation, and its impact on work. Full automation is certainly just at the beginning. The internet in its newest forms, for example, 'the internet of things', aims to become pervasive across all productive sectors - from communication, to energy and logistics - and to seamlessly permeate every level of society. In a way, the robot economy is already here. Foxconn, the world's largest manufacturer, is now introducing 30,000 robots per year, and Amazon has 15,000 robots already working in delivery centres. According to Brian Arthur, this "second economy", where machines transact only with other machines, could replace the work of approximately 100 million workers globally.

Most of the current digital platforms are multi-side marketplaces that can match potential customers with everyone and everything. The strategy of these powerful 'algorithmic institutions' is to enter a variety of economic sectors rapidly and disrupt current industries. By controlling their digital ecosystems, they can turn everything into a productive asset and every transaction into an auction where they set their bidding and pricing rules.In addition to the changes being brought by automation, the job market is being transformed by digital data-intensive platforms like Uber. We are seeing a shift of power from service intermediaries to information intermediaries, a kind of 'Uberisation' of services.

THE SURGEON WILL SKYPE YOU NOW : The tech for surgeons to operate on patients from hundreds or even thousands of miles away has been possible for over a decade. But will it ever become commonplace? (Alexandra Ossola, Feb 9, 2016, Popular Mechanics)

The surgeon, who has spent 15 minutes gently tearing through tissue, suddenly pauses to gesture ever-so-slightly with his tiny scissors. "Do you see what's on this side? That's nerves." He moves the instrument a few millimeters to the right. "And on this one? That's cancer."

Ashutosh Tewari is the head of the urology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He is in the process of removing a patient's cancerous prostate, the walnut-sized gland in the delicate area between the bladder and the penis. This surgery--one of three that Tewari performs on an average day--takes place entirely within an area the size of a cereal bowl. Tewari's movements are deliberate and exact. Just a few wrong cuts could make the patient incontinent or unable to perform sexually for the rest of his life.

But Tewari is making those cuts from 10 feet away. With a robot.

From where I'm standing in the operating room, the patient is partially obscured by the large multi-armed robot that looms over him, as well as the team of surgical assistants and anesthesiologists that surround him. Tewari, meanwhile, sits at a large console. He stares into the 3D display while manipulating levers with his hands and fingers, which give him some haptic feedback. While the system resembles an old-school arcade video game, Tewari insists that there's nothing game-like about it. Surgery is serious business.

Even from across the room, robots can make surgery better. For the surgeons, sitting at a console is less physically taxing than hunching over the body during an open procedure. The software is so sophisticated that it corrects a surgeon's shaking hand. The zoomed-in camera view takes some getting used to, but for working in a small area, it's great.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Exclusive: Mitt Romney To Endorse Marco Rubio (Scott Conroy. 2/21/16, The Huffington Post)

In a major development in the Republican presidential race, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney will endorse Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for president, The Huffington Post has learned from two Republican sources.

..with Romney, McCain and Dole?  And then one with Jeb, W and GHWB?

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Islam Versus Islam (Shahid Javed Burki, 2/18/16, Project Syndicate)

Today, most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are Sunnis. They are widely dispersed, spread over a vast swath stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. After decades of migration to Europe and North America, there are also strong Sunni communities in several Western countries.

The Shia number 225 million and are geographically much more concentrated. Iran, with 83 million, is the world's largest Shia-majority country, followed by Pakistan with 30 million and India with 25 million. The "Shia crescent" - including Iran and its immediate neighbors Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey - accounts for 70% of the sect's total population. [...]

Sunni Islam, for its part, was first spread through South Asia by the Sufi saints, most of whom came from Central Asia and preached a more tolerant and inclusive form of Islam than that of the Arabian Peninsula. But the rising influence of Saudi Arabia after the 1970s, when skyrocketing oil prices boosted the country's wealth considerably, helped to spur the spread of the Kingdom's dominant and austere Wahhabi sect.

Beyond attracting millions of Muslim workers from South Asia, Saudi Arabia financed the establishment of Wahabbi madrassas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Taliban (which, in Arabic, means "students") in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are the products of these seminaries, as are militias like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which have mounted attacks on religious sites in India.

Today's turmoil reflects a clash of worldviews that is both theological and political. Conservative Sunnis, such as those who adhere to fundamentalist Wahhabism, favor theocratic authoritarian rule, whereas more moderate Sufi Sunnis would prefer liberal and inclusive political systems. The same is true of the Shia. Iran has long stuck to theocratic rule, but now seems to be looking toward reform. Whether the sectarian divide can ever be bridged most likely depends on whether reformists can gain sufficient influence in both camps. If not, the conflict will continue to rage, accelerating the breakdown of regional order we now see.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


New Ford Fusion skips over potholes (Peter Valdes-Dapena, February 18, 2016, CNN Money)

Aside from being uncomfortable and jarring for drivers and vehicle occupants, potholes can destroy tires and seriously damage expensive rims and suspension components.

Pothole damage can also be costly, with urban drivers spending more than $500 a year, according to Ford (F), citing research by transportation group TRIP.

The new Fusion V6 Sport sedan will come equipped with a computer controlled shock absorber system that will automatically stiffen when sensors detect that a wheel is rolling into a pothole.

That allows the shock absorber to keep the wheel elevated as it rolls over the hole rather than dropping down into it. The action of the front shock absorber also triggers a signal for the back wheel's shock absorber to respond similarly.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


The China Delusion (Rob Johnson, 2/16/16, Project Syndicate)

For some people, visions of the wonders of capitalism with Chinese characteristics remain undiminished. They are certain that, after more than three decades of state-directed growth, China's leaders know what to do to turn their slumping economy around.

The optimists' unreality is rivaled by that of supply-siders, who would apply shock therapy to China's slumping state sector and immediately integrate the country's underdeveloped capital markets into today's turbulent global financial system. That is a profoundly dangerous prescription. The power of the market to transform China will not be unleashed in a stagnant economy, where such measures would aggravate deflationary forces and produce a calamity.

Contra Samuel Huntington, there are no functional alternatives to the End of History.
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Jeb Bush's Path To Defeat Began A Year Ago (HARRY ENTEN, 2/21/16, 538)

Let's be real: Trump upended the 2016 campaign, and Bush was his most prominent casualty. While Trump has attacked almost everybody, his biggest early target was Bush. As my colleague Allison McCann found in late August 2015, Bush was attacked more times on Twitter by Trump than all of the other candidates combined. Trump seemed to delight even in attacking Bush's mother. And he had defied party orthodoxy by savaging George W. Bush for not preventing the Sept. 11 attacks, and for misleading the country into war with Iraq.

Whether or not Republicans love Trump (and many don't, particularly the strongest economic and foreign policy conservatives), he garnered more media attention than anybody else. That meant the negative information flow directed against Bush was staggering. While candidates like Cruz, Kasich and Rubio stayed out of the firing line in the beginning, Bush was hit over and over. That pushed Bush's poll numbers downward, and he never recovered. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


How IS has been making enemies in Afghanistan (Sayed Abdullah Nizami, 21 February 2016, BBC Magazine)

[T]hen the tactical errors began.

The main problem was the commanders just couldn't keep control of their own men. In July last year they got into conflict with the local Taliban and one of their top leaders. Then another commander started attacking government forces in the neighbouring province.

It has been a disaster for Da'esh, I am glad to say. Instead of gradually planting deep roots they came out into the open and now they are being attacked from all sides.

The US has made Da'esh an official target in Afghanistan, and has launched a series of special forces operations and drone strikes against it in the last couple of weeks.

They are under assault from Afghan government forces and the Taliban, as well as local militias - everyone seems to be against them.

What is more they have lost the support of local people because they have brutally tortured and murdered innocent villagers.

The people I know who got involved with Da'esh are now keeping a very low profile. Lots of them were once Taliban fighters but it is very hard for them to go back.
Da'esh are much, much weaker now than they were even just a few weeks ago.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Races Shape Up Around Clinton and Rubio (Jonathan Bernstein, FEB 20, 2016, Bloomberg View)

[P]olls in which few voters consider him their second choice also predict he won't benefit when other candidates leave. So do polls that show his "favorable" ratings are considerably lower than his competitors'. So does his campaign style, which makes it likely that supporters of the other candidates have felt personally insulted by the reality TV star.

And so does the simple fact that Trump has dominated the media for months, making it likely that most voters who are likely to support him already do so, and those who don't have made a relatively firm decision not to.

Bush is out. John Kasich had a disappointing night as well. As a less conservative Midwesterner, Kasich didn't have to win in South Carolina, but finishing in a weak fifth place, with only about 8 percent of the vote, makes it clear that he received little help from his (mediocre) second-place finish in New Hampshire. He has little money, a hard-to-discern path to victory, and most likely a host of Republican insiders who will be pushing him to drop out.

Trump beat Rubio and Ted Cruz by about 10 percentage points each in South Carolina. Bush and Kasich combined for about 15 percent of the vote. There's no guarantee all of those go to Rubio, but it sure seems likely, all being things equal.

Rubio also seems likely to receive many more endorsements in future contested states, as well as plenty of money to fuel his campaign (including Florida money previously pledged to Bush).

Sure, Jeb and John would make better presidents than their rivals--or either of the Democrats--but now it's time to limit the damage Trump/Cruz are doing to the brand and try winning the election; and the best way to do that is to win the nomination for Marco Rubio, who has all the advantages (and disadvantages) of Barrack Obama.  At worst, a strong 2nd would make him next in line in 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


When interest rates go negative (The Week, February 21, 2016)

How negative interest rates might affect ordinary consumers is also largely unknown, said Neil Irwin at The New York Times. Right now, negative rates only really govern money that big institutions stash with central banks, but the effects could easily trickle down, in the form of "fees for keeping money" in ordinary savings accounts. And don't think the U.S. is immune from such a "mind-bending" turn of events. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress last week that while she didn't think pushing rates below zero would be necessary, "she also didn't rule it out." The Fed has also quietly asked major U.S. banks to test what would happen to their finances if rates went negative. Economists, accustomed to treating sub-zero rates as an "intellectual curiosity," are only just beginning to imagine the "weird things" that might start happening. "For example, would people start prepaying years' worth of cable bills to avoid having money tied up in a money-losing bank account?"

Sublime!  With their own example you can see how stubbornly people are clinging to the 1970s.  Nevermind that in a deflationary epoch you never want to purchase ahead because the dollar you have today will buy more goods and services tomorrow--which is why negative interest rates are being tried in the first place--the two most important trends in cable television are cord-cutting (where you get rid of cable altogether in favor of cheaper services) and al la carte pricing (which will cut your bill be letting you only subscribe to the three channels you actually watch).   

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Did punitive gods encourage the expansion of human society? (Benjamin Purzycki, University of British Columbia, 2/21/16, The Conversation)

[O]ver the past few years, evidence has been accumulating that religious beliefs and practices may have stimulated our willingness and ability to engage in fair, cooperative behavior with many random, anonymous people. This level of cooperation can be used to create larger social networks and societies; but it can also bring people together to engage in collective violence and conflict.

Our team of anthropologists and psychologists decided to experimentally investigate how beliefs in gods - specifically those who care about how we treat each other and punish us for immoral behavior - may have contributed to more widespread cooperation. We tested this prediction in eight different societies from around the world to see if religious beliefs might have contributed to expanding humankind's social horizons. [...]

After playing the games, we asked participants a host of questions designed to understand what people thought their gods cared about, whether or not these gods punished for immoral behavior, and whether or not these gods knew people's thoughts and actions. This allowed us to link up the experimental data with individuals' beliefs.

We already knew from earlier studies that commitment to moralistic, punitive, and omniscient gods curbs the selfish behavior. But how far can this extend? We predicted that people who characterize their gods in this way ought to play the game more fairly than those whose gods are less punitive and not very knowledgeable about human actions.

And that's exactly what we found: those who said their gods didn't punish or know much about human behavior were more likely to put coins into their own cups and the cups for their local community.

These results suggest that certain religious beliefs may have contributed to the stability of expanded trade, the moderation of conflict among coreligionists, and how coreligionists might be coordinated when confronting outsiders. Belief in a moralistic, punishing god could have helped people overcome selfish behavior to cooperate fairly with more far-flung individuals, laying the groundwork for larger social networks.

Our findings also partially explain why some religions have dominated the globe; conquest, violence and conversion all require extreme levels of coordination and cooperation. Indeed, Christianity and Islam in particular often tout belief in a moralistic, punishing and omniscient deity, and these traditions have spread around the world.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


'I feel freer here' - high times on Iran's ski slopes (Arron Merat, 21 February 2016, The Guardian)

I picked Dizin for a day trip from Tehran in early December: a taxi takes about 90 minutes. Ali, a guide from new operator Toiran helped sort out equipment hire (just £8 a day) and a lift pass for £6. I yo-yoed up and down the French-built chairlifts and gondolas a few times and covered a good chunk of the ski area's nine wide, long, rolling runs and powdery bowls, full of fantastic dry snow.

Men and women are segregated on the lifts but unite at the top and can share food and tiny tumblers of tea in the few cafes and restaurants.

Up here the Islamic dress code strictly enforced in Tehran is casually relaxed. I saw peroxide-blonde hair pouring from under woolly hats and forearms scandalously uncovered.

"Sometimes the gaste-ershad [morality police] come up here, but most are bad skiers so we can escape them," said Soriah, from Tehran. At the foot of the slopes, she and her friends were drinking cans of non-alcoholic beer and smoking stubby Iranian-made Bahman cigarettes.

February 20, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Jeb Bush drops out of the Republican race for president (THOMAS BEAUMONT, 2/20/16, Associated Press)

Republican Jeb Bush ended his campaign for the presidency Saturday after a disappointing finish in South Carolina, acknowledging his failure to harness the hopes of Republican voters angry at the political establishment.

Governor Kasich needs to drop out to and they need to unify behind Jeb's protege.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Stop wasting money on brand-name drugs (Julia Belluz, February 16, 2016, Vox)

Drug costs are soaring, and one of the biggest cost drivers is prescription brand-name drugs. Sometimes, there's no alternative  on the market to treat a particular illness. But other times, Americans opt for branded medicines when cheaper, generic versions are available.

On average, generics cost 80 to 85 percent less than name-brand medicines, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And buying unbranded drugs isn't like opting for cheap toilet paper or no-name face cream: Less expensive here doesn't necessarily mean lower quality.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM

HOW POWER WORKS (profanity alert):

Robert Caro Wonders What New York Is Going To Become (CHRISTOPHER ROBBINS, FEB 17, 2016, The Gothamist)

You've said that you were able to uncover some of your best material in The Power Broker and in your LBJ series by being incredibly thorough--"time equals truth," and "turn the page." For someone who writes on the Internet, how do you uncover truth on a weekly basis? Or an hourly basis? 

That's what I hated about being a reporter. I liked a lot of--in fact, I was just talking to my wife and I said I'd give anything to take a year off and go back to being a general assignment reporter.

Why don't you? 

Yeah but I'm worried I'm not gonna finish the books now. I don't wanna waste time doing articles. I love being a reporter. But the thing I didn't like was you were always having to write when you still had more questions in your mind. I remember that feeling.

And even when I started being an investigative reporter--one of the first stories I did, I went out to Arizona to look into something and I thought, this is a big fraud. I said I need two weeks out here. I remember they couldn't believe that someone was asking them for two whole weeks, it was such a different world then.

As in two weeks was a long time? 

Yeah! It was a daily newspaper, and you wrote for the next day. When you started you did two or three articles. Then you'd do bigger stories, then you'd do one a day, but you wrote every day.

I got to be an investigative reporter totally by accident. Let's say I was 23 and I didn't know what I was doing. We had this managing editor who was really out of The Front Page, and he didn't like guys from the Ivy League. They hired me when he was on vacation [Laughs]. For awhile I was the only guy in the newsroom who'd gone to the Ivy League and he didn't talk to me for awhile. Then I did something almost by accident on an investigation that they were interested in, and he said "I didn't know someone from Princeton could go through files like this, from now on you do investigative work." So with my usual savoir faire, I say, "But I don't know anything about investigative work." He said, "We'll put you next to Bob Greene."

We had these little tin desks, and Bob Greene weighed about 300 pounds. So when he'd sit down, Bob Greene was half in my desk. The fact is that I learned a lot from him.

I started to realize, I was doing political reporting, and I came to realize almost by accident that this guy Robert Moses had so much power. He wanted to build this bridge across Long Island Sound, and Newsday had me look into it.

Around then, I was a Nieman fellow. Ina's mother was dying that year, so she couldn't come up to Cambridge with me, so I don't like to go to social things myself, and there were a lot of social things. But everybody had an office of their own, and I spent a lot of time thinking, if you're really interested in political power, everything you do is b[******].

You're not saying in every story, power comes from being elected, but your whole work as a political reporter is based on the premise that power in a democracy comes from being elected. And here's a guy who has never been elected to anything and he has more power than anyone who was elected, and he has more power than the mayor and any governor or any mayor or governor put together--look, he's built the whole landscape of your life.

So I thought I was going to do that in a newspaper series. I was gonna need months to do this, how am I gonna get them to do months? It was just too big, I was gonna have to do a book, but I thought I'd be done with the book in nine months.

In the NYPL exhibit on The Power Broker, you're quoted as saying, "I had been living for seven years with people saying no one would pay attention to a book on Robert Moses." Is this because no one knew who he was? Or is it because his legacy had already been cemented? 

No, there was this vague knowledge. I went to Horace Mann, and the other night a bunch of us who were in the same class together had dinner. I thought I was exaggerating this, but no: when we were juniors, everybody had to write a paper on the same topic, and the topic was, "Robert Moses was the perfect example of the white knight in literature." He was the hero, you know?

But when I started bumping into him as a reporter, you'd say, who is this guy? Nobody knows who he is. And nobody knows how he got his power. I remember there was not only not a book, but not a single magazine article that had explored the public authority as a source of political power. They just saw public authorities as things that sold bonds to build a bridge, collected tolls until the bonds were paid off, then went out of business.

No one knew he was interesting. I only knew one editor, and they gave me the world's smallest advance. For years I was working up in the Bronx, it was before I came to the library. You work on a book for years, and if you don't have writers around to tell you that books take years--it was sort of a terrible time, because we were broke, really broke for years. It was terrible because Moses had stopped everyone from talking to me for a long time. But it was also terrible because you felt, what am I doing? No one's interested in this! You're keeping your family impoverished, you know? All of a sudden you're in a room with 10 other people who are all sort of doing the same things.

I was very moved by this [NYPL] kiosk. It reminded me of how much that library meant to me. For the first time you were in a room full of writers. This guy, James Flexner, who was an idol of mine, he came over one day and said, "How long have you been working on this?" Which was the question that I just dreaded, you know? And whatever my answer was at the time, "five years," or whatever. He said, "Oh that's not so long, my Washington book took 14 years!"

There was another guy in the room named Ferdinand Lundberg, nobody knows this guy's name. Ferdinand Lundberg wrote a book in the '30s that was one of the greatest examples of political reporting. It's called America's 60 Families. This would be our one-tenth of 1 percent--it's about how 60 families controlled 95 percent of the wealth in the United States. I came across that book as I was researching the robber barons and I thought it was the greatest book.

One day I was doodling titles, and I decided I was going to call it The Power Broker, and my first editor didn't like that title. But I knew this was going to be the title. And I wrote it, and all of a sudden Lundberg was standing behind me. He said, "Is that the title?" And I said yes. "Don't let them change that," he said. So there were things that happened in that room, right at the beginning, that made everything change all of a sudden.

There were other famous writers, like Barbara Tuchman had been there, she had just left when I got there. And then there were a bunch of writers like me, who no one knew. Like, Susan Brownmiller, she wrote a book called Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, and it was groundbreaking. Susan had the next desk from me, and no one had ever heard of her either, and her editor wasn't returning her calls. 

We used to make a bet, whose editor would return our call first! [Laughs]

Sometimes the bet would go on for a long time, but I still remember Susan's feet. She wore these socks with bright horizontal stripes, and she'd stick them under this partial carrel, so they'd be sticking under my desk, and when I was writing I'd see them. So when you were writing you weren't lonely.

Why write about individual people and not systems of power? 

I would be lying to you if I said I know now why. As I was writing this book, I realized--realized is probably an exaggerated word--I realized that if I did his life right, I would be explaining not just him, but how urban political power worked. Not just in New York but in all the cities of America.

Moses had done something no one else had ever done. Everyone thought power comes from being elected. He wasn't elected, he realizes he's never going to get elected to anything, so he's got to figure out a way to get all this power without getting elected, and he does it. I didn't understand it, no one else understood it, even La Guardia says to him, "Don't tell me what to do," or whatever the quote is, "I'm the boss, you just work for me."

And Moses writes, and I saw this letter in La Guardia's papers, he sends back the letter and he writes across it, "You'd better read the contracts, mayor."

I gradually came to understand that because he had done this thing, that no one else had ever done, gotten all this power without being elected, if I could find out how he did it and explain how he did it, I would be explaining something that no one else understood and I thought they really should understand, which is, how does power really work in cities? Not what we're taught in textbooks, but what's the raw, bottom, naked essence of real power?

I'm writing this book, and I suddenly say, God, this isn't really a biography, this is a book about political power. I said I'd love to do the same thing with national power. Who's the one guy who did something that no one else did? The thing that got me about Lyndon Johnson wasn't him being president. It was about him being Senate Majority Leader.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Ted Cruz sent out a mailer mashing up Rubio's face with Obama's (bECCA sTANEK, 2/20/16, tHE wEEK)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and President Obama look awfully tight on Sen. Ted Cruz's latest South Carolina mailer. Indeed, the face alongside the text "The Rubio-Obama Trade Pact" is a merger of Rubio's and Obama's, in an attempt by Cruz's campaign to show that the two are one and the same in their positions on trade.

Given his campaign's stated aim to try and win by appealing only to white voters, Mr. Cruz can't even plausible deny the intent here is racist.
Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Just one in three Paris restaurants deemed 'clean' (The Local, 16 Feb 2016)

Only 34 percent of Parisian eateries have a "good" level of hygiene, according to inspections carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture between July and December last year.

The government body checked out 1,500 eateries in Paris, and plans to publish the full results later this year. 

Paris made Sicily look cleanish.
Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


What this 3,000-year-old wheel tells us about Britain's 'Pompeii' (Olivia Lowenberg, FEBRUARY 19, 2016, CS Monitor)

Archeologists working at Must Farm in Peterborough, Britain, recently discovered a 3,000-year-old wheel that has been completely preserved. It is the first and largest example of its kind to be discovered on the isle. The wheel's completeness and relative size will likley shift views about how people may have travelled during the Bronze Age, especially since it was found at a site located near a river.

"This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain," said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, in a press release announcing the discovery. "The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago."

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


China's Foreign Exchange Reserves Dwindling Rapidly (KEITH BRADSHERFEB. 18, 2016, NY Times)

As markets around the world have churned, China has long taken comfort in having what in the financial world amounts to a life preserver: its vast holdings of other countries' money. [...]

The country's reserves have shrunk by nearly a fifth since the summer of 2014 -- and more than a third of the shrinkage has been in the last three months.

By the end of January, reserves stood at $3.23 trillion, a level that has prompted speculation about how much lower Beijing will let them go.

With a smaller pot of reserves, Chinese leaders have less room to maneuver, should the economy undergo a sudden shock. The reserves situation also weakens China's control over the value of its currency, the renminbi.

The Golden Generation : Why China's super-rich send their children abroad. (JIAYANG FAN, 2/22/16, The New Yorker)

A study by the Bank of China and the Hurun Report found that sixty per cent of the country's rich people were either in the process of moving abroad or considering doing so. ("Rich" was defined as being worth more than ten million yuan--around $1.5 million, a considerable fortune in China, though not stratospheric.) The Chinese are currently transferring money out of the country at a rate of around four hundred and fifty billion dollars a year. Most of that money has gone into real estate. According to the National Association of Realtors, Chinese buyers have become the largest source of foreign cash in the U.S. residential real-estate market.

Moneyed people leave China for various reasons. Some are worried about pollution. Others want to secure a good education for their children. Zhou Xueguang, a sociology professor at Stanford who received his bachelor's degree in China, told me, "The competition in the Chinese school system is known to be brutal." He went on, "There are only so many slots in good schools, and, at a certain level, it doesn't matter how much money you have--you won't be able to get in." But, for affluent Chinese, the most basic reason to move abroad is that fortunes in China are precarious. The concerns go deeper than anxiety about the country's slowing growth and turbulent stock market; it is very difficult to progress above a certain level in business without cultivating, and sometimes buying, the support of government officials, who are often ousted in anti-corruption sweeps instigated by rivals.

John Osburg, an anthropologist who spent years studying successful businessmen in Chengdu, told me that "there's always a fear that, if the officials to whom they're tied are brought down in an anti-corruption campaign, it could bring trouble for them, too, and lead to the seizure of their assets. There's also a concern that business rivals who may be better connected to people in the government could use their ties to the party-state to bring down their competitors." Some people he knew considered being on Forbes's annual list of the richest people in China a curse. "The people on that list, for several years in a row, within a year or two of appearing, would be the target of some kind of criminal investigation or they'd be brought down in a corruption scandal," he said.

In Vancouver, Weymi mentioned the pervasiveness of such anxieties: "Some of my relatives in Shanghai who are officials--all clean ones, of course--have told me stories about their friends who are fretting about the recent corruption crackdown. In China, it's not just about what you did but what your network of relationships is."

This is the first time that China's rich have sought to emigrate in significant numbers.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Mad World: Part I (D.R. Tucker, 2/20/16, Washington Monthly)

Do you know anyone who's planning to vote for Donald Trump?

I know the late film critic Pauline Kael never actually said she didn't know anyone in her social circle who voted for Richard Nixon, but what was false for Kael is true for me: I do not know of anyone in my social circle who intends to vote for the prejudiced Pope-basher who's poised to win tonight's Republican primary in South Carolina. Yet the reality of Trump's broad support cannot be denied, nor can the prospect of him becoming the 45th President of the United States be gainsaid.

If you know a friend or family member who plans to vote for Trump, have you considered sitting down and having a heart-to-heart (or, I would argue, heart-to-heartless) talk with them? The point of this talk would not necessarily be to get them to change their minds, as the odds of such an event occurring are probably slim and none. The idea would be to sincerely ask them why they are so attracted to this man.

We've already voted here, so we know a fair number of people who voted for him or supported him (nearly every adolescent and teen-age boy) and we've visited Mass a few times and we have commenters and one thing seems to characterize them : opposition to immigrants and/or support for carpet bombing Muslims.  He's been so vague on what he'd do as president that no one actually supports him for any kind of policy platform. It's just fear and loathing.  It's one of the reasons that nearly the same percentage of Democrats as Republicans support him. 

In such conversations as Mr. Tucker proposes, all you have to do is ask : how would he be different than President Obama and that is what will come flooding out, animus towards the others.


After discussing the barbarism of ISIS and his belief that the United States needs to use tactics much worse than waterboarding, Trump told an almost certainly false story about General Pershing's execution Muslim terrorists in the Phillippines. "I read a story, it's a terrible story, but I'll tell you," Trump said. "Early in the century, last century, General Pershing--did you ever hear--rough guy, rough guy. And they had a terrorism problem. And there's a whole thing with swine and animals and pigs, and you know the story. They don't like that. They were having a tremendous problem with terrorism."

After Pershing caught 50 terrorists, "he took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig's blood," Trump said. "And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, 'You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.' And for 25 years there wasn't a problem, okay?"

"We better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant, and we better start using our heads or we're not gonna have a country, folks," Trump added.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


How a Trump win in South Carolina could tear the GOP apart (Damon Linker, February 19, 2016, The Week)

If a Republican candidate for president could win a primary in a deeply conservative Southern state after such an outburst, it would be the strongest evidence yet that the conservative movement had lost control of the party -- that a significant bloc of its voters is ready and willing to repudiate the movement and the ideas that have defined it for several decades.

That's what's going to be tested this Saturday in South Carolina. A dominating victory by Trump, which most polls are predicting, will not only strongly indicate that he's likely either to win the nomination or prevent the nomination of anyone else prior to the GOP convention this summer. It will also portend a tumultuous future for the Republican Party, regardless of who ends up as the nominee in 2016. A party with such a large bloc of voters who diverge so sharply from the party's organizing ideology is either a party that will need to significantly change its ideological direction -- or one on the verge of breaking apart.

Whether this is in fact what's in store for the Republican Party will be clarified as never before once the results in South Carolina roll in. And despite the occasional outlier poll, there is ample reason to think the outcome is going to be highly destabilizing to the current ideological configuration of the GOP, with Trump once again besting his rivals.

...would see Trump lose to either Cruz or a moderate.  Then the other two moderates quit the race, leaving Trump and Cruz to split votes going forward against only one viable nominee. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


The Elephant in the Room : Trump is right about political correctness. (DAVID GELERNTER, 2/29/16, Weekly Standard)

Trump is way ahead -- for many reasons, but the most important is obvious and virtually ignored.

Political correctness. Trump hasn't made it a campaign theme exactly, but he mentions it often with angry disgust. Reporters, pundits, and the other candidates treat it as a sideshow, a handy way for Trump (King Kong Jr.) to smack down the pitiful airplanes that attack him as he bestrides his mighty tower, roaring. But the analysts have it exactly backward. Political correctness is the biggest issue facing America today. Even Trump has just barely faced up to it. The ironic name disguises the real nature of this force, which ought to be called invasive leftism or thought-police liberalism or metastasized progressivism. The old-time American mainstream, working- and middle-class white males and their families, is mad as hell about political correctness and the havoc it has wreaked for 40 years -- havoc made worse by the flat refusal of most serious Republicans to confront it. Republicans rarely even acknowledge its existence as the open wound it really is; a wound that will fester forever until someone has the nerve to heal it -- or the patient succumbs. To watch young minorities protest their maltreatment on fancy campuses when your own working life has seen, from the very start, relentless discrimination in favor of minorities--such events can make people a little testy.

We are fighting Islamic terrorism, but the president won't even say "Islamic terrorism." It sounds like a joke -- but it isn't funny. It connects straight to other problems that terrify America's nonelites, people who do not belong (or whose spouses or children don't belong) to the races or groups that are revered and protected under p.c. law and theology.

Political correctness means that when the Marines discover that combat units are less effective if they include women, a hack overrules them. What's more important, guys, combat effectiveness or leftist dogma? No contest! Nor is it hard to notice that putting women in combat is not exactly the kind of issue that most American women are losing sleep over. It matters only to a small, powerful clique of delusional ideologues. (The insinuation that our p.c. military is upholding the rights of women everywhere, that your average American woman values feminist dogma over the strongest-possible fighting force--as if women were just too ditzy to care about boring things like winning battles--is rage-making.)

It's no coincidence that the Donald's campaign seems like a sitcom--political incorrectness is simply funny.

Politics Is So Insane Right Now Satirists Can't Keep Up (Wired, 2/20/16)

CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY IS known for his satires of American politics, including Little Green Men, Boomsday, and Supreme Courtship. His 1994 novel Thank You For Smoking, about an amoral PR man who works to downplay the dangers of cigarettes, was adapted into a 2005 film starring Aaron Eckhart. But in Buckley's new book The Relic Master, he turns his attention from current events to history.

"The reason I went back 500 years and crossed the Atlantic and settled in the Holy Roman Empire was I kind of needed a break from political satire," Buckley says in Episode 190 of the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast. "I don't know how you do political satire today."

He says that in the age of Donald Trump, it's impossible to dream up anything more exaggerated than reality, whereas Renaissance Europe offered a fresh new playground to explore.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Tiny house experiment to help homeless veterans gains support (JASON SCHREIBER, 2/20/16, Union Leader)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, got her first look inside Keith Howard's tiny house on Friday.

Howard, the executive director of Manchester's Liberty House, has been living inside a 160-square-foot cargo trailer on property in Raymond since last June as part of a test to see if it could serve as transitional housing for homeless veterans until they get back on their feet.

So far his experiment has worked, and Ayotte was impressed. [...]

The trailer is equipped with propane heat and a solar panel for electricity. It's insulated, has a bunk bed with storage space, a toilet, a ceiling fan, and a small kitchen.

"I could live here forever," said Howard, whose time will be up in June.

The cure for homelessness is homes.

A Giant 3D Printer Builds Ten Houses In One Day (Rory Stott, 9/08/14, HuffPo)

Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering has constructed a set of ten single story, 3D-printed homes which it produced in under 24 hours. The homes, printed in prefabricated panels which fit together on site, were created using WinSun's custom-built 3D printer which measures 10 meters by 6.6 meters, and took the company twelve years to develop.

Formed with a cement-based mixture containing construction waste and glass fiber, each of the houses cost just $5,000 to build.

February 19, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


GOP Bill Could Make Health Insurance And Over-The-Counter Drugs More Affordable (Juliegrace Brufke, 2/05/16, Daily Caller)

A bill introduced Thursday aims to expand Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Savings Accounts (FSAs), broadening what consumers can purchase using these tax-advantaged medical savings plans.

The Health Savings Act of 2016, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, would amend current law to allow for the purchase of health insurance plans and over-the-counter medication using HSAs. Certain exercise equipment, fitness programs and dietary supplements would also be put under the umbrella of medical care.

Thanks, W!

Health savings accounts can keep retirement plans in shape (Kelli B. Grant, 5 Feb 2016, CNBC.com)

HSAs have been gaining in popularity in recent years. At the end of 2014, consumers kept $24.2 billion across 13.4 million HSAs, according to a 2015 report from Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). Nearly 4 in 5 of those accounts were opened after 2010. [...]

The advantage is in the "triple tax benefit," Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and director of financial planning for Life Planning Partners, told CNBC this week. Unlike use-it-or-lose-it flexible spending accounts, HSA balances roll over year after year, with tax-free investment growth. Withdrawals for medical expenses are tax-free at any age; distributions after age 65 for other purposes will be taxed at regular income-tax rates.

But it gets better. "You have to incur the medical expense after you establish the [HSA], but you can take it out five years later, 10 years later," said O'Rourke at Integrated Retirement Initiatives. So account holders who can afford to can pay out of pocket now and save their receipts, claiming the qualified distribution after the funds have had time to grow.

The scale is also bigger. Flexible spending accounts let users set aside a maximum of just $2,550 in pretax dollars in 2016 for medical expenses, while the annual contribution limits on HSAs are $3,350 for individuals and $6,750 for families. Account holders age 55 and older can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.

Account holders may even benefit from free money in the form of employer contributions, either as a flat match or added incentive for healthy behaviors. "There's often a kick-start there to help pay for those deductibles in the first year," said O'Rourke.

Among large employers that offered a high-deductible plan and HSA in 2015, 24 percent awarded cash based on specified wellness activities, according to data benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt. Among midsize companies, 18 percent offered such an incentive.

That's no small change. EBRI estimated that in 2014 the average employer contribution into HSAs was $1,021.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


How Undocumented Immigrants Contribute to the American Economy : Would you notice a day without Latinos? Most definitely. (FRANCIE DIEP, 2/19/16, Pacific Standard)

Everybody would certainly notice if undocumented immigrants suddenly disappeared from the workforce. They make up about one in 20 American workers. In Wisconsin, an estimated 55,000 workers are undocumented. The industries that would miss unauthorized workers the most include farming, fishing, and forestry, where more than one in four employees is undocumented. Notably, in Wisconsin, the Dairy Business Association opposes the anti-immigrant bills.

If undocumented workers disappeared tomorrow, would that actually mean more jobs for native-born Americans? It's important to remember that an economy doesn't contain a set number of jobs that are shared among the population. Having a different mix of people may create or vanish jobs. Studies don't agree about what the presence of undocumented immigrants does to the American job market, however. By keeping the cost of labor low, undocumented workers improve companies' bottom lines and create more jobs, one recent computer model found. On the other hand, a panel of economists recently agreed that "illegal immigration to the United States in recent decades has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American citizens," although the panelists couldn't agree on whether the effect was "modest" or "significant."

How do undocumented immigrants affect the country's bottom line? Do they pay more in taxes to the American economy, or do they take more in benefits like health care and public schooling? As a group, immigrants pay in more than they take out, studies agree. At the same time, many studies have found that undocumented immigrants cost more than they pay in certain states and localities. That said, they generally don't cost much: "In most of the estimates ... spending for unauthorized immigrants accounted for less than 5 percent of total state and local spending for those services," the Congressional Budget Office reports.

Either way, it's not a growing issue. Illegal immigration to the U.S. is tapering off, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Wisconsin is one of 43 states where the undocumented immigrant population hasn't changed in recent years.

There is no contradiction in the fact that farming is considered the quintessential way of life and that immigrants are the ones doing the farmwork.
Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, dies aged 89 (Ed Pilkington, 19 February 2016, The Guardian)

Harper Lee, whose 1961 novel To Kill a Mockingbird became a national institution and the defining text on the racial troubles of the American deep south, has died at the age of 89.

...In Cold Blood was good as well.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Why are big-shot liberal economists hippie-punching Bernie Sanders? (Ryan Cooper, February 19, 2016, The Week)

Gerald Friedman, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, produced an analysis of Bernie Sanders' economic plan predicting eye-popping benefits from the candidate's program: 4.5 percent real GDP growth between 2016 and 2026, at which time median income would be $82,151 -- about $23,000 above the Congressional Budget Office baseline.

Reaction from the economics establishment was swift and vicious. Democratic Party heavy hitters -- Alan Krueger of Princeton, Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, plus Christina Romer and Laura D'Andrea Tyson of Berkeley, all four former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers -- put out an ex cathedra declaration that Friedman's paper was utterly beyond the pale of serious analysis.

Paul Krugman joined the dogpile, writing three consecutive posts ("Worried Wonks," "What Has the Wonks Worried," "Wonkery Has a Well-Known Liberal Bias," -- noticing a theme?) on how Friedman's paper was utterly preposterous, and demanding Sanders immediately denounce it. Brad DeLong was kinder, but still insisted that Friedman was enabling right-wing economic derp.

Ironically, in the frenzy to destroy Friedman's reputation, nobody actually explained in detail what the problems were with his paper. The CEA pronouncement had no data or economic argument at all -- it was 100 percent political handwringing. Krugman gave a very brief gloss suggesting that Sanders couldn't possibly get labor force participation back up to 1990s levels due to aging, and trying to do so would cause inflation. Kevin Drum gave a similar incredulous stare argument about worker productivity and GDP growth, pronouncing it "insane," worse than Republican "magic asterisks."

It's like Syria but in ivory towers.
Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Why Donald Trump Is Wrong About How the Economy Works (Roger Lowenstein,  FEBRUARY 19, 2016, Fortune)

[T]rump has an outmoded view of economics that was never true and is particularly false now.

