May 31, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


Ronald Reagan's Ten Words that Changed the World (Bradley J. Birzer, 5/31/16, Imaginative Conservative)

Oddly enough, no American press organ with the exception of The Christian Science Monitor understood the vital importance of the speech.[10] Somehow, nearly every American news agency missed ten important words, ten words that changed the entire course of American foreign policy since Truman implement it in the middle 1940s. "The West will not contain communism; it will transcend communism." With understandable irony, only the official Soviet news agencies, TASS and Pravda, understood what the speech meant.

These statements are made at a time when, according to the President himself, the United States is going through both a moral and an economic crisis. Reagan expressed concern over economic stagnation, born of inflation, "burdensome and unnecessary regulations and... a punitive tax policy." The crime rate and violence, whose victim the President himself was recently, is speedily growing in the country. Even before President Reagan's visit to Notre Dame University a movement of protest against his appearance started there. The newspaper National Catholic Reporter strongly criticized the administration for taking billions of dollars from social programmes and giving away those billions, and many others, to military programmes. The White House, the newspaper said, crudely flouts human rights, which is seen particularly vividly from the example of El Salvador.'

Pravda argued that the Catholic Crusades of the Middle Ages inspired the radical and outmoded fortieth president of the United States:

This is not the first time that prophets foretelling the imminent death of communism emerge in the West. The anti-communist crusade which began in 1917 has always featured fanaticism characteristic of medieval crusaders rather than rational thinking. The Reagan administration also bears the mark of such fanaticism.

Pravda, perhaps for the first time in its existence, fully grasped America's resolve.

As the first public words he had spoken about Soviet relations, or indeed about foreign policy, during his young presidency, Reagan's address at the University of Notre Dame, far from being an "amiably rah-rah speech" as reported by Newsweek, set the stage for the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union's totalitarian grip on its own citizens and on Eastern Europe, and and end to its expansionism.  Words matter. Ideas matter. Reagan understood this, and so did his enemies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Hamilton (Joe Posnanski, 5/31/16)

The idea took hold a few months ago. It's hard to say exactly what sparked it other than ... well, have you ever been the parent of a 14-year-old girl? It is a daunting experience. Elizabeth is a good person. She's a good student. She has a huge heart. She's a loyal friend. She's funny too. She likes Death Cab and Spinal Tap and comic books and reading. The other day, she told me that her favorite movie of all time is "The Godfather." I mean, she is more me than I am.

But she is 14, and in some ways that explains everything. In some ways it doesn't. There are times I feel closer to her than ever ... and times I feel so much further away. Farther away? Further away? One gorgeous day in autumn, I was sitting on the porch, working, and she came outside and sat next to me, and it became clear after a few choice words about tattoos and nose rings and such that she had come out for the sole purpose of starting a fight. There was no specific reason for it other than she's 14, and I'm her father, and this is the timeless story.

There have been other things, trying things, unforeseen things, a punishing year, and one day I came up with this idea. I would take Elizabeth to see "Hamilton."

We have a flaw in my family, one that goes back generations: We tend to grow obsessed with, well, stuff. What kind of stuff? OK, my mother through the years has had been possessed by countless activities including (but not limited to): paint-by-numbers; cross-stitch; stamp collecting; Harlequin Romances; computer programming (the most profitable of such obsessions); various soap operas; various reality TV shows; crossword puzzles; cookbooks; Candy Crush; all sorts of collectibles and, most recently, coloring books. She recently had coloring pencils shipped from Sweden or Switzerland or some such place. She's very good at coloring. You can find her work on Facebook.

This is just how the family mind works, I guess. I have known all my life about my weakness for growing obsessed by things. This is the reason I haven't seen Game of Thrones or The Americans or Downton Abbey or House of Cards or any other recently popular television show. It isn't because I dislike television -- it's the opposite. I like television too much. I know the only way to avoid free-falling into that television hole is to never start watching in the first place.

I don't mean this theoretically. For years, people have been on me to watch "Mad Men." Three weeks ago, I caved in and decided to watch. I have now seen every show, all seven seasons, 92 episodes. That's in three weeks. In other words, I have spent roughly four of the last 21 days doing nothing but watching Mad Men. That's not healthy. I mean, the show was superb but I'm glad it's over. I would rather obsess about something else.

Elizabeth is one of several million people -- so many of them teenagers -- who have become obsessed with the Broadway show "Hamilton." It is funny, if you think about it. Kids all over America are smitten by a show about a previously minor Founding Father who probably would have gotten chucked off the $10 bill had it not been for the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda.
When I was Elizabeth's age, we all wore Rush and Black Sabbath T-shirts and sang about how Mommy's alright and Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird.

These kids are singing about Alexander Hamilton's argument with Thomas Jefferson over a plan to establish a national bank and assume state debt.

All of Elizabeth's friends seem to be into Hamilton. One of them will periodically and for no obvious reason break into "You'll Be Back," a song where King George tells the colonies they will eventually return to England's rule (''Cuz when push comes to shove/I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.").

The King, inevitably, has the best tunes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Television Networks Struggle to Provide Equal Airtime in the Era of Trump (MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, MAY 30, 2016, NY Times)

Networks are seeking novel ways to maintain balance, like staging voter town halls that provide candidates with equal airtime; seeking a wider spectrum of on-air contributors and campaign surrogates; and bringing more fact-checking into segments, as Jake Tapper has done recently on CNN to some acclaim.

Still, the presence of Mr. Trump can be irresistible, especially in an election in which viewership and advertising rates have soared, generating tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for an industry threatened by digital competition.

Last week, none of the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC -- carried Mrs. Clinton's speech to a workers' union in Las Vegas, where she debuted sharp new attack lines against Mr. Trump.

Instead, each chose to broadcast a live feed of an empty podium in North Dakota, on a stage where Mr. Trump was about to speak.

The same discrepancy occurred earlier this month, when the cable networks aired Mr. Trump's address to the National Rifle Association live from start to finish. A speech by Mrs. Clinton in Detroit days later, to a labor union, did not receive the same coverage; all three networks skipped the speech, with Fox News airing a lighthearted segment about a nationwide backlog of cheese.

In interviews, more than a dozen anchors, executives and news producers displayed admiration for Mr. Trump's facility with their medium. Some expressed a bit of soul-searching, admitting unease at the unfiltered exposure he has received, with one anchor describing frustration about being asked to conduct on-air interviews with Mr. Trump by telephone, rather than in person. But several offered the defense that whatever viewers make of Mr. Trump, he is undoubtedly newsworthy -- and always accessible.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Trump Donated To Vets Group Known For Being A Scam Operation (Saif Alnuweiri, May 31, 2016, National Memo)

Following a lengthy temper tantrum aimed at the media, Donald Trump released a list of veterans charities that were going to receive the money he claims to have raised back in January. One of those charities, Foundation for American Veterans, is known to be a scam operation.

The Foundation for American Veterans received $75,000, according to a list published by the Trump campaign. However, the foundation is known for spending very little of its money on actually helping veterans, according to CharityWatch, a charity watchdog group, who gave the foundation an "F" rating. The Foundation for American Veterans failed to meet transparency or governance benchmarks and spends just 10 cents on veterans benefits, meaning that 90 cents of every dollar Trump paid the group will go towards "Fundraising and Management & General Expenses," according to CharityWatch.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Hillary Clinton vs. Herself : There's nothing simple about this candidacy--or candidate. (Rebecca Traister, 5/31/16, New York)

The idea that, at this point, there is some version of Hillary Clinton that we haven't seen before feels implausible. Often, it feels like we know too much about her. She has been around for so long -- her story, encompassing political intrigue and personal drama, has been recounted so many times -- that she can seem a fictional character. To her critics, she is Lady Macbeth, to her adherents, Joan of Arc. As a young Hillary hater, I often compared her to Darth Vader -- more machine than woman, her humanity ever more shrouded by Dark Side gadgetry. These days, I think of her as General Leia: No longer a rebel princess, she has made a wry peace with her rakish mate and her controversial hair and is hard at work, mounting a campaign against the fascistic First Order.

All the epic allusions contribute to the difficulty Clinton has long had in coming across as, simply, a human being. She is uneasy with the press and ungainly on the stump. Catching a glimpse of the "real" her often entails spying something out of the corner of your eye, in a moment when she's not trying to be, or to sell, "Hillary Clinton." And in the midst of a presidential campaign, those moments are rare. You could see her, briefly, letting out a bawdy laugh in response to a silly question in the 11th hour of the Benghazi hearings, and there she was, revealed as regular in her damned emails, where she made drinking plans with retiring Maryland senator and deranged emailer Barbara Mikulski. Her inner circle claims to see her -- to really see her, and really like her -- every day. They say she is so different one-on-one, funny and warm and devastatingly smart. It's hard for people who know her to comprehend why the rest of America can't see what they do.

I spent several days with Hillary Clinton near the end of primary season -- which, in campaign time, feels like a month, so much is packed into every hour -- and I began to see why her campaign is so baffled by the disconnect. Far from feeling like I was with an awkward campaigner, I watched her do the work of retail politics -- the handshaking and small-talking and remembering of names and details of local sites and issues -- like an Olympic athlete. Far from seeing a remote or robotic figure, I observed a woman who had direct, thoughtful, often moving exchanges: with the Wheelers, with home health-care workers and union representatives and young parents. I caught her eyes flash with brief irritation at an MSNBC chyron reading "Bernie Sanders can win" and with maternal annoyance as she chided press aide Nick Merrill for not throwing out his empty water bottle. I saw her break into spontaneous dance with a 2-year-old who had been named after her, Big Hillary stamping her kitten heels and clapping her hands and making "Oooh-ooh-ooh" noises. I heard her proclaim, with unself-conscious joy, from the pulpits of two black churches in Philadelphia, that "this is the day that the Lord has made!" and watched the young campaign staff at her Brooklyn headquarters bounce up and down with the anticipation of getting to shake her hand.

But what the rest of America sees is very different. Clinton's unfavorability rating recently dipped to meet Trump's at 57 percent; 60 percent think she doesn't share their values, 64 percent think she is untrustworthy and dishonest (and that doesn't even account for the fallout from the inspector general's report about her private email server). Some of this is simply symptomatic of where we are in the election cycle, near the end of a bruising primary season, with Democratic tempers still hot even as the Republicans are falling in line behind their nominee. But some of it is also unique to Clinton, who has been plagued by the "likability" question since she was First Lady (and, indeed, even before that).

In a recent column, David Brooks posited that Clinton is disliked because she is a workaholic who "presents herself as a résumé and policy brief" and about whose interior life and extracurricular hobbies we know next to nothing