It is true in a c[****]o, where Donald Trump's understanding of economics began, and perhaps ended. A c[****]o is a perfect zero-sum economy. If you win, the house loses. Much more often, your loss is the house's win.

That's because a c[****]o is not productive (aside from its employment of a few low-wage workers). Its only activity is gambling. Someone's win is another party's loss.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Trump's other occasional successes, in commercial real estate, have a history of relying on government tax abatements and other breaks. That's another forum for zero-sum, win-lose economics. One mogul dodges a tax; many ordinary citizens have to pay a little more.

But in the mainstream economy where most Americans work, economics is not zero-sum. Each transaction enriches both sides. When you buy an automobile it enriches the dealer, the manufacturer, the bank that provided financing, the suppliers who contributed parts--an entire web of affiliated parties. You, the consumer, also benefit--because you value the automobile.

In the Trump view of the world, one of those parties--say, the car company--"wins" and everyone else loses. In fact, every one of those parties wins, or rather benefits, to a small degree. And their increased prosperity marginally increases their propensity to spend and notches up growth for all.

The new high-tech and health-care economies are redolent with examples of firms whose success, rather than "taking" from others, has sprouted entire subcultures of spinoff companies. One successful enterprise leads to another. (Think of the iPhone and the gaggle of app developers founded in its wake.)

Although not every industry spawns such a virtuous circle, in a free economy every participant gains, to a small degree, from every trade. And that is true even for the foreign "trade" that Trump routinely disparages.

...it's no wonder he assumes the game is rigged.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


The media are misleading the public on Syria (Stephen Kinzer, FEBRUARY 18, 2016, Boston Globe)

COVERAGE OF the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: "Don't send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin." Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants' hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. "Turkish-Saudi backed 'moderate rebels' showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars," one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, "The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS -- so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?"

There's plenty of time to do Assad after ISIS...or vice versa. Meanwhile, the whole region is a free-fire zone.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Forget What You've Heard: Organic Food Is Not Food Grown Without Pesticides : On the paradox of unanimity and how, if nothing else, it could be saving you money on your grocery bill. (JAMES MCWILLIAMS, 2/19/16, Pacific Standard)

In a paper about to be published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, a team of researchers identifies something they call the "paradox of unanimity." If you've ever smelled a rat when everyone else is celebrating an idea then this paradox is for you. While unanimous agreement (or something close to it) might suggest that a particular claim is right, the researchers, led by Lachlan J. Gunn, an engineer at the University of Adelaide in Australia, found the opposite to be true. Rather than confirming truth, unanimity indicates that something went wrong, that a "systemic failure" undermined popular judgment, that the confidence of the crowd has been skewed by bias.

As it's currently framed, the paradox applies primarily to criminal justice concerns--police line-ups and the like. But it also has implications for food and agriculture. Few fields of popular interest have cultivated a wider array of glib axioms of empowerment than food: genetically modified organisms are bad, local is better, you shouldn't eat food your grandmother wouldn't eat, and so on. In the context of Main Street foodie wisdom, these claims enjoy something close to unanimity. But, for all their support, none comes closer to the unanimity quotient than the gilded assertion that organic food is food grown without pesticides. [...]

Enter into this conventional belief the paradox of unanimity. This time the buzz kill comes from the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recently released annual summary for pesticide data program. According to this survey, 21 percent of the 409 organic samples of produce tested by the USDA showed evidence of synthetic pesticide residues. What's notable about this already high percentage is that the residue detection test doesn't even measure commonly used organic pesticides like copper and sulfur compounds, mineral oil, and bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). According to Steve Savage, who wrote about the report for Forbes, if organic pesticide residues were measured, "the detection percentage for organic would be much higher." So, score one for the unanimity paradox, one that, this time, may save you money at Whole Foods.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Tesco bows to demand and will soon only sell straight croissants (Damien Gayle, 2/18/16, The Guardian)

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


How to write the shortest joke in the world : The one-liner is a comedy staple, but how about a one-worder? (James Gingell, 19 February 2016, The Guardian)

One of my favourite jokes is a Jimmy Carr line: "Venison's dear, isn't it?" OK, it's not the most profound or provocative. It might be more Christmas cracker-craic than arena-filling dynamite. It might not discomfit the wicked or give succour to the vulnerable. It doesn't, perhaps, lead to hysterical, explosive, incontinent laughter. But the verbal thrift is a marvel. Just four tom-tom-tight words and a wink to elicit a titter. That's magic. [...]

All of this got me thinking - how far can the exformation principle be pushed in writing a joke? How few words can we use? Is four words the universal limit for a joke? Surely not. If a powerful short story can be produced from just six words (one of the saddest stories ever told, sometimes wrongly credited to Ernest Hemingway, is: For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn), then couldn't a simple joke could be compressed down towards the event horizon of a single word?

In the Fawlty Towers episode The Psychiatrist, an exchange between Sybil and a guest ends with a two-word joke: "Pretentious? Moi?" (I'm bending the rules slightly here. Technically "Pretentious? Moi?" is the punchline to a joke with a longer set-up. But part of the majesty of John Cleese and Connie Booth's writing is that the punchline works just as well on its own.) "Pretentious? Moi?" contains just four syllables, but a world of densely packed, hyperlinked exformation, which completes the scene and yields the giggle. On hearing the line, we immediately picture two people, probably acquaintances, and imagine that one of them has just accused the other of a certain la-di-da affectation. The accused responds to the charge in the negative, but in such a way as to confirm the suspicion of the interrogator. All that detail and colour condensed into just two words. And because the joke invites participation; because the completed narrative requires collaborative effort; because there's some harmonic synergy between flirty brains on the same upstroke of a thoughtwave, two words are enough for a joke.

Tough to beat : "Simplify, simplify."  

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


US airstrikes target Islamic State militants in Libya (Chris Stephen in Tunis and Spencer Ackerman in Washington, 19 February 2016, The Guardian)

US warplanes have carried out airstrikes on an Islamic State base in western Libya, targeting a leader linked to last year's Sousse beach massacre in Tunisia.

Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, indicated that the military had not yet determined that the target of Friday's attack, Noureddine Chouchane, was killed. But reports indicated that 41 people, including suspected Isis militants, died in the attack near Sabratha.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


De-Bosched! Who cares if a painting isn't by a famous artist after all? (Jonathan Jones, 19 February 2016, The Guardian)

The Prado has a problem. The Bosch Research and Conservation Project, whose findings underpin the great exhibition of this Netherlandish visionary now at the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, has declared two of the paintings in the Spanish museum's unrivalled collection of Hieronymus Boschnot his pure handiwork after all. The Cure of Folly is now merely "Workshop or follower of Hieronymus Bosch (c1510-20)", say researchers, while The Temptation of Saint Anthony has been relegated to "Follower of Hieronymus Bosch (c1530-40 and after 1574)". This is how they are labelled in the exhibition catalogue.

Madrid is none too pleased. The Prado has reneged on its offer to lend these works for the show because, it says, the Dutch museum's plan to display them as "not by Bosch" breaks an agreement and "also suggests the Museo del Prado accepts and authorises the proposed attributions". In other words, it does not accept the de-Bosching. [...]

I don't want to pick on the Prado, which is surprisingly ready to unmask its own works. The most shocking relegation of recent years came when the Prado decided one of its Goya masterpieces was not by him at all. The Colossus, a nightmarish vision of war, is really by one of Goya's assistants, the museum announced in 2009. So, it's not that museums won't accept unpleasant facts about their collections. It's just that they don't like being told what to think by outsiders.

Museums such as the Prado and London's National Gallery have their own laboratories and do their own research. As a National Gallery insider once told me: "We know the fakes in our collection." Which all goes to show those labels on the wall are not monoliths of unquestioned fact. They conceal scholarly rivalries and institutional self-promotion. Perhaps it was better, after all, in more romantic times, when paintings were just shown in golden frames with "Leonardo" or "Giorgone" emblazoned below. The truth was anybody's guess. Perhaps it still is.

Beauty makes something Art, not authorship.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Mayor Bernie Sanders and the Chabad Menorah (Ron KampeasFebruary 18, 2016, JTA) 

Sanders' backing for the display of a menorah outside Burlington City Hall made national headlines in the 1980s, but had been forgotten until last week, when Chabad.org editor Dovid Margolin rediscovered the story. Margolin is researching the history of menorah displays in the United States.

Sanders first allowed the display of an 8-foot-tall menorah for one night of Hanukkah in 1983, at the request of Rabbi Yitzchak Raskin, then newly installed as the Chabad movement's emissary to Vermont.

In Margolin's telling, Sanders was a ready and happy participant in the first lighting:

On December 1, 1983, in front of a crowd of about 35 Jewish students from the University of Vermont, he came out to the steps of City Hall, donned a kippah, flawlessly read the blessings aloud, and lit two candles, corresponding to the second night of Chanukah.

The ceremony became an annual event, and in 1986, Raskin asked Sanders if he could keep a 16-foot-tall menorah in City Hall Park throughout the eight days of Hanukkah. Sanders sought a legal opinion, and given a green light, he gave Chabad the nod.

The American Civil Liberties Union, now a Sanders ally (it scored him as high as 93 percent during his congressional career), protested in 1987 and sued in 1988. Sanders did not back down and defended the menorah placement in the courts through 1989, his last year as mayor and the year an appellate court ruled that the menorah could not appear in front of City Hall.

February 18, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Let Darwinism Decide Fate of Ailing Banks (Mark Gilbert, 2/18/16, Bloomberg View)

European regulators are tying themselves into knots rewriting the rules for the financial system. Specifically, they want to ensure they won't have to use taxpayers' money to buy lifeboats if a renewed financial crisis threatens to torpedo the region's banks. One option that doesn't seem to be on the table, though, is to simply stand aside, let natural selection run its course and allow ailing banks to go bust.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


What Happens When a Campus Rape Expert Gets Accused of Sexual Assault? (Madison Pauly, Feb. 18, 2016, Mother Jones)

Jason Casares, the associate dean of students and deputy Title IX coordinator at Indiana University's flagship campus in Bloomington, has built a reputation as an expert on college sexual assault. He's well known enough among his peers to have been voted president, in November 2014, of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, a professional group of around 2,700 college officials. Last year, he helped write the curriculum for the group's training program for campus rape investigators.

For the ASCA's annual conference this month, Casares had planned to teach seminars on Title IX and on using a "trauma-informed approach" in sexual misconduct investigations. Then, during the conference keynote on February 3, ASCA board member Jill Creighton circulated a letter accusing him of sexual assault.

Creighton's letter described an evening last December when the two had drinks at a convention for fraternity and sorority advisers in Fort Worth, Texas. "I made the mistake of letting my guard down while socializing with Jason about Association business," Creighton wrote. "Jason took advantage of me after I had had too much to drink...I did not consent to sexual contact."

Drink less. And sleep in your own room.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Puritan Throwback The Witch Gets Under Your Skin (David Edelstein, 2/16/16, Vulture)

In some ways, The Witch is a throwback. At least since Marion L. Starkey's 1949 study The Devil in Massachusetts (an inspiration for Arthur Miller's The Crucible), pop culture has taken a more Freudian view of Puritan-era witchcraft sagas, putting the blame on patriarchs whose fear of women's sexuality becomes rage against female self-expression (or, with Miller, McCarthyist hysteria). There's a tinge of Freudianism -- the "return of the repressed" -- in The Witch. The patriarch compensates for his loss of power over women and the natural world by frantically chopping wood. And when Thomasin's bold, freckle-faced younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) attempts an Oedipal assertion of his own manhood, he's lured from his path by a lush female in a red cloak. But at the end of the day -- i.e., the witching hour -- The Witch is surprisingly straightforward. In its Puritan framework, a woman expiates her original sin through harsh self-denial or she dances with the devil. It's either mean deprivation or obscene engorgement.

In a concluding title, Eggers says he based The Witch closely on historical accounts of witchcraft and even used some of the original, antiquated dialogue. He went with the myths, from eras in which most people believed that there was an actual devil with whom to dance. So you're watching the thing itself, stripped of its postmodern political and cultural accretions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Times Square Crime Has Dropped So Much That the Police Station Is Losing Its Jail Cell (Samuel Lieberman, 2/18/16, NY Mag)

After decades of cleanup and massage-parlor clearance, Times Square's most persistent problems have become large Cookie Monsters and panhandling topless women, which are hardly enough to require an on-site jail cell. "Fortunately, things have changed dramatically in Times Square," said deputy commissioner of management and budget Vincent Grippo. "We don't view Times Square as a high-crime area, certainly not the types of crimes we were looking at decades ago." In 2014 Times Square had one-tenth the number of violent crimes it saw in 1994.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Wisconsin Just Blew a Big Hole in Planned Parenthood's Funding : It will cost the health care provider $8 million per year. (Becca Andrews | Thu Feb. 18, 2016, Mother Jones)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went to a crisis pregnancy center in Waukesha to sign two bills that will cut Planned Parenthood's funding in the state.

"Certainly, over the past year there's been a lot of controversy nationally about Planned Parenthood," Walker said before signing the legislation. "For those of us who are pro-life, this is important...taxpayer dollars at the federal and state level should not be spent...particularly when there are noncontroversial alternatives."

The first measure concerns prescription drugs. It restricts the amount Planned Parenthood gets back in Medicaid reimbursements for birth control prescriptions by requiring the health care organization to charge the actual acquisition cost of the birth control and the standard dispensing fee when billing Medicaid for reimbursement. This practice is estimated to cost Planned Parenthood $4.5 million annually. Other family planning clinics will still be able to acquire birth control at a discounted price through Medicaid's 340B program. The bill singles out Planned Parenthood by referring to "a covered entity that is an abortion provider." Of the 22 Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, only three perform abortions. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Wisconsin serve more than 60,000 patients annually.

Assembly Bill 310, also signed by Walker today, was approved by the state Senate last month. It prevents the state from relaying federal money from the Title X grant program to any group that either provides abortions or is affiliated with an abortion provider. Title X money is used for family planning and health screening for the poor and the uninsured--it cannot be used for abortions, according to federal law. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin receives about $3.5 million from Title X each year, and 61 percent of Planned Parenthood patients in Wisconsin live below the poverty line, according to the group's 2014 annual report.

During the signing ceremony, Walker repeated a point often made by abortion opponents in their push to defund Planned Parenthood, saying that community health care clinics can replace Planned Parenthood in providing services, especially to low-income women.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Marco Rubio ad uses footage of Canada to represent idyllic 'American' morning (Jeva Lange, February 16, 2016, The Week)
It's the thought that counts, right? The latest candidate to be fuzzy on the specifics of American geography is Marco Rubio, whose newest ad features an opening shot of the Vancouver, Canada, skyline as a voiceover intones, "It's morning again in America."

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Hola Cuba! Obama to Visit in March (JOSH LEDERMAN and KEVIN FREKING, 2/18/16, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama will pay a historic visit to Cuba in the coming weeks, senior Obama administration officials said, becoming the first president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Pope Francis calls Trump 'not Christian' (Reuters | February 18, 2016) 

Donald Trump is "not Christian" because of his views on immigration, Pope Francis said on his way back to Rome from Mexico.

The pope said, however, he did not want to advise American Catholics on whether or not to vote for Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Anti-GMO Nutjobbery Risks "Food Crisis" in the Philippines (American Interest, 2/16/16))

Reuters reports:

Government agencies are scrambling to set new regulations on GMOs by Feb. 23 after the [Philippines'] top court late last year demanded an overhaul of existing rules, halting GM planting and issuance of new GM import permits until that was done.

The Supreme Court was acting on a petition by environmental activists led by Greenpeace, with the move likely to be closely watched by governments elsewhere as the Philippines is seen as a trailblazer for GMO. The country was the first in the region to allow planting and commercialization of GM corn, which it did in 2002, and has permitted GM crop imports for more than a decade.

The new GMO rules are expected to make it more difficult for modified crops to be given the green light by government regulators, and in a country where nearly three-quarters of all corn grown is genetically modified, that's a big deal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


THE BEAUTY OF SPRING TRAINING (Will Leitch, 2/17/16, Sports on Earth)

The 2016 regular season ends on Oct. 2, two days earlier than last season. If the postseason schedule is set up roughly like it was last year, the Division Series should be done by Oct. 12, with the League Championship Series around Oct. 21-22, letting the World Series begin around Oct. 25. If it goes seven games -- which has happened only twice in the past 13 years, sad face -- that means it is possible the next day in which there will be no photos of men stretching in the grass, and throwing baseballs to each other, and taking grounders, will be in exactly 260 days. That will be precisely six days before the presidential election on Nov. 8, so if you are having trouble looking at politics these days (for the same reason people have trouble looking at the sun, as in "if you do not stop, you will eventually go blind and/or burst into flames"), you are just about to have yourself an awfully handy distraction. Because it's here.

From now on, it is baseball. Every day brings baseball. It all starts filing in now. The players talking about their offseason regimen. The guys in The Best Shape Of Their Lives. The new managers talking about a "different attitude around here." The reporters tweeting snapshots of players shagging flies from 100 feet away. The hundreds of eager fans, with their hands out with items to be signed, baseballs or pennants, or maybe their baby's bald head.

It's the time to believe anything can happen, because it can. Last spring, the Royals were thought to be a one-year fluke. The Mets were a punchline. Turns out: They faced each other in the World Series. Right now, the only teams in baseball no one thinks have even a tiny chance of making the playoffs are the Phillies, Braves and Reds. And even with them, who knows? Stranger things have happened. Stranger things happen every year. Right now, the sun is shining in Florida and in Arizona, and no matter how cold it is where you are, it is beautiful and perfect and eternal there.

By July, some of you will be so disgusted by your team that the mere mention of their names will cause you to grimace and scowl. By September, you might be ready to move on to football, or just concentrating on your fantasy baseball team's finishing kick. But not right now. Right now, the world spreads out forever before us. This is the year for the Cubs! Or the Rangers! Or the Astros! Or the Nationals! Or the Mets! Or the Dodgers! Any of them!

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


World's cheapest smartphone launched in India (Deutsche Welle, 2/17/16)

Indian company Ringing Bells has launched a mobile phone that costs less than $4. Low-priced handsets are particularly popular in what is now the second-largest smartphone market globally.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


The Policy in the New Federal Budget Proposal That Would Make Saving for Retirement Automatic : Congress and the White House are once again engaged in their annual budgetary dance, but there's one part of the proposal that should make them speed things up. (REID CRAMER, 2/17/16, Pacific Standard)

A recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts reports that one in three American families has no savings on hand and this lack of savings tops the list of their financial worries. Pervasive economic insecurity partly explains the disgruntled electorate both parties are encountering in their respective primary campaigns. For those families that do save, the place where it happens is often at the workplace. Unfortunately, roughly half of workers employed by small firms (with fewer than 50 employees) don't have access to workplace retirement savings plans. That's terrible benefits coverage, especially in a 401(k) policy world in which we expect workers to be able to supplement their Social Security benefits. It is hard to argue that this isn't a problem worth solving.

The AutoIRA can be--and should be--a solution attractive to both sides of the partisan divide. We already know that workers without access to such plans rarely save--fewer than 10 percent of workers without access to a workplace plan contribute on their own, and employers have not adequately filled the gap. Yet with the AutoIRA, the "ask" for employers is pretty light; they just need to click a few extra keys when setting up their payroll. Employers don't need to run the plans and they don't have any extra fiduciary responsibility. Even if they don't raise wages, this is something they can do which will help their employees financially over the long term.

How does it work? Implementation of the AutoIRA mostly hinges on a mechanism to make deposits to a third-party provider who can recoup administrative costs through modest fees. And this year the administration is proposing to include a tax credit which employers can use to offset the small costs they might incur to modify their payroll systems. Another advantage of this approach is that it moves us toward a system of portable benefits, which will allow workers--even those working part-time and for multiple employers--to access benefits and protections regardless of where they work or how they earn their income.

This follows up on the administration's new savings option, called a myRA (my retirement account), which was rolled out in the fall and did not require congressional approval. With a myRA, a person can access a simple, safe, low-cost, and interest earning account that they can use flexibly under current Roth IRA rules. It allows for tax-free earnings for qualified uses of homeownership, education, and retirement as well as the ability to flexibly withdraw deposits without penalty, but most notably it carries an interest rate that is almost 10 times the average savings account. The myRA policy fills an important gap in providing access to a savings vehicle many workers currently lack. But because it is not automatic like the AutoIRA, it will have a much lower take-up rate.

In the absence of federal action, states have stepped in. 

February 17, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Hundreds of millions of Islamic State funds destroyed in air strikes: U.S. (REUTERS, 2/17/16)

U.S.-led air strikes on Islamic State cash storage sites have cost the militant group hundreds of millions of dollars, a U.S. military spokesman said on Wednesday.

The United States is trying to cut revenue to Islamic State - believed to be one of the best-funded militant groups in the world - through air strikes targeting its oil production as well as cash storage sites. U.S. officials believe the ultra-hardline Sunni group is more dependent on cash as it has seen its access to the formal banking system reduced through sanctions and other measures.

IS faces budget crunch, cutting perks and trimming salaries (LORI HINNANT, ZEINA KARAM and SUSANNAH GEORGE, Feb. 16, 2016, AP) 

Faced with a cash shortage in its so-called caliphate, the Islamic State group has slashed salaries across the region, asked Raqqa residents to pay utility bills in black market American dollars, and is now releasing detainees for a price of $500 a person.

The extremists who once bragged about minting their own currency are having a hard time meeting expenses, thanks to coalition airstrikes and other measures that have eroded millions from their finances since last fall. Having built up loyalty among militants with good salaries and honeymoon and baby bonuses, the group has stopped providing even the smaller perks: free energy drinks and Snickers bars.

Necessities are dwindling in its urban centers, leading to shortages and widespread inflation, according to exiles and those still suffering under its rule. Interviews gathered over several weeks included three exiles with networks of family and acquaintances still in the group's stronghold in Raqqa, residents in Mosul, and analysts who say IS is turning to alternative funding streams, including in Libya.

In Raqqa, the group's stronghold in Syria, salaries have been halved since December, electricity is rationed, and prices for basics are spiraling out of reach, according to people exiled from the city.

"Not just the militants. Any civil servant, from the courts to the schools, they cut their salary by 50 percent," said a Raqqa activist now living in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, who remains in close contact with his native city. But that apparently wasn't enough close the gap for a group that needs money to replace weapons lost in airstrikes and battles, and pays its fighters first and foremost. Those two expenses account for two-thirds of its budget, according to an estimate by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a researcher with the Middle East Forum who sources Islamic State documents,

Within the last two weeks, the extremist group started accepting only dollars for "tax" payments, water and electric bills, according to the Raqqa activist, who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre Abu Ahmad for his safety.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Clinton email chain discussed Afghan national's CIA ties, official says (Catherine Herridge, Pamela K. Brown,  February 17, 2016  FoxNews.com)

Based on the timing and other details, the email chain likely refers to either an October 2009 Times story that identified Afghan national Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai, as a person who received "regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency" -- or an August 2010 Times story that identified Karzai aide Mohammed Zia Salehi as being on the CIA payroll. Ahmed Wali Karzai was murdered during a 2011 shoot-out, a killing later claimed by the Taliban.

Pretty much all you need to know about the classification regime--they think news reports are secret until they're forwarded.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Nikki Haley endorses Marco Rubio. Is that a big deal? (Peter Grier, FEBRUARY 17, 2016, CS Monitor)

South Carolina's popular Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is going to endorse Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida for president at a Wednesday night rally, according to multiple news reports. 

If there were an Establishment you'd think it would work in concert....

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Automation may mean a post-work society but we shouldn't be afraid (Paul Mason, 2/17/16, The Guardian)

The automation revolution is possible, but without a radical change in the social conventions surrounding work it will not happen. The real dystopia is that, fearing the mass unemployment and psychological aimlessness it might bring, we stall the third industrial revolution. Instead we end up creating millions of low skilled jobs that do not need to exist.

The solution is to begin to de-link work from wages. 

One of the more amusing aspects of the insistence that we preserve jobs because they are important to human dignity is the implicit acceptance that we'll return no value for those paychecks....

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


American Hispanics are doing better than we had thought (Tyler Cowen, February 17, 2016 , Marginal Revolution)

Many of the more successful individuals start identifying as "white," which biases the measured results downward for the Hispanic category...

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


White House: Obama 'regrets' his filibuster of Supreme Court nominee (Jordan Fabian - 02/17/16, The Hill)

President Obama "regrets" filibustering the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006, his top spokesman said Wednesday, though he maintains that the Republican opposition to his effort to replace Justice Antonin Scalia is unprecedented. 

"That is an approach the president regrets," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Obama and the Democratic senators who joined him in filibustering Alito "should have been in the position where they were making a public case" against the merits of his nomination to the high court instead, Earnest said.

"They shouldn't have looked for a way to just throw sand in the gears of the process," he added. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Iran's reformers campaign to block hardliners ahead of key elections (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 17 February 2016, The Guardian)

Despite widespread disqualifications, reformists are pulling out all the stops to make sure fewer hardliners will enter the next parliament, or Majlis, according to Mohammadreza Jalaeipour, an Iranian reformist political activist now at Harvard University.

"Reformists from all different parties have put aside their differences after many years to agree on a joint list of candidates in an unprecedented form of coalition aimed at blocking hardliners from entering the parliament," he told the Guardian.

The reformists' patron is former president Mohammad Khatami, who faces restrictions on his movement and activities but is leading from behind the scenes.

In Tehran, the reformists on Tuesday issued their joint list of 30 candidates they want to enter the Majlis from the capital. It is led by Mohammad Reza Aref, an influential reformist figure whose decision to stand down in the 2013 presidential election in favour of Rouhani was crucial in the moderate figure's victory.

Also on the list is Ali Motahari, the parliament's sole current outspoken MP - a rare conservative figure who is also critical of the ruling establishment. 

Jalaeipour said the big challenge facing the reformers is persuading people to turn out and vote. "There have been a lot of disqualifications but they haven't purged all the reformists. The ultimate aim for moderates is to have fewer hardliners in the next parliament." 

Imagine how much further along reform would be if W had cut the deal with Khatami in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


How Syria and natural gas are pushing Israel and Turkey back together (BEN SALES, February 17, 2016, Times of Israel)

Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan in a 2013 phone call brokered by President Barack Obama, who was wrapping up a visit to Israel at the time. In December 2015, the sides entered talks aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations, and last week a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with Erdogan.

The negotiations followed a bad year for Turkey. Syria's civil war has thrown the country into crisis, exacerbating its conflict with Kurds at home and leading some to accuse Turkey of supporting the ISIS terror organization, which is fighting Kurdish forces in Iraq. Turkey also has taken in some 2 million Syrian refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

Turkey is also facing tensions with Egypt over Turkish support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, now outlawed in Egypt, and tensions with Russia following Turkey's downing of a Russian plane in November. Restoring ties with Israel could give Erdogan a rare regional win.

"The regional challenges Turkey has with Russia, from Egypt, with the Kurds," said Alon Liel, Israel's charge d'affaires in Turkey in the 1980s, is giving Turkey "second thoughts about the Israel issue."

Israel wouldn't mind strengthening ties with one of its few Middle Eastern trading partners. Patching the Turkey relationship also would reopen the door to military exercises with NATO.

But Israel's main motivation isn't about war and peace, experts say; it's economic. For months, Netanyahu has been pushing to enact a controversial program that would allow drilling in Israel's giant offshore gas fields, which the prime minister says is essential for the national security of Israel. A deal with Turkey could both restore it as an ally and make it a large buyer of Israeli natural gas. That would be a boon for Netanyahu - and a potential bonanza for the gas companies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Iran snubs Doha proposal, won't freeze oil output (Ali Akbar Dareini, 2/17/16, Associated Press)

 Iran appeared Wednesday to back a plan laid out by four influential oil producers to cap their crude output if others do the same, though it offered no indication that it has any plans to follow suit itself.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Oil's fall may be democracy's rise (CS Monitor's Editorial Board FEBRUARY 16, 2016)

The three countries, which have let themselves become highly dependent on a single material export, are also among those most in need of political and economic reforms.

Like the receding tide, the fall in oil prices has exposed which commodity-rich nations have learned how to avoid the so-called resource curse and which have not. Countries such as Norway and Bolivia have effectively sidestepped many of the pitfalls of easy resource wealth, such as corruption, reckless spending, or autocratic rule. Some have set aside oil money in prudent savings for future generations. Others plow their proceeds into long-term investments, such as education and high-tech innovation. The best ones ensure transparency and accountability - qualities that require democracy - in their oil industry and government.

The good news from lower oil prices is that it is driving reform, helping turn a curse into a blessing. Newly elected governments in Nigeria and Indonesia, for example, appear to be tackling corruption related to commodity exports. Brazil's leaders are now under even more scrutiny after a scandal hit the state-run oil company, Petrobras, and led to unprecedented prosecutions of high-level officials. The price fall is forcing wealthier nations with large oil reserves, such as Canada, Australia, and the United States, to focus more on sustainable industries for growth.

Meanwhile, the autocratic rulers in Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia are trying some reforms.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


This "simple" chart of the war in Syria shows it's actually mind-bogglingly complicated (Zack Beauchamp on February 16, 2016, Vox)

The following chart, from Middle East Institute fellow Charles Lister, shows just how complex things have gotten, with arrows pointing from a party to everyone it is currently fighting. The chart is perhaps the simplest depiction of the different sides I've ever seen, yet it is incredibly complicated:

This *simple* chart shows all states of hostility currently being played out on #Syria's territory#IntractableWar pic.twitter.com/1inprNB6U0

-- Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) February 13, 2016

Perhaps the most useful thing in the chart is that it goes beyond the obvious stuff -- Syrian rebels don't like Assad or ISIS, Iran and Russia are supporting the government -- to get at the more obscure, yet very important, subconflicts. 

Thus far, we've applied the lessons of WWI, WWII and the Cold War and stood off while the parties fight it out among themselves.  Easy enough to intervene after they've done most of the dirty work.

February 16, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Russia And Saudi Arabia Agree To Oil Freeze, Iran Says Not So Fast (Chris White, 02/16/2016, Daily Caller)

Russian and Saudi Arabian officials decided Tuesday to freeze oil production levels contingent on Iran following suit, but Iranian officials were conspicuously absent from the talk, portending bad things for the agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


U.S. and Cuba Sign Deal Restoring Commercial Flights (Tara John, 2/16/16, TIME)

According to a statement by the U.S. Transportation Department, the move, which brought into effect an arrangement the Cold War foes agreed to in December, was attended by the top officials from both countries.

"We are excited to announce the availability of new scheduled air service opportunities to Cuba for U.S. carriers, shippers, and the traveling public, and we will conduct this proceeding in a manner designed to maximize public benefits," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood : Some brands promising 100 percent purity contained no Parmesan at all. (Lydia Mulvany, February 16, 2016, Bloomberg)

Acting on a tip, agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid a surprise visit to a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania on a cold November day in 2012.

They found what they were looking for: evidence that Castle Cheese Inc. was doctoring its 100 percent real parmesan with cut-rate substitutes and such fillers as wood pulp and distributing it to some of the country's biggest grocery chains.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Watching Hamilton Perform for the Grammys -- and Win -- in the Room Where It Happened (Sierra Tishgart, 2/16/16, Vulture)

The cast of Hamilton perform onstage during Hamilton's performance for the 58th Grammy Awards at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on February 15, 2016 in New York City. Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage
"The whole point of a play is that it's not on TV," says Daveed Diggs, who plays both Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton. "It's live, and it's really hard to create that and have it feel that way." Yesterday, though, it had to be: At about 9:30 p.m., the Grammy Awards telecast cut from L.A. to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and the cast leapt into a performance of the show's opening number, "Alexander Hamilton," as the cameras swooped and bobbed among them. I spent the afternoon on Monday watching as the cast and crew of Hamilton rehearsed to do just that -- blocking, staging, framing, and preparing to introduce their smash hit to 25.3 million viewers.

The Grammys don't often feature a musical act that's not live onstage. (The last time in memory that this happened was when Amy Winehouse couldn't secure a work visa in 2008 and appeared via satellite from London.) "Before this, the Hamilton cast had never performed a number on television, period," says producer Jeffrey Seller. "We made an early decision that we would not be able to do justice to our production by taking it out of this theater. So when the Grammys originally expressed interest in our performance, we politely declined. We said, 'We can't get to L.A., we just won't look good on your stage, and we won't be good enough.' It was the genius of the Grammys and producer Ken Ehrlich, who said, 'What if we come to you?' That was an idea we couldn't help but be enthusiastic about: a number on TV, but in our own theater. The best Presidents' Day gift ever!" Musical director Alex Lacamoire was so sure a performance wouldn't happen that he had already purchased his plane ticket to Los Angeles.

Next came the decision of which song to perform. Lacamoire says that "The Schuyler Sisters" was a strong contender "because it's fun and girl-centric," but that the Grammys producers requested the show's opener, "Alexander Hamilton," instead. The Hamilton team was onboard: "We don't believe in medleys," Seller says. "We believe in giving people a substantive chunk. Given that this is our first television appearance, it made so much sense to introduce America to our show with the beginning of our show. And of course there's that lovely rhyme, in that this was the first number Lin[-Manuel Miranda] performed from Hamilton, at the White House."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Left-Leaning Economists Question Cost of Bernie Sanders's Plans (JACKIE CALMES, FEB. 15, 2016, NY Times)

 With his expansive plans to increase the size and role of government, Senator Bernie Sanders has provoked a debate not only with his Democratic rival for president, Hillary Clinton, but also with liberal-leaning economists who share his goals but question his numbers and political realism.

The reviews of some of these economists, especially on Mr. Sanders's health care plans, suggest that Mrs. Clinton could have been too conservative in their debate last week when she said his agenda in total would increase the size of the federal government by 40 percent. That level would surpass any government expansion since the buildup in World War II.

The increase could exceed 50 percent, some experts suggest, based on an analysis by a respected health economist that Mr. Sanders's single-payer health plan could cost twice what the senator, who represents Vermont, asserts, and on critics' belief that his economic assumptions are overly optimistic. [...]

By the reckoning of the left-of-center economists, none of whom are working for Mrs. Clinton, the proposals would add $2 trillion to $3 trillion a year on average to federal spending; by comparison, total federal spending is projected to be above $4 trillion in the next president's first year. "The numbers don't remotely add up," said Austan Goolsbee, formerly chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, now at the University of Chicago.

Alluding to one progressive analyst's criticism of the Sanders agenda as "puppies and rainbows," Mr. Goolsbee said that after his and others' further study, "they've evolved into magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars."

If the Times is saying it, the plans must actually save money, no?

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


All in the mind? How research is proving the true healing power of the placebo : Jo Marchant, author of Cure, explains why the mind's ability to heal the body is now being taken seriously by scientists who question alternative medicine (Ian Tucker. 15 February 2016, The Guardian)

Why is there so much resistance in the scientific community to the idea that the mind could have a role in healing?

Part of it is an understandable reaction to those exaggerated claims of cures. Sceptics may fear that allowing any role for the mind will encourage people to believe in the pseudoscientific ideas of alternative therapists. But there's more to it than that. Ever since Descartes, scientists have viewed physical, measurable matter as more "real", a more suitable topic for scientific enquiry, than subjective emotions and beliefs. I think that has led to an ingrained bias that because our thoughts aren't "real", they can't influence the physical body. This makes no sense from a neuroscience perspective - where you can't have a thought without a concurrent physical change in the neurons of the brain - but it causes a kneejerk reaction against the idea that our mental state might affect our health.

Is there also a problem with how drug trials are designed?

A trial that tests a new treatment against a placebo is perfect for testing the direct biochemical action of a drug. But it can't assess other elements of care, such as social support or stress reduction and positive expectation, because they are present in the placebo group too. There are studies suggesting that these components matter: patients with irritable bowel syndrome have greater relief from their symptoms when their practitioner is empathic rather than cold; patients with acid reflux disease do dramatically better after a 42-minute consultation compared to an 18-minute one. We need to take an evidence-based approach to studying these social and psychological aspects of care, just as we do when testing how drugs work.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Poll: Nearly 4 in 10 Trump SC supporters wish South won Civil War (Harper Neidig, 2/16/16, The Hill)

A new poll shows 38 percent of Donald Trump's supporters in South Carolina wish the South had won the Civil War.

Another 38 percent say they aren't sure, while just 24 percent say they are glad the Union won, the poll by Public Policy Polling released Tuesday finds.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Donald Trump stokes rumor that Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered (Jeva Lange, 2/16/16, The Week)

Never mind that officials said Scalia "suffered from a host of chronic conditions" and that his death appeared "entirely natural and normal" -- fingers have been pointing instead at everyone from the CIA to Dick Cheney. One theorist, Alex Jones, said in an "emergency broadcast" that his "gut" told him Obama was behind Scalia's death and that the president was seeking to obtain "unprecedented power... during his last year in office."

Now even Donald Trump has thrown his weight behind the rumors, wondering aloud about the exact circumstances of Scalia's death. No stranger to conspiracy theories, Trump spoke Tuesday with talk show host Michael Savage about the possibility of foul play.

February 15, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Tradition of recording UK laws on vellum may be saved (Rowena Mason, 15 February 2016, tHE gUARDIAN)

The 1,000-year-old practice of printing laws on goat and calf skin may be saved, after the House of Lords said it would consider an offer from the Cabinet Office to pay the costs of carrying on the tradition.

An outcry was prompted among some MPs after peers signalled their intention to end the method of recording each act of parliament on vellum and use archive paper instead.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Trump Might Sue Cruz for Being Born in Canada (Caroline Bankoff, 2/15/16, NY Mag)

Shortly after Donald Trump began a press conference in which he not-so-subtly suggested that he might break his pledge to not run as an independent candidate, his campaign released a statement threatening to sue Ted Cruz, because nothing is too crazy for this particular primary battle.

In the press release, Trump demanded that Cruz "take down his false ads and retract his lies." Should Cruz decline to follow Trump's orders, Trump plans to "fight back" by "[bringing] a lawsuit against him relative to the fact that he was born in Canada and therefore cannot be president."

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Antonin Scalia was a jurist of colossal consequence (GEORGE F. WILL, Feb. 14, 2016, Washington Post)

The serrated edges of his most passionate dissents sometimes strained the court's comity and occasionally limited his ability to proclaim what the late Justice William Brennan called the most important word in the court's lexicon: "Five."

That inability to win a majority makes him a footnote in history.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


US envoy to UN skewers world body for anti-Israel bias (JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH AND MARISSA NEWMAN, February 15, 2016, Times of Israel)

Samantha Power, addressing a group of Model UN participants at a school in Even Yehuda, east of the coastal city of Netanya, pointed to the rejection of rescue organization ZAKA as proof of the world body's singling out of Israel for criticism.

"Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country, Israel as an idea," she said of the UN and particularly the UN Human Rights Council.

"Israel is just not treated like other countries," she added during a Q&A session, while also maintaining that there are legitimate criticisms of the Jewish state.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Prospects for a Turkish Incursion into Syria (Can Kasapoglu, 9 February 2016, Project Syndicate)

Recent gains by the Assad regime in its ongoing northern offensive -- in particular, the recapture of the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra -- pose a significant geostrategic threat to Turkey and the opposition groups based in and around Azaz. The regime and its allies are now in a favorable position to cut the lines of communication between the Turkish border areas and the rebel-held city of Aleppo. Such an outcome now seems inevitable given major Russian and Iranian support for regime forces. As a matter of fact, the regime, backed by the Russian air-ground campaign, has been successfully advancing towards the Turkish frontier areas at the time of writing. In this regard, it should be noted that the Russian air force detachment in Syria enjoys high sortie rates as a result of Hmeymim Airbase's proximity and an effective sortie-to-strike ratio stemming from good intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). An expansion of Russian military advisors on the ground has enabled efficient coordination between close air support platforms and advancing Syrian Arab Army units, while the elite Iranian Quds Forces and Lebanese Hezbollah drive forward fueled by sectarianism and experience in hybrid conflicts.

More alarmingly, Ankara may soon face a menacing combination of hostile forces along its southern borders: Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)-affiliated YPG forces, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and the Syrian Arab Army. The only Ankara-friendly groups near the Turkish border would be the rebel fighters in Idlib province, who would be surrounded by Latakia in the south and Aleppo in the northeast.

Under these tense circumstances, Russia accused Turkey of preparing for a military incursion into Syria. In response -- having already drawn attention to Russian "crimes" in Syria -- Ankara firmly stated that it had the right to take necessary measures for its national security. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders aren't as revolutionary as they appear (Adam Gopnik, 2/12/16, BBC Magazine)
I sometimes wonder if there is not more truth in a kind of Devil's Advocate Theory of social change. That would be a theory that proposes that in modern democracies, ideologies remain remarkably constant from decade to decade and even from year to year. The bearers of those ideas alter, and circumstances can sometimes alter enough to give those bearers access to the power that they lacked before. But contingency and chance work their way across a field of more or less fixed choices with less alteration in real numbers than the over-eager daily reporting will be inclined to suggest. The field on which modern politics takes place is more like a series of fixed magnetic poles of varying strengths, pulling people towards them and then repelling them.

Change does happen, of course, but the play of possibilities remains remarkably stable from decade to decade. This is not because the world is impervious to change, but because the political poles represent permanent features of modern life. The continuities and the contingencies - and, often, the stubborn resistance of voters to what would seem to be their own self-interest - are really more striking than the neat flow of economic cause and political effect.

They are the last defenders of the Second Way.  It is Jeb, on social programs, and Cruz/Rubio, on consumption taxes, who offer continuance of the Third Way revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Advanced 3D Printer Shows Potential for New Tissues, Organs (Amy Norton, Feb. 15, 2016, HealthDay News) 

A new type of 3D printer may be capable of making muscle, bone and other types of tissue that are good enough for implanting in humans, scientists report.

So-called 3D "bioprinters" are machines that can print out cells in layered patterns, with the goal of creating body tissue or even complex organs. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Israeli democracy on the brink (Naomi Chazan, 2/15/16, Times of Israel)

Democratic government has always been the main bulwark against ultra-nationalism, ethnic domination, religious fanaticism and dictatorial rule. In the multicultural and boisterous Israeli political context -- and its increasingly volatile geostrategic setting -- its democratic foundations have provided a normative protection that enabled it to survive. In recent years, however, it has experienced a democratic recession which is fast slipping into de-democratization.

The events of the past few week are the harbinger of this shift: from encouraging a political discourse that denounces alternative views and supporting a series of activities that constrain individual and group liberties, the present government, with Binyamin Netanyahu at its helm, is now itself instituting a series of measures that will -- should they succeed -- transform Israel from a formally (if not a deeply) democratic country into one in which the tyranny of the majority reigns. This process is well under way, threatening to institutionalize an autocratic form of government (with strong ethnocratic and theocratic features) which, by definition, defies fundamental democratic precepts and flies in the face of its essential values.

The official assault on Israel's democratic character, already brewing for some time, was launched last week, when the Prime Minister pressed the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to initiate legislation which would allow it to suspend (if not actually expel) duly-elected members of parliament who stray from consensual boundaries. This palpably political move, prompted by the conduct of the three Balad party representatives in their meeting with the families of terrorists killed in attacks on Israelis in the last few months (already suspended by the Ethics Committee from participation in Knesset debates), crosses the line from behind-the-scenes backing for anti-democratic measures to direct involvement in these initiatives.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


O Yeah, Canada: The Border Republicans Forgot (LAWRENCE DOWNES FEB. 15, 2016, NY Times)

The Republican presidential candidates who battled for votes in New Hampshire last week, rousing the rabble with their usual talk of scary aliens at the border, were strangely silent about the closest international boundary. They did not warn of the Canadians who flood south by the millions each year to play and work, taking our Christmas-tree-selling jobs. They did not mention the Canadian scofflaws -- nearly 100,000 in fiscal 2015 -- who overstay their visas, the most of any nationality. [...]

[T]he Department of Homeland Security released -- just last month! -- an official report on the visa problem. There may be tons of Canadians living in the shadows, defying our laws ... for what? Perhaps for our superior bacon, perhaps for other, more sinister reasons.

I tried to investigate the threat myself, making the long drive north from Manchester last Wednesday. The crossing signs warned of moose, not aliens. At a crossing somewhere in New Hampshire or Vermont -- I prefer not to say for security reasons -- I encountered a wily Canadian, a border agent who tried, through friendliness, to rob me of my suspicions.

L.D.: Do I need a passport to get in or out? Because I forgot mine.

W.C.: The border was back there, at the top of the hill.

L.D.: I'm in Canada? I am so sorry.

W.C.: That's O.K. What are you going to do now?

L.D.: I don't know. Get lunch?

W.C.: There's a nice town up the road called Coaticook. Would you like a map?

His politeness unnerved me. How had I been lured into his country? And how would I get back?

The road north went through bleak cow country. Coaticook was a little dismal, in a Fargo way, but with a nice diner. The cook told me he used to go down to New England as a young man to work as a lumberjack, but today's Canadians don't do that.

...overstayed their visa at some point.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Hopes for peace in Libya as make-up of new unity government announced (Reuters, 14 February 2016)

Libya's presidential council has named a revised line-up for a unity government under a United Nations-backed plan aimed at ending the conflict in the North African state.

One of the council's members, Fathi al-Majbari, said in a televised statement on Sunday that a list of 13 ministers and five ministers of state had been sent to Libya's eastern parliament for approval.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Donald Trump Floats Idea of a Third-Party Run Again (BRAD MIELKE  Feb 15, 2016, ABC News)

Trump also went off on the crowd that booed him during Saturday night's GOP debate in South Carolina: "Look at it, that was a wealthy room."

"The whole room was made of special interests and donors, which is a disgrace from the RNC," Trump said. "The RNC better get its act together because, you know, I signed a pledge. The pledge isn't being honored by the RNC."

He's not a Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Stream Blind Willie Johnson Tribute Featuring Tom Waits, Sinéad O'Connor, Lucinda Williams : Waits covers of "The Soul of a Man" and "John the Revelator" (Quinn Moreland on February 15, 2016, Pitchfork)

Blind Willie Johnson was an enormously influential blues singer and guitarist who was active in the 1920s. On February 26, Alligator will release the new tribute album God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson.

As previously announced, Tom Waits, Sinéad O'Connor, Lucinda Williams, Cowboy Junkies, Blind Boys of Alabama, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Rickie Lee Jones, and others are featured on the compilation.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Is Humanity Getting Better? (LEIF WENAR  FEBRUARY 15, 2016, NY Times)

[T]his has also been the most prosperous time in human history by far. And by a long way the time with the greatest increase in democracy around the world. It has also been the most peaceful era in recorded human history. What Hegel called the slaughter-bench of history is becoming less bloody.

That thesis about "the most peaceful era in history" is naturally the hardest to believe, yet it's true. As Joshua Goldstein puts it in "Winning the War on War," "We have avoided nuclear wars, left behind world war, nearly extinguished interstate war, and reduced civil wars to fewer countries with fewer casualties." Goldstein continues:

In the first half of the twentieth century, world wars killed tens of millions and left whole continents in ruins. In the second half of that century, during the Cold War, proxy wars killed millions, and the world feared a nuclear war that could have wiped out our species. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the worst wars, such as Iraq, kill hundreds of thousands. We fear terrorist attacks that could destroy a city, but not life on the planet. The fatalities still represent a large number and the impacts of wars are still catastrophic for those caught in them, but overall, war has diminished dramatically.

The percentage of states perpetrating mass killings of civilians is also well down since 1945, and fatalities from armed assaults on civilians (and from genocide) are down since reliable records have been kept. And while the numbers on deaths from terrorism vary according to the definition of that word, all agree that the numbers of terrorism deaths are quite small compared with those caused by (increasingly rare) wars.

These statistics definitely do not prove that animus or madness has ended. No decent person would deny that violence is still much too high everywhere. And there is no guarantee that any of these positive trends will continue.

Still, the big picture of postwar history shows significant improvements in nearly all indicators of lived human experience. The average life span of humans is today longer than it has ever been. A smaller proportion of women die in childbirth than ever before. Child malnutrition is at its lowest level ever, while literacy rates worldwide have never been higher. Most impressive has been the recent reduction in severe poverty -- the reduction in the percentage of humans living each day on what a tall Starbucks coffee costs in America. During a recent 20-year stretch the mainstream estimate is that the percentage of the developing world living in such extreme poverty shrank by more than half, from 43 to 21 percent.

Nothing has served humanity better than forcing conformity to our ideals--democracy/capitalism/protestantism.
Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


IF THE GOP TAKES THE SENATE... : Watch the Courts (KYLE KONDIK, 8/12/14, American Interest)

From a policy standpoint, it's hard to say if Washington would be dramatically more gridlocked and unproductive with a unified GOP Congress opposing President Obama, if only because Federal policymaking has been at a standstill ever since the GOP took the House in 2010. Comprehensive immigration reform would remain highly unlikely, even if elites on the Republican side would like to get the issue off the table in advance of the 2016 presidential election (and they would, but they can't). Rank-and-file members of the House Republican caucus are not sold on the idea as a policy matter, a view strongly reinforced by party activists. A Republican Senate would add yet another roadblock to action on this issue.

With Obama's veto pen in place, and the impossibility of Republicans winning a veto-proof majority in the House or the Senate, the GOP likely could only nibble at the edges of already-enacted policy, like the Affordable Care Act. Republicans likely would attempt to repeal "Obamacare" if only to force an Obama veto. National Journal's Sam Baker recently suggested that actual changes to the law would likely target provisions that generate revenue to pay for the act, like the law's tax on medical devices, rather than provisions that voters like, such as restoring insurers' ability to refuse coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. As always, it's easier for Congress to give than to take.

It's easy, therefore, to imagine that 2015 and 2016 will be defined more by posturing than by policymaking. [...]

Perhaps more interesting than the pursuit of scandal would be a possible, and an historic, showdown over the Supreme Court. Assuming Republicans could keep their caucus together--a big "if" that greatly depends on the size of a new majority--a Republican-led Senate could potentially reject any and all Obama nominees for Administration positions and judicial appointments. That includes anyone Obama would nominate for a hypothetical Supreme Court vacancy. Given the immense value to both parties of lifetime Supreme Court appointments, it's worth considering the potential for a truly historic and divisive showdown between Obama and the Senate over a Supreme Court nomination.

It's not uncommon for presidential nominations to the Supreme Court to fail for one reason or another: Since 1789, Presidents have submitted 160 Supreme Court nominations to the Senate, including those for Chief Justice (who sometimes is already a member of the court). Of those, 124 were confirmed (seven declined to serve). But even though Supreme Court nominees sometimes withdraw or are rejected, the President, at the time the vacancy occurs or is announced, almost always eventually fills it with a nominee of his choosing.

Almost always: Only twice in the post-Civil War era has a President presented with a Supreme Court vacancy failed to fill it before leaving office.2 The most recent instance was nearly half a century ago, in 1968, when Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren announced his intention to retire upon the confirmation of his successor. Outgoing President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Justice Abe Fortas, his longtime friend and confidante whom he had appointed to the court in 1965, to replace Warren as Chief Justice. The Democratic-controlled Senate refused to confirm him, though, and Johnson withdrew his nomination in October 1968, along with the nomination of Homer Thornberry, a Federal appellate judge Johnson had nominated to replace Fortas. Warren stayed on as Chief Justice, and it fell to Johnson's successor, President Richard Nixon, to fill the seat. Nixon picked Warren Burger as Chief Justice.

Prior to that, one has to go back to 1881 to find a court vacancy that was filled not by the sitting President but by his successor. President Rutherford B. Hayes made the controversial nomination of Stanley Matthews in 1881. The nomination came near the end of Hayes's term, so the Senate did not act. New President James A. Garfield renominated Matthews, and he passed through the Senate by a slim 24-23 vote.

Despite the lack of any recent precedent for such a power play, nothing but public pressure and historical norms would stop the GOP from running out the clock until the end of Obama's term on a Supreme Court nomination, potentially preserving the court opening for a Republican President, should one be elected in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, 2/15/16, Associated Press)

The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba.

The Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment.

Cuban officials already have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the project. The partners said they expect to be building tractors in Cuba by the first quarter of 2017.

February 14, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Ted Cruz vowed to filibuster any Obama Supreme Court nominee (Julie Kliegman, 2/14/16, The Week)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) vowed Sunday on ABC's This Week to filibuster any nominee President Obama puts forth to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court bench.

Time for the legislator to go do his job on the Judiciary Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Bush is best pick for GOP nomination (San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board, February 12, 2016)

Jeb Bush is not the flashiest candidate in the crowded Republican presidential field. And he lacks the mischievous charm that his older brother, George W. Bush, used to navigate his way through campaign obstacles.

But the former Florida governor, a Texas native who was born in Midland, is a thoughtful, decent and inclusive leader. He is best prepared to make the big decisions that will be required of the next president of the United States. And that makes Bush the obvious choice for constructive conservatives.

We recommend that Republican voters cast their ballots in the March 1 primary to nominate Bush as the next president of the United States.

Early in the race, Bush's calm demeanor seemed overshadowed by the explosive, confrontational personalities of other presidential contenders. But as the contest unfolds, his stable leadership style is wearing well amid the sophomoric political gamesmanship of the early front-runners.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Iran exports oil to Europe for first time since nuclear deal (AP, February 14, 2016)

 Iran's official news agency says the country has exported its crude shipment to Europe for the first time since it reached a landmark nuclear deal with world powers last month.

Sunday's IRNA report quotes Deputy Oil Minister Rokneddin Javadi as saying the shipment was the first after five years. He called the shipment "a new chapter" in Iran's oil industry but did not elaborate.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Iran warns against Saudi intervention in Syria (AFP, February 14, 2016)

A senior Iranian commander warned Saudi Arabia on Sunday against sending troops to Syria after the Gulf kingdom deployed combat aircraft to Turkey, Iran's state media reported.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


To enlist Iran's youth, Islamic Republic adds a nationalist pitch (Scott Peterson, FEBRUARY 14, 2016, CS Monitor)

In awe, both supportive and ridiculing, Mr. Tataloo's fans have watched his transformation from a flamboyant pop star operating below the radar of Iran's strict cultural rules - he was once arrested by the "Moral Security" police - to one who embraces Iran's ruling system and is helping it modernize its message by appealing more to young people's nationalism than religious values.

His transformation coincides with renewed efforts to update the popular legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, which carefully choreographs its official cultural output.

Key players in Iran's ruling system, from the Revolutionary Guard to pro-revolution filmmakers, have emphasized appealing to youths for at least 15 years, and the move toward greater nationalism goes back a decade. But internal and external forces have accelerated the trend, say analysts, who point to the fight against the Islamic State group, last summer's landmark nuclear deal, and the desire by authorities to remedy the distrust - especially among young Iranians - that remains from violent protests over the disputed election in 2009.

The trend has also received fresh recognition from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is urging Iranians to vote in parliamentary elections this month - even if they do not believe in the ruling system, or in him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Jeb Bush Learned to Fight in South Carolina (Isaac Chotiner, 2/14/16, Slate)

Jeb Bush's impressive performance in Saturday night's enjoyably manic Republican debate may very well help him land a third place showing, behind Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, in South Carolina's upcoming primary. Amidst sleepy performances from Gov. John Kasich, Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Cruz, Bush was considerably more aggressive during the CBS debate. He challenged Trump, defended his record, and made a strong national security pitch to voters in a state well-known for it's pro-military views. Despite a handful of pointed exchanges, the other candidates largely ignored Trump. The problem that has bedeviled the party for months--essentially, that the candidates won't unite to take down Trump--remains, and one impressive debate from Bush won't solve it. [...]

[S]omewhat surprisingly, Rubio rose to the defense of George W. Bush, essentially helping make Jeb's case. After months of bashing each other and letting Trump coast, Rubio and Bush focused their negative attention onto the man who is leading in the polls and favored to win the nomination. Rubio drew loud applause from the audience, and Trump seemed momentarily out of his element. But this was the only time that the candidates in any concerted way attacked Trump.

The businessman may have hurt himself by a performance that was, by any rational calculation, unhinged. 

The anybody-but-Cruz-or-Trump move is coming soon (Brent Budowsky, 2/13/16, The Hill)

Most polling suggests that Trump, who is now attacking Pope Francis, would lose and potentially lose big to either possible Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). Trump's negative ratings are so extreme that he could win the GOP nomination and lose the general election by huge margins that could threaten Republican control of Congress.

Cruz, who is probably the most intensely disliked senator in my memory, and who is disliked by senators in the Republican Cloakroom as much as the Democratic Cloakroom, has already employed dirty campaign tactics that have offended many GOP voters and leaders. His campaign has made false statements, suggesting that Dr. Ben Carson would be dropping out before the Iowa Republican caucus. In addition, his campaign sent a menacing letter to Iowa voters shortly before the vote, which could raise legal issues if it used the Postal Service to mail information that was knowingly false. Trump has aggressively attacked this, as well as challenging whether Cruz meets the citizenship standards that would make him eligible to be president.

I expect a movement to promote anybody but Trump and Cruz to emerge shortly after the South Carolina primary. The battle from South Carolina through Super Tuesday through the GOP convention promises to become very ugly.

The problem facing the GOP establishment is that none of the center-right candidates -- all of whom would be credible candidates and presidents -- have emerged as front-runners for the anybody-but-Cruz mantle, which I recently referred to in a column as "Plan C."

Think of it this way, supporters of Trump/Cruz stand to make Larry Tribe the next Supreme Court Justice...

February 13, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Not Up for Debate: Obama's Economy : The economy's getting better, so the GOP candidates have stopped talking about it. (Pat Garofalo Feb. 14, 2016, US News)

[F]or the most part, the only time economics was mentioned was when the candidates talked about their super-ginormous tax cut plans.

And there's a reason for that: It's awfully tough to rip an administration on economics when the unemployment rate is below 5 percent and consecutive months of job growth is up above 70 (which is a record, for the record). Oh, and the deficit is down by a whole lot too. Quietly, at least on the GOP side, foreign affairs has taken center stage in the presidential race and economics is fading away. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dead at 79 (Eileen AJ Connelly, February 13, 2016, NY Post)

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia was found dead Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said.

Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa. MySanAntonio.com said he died of apparent natural causes.

Hard to see the GOP approving a nominee before the UR leaves office, which means all the candidates are going to have to say who they'd nominate.

Trump's best answer is, of course, Ted Cruz.  Indeed, Cruz would be a justice very much like Mr. Scalia, one who would write only for himself and be unable to get the rest of conservatives to join him.

Jeb and John Kasich should suggest guys closer to John Roberts, who has been brilliant at making the Court more bipartisan and, therefore, made its rulings seem to have greater legitimacy.

Supreme Confidence : The jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia. (MARGARET TALBOT, 2005_03_28, The New Yorker)

Lining up to hear a Supreme Court Justice speak is more like lining up for a rock concert than you might think. This is especially true if the speech is on a college campus and the speaker in question is Justice Antonin Scalia. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a favorite on the feminist lecture circuit; Clarence Thomas has vivid stories of growing up as a "nappy-headed little boy running barefoot" around Pinpoint, Georgia; Sandra Day O'Connor is the preferred Justice at awards luncheons where crystal figurines are handed out. But Scalia is the most likely to offer the jurisprudential equivalent of smashing a guitar onstage. He might present a scorching opinion that will get him in trouble back in the Court--as he did in January, 2003, when he lambasted judicial efforts to eliminate the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. (Later that year, the Court agreed to take on the issue, and Scalia had to recuse himself.) Or he might stun a pompous liberal with a bearish verbal swat; recently, when a questioner criticized Scalia's judicial approach by invoking Alexander Hamilton, Scalia retorted, "Hamilton, sir, was writing the Constitution, not interpreting one." He will be funnier, more sarcastic, and more explicit about his beliefs than most people expect a Supreme Court Justice to be. And curiosity about him--what he will say or do next--has only grown now that there is talk that he could become Chief Justice, replacing William Rehnquist, who is suffering from thyroid cancer. President Bush has said that, of the current Justices, he admires Scalia and Thomas the most, and Scalia, who is sixty-nine, is recognized, even by his ideological opponents, as the singular conservative mind of the Rehnquist Court.

On a damp, cold afternoon in November, Scalia spoke at the University of Michigan Law School. Two hours before the lecture, the line extended down the steps of the school's auditorium. Many in the crowd were liberal students--this was Ann Arbor, after all--who were nursing a grudge over Scalia's snappish minority opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 case in which the Court upheld an affirmative-action program at Michigan Law School. The school had argued, and the majority had agreed, that having a "critical mass" of minority students offered an "educational benefit"--an improvement in "cross-racial understanding." But Michigan's "mystical 'critical mass' justification for its discrimination by race challenges even the most gullible mind," Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion. "The admissions statistics show it to be a sham to cover a scheme of racially proportionate admissions." Moreover, he went on:

This is not, of course, an "educational benefit" on which students will be graded on their Law School transcript (Works and Plays Well with Others: B+) or tested by bar examiners (Q: Describe in five hundred words or less your cross-racial understanding). For it is a lesson of life rather than law--essentially the same lesson taught to (or rather learned by, for it cannot be "taught" in the usual sense) people three feet shorter and twenty years younger than the full-grown adults at the University of Michigan Law School, in institutions ranging from Boy Scout troops to public-school kindergartens.

Outside the auditorium, a dozen or so students marched in a ragged oval, chanting, "Two, four, six, eight, separation of church and state!"--not the most original of slogans but one that they thought appropriate for a Justice who so often stresses the deep and redeeming religiosity of the American people. One student had drawn a poster of Scalia as Oscar the Grouch, Such mockery does not seem to bother Scalia; his certainty runs so deep that he views detractors with mild amusement. And he revels in intellectual combat. Every year, he hires at least one liberal clerk, to give him somebody to spar with. Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death-penalty crusader, recalls in her recent book, "The Death of Innocents," that she once approached Scalia in the New Orleans airport to say that she was planning to attack his views in print. "I'll be coming right back at you," he said, jabbing his fist in the air.

In Conversation: Antonin Scalia : On the eve of a new Supreme Court session, the firebrand justice discusses gay rights and media echo chambers, Seinfeld and the Devil, and how much he cares about his intellectual legacy ("I don't"). (Jennifer Senior, Oct 6, 2013, New York)

Had you already arrived at originalism as a philosophy?

I don't know when I came to that view. I've always had it, as far as I know. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn't change. I mean, the notion that the Constitution should simply, by decree of the Court, mean something that it didn't mean when the people voted for it--frankly, you should ask the other side the question! How did they ever get there?

But as law students, they were taught that the Constitution evolved, right? You got that same message consistently in class, yet you had other ideas

I am something of a contrarian, I suppose. I feel less comfortable when everybody agrees with me. I say, "I better reexamine my position!" I probably believe that the worst opinions in my court have been unanimous. Because there's nobody on the other side pointing out all the flaws.

Really? So if you had the chance to have eight other justices just like you, would you not want them to be your colleagues?

No. Just six.

That was a serious question! 

What I do wish is that we were in agreement on the basic question of what we think we're doing when we interpret the Constitution. I mean, that's sort of rudimentary. It's sort of an embarrassment, really, that we're not. But some people think our job is to keep it up to date, give new meaning to whatever phrases it has. And others think it's to give it the meaning the people ratified when they adopted it. Those are quite different views.

You've described yourself as a fainthearted originalist. But really, how fainthearted?

I described myself as that a long time ago. I repudiate that.

So you're a stouthearted one. 

I try to be. I try to be an honest originalist! I will take the bitter with the sweet! What I used "fainthearted" in reference to was--

Flogging, right? 

Flogging. And what I would say now is, yes, if a state enacted a law permitting flogging, it is immensely stupid, but it is not unconstitutional. A lot of stuff that's stupid is not unconstitutional. I gave a talk once where I said they ought to pass out to all federal judges a stamp, and the stamp says--Whack! [Pounds his fist.]--STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL. Whack! [Pounds again.] STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL! Whack! ­STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL ... [Laughs.] And then somebody sent me one.

A Justice Alone, Even if Surrounded : a review of 'Scalia: A Court of One,' by Bruce Allen Murphy (DWIGHT GARNER, JUNE 10, 2014, NY Times Book Review)

Mr. Murphy is impressed by Justice Scalia -- the wit and erudition behind his bushy eyebrows, his charm and drive. He is less impressed by Justice Scalia's jurisprudence, which he finds to be nakedly partisan and overly informed by religious stricture, nearly to the extent that the justice would have us live in a theocracy. "Be fools for Christ," Justice Scalia told a religious audience in a 2005 speech. "And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

Mr. Murphy also finds his subject to be perversely, almost purposefully, ineffectual. By alienating even the other conservatives on the court with his bullying tone and withering dissents, Mr. Murphy says, Justice Scalia has frittered away opportunities to wield genuine influence by building consensus. He has become, as this book's title has it, a solo artist, a court of one.

VIDEO: Justice Profile: Antonin Scalia (C-SPAN, 1/03/01)

In an overview, Professor Brisbin, author of the 1997 book, Antonin Scalia and the Conservative Revival, talked about Justice Scalia's path to and tenure in the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Bernstein, a 1987-88 law clerk to Justice Scalia, talked about his work habits and interests on and off the Court. Portions of other interviews and Justice Scalia speeches were shown.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Top Israeli researcher: Robots could take over most jobs within 30 years (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 13, 2016)

A renowned Israeli professor of computer science says robots could take over most human jobs within the next 30 years, leaving mankind with a lot of free time and little to do.

Moshe Vardi, of Houston, Texas's Rice University, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington on Saturday that society's major challenge in the coming decades will be to find meaning in a mostly automated life.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Three Texas Newspapers Reject Ted Cruz, Endorse Kasich and Bush Instead (Chas Danner, 2/13/16, NY Mag)

With the Texas primary coming up on March 1, three of the state's major newspapers have now passed on the chance to endorse native senator Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination -- and that's putting it mildly. As The Hill points out, the state's largest newspaper, the Dallas Morning News, went with "pragmatic" Ohio governor John Kasich on Friday, and both the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News have now opted for Jeb Bush as well. Said the Morning News of Cruz, "As much as we'd like to see a Texan in the White House, we fear that Cruz's brand of politics is more about disruption than governing and threatens to take the Republican Party to a dark place."

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


Main Street Holds Up ( STAN CHOE, 2/13/16, AP) 

Wall Street is hurting, and Main Street doesn't care. It's got burgers and cars to buy.

Big losses in stock markets around the world this year have the wingtip-set fretting, but regular consumers across the United States are confident enough to open their wallets and spend more. It's an about-face from the early years of the economic recovery, which began in 2009, when stocks and big banks were soaring but many on Main Street felt like they were getting left behind.

"It's almost like a stock market is a different animal," says Earl Stewart, who owns a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Florida, far from the roiling markets in New York, Frankfurt and Shanghai. "We're not seeing any of the negativity."

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Norman Maclean's Christian Tragedies (Timothy P. Schilling, January 13, 2016, Commonweal)

While Maclean, who died in 1990, first made a name for himself in 1976 with A River Runs Through It, my immersion in his writing would not begin until two years after his death with the posthumously published Young Men and Fire. The story traces back to 1949, when thirteen young men--skilled and daring, as Maclean's brother  had been--had died fighting a Montana forest fire known as the Mann Gulch Fire. Maclean, then in his late forties, had been home visiting from Chicago, and had gone out to inspect the still-burning site. Like his brother's death, this "bitter turn of the universe" would haunt him, and over time became a story he had to tell.

My appreciation for Young Men and Fire, and subsequent delight in Robert Redford's film version of A River Runs Through It, brought me belatedly to the book that had made Maclean famous. I was drawn to the sober mountainscape of its cover, and to its compelling opening lines with their combination of religion, sly humor, and the luminous Northwestern out-of-doors:

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.

As the superb Redford adaptation made clear, A River Runs Through It was not so much about fishing as about the pain of loving and losing. Also clear was that while Maclean understood this experience in the light of Christian faith, he couldn't quite trust Christianity's promise of redemption. Tragedy--and whether we have an answer for it--was his abiding theme. It preoccupied him not only in River and Fire, but also in an earlier, abandoned work on Custer's defeat at Little Big Horn, and in his academic writing as well. To Maclean tragedy was the most moving of literary forms because it recognizes, as he noted in the Custer manuscript, that "much of...life is spent marching and counter-marching over the scenes of previous defeats and in fortifying ourselves against those to come." He put his interest in tragedy succinctly in an essay on King Lear: "The question of whether the universe is something like what Lear hoped it was or very close to what he feared it was, is still, tragically, the current question." In his pursuit of this matter, Maclean has much in common with Herman Melville and Graham Greene. All three query a God--whose presence they aren't entirely convinced of--about His way of doing business.

In A River Runs Through It and Young Men and Fire Maclean takes the same problem and approaches it from different angles. While River concludes with Paul's death, Fire takes the death of the firefighters as its point of departure. Maclean pursues three questions left open by A River Runs Through It: How exactly did the death(s) occur? What do we, the living, owe to the dead? And what conclusions for our own lives are we to draw from these tragic facts? It is as if he uses the second book to test and refine perspectives advanced in the first.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


How Bad Philosophy Destroyed Good Music (Roger Scruton, 2/02/16, Imaginative Conservative)

Released from its old institutional and social foundations, our music has either floated into the modernist stratosphere, where only ideas can breathe, or remained attached to the earth by the repetitious mechanisms of pop.

At the serious end of the repertoire, therefore, ideas have taken over. It is not music that we hear in the world of Stockhausen but philosophy--second-rate philosophy to be sure, but philosophy all the same. And the same is true of other art forms that are cut loose from their cultural and religious foundations. The architecture of Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus and Mies van der Rohe is an architecture of ideas, and when the futility of the ideas became apparent they were replaced by other ideas, equally alien to architecture as an aesthetic discipline, but nevertheless impeccably philosophical. The gadget architecture of Zaha Hadid and Morphosis does not issue from a trained visual imagination, or a real love of composition: it issues from doodles on a computer in response to ideas. There is a philosophy behind this stuff, and if ordinary people protest that it doesn't look right, that it doesn't fit in, or that it is offensive to all natural standards of visual harmony, they will be answered with fragments of that philosophy, in which abstract concepts extinguish the demands of visual taste. These buildings, they will be told, provide a pioneering use of space, are breaking new ground in built form, are an exciting challenge to orthodoxies, resonate with modern life. But just why those properties are virtues, and just how they make themselves known in the result, are questions that receive no answer.

Just the same kind of botched philosophy has dominated the modern classical repertoire. Very few composers have philosophical gifts, and fewer still attempt to justify their music in philosophical terms--the great exception being Wagner, who, despite his vast literary output, always allowed his instinctive musicianship to prevail when it conflicted with his philosophical theories. But it is precisely the absence of philosophical reflection that has led to the invasion of the musical arena by half-baked ideas. Without the firm foundations provided by a live culture of music-making, philosophy is the only guide that we have; and when good philosophy is absent, bad philosophy steps in to the gap.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM



On January 11, John Leo, editor of "Minding the Campus," interviewed social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, one of the editors of the five-month-old site, "Heterodox Academy," and perhaps the most prominent academic pushing hard for more intellectual diversity on our campuses. Haidt, 52, who specializes in the psychology of morality and the moral emotions, is Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU's Stern School of Business and author, most recently, of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012).  

JOHN LEO: You set off a national conversation in San Antonio five years ago by asking psychologists at an academic convention to raise their hands to show whether they self-identified as conservatives or liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: I was invited by the president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology to give a talk on the future of Social Psychology. As I was finishing writing The Righteous Mind, I was getting more and more concerned about how moral communities bind themselves together in ways that block open-minded thinking. I began to see the social sciences as tribal moral communities, becoming ever more committed to social justice, and ever less hospitable to dissenting views. I wanted to know if there was any political diversity in social psychology. So I asked for a show of hands. I knew it would be very lopsided. But I had no idea how much so. Roughly 80% of the thousand or so in the room self-identified as "liberal or left of center," 2% (I counted exactly 20 hands) identified as "centrist or moderate," 1% (12 hands) identified as libertarian, and, rounding to the nearest integer, zero percent (3 hands) identified as "conservative."

JOHN LEO: You and your colleagues at your new site, Heterodox Academy, have made a lot of progress in alerting people to the problem that the campuses are pretty much bastions of the left. What kind of research did that prompt?

JONATHAN HAIDT: There have been a few studies since my talk to measure the degree of ideological diversity. My request for a show of hands was partly a rhetorical trick. We know that there were people in the audience who didn't dare or didn't want to raise their hands. Two social psychologists - Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers short did a more formal survey. And they found that while there is some diversity if you look at economic conservatism, there's none if you look at views on social issues. But all that matters is the social. That's where all the persecution happens. They found just 3-5 percent said they were right of center on social issues. .

JOHN LEO: Have you gone into the reasons why?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Oh, yes. After the talk, I was contacted by a few social psychologists who were interested in the topic. None of them is actually conservative.  We looked into a bunch of the reasons. And the biggest single reason is probably self-selection. We know that liberals and conservatives have slightly different personalities on average. We know that people with a left-leaning brain are attracted to the arts, to foreign travel, to variety and diversity. So we acknowledge that if there was no discrimination at all, the field would still lean left. And that's perfectly fine with us.  We don't give a damn about exact proportional representation. What we care about is institutionalized disconfirmation - that is, when someone says something, other people should be out there saying, "Is that really true? Let me try to disprove it." That is now much less likely to happen if the thing said is politically pleasing to the left.

JOHN LEO: But what about the argument that things are really tough for conservatives in academe now? After they get through college, they have to find a mentor in graduate school, keep swimming upstream and try to get hired somewhere by a department head who's looking for another leftist. And conservatives can run into cruel and aggressive people in academe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. That's correct.

JOHN LEO: To many of us, it looks like a monoculture.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. It is certainly a monoculture. The academic world in the humanities is a monoculture. The academic world in the social sciences is a monoculture - except in economics, which is the only social science that has some real diversity. Anthropology and sociology are the worst -- those fields seem to be really hostile and rejecting toward people who aren't devoted to social justice.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Tickets Out of Poverty? : Housing voucher recipients can move to better neighborhoods only if states and localities break down suburban barriers. (Jake Blumgart, Winter 2016,  The American Prospect)

As communities like Upper Darby, Lansdowne, and Folcroft have become more diverse, many upwardly mobile white residents have moved further west in Delaware County or even to outlying Chester County. In some majority-black suburban communities, middle-class African Americans have begun moving farther out, too. Property values are declining as a result, draining resources from school districts just as those districts need more funding to provide services to lower-income and English-learning students. Many of the remaining working-class and lower-middle-class residents are stuck in dead-end, low-wage jobs.

These municipalities are also those attracting most of the Section 8 vouchers in their counties. The pro-integration and smart-growth advocacy group Building One America analyzed data provided by HUD in 2008 and 2013 and found that about a fifth of the more than 4,000 housing choice vouchers in Delaware County were located in Upper Darby (22.8 percent in 2008 and 17.2 percent in 2013). Neighboring municipalities, which are either diverse or majority-African American, also hosted triple-figure voucher households. Further west and north in the county, where median incomes are tens of thousands of dollars higher and the school districts well funded, there are comparatively few Section 8 vouchers. With almost five times the population of Folcroft, Radnor Township--the setting of Katharine Hepburn's The Philadelphia Story--supports precisely one housing choice voucher. Folcroft has 111.

"You don't get figures like that unless it's the result of policy," says John McKelligott, former school board president of the William Penn School District, which covers several of the smaller municipalities to the south of Upper Darby. "You are taking communities that are struggling, and it doesn't take much to tip them over the edge, and you are trying to tip them over the edge. These communities in eastern Delaware County are doing their part. The whole point is not to drive out the population [of voucher holders] we have but to stop stressing us [with more] so that we can deliver services to the people who are here."

This pattern is playing out to an even greater extreme in Montgomery County, the wealthier county to the northwest of Philadelphia, and home to some of the best school districts in Pennsylvania. More than 41 percent of its 2,849 housing choice vouchers are concentrated in impoverished Norristown, a city of roughly 30,000 and the only urban area in the county. By contrast, the municipality with the highest-funded schools in the state, Lower Merion, only hosts 4 percent of the vouchers--a comparatively high percentage for such a privileged area.

Philadelphia's other suburban counties, Chester and Bucks, have similar configurations. The biggest concentration is in Philadelphia itself, which suffers the highest poverty rate of any big city in the nation. At the time of Building One America's 2013 analysis, the city had 19,511 housing choice vouchers. That's 7,165 more than the four suburban counties combined, which have about one million more residents than the city. Many of the region's best jobs are located in far-flung suburban office parks.

Greater Philadelphia is anything but an outlier when it comes to the suburban perpetuation of racial and economic segregation. There are, however, notable exceptions to this rule. One is located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, where a long-running affordable-housing case resulted in a series of state supreme court rulings affirming the duty of all municipalities to allow affordable housing. The state's 1985 Fair Housing Act reaffirmed that commitment. Recent research on the affordable units built in the leafy, affluent suburb of Mount Laurel shows that property values did not fall and crime rates did not rise when 140 units of low-income housing were built there. Another exception is in suburban Baltimore. There, a court order led to the formation of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, which featured counseling for voucher-holding tenants along with intensive landlord outreach in Howard County, one of the wealthiest areas in the nation. The program also provides a restricted pool of vouchers that can only be used to move to higher-income neighborhoods. Research by Stefanie DeLuca and Jennifer Darrah, based on 110 of the more than 2,000 families participating, deemed the program a success. According to Building One America's analysis, 11 percent of the vouchers were used in areas of "maximum opportunity." None of the vouchers in the Philadelphia area mobility program were and only 3.8 percent of overall vouchers are used in maximum opportunity areas.

The key is to disperse them more widely, even universally.
Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


How Much of Your Nest Egg to Put Into Stocks? All of It (DAVID A. LEVINE, FEB. 12, 2016, NY Times)

No less an authority than Warren E. Buffett has stated that 90 percent is the right answer. That's a level of investment in stocks that many investors, not just older ones, find dangerously uncomfortable, particularly when the stock market is as volatile as it has been lately. Yet Mr. Buffett, the most renowned investor of our time, established a trust for his wife that puts 10 percent of his bequest in short-term government bonds with the remainder invested in a broad-based stock index fund.

But even Mr. Buffett's advice may be too conservative. Indeed -- except for known, near-term financial obligations like a large tax bill that you might owe on April 15 or a down payment on a house you're buying in the next few months -- the best asset allocation, nearly all the time, is 100 percent stocks.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Wilco's Music for Adulthood (PAUL ELIE, 2/13/06, The New Yorker)

Yes, Jeff: Wilco has exhibited progress. The rock group, born of the alt-country movement, is the mainstay of Nonesuch Records and the pride of Chicago. Wilco is to the music called Americana what the Eagles were to country rock: the group that at once perfected the style, transcended it, and got popular enough to push their old bandmates even further to the margins. Jeff Tweedy, for his part, is the overachiever of the words-and-guitar generation that includes Ben Harper, James McMurtry, David Gray, and PJ Harvey. Curating a music-and-arts festival at Mass MOCA, producing Mavis Staples's recent records, advising the National Poetry Foundation, making a solo record with his teen-age son on drums: the railroad man's son from Belleville, Illinois, has come far.

Progress isn't what the Kings Theatre show was about, though, and it's not what Wilco is about for its audience. More than any other group of guys with guitars playing now, Wilco--currently six members, after some changes over the years--has eluded the ideas of youth and age, rise and fall, early and late, breakup and comeback, that defined rock-and-roll careers since Elvis played Vegas and the Beatles started communicating with one another through their lawyers. Wilco is about continuity; it's music for the steady state of adulthood.

Wilco is Tweedy's long-term relationship, after the starter marriage that was Uncle Tupelo, the band he and Jay Farrar formed in Belleville in their late teens. Often described as "alt country," Uncle Tupelo was young men channelling old music--Depression-era country and blues--often on pre-war flattop guitars, mandolins, steel guitars, and so on. So when Tweedy turned to straightforward electric rock, after the band broke up, he seemed to get younger in the process. He founded Wilco in 1994, just when R.E.M. broke into the stadium circuit, with "Monster," and Bruce Springsteen and U2 began making records that, in effect, sampled their old ones and called it extending the mythology. There was an authenticity gap, and Tweedy filled it. Wilco, a group of adults, making music for adults, has kept it real into midlife.

That is why the audience roared when Tweedy took off his white hat. For many musicians of a certain age--think of Elvis Costello, or The Edge--a hat covers up advancing age and a receding hairline. But Tweedy, who is forty-eight, seems notably indifferent to how he looks: uncombed, unshaven, pallid, husky in baggy jeans and a denim jacket. The hat isn't a cover-up. It's the outsize piece of finery that sets him apart from his audience. When he takes it off, he is one of us: a person squarely in midlife who has time to do what he wants to do--and who is doing it.

Tough to beat this though.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


U.S. Drawing Southeast Asia Closer With California Summit (JOE COCHRANE, FEB. 12, 2016, NY Times)

While officials said the gathering was not an "anti-China" meeting, Washington is clearly trying to exert its leadership in Southeast Asia through investment, analysts said.

"China's actions in the South China Sea have undermined its narrative of a peaceful rising and fostered new suspicions about its economic and geopolitical intentions in the region," said Kevin G. Nealer, a China expert and a partner with the Scowcroft Group, based in Washington. "America's most difficult relationships in the region are healthier and more high-functioning than China's best relations, and the deep and consistent American investment there has created habits of cooperation and shared goals with Asean that trade alone doesn't yield."

China has been Asean's largest trading partner since 2009, with two-way trade surpassing $366 billion in 2014, according to Asean trade data. The United States was fourth last year behind the European Union and Japan. Southeast Asia was also America's fourth-largest export market that year.

However, America's strategy has focused on direct investment, where it is far ahead of China. American companies poured $32.3 billion into Southeast Asia from 2012 to 2014, according to Asean data, compared with $21.3 billion from China.

From 2000 to 2014, the United States invested $226 billion in Southeast Asia, according to the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis, more than American investment in China, Japan and India combined.

Free trade is the one area where the UR has been transformational.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch ground operations against the Islamic State group in Syria (Associated Press, Feb. 13, 2016)

Turkish media are quoting Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying his country and Saudi Arabia may launch ground operations against the Islamic State group in Syria.

After taking part at a security conference in Munich, Cavusoglu said Saudi Arabia was "ready to send both jets and troops" to Turkey's Incirlik airbase.

"Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch an operation (against IS) from the land," Saturday's edition of the Yeni Safak pro-government newspaper quoted him as saying.

...if someone told you the President had the Alawites, Russians, Turks, Arabs and Shi'a fighting ISIS for us, while we put no American lives in harm's way and reduce defense spending, you'd hail him as a genius. And if this were 9/12, you'd say it was the outcome most devoutly to be wished : the Middle East fighting out the Near War with the Far War all but forgotten. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Battered Bank Stocks Reflect Not Just Jitters, but Mistrust (GRETCHEN MORGENSON FEB. 12, 2016, NY Times)

[W]hy have bank shares continued to fall? Mr. Peabody contended that excess selling pressure was a result of investors being forced to unwind big bets made in these stocks last year when it was widely believed that interest rates would rise and fuel bank profits.

"You had huge money flows into dedicated bank stock funds -- they doubled in size from $1 billion to $2 billion last year," Mr. Peabody said. "What you're having now is a mechanical margin call by these funds, creating selling that has nothing to do with the fundamentals."

Another veteran bank analyst who said he is puzzled by the sharp sell-off in these companies' shares is Richard X. Bove at Rafferty Capital Markets. In an interview, he acknowledged that there is a fear in the markets that some unknown problem will emerge, shaking the assets of the industry and wiping out the equity that banks have built up in recent years.

"Any number of statistics would validate the fact that banks today don't have the risks they had either in 1990 or 2008," Mr. Bove said, recalling two of the worst periods for banks in recent history. "The stocks are selling at such deep discounts to book value that they are telling you the book values are not valid."

This view, which Mr. Bove does not agree with, reflects investors' severe mistrust of both the banks and their regulators, he said. After instituting hundreds of new rules to strengthen the banking system and protect against disastrous losses, regulators have still not convinced investors that these institutions are sound.

"Nobody believes that the industry has changed," Mr. Bove said. "Nobody believes that what the government has done has been effective."

Bank investors have good reason to be doubters. In the years leading to the financial crisis, regulators repeatedly stated that subprime mortgage losses would not be large enough to harm the overall economy. (Remember all the references to the subprime problem being "contained?") Then, in the aftermath of the mess, investors learned the hard way about losses at these institutions that far exceeded their reserves.

The current psychology "is you can't believe anything the government says because the government is not prone to telling the truth," Mr. Bove said. "And you can't believe anything the banks say because we know they've lied to us repeatedly."

This view represents a "massive failure of government regulation," Mr. Bove recently told his clients. Investors don't believe central bankers are effective and they fret that bank balance sheets are "black boxes."

After a recent in-depth analysis of balance sheets, Mr. Bove concluded that banks are far safer than investors seem to think.

It's perfectly understandable that folks worry about the honesty of the institutions that hid risky loans in supposedly safe derivatives. But the worry over negative interest rates just reflects the failure of our society to process the reality of deflation. Real interest rates remain usurious.

Deflation also explains why corporations and consumers are comfortable sitting on cash and why central banks are looking to negative rates.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Cruz and Trump poised for the ugliest debate yet : These rivals are itching for a fight as South Carolina settles into a two-man race. (KATIE GLUECK and BEN SCHRECKINGER 02/13/16, Politico)

Ted Cruz and Donald Trump enter Saturday's debate locked in a two-man race for South Carolina, and to prepare, both have gone full negative.

After splitting the first two votes, the New York billionaire has relentlessly hammered away at Cruz on everything from his campaign's tactics to what Trump sees as the Texan's character flaws. And on Friday, Trump warned that he has standing to sue Cruz over questions of his birth and constitutional eligibility to serve in the White House.

"If @tedcruz doesn't clean up his act, stop cheating, & doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen," Trump tweeted of his rival, born in Canada to an American mother.

Asked about the threat, Cruz did not back down. "There's more than a little irony in Donald accusing anybody of being nasty given the amazing torrent of insults and obscenities that come out of his mouth on any given day," he told reporters. "Suddenly every day he comes out with a new attack."

Trump is expected to carry these attacks onto the stage on Saturday at the final candidate forum before South Carolina votes. It's a fight Cruz's allies say they are ready for, as they prepare to assault Trump's Republican credentials with an eye on the conservative, religious and security-focused voters throughout the south.

While these two go at it, the two governors need to ignore them and forcefully present their positive programs for our next government, which they are uniquely competent to run.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


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WHAT WE'VE BEEN READING (First Things, 2.12.16)

Francesca Murphy

On the night after the actor Alan Rickman died, I watched the version of Sense and Sensibility in which he plays Colonel Brandon. What a beautiful movie, and what a wonderful performance he gives. Since then I have been reading Sense and Senibility on my kindle. Jane Austen was simply a moral genius. The book contrasts a elder sister (Elinor, 'Sense') who faces up to the fact that reality cannot be modelled on her wishes with a younger sister (Marianne, 'Sensibility') who still needs to learn this basic moral truth. The novel uses a deep ironic humour to convey these essential building blocks of the virtuous life.

It is this message--that reality will not necessarily conform to even the best intentions--that makes Austen a great conservative novelist.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Influential Iraqi Shiite cleric demands government reforms (AP, February 13, 2016)

Iraq's influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the inclusion of more technocrats in government, and threatened to withdraw from the political process if his proposal was not accepted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


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Before 'The X-Files,' There Was 'Kolchak: The Night Stalker'  (Liel Leibovitz, February 12, 2016, The Tablet)

Called "Horror in the Heights," the masterpiece in question is the 11th episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Only 20 episodes were ever aired, but the show's influence far surpassed its nasty, brutish, and short life on network TV: Among its writers were Robert Zemeckis and The Sopranos creator David Chase, both new to the craft, and generations of rabid fans went on to create their own tributes to Kolchak's grimy and spooky universe. The most enthusiastic among them was a former editor of Surfing Magazine named Chris Carter, who, after securing a TV show of his own, delivered a strong homage to Kolchak and called it The X-Files. On last week's episode--the show is currently on week four of a six-week miniseries revival--a character walked around dressed in a porkpie hat and a seersucker blazer, the iconic uniform of Kolchak's eponymous hero and one of many tributes Carter has paid to his inspiration over the years.

What is it, then, about Kolchak that moved so many? And what is it that continues to rattle even today, when good frights abound in movies and on TV? For answers, turn off the lights and indulge in the aforementioned episode. 

Serendipitously, I'd just found the complete series at the Thrift Store (for $1.75).  Let's be honest, it was never really about the plots.  The show is essentially Darren McGavin chewing up the scenery--very nearly playing The Old Man, from A Christmas Story--and it is at its best when he's going toe-to-toe with Simon Oakland, as his editor, who was seemingly the explosive-tempered Lieutenant in every 70s cop show. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


America's painkiller epidemic, explained : By freely doling out prescription painkillers, doctors have fueled a crisis of addiction and deadly overdoses.  (The Week, February 13, 2016)

February 12, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


IN DEFENCE OF THE SELFISH GENE : Richard Dawkins' book is more than a Thatcherite manifesto. (Patrick West, 12 FEBRUARY 2016, Spiked review of books)

As The Selfish Gene's repute spread, its perceived 'biological reductionism' or 'determinism' came to be regarded as an affront to notions of the soul, to free will and human agency. Christians mistrusted it as much as the secular left. If the 1960s was the decade in which everything seemed possible, The Selfish Gene seemed to epitomise the 1970s spirit of defeatism and fatalism.

That decade also saw the re-emergence of the right in Britain under Margaret Thatcher, and it was unfortunate that a book with 'selfish' in its title should appear concurrently with the rise of the woman famed for proclaiming there to be 'no such thing as society', even if she was misquoted. Dawkins argued that 'a dominant quality of our genes is ruthless selfishness, which will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour... We are born selfish.' Dawkins was thus deemed the biological godfather for the tooth-and-claw capitalism of the 1980s, and the c[*****] capitalism of the 2000s.

Just as Darwinism was originally accepted because it jibed with Adam Smith's economics and justified Victorian England's domination of less fit species (races), so too was Dawkins' theory acceptable because it suited the time, which saw the abandonment of socialism in favor of a return to capitalism in Britain.  But, by ditching biology in favor of intelligent motivation, it put the final nail in Darwin's coffin.  With Darwin's foremost defender repudiating him, there's nothing left of the poor bugger.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Is the Iranian Regime Bound to Collapse? : The revolution's discontents. (Isaac Chotiner, 2/12/16, Slate)

Laura Secor had been traveling to Iran for almost a decade when, in 2012, she was harshly questioned and accused of being a spy while reporting for the New Yorker. After leaving the country, she was denied another visa. Her time there forms the basis of her new book, Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran.

The book is notable for its focus on the country's reformers, many of them supporters of the 1979 upheaval that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power; they are now disappointed in the revolution and wish to live in a less authoritarian regime. Secor was there for the end of Mohammad Khatami's second term as president, which ended in 2005; he was succeeded by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose two terms overlapped (not entirely coincidentally) with a period of international isolation and the crushing of the country's Green Movement. [...]

Given that Ayatollah Khamenei, rather than the president, is the most powerful person in Iran, why do you think things changed so much under Ahmadinejad?

I think it's not something that's entirely clear even to people inside Iran. Khatami was reformist, and he had an agenda of opening up this space for civil society and for more freedoms of the press and expression and association, and he came up against really a pretty hard wall. In retrospect, that time looks freer because at least the conflict was in the open. You could see what was happening. There were student demonstrations that were put down. There were newspapers that opened that were then shut down. In a sense, the distance between the president and the security establishment created a kind of a space that was a little bit freer. In the end, the security establishment did prevail, and that was one of the reasons that the reform movement was stymied by 2004.

Ahmadinejad came in with a much more explicitly authoritarian agenda, and his Cabinet made that very clear. He had a lot of people in his Cabinet who were pretty deeply embedded in the security establishment. The president has his areas of authority in the domestic/political space and in the economy, which is where Ahmadinejad really made a big impression. I think a lot of people would say that to the extent there was any opening under Khatami, it wouldn't have happened if the supreme leader was 100 percent set against it, and to the extent that there was a total shutdown afterward, it wouldn't have happened if he wasn't in favor of it. He doesn't call every shot, but there's this kind of complicated system of pressure points and infractions, and the boundaries of that are set from above.

Did Hassan Rouhani's election in 2013 surprise you?

It was surprising to a lot of people. It was surprising to me. There were a few factors, and it's kind of hard to say what was definitive. Ahmadinejad's second term was really a very dark time for the Islamic Republic. You had very, very heavy security atmosphere in the country because of the uprising in 2009. That was really met with crushing repression.

Is that when you noticed it most as a journalist too?

Yeah, I was there in 2012, and it was a different country--it wasn't a different country, it was the same country, but it was a really radically different atmosphere. It has always been before, but with some degree of plausible deniability. This was very overt. So that was unsustainable to a degree. That was not a way Iranians were used to living.

My sense was that Rouhani's election was a foreign policy election for the first time in my knowledge of the country. The very first presidential debate turned on issues of foreign policy. All of the candidates practically were leaping on the one candidate who really supported Ahmadinejad's vision of foreign policy. There was a sense that the tide had really turned against that way of conducting Iran's affairs in the world, and there was an opening in the establishment toward a more modern course.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Conservatism And Y Combinator's Proposed Basic Income Research (Scott Winship, 1/28/16, Forbes)

The Silicon Valley firm, Y Combinator, announced this week that it is getting into the business of funding social science research, starting with a call for proposals to examine the effects of a guaranteed basic income.  [....]

I fear that from its inception, there may be an unconscious thumb on the scale for finding the benefits of such a program and missing the costs. Altman, admirably in my view, shows his cards a bit in the post, saying, "I'm fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we're going to see some version of this at a national scale." Even more tellingly, he writes,

50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people. I also think that it's impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income.  And I think that, combined with innovation driving down the cost of having a great life, by doing something like this we could eventually make real progress towards eliminating poverty.

I want to put aside quickly one argument I might raise with these contentions. While techno-pessimism has become ascendant over the past decade, many academic researchers and tech-types--Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, for instance--would contest the prediction that technology will hurt employment.

What I want to focus on here is the distinction between poverty reduction and opportunity promotion. Altman is correct that a guaranteed basic income could be designed to eliminate poverty. Giving people money will do that--in the narrow sense that when poverty is defined in terms of having too little income, more income will reduce poverty. As I've noted many times, the War on Poverty managed to substantially reduce poverty in the U.S., a fact obscured by the official poverty measure. Anytime a conservative says that poverty is no lower today than in the 1960s, that's just wrong.

The objection that a basic income does not prepare people for job opportunities is, of course, correct.  But the need for a basc income is a function of income not being tied to work anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


As a Christian, I say to Mike Bickle: A thousand times no! (Stan Goodenough, 2/12/16, Times of Israel)

Many of you who hear what he has said may well feel confirmed in your suspicions and well-founded fears about the agenda behind Evangelical support for modern day Israel. You believe that many of us -- for I am one such Christian -- are energized by and support the return of your people to your ancient land primarily because we believe it will help bring about the fulfillment of Christian interpretations of biblical prophecy, never mind that it is always, always at the expense of the Jews.

I wish to go on the record as personally repudiating -- before G-d -- everything these recordings say lies ahead for the nation of Israel/the Jewish people (who in my understanding are one and the same). What's more, I believe every Christian Zionist who has his insight from the pages of the Bible, rather than from the teachings of popular prophecy experts, will spurn and denounce such views.

At the heart of them, these views predict a totally devastating future for the Jews -- death camps and a holocaust that will exceed the Shoah in horror and murder -- leaving 10 to 14 million Jews slaughtered and the remaining five to seven million converted to Christianity.

In essence, what such preachers are saying is that G-d will force-convert Jews to believe in Jesus as Messiah at the 'point of a sword' -- just as Crusaders and Cossacks and Inquisitors all sought to do. On top of that, they hold that G-d would lure His ancient Chosen People into a trap, promising them peace and safety back in their land, but all the while intending to let the wolves into the sheepfold He has brought them back to, only to tear two-thirds of them apart.

(It is noteworthy that ISIS and other Muslim clerics preach the same thing -- that Allah has brought the Jews back from the four corners of the world to their great graveyard. Thankfully, the Allah of Radical Islam and the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not the same being at all.)

What a sick, twisted interpretation of the Scriptures that carry such a weight of wonderful promise for your re-gathered and restored people; how frightfully misrepresentative of the words and guaranteed assurances of the One who calls Himself the G-d and the Shepherd of Israel.

What I want to say as clearly as I can, is that the Christian beliefs that inform me -- and inform other Christian Zionists like me who wish to devote our lives to standing with and fighting for Israel -- are jam-packed with a strong message of hope for the future of your entire nation.

The UR at least had the decency to disavow the Rev. Wright.

February 11, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


The GOP's Rubio dilemma (W. James Antle III, February 11, 2016, The Week)

[T]here has been an argument among conservatives since at least the beginning of the Obama administration whether what they perceive as the president's bad policies stem from incompetence or a deliberate desire to transform -- some would say destroy -- America.

Rubio is squarely in the Obama-is-transforming-America camp.

The notion that one believes Obama-is-destroying-America ought to be a disqualifier by itself. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Jeb Bush Finds His Footing as the 'Anti-Trump' (Kenneth T. Walsh, Feb. 11, 2016, US News)

He has finally discovered his own mission, and this has brought him a new sense of confidence and strength as a presidential candidate, and has injected his campaign with new life.

Associates say Jeb has found a sense of purpose as "the anti-Trump," an apostle of civility and a defender of mainstream conservatism, and the only GOP candidate willing to consistently stand up to what he considers the bully of the 2016 cycle, GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

Bush considers the billionaire real-estate developer a faux tough guy who likes to push people around and who is consumed by narcissism. This latter perception is anathema to Bush because his family has always hated unbridled ego and his grandmother warned against "The Great I Am." And Bush is convinced that if Trump is nominated he will suffer an ignominious defeat and drag many other Republican candidates down with him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Cruz defends evangelist who said God sent Hitler to hunt Jews (ERIC CORTELLESSA, February 11, 2016, Times of Israel)

Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz's campaign said it "welcomes support" from faith leaders across the country, including that of Mike Bickle, who has said that God sent Hitler to hunt Jews, who works energetically to convert Jews to Christianity and who espouses views that biblical prophesy suggests a new era of concentration camps for Jews will unfold before the Second Coming.

"They don't vote for us anyway."

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Uruguay's Quiet Democratic Miracle (UKI GOÑI, FEB. 9, 2016, NY Times)

With only 3.3 million inhabitants, Uruguay is the smallest nation by population in Latin America. Its giant neighbor Brazil, by contrast, has a population of more than 200 million. But what it lacks in numbers, Uruguay makes up for by ranking as the least corrupt and most democratic country in Latin America -- as well as only one of two, along with Chile, rated as a "high income" country by the United Nations.

Uruguay used to be known as the "Switzerland of South America," in part because of its banking secrecy regulations. But the phrase also speaks to a deep respect for the rule of law.

In a region where democracy is increasingly tested by economic mismanagement, political corruption, drug cartels and environmental crises, Uruguay is the only Latin American country ranked among the world's 20 "full democracies," according to The Economist's 2015 democracy index -- ahead even, by one place, of the United States.

The passionate nationalism prevalent elsewhere, often whipped up by populist leaders intent on clinging to power beyond their allotted presidential terms, is refreshingly absent in Uruguay. It is a preference some of Uruguay's neighbors would do well to emulate.

" 'Nation' is not a word we often use," says the Uruguayan historian Gerardo Caetano. "We prefer republic."

Perhaps because of this, Uruguay scores perfect 10s on the indexes of civil liberties and electoral process, a feat equaled only by Norway and New Zealand. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


How American Teachers Are Miseducating Kids About Climate Change (FRANCIE DIEP, 2/11/16, Pacific Standard)

In a nationally representative sample made up of 1,500 teachers from all 50 states, 30 percent reported teaching that global warming "is likely due to natural causes," as opposed to human activity. Twelve percent said they don't emphasize to their students that people are the main driver of climate change. Six percent avoid mentioning why climate change is happening at all.

Thirty-one percent of teachers "teach both sides": On the one hand, they tell kids there's a scientific consensus that climate change is caused by humans, and on the other that "many scientists" think climate change is due to natural causes. Confusing!

Fifteen percent of teachers believe global warming is due mostly to natural causes. Seventeen percent believe natural and human causes are equally important.

Teaching in American schools is profoundly conservative.
Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Marco Rubio's Campaign Declares War on Math (Jonathan Chait, 2/11/16, NY Mag)

The Tax Policy Center released on Thursday its analysis of Marco Rubio's ginormous-tax-cut plan. The figures are pretty staggering. Once fully in effect, Rubio's plan would increase the budget deficit by almost a trillion dollars a year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Russia PM warns foreign offensive in Syria could spark 'world war' (AFP, February 11, 2016)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned Thursday that if Arab forces entered the Syrian war, they could spark a "new world war" and urged ceasefire talks instead.

February 10, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


As US braces for refugees, one Maine town offers lesson of inclusion (Jessica Mendoza, FEBRUARY 8, 2016, CS Monitor)

Fifteen years ago, Lewiston, Maine, became a prime destination for a wave of Somali immigrants who failed to find housing through a resettlement program established in nearby Portland, the state's largest city. At first, it was a struggle: local schools wrestled with a sudden influx of students who spoke no English, and white supremacist groups rallied against the newcomers' arrival.

But today, the former mill town of about 36,500 is home to an African community of 5,000 - and their presence can be felt throughout the city in mosques, shops, restaurants, and the local champion high-school soccer team that features players from Somalia and other African countries.

The key, some immigrants say, is earning their neighbors' respect.

"When Somalis came in, Lewiston people, Maine people, they think we need welfare, but we don't need welfare," said Shukri Abasheikh, who owns a general store that caters to the African community. "We need jobs. We need peace. We need education."

And, boy, does New England need immigrants.
Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


The Latino Flight to Whiteness (WILLIAM DARITY JR. FEBRUARY 10, 2016, American Prospect)

The impact of Hispanic patterns of intermarriage supports Alba's words of caution about claims of a new American racial majority of color. By 2011, according to a study by Wendy Wang of the Pew Research Center, 26 percent of Hispanic newlyweds married non-Hispanics. Eighty percent of third-generation Hispanics are the offspring of mixed marriages. The consequences for Hispanic identification are striking. From one generation to the next, the descendants identify less as Hispanic and more as non-Hispanic white in a pattern that economists Brian Duncan and Stephen Trejo call "ethnic attrition." 

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Don't tell Bernie Sanders, but capitalism has made human life fantastically better. Here's how (James Pethokoukis, February 9, 2016,  AEIdeas)

Yes, workers in advanced economies today are many multiples wealthier -- almost incalculably so -- than their counterparts in the early 19th century. But here is another way of looking at, thanks to a new study by consultancy Deloitte showing how technology-driving innovation has radically altered lives in Britain for the much better: [...]

2) It has been saving us from dull, repetitive, and dangerous work. Agriculture was the first major sector to experience this change. In 1871 it employed 6.6% of the workforce of England and Wales. Today that stands at 0.2%, a 95% decline.


Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Clinton Surrogate: Unions Are Just 'Super PACs That Democrats Like' (Bill McMorris, February 9, 2016, Free Beacon)

Failed presidential candidate Howard Dean attacked insurgent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., VT) on Friday for his criticism of Hillary Clinton's ties to Wall Street. Dean, a former Vermont governor and head of the Democratic National Committee, downplayed Sanders' frequent claim that he relies on small donors, rather than Super PACs, for his support.

"Frankly, for Bernie to say he doesn't have a Super PAC, labor unions are Super PACs," Dean told MSNBC on Friday. "Now, they're Super PACs that Democrats like, so we don't go after labor unions, but this is a double standard."

Unions are no more persons than corporations and both should be banned from giving to candidates.  Contributions to parties suffice.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


The Many Frenemies of Ted Cruz (ROBERT DRAPER, FEB. 8, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

Whenever Cruz has initiated efforts to forge alliances with colleagues, they have frequently gone awry. In the 2014 election cycle, he offered to campaign on behalf of George P. Bush, Jeb Bush's son, who was running for Texas land commissioner. But that was only after he refused to endorse Bush in the G.O.P. primary, when the candidate could have used some support -- rather than in the general election, when he was already coasting to victory against a weak Democrat. As one of Bush's allies put it, "It was obvious he just wanted to claim credit for George P.'s victory."

Similarly, Cruz offered his services in October 2014 to the Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, who was in a close race with the Democratic candidate, Bruce Braley. "When she needed him -- which was during the primary -- he was nowhere to be found," recalls one of Ernst's former advisers. "Then, two weeks before the general election, when we're looking to appeal to swing voters, he tried to come into Iowa in a very crass maneuver. To a person, no one on the campaign thought that having Mr. Government Shutdown two weeks before the election was going to help anyone other than Ted Cruz. So we said no thanks."

More recently, Cruz rankled his fellow G.O.P. presidential candidate and professed friend, the easygoing Ben Carson, when on the day of the Iowa caucus his campaign circulated the erroneous claim that Carson was suspending his campaign. During last Saturday's debate, Cruz apologized but also seemed to blame the media for initiating the rumor -- an explanation that Carson clearly did not buy. Cruz's chief antagonist, Trump, gleefully took note of this. During the closing statements of the debate, when Cruz mentioned his victory in Iowa, Trump followed with a sneering, "That's because you stole Ben Carson's votes, by the way."

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Government ministers snub Reform Jews (Michael Boyden, 2/10/16. Times of Israel)

Deri's behavior is hardly surprising given his reaction to the recent agreement reached by Israel's government with the Women of the Wall over the issue of their demand to be able to worship as they wish at the Kotel. He is quoted as having said: "The problem of Reform and Conservative Jews did not exist until now in the State of Israel and I do not intend to let it happen now. There should be no compromise on this issue."

As a private citizen, Deri is entitled to his prejudices, but not while he serves as a Cabinet member, who is there to address the needs of the entire Jewish People.

Deri's insulting behavior follows that of deputy Minister of Education, Meir Porush, who was reported as having said that the Women of the Wall should be "thrown to the dogs" and that "the Reform are responsible for the terrible intermarriage that we've been witnessing in the United States".

If that were not enough, Israel's Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, stated that "Reform Jews are a dying world" and chairman of the government's Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni, described them as "clowns who stab the holy Torah".

His remarks simply endorsed those of the Minister for Religious Affairs, David Azoulai, who is quoted as having said that he could not allow himself to refer to Reform Jews as Jews.

Now all of this could be brushed aside if one were talking about fanatical rabbis or inconsequential figures on the Israeli political stage. However, these are government ministers. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Rubio Just Collapsed (Jim Newell, 2/10/16, Slate)

Only a few days ago Rubio appeared poised to run away with the second leg of his "3-2-1" strategy, or perhaps even make a run for a wounded Donald Trump and begin with a "3-1" start. Either a first- or a significant second-place finish would have cleared the "establishment lane" of competitors such as Gov. Chris Christie; Gov. John Kasich; and, after another state or two of aimless money-burning, Jeb Bush. Natural nominating forces would have pushed Rubio--with the most room to grow and the most support within the party--to the top in the long term.

And then, during Saturday night's debate, he was discovered to have been a replicant all along. He "melted," as Christie put it. As of late Tuesday night, Rubio was in a three-way battle for third place with Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz--and technically sitting in fifth place as of this writing.

Coming out of NH we know that Cruz is not an alternative to Trump, because Trump is just more Cruz than Cruz.  We also know that an appetite remains for the moderate alternative, but that's not going to be the imploding Rubio or the one-state candidate, Kasich.  The party can rally around Jeb starting in SC or we get the Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


California solar industry job growth reaches record levels (Ivan Penn, 2/10/16 LA Times)

By the end of 2015, that total number of solar workers in the state exceeded 75,000. That's more than all jobs held at state's five largest utility companies combined, according to the California Solar Energy Industries Assn.

"Solar power is a bright spot in California's economy, bringing jobs and economic development to every corner of the state," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the solar association. "While conventional energy industries are losing jobs, we are seeing record growth, and bringing clean air and climate solutions along the way."

February 9, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Decision Desk HQ exit poll: Trump, Sanders win, GOP pile-up for second (SCOTT BLAND, 02/09/16, Politico)

Behind Trump, the exit poll put Cruz and Kasich tied at 15, Rubio at 11 and Bush at 10.

The poll suggested independent support for Kasich (23 percent) could boost him to a big finish.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Judge Again Rejects Texas Bid to Block Syrian Refugees (Alexa Ura, Feb. 8, 2016, Texas Tribune)

A federal judge has again denied a bid by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the federal government from resettling Syrian refugees in the state.

Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey on Monday rejected Paxton's request for a preliminary injunction to bar the Syrian refugees, dealing another blow to Gov. Greg Abbott's vow -- made in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead -- to keep people fleeing the war-torn country out of Texas.  

"The Court does not deny that the Syrian refugees pose some risk. That would be foolish," Godbey wrote. "In our country, however, it is the federal executive that is charged with assessing and mitigating that risk, not the states and not the courts." [...]

The state's next move is unclear; Wise said the AG's office is "currently evaluating" its legal options moving forward. In his ruling, Godbey said Texas is unlikely to succeed in the lawsuit because it has "no viable cause of action" against the federal government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Hamas, Fatah agree on tentative steps toward reconciliation (TIMES OF ISRAEL,  February 9, 2016)

Hamas and Fatah reached a tentative agreement to push ahead with new elections and a mechanism for manning the Gaza border with Egypt after two days of reconciliation talks. [...]

The sides pledged to form a national unity government, to lay the groundwork for long-overdue presidential and legislative elections, and to renew their commitment to earlier accords which were signed but not implemented, according to the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Illegal Immigration a Low Priority for Republican Voters (David R. Jones, 2/09/16, NY Times)

The issue of illegal immigration has been front and center throughout the Republican presidential campaign and the focus of heated exchanges in the debates. But only one in seven Republican primary voters in New Hampshire rated it the issue they cared most about this election cycle.

Further, asked whether most immigrants working in the United States illegally should be deported or offered a chance at legal status, a majority backed legal status.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


The One Line in New Hampshire That Donald Trump Won't Cross : Searching for undecided voters above the 45th parallel. (Tim Murphy, Feb. 9, 2016, Mother Jones)

It's hard to get too lost on your way to Pittsburg, New Hampshire (pop. 869). You just drive north for a while. And then you keep driving north for a while longer. Pittsburg is New Hampshire's largest town by land area, covering nearly 300 square miles of North Country mountains and lakes and spanning the entire length of the state's international border with Canada. It's also one of the only corners of the nation's first primary state where candidates never go.

In a year in which Republican candidates have made the Rio Grande a mandatory stop on the presidential campaign trail, trekking to McAllen, Texas, to stare grimly into the Mexican desert, the far vaster northern border--the one terrorists have actually tried to come across--is a much different story. Of the hundreds upon hundreds of town halls and meet-and-greets in the 2016 election cycle, only one happened in Pittsburg. And it was held by Lindsey Graham.

(It's not just candidates who have a tendency to overlook Pittsburg; in the 1830s, it was excised from the United States by a vaguely written treaty, and it hummed along for three years as the independent republic of Indian Stream before the boundary was clarified.)

"[People] certainly can sneak through here, there's no doubt about it," said Laurie Urekew, braving the snow flurries on Saturday afternoon outside Young's general store, an all-purpose grocery and gas station that features a punching bag of President Barack Obama by the register. "But it's very vast here, so chances are someone from the southern area wouldn't survive too much."

This is where the Other Brother and his boys go to hunt.  You can walk into Canada.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Airbus deal takeoff irks Iranian hard-liners  (Rohollah Faghihi, 2/09/16, Al Monitor)

Many Iranians welcomed President Hassan Rouhani's recent tour of Italy and France, during which billions of dollars in deals -- including the purchase of 118 new Airbus passenger jets -- were hammered out. However, the hard-liners in Iran have been raging against the tour, considering it a major humiliation.

The first salvo came from historian Hussein Dehbashi, a critic of Rouhani, who penned a post on his Facebook page in which he slammed the Iranian president for appearing in a room dominated by a giant bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius at his joint press conference with the Italian prime minister. "[Roman Emperor] Marcus Aurelius [161-180] defeated Iranians in the era of the Parthian Empire. Why did the advisers of President Rouhani not pay attention to that?" Dehbashi wrote. Hard-line outlets warmly welcomed this censure, following Dehbashi's lead in attacking Rouhani.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Iran's Khatami urges supporters to vote despite candidate crackdown (NASSER KARIMI AND ALI AKBAR DAREINI, February 9, 2016, Times of Israel)

In a statement issued late Monday, Mohammad Khatami said voting in the Feb. 26 parliamentary elections would serve "national interests."

Khatami said although it is disappointing that "capable" and "deserving figures" have been disqualified, people should vote because "massive participation" and "heated elections" are in their interests.

The reformist ex-president remains popular among young people and women, but is deeply disliked by hard-liners and the state media has banned the broadcast of his picture.

After weeks of intensive political lobbying by President Hassan Rouhani, the Guardian Council, Iran's hard-line constitutional watchdog, reversed a ban on 1,500 parliamentary candidates Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Iran nuclear deal delays bomb by 10-15 years: IISS chief (AFP February 10, 2016)

The deal between world powers and Iran has delayed Tehran's acquisition of nuclear weapons by 10 to 15 years, the head of a top defense think-tank told AFP on Tuesday.

The agreement struck in Vienna in July between Iran and the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 plus one) sees sanctions progressively lifted in return for Tehran ensuring its nuclear program remains for civilian use.

"2015 was by and large a decent year for news on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," said John Chipman, the director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

"Principally because, of course, we did see in the last year the conclusion of the P5+1 agreement on the Iranian nuclear file."

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


America has near record 5.6 million job openings (Patrick Gillespie, 2/09/16, CNNMoney)

There were 5.6 million job openings in December, just shy of the all-time record of about 5.7 million set in July, according to Labor Department data published Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


RubioBot : The question isn't whether Marco Rubio is a robot--it's who programmed him. (Franklin Foer, 2/09/16, Slate)

This image of Rubio as a cipher is at once an unjust caricature and a pretty accurate summation of his career. Since Rubio's earliest days in law school, Republican big wigs have swooned whenever he opens his mouth. They saw his silver tongue and charm, as well as a demographic dreamboat: the ambitious son of Cuban immigrants, who worked his way up from modest means in Florida, the state on which presidential elections turn. Rubio came on the scene as California Gov. Pete Wilson and his anti-immigrant crusade were crashing the Republican Party's share of the Latino vote. It was the very moment that George W. Bush and his mangled Spanish were making a concerted effort to undo that damage.

Rubio was an irresistible figure, quickly marked for bigger things. At every stage of his career, powerful benefactors--including Jeb Bush--pushed Rubio forward. It's how he became the youngest speaker of the Florida house. And it's the reason that strategists began imagining a Rubio presidential bid nearly as soon as he arrived in Washington. 

None of this distinguishes him from other bright young things in every state capital of America. Yet Rubio's ascent came with several clouds that he's never been able to escape. The first is ideological. His rapid-fire transformations on immigration--from Tea Party to Chuck Schumer's fellow gangster and back again--suggests that he lacks core beliefs. They create an impression of a man vulnerable to manipulation--without principles and courage, the very sort who would bend his views to those of his masters. 

Then there's the matter of Rubio's finances. As he freely admits, they are a mess. He's been saddled with debt, unable to cover the costs of family birthday parties and renovations to his home. (When he left the Florida state house in 2008, he had a net worth of $8,351.) The dire state of his bank accounts has made him reliant on benefactors. He needed the Florida GOP's American Express card to help him bridge his expenses. And more glaringly, he's relied on an old auto dealer called Norman Braman. Ever since Rubio entered politics, Braman has showered him with donations, hundreds of thousands of dollars of assistance, by the New York Times' estimation. He even gave Rubio's wife a job as an adviser to his family foundation. Back in 2008, Braman predicted that Rubio would be the first Hispanic president. Seeing that happen in 2016, he told the Times recently, is "part of my legacy." Rubio, meanwhile, has shoveled public money to causes dear to Braman, including a cancer research center bearing his name. 

Another accusation--or perhaps compliment--dogs Rubio. That he is the Republican Obama. 

Like Mr. Obama, he's so devoid of substance you can imagine him to be anything you want him to be.

Billionaire Lifts Marco Rubio, Politically and Personally (MICHAEL BARBARO and STEVE EDER, MAY 9, 2015, NY Times)

A detailed review of their relationship shows that Mr. Braman, 82, has left few corners of Mr. Rubio's world untouched. He hired Mr. Rubio, then a Senate candidate, as a lawyer; employed his wife to advise the Braman family's philanthropic foundation; helped cover the cost of Mr. Rubio's salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and gave Mr. Rubio access to his private plane.

The money has flowed both ways. Mr. Rubio has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman's favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami institute for which Mr. Braman is a major donor.

Even in an era dominated by super-wealthy donors, Mr. Braman stands out, given how integral he has been not only to Mr. Rubio's political aspirations but also to his personal finances.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


VA Hospital Care Improving, Study Suggests (Amy Norton, 2/09/16, HealthDay)

Researchers found that between 2010 and 2013, men treated for a heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia at a VA hospital were slightly less likely to die in the next month, compared to similar men treated at a non-VA center.

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Yield on Japan's 10-year bonds falls below zero (Phillip Inman, 9 February 2016, The Guardian)

A rush to "safe-haven assets" has sent the interest rate on Japanese 10-year bonds plummeting below zero, the first time in the history of government debt that the yield on a G7 country's 10-year bonds has been negative.

The interest rate on the 10-year Japanese government bond (JGB) touched minus 0.01% in trading on Tuesday.

And Japan is not a safe haven.  Only the US is.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


A Party on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Ross Douthat, FEBRUARY 8, 2016, NY Times)

Sadly no political technologist has yet pioneered that kind of retroactive excision, so Rubio is going into the final forty-eight hours in New Hampshire with a bad debate moment that plays directly into his foes' main line of attack -- that he's a callow scripted smoothie -- hanging over his head. Which, in turn, raises the odds that someone else might be the candidate of late deciders ... and after a debate in which nobody laid a glove on him, that someone else could very well be John Kasich, who has the distinction of being the establishment Republican least equipped for a long drawn-out post-New Hampshire primary campaign.

At which point we would be in truly chaotic territory, in which the Republican Party's ideological center, such as it is, would have great difficulty holding. A Rubio-Cruz-Trump race, as I've pointed out before, would already be the most ideologically consequential primary battle the G.O.P. has featured in decades if not generations. But at least it would be a relatively orderly battle, in which most of the party leadership would end up behind the Florida senator, rather than turning the knives on one another. If Rubio can't consolidate things, though -- if he falls into a tie with Jeb, let's say, while Kasich is alone in second place -- then we're in a situation where Jeb might stick around till Florida and Kasich till Ohio, both on March 15th, an eternity away.

If Trump wins tonight but is below thirty percent and a governor (either Kasich or Jeb) beats Cruz and Rubio, then it's open for Jeb in SC.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


ISIS 'is not sustainable' -- here's the latest sign the group is losing (Jeremy Bender, Feb. 8, 2016, Business Insider)

These blows have significantly lowered the amount of capital ISIS has on hand -- the militants announced in January that fighters in Iraq and Syria would be suffering from a 50% pay cut across the board. 

"These issues suggest that as an entity that is determined to hold onto territory, the Islamic State is not sustainable," Jacob Shapiro, an expert on ISIS and a Princeton University politics professor, told WaPo. 

Indeed, the pay cuts and battlefield losses have led to higher instances of both "for-profit militants" in ISIS's ranks looking "for better deals" with other factions, as well as a decrease in the number of foreign fighters flowing into the group's ranks, Vera Mironova, an expert at Harvard University's Belfer Center, told WaPo. 

This decline in replenishing foreign fighters has cut the ability of ISIS to operate as effectively. ISIS is also further hampered by Turkey's decision to more tightly patrol its southern border, which has limited the ability for potential recruits to flow into Syria.

Ankara and the US are also in talks to train a Sunni Arab paramilitary force that would function on the Syrian side of the border in an effort to fully disrupt ISIS's ability to bring in supplies and fighters. 

Such setbacks are ripe for causing unrest amongst the various factions operating within the militant organization. ISIS already suffers from deep divisions between foreign and local fighters within its organization, and a series of continued losses is likely to only further increase tensions among the competing forces in the group. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


The Anxiety Of Being Marco Rubio : Rubio's flustered debate performance revealed something his close friends and allies have long known about him. "Marco, calm down." This story is partially adapted from my book, The Wilderness. (McKay Coppins, 2/09/16, Buzz Feed)

Millions of people watched Marco Rubio's televised tailspin in the opening minutes of last weekend's Republican presidential debate -- but what, exactly, they saw depended on the viewer.

To rivals, Rubio's reflexive retreat to the same snippet of well-rehearsed rhetoric -- over and over, and over, and over again -- was proof of the freshman senator's status as a lightweight. To supporters, the wobbly display was a forgivable fluke, one bad moment blown wildly out of proportion by a bloodthirsty press corps.

But to those who have known him longest, Rubio's flustered performance Saturday night fit perfectly with an all-too-familiar strain of his personality, one that his handlers and image-makers have labored for years to keep out of public view. Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness -- and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined.

This jittery restlessness has manifested itself throughout Rubio's life, from high school football games in Miami to high-profile policy fights in Washington -- and in some ways, it's been the driving force in his rapid political rise.
When Rubio was nearing the end of his final term as Speaker of the Florida House in 2008, he invited a small circle of loyal donors, local activists, and friendly media figures to an intimate breakfast meeting at Miami's Biltmore Hotel to help him plot his next move. The consensus at the table was that he should wait for the right statewide race to open up -- attorney general, maybe, or even governor. But Rubio, feeling the familiar itch of the achievement junkie, was distressed by the prospect of patiently waiting around. The next race he could conceivably enter was for the Miami-Dade mayorship, and according to people familiar with the meeting, Rubio worked himself into a minor tizzy trying to convince his skeptical breakfast companions that he should run: What if his donors got poached while he was out of the spotlight? What if his supporters abandoned him? He could be finished in politics if he screwed this up!

As his voice betrayed a growing agitation, some at the table began exchanging sideways glances, perplexed by the spectacle and slightly embarrassed for Rubio. Finally, Ninoska Pérez Castellón, a popular local radio personality who frequently interviewed Rubio on air, felt it necessary to interject with some tough love.

"Marco!" she snapped. "You could be governor, or even in Congress! You don't want to burn yourself as mayor of Dade County." Slow down and stop worrying so much, she told him. "People aren't going to forget you."

As one of the breakfast attendees recalled of the scene, "He was just missing that sense of maturity you want."

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


The VAT: Coming soon to a campaign stop near you (Alan D. Viard, February 8, 2016, AEI)

Although VATs and other consumption taxes have the same work disincentives as income taxes, they avoid the saving and investment disincentives that are built into income taxes. Replacing much of the income tax system with a VAT, as the Cruz and Paul plans would do, therefore has the potential to increase investment and long-run economic growth. 

Especially as we transfer more wealth to universal investment accounts, we'll want people to save/invest, not spend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


'Make fascism great again': German Carnival float mocks Donald Trump (Becca Stanek, 2/09/16, The Week)
As Germans kicked off their annual Carnival celebration Monday with huge parades, Donald Trump was right there with them -- well, his head was, at least. The city of Düsseldorf's parade featured a massive papier mâché bust of the Republican presidential candidate atop a float.

The float depicts Trump crying over his recent defeat in the Iowa caucuses while simultaneously yelling at the Statue of Liberty, who is sticking her tongue out at him. Trump's campaign slogan is reimagined and painted on his infamous hair: "Make fascism great again."

Embedded image permalink

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Donald Trump's foul mouth is just a cover for his ignorance (Michael Gerson, February 8, 2016, Washington Post)

In real life, expletives are often used as a form of aggression or cruelty. A co-worker who tells you to Trump yourself is usually being unpleasant. A co-worker who does this every day is often creating a hostile or demeaning work environment. Language suitable for decent company is a form of politeness, which is a species of respect, which is an expression of morality. And if I am the last holdout on this issue, so be it. I don't really give a damn.

Win or lose, Trump has brought the language and sensibilities of cable TV to presidential politics. This is a relatively small transgression in a campaign that has involved groundbreaking appeals to ethnic and religious resentment. But there is a rhetorical strategy at work here worth noting. In recent rallies, Trump -- in addition to telling people to go "F---" themselves -- said he would "beat the s---" out of anyone attacking us and has now charmingly (and by "charmingly" I mean loathsomely) called Ted Cruz a "p----." Trump identifies crudity with populism, as if using words of four letters were a protest against prim elites. Rough language is intended to convey strength and authenticity. On both counts, it amounts to deception.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


North Korea's satellite is tumbling in orbit (Catherine Garcia, 2/09/16, The Week)

The satellite launched by North Korea on Saturday is tumbling in orbit, rendering it useless, a U.S. official said Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


What Republicans Lose If Jeb Bush Fails (Francis Wilkinson, 2/09/16, Bloomberg View)

The Republican National Committee's famously ineffectual "Growth and Opportunity Project," issued in early 2013, urged the party to pass comprehensive immigration reform as a way to reach out to Hispanic and Asian voters who had shunned the party's 2012 nominee. That didn't happen. In this campaign, Trump has dominated the debate, lingering over the fine points of deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom are Hispanic and many of whom have American family or friends.

Rubio has probably worn out his welcome with voters who care about this -- on both sides of the divide. He ran against "amnesty" in his 2010 race before making immigration reform his baby and then, when the going got tough, abandoned it to the wolves. Conservative immigration restrictionists don't appear willing to forgive or forget; many revile Rubio for switching sides. Apparently, he elicits similar feelings among many immigration supporters. One activist assured me that if Rubio makes it into a general election, he will face blistering criticism, including in Spanish, for his betrayal. [...]

But Bush's family cuts two ways. His Mexican-American wife represents a visceral commitment to immigration, assimilation and a broad definition of the American Dream. Bush is obviously comfortable in Hispanic culture. And he would be able to make the case, speaking in fluent Spanish himself if necessary, that he stuck to his pro-immigration stand, risked his campaign by battling Trump and the demagogues -- and won. That could be worth a lot.

A December poll of battleground states by Latino Decisions, whose principals also work for Clinton's campaign, showed Bush was the only Republican candidate with a net positive rating among Hispanic voters. (Rubio, by contrast, was a net -8.)

Moreover, Bush is knowledgeable enough to think on his feet and experienced, having spent eight years as a popular governor of one of the largest states. Just in case some Republicans out there still think evidence that a candidate can actually succeed at the job is in any way relevant.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Fake-Rothko Trial Makes Stock Market Look Perfectly Sensible (Katya Kazakina, February 9, 2016, Bloomberg)

Art dealer Ann Freedman spent the past two weeks as a defendant in a $25 million fraud trial in a Manhattan federal courtroom. Today, she is expected to testify for the plaintiffs, following a mid-trial settlement of the claim against her by Sotheby's Chairman Domenico De Sole.

De Sole and his wife, Eleanore, sued Freedman, former president of the Knoedler & Co. gallery in New York, for selling them an $8.3 million painting by Mark Rothko in 2004 that later turned out to be a forgery painted by a Chinese immigrant in Queens. The De Soles also sued Knoedler, a once-prominent, now shuttered Manhattan gallery, and holding company 8-31 Holdings Inc. The De Soles settled with Freedman on Sunday, but the dealer's anticipated testimony will be part of their ongoing dispute with Knoedler.

The trial is airing usually secretive details of high-end art transactions and making public the dicey nature of the authentication process. Witness testimony and court exhibits underscore how the trade's opacity compared with other financial markets can make it vulnerable to manipulation.

"At the time it didn't cross my mind they were selling fake art," De Sole told the jury last month.

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


Marco Rubiobot Still Stuck in 'Repeat' Mode (Margaret Hartmann, 2/09/16, NY Mag)

After imploding during Saturday night's debate, Marco Rubio's only hope was to keep campaigning in New Hampshire and finish in the top tier of Tuesday's primary. With time, perhaps people would forget that he repeated the same Obama attack line four times, just as they got over the Poland Spring incident. The plan might have worked, but unfortunately, the Florida senator's only method of dealing with pressure is to wrap himself in the warm, comforting embrace of memorized talking points.

At an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday night, Rubio explained that he and his wife are "raising our four children in the 21st century" (clarifying that he is raising his kids in the present day is not the flub). After completing his sentence about the difficulty of teaching kids good values, Rubio went ahead and repeated the line...

Welcome to Westworld!

February 8, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


Pop Goes the Marco Bubble (SCOTT MCCONNELL, February 8, 2016, American Conservative)

Those most familiar with Rubio may have thought him an appealing politician, but pointed to problems. Some noted that the nicely crafted answers he delivered to various questions were always scripted or that he avoided spontaneous exchanges with the press. Then there was the undeniable fact that he had few legislative accomplishments in the Senate, and, remarkably, his campaign couldn't even manage to put a positive gloss on the record. He hadn't really led anything, ever. But snarky descriptions by New York Times columnist Gail Collins ("a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points") or Chris Christie ("boy in the bubble") or (at a considerably less influential level) myself  ("Chatty Cathy") were hardly going to stop the GOP rush to anointing Rubio.

Jeb Bush's mordant ads quoting Rubio endorser Rick Santorum saying that Rubio had "no accomplishments" in the Senate might slow things a bit, but nothing Jeb has done in this election cycle has really succeeded. And if Rubio, buoyed by a surge of positive press and rising in the national polls after Iowa, finished a strong second in New Hampshire, the "party would decide" and not that much would stand in the way of a Rubio presidency. To be precise, Ted Cruz and three others, each pushing, or surpassing, 70 years of age: Trump, Clinton and Sanders, all who have their strengths, but also obvious weaknesses--against a well-funded, very polished, Gen-X candidate.

No one thinks that Chris Christie aided his own chances by attacking Rubio. But there are other things in politics besides winning. Rubio's super PAC had been slamming Christie on the New Hampshire airwaves since last fall, making mountains out of molehills (Christie's "support" of a Senate vote to confirm or reject Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor). Plus, they are human. How do you think Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor and two-term governor who can talk administrative nuts and bolts till the cows come home and mesmerize a room with off-the-cuff digressions, feels about getting swamped by someone with no record to speak of, whose every campaign utterance seems to have been written by someone else, focus-grouped, and memorized before delivery?

So Christie was going to try to lower the boom on Saturday night. He has been talking all week about the "boy in the bubble." No one knew if he would have an opportunity. And everyone also assumed Rubio would be prepared. Yet as Christie put it in a Sunday afternoon town hall, quoting former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, "everyone is prepared until you get a punch in the mouth."

I don't think there is any observer of the race who expected Rubio to collapse as quickly as he did. He tried to retort to Christie with jibes at his New Jersey record, but Christie had it covered. Then Rubio reached for his Obama script trying to tap into the contradictory Republican trope: Obama is a lightweight with no accomplishments (the same charge sometimes leveled at Rubio); Obama is the malevolent semi-dictator who knows exactly what he is doing in a scheme to despoil America. He said it not once, but four times. Four. People were shocked. Chris Matthews wondered, during the post-debate interviews, whether Rubio was exhibiting symptoms of some sort of brain damage, and in one of the more hilarious moments of the election cycle, asked brain surgeon Ben Carson for his evaluation. The Twitter storm, indicative of what Rubio will endure so long as he remains the race, was both hysterical and brutal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Are Donald Trump and his rivals a big joke? (PJ O'Rourke, 2/08/16, BBC)

Like many jokes, Trump is a manifestation of discomfort and anxiety.

America is a pretty good place. By world-historical standards it's an excellent place. And yet, according to opinion polls, almost two-thirds of Americans think the country is "on the wrong track".

What has got Americans so worried? The technological revolution is unsettling. So are rapid social shifts involving everything from immigrants to gender roles and sexuality. The global economy is shaky. And America's political establishment is so bitterly divided that we can't get bipartisan agreement on whether the sun will come up. (Republicans call predictions of dawn "unproven climate change science".)

So, for a laugh, a lot of Republicans are claiming to support a cartoon character - an over-confident blustery bigot, a self-inflated one-man business boom who claims he can make a deal with the devil that will have the angels of heaven lining up to buy condos in Trump Tower Hell.

Like many jokes, it's not very funny.

Trump's Democratic Party opposite number is Bernie Sanders. Bernie repeats the pieties of the 1960s New Left with a straight face, as deadpan as Trump is clownish.

Bernie seems a bit foggy on things that have happened since Woodstock, especially in the realm of foreign affairs. Bernie doesn't know the Berlin Wall fell and doesn't know he's still standing on the wrong side of it.

Most of Bernie's support comes from people who weren't born when his ideas were in vogue. They're too young to know that what Bernie says may sound like it makes sense during the dorm room bull session, but sooner or later you have to put the bong down and exhale.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


David's Secret Weapon : The real message of the battle with Goliath is not that the underdog wins, but that things are not always as they are seen. (IDO HEVRONI, FEB. 4 2016, Mosaic)

David immediately volunteers to fight Goliath. But Saul takes one look at the inexperienced young shepherd standing before him, concludes that he cannot possibly prevail against the fearsome giant, and rejects his proposal out of hand. David, unable for reasons of prudence to divulge the true source of his confidence--namely, that God has chosen him to succeed Saul--attempts to rebut the king's arguments.

To the charge that he is too young, David replies that he indeed has had battle experience: he killed a lion and a bear that threatened his flock. This may also bring to mind the tales of classical Greek heroes--in this case Hercules, who vanquished the Nemean lion and wore its hide as a sign of his triumph. But David's fight with the lion and bear occurs only, as it were, offstage and on his own report; nor has he appeared on the battlefield draped in the spoils. Instead of flaunting his prowess visually, he shows his cards verbally and only when necessary, reiterating that, however formidable Goliath seems to Saul and the others, the Philistine's declaration of war against God must not go unheeded.

Eliciting no response from the king, David presses his trump card: "The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." The invocation of God's name finally persuades Saul that the boy is acting out of the right motives and may even have a chance of winning. He equips David with his own armor and weaponry, which are strikingly similar to Goliath's: bronze helmet, body armor, and sword. (Divine assistance or not, Saul evidently puts a high premium on personal protection.) But David soon discovers that they are too heavy, and removes them. Significantly, the Hebrew verb describing this action shares the same root as the verb describing the departure of God's spirit from Saul.

Instead of Saul's regalia, David arms himself with a shepherd's accoutrements: smooth stones, a sling, and a stave. He conceals the stones in a bag and carries the sling, a mere leather strap, inconspicuously in his hand. Only the stave is in plain view. Thus equipped with the flimsiest of weapons, he goes out to battle Goliath's mobile fortress.

Under ordinary circumstances, Goliath would no doubt have conducted the battle in a Greek-like manner: first throwing the javelin from behind the shelter of his shield, then approaching David carefully with sword at the ready. In order to render the giant vulnerable, David must turn his own weaknesses into strengths by neutralizing those two main advantages while positioning himself within his sling's ideal striking distance. This he effectuates by deception.

First, by keeping the stones hidden and displaying the stave prominently, he causes Goliath to assume that the latter is his primary weapon. Next, he responds to Goliath's pre-battle harangue with a speech giving the impression that he relies mainly on supernatural assistance, thereby tempting the giant into laying aside both javelin and shield in favor of hand-to-hand combat. While moving toward his opponent, Goliath is left exposed, and at this moment David pulls out a stone and slings it into Goliath's forehead. The stone stuns the giant; David runs up, dispatches him with his own sword, and cuts off his head. David's heroism is plain for all to see.

This is not merely a story of the triumph of smarts over brute strength; it is a story about two basically different worldviews. Goliath, whose main asset is his fearsome appearance, is not one to look beyond the obvious. Saul, who himself benefits from his looks, sees things similarly, and so do the Israelites. David, by contrast, is accustomed to being underestimated--by his father, by his brothers, by Samuel, and by the king--and perhaps for that reason is able to see beyond appearances. And now he also knows that God has chosen him. Rather than being intimidated into submission by Goliath, he coolly analyzes the giant's defenses, ascertains his weaknesses, and, presenting himself as a harmless shepherd boy, turns Goliath's misperception to his advantage.

This tension between appearance and reality lies at the heart of the entire story.

The reality is that the sling is simply a superior weapon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Ted Cruz, Hometown Anti-Hero (Mimi Swartz, FEB. 8, 2016, NY Times)

Maybe some of it is his attitude toward Houston. The Cruzes have never seemed all that interested in weaving themselves into the social fabric of the city -- something that, frankly, has never been that hard to do. Mr. Cruz left town in the late '90s to make his way in Washington and then in Austin, and didn't return until 2008. He soon started looking at a run for state attorney general, before laying more ambitious plans. The fact that he and his wife, Heidi, and their two young daughters live in a luxury high rise seems telling in that just-passing-through way. (Robert Durst owned a condo in the same building, though he never moved in. Perhaps just as well: Try to conjure a Cruz-Durst elevator conversation.)

Then, too, Houstonians detest people who give themselves airs, probably because so many people here -- like Mr. Cruz himself -- are self-made. Mr. Cruz maybe missed that memo. A woman who, as a high school student, met the young Mr. Cruz in a study group recalled the encounter in an essay on Medium this way: "When we are introduced, it's the first time I feel as if someone has sized me up, found me wanting and moved on -- all before I finish 'hello.' " Mr. Cruz seems to have made a similar impression on a lot of locals, including some of the crazy-rich Houstonians who have zillions parked with Goldman Sachs in funds managed by Mrs. Cruz.

It didn't start out this way. The Houston Chronicle was enthused in 2012. "He is young, smart, telegenic and Hispanic," it purred after Mr. Cruz was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention that summer. But more recently, the paper -- ever loyal to the Bushes -- has cooled to Mr. Cruz.

After his star turn in the government shutdown of 2013, The Chronicle ran an editorial titled "Why We Miss Kay Bailey Hutchison." Ms. Hutchison, of course, was Mr. Cruz's highly effective three-term Republican predecessor in the Senate. "Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution," it noted.

Last year, it criticized the junior senator again: Mr. Cruz didn't seem to be "in Washington to get things done for his state," which even other conservative ideologues from Texas, like Phil Gramm and John Cornyn, have managed to do in the Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


UAE says ready to support anti-IS coalition with troops (Reuters, 2/07/16)

Asked whether the UAE could be expected to send ground troops to Syria, and if so under what circumstances, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said:

"I think that this has been our position throughout ... that a real campaign against Daesh has to include ground elements," he said, referring to Islamic State's name using the Arabic acronym.

Saudi Arabia, one of several Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states, including the UAE, who are opposed to Islamic State, said last week it was ready to participate in any ground operations in Syria if the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants decided to start such operations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Jeb is the Candidate Who Will Keep America Safer, Stronger, Freer (Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla, Feb 8, 2016. NH Journal)

I have a certain fondness for New Hampshire. My name is emblazoned on many sites here: schools, a college, roads, highways, places of business, and many more. Many people have asked me through the years whether I am related to the original Daniel Webster. My grandmother assured me that I was a distant relative.

After spending many years in the minority in the state legislature, Republicans won the majority of the House in 1996, and I was elected the Speaker of the House ­ the first Republican to occupy the chair in 122 years.

Two years later, Floridians roundly elected Jeb Bush as their governor. I served with Jeb, and he was a great leader of our state.

As governor, Jeb had ambitious goals for our state. Our state had been dominated by one party control for so long that rank waste was pervasive in our system. Much like Washington, Tallahassee worked to protect bureaucracy and power while ruling over the great people of our state instead of serving them. Jeb immediately set to work fixing the problems.

Governor Bush worked to reduce Floridians' taxes by nearly $20 billion. He repealed a particularly bad policy that allowed the state to tax seniors and savers on their lifesavings.

While Jeb worked to cut taxes, he also reduced the size of our government. He required each state agency to come up with a simple, concise mission statement. Any program that the agency administered that did not fit directly with that statement was removed. He also vetoed billions of dollars in waste and balanced the budget every year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Unctuous Genius of Ted Cruz : How the candidate turned naked careerism into a winning campaign strategy. (Franklin Foer, 2/08/16, Slate)

The essence of Ted Cruz can be found in his tennis game. To put it mildly, he isn't a natural, except at firing shots into the fence surrounding the court. He came to the sport late in life--and only then with a very specific goal in mind. As he prepared to clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, he studied the ways he could get on his boss' good side. He understood that he would only get close to the chief if he shared his passion for tennis. So in the months before his clerkship, Cruz paid for lessons that he hoped would make him a passable doubles partner, a perpetual necessity for Rehnquist. By all accounts, you would rather have Cruz on the opposite side of the court, a fact that quickly dawned on Rehnquist. "Ted," he would scold, " you do know the point of the game is to win, don't you?"

We have a name for this sort of behavior--it's called careerism. And it's the reason that so many people in Washington despise Ted Cruz. He is always angling for the next thing, methodically seeking out patrons and nakedly pandering to them.

Ted Cruz's careerism was so heavy-handed that it often failed. His campaign to win a top job in the George W. Bush administration notoriously backfired, despite his constantly volunteering to prep the candidate for debates and his ferocious service to the Florida recount legal brigade. Instead of a job, he earned mockery. Bush liked to call him "Theodore," not his proper name and a moniker that Cruz despised. According to Politico, Bush has told donors, "I just don't like the guy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The Shocking Truth: Colin Powell's Emails Don't Matter (Kurt Eichenwald , 2/08/16, Newsweek)

Start with this: Powell and Rice, like all modern secretaries of state, each had at least two email accounts--one personal and the other for communications designated as highly classified at the time of their creation. For classified information, both of them--and their aides with appropriate clearance--had a sensitive compartmented information facility, or what is known in intelligence circles as a SCIF. Most senior officials who deal with classified information have a SCIF in their offices and their homes.

These are not just extra offices with a special lock. Each SCIF is constructed following complex rules imposed by the intelligence and defense communities. Restrictions imposed on the builders are designed to ensure that no unauthorized personnel can get into the room, and the SCIF cannot be accessed by hacking or electronic eavesdropping. A group called the technical surveillance countermeasures team (TSCM) investigates the area or activity to check that all communications are protected from outside surveillance and cannot be intercepted.

Most permanent SCIFs have physical and technical security, called TEMPEST. The facility is guarded and in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week; any official on the SCIF staff must have the highest security clearance. There is supposed to be sufficient personnel continuously present to observe the primary, secondary and emergency exit doors of the SCIF. Each SCIF must apply fundamental red-black separation to prevent the inadvertent transmission of classified data over telephone lines, power lines or signal lines.

I could keep going for thousands and thousands of words explaining the security measures used for SCIFs. And all of this--all of this--is designed to protect the confidentiality of emails and communications determined to be classified at the time of transmission.

In addition to the classified email system used in SCIFs, there are personal email accounts. Prior to 2013, these could be accounts inside the relatively unsecure State Department system or private email accounts. If they are private--running through a commercial or personal server--they have to follow some rules set up in the Federal Register. There are no guards, no red-black procedures, no construction rules, no special rooms, no TEMPEST, no TSCM. And most important: Until 2013, there was no rule against using them. In fact, the rules specifically allowed for them. Check out the relevant section in the Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR Chapter XII, Subchapter B, section 1236.22b) for the rules regarding the use of personal email accounts by any State Department official.

To give an idea of how insecure these communications could be, Powell's personal email is an AOL account, and he used it on a laptop when he communicated with foreign officials and ambassadors, unless the information qualified for a SCIF. (Clinton sent only one email to a foreign dignitary through her personal account, and her communications with ambassadors were, for the most part, by phone.)

So did Powell and the aides to Rice violate rules governing classified information, since the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) staff has recently determined that some of their years-old personal emails contain top-secret material? No. The rules regarding the handling of classified information apply to communications designated as secret at that time. If documents that aren't deemed classified and aren't handled through a SCIF when they are created or initially transmitted are later, in retrospect, deemed secret, the classification is new--and however the record was handled in the past is irrelevant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Trump's Tirade Suggests Jeb's Jabs Are Hitting the Mark (Rob Garver, February 8, 2016, Fiscal Times)

In an epic rant on CNN Monday afternoon, Donald Trump went after former Florida governor Jeb Bush, calling him "desperate," "sad and pathetic" and an "embarrassment to his family." The tirade, delivered via telephone almost immediately after the network broadcast an interview with Bush, suggested that Bush's attacks are starting to get under the billionaire presidential frontrunner's skin.

Bush, who has been one of the few members of the Republican presidential field willing to criticize Trump directly in the party's televised debates, tweeted an uncharacteristically harsh statement about Trump Monday morning:

.@realDonaldTrump, you aren't just a loser, you are a liar and a whiner. John McCain is a hero. Over and out.

-- Jeb Bush (@JebBush) February 8, 2016 [...]

When asked about the tone of his tweet by CNN correspondent Dana Bash, Bush replied, "Well, he is a whiner and I'm defending the honor of people I respect. I think that's more than appropriate. I do this with joy in my heart because I do believe that this country is the most extraordinary country on the face of the earth."

Describing himself a "joyful warrior," Bush said he was not willing to stand idle while Trump is "trying to hijack" the GOP.

The Donald's behavior over the last 4 days suggests the internal polls are disastrous.
Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Rouhani calls for more Iranian women to 'lean in' to politics (Arash Karami, February 8, 2016, Al Monitor)

Rouhani said that women's rights in Iran have come a long way since the first days of the 1979 revolution. He recalled that during those days, there were some clerics with "extreme ideologies" who had religious objections to women participating in protests. The clerics had gone as far as asking women to not chant slogans so that their voices would not be heard by unrelated men. Rouhani said that the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had rejected these extreme opinions and said that women were encouraged to both protest in the streets and chant slogans.

Rouhani also recalled how after the revolution, some had objected to female participation in the elections and female anchors sitting next to male anchors during news programs on state television. He said that Iran has now "passed this phase." Rouhani also said that this view toward women is not unique to Iran, that even in the 20th century in Europe some women were not allowed to attend college or vote. He added that in Iran, "We do not accept feminism, but we also do not accept fanaticism."

Despite the progress, according to Rouhani, women must now push for their role in society. "Women must themselves enter the arena and show their capacity and capability," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


4 in 10 GOP Voters Say They Could Change Their Minds in New Hampshire (RYAN STRUYK  Feb 8, 2016, ABC News)

A large chunk of the New Hampshire electorate says they're still willing to change their allegiances -- just a day before the primary.

More than four in 10 likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire say they still could change their minds before tomorrow's primary, according to new polls out yesterday and today. A CNN/WMUR/UNH poll shows that less than half of likely Republican voters say they have "definitely decided" who they're going to vote for.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Marco Rubio wants to kill the capital gains tax. That's insane. (Jeff Spross, February 8, 2016, The Week)

[N]ow might be a good time to discuss that Rubio wants to do something that is, even by GOP standards, rather wild: He wants to scrap all taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains from stocks.

This means he wants to get rid of all taxes on income from wealth ownership, and only tax income from labor -- i.e. wages.

His reasons are based on a simple philosophy held by many economists, including many liberal ones: Our tax system should encourage investment. Dividends and capital gains and interest are income people earn on stocks and bonds that they own. Stocks and bonds, in turn, are investment: When they're bought, that money allows business and individuals to create new capital, like office space and computers and tractors and roads. It enlarges the economy's total capacity to do productive stuff.

why would you even want to punish people for making money? Or for saving/investing it?  Tax them when they spend it.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


How Chris Christie exposed Marco Rubio as an untrustworthy pretender (James Poulos, February 8, 2016, The Week)

Marco Rubio was never easy for many of my fellow conservatives to trust. Back in his 2010 Florida Senate race, he was the Tea Party-fueled alternative to Democrat Kendrick Meek and RINO-bot Charlie Crist. Since then, he's changed any number of times, clearly revealing his grand designs on power. With potential like this, who needs integrity?

This dynamic was abundantly clear in Saturday night's GOP debate. Rubio blew it. That conventional wisdom solidified mere minutes after debate's end, and with the New Hampshire primary just days away.

Rubio's Bad Debate (DANIEL LARISON, February 8, 2016, American Conservative)

The exchange with Christie was most damaging for Rubio because it reinforced several criticisms of him at once. He often comes across as excessively scripted, and on Saturday he was so scripted that he seemed incapable of moving away from his rehearsed attack on Obama. He couldn't drop the line even when repeating it confirmed what Christie was saying about him. The line itself was almost Palinesque in its phrasing ("let's dispel with this fiction"), and showed a certain desperation that Rubio doesn't usually display on stage. When Rubio is prepared for an attack, he can usually deflect it easily with a memorized retort as he did against Bush last year, but when he's caught off guard as he was Saturday he doesn't know what to do. He also tried to counter-attack and said that Christie had to be "shamed" into returning home during the recent snowstorm, which prompted a loud chorus of boos from the audience. He was hit hard, and then wasn't able to hit back effectively. Rubio's critics have long considered him overrated, and on Saturday the debate audience got to see a little of why we think so.

Rubio has been treated so favorably in the media for so long that he isn't accustomed to being challenged as directly as Christie challenged him, and he doesn't seem to handle scrutiny and criticism all that well. Furthermore, Rubio retreated to his talking points because he was being challenged on the thinness of his record in the Senate. He had to fall back on his anti-Obama lines because he doesn't have a significant legislative record that he can cite in his defense.

One of the particularly appalling aspects of groupthink is the tendency to dismiss any criticism as mere partisan attack.
Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


NARAL Angry at Doritos for Showing Baby Ultrasound, 'Humanizing Fetus,' in Super Bowl Ad (SAMUEL SMITH , 2/08/16, CP)

In a tweet following the Doritos commercial, NARAL argued that the advertisement used "antichoice tactics of humanizing fetuses."

#NotBuyingIt - that @Doritos ad using #antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses & sexist tropes of dads as clueless & moms as uptight. #SB50

-- NARAL (@NARAL) February 8, 2016
"#NotBuyingIt," the NARAL tweet states. "that @Doritos ad using #antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses & sexist tropes of dads as clueless & moms as uptight. #SB50."

Following the tweet, NARAL began to get pummeled on social media by hundreds of Twitter users who found NARAL's tweet to be ridiculous.

Doc Washburn, a radio talk show host in Little Rock, Arkansas, sent out a tweet asking NARAL what they believe a human fetus is.

"Humanizing fetuses"? What is mom preganant [sic] with? A potato? A duck?" Washburn asked. "Nope -- a human. Say it with me. She's a baby. @NARAL @Doritos"

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Marco Rubio's Debate Spinners Doing the World's Hardest Job (Jonathan Chait, 2/08/16, New York)

3. Rubio won because he did not literally die. Harris: "Chris Christie had one singular goal heading into the debate, which was to leave a body on the floor. He took his best shot, and he utterly failed." Rubio spokesman Alex Conant: "We came into this debate saying that the goal was to get through it, knowing that you have a bunch of candidates who are in a fight for their life. The other candidates came into this debate needing to knock Marco out and have a moment. They failed to knock Marco out, and the best moments of the debate belonged to Marco." And Harris again: "What Gov. Christie was trying to do was to knock Marco out, to kill him dead. He took his best shot, and he failed." Even if Rubio collapsed to the ground in the middle of Christie's attack and was wheeled out of the debate hall by emergency medical technicians to a hospital, the exchange would be a win for Rubio as long as he fulfilled the campaign's goal for him to remain alive.

Which reminds one of this scene:

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Here's what Rubio's 'glitch' of an answer was supposed to mean (David Weigel, February 7, 2016, Washington Post)

The rest of Rubio's answer, lost in the torrent of mockery, was this:

Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world. That's why he passed Obamacare and the stimulus and Dodd-Frank and the deal with Iran. It is a systematic effort to change America.

This should be familiar to anyone in the tea party movement, and especially familiar to anyone who's read the Obama-era work of Dinesh D'Souza. Starting with a 2009 cover story in Forbes, D'Souza posited that the president was "the last anticolonial," a man inculcated with anti-Western values, whose decisions were best understood if one asked how they weakened America.

"Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America," D'Souza wrote. "In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet."

Over the next few years, D'Souza adapted that thesis into a book and movie. He found common cause with Glenn Beck, who in his Fox News heyday portrayed every Obama decision as part of a long-term left-wing strategy to destroy wealth and empower the Third World. Beck obsessed over a stock phrase from Obama's 2008 stump speech -- that he would help "fundamentally transform America" -- and insisted that he had given the game away.

Was Rubio embracing that thesis? Not quite, but having been elected in the 2010 tea party wave, he knew the sentiment. There is a real divide between people who view the president as a vainglorious bumbler and those who view him as a plotter.

If they understood the world better they'd be freaking because he's a neocon....

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Statistically measuring 2016 presidential candidate electability: Evidence from prediction markets (Jonathan S. Hartley,Kevin A. Hassett, February 3, 2016 | AEI Economics Working Paper Series)

We use prediction market data from Betfair, the world's largest Internet betting exchange, to measure the electability of 2016 Presidential candidates using regressions that compare the general election contest and party nomination win probabilities for each candidate. [...]Across specifications, we find that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are the most electable, while Chris Christie and John Kasich also have high electability scores. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Ted Cruz Is Not Eligible to Be President (Eric Posner, 2/08/16, Slate)

The words natural born citizen, and their original meaning at the time that this constitutional clause was crafted, go a long way to answering this question. In founding-era America, like today, a person could be a citizen by virtue of birth on American territory; a citizen by virtue of a statute that granted citizenship to him at birth; a "naturalized" citizen, meaning one who entered the country as an alien but later obtained citizenship via a process determined by law; and a foreigner.

A natural born citizen cannot be a foreigner. Foreigners are not citizens. A natural born citizen cannot be a person who was naturalized. Those people are not born citizens; they're born aliens. Most important for the purposes of the Cruz question, a natural born citizen cannot be someone whose birth entitled him to citizenship because of a statute--in this case a statute that confers citizenship on a person born abroad to an American parent. In the 18th century, as now, the word natural meant "in the regular course of things." Then, as now, almost all Americans obtained citizenship by birth in this country, not by birth to Americans abroad. The natural way to obtain citizenship, then, was (and is) by being born in this country. Because Cruz was not "natural born"--not born in the United States--he is ineligible for the presidency, under the most plausible interpretation of the Constitution.

The historical background supports this view. In the founding era, it was possible--even common--for a head of state to be foreign born, and even to be a foreigner. The then-king of England--George III--descended from the German House of Hanover. His immediate predecessors--Georges I and II--were German born. William III--who came to power in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which initiated the constitutional monarchy headed by the Georges--was himself Dutch. In the 1600s, the crown was passed among another group of foreigners--the House of Stuart. James I, who was jointly king of England and Scotland, was Scottish born, as was his son, Charles I.

The English tolerated foreign rulers because the rules of dynastic succession were widely accepted at the time. But the English resented and distrusted their foreign monarchs. After deposing James II--who as a Catholic, and a cousin and ally of Louis XIV of France, was suspected of foreign sympathies--Parliament banned Catholics from the throne. Moreover, Parliament declared that the nation would not be obligated to fight in defense of foreign dominions of a British king who is not "a native of this Kingdom of England."

The founders admired the British form of government and modeled the president after the king. The risk that a person with foreign connections and sympathies might seize the presidency would have been uppermost in their minds when crafting the language that determined who could hold office. Other provisions in the Constitution ensured that members of Congress had significant attachments to the United States, though they could be foreign born; in the case of the presidency, the founders used stronger language.

February 7, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Venezuela Is About to Go Bust (JUAN CRISTÓBAL NAGEL, FEBRUARY 5, 2016, Foreign Policy)

Venezuela's economy is facing a tsunami of bad news. The country is suffering from the world's deepest recession, highest inflation rate, and highest credit risk -- all problems aggravated by plunging oil prices. Despite all its troubles, though, until now Venezuela has kept making payments on its $100-billion-plus foreign debt.

That is about to end. In recent days a consensus has emerged among market analysts: Venezuela will have to default. The only question is when.Venezuela will have to default. The only question is when.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Inside Peyton Manning's secret investigation into Al Jazeera documentary (Will Hobson and Justin Wm. Moyer February 4, 2016, Washington Post)

Five days before a documentary alleged that quarterback Peyton Manning and other star athletes had used performance-enhancing drugs, two men hired by Manning's lawyers visited the parents of the documentary's key witness. Both men wore black overcoats and jeans and, according to a 911 call from the house that evening, one initially said he was a law enforcement officer but didn't have a badge.

After they told their daughter to call 911 the night of Dec. 22, Randall and Judith Sly stepped outside to talk to the strangers, who clarified they were private investigators, not cops. They had come to this red brick house with a well-manicured lawn looking for the Slys' 31-year-old son, Charlie, a pharmacist who was the primary source in the upcoming documentary. [...]

The story Sly said he made up contained at least a bit of truth, though: The Guyer Institute did ship medication to Ashley Manning, Fleischer confirmed. 

Roger Clemens tried blaming his wife too.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Donald Trump really did try to take an elderly widow's house for a limousine parking lot (Timothy B. Lee, February 7, 2016, Vox)
One of the testiest exchanges in last night's Republican presidential debate came when Jeb Bush accused Donald Trump of trying to take the home of an elderly woman to make room for a limousine parking lot in Atlantic City. [...]

Trump's battle with Atlantic City resident Vera Coking in the 1990s is the ultimate example of this kind of Robin-Hood-in-reverse development scheme. Coking had lived in her home since the 1960s, and had turned down another developer's $1 million offer for her house in the 1980s.

In the mid-1990s, Trump tried to persuade her to sell her hom to make room for a parking lot for the Trump Plaza Hotel and [*****], which was located next door. When she refused, Trump got Atlantic City's [*****] Reinvestment Development Authority to threaten to take the property using eminent domain. If she'd accepted the offer, she would have gotten $250,000 -- a quarter of the price she was offered a decade earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Here's How You Know Marco Rubio's Robot Gaffe Is Serious : It won't be easy for his campaign to reboot after this. (David Corn | Sun Feb. 7, 2016, Mother Jones)

Post "Marcobot," the media tale is quite different. Is Rubio ready? Is there any there there? Can this guy think on his feet? Does he have the smarts to be president? He can expect the press to keep a watchful eye on his words and note his penchant for repeating a series of well-honed lines. (Which is, after all, what a stump speech is.) What this means is that Rubio's best asset could turn into a liability. Of all the candidates, he is the smoothest. His team has crafted powerful messages that cast him as a forward-looking, new-generation leader (with, of course, all the obligatory attacks on the president and Hillary Clinton). And Rubio is a talented performer who can utter these memorized passages--which contain few original policy details--with tremendous feeling, eloquence, and a dash of good humor. He tells his poignant son-of-an-immigrant story well. The man can look as if he is gazing right into the future. This is what got him to the point where establishment Republicans were wondering if he would be the one to save them from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Poof. That magic is gone. Or at least we now see the strings. And after the debate, Rubio is going to have to show he's not just a pretty face who can hit a rhetorical mark. (At the Derry event, a 48-year-old local woman, who was undecided, told me, "I'd do him." And she was wearing a wedding ring.) In Washington, Rubio has been privately derided by senators and staff as a show-horse and a light-weight. Christie's assault puts this version of Rubio into the spotlight.

And there's this. A few days ago, the Rubio campaign was telling reporters--not for quotation--that after the Iowa caucuses a trickle of money from Jeb Bush funders had started to flow into its coffers and that these funders were saying, "Let's talk after New Hampshire." But unless Rubio overcomes this screw-up and places a strong second, it's a good bet those Bush funders and other GOP moneybags will stick to a wait-and-see stance.

The morning after Rubio's malfunction, at a pancake breakfast in Londonderry--where Democrat operatives appeared in cardboard outfits depicting the candidate as "Marco Roboto"--Rubio offered his much-anticipated response to this stumble: "After last night's debate, everyone is saying, 'Oh, you repeated yourself.' Well I'm going to be saying it again." Meaning that he would persist in proclaiming that Obama knows what he's doing as he supposedly wrecks America. And on ABC News, Rubio said, uh, the same thing: "It's what I believe and it's what I'm going to continue to say, because it happens to be one of the main reasons why I am running."

On the 1985 gubernatorial campaign, I remember our consultants explaining why we repeated the same ads ad nauseum, because people have to see a commercial as many as twenty times before they begin to process its message.  They never told us to have the candidate do the same thing....

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


The average price of gasoline has dropped 8 cents over the past two weeks, to $1.82 a gallon (Associated Press Feb. 7, 2016)

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said Sunday that the price is 37 cents per gallon under its year-ago point.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera Has Charlotte's Latino Community Fired Up (MICHAEL TOMSIC, 2/07/16, NPR)

Oliver Merino, the Latino New South Coordinator at Levine Museum, says Rivera's story shows how the country is changing.

"You have people that are coming from very different places and finding themselves here in the U.S.," he says. "[They're] incorporating their culture and their traditions and also embracing new ones."

Hola Noticias, a local newspaper for the Hispanic community, has stepped up football coverage. Journalist Cesar Hurtado says as the Panthers pile up wins, more fans gravitate toward football.

"Our community starts to understand the game, understand the players and start to love them. It's growing," he says. [...]

The way Rivera puts it, he's happy to let people know who he is and where he comes from.

"I see myself as Latino. And I'm very proud of that fact," Rivera says. "And it's funny because people say you're a minority, you've gotten opportunities because you're a minority. I don't believe that for one second. I don't that believe you hire people because of their ethnicity. You hire people because they're the best."

Sunday night, Rivera and the Panthers will be trying their hardest to take that title -- the NFL's best.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


The Return of Jeb Bush : Why the goofy, patrician candidate is finally hitting his stride (Franklin Foer, 2/07/16, Slate)

The Republican establishment was on the brink of immolating Bush for wasting its money and cutting such a pathetic figure. But donors will hold off cashiering Bush, even if he finishes in the middle of the New Hampshire pack. Unlike his center-right rivals, he has the war chest and organization to sustain a national campaign. And despite the base's apparently conflicted feelings about his family's dynasty, Bush is the best ideological fit for his party. He hasn't transgressed any of its core concerns, never flip-flopped on the social issue or deviated from its devotion to the free-market faith. 

Bush has bought himself more time, at precisely the moment that he's corrected his candidacy. Watching him in New Hampshire, it's possible to see a candidate who has stopped overthinking things, who has learned to be something resembling himself.

This is supposedly the year of authenticity--every fourth year, as it turns out, the voters have a unique craving for authentic politicians. By the measure of this strange fixation, Bush may be the most authentic of the pack--patrician, goofy, a little flummoxed.

Seeing Bush press his case on the trail in New Hampshire, I was stunned by how he seemed high-energy, forceful, and confident. For the first few months of the campaign, Jeb seemed to be reliving his father's political weaknesses. He lacked a common touch. Just as his father was a prudent Yankee pretending to be an ideological Texan, Jeb ran from his background. Or rather, he could never quite figure out how to navigate the burden of his family's name and his brother's presidency.

Bush has now embraced the fact that he's a scion. Although he's kept his brother on the ranch, he brought his mother to the stump. In town hall meetings, he has begun to comfortably celebrate his brood. "The Bush thing, people need to get over it," he told a crowd in Bedford, in an extended riff about his love for his family. Even the phrasing of that willful claim of indifference echoed one of his father's idiosyncratic rhetorical tropes ("the vision thing"). Like his dad and grandfather, his presentation oozes with a New England prep school sense of noblesse oblige, talk of "servitude" and "purpose."

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Republican 'Normals' on the Rise (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/07/16, Bloomberg View)

Bush acts not just normal but normcore.

As the trendspotting group K-Hole wrote in the report that described the trend:

Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts in to sameness. But instead of appropriating an aestheticized version of the mainstream, it just cops to the situation at hand. To be truly Normcore, you need to understand that there's no such thing as normal.

That's Bush. His background is anything but normal -- he is the only politician whose father and brother were presidents. Yet his perfect ordinariness, a total lack of flash, his helplessness before Trump's goading in previous debates are a convincing and endearing persona. I saw him perform at a town hall on Saturday, wearing boring casual clothes any normcore adherent would appreciate and talking in the mild, almost inflectionless tones of an accountant thrust into a public role.

He opened with a lengthy tribute to his wife and family, the only candidate I have heard do this during his campaign. Bush is unapologetic about being part of his powerful clan, and his brother, his children and even his 90-year old mother are all campaigning for him. Anything different wouldn't be normal, though.

In his slightly hesitant voice, Bush said he liked fielding questions from his audience -- about the mess that is the Department of Veterans' Affairs, how he would replace Obamacare, what were his thoughts on mandatory military service -- much better than taking part in the debate, where questions, he said, "would probably be very stupid." He sounded sincere when talking about "the joy of service" and made much of not putting others down: that, he said, wasn't a sign of strength. 

The U.S., according to Bush, needs a "quieter" president -- one who wouldn't, for example, dismiss Russia as a "regional power" a month before it invades Crimea. Bush promised to be less divisive and more focused on efficiency than on making great speeches. He couldn't avoid sounding a little jealous of the people who could, but that was somehow nice, too: It was, well, normal.

Bush also had a better, more dignified answer than Hillary Clinton to the question of how he dealt with his billionaire donors. "People give me money because they know my record," he said. "I have never been affected by it, but it's really up to voters to decide. People are smarter about these things than the political class."

After months of media reports of his underperformance in the polls, one might expect a minimum of interest in his candidacy. At a Bedford elementary school on Saturday, however, he faced a capacity crowd. A number of people couldn't get in, and Bush spent time mingling with them in the street. Though some of these people were still undecided -- that's customary in New Hampshire, rendering the polls all but meaningless -- others have stuck with Bush through the bad times. 

I saw two of his supporters shake hands: They'd seen each other at a previous rally. "We're doing better, huh?" one of them, David Carmen, 58, a business consultant from Manchester, smiled at his acquaintance. I asked him why he thought so. "This state has a tradition of putting hype aside," Carmen said. "The country needs a good executive, and Jeb has the best record of the three governors, though the other two are good guys, too."

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Marco Rubio Defends His Repetition of Talking Point by Repeating Talking Point (Chas Danner, 2/07/16, ABC News)

After being shown how video of the repeated line had already been deployed as an attack ad by a SuperPAC supporting Hillary Clinton, Rubio maintained that he was happy about that. "Actually, I would pay them to keep running that clip, because that's what I believe passionately," he told somewhat skeptical host George Stephanopoulos, who reminded the Senator that he was "getting pounded" as a result of the repetition. An undeterred Rubio expanded his talking point on the show, changing it slightly to indicate that Obama's deliberate supposed-destruction of America was "not an accident"...

The only question now is whether Jeb can overtake Trump or whether he'll have to settle for second here and first in SC, with Nikki Haley by his side.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


"Hands Up Don't Abort" Posters Highlighting Epidemic of Abortions on Black Babies Cause Controversy (MICAIAH BILGER   FEB 4, 2016, Life News)

The posters read "Hands up, Don't Abort" and "Black Children are an Endangered Race" and included the website TooManyAborted.com and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, according to the Indy Star. On Monday, the Indiana college students also wrote messages such as "Womb = most dangerous place 4 black kids" in chalk on the sidewalks, the report states.

"[The] goal of doing this is really to bring to light ... how specifically the African American community, minorities in general, are being targeted by Planned Parenthood and being exploited in the name of empowering women," Purdue Students for Life President Kevin Lasher said.

The students said they were inspired to create the posters by pro-life African American Ryan Bomberger, founder of the Radiance Foundation. Bomberger's website, TooManyAborted.com, points out that abortion is the number-one killer of black lives in America. Government statistics back up Bomberger's statement. In New York City alone, more black babies are aborted every year than are born alive, LifeNews reported. Numbers from a 2012 National Vital Statistics Report also reveal that African American women experience an average of 1.6 times more pregnancies than white women, but have five times more abortions in their lifetime.

The abortion industry also has historically targeting minority women and their unborn babies ever since it began in America. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion chain, was a racist and eugenicist who targeted African American and poor families and advocated for "sterilization and segregation" and "a cleaner race." Currently, 79 percent of Planned Parenthood's surgical abortion facilities are located within walking distance of African American and/or Hispanic/Latino communities, according to research by Protecting Black Life.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


The Incredible Growing Dividend (Ben Carlson, 1/31/16, A Wealth of Common Sense)

According to Robert Shiller, from September 1929 to June 1932 the stock market fell 81% on a real basis, but real dividends only fell 11%. Isn't that astonishing? During the worst economic disaster our country has ever seen, companies only cut dividends a little over 10%. During the 1970s bear market in 1973 and 1974 the stock market fell 54% on a real basis, but real dividends fell just 6%.

I checked how dividends held up in the financial crisis from 2007-09, as well. From the peak in October 2007 to the bottom in March 2009, dividends on the S&P 500 actually rose slightly (although they fell roughly 19% about six months after the stock market bottomed). In the bear market from 2000-02, dividends dropped by just 2% even though the market got cut in half.

Next I looked the historical dividend data from Shiller over the past seventy years to see what the historical growth rates looked like [...]

This shows how often the rolling twelve month growth rates over one, three and five years for dividends on the S&P 500 were positive. Rarely do dividends fall and when they do it's not nearly as much as the stock market. Over all one year periods since 1945 the worst drop in dividends was a -19% fall. Over three year periods the worst drop was -18%. And dividends have never fallen over a five year period in that time.

Since 1945, total dividends paid are up sixty-six fold.

The average growth rates for one, three and five years were 5.8%, 19.8% and 33.9%, respectively. By investing in stocks you not only get fairly stable cash flows, but you also get an income stream that tends to grow faster than the rate of inflation. This is a highly under-appreciated aspect of investing in the stock market.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Pressure on Cameron as poll suggests voters edging towards Brexit (Warren Murray, 5 February 2016, The Guardian)

A new poll has suggested more Britons favour leaving the EU over staying in, with 45% supporting "Brexit" compared with 36% against, while a fifth remain undecided.

Transnationalism is an affectation of the intelligentsia, not a political force.
Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Are humans driving evolution in animals? (Prof Adam Hart, 2 February 2016, The Guardian)

Sitting down to a roast chicken dinner doesn't seem like an obvious opportunity to consider evolution. But it is.

Think about it: those big tasty carrots, that plump, tender chicken and those handsome potatoes all differ markedly from their natural ancestors.

A wild carrot is barely more than a slightly enlarged purple tap-root and red jungle fowl certainly don't have the extravagant cleavages found on modern broiler chickens.

The intentional selection of the qualities we like (such as flavour and size) in domesticated livestock and cultivated crops has led to descendent animals and plants that differ genetically from their ancestors. This change in gene frequency is evolution, and in this case has come about by a process called artificial selection.

Natural selection is basically the same process. 

Please contain your laughter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Islamic State losing recruits to casualties and desertions, says Washington (The Guardian, 4 February 2016)

Islamic State's contingent of fighters in Syria and Iraq has fallen from about 31,000 to 25,000 according to a US intelligence report revealed by the White House.

Officials in Washington cited battlefield casualties and desertions to explain the roughly 20% decrease and said the report showed a US-led campaign against Isis was making progress.

US-backed security forces in Iraq, and tribal militias and moderate opposition groups in Syria, contributed, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, alongside a US-led air campaign that has launched more than 10,000 strikes against the Islamist extremists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Rubio chokes : The Florida senator went into Saturday night's GOP debate with momentum. He ended it as a viral glitch sensation. (SHANE GOLDMACHER 02/06/16, Politico)

Marco Rubio knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night.

Marco Rubio knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night.

Marco Rubio knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night.

The problem was he flubbed it.

Rubio awkwardly pivoted four times to a well-rehearsed line that President Barack Obama "knows exactly what he's doing" as he tried to drill home the idea that he's the inevitable general election candidate - an unforced error that his rivals pounced on and that quickly went viral.

"There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody," Chris Christie charged.

It was a defining moment as Rubio's opponents successfully turned two of his greatest strengths -- his eloquence and message discipline -- against him in the final debate before the New Hampshire primary, casting the Florida senator as a lightweight leader who has been lifted by little more than lofty and canned rhetoric.

We Thought Marco Rubio Lost The Debate, But New Hampshire Might Think Differently (NATE SILVER, 2/07/16, 538)

Rubio, who received a C- in our anonymous staff grading,1 came into the night with a lot on the line. He began the evening at 16 percent in our New Hampshire polling average, with Trump at 30 percent. Believe it or not, that 14-point gap is not too much to overcome in New Hampshire; in the past, there have been last-minute swings and election-day polling misfires of about that magnitude in the state. By the same token, however, Rubio's second-place position in the polls is not at all safe. Kasich and Cruz, both at 12 percent, and Bush, at 9 percent, could easily catch him; perhaps even Christie at 5 percent could also with a really strong finish.

Chris Christie A- A B+
Jeb Bush B+ A- B
John Kasich B A- C
Donald Trump C+ B C-
Ted Cruz C+ B C-
Marco Rubio C- B D
Ben Carson C- B- F

Rubio's debate is likely to be remembered for his repeating the same line about President Obama almost verbatim four times (example: "Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing; he knows exactly what he's doing"). Three of them came in an exchange with Christie, and two of them after Christie had already mocked Rubio for repeating the same soundbyte answers. It was an embarrassing moment for Rubio, particularly given that the line of questioning that started the exchange was about his lack of accomplishments in office, a critique Rubio should have been better prepared for. He was not only repetitive but also nonresponsive.

Marco Rubio Was a Disaster (Jamelle Bouie, 2/07/16, Slate)

[H]e's faced a repeated attack in his six years on the national stage--that his smooth charisma conceals a man of little substance. That, on a fundamental level, he's not ready for the Oval Office. And on Saturday night, Rubio gave substance to the charge in a remarkable exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the eighth Republican presidential debate.

It began with a question. The moderators asked Rubio to list accomplishments in his record that have prepared him for the presidency. Rubio cited work on foreign policy and issues such as veterans affairs before moving to well-worn rhetoric meant to counter these experience questions by tweaking a popular conservative notion about Barack Obama. "Let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing," he said. "He knows exactly what he's doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world." And in this implicit analogy, Rubio is the Republican Barack Obama who will make a "systematic effort" to make America unique again. "When I'm president of the United States," he continued, "we are going to re-embrace all the things that made America the greatest nation in the world, and we are going to leave our children with what they deserve: the single greatest nation in the history of the world."

It's a good line, designed for applause. But this time, Rubio had pushback, in the form of Christie.

Behind in national polls and struggling for air in a crowded field, Christie has focused on his experience--as an executive--to make the case to New Hampshire voters and Republicans nationwide. And against Rubio's disdain for experience, he scoffed. "You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable," Christie said. "You just simply haven't. And the fact is--when you talk about the Hezbollah sanctions act that you list as one of your accomplishments, you weren't even there to vote for it. That's not leadership. That's truancy." He finished with a swipe. "I like Marco Rubio, and he's a smart person and a good guy, but he simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States."

The most damaging mistakes in politics are the ones that confirm your opponents' narratives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Cutting Edge Robots deliver fun with hotel room service orders, and they don't expect a tip (Hugo Martin, 2/07/16, LA Times)

Your hotel's newest bellhop may be a robot.

A Santa Clara, Calif., start-up and its "autonomous robot helpers" received $15 million in new financing last month. Savioke's goal is to put robots in hotels across the country, building on its current stable of 12, including one near Los Angeles International Airport.

"We have lots of robots that are ready to go," Savioke co-founder Tessa Lau said.

The 100-pound, 3-foot-tall Savioke robot, dubbed Relay, is built primarily to deliver extra towels, toothpaste or other necessities to guest rooms. The hotel staff punches in a room number on the robot's touch screen and Relay rolls into the elevator and up to the designated room.

February 6, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Atheist Group Removes 'God Bless America' Sign but Residents Put Up 1500 More (KATHERINE WEBER, 2/04/16, CHRISTIAN POST)

Recently, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded the small town government building remove the banner, arguing that it violated a separation of church and state.

"We're very pleased that the post office took the right steps to separate church and state and abide by the post office regulations," Madeline Ziegler, a legal fellow at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said in a statement to The Joplin Globe.

Shortly after the banner was removed, the owner of Jake's Fireworks, a local business, decided to print 1,200 "God Bless America" yard signs and 300 banners to be placed around town.

As The Morning Sun reports, dozens of vehicles lined up in front of Jake's Fireworks over the weekend to pick up a "God Bless America" sign.

"Obviously, we're among the majority that didn't agree with the decision to take the sign down (at the post office)," Jason Marietta, retail sales director for the local business, told The Morning Sun.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Female journalist tells of sexual assault during Cologne live broadcast (Jessica Elgot, 6 February 2016, The Guardian)

"Two or three men gathered behind me and attempted to make themselves the centre of my attention," she said. "I was focusing on the broadcast, and then I felt a kiss on my neck.

"Almost immediately, a young German sings in my ear: 'Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? [would you like to sleep with me tonight?]'. Then, I feel two hands rest on my shoulders. I see the person behind me mime an obscene gesture, a sexual practice that has no place on camera."

As Labye tried to ignore the men, remaining in front of the camera as the presenter in the studio thanked her for the report, one of the group grabbed her. "It was at that moment that one of three men around me touched my chest. At that moment, I lost my temper. Knowing I had finished the broadcast, I turned around to tell them in English 'do not touch me!'. The three didn't seem to understand why I got angry, but they left without a word."

Police in the west German city said on Saturday they had received more than twice the usual number of criminal complaints over sexual assaults during the first day of this year's street carnival.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


San Francisco's tech bros told: quit changing the gayborhood (Nellie Bowles and Sam Levin, 2 February 2016, The Guardian)

When Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist who led the creation of the Aids Memorial Quilt, went to his local gay bar in the Castro district, he saw something that shocked him.

"The tech bros had taken over The Mix. They commanded the pool table and the patio. These big, loud, butch guys. It was scary," he said. "I'm not heterophobic, but I don't want to go to a gay bar and buy some guy a drink and have him smirk and tell me he's straight."

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Did a lack of culture kill off the Neanderthals? (Belinda Smith, 2/02/16, Cosmos)

Researchers from Stanford University and Meiji University in Tokyo used computer modelling to see how cultural development - such as art and tool-making - might help or hinder a species.

The modelling, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a small initial population of modern humans, with their cultural arsenal, could completely displace a larger Neanderthal population.

And when they introduced a positive feedback loop to the model - where more cultural development led to more competitive advantage which, in turn, led to more cultural development - the number of modern humans needed to push out a big group of Neanderthals dropped.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


What New Data Tell Us About Doctor Choice (DREW ALTMAN, Feb 4, 2016, WSJ)

Just 4% of the non-elderly with health coverage say that they are "very dissatisfied" with the choice of doctors in their plan's network; almost nine in 10 say they are satisfied. As the chart above shows, the share who say they had to change doctors because their doctor was no longer covered by their plan's network is 12%, and just 5% of those said that doing so was a "big problem."

The key step is going to be replacing the professionals with AI.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler | By Mark Riebling (Francis Phillips | Feb 4 2016, MercatorNet)

Pius XII's position was clear. As a world-famous spiritual leader he yearned for peace and an end to the War; knowing the crimes committed against the Jews and others by the Nazis (as they were reported to him by his nuncios around Europe), he felt certain that Germany was in the hands of "diabolical powers"; as the head of Vatican City, a neutral state following the Lateran Treaty of 1929, he was keen to broker peace, if he could, between the warring elements in Europe; and he knew that brave Germans, including Jesuit priests such as Rupert Mayer and Alfred Delp, were part of secret, un-coordinated (and finally doomed) efforts to overthrow Hitler.

But he did not bless the would-be assassins or know their actual plans. As a man who had worked as a papal diplomat for most of his priestly life, he understood acutely the thin line dividing diplomacy, a legitimate enterprise, from secret political plotting, an illegitimate activity for a person in his role, and he stayed firmly on the right side of the line. Riebling implicitly acknowledges this in his interview with Fr Peter Gumpel SJ, postulator for Pius' cause for sainthood. Gumpel is quoted as saying, "One has to be very careful when speaking about direct involvement or direct influence because it is not the place of the Vatican to meddle so much in the affairs of foreign states...Their way is very discreet...They act more prudently."

Having thus qualified what Riebling means by the ambiguous phrase of his sub-title, "The Pope's secret war against Hitler", I can now endorse it as a first-class spy thriller, dealing not with fiction but with historical facts. At the very least, his book demolishes the infamous slur that Pius XII was "Hitler's Pope". As well as this, it shows the huge obstacles faced by the German resistance as it agonised over how to get rid of Hitler. Protestant members of the Abwehr, the German intelligence division which harboured many covert anti-Nazis, including Dietrich von Bonhoeffer, and which lay behind the army officers' July Plot of 1944, had initial scruples about assassinating an unarmed man and contravening their military oath of allegiance.

Catholics, such as Josef Muller, had no such qualms. They had studied St Thomas Aquinas and Catholic teaching on tyrannicide - the death must improve conditions, the tyrant must be the primary instigator of evil policies and all peaceful means must have been explored - and their consciences were clear.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Red States Outnumber Blue for First Time in Gallup Tracking (Jeffrey M. Jones, 2/03/16, Gallup)

Gallup's analysis of political party affiliation at the state level in 2015 finds that 20 states are solidly Republican or leaning Republican, compared with 14 solidly Democratic or leaning Democratic states. The remaining 16 are competitive. This is the first time in Gallup's eight years of tracking partisanship by state that there have been more Republican than Democratic states. It also marks a dramatic shift from 2008, when Democratic strength nationally was its greatest in recent decades.

Importantly, even though Republicans claim a greater number of states, Democrats continue to hold an edge nationally in partisanship. In 2015 Gallup Daily tracking data, 43% of all U.S. adults identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 40% identifying as Republican or leaning Republican. That is largely because many of the most populous states, including California, New York and Illinois, are Democratically aligned.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


More Bombs, More Boots: The US War on ISIS Is Heating Up : The White House is considering more American troops on the ground and fewer restrictions on airstrikes. (Bryan Schatz, Feb. 5, 2016, Mother Jones)

The rules for airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have been relaxed to allow for more civilian casualties, and there are hints that more American ground troops may be deployed. Army Lt. General Sean MacFarland, who has been in charge of US operations against ISIS since October, told reporters on Monday that he will submit a number of proposals to the Obama administration for the upcoming campaigns, and he did not rule out US troops being deployed for direct combat. Last month, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told CNBC, "We're looking for opportunities to do more, and there will be boots on the ground, and I want to be clear about that."

There are already American troops on the front lines with Iraqi soldiers in addition to security personnel and others assigned to specialized units. Some 200 Special Operations Forces soldiers have been tasked with rooting out members of ISIS's leadership in Iraq and Syria. Officially, 3,650 US troops and private contractors are involved in the campaign against ISIS. Yet an analysis by the Daily Beast found that the actual number is closer to 6,000.

The recent appointment of MacFarland to lead the fight against ISIS also signals a push for more conventional warfare rather than relying heavily on airstrikes. MacFarland is best known for securing the Iraqi city of Ramadi in 2007 and fostering the "Sunni Awakening" that aligned a collection of Sunni sheikhs with the US military in its fight against Al Qaeda. "If this was going to be just an air campaign, it would make much more sense to have an Air Force officer in Baghdad and have him lead the charge," says retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a former senior adviser to US commanders in Iraq who now teaches military history at Ohio State University. "Putting Lt. General Sean MacFarland in charge of the war against ISIS I think shows that the administration is thinking much more in terms of a holistic campaign that can include not just an air campaign but ground elements as well." 

In December, the Obama administration dispatched about 50 Special Operations troops to northern Syria to "tighten the squeeze" on ISIS and to vet rebels. "There's some indication that they're finding rebel groups who the United States can support who are willing to fight ISIS first, and Bashar al-Assad's regime second," says Mansoor. "It will be part of the jigsaw puzzle that is the civil war in Syria with so many groups on the ground."

"There will be boots on the ground and I want to be clear about that," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said.
Following the expulsion of ISIS from Ramadi by US-supported Iraqi soldiers in December, plans are being drawn up for two major offenses to reclaim the group's Syrian and Iraqi capitals of Raqqa and Mosul. As outlined by Military Times, the campaign could include more American troops on the ground, and it will rely on security forces in Iraq and an array of rebel groups in Syria, which often have competing agendas, to invade and retake the two ISIS strongholds. Several reports claim that the United States has participated in the expansion of an airfield in northern Syria, possibly to support Kurdish fighters against the so-called Islamic State. (United States Central Command has denied this, but a Pentagon official confirmed it.)

Meanwhile, recent airstrikes in Syria and Iraq point to the United States easing its rules of engagement, allowing for increased risk to civilians. In early November, 45 minutes after American planes dropped leaflets warning, "Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them," A-10 Thunderbolts and AC-130 gunships destroyed 116 ISIS oil tankers near Deir Ezzor, Syria. Previously, these would not have been targeted because, as Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren explained, "the truck drivers, themselves, [are] probably not members of ISIL. They're probably just civilians."

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Bill Clinton's Legacy Haunts the Democratic Debate : In Thursday's debate, the Sanders-Clinton squabble over the progressive future was rooted in a dispute about the past. (JEET HEER, February 5, 2016, New Republic)

Both political parties are now having debates about the legacy of former presidents. The Republican debate, spurred on by Donald Trump's digs at George W. Bush, seems a more natural one to have, since Bush was a divisive figure in the nation at large and in his own party at the end of his presidency. T[...]

By contrast to Bush, Bill Clinton is warmly remembered by many Democrats. The surprise is that Sanders has been able to make a formidable attack by focusing on aspects of the Clinton legacy that are no longer popular among party members. The debate about the current Democratic president has been far more muted by contrast. Clinton has taken on the mantle of being Barack Obama's heir, the one who can best defend and consolidate the current Democratic president's legacy. Sanders has a more complicated relationship with Obama, praising him for helping the country recover from the Great Recession of 2008, but also saying that the country now needs to move in a more aggressively progressive direction. In the debate tonight, Sanders said that Obama did a "fantastic job" and "excellent job" on the economy even though he disagrees with the president on trade. 

But if Sanders is ambivalent about Obama, he's doesn't hold back when it comes to Bill Clinton. And this puts Hillary Clinton in a tough bind. It's hard for her to disavow the presidency of the man she is married to--and whose policies she defended vigorously as first lady--but Clinton is acutely aware that the Democratic Party has moved on from 1990s Clintonism and is a much more progressive party.

Consider the litany of ideological sins that Sanders checks off to prove that Hillary Clinton is a moderate and not a progressive. Many of them are legacies of the Bill Clinton presidency, when the Democratic president tried to triangulate between the left of his own party and the Republican right. Sanders's list of evidence is long: Clinton supported NAFTA; championed the 1996 welfare reform; supports the death penalty in federal cases; supported the Defense of Marriage Act; opposes re-instating Glass-Steagall; supported Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and backed "three strikes and you are out" sentencing. They're all centrist Democratic policies that Bill Clinton enacted in opposition to the left wing of the Democratic Party in the 1990s. 

...that the next president will be the nominee who most closely resembles Clinton/W/the UR.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


With embargo under the rug, Persian carpets can roll into U.S. again (Sarah Parvini, 2/04/16, LA Times)

The call came in to the rug store at 10:30 on Wednesday morning: After five days in U.S. customs, the first batch of carpets imported from Iran were ready for pickup.

Years of waiting finally ended for Alex Helmi, owner of Damoka, a Persian rug store in Westwood. He quickly gathered his employees and told them to drive to Los Angeles International Airport to pick up the shipment: 40 handmade rugs -- some antique, some modern -- valued at about $500,000.

"I wanted to cry," Helmi said.

Helmi has been selling Persian rugs for decades, but this marked the first time he was getting merchandise directly from Iran since the U.S. imposed an embargo on the country in 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


The transformation of John Kasich (Chrissie Thompson, February 6, 2016, The Enquirer)

[D]o you remember the speech that launched his campaign? Forty-three minutes of rambling, disjointed, vintage Kasich. He told kids not to do drugs. He cited the support of two African-Americans he'd met at Wendy's. He reminisced about the delivery of his twin daughters.

We Ohioans are used to Kasich's unscripted style, even during official speeches. But outside observers were stunned. One national reporter openly gaped.

At his early town hall meetings, it wasn't much different. He'd spend 30 minutes talking about his background - growing up with a mailman father, talking his way into a meeting with then-President Richard Nixon when he was a college freshman, working on Pentagon procurement in Congress, balancing the budget and, yes, governing Ohio as it recovered from the recession. He'd then give winding answers to questions. At his first town hall, it took him about 30 minutes to field six questions.

Kasich's appeal has always been his plainspoken style, especially contrasted with candidates such as Marco Rubio, who deal more in stump speeches. But some attendees at those early town hall meetings would grimace a bit when asked to assess the governor's performance. They liked him. They were rooting for him. But did he have what it takes to become president?

He needs to give his answers more "punch," one man said. Another woman implied his answers should be more direct.

Then there was his problem with the "retail politicking" - interacting casually with voters on a walk through town, after a town hall meeting or at a party. Kasich doesn't enjoy it that much. For much of his campaign, it showed.

At a house party last fall, he walked around awkwardly, monotoning "How are you?" to people he met. And who can forget his infamously stilted conversation with a handful of factory workers last summer? Kasich cajoled, pleaded with workers to interact with him, in part because a camera crew was shooting footage for advertisements. But they couldn't relate to him and didn't care that, as he kept reminding them, he might be the next president. Finally, one man told him he dreamed of owning a home someday, and Kasich was incredulous that this seemed out of reach. [...]

During an interruptions-heavy debate in November, the Milwaukee crowd booed Kasich. This, by any measure, was the low point of Kasich's campaign. His debate performance was excoriated, his candidacy largely written off.

But something changed. His town hall meetings became more focused: a 10- to 15-minute introduction, about a dozen questions. Now, the openings skip boilerplate bio and focus on the things that make Kasich "Kasich." They're even inspirational at times.

"When we rise, we have an obligation to not leave anybody in the shadows," Kasich told Dartmouth College students last month when he spoke about tax cuts and economic growth. "We're Americans before we're anything else. ... What is our purpose? How do we fit into the mosaic of the world?"

"One person can change the world, but you do a lot more effective in life if you work as a team," he told senior citizens in Concord later that week.

"It's a strong country," he said this month at a country club in Greenland. "It takes a lot to beat down America."

Kasich's debate performances improved. He managed an artful interruption last month in South Carolina, leading to a wide discussion about free trade. He made clear, inoffensive points about his appeal in swing-state Ohio and the way his faith helped motivate him to expand Medicaid in Ohio under President Barack Obama's health care law.

Part practice, part instinct, part coaching, Kasich became a better candidate. And about a month ago, he was suddenly in second place in New Hampshire polls.

"As he got more comfortable with being himself, he began to win," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire politico who is advising Kasich.

In poured the attention he needed. He went from frustration to euphoria overnight.

The Rubio/Kasich ticket is a natural.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Donald Trump's Campaign, Billed as Self-Funded, Risks Little of His Fortune (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and SARAH COHEN, FEB. 5, 2016, NY Times)

Donald J. Trump once boasted that he could someday be the only person to turn a profit running for president. He may be closer than anyone realizes.

Mr. Trump's campaign spent just $12.4 million in 2015, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, millions less than any of his leading rivals for the Republican nomination. More than half of Mr. Trump's total spending was covered by checks from his supporters, who have thronged to his stump speeches and bought millions of dollars' worth of "Make America Great Again" hats and T-shirts.

About $2.7 million more was paid to at least seven companies Mr. Trump owns or to people who work for his real estate and branding empire, repaying them for services provided to his campaign. That total included more than $2 million for flights on his own planes and helicopter, a quarter of a million dollars to his Fifth Avenue office tower, and even $66,000 to Keith Schiller, his bodyguard and the head of security at the Trump Organization.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Why Is Russia Cutting Troops in Tajikistan? : Last year Russia said it was going to increase its presence in Tajikistan, and now it's not. (Catherine Putz, February 05, 2016, The Diplomat)

According to Reuters, on Thursday, a Russian defense ministry spokesman said that Russia would in fact be reducing its troop numbers in Tajikistan as it reorganized its troops there from a division into a brigade. By phone, he told Reuters, "In plain language, its headcount will decline slightly, but its mobility and ability to react quickly to any situations will improve."

Russia's detachment in Tajikistan remain its largest foreign-based force. The troops, collectively referred to as the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, are stationed in two locations in the country: Dushanbe and Qurgonteppa. Until December, a regiment was stationed in Kulob but according to Reuters it was withdrawn to Dushanbe.

The Reuters story came a few days after Asia-Plus, an independent Tajik news source, ran a story noting that TASS, the Russian news agency, had reported that Russia's Central Military District said it was reorganizing its base in Tajikistan, leading to a numerical reduction but a mobility increase.

The motivation behind the reversal is unknown. "The move could point to tensions between Moscow and Dushanbe," writes Reuters, but it's perhaps simpler to point to economics and local tensions. Russia's economy, battered by sanctions and low oil prices, contracted an estimated 3.8 in 2015, according to the World Bank. In Central Asia this has meant that Russia has been unable to fulfill funding promises. For example, Kyrgyzstan this month revoked an agreement with Russia, freeing Moscow of obligations to fund several hydropower projects and freeing Bishkek to find funders who can pay up. Reorganizing its military presence in Tajikistan may be nothing more than a cost-saving measure.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


What neoliberals get right (Damon Linker, February 5, 2016, The Week)

Let's begin with foundational principles. A neoliberal will: tend to be suspicious of utopianism; believe that modest reform and incremental change is usually the best we can reasonably hope for; distrust the simplifications of ideology; accept that the "slow boring of hard boards" (combining "passion" with "perspective") is the most responsible way to conduct oneself politically; and draw from history the lesson that efforts at radical change usually lead to unintended consequences as bad as or worse than the problems that inspired them.

Some might say this sounds like a form of conservatism. [...]

It's more accurate to describe it as the outlook of the (now defunct) Democratic Leadership Council, the organization that led the push to bring the Democrats back toward the center after the leftward lurch that began with George McGovern's failed presidential campaign of 1972. The DLC's greatest political achievement was launching a run for the White House by its former chairman, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, in 1992.

And Bill Clinton gave us free trade, welfare reform and, but folr impeachment, would have beaten W to SS privatization.  

To win progressives, Hillary has to dump Bill (David Person, February 5, 2016, USA Today)

But if Mrs. Clinton plans to continue touting her progressive bona fides, she must account for her husband's political legacy -- which was far from progressive -- and then distance herself from it. Otherwise, she may continue to struggle beating Bernie Sanders in other Democratic primaries and -- assuming she's the nominee -- getting her base out to vote in November.

Her first concern should be that the percentage of Democrats who identify as liberal or progressive has been rising. According to a Gallup poll taken last year, nearly half of them do. Hillary Clinton -- a candidate who has been cozy with Wall Street and has hawkish tendencies -- needs them. She can't afford to look like a half-hearted, or worse, opportunistic progressive.

Let's take immigration and trade as examples. While Clinton has made comprehensive immigration reform part of her campaign platform, her husband championed trade policies while president that some experts believe have hurt immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

Hillary's position has been anything but consistent. At times, Hillary has distanced herself from her husband's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), something she publicly favored previously. She opposed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement before she changed sides and was in favor. And now she has been on both sides of Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


U.S. Labor Market On Solid Ground As Jobless Rate Hits Eight-Year Low ( Lucia Mutikani, 2/06/16, Reuters)

In January, the unemployment rate fell even as more people entered the labor force. The labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 62.7 percent. It remains near four-decade lows.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Gov. Nikki Haley mum on possible presidential endorsement, but speculation swirls around Rubio, Bush (Cynthia Roldan and Emma Dumain, Feb 4 2016, Post and Courier)

Back at the Statehouse, Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Cayce, said he believed Haley could pick Rubio or Bush, but not a candidate who doesn't do well in New Hampshire.

"She's going to want to pick somebody who has substantial support in future states," Quinn said. "I don't see her weighing in on a candidate who doesn't have a shot at winning the nomination."

Governors who hesitate to endorse sometimes do so if they're expected to be on the short list for vice president, said Scott Huffmon, political science professor at Winthrop University. Huffmon said Haley endorsing Rubio or Bush wouldn't be a surprise, but more improbable for Bush.

"As long as whoever she endorses ends up winning the nomination, it would be very big for her," Huffmon said.

Haley's office did not immediately return a request for comment. Haley did say on Jan. 27 that when she endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, she made her decision in a week's time.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he expects Haley to follow her conscience if she endorses.

"I think at the end of the day, if Gov. Haley decides to endorse it'll be because she believes the candidate has a vision for the country and an understanding of governing principles is similar to hers," Davis said.

The Bush/Haley ticket is a natural.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Marco Rubio Disses George W. Bush (David Corn, Feb. 6, 2016, Mother Jones)

Talking to several Rubio backers in attendance, I got the sense that they really fancied the idea of Rubio. Asked why they were supporting him, each cited Rubio's "positive vision." As a follow-up, I asked these Rubio-ites to describe that vision. Each said a version of this: to make America better. So, Rubio has figured out a way to tap into Republicans dislike (or hatred) of Obama and Hillary Clinton -- the crowd roared with delight when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Rubio endorser, introduced Rep. Trey Gowdy, who heads the House committee on Benghazi, and mentioned the B-word --while also coming across, at least to GOPers, as not a mean guy. (And the GOP pack already has mean guys in the lead.)

At the same time, Rubio proffers vague policy prescriptions of the usual conservative fare--advance free enterprise! cut taxes!--yet is seen by his fans as a visionary and man of the future. This is all a pretty neat trick, and a good reminder that presentation is 90 percent of politics. Or maybe more.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


HSBC fined $470m in relation to its mortgage practices during the 2007-2009 American housing crisis (Kedar Grandhi, February 6, 2016, IB Times)

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said: "There has to be one set of rules for everyone, no matter how rich or how powerful, and that includes lenders who engage in abusive business practices. The settlement announced today is a joint partnership that will create tough new servicing standards that will ensure fair treatment for HSBC's borrowers and provide relief to customers across New York State and across the country."

Of the total fine, $100m will be paid to the authorities and the remaining $370m will be provided to borrowers and homeowners. Kathy Madison, chief executive of HSBC Finance Corp., welcomed the move saying: "We are pleased to have reached this settlement and believe it is a positive result that benefits American homeowners and the US housing industry."

All the bailout money should have been used to pay off borrower debt as well.
Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


As Syria rebels face rout, allies Saudi, Turkey may send troops (IAN TIMBERLAKE AND AFP, February 6, 2016)

With rebel forces facing the prospect of a crushing defeat by Syria's Russian-backed regime, their allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey may send in limited numbers of ground troops, analysts said. [...]

The fate of Saudi-backed Syrian armed opposition groups fighting to topple President Bashar Assad is also a major concern for the kingdom.

"I think Saudi Arabia is desperate to do something in Syria," said Andreas Krieg, of the Department of Defense Studies at King's College London.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Jeb vs. John vs. Chris (Matthew Walther, February 5, 2016, Free Beacon)

Jeb spoke in the banquet room of a resort in Laconia on Wednesday night. You know all the jokes by now. He is "low energy," hopelessly WASP-y, a self-described "joyful tortoise" who is incapable of talking himself up and whose impeccable manners make him reluctant to use even the mildest of four-letter words. He is a wonk so wonky that after listening to him discuss education reform--his pet issue--even the most earnest reform conservative will want to don a tricorn and fire up old Sarah Palin CPAC clips on YouTube.

All of this was in evidence on Wednesday. The event itself was impeccably produced, beginning and ending on schedule. Jeb's young campaign volunteers, with their sweaters and chinos and nonchalant side-parts, looked like they belonged in an unproduced Whit Stillman screenplay. It was the only town hall I attended at which there was free food for attendees and press. Jeb used the word "disruptive" the way Elon Musk does. He talked about policy and "mechanisms" for understanding and the "architecture" of something I didn't catch. When he proposed that we "launch a moonshot" to cure Alzheimer's and suggested we need to "discover the brain," I could have sworn I was attending a TED talk. [...]

None of this is to say that Jeb is not, in his way, an attractive candidate and, more important, a very kind and decent man. A single exchange from Wednesday illustrates this fact better than any Bloomberg poll or snappy debate performance ever could. After the last question I walked over to the front of the room where he was posing for selfies and autographing yard signs and copies of the policy book. A kid who had asked him earlier about his plan for addressing college debt came to follow up, and he and Jeb talked about the pitfalls of majoring in history. Then there was just Danny.

Danny was wearing a dark blue sweater with holes in it. He smelled terribly. When I got close to him I noticed that there was blood on his hands and that his fingernails were black. I do not think it would be letting my prejudices get the best of me if I were to venture a guess that he was severely mentally ill and a drug addict.

Danny disgusted me. I was afraid of him. As I stood there I found myself tensing up, getting ready for a tackle or a run, wondering whether he was going to Do Something Crazy--start screaming or pull out a gun.

Danny has a pet theory about climate change. He thinks an alien race living on the sun is building a subterranean civilization to supplant humankind. (I learned more about this theory when I talked to him outside the banquet room.) Jeb listened to Danny without flinching or backing away--or simply walking off with his security detail. After a while someone in a pinstriped jacket said something about an interview they had to get to, but Jeb showed no sign of having heard him.

"All life comes from the sun," Danny said.

"No one doubts that," Jeb said.

"So you're open minded?" Danny asked, with a look of addled eagerness in his face that hurts me to think about.

"I love to learn."

Danny, who noted that he was originally from Colorado, started talking about books he had read that he could share with Jeb, who said that while he couldn't commit to reading any books right now, he was happy to look at an article or two. "Send me the info," he said. Then he was off to his next event.

Jeb is the only candidate people like better as they get to know him.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Iran's constitutional watchdog, the hard-line Guardian Council, has reversed a ban on 1,500 candidates who had registered to run in Feb. 26 parliamentary elections (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 2/06/16, Associated Press)

The report on Iranian state TV on said a list of approved candidates has been conveyed to the Interior Ministry. It said over 6,200 candidates have been approved to run for the 290-seat parliament. [...]

Prominent reformist Hossein Marashi said moderates intend to strongly contest the vote, seeking to curb the power of parliamentary hard-liners.

"We won't boycott the elections despite the difficulties we have faced. In districts where we don't have candidates, we may support moderate conservatives to defeat extremists," he said.

February 5, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


The Way Ted Cruz Won in Iowa Suggests Trouble Ahead (Nate Cohn, FEB. 5, 2016, NY Times)

He won Iowa for one reason: He excelled among people who described themselves as "very conservative." They voted for him by a big margin; he won 44 percent of them to Donald Trump's 21 percent, according to exit polls. He lost every other ideological category, and often by a lot.

The national Republican primary electorate is far more moderate than Iowa's, so Mr. Cruz will need to attract a far broader coalition. The history of recent conservative Iowa winners -- like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee -- offers plenty of reasons to wonder whether he can count on doing so.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Meet the Rabbi Who Asked Hillary Clinton a Question -- and Got Whole Nation Thinking (Nathan Guttman, Feb 4, 2016, The Forward)

Spira-Savett, leader of the Conservative Beth Abraham in Nashua, posed what could only be viewed as an unusual question to the leading candidate. He quoted a Hassidic tale from the 18th century sage Rabbi Simcha Bunim about the balancing ego and humility. "Every person has to have two pockets and in each pocket they have to carry a different note. And the note in one pocket says the universe was created for me. And in the other pocket the note says I am just dust and ashes."

The question Spira-Savett posed to Clinton was: "How do you cultivate the ego, the ego that we all know you must have, a person must have to be the leader of the free world, and also the humility to recognize that we know that you can't be expected to be wise about all the things that the president has to be responsible for?"

Clinton, visibly intrigued by the question, talked about her daily struggle to maintain the right balance between humility and ego and said she seeks advice through daily scripture study and discussions as well as from notes she receives from rabbis. "I don't know that there is any ever absolute answer, like, 'OK, universe, here I am, watch me roar,' or, 'Oh, my gosh, I can't do it, it's just overwhelming, I have to retreat,'" Clinton said.

It's a Puritan nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice used private accounts for classified emails (David Smith, 4 February 2016, The Guardian)

Steve Linick, the inspector general for the state department, wrote in a memo that two emails sent to Powell and 10 emails sent to Rice's staff contained classified national security information.

"None of the material was marked as classified, but the substance of the material and 'Nodis' (No Distribution) references in the body or subject lines of some of the documents suggested that the documents could be potentially sensitive," Linick wrote in the memo obtained by NBC News and the Associated Press (AP).

In late December, he said, the state department told Linick's office that 12 out of 19 documents under review "contain national security information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels based on a review by nine department bureaus and office".

Powell rejected the inspector general's findings and called for the emails to be released. He told NBC News: "I wish they would release them, so that a normal, air-breathing mammal would look at them and say, 'What's the issue?'"

...the normal don't care.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Donald Trump and the Hidden History of the GOP (Sam Tanenhaus, 2/05/16, The Progressive)

Only Trump's xenophobia--his "birther" speculations about Obama, his denunciations of immigrants and Muslims--situates him on the right. Otherwise, he seems beyond ideology, or indifferent to it. He liked Planned Parenthood (until he didn't), and has said he's a fan of the single-payer health care systems in Canada and Scotland. And he seems ill-versed in conservative doctrine.

"He basically never says 'freedom' or 'liberty,'" the editors of National Review noted in October. "He talks only sparingly about the federal debt. He has, in short, ignored central and long-standing conservative tenets."

All this has made Trump not merely an outsider but an outlier, an unconservative enemy within the conservative gate. This is bad news for the GOP, Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove warn, and could wreck the idea of "a conservative party as a constant presence in U.S. politics," says George Will. Another conservative, Ross Douthat, hears fascist overtones in Trump, complete with "popular elitism" or herrenvolk democracy.

The threat begins not in what Trump espouses. Much of it is familiar in our politics. It begins in his presentation: the bricolage of emotions and prejudices; the stream-of-consciousness orations; the gleeful tangling with hostile journalists and protesters; aggressive candor.

They're the emotional party.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


How Germany took big step toward nuclear fusion (Corey Fedde, FEBRUARY 3, 2016, CS Monitor)

"With a temperature of 80 million degrees and a lifetime of a quarter of a second, the device's first hydrogen plasma has completely lived up to our expectations," Hans-Stephan Bosch, whose division works on the Wendelstein 7-X, said the press release.

Two different designs for fusion power plants have shown promise: the tokamak, such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor being constructed in France, and the stellarator. The Wendelstein 7-X is the world's largest stellarator. 

Only the ITER project, a tokamak, is thought to be able to produce plasma that supplies energy, according to the press release. The experiments begun Wednesday could prove that stellarator designs could produce comparable heat- and plasma-confinement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Carson dropout rumors dog Cruz in New Hampshire (KYLE CHENEY, 02/05/16, Politico)

Four days after winning the Iowa caucuses, Cruz's team is still struggling to answer questions about whether it relied on trickery to pad its lead by convincing Iowans that Carson -- a rival for evangelical votes -- was dropping out of the race. What the Cruz campaign initially called a knee-jerk response to ambiguous news reports has been revealed to be a more coordinated effort to steer Carson voters to the Cruz camp amid the chaotic caucus atmosphere.

A campaign of tweets, emails and calls to Cruz precinct captains encouraged the rapid spread of the news that Carson would be leaving the race and that a vote for him would be a "waste." The Cruz camp denies that it did anything other than pass along accurate news reports.

Anecdotal evidence has emerged that some voters intending to back Carson changed their minds after hearing the news. And perhaps more significantly, a pile-on by Cruz's opponents has kept the pressure on the Texas senator's campaign.

Why Carson Might Poison the Well for Cruz with Evangelicals (Rob Garver, February 5, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Both men have built campaigns that rest in large part on their repeated outward demonstrations of Christian faith, which has made them popular with evangelical Christians that make up much of the GOP base.

While Carson has faded considerably since the brief moment he led the polls a few months ago, his 9.3 percent showing in Iowa demonstrates that he still has a considerable following, and many of those followers are the same evangelicals that Cruz has his eye on as he looks to consolidate any support he can to challenge frontrunner Donald Trump. [...]

The tweet from King was just the beginning. On Thursday, the website Breitbart.com, which is unabashed in its support for Trump, obtained and published what it said were two voicemails left for Cruz precinct captains.

The messages, left shortly before Iowa Republicans gathered to caucus for presidential candidates, urged the Cruz organizers to tell Carson supporters at Monday night's caucuses that their man was getting out of the race, and that they would be wasting a vote on the retired neurosurgeon.

On Tuesday, Carson accused the Cruz campaign of employing "dirty tricks" in Iowa. On Wednesday, speaking to reporters, Carson himself got Biblical on Cruz.

"I make no bones about the fact that I am a person of faith, and I believe what it says in Matthew 7:20: 'By their fruit you will know them.'" The verse, as Carson undoubtedly knows, refers to "false prophets" and is the source of the saying, "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

When Breitbart released the audio recordings Thursday, the C[arson] campaign posted them online and sent out a fundraising pitch in the form of an email from Carson himself to his supporters.

"This kind of deceitful behavior is why the American people don't trust politicians and don't trust Washington, D.C.," it read. "If Senator Cruz does not act, then he clearly represents D.C. values... I call on Senator Cruz to take decisive action at a senior level within his campaign or I fear this culture of destructive behavior will only continue."

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


The utter nastiness of Ted Cruz (Dana Milbank, February 5, 2016, Washington Post)

At an event in New Hampshire, Cruz, the Republican Iowa caucus winner, was asked about campaign money he and his wife borrowed from Goldman Sachs. Cruz, asserting that Trump had "upward of $480 million of loans from giant Wall Street banks," said: "For him to make this attack, to use a New York term, it's the height of chutzpah." Cruz, pausing for laughter after the phrase "New York term," exaggerated the guttural "ch" to more laughter and applause.

But chutzpah, of course, is not a "New York" term. It's a Yiddish -- a Jewish -- one. And using "New York" as a euphemism for Jewish has long been an anti-Semitic dog-whistle.

Cruz's 2016 strategy focuses on turning out white voters (STEVE PEOPLES, 2/05/16, Associated Press

Ted Cruz has mapped out a path to the White House that all but ignores the explosion of minority voters in America.

The Texas senator's general election strategy depends almost wholly upon maximizing turnout among millions of conservative white voters - mostly evangelical Christians and the white working class - who didn't participate in the last presidential contest.

Just what we need, a leader whose goal is to shrink the party.
Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


The Establishment Always Wins (Sonny Bunch, February 3, 2016, Free Beacon)

One Establishment candidate came in first place. Another Establishment candidate came in third. These two alone nabbed 50.7 percent of the vote. If you add up the Establishment stragglers (your Bushes, your Kasichs, etc.) you get to roughly three-quarters of the vote. The only two non-Establishment candidates, honestly, are Trump and Carson (and maybe Paul and Huckabee, though one's a political legacy and the other's a former Fox News host).

And they got smoked.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Jeb Bush: George W. will campaign for me in South Carolina (David M Jackson, 2/05/16, USA TODAY)

Former president George W. Bush cut an ad for brother Jeb's super PAC, and now the candidate himself says the ex-White House occupant will stump for him this month in a key primary state.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Obama's No Radical (Francis Barry, 2/05/16, Bloomberg View)

Republicans tend to paint President Barack Obama as a radical who is hell-bent on transforming the country. But on some of the issues that are most important to Democrats, he has been positively timid.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Global Indicators Point to Fed Reversal (Mark Gilbert, 2/04/16, 

So, at the start of the year, an increase in the current U.K. bank rate of 0.5 percent was baked in. Now, the market is saying it'll be almost three years -- 30 months -- until Carney can pull the trigger. Indeed, market prices increasingly predict a rate cut by the end of this year. [...]

The global data, it must be said, don't back a rate increase. The European Commission slashed its forecast for euro-region inflation this year to just 0.5 percent, down from its November prediction for 1 percent and miles away from the ECB's 2 percent target. [...]

There are forces in the global economy today that are conspiring to hold inflation down. Those forces might cause inflation to return more slowly to our objective.

How does all this leave the Fed after its rate rise in December? I'd suggest that move increasingly looks like a policy error that might have to be reversed. The futures market now reckons there's just a 10 percent chance of a second increase when the Fed meets next month, down from a more than 50 percent likelihood at the start of the year...

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Job gains slow in January, but signs of a rebound in labor force participation (Gary Burtless, February 5, 2016, Brookings)

It's worth noting that employment gains in January were far faster than needed to keep the unemployment rate from increasing. In fact, if payrolls continue to grow at January's pace throughout the year, we should expect the unemployment rate to continue falling. As usual in the current expansion, private employers accounted for all of January's employment gains. Government payrolls shrank slightly. The number of public employees is about the same as it was last July. Over the same period, private employers added about 213,000 workers a month to their payrolls.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


From New Hampshire town halls, Election 2016 looks very different (Gail Russell Chaddock, FEBRUARY 5, 2016, CS Monitor)

In the intimate setting of town halls up and down the Granite State, the one-liner isn't always the best wrench in the rhetorical toolkit, and the scenes are notably more subdued.

Not that these are wan affairs. In New Hampshire, politics is mogul skiing backward down a double black diamond. But the dynamics are different from a packed hall, where calls to "make America great again" or "start the political revolution" draw roars or approval. In front of an unvetted audience and facing unscripted questions, candidates must often reach into the substance of policy solutions to get nods of approval. And they must often tread into new territory - following where the audience leads.

Such town halls are a staple of presidential campaigning everywhere these days, but here they are a tradition rooted in the Yankee soil like the beech and birch of the White Mountains. Here, town halls are the symbolic lifeblood of the primary, and in this election in particular, they are offering those who care to look a very different perspective of the presidential race.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Trump -- The loser: Donald's decades of failure (NH Union-Leader, 2/04/15)

Trump Steaks lacked sizzle.

Trump Ice bottled water dried up.

In 2006, Trump said, "I think it's a great time to start a mortgage company."

Trump Mortgage Company shut down in 2007.

GoTrump.com, a search engine for luxury travel deals, logged off after a year.

Trump Magazine stopped publishing after just two years.

Trump Airlines never turned a profit, and defaulted on its loans.

You can't order a Trump and tonic because nobody makes Trump Vodka anymore. [...]

Too bad Trump failed to get his New Jersey Generals into the NFL. He'd have made the Cleveland Browns look like winners.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Jeb Bush Deserves a Second Look (Christopher Ruddy, 05 Feb 2016, Newsmax)

There's a reason Florida is one of the most desired places to live: it's Jeb Bush. 

There is a reason that Florida is a strong, Republican-controlled state: Jeb Bush. 

There is even a reason Marco Rubio is running for president today: Yep, Jeb again. 

As New Hampshire voters come down to the wire, I think Republican voters there and across the country need to take a serious, second look at Jeb.  [...]

Americans have a long history of picking governors for president -- think Reagan, FDR, Theodore Roosevelt -- someone from outside of Washington with strong executive experience. 

It makes great sense and testifies to the wisdom of the American people. 

There is no dispute Jeb Bush was an outstanding governor of Florida. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


McDonald's Kale Salad Has More Calories Than a Big Mac (Rachel Dicker, Feb. 5, 2016, US News)

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Visit by Iran's foreign minister shows 'warming' relations with UK (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 5 February 2016, The Guardian)

A trip to London this week by the Iranian foreign minister, the first such visit in 12 years, has been hailed as a "symbol of warming relations" in spite of decades of mistrust and ongoing differences on regional issues and human rights. [...]

Six decades after MI6 engineered a coup against Iran's democratically elected prime minister to safeguard the UK's oil interests in Iran, still unacknowledged by the British establishment, Britain, or "England" as it is mostly referred to in Iran, has a special place in the psyche of Iranian hardliners, who still think of it as "little Satan" or "the old fox" - cunning and sly. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Donald Trump cancels New Hampshire event for a 'day off' before the caucus (Jeva Lange, 2/05/16, The Week)

With four days to go until the New Hampshire caucus, Donald Trump has made what some believe is a questionable move -- leaving the state altogether. While other candidates have been staying in hotels in the state, Trump canceled his New Hampshire event on Friday after inexplicably flying back to New York late Thursday. Trump instead plans to attend a rally in South Carolina Friday evening after essentially having "a day off," Red State reports. [...]

The rest of the candidates have chosen to press on, not sharing Trump's habit of flying home every night after campaigning. "My 90-year-old mother made it out to campaign," Jeb Bush tweeted at Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Donald Trump Slammed as 'Loser All His Life' by Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (JEFF NAFT, Feb 5, 2016, ABC News)

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu slammed Donald trump as a "loser" after the billionaire real estate mogul took a swing at him.

"He's been a loser all his life," Sununu, a Republican, said of Trump in an interview with ABC News Wednesday.

An ideal distraction to throw at a guy who doesn't understand politics.  Time spent fighting Governor Sununu is time wasted.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Jeb Bush Criticizes President Obama For Not Visiting Mosque Sooner (CANDACE SMITH  TILTON, Feb 4, 2016, ABC News)

President Obama has received criticism from Republicans for visiting a mosque, perhaps unsurprisingly. But Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush appeared surprised by the President's actions for a different reason.

"I don't think it's divisive to go speak in a mosque," Bush said. "I'm surprised it took his 8th year to do it."

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Donald Trump Says He Will Attend March Debate Moderated By Megyn Kelly (ALANA ABRAMSON  Feb 5, 2016, ABC News)

Donald Trump says he will now attend Fox News' March 3 debate moderated by Megyn Kelly despite last week's boycott.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


The Latest: 'Like a Siege of Aleppo Is About to Begin' (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, FEB. 4, 2016)

A Saudi military spokesman says the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight Islamic State group provided coalition leaders agree during an upcoming meeting in Brussels.

February 4, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


The fury of Ben Carson (KYLE CHENEY 02/04/16, Politico)

 Five days from the New Hampshire primary, Ben Carson has yet to set foot in this state since his fourth-place finish in Iowa. His detour to Florida for a fresh set of clothes has become a running joke online. The candidate is, by all indications, consumed by what he calls the "dirty tricks" of Ted Cruz's campaign.

"Dr. Carson feels absolutely robbed, violated," said Armstrong Williams, a Carson confidant, in a phone interview. "He realizes, the Democrats are not his enemies trying to malign him. It's people who smile in his face, shake his hand, go out  to dinner with him -- and yet, they're trying to destroy him behind his back."

Carson was fading before Iowa, and an exit from the race after Monday's caucuses was not a farfetched scenario. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported he's cutting staff and salaries to rein in exorbitant campaign spending. But the Cruz episode has given Carson renewed purpose, and he now looks determined to spend whatever time he has left in the campaign making the Texan pay.

Combined with Donald Trump's loud and repeated claims that Cruz stole Iowa, Carson's efforts could keep his flailing campaign relevant -- if only by keeping the heat on Cruz.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


'Poor Jeb'? Not So Fast (ROD DREHER, February 4, 2016, American Conservative)

We've all had fun smirking at the awful poll numbers of Jeb "Please Clap" Bush, but these new results for New Hampshire are startling:

Donald Trump is atop the GOP presidential field in New Hampshire by 17 points, according to a new poll.

Trump earns 31 percent support, compared with 14 percent for his closest competitor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, according the Harper Polling survey released Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Christians Happiest Among All Faith Groups, Survey Reveals (STOYAN ZAIMOV, 2/03/16, CHRISTIAN POST)

Statistics from Britain's national happiness index have suggested that Christians are among the happiest people in the nation, while those who don't identify with any particular religion generally scored the lowest life satisfaction numbers.

The study, released Tuesday, found that Christians, with all denominations grouped together, reported an average mean of life satisfaction at 7.60. This was the highest mean in the table, alongside Hindus, who also posted the same number. The groups with the lowest average score were the non-religious at 7.41, and the "any other religion" group, at 7.31.

When it came to the question of whether life is worthwhile, Jews and Christians were on an average most likely to answer yes, at 7.90 and 7.86 mean respectively. The non-religious were at the lowest end of the scale, with a 7.58 mean.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Labour predicts trade union bill would cut party funding by £8m (Rowena Mason, 4 February 2016, The Guardian)

Labour could lose up to £8m a year as a result of the government's changes to trade union funding, the party's general secretary has revealed.

Iain McNicol, Labour's most senior official, said the restrictions would "immediately and seriously undermine the Labour party's finances".

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Morocco to switch on first phase of world's largest solar plant (Arthur Neslen,  4 February 2016, The Guardian)

Morocco's king will switch on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant on Thursday that will become the world's largest when completed.

The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country's capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people.

Noor 1, the first section at the town of Ouarzazate, provides 160 megawatts (MW) of the ultimate 580MW capacity, helping Morocco to save hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


The moral urgency of immigration reform (Archbishop José H. Gomez,  January 27, 2016, CNN)

I am not a constitutional scholar or a political leader. But as a pastor I see every day the rising human toll of our failed immigration policies, especially on families and children.

The immigrants in our communities came to this country with hopes and dreams for a better life for their children. They are no different from the generations that came before them, such as the Irish and Italian families depicted in the film "Brooklyn," which is up for an Oscar this year.

Most of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. have been here for five years or more. About two-thirds have been here for at least a decade.

This is why our failure to enact comprehensive reforms is so cruel.

Millions right now are living in the shadows of this society in a kind of perpetual limbo, without full human rights and little hope for the future. It is hard to imagine the stress and anxiety they feel -- the constant uncertainty and fear that one day without warning they won't be coming home for dinner and may never see their families again.

The DAPA and DACA programs together would provide immediate relief and peace of mind, no matter how temporary, to up to 5.2 million of these people. About 5.5 million U.S. citizen children could benefit directly from their parents receiving deferred action under the DAPA program.

Right now, U.S. immigration policy betrays our country's founding principles and historic commitment to be a beacon of hope for the peoples of every nation. The common good can never be served by deporting some little girl's dad. A just and compassionate society must not allow this.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Meet the Evangelicals Who Hate Donald Trump : "He does not have the conservative track record, and I don't trust him," says one Southern Baptist (SARAH POSNER February 3, 2016, Rolling Stone)

Cruz won 34 percent of the evangelical vote in Iowa to Trump's 22 percent, according to entrance polls, showing that while Trump and some of the pre-caucus polls may have overstated his potential share of the evangelical vote, his final tally was not inconsequential. Anti-Trump evangelicals, aware the race for the GOP nomination is far from over, are not retreating from their efforts to paint him as a candidate hostile to their interests.

Evangelicals closely allied with the Christian right's political activism are dismayed by Trump's bombast, his lack of biblical literacy and his belated and disingenuous efforts to pander to their concerns, such as abortion and Supreme Court appointments. To them, a possible Trump nomination would cause "hundreds of thousands and maybe millions literally having a crisis of conscience" in choosing whether to vote for Trump or the Democratic nominee, says John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family.

"I'm mainly concerned about issues and the fortunes of the issues I care about most: the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage and religious liberty," says Denny Burk, a prominent Southern Baptist who teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. "[Trump's] candidacy seems to be inimical to those things."

...and hating them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Pew: 40% of Americans Now Say Political Leaders Spend 'Too Little' Time Discussing Religion (Jose R. Gonzalez, February 2, 2016, CNSNews.com) 

"Currently, 27% of Americans say there has been too much discussion of religious faith and prayer by political leaders, while 40% say there has been too little religious discussion," according to the results from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's "Faith and the 2016 Campaign" survey released January 27.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


A whiff of panic in the Kremlin as Russia's economy sinks further (William E. Pomeranz February 4, 2016, Reuters)

Signs of panic and dysfunction are everywhere. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has demanded yet another round of 10 percent budget cuts. (A similar reduction occurred in 2015). Otherwise, Siluanov warns, Russia faces a repeat of the 1998-99 financial crash and possible default -- not exactly reassuring words from the man in charge of Russia's economic policy.

The 2016 budget, meanwhile, already included catastrophic reductions in education, health care and social spending. How will the Russian public react to additional cuts? No one knows. To raise revenues, the Kremlin is considering selling off shares in large state companies, including Rosneft, Sberbank and Aeroflot, while still maintaining majority control. Moscow has long vowed never to sell these shares in a depressed market, but that is exactly what would happen under current economic conditions.

The relevant government ministries, however, do not appear to have cleared these privatizations with Putin. He just demanded that the purchasers of these assets must be subject to Russian law -- not offshore entities. This sharply reduces an already limited pool of potential buyers.

Putin also said there would be no fire sale of state assets. Therefore, not only has Putin and his government most likely lost a much-needed infusion of cash, they also have looked divided and unsure of themselves in the process.

Several Russian government ministries are also busy preparing an anti-crisis plan to bolster certain national industries, which almost sounds encouraging until one considers the fate of the 2015 anti-crisis plan. Only 17 of the 60 programs were fully implemented last year, according to Russia's Audit Chamber, leaving billions of rubles unspent.

There is little reason to believe that the 2016 stimulus plan -- with less money available -- will fare any better than its predecessor in reviving the Russian economy.

The private sector remains in no position to pick up the slack. At a recent forum, inauspiciously titled "Small Business: A National Idea?", Putin answered the question with a resounding no. He provided small businesses no new tax breaks or any relief from crippling double-digit interest rates. He pointed them instead to regional governments for support, many of which are on the brink of default themselves, so in no position to lower taxes.

The Russian government really has no good economic options other than hope.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


GM posts biggest profit margin in 107-year-history (Chris Isidore, 2/03/16, CNNMoney)

General Motors reported the best profit margin in its 107-year history in 2015, just six years after the company was saved by a federal bailout.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


It's time to kill off corporation tax for good (Simon Walker, Stephen Herring, February 4, 2016, The Prospect)

A good test when it comes to taxes is "if it didn't exist, would we introduce it?" Plenty of revenue raisers pass the test. For corporation tax, however, the answer is an emphatic "no." As a national tax levied on the domestic profits of global companies, it is a long time since corporation tax has been an effective way to fill public coffers.

Taxes should be simple to understand, straightforward to collect, and non-negotiable. 

That formula is why all only tax consumption soon.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


Foreign Minister Steinmeier invites Iran's Rouhani to Germany (Deutsche-Welle, 2/03/16)

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Tehran on Wednesday encouraged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to visit Germany during his next visit to Europe as the two nations seek to strengthen cooperation.

Steinmeier said he told the Iranian president "to keep Germany in mind as a destination on his next trip to Europe."

In first, Rouhani invites US firms to invest in Iran (AFP February 3, 2016)

In a bid to encourage foreign companies to invest in Iran, despite hesitation from many countries, President Hassan Rouhani has called for expanded business cooperation with the West with and said he is not opposed to business ventures with US businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Europe's $110 billion bombshell: Border controls (Ivana Kottasova and Jim Boulden, 2/02/15, CNNMoney)

The return of border checks and passport controls could cost Europe as much as 100 billion euros ($110 billion) over a decade, a new study has found.

Researchers for the French government say the end of border-free travel could knock 0.8% off Europe's GDP by 2025 in a worst case scenario.

High hopes meet high fences : Moving around is good for young people, but governments stand in their way (The Economist, Jan 23rd 2016)

Young adults like Mr Teng are more mobile than any other age group. They are old enough to leave the parental home but have not yet acquired a family of their own to tie them down. They can fit their lives into a small bag--especially now that their book and music collections are stored in the cloud--and catch the next bus to adventure. A global Gallup poll found that 19% of 15-29-year-olds wanted to move permanently to another country--more than twice the proportion of 50-64-year-olds and four times the share of over-65s who felt the same way (see chart).

Young adults are more footloose within their own country, too. The average American moves house 6.4 times between the ages of 18 and 45 but only 2.7 times thereafter, the census shows. And in developing countries, young people are 40% more likely than their elders to migrate from the countryside to a city.

Such mobility is a good thing. In the absence of a war or flood, it is voluntary. People move because they think they will be better off elsewhere. Usually they are right. If they are wrong, they can always return home.

Moving tends to make people more productive, especially if it is from a poor country to a rich one. Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, estimates that if a typical migrant from a poor to a rich country is allowed to work, he can earn three to five times more than he did at home. (And this assumes that he learns no new skills, though he probably will.) To win such a prize, migrants will take huge risks. A study by Linguère Mbaye of the African Development Bank found that those heading from Senegal to Europe were prepared to accept a 25% chance of dying in the attempt.

If all international borders were completely open, global GDP would double, Mr Clemens estimates.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Santorum can't name any of Rubio's Senate accomplishments (NOLAN D. MCCASKILL, 02/04/16, Politico)

[S]antorum struggled to name one accomplishment Rubio has had in the Senate.

"He's been in the Senate for four years," Scarborough noted. "Can you name his top accomplishment in the Senate -- actually working in the Senate doing something that tilted your decision to Marco Rubio?"

"If you look at being in the minority in the United States Senate in a year when nothing got -- four years where nothing got done, I guess it's hard to say there are accomplishments," Santorum said.

This is the argument Jeb! made the other night about all three of the front-runners, and it's devastating.  It's why he needs to stay in the race--he's the candidate who'd make the best president.

February 3, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Jeb Bush speaks to 150 in Hanover (SUNGIL AHN, February 3, 2016, The Dartmouth)

A crowd of about 150 people flocked to the Hanover Inn to see Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speak about his experience as a leader and his goals of cutting back the government, reducing the national debt and his position within the Republican Party.

The majority of people in the crowd were Upper Valley residents.

View image

Bush said that Republicans must pick someone who can both beat the Democratic candidate and lead the country. He said that his experiences as governor of Florida and his ability to make "tough decisions" and "solve problems" makes him the best candidate. He cited his time as the governor of Florida, where he cut taxes by $19 billion, created 1.3 million jobs, took on public unions and reduced government workforce by 11 percent as proof of his capability to lead the United States.

In addition, he questioned Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump's leadership experience. He argued that Cruz and Rubio only sponsored two bills that passed into law as senators and criticized Trump, saying "it's all about him."

He also said that he had a firm conservative standing, adding that Cruz and Rubio expanded Medicaid while he did not.

"Leadership is about having a servant's heart and a backbone to stand on what's right," Bush said. "That's what we need in America today -- we don't need another talker!"

We went to Jeb's Hanover Town Hall--his fourth of the day--last night.  It was one of those appearances, that maybe only politicians and musicians have, where you leave thinking that if everyone got to see him in that setting he'd be a superstar.  He was relaxed and surprisingly funny, though he is a serious wonk.  Both in differentiating himself from Trump/Cruz/Florio and in response to a question about the Bush name, he presented himself in the way he should have opened the campaign, describing his extraordinary record as governor and the importance of that sort of experience to a president.  He was particularly effective when he talked about how charismatic and exciting Barack Obama was 8 years ago, but then how disappointing he was in office.  And he tied that directly to the personality blinding voters to his lack of germane experience.  He then drew the inevitable comparison to the three GOP front-runners and the lack of anything in their backgrounds that suggests they'll be effective leaders.

One of the amusing things today is that one of his best lines--we assumed he'd rehearsed it--is being portrayed as desperation.  There was also a problem with the lights in the hall shutting down periodically that he handled with good humor.  

The Daughter liked him even better than John Kasich, though she wants to see Kasich again before she makes up ner mind.  We couldn't make it to Salt Hill Pub at 9am this morning for Chris Cristie, to her chagrin. And the Eldest is going to a Jeb Townhall in Portsmouth just so his sister isn't winning.  Ah, the spectacle we Hampshiremen get to enjoy every four years.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


House GOP fails anew to repeal Obama's health care law (ALAN FRAM,  Feb. 2, 2016, AP) 

Republicans failed in their latest futile attempt Tuesday to kill President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, a Groundhog Day vote by the House that was solely an exercise in election-year political messaging.

Kind of awesome that you can buy off the Right with such empty posturing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Oil-rich Venezuela is now importing U.S. oil (Patrick Gillespie, 2/03/16, CNNMoney)

The fact that Venezuela is importing American oil is raising eyebrows because Venezuela has 298 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration. That's more than Saudi Arabia, Russia or Iran and eight times the reserves of the United States.

But the oil extracted in Venezuela is very heavy and hard to refine and then sell to other countries. Venezuela needs to first mix its heavy oil with lighter types of crude to balance out the quality, according to Nilofar Saidi, an oil market analyst at ClipperData.

February 2, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Iran's Road to Easy Wealth : Thanks to its nuclear agreement with the U.S., Iran is reaping financial benefits from unfrozen assets. (James S. Robbins Feb. 3, 2016, US News)

Was the Iran nuclear deal really all about nuclear weapons, from Tehran's point of view? Or did the mullahs play the world for suckers as a road to easy wealth?

On Monday, Iran's government announced that it had gained access to $100 billion in previously frozen assets, freed up under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the controversial nuclear agreement adopted in October and implemented last month. Tehran is being courted by Airbus and French automaker Peugeot-Citröen to help spend this windfall, for potential deals unveiled last week totaling $30 billion. Iran has also rejoined the SWIFT international banking network to ease the transfer of foreign funds into the Islamic Republic.

The unfrozen assets, mainly held in Asian banks, for the most part represent credits Iran had built up for prior oil and natural gas purchases under the now-defunct sanctions regime. Part of it may be spent on buying European cars and aircraft, and part may go to building Iran's infrastructure, or schools, hospitals or homeless shelters. But it will also be spent on terrorism. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Is liberalism the future for Russia? (ANDREI ARKHANGELSKY 2 February 2016, OpenDemocracy)

[I]n the last three or four years the word 'liberal' is once again in fashion, thanks to our government's propaganda machine. At first, 'liberal' occupied a similar space to the word 'intellectual', which suffered frequent swings between positive and negative connotations during the Soviet period. Initially the word 'liberal' carried similarly fluctuating associations: one of us, but not one of us; a semi-alien. Then the word acquired a suspicious tinge, which lasted until the end of the 2000s, when it gradually began to represent the worst of everything, and eventually became a synonym for 'enemy'.

In its current incarnation as a propaganda tool, however, the word 'liberal' means, essentially, 'an alien'. It is simply a person's nature; they can't help it. This development can be best illustrated by the many menacing slogans that rang out last month at a mass rally in support of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's leader.

Here, liberals were the target of the worst invective: "Liberals far away are no threat, but when they're close, watch your back!"; "Liberals of all kinds are hoping for crises, protests and deaths", "Liberals dream of crucifying our country; they have sold all our sacred values to the West"; "If you're smart you won't become a liberal; you'll avoid them"; "No snivelling, liberal - your end is nigh!"; "A great country has no room for liberal trash" among other war-cries.

In other words, if we were to deconstruct this hatred of liberals, it would turn out to be simply a hatred of The Other. I think it is no coincidence that the word is often found next to the phrase 'fifth column': the idea being to conclusively discredit it.

But everything else has happened spontaneously, without any plan. For example, as I write this article, I am listening to the economist Mikhail Delyagin speaking on the popular Moscow Calling radio station. Delyagin answers almost every question put to him: "Why have things come to pass?"; "Why is the rouble falling?"; "Why is there so much thievery?" with the words, "The thing is that the liberals ...'"

A bit earlier, presenter Vladimir Solovyov on his morning show on Vesti-FM was saying despairingly, "Our liberals are still behaving as though we were still in the 1990s, although things have changed completely..." And on the Komsomolskaya Pravda channel the host is rebuking government economic specialists: "liberals in the government have brought the country down, but the president hasn't noticed". This subject, by the way, is just about the only issue on which it is possible to 'disagree with our president' in the loyalist media.

And this is what you hear a hundred times a day, seven days a week. Liberals, liberals, liberals... At the same time, on the same stations, they are also being described as a "pathetic bunch". And suddenly, thanks to this endless repetition, they have turned into a "powerful force".

The propaganda machine, in other words, has fallen into its own trap. For a long time, responsibility for all the woes of Russian history has been laid at the feet of the liberals; they have been its eternal scapegoat. But now this goat is unexpectedly acquiring authority. There is talk of "liberals and their friends in the west"; that liberals "are increasing the pressure"; liberals are on the attack. The intimidators are afraid of their own demons.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


David Bowie: how the man who sold the world never stopped searching for God (Gianfranco Ravasi, 1/13/16, the Tablet)

He prayed, in the depths of his addictions and lacerating questions: "Lord, I kneel and offer you my word on a wing / And I'm trying hard to fit among your scheme of things."

But Bowie's quest was unfinished and it did not cease to torment him, while always enriching his art. In those days - he himself told us - he wore for many years a small silver crucifix. His was a search, a questioning, that went to a greater height and plumbed a deeper mystery than any answers or responses were able to reach.

So, for example, Bowie sought to understand the meaning of prayer in "Loving the Alien", a track from the album Tonight, released in 1984. He asks if our invocations to God hid truth within them, if religion was not believing - once again - only in an alien: "And your prayers they break the sky in two / You pray 'til the break of dawn."

The references in Bowie's art and music to spirituality, often in anguish and torment, are more than can be counted, and were never excluded from his life. "I'm a young man at odds / With the bible / But I don't pretend faith never works / When we're down on our knees / Prayin' at the bus stop," he wrote in "Bus Stop", one of the tracks on the album Tin Machine (1989).

The arrival of Jesus on earth left Bowie with a mix of hope and incredulity. Yet he never abandoned that part of his soul, he never ceased asking for a sign from God: "Open up your heart to me / Show me who you are / And I would be your slave ... Give me peace of mind at last / Show me all you are / Open up your heart to me ("I Would Be Your Slave" from the album Heathen, 2002).

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


If Only Russia Could Have Iowa's Democracy (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/02/16, Bloomberg View)

Among these first-timers were Kris and Jenny Kunz, who had their two young kids in tow, and were looking for a candidate with strong Christian values and a firm stand on abortions. Trump didn't fit the bill.

Trump supporters weren't very visible in the audience. They had thronged his rallies across the state, decked out in campaign hats, T-shirts and other merchandise, but in the high school auditorium, they blended in with the crowd, and the pro-Trump speech didn't generate much enthusiasm. The audience laughed and clapped, however, when a backer of Senator Marco Rubio who had served in the military in Germany derided Trump's plan for a wall along the Mexican border. "You can't build one as good as they had in East Berlin," he said.

Rubio carried Polk County and came in a close third to Trump statewide. Although Ted Cruz emerged as the overall winner thanks to his relentless campaigning and hyperactive canvassing, Rubio, the strongest performer in the last Republican debate, showed that he would be the one to beat as the campaign rolled on. Mainstream Republicans will have to pin their hopes on him.

As for Trump, he got his first hint that good poll results might not translate to votes. People like the show, but they don't necessarily want it to go on for the next four years. He won in Muscatine County, where I saw him fire up an angry crowd, but that wasn't enough to carry the state. Not playing by the accepted rules is bold and flashy, but the rules weren't made by losers, either.

Like many at Stilwell Junior High on Monday night, I was a first-time caucus-goer. I saw a genuine democratic process. People cared, argued, despaired and laughed. I found myself hoping that my country, Russia, could elect its leaders this way, rather than accept dictates from above.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


The Great Escape from China (Kenneth Rogoff, 2/02/16, Project syndicate)

It might seem odd that a country running a $600 billion trade surplus in 2015 should be worried about currency weakness. But a combination of factors, including slowing economic growth and a gradual relaxation of restrictions on investing abroad, has unleashed a torrent of capital outflows.

Private citizens are now allowed to take up to $50,000 per year out of the country. If just one of every 20 Chinese citizens exercised this option, China's foreign-exchange reserves would be wiped out. At the same time, China's cash-rich companies have been employing all sorts of devices to get money out. A perfectly legal approach is to lend in renminbi and be repaid in foreign currency.

A not-so-legal approach is to issue false or inflated trade invoices - essentially a form of money laundering. For example, a Chinese exporter might report a lower sale price to an American importer than it actually receives, with the difference secretly deposited in dollars into a US bank account (which might in turn be used to purchase a Picasso).

Now that Chinese firms have bought up so many US and European companies, money laundering can even be done in-house. 

they essentially export just cheap labor.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


The Hillary Clinton top-secret email controversy, explained (Max Fisher, January 29, 2016, Vox)

A large proportion of documents that our government classifies are not actually that sensitive -- more on that below. So the key thing now is to try to figure out: Were these emails classified because they contain highly sensitive information that Clinton never should have emailed in the first place, or because they were largely banal but got scooped up in America's often absurd classify-everything practices?

Obviously we can't know the answer to that for sure unless we read the emails. But one good way to make an informed guess is by asking whether the emails were classified at the moment they were sent or whether they were classified only later.

The reason this matters is that if they were immediately classified top secret, then that is a good sign that they contained information that is known as "born classified" -- that it was information in itself obtained by classified channels or because it was generated internally by classified means. For example, if Clinton were emailing the secret US bombing plans for Libya, or sharing something that the French ambassador told her in confidence, that would be "born classified."

But if the information were classified only later, then that would indicate it was more banal, or that it was not classified for any reasons particular to the emails themselves. Again, see below on how a boring email could become marked as top secret.

According to a statement by the State Department, "These documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent." [...]

Even John Bolton, a senior Bush official who often championed executive secrecy, once complained, "If there is anyone who fully understands our 'system' for protecting classified information, I have yet to meet him."

The problem was not so much secrecy itself as bureaucratic disarray; something that contains no obviously sensitive information might nonetheless be reflexively classified, or might be classified because the information at some point passed through someone or something that also handles classified information. Or maybe the information is banal but it was later wrapped into a report or document that is itself classified for different reasons. [...]

As an example of how silly this can get, State Department employees are banned from reading WikiLeaks cables or articles that quote them, as the cables include classified information. So the people responsible for guiding American foreign policy are barred from reading foreign policy coverage that you and I may access freely. Virtually no one in the State Department likes this policy, by the way, but it is a product of the government's larger, and largely broken, system of assigning and dealing with classifications.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Cult heroes: Helen Reddy, the 'queen of housewife pop' with a secret dark side (Caroline Sullivan, 2 February 2016, The Guardian)

She was, in Alice Cooper's not unsympathetic words, "the Queen of Housewife Rock" - a term Helen Reddy herself thought apt. In the first half of the 70s, the Australian-American vocalist topped the Billboard easy listening chart eight times and had nine other Top 20 singles, all of them as cushiony and emollient as she herself was unalarming and approachable. Her safeness was ribbed in the Frank Zappa song Honey Don't You Want a Man Like Me?, which runs: "She was an office girl / 'My name is Betty' / Her favourite group was / Helen Reddy" - and he hit the nail on the head. Reddy's instinct for a relatable song made her the "favourite group" of women (and men, even) who valued classicism over coolness. Though Britain never took to her, Reddy's understated voice was a radio mainstay in North America and Australia: she was the world's top-selling female vocalist in 1973 and 1974, and during her career sold 25m albums.

Seeing footage of her playing Vegas in 1976, or clowning around on Carol Burnett's variety show, makes it hard to believe that, midway through her purple patch, Reddy released a trio of singles so odd that the rest of her output seems even more vanilla by contrast. Songs about marginalised women were popular in the early 70s - Cher released her own cluster with Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Half-Breed and Dark Lady - but Reddy's trilogy of Delta Dawn, Angie Baby and Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) is among the darkest in pop.

Stranger still, perhaps, just before she began singing about the stigmatised and evidently mentally ill Ruby, Angie and Dawn, Reddy had a huge 1972 hit with I Am Woman, the first avowedly feminist anthem to reach No 1.

...if you get to your front door and you can hear the vacuum cleaner running and Helen Reddy cranking?  Just walk away.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


The Establishment Wins With Rubio (DANIEL MCCARTHY, February 2, 2016, American Conservative)

Politics is more about organization than raw enthusiasm. Donald Trump was beaten last night by Ted Cruz's organization in Iowa--and more significantly, they will both be beaten by Marco Rubio's organization nationally. That's because Rubio's organization is not only his campaign but the Republican establishment and conservative movement as well. He can even count on the organized power of the mainstream media aiding him, for while the old media may dislike Republicans in general, they particularly loathe right-wing populist Republicans like Cruz and Trump.

A divided right is the classic set-up for an establishment Republican's nomination. Cruz and Trump draw upon the same base of voters. Rubio, it's true, has establishment rivals to finish off in New Hampshire--Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. But Rubio has been within a few points of Bush and Kasich in recent New Hampshire polls, and after Iowa it's not hard to imagine him gaining three or four points, probably more, over the next week.

Given a similar choice in 2000, the GOP went with the guy who had actually governed--W--instead of the sexy pick--Maverick.  In 2008, Democrats went with sexy over experienced. The results in terms of the respective presidencies were pretty predictable.  W was up and running immediately with the best cabinet since Washington's--heavy on governors and former chiefs of staff.  The UR stocked up on unthreatening lightweights and didn't hit his governing stride for 6 years.

Republicans being the grown-up party, history suggests Jeb over his inexperienced protege.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Donald Trump Comes Out Of Iowa Looking Like Pat Buchanan (NATE SILVER, 2/02/16, 538)

[T]he manner in which Trump underachieved is revealing. It turns out that few late-deciding voters went for him. According to entrance polls in Iowa, Trump won 39 percent of the vote among Iowans who decided on their candidate more than a month ago. But he took just 13 percent of voters who had decided in the last few days, with Rubio instead winning the plurality of those voters. [...]

Could it have been his lack of a ground game in Iowa? That's possible, too. If so, it has interesting implications for the rest of Trump's campaign. On the one hand, it's hard to build a field operation on short notice, so if Trump had a poor one in Iowa he may face similar challenges in the remaining 49 states. On the other hand, a field operation potentially matters less in primary states than in caucus states like Iowa.

But there's good reason to think that the ground game wasn't the only reason for Trump's defeat. Republican turnout in Iowa was extremely high by historical standards and beat most projections. Furthermore, Trump won the plurality of first-time caucus-goers.

There may have been a more basic reason for Trump's loss: The dude just ain't all that popular. Even among Republicans.

The final Des Moines Register poll before Monday's vote showed Trump with a favorability rating of only 50 percent favorable against an unfavorable rating of 47 percent among Republican voters. (By contrast, Cruz had a favorable rating of 65 percent, and Rubio was at 70 percent.) It's almost unprecedented for a candidate to win a caucus or a primary when he has break-even favorables within his own party.


Trump Slams The Voters (Eric Kleefeld, February 2, 2016, National Memo)

I don't believe I have been given any credit by the voters for self-funding my campaign, the only one. I will keep doing, but not worth it!

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2016

February 1, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Donald Trump is the Mussolini of America with double the vulgarity (Andrew Roberts, 31 Jan 2016, The Telegraph)

The only time I met Donald Trump told me all I needed to know. It was at an American Red Cross dinner-dance to raise money to fight cancer, held at his opulent Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach a few years ago. It was of course extremely generous of him to lay on the place gratis for the night - there was a synchronized swimming display in the swimming pool, I remember - and the evening did indeed raise over $5 million, but in personally deciding the placement for the dinner he did something so unforgivable that the real man was exposed in all his egotistical vulgarity.

He sat his wife at the same table as a lady - and I must be careful here - who several of his friends present strongly believed to be his mistress. The rest of us at the table were dumbfounded and embarrassed; Trump himself obviously found it amusing as he ruined the evening for both pneumatic and almost identical women. The obscene self-regard of the man was laid bare for us all. [...]

Where Mussolini unrealistically promised the Italian people that he would capture Gibraltar from Britain, Trump promises to make Mexico pay for an impenetrable wall on the Rio Grande. Only in Trump's utterly unenforceable promise to ban all Muslims from entering America - something that would wreck the US economy and destroy her influence in the world - is there no possible equivalent from "Il Duce".

GOP Front-Runner Donald Trump Viewed Unfavorably by Most (Kenneth T. Walsh, Feb. 1, 2016,US News)

[T]rump has the highest unfavorability rating of any major party presidential candidate in more than two decades, according to the Gallup polling organization.

Three of five Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, a billionaire real estate developer from New York who is known for his insults and ego. This is the highest unfavorable rating of any presidential candidate this year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


No, Hillary Clinton Did Not Commit a Crime ... at Least Based on What We Know Today (DAN ABRAMS  Feb 1, 2016, ABC News)

Based on what we know today, there are likely two primary laws at the heart of the probe and two or three others that might be considered investigative fallout. Partisans alleging that Clinton may have violated as many as 15 crimes are either exaggerating or simply seeking to overstate the gravity for effect.

1) The first and most discussed statute has been 18 U.S.C.A. § 1924(a), and it's a misdemeanor:

"Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both."

There are serious legal hurdles to overcome for those who would seek to file a charge under this law. First, none of the information she possessed and/or presumably "removes" had officially been declared "classified" at that time. That matters.

Sure, there is an argument that classified "documents" are not the same as classified "information" and that certain information is "classified at birth" and therefore always officially classified. And there's no question that some of the information and/or documents were later declared classified.

But this isn't a law school exam where we attempt to figure out how creative one can become in fitting a law into a particular fact pattern. We are talking about whether a criminal charge should be filed based on intentional conduct when even governmental agencies squabble over what is classified and what isn't. So proving that she "knowingly" removed "classified information" "without authority" at the time seems far-fetched based on what we know today.

2) But those legal requirements of intentional conduct regarding classified information do not exist in the language of 18 U.S.C.A § 793(f), which is a felony:

"Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer--Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
Here, if it is determined that by "gross negligence" she permitted information "relating to the national defense" (as opposed to the more formal "classified" definition) "to be removed from its proper place of custody," then she could be facing up to 10 years behind bars.

Reading this as a layperson one might think this could be an easier crime to prove. Not so.

Could an aggressive prosecutor argue that it was grossly negligent for her to run all of her emails out of her home server and that it included "national defense" information "removed from its proper place of custody?" Sure, but that would also warp the intent and interpretation of this Espionage Law without far more evidence than what we have today.

In 1941, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case which challenged whether the phrase "national defense" in this Espionage Law was too vague and over-broad. The answer was no only because:

"we find no uncertainty in this statute which deprives a person of the ability to predetermine whether a contemplated action is criminal under the provisions of this law. The obvious delimiting words in the statute are those requiring intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation. This requires those prosecuted to have acted in bad faith."
The Supreme Court clearly never envisioned a prosecution under the Espionage Act without "intent" to injure the United States and in "bad faith" (This was in reference to a different section of the same law but the point remains the same). Other courts have interpreted the phrase "national defense" narrowly as a direct result of the fact that on its face, the words seem so broad.

Furthermore, "gross negligence" as a legal matter, doesn't, and shouldn't, just mean it was wrong or dumb or even just careless. Rather gross negligence is generally defined legally as:

"A lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people's rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence...."

As Professor Laurie Levinson explained in the National Law Journal:

"Politics aside, it is difficult to find prior cases where the unwise handling of classified information led to a federal indictment. For the last 20 years, the federal statutes have been used when there were intentional unauthorized disclosures. The Department of Justice appears to have gone after 'leakers,' but not bunglers."

That is another critical point here. This Espionage Law clearly was never intended to address a Secretary of State using -- foolishly or even improperly to maintain her privacy -- a personal email server to send and receive emails. Inevitably, this novel use of the law would leave a political stink. Efforts to compare this situation to other cases that have been prosecuted also fail on the facts.

Yes, many laws are regularly used as swords well beyond their intended purpose and if we learn that she or her aides were intentionally removing or even copying classified documents and moving or sending them to her unsecured personal server that could be a different story. We do know that in some of the released emails, her aides even discuss the need to steer away from classified information. Exactly what they did to give her access to certain information and/or who ordered it, will be important issues. Based on what we know today, however, charging Clinton with Espionage would be overreaching to say the least.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Inside the Southern California factory that makes the Donald Trump hats (Christine Mai-Duc, 11/24/15, LA Times)

Donald Trump's hats have quickly become a signature totem of the 2016 campaign, a kitsch magnet that serves ironic hipsters and sincere supporters alike. The red-and-white caps are emblazoned with the real estate mogul's oft-repeated slogan, "Make America Great Again."

But look around the factory floor where these hats are being made by the thousands, and you'll find faces that don't seem to fit into Trump's America.

Yolanda Melendrez is one of them. Melendrez, an immigrant from Mexico who was brought to the United States by her parents when she was a baby, has worked at the Carson-based Cali-Fame headwear company since 1991.

"When we first got the order [for the Trump hats], I said to myself, 'Just wait until he sees who's making his hats. We're Latinos, we're Mexicans, Salvadoreños.'"

Melendrez, 44, started out as a machine operator, stitching the seams of baseball caps. She now works as a lead on the floor, roaming as she checks on the flow of work, supervising other sewing machine operators and embroiders. She became a citizen when she was 20; her parents are permanent residents. Melendrez was 14 when she had her first child, and the job has helped her pay rent and put food on the table for her kids, she says.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Cuba for sale: 'Havana is now the big cake - and everyone is trying to get a slice' (Oliver Wainwright, 1 February 2016, The Guardian)

In central Havana's Parque Fe del Valle, at the end of a street bustling with the usual scenes of queues for the bakery and clapped-out 1950s cars weaving between piles of rubble, is a glimpse of a very different Cuba. Every bench, wall, dustbin and plant pot in this tree-lined square is occupied by bodies hunched over laptops and gathered around smartphones, as people swipe at tablets and gesticulate at their screens.

Three generations of one family are huddled around a phone, the children fighting over who gets to wear the headphones while the granny holds a baby up to the camera - so that relatives in Miami, who they haven't seen for years, can inspect the family's new arrival. Nearby, two brothers scroll through Facebook to check the latest enquiries for their bed-and-breakfast business, their laptop balanced on a makeshift desk of crates, while a gaggle of teenage girls stream music and practise dance moves under a tree.

This lively scene, which looks like an impromptu secondhand technology fair, is the result of a new phenomenon in Cuba: Wi-Fi hotspots. In a country where the internet is still forbidden in private homes and an hour checking emails at an internet cafe can cost nearly a week's wages, the arrival of five designated Wi-Fi zones in Havana has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Walk along La Rampa by night, the long people-watching road that slopes up from the seafront into the neighbourhood of Vedado, and you'll see huddles of ghostly faces, illuminated only by the glow of screens. These sprawling open-air internet lounges have also spawned a new informal economy. Wi-Fi touts wander the streets like drug-pushers, re-selling the state telecom company's prepaid $2 scratch-off cards for $3 apiece, muttering "cards, cards?" instead of the usual "hashish? girls?". Snack stalls and drinks stands - private enterprises that would have been forbidden five years ago - have sprung up to fuel the spontaneous street-corner parties, where people gather around to watch the latest Hollywood trailers on YouTube.

"We are seeing a whole new quality of public space," says Miguel Antonio Padrón Lotti, a Cuban professor of urban planning, who worked at the country's National Physical Planning Institute for 45 years. "Cubans have always socialised on the streets, but now we can interact with the wider the world at the same time."

The wider world is arriving here in ever bigger droves, and not just through the internet. On the cobbled streets of Habana Vieja, the beautifully restored old town, it can now be hard to move for the throngs of package tour groups. They follow their flag-toting guides between cafe-lined squares, shuffling from the Museo del Chocolate, past living statues and outposts of Victorinox and Diesel, to boutique shops housed in majestic old mansions where handmade watches are on sale for $12,000.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Why US can't ignore Colorado's pot 'experiment' (The Monitor's Editorial Board JANUARY 30, 2016)

An investigation by Associated Press finds criminal cartels akin to those in Mexico are growing weed among Colorado's sanctioned pot warehouses and farms and then shipping the product wholesale to other states, "pocketing millions of dollars from the sale." The trafficking is so easy that many exporters simply mail the stuff. In the first year of legalization, seizures of Colorado pot by the Postal Service were about 470 pounds, up from 57 pounds in 2010. Colorado's United States Attorney John Walsh admitted to AP that "there's a lot more of this activity than there was two years ago."

And in December, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed evidence that minors in Colorado lead the nation in monthly marijuana use. As pot use among teens nationwide has declined, it may be going up in the Rocky Mountain state.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Who are the Jews of New Hampshire? (Uriel Heilman, February 1, 2016, JTA)

A few characteristics distinguish the 1.3 million residents of New Hampshire. They're old, with a median age of 41.9 (third-oldest in the country), and  94 percent white (fourth-whitest state in America). Fewer than 20,000 of the state's residents are black.

There aren't too many Jews, either. Jewish federation officials say they know of 3,000 households with at least one Jewish person, leading them to an estimate of 10,000 Jews in all of the state. [...]

Though New Hampshire is a geographic mirror image of neighboring Vermont, the two states have very different cultures and reputations. Vermont is known as more hippie-dippy, tourist friendly and progressive. The state, home to Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders -- an avowed democratic socialist -- has voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1992. Granite Staters tend to be more libertarian and gruff, and they are twice as numerous as Vermonters. With no state income tax or sales tax, New Hampshire draws the kind of people who want government to leave them alone.

"There's a rugged individualism that permeates New Hampshire," said Rabbi Robin Nafshi, who moved to New Hampshire nearly six years ago to lead Temple Beth Jacob, a Reform synagogue in Concord. "The state motto, 'Live free or die,' is taken very seriously here. People don't like to be told how or what to do."

Nobody moves to New Hampshire for its Jewish life, and some have left because of its dearth. But the state still has pockets of Jewish vibrancy.

New Hampshire boasts about a dozen synagogues representing all the non-Orthodox Jewish movements, from Reform and Conservative to Reconstructionist and unaffiliated. The only year-round Orthodox presence in the state is a pair of Chabad centers, in Manchester and at Dartmouth College in Hanover.

In the summer, however, the northern town of Bethlehem fills with Satmar Hasidim who have been coming to the White Mountains for a century to escape the heat and foul air in New York. Hasidim stricken with allergies began coming to New Hampshire as early as 1916 to escape the pollen in their hometowns. Bethlehem, home to the National Hay Fever Relief Association, is reputed to be pollen-free.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Hanover Town Hall with Jeb Bush

Doors open at 6:00 PM
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM (EST) 

Hanover Inn - Grand Ballroom - 2 E. Wheelock Street Hanover, NH 03755

RSVP here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hanover-town-hall-with-jeb-bush-tickets-21066236681

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


CRASHES AVOIDED :Front crash prevention slashes police-reported rear-end crashes (Status Report, Vol. 51, No. 1 | January 28, 2016, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Vehicles equipped with front crash prevention are much less likely to rear-end other vehicles, IIHS has found in the first study of the feature's effectiveness using U.S. police-reported crash data.

Systems with automatic braking reduce rear-end crashes by about 40 percent on average, while forward collision warning alone cuts them by 23 percent, the study found. The autobrake systems also greatly reduce injury crashes.

If all vehicles had been equipped with autobrake that worked as well as the systems studied, there would have been at least 700,000 fewer police-reported rear-end crashes in 2013. That number represents 13 percent of police-reported crashes overall.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Fukuyama: 'Putinism,' Radical Islam No Alternative To Liberal Democracy (RFE/RL, January 29, 2016)

[I]f Putinism currently has a tight grip on Russia, the historian calls it an empty system.

"His model is based on a narrow energy-dependent economic model which right now is falling apart," the political scientist notes. "I think what is happening in Russia right now as global commodity prices have fallen is the exposure of the hollowness of this and we will see after another decade of economic failure whether Russians really think this is such a great alternative to the kind of both freedom and prosperity that is seen in Western Europe."

Fukuyama notes that it took Western Europe a 150-year period to develop its system of liberal democracy and that the two decades of recent history are "not necessarily a sign that there will never be this kind of political development" in Russia as well.

Similarly, the political scientist sees little future for radical Islam as an alternative to liberal democracy.

"The Islamic State is not a state and I would predict fairly confidently that they are not going to establish a viable one and it is certainly not an attractive state," he says. "It is not a state in which millions of people are dying to live in a place which beheads people regularly and forces women into these highly constrained roles."

He ascribes the success of Islamic State and other radical Islamic groups to the failure of authoritarian governments in the Arab world to create regimes that have popular legitimacy and meet the economic needs of their citizens.

"It's true that liberalism is not doing well in that part of the world," he observes. "But I do not think that radical Islam represents a long-term civilizational alternative to the kind of (democratic) regimes that exist in Europe and North America and Asia."

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Why Trump and Sanders Share a Mandate for Universal Health Care (Eric Pianin, February 1, 2016, Fiscal Times)

[D]espite the blustery real estate tycoon's protests about Cruz's characterizations, Trump espoused a form of national healthcare coverage that would include the 33 million Americans who still are not covered by Obamacare. Without providing any specifics during his televised appearance, Trump vowed to "work something out" that sounded suspiciously like a distant cousin to Sanders' single-payer concept.

"If somebody has no money and they're lying in the middle of the street and they're dying, I'm going to take care of that person," Trump said. When chief anchor George Stephanopoulos pressed the billionaire businessman to describe how he would accomplish that, Trump said he would "work something out." [...]

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 58 percent of Americans support enactment of a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded form of Medicare, although Democrats are far more enamored of that approach than Republicans are.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


The Field Guide to Ted Cruz (ERICA GRIEDER, 1/29/16, Texas Monthly)

5) He may even be too smart for his own good.

Cruz has long struck people as a conservative whose brilliant legal mind might eventually lead him to the Supreme Court. It's a little unusual to see a highly accomplished nerd inspire such passion in people, but perhaps it's not surprising. Many conservatives resent the casual condescension they routinely perceive from liberals and coastal elites. In Cruz, they have a candidate who gives the lie to such smug assumptions. And so, though Cruz's intelligence may strike his critics as a sign of arrogance, smarminess, or phoniness, it has proven to be a political asset thus far in his own party.

But it creates two complications that are, I think, worth remembering. First: between his intelligence and his verbal agility, Cruz is easily able to elide questions, or to answer them in a lawyerly, nuanced way. Such deftness can be a lifesaver for a politician who's been put on the spot, and Cruz's nuanced arguments are often quite interesting, but such answers can also seem like sophistry, and over time, have fueled suspicions that Cruz is a phony.

Relatedly, like many highly intelligent people, Cruz is vulnerable to being too clever by half. That's the only explanation for his tortuously convoluted response to Marco Rubio's allegation that they had both supported "amnesty" during the 2013 debate over immigration reform. Cruz's retroactive insistence that he was lying about his stated support for a path to legal status doesn't seem to have hurt his standing in the primary, but it was a rare own goal--and a regrettable one, I think. His original position on immigration reform, which is Rubio's current position, was conservative, but nonetheless eminently reasonable. It also would have given him the upper hand if he ends up in a general election, where the Democratic nominee will have to defend not just "amnesty," but Obama's executive orders. Those of us covering him should proceed with the knowledge that Cruz has the capacity to think himself into a pretzel. [...]

8) Cruz is a mainstream conservative from the Texas Republican establishment.

The various misconceptions about what Cruz stands for are, of course, partly his own fault. He often puts himself in situations-the announcement at Liberty University, on stage after an introduction by his ferocious father-that are clearly going to create a certain impression, and that in many cases have been carefully designed to do just that. His background adds to the mystery: He's only been in office for a couple of years, and prior to that, as an appellate lawyer, he worked on behalf of clients, and for the state. Even now, he has not yet had to fully commit himself to any particular faction of the Republican coalition. All told Cruz remains a cipher, wrapped in a veneer of plausible deniability.

Some critics see this as sinister: it allows for the possibility that Cruz's evasion is motivated by the need to conceal his genuinely alarming beliefs from the general public. Others see it as ethically troubling. Even if he has rarely been compelled to pick a side, the fact is that he has often declined to do so-and his record may not include proof of deliberate dishonesty, but it certainly shows a tendency for strategic misdirection.

I share some of these qualms; I would be more critical of how Cruz has engaged with the right wing during the course of his current campaign, frankly, if not for the fact his ability to do so strikes me as the only thing keeping Donald Trump from winning the party's presidential nomination. And the line of questioning is wholly legitimate. The guy might be president. It's not nosy to wonder what his beliefs and positions are.

At the same time, Cruz is running for the Republican presidential nomination, at a moment when the party itself seems to have gone wildly off the raise. So, realistically, we might have to make do with educated inferences. Mine is that Cruz is a mainstream conservative from the modern Texas Republican establishment. Given his background, he has an unusual expertise and commitment to constitutional issues. He has a lot of intellectual and temperamental overlap with longtime attorney general Greg Abbott, who is now the governor of Texas. (National readers who aren't familiar with Abbott might want to take a look at Texas Monthly's profile of Abbott, by my boss Brian Sweany.) But more generally, like most of the Republicans who have held high office in Texas lately, Cruz is fiscally conservative, and focused on fiscal issues; socially conservative, but only once or twice a season; pragmatic rather than ideological; and, as noted earlier, not nearly as radical as his reputation would suggest.

If I hadn't encountered Cruz prior to his presidential campaign, I doubt I'd describe him in those terms. But I have, and so I would. And I am aware that for many readers the suggestion that Cruz is a mainstream Texas conservative is not reassuring either way. So let's proceed to a happier rule.

It's great that he doesn't believe his immigration rhetoric and would return to being pro-amnesty immediately on being elected, but what does it say about him that he's willing to hate-monger strategically?

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Donald Trump Confuses Communion Plate For Offertory During Church Visit (ALEX PFEIFFER, 01/31/2016, Daily Caller)

While visiting a church Sunday in Iowa Donald Trump placed money on a communion plate because he "thought it was for offering."

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


Can Hariri coexist with a strong Christian president in Lebanon? (HALIM SHEBAYA, 1 February 2016, Open Democracy)

As per Lebanese custom, the president should be Maronite (Eastern Catholic) and is elected by the convening of parliament with a minimum of a two-thirds quorum. This quorum has been unavailable since Aoun (backed by March 8 coalition) has refused to send his parliamentary bloc without the assurance that he - or someone he nominates - is elected as president.

Geagea's endorsement does not necessarily mean that Aoun enjoys majority support in parliament. The Lebanese Forces currently hold eight seats (this is expected to increase during the next elections) and he would need to convince some of his allies to secure Aoun's successful bid.

Former-PM Saad Hariri's endorsement would be enough, as his is the largest bloc in parliament. However, Hariri has recently decided to nominate one of Syrian President Assad's closest friends in Lebanon, Sleiman Frangieh. Geagea's counter-nomination was in large part spurred by his seeming preference to see Aoun (his archrival) and not Frangieh (his rival in the north of Lebanon) as president.

It was also perhaps driven by a frustration in the manner in which Hariri - a Sunni - dealt with the presidential issue and nominated Frangieh without consulting his most prominent Christian ally. This was in contrast to the way in which Hizbullah's Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah steadfastly supported Aoun's nomination and refused to discuss the presidential portfolio, instead always pointing in the direction of Aoun as the linchpin of any resolution.

In this regard, one of the most common statements we would hear over the past years was that Christians are unable to unite and that that remains the reason behind their limited influence in the country. Reference is made to the other denominations that have a clear leader: Hariri for the Sunnis and Nasrallah for the Shi'a.

Another main issue voiced by Lebanese Christians is the following: why is it the case that Sunnis get to elect the PM, and the Shia get to choose the Speaker, whereas Christians are denied the right to choose their preferred strongest candidate as president?

Have national elections and let all the "Lebanese" decide.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Why Ted Cruz's Dishonest Mailing May Not Have Even Worked Anyway (Jesse Singal, 2/01/16, NY Magazine)

In addition to the fact that there's no such thing as a "voting violation," meaning this mailing probably freaked out a bunch of Iowans who had done nothing wrong, Mother Jones makes a strong case that the scores were likely made up, anyway -- amusingly, the Cruz campaign sent a mailer to a political-science professor at Iowa State who is very familiar with his own voting record, and he told MoJo that he was given a score of F despite having voted in five of the last six primary and general elections.

But setting aside the morality of this, it's fair to ask: Would it be likely to work? This is, after all, a behavioral-economics-flavored attempt to nudge people's behavior in one particular direction, toward voting, and there's been a lot of research on this.

MoJo notes that "This direct-mail strategy is inspired by social science that shows that a citizen is more likely to vote if he knows his neighbors will be told whether he went to the polls." Indeed, the mailer contains a line indicating that "A follow-up issue may be issued following Monday's caucuses," hinting at a wee bit of public shaming should someone fail to vote.

That's true, but there's an element of the mailer that may also nudge voters away from voting -- even setting aside the ick factor surely spreading over Iowa this morning as people find out about the dishonest mailing. Look at the numbers in the above tweet: It suggests everyone in his immediate neighborhood is crappy at voting. There's a chance that voters' response to this wouldn't be "Oh, I better vote," but rather "Hmmm, I guess voting just isn't that important to my local community, so I'm not going to bother."

In my 2014 article on why awareness-raising is overrated, I noted the possibility for this sort of backfire effect during certain types of campaigns:

In the most unfortunate cases, raising awareness can have the opposite of its intended effect. ... In one study famous to social scientists, visitors to Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park appeared to be more likely to steal petrified wood when presented with information about the high frequency of other park visitors' pilching, because the information "normalise[d] undesirable conduct," as the researchers put it -- if everyone else is stealing wood, who cares if I take some, too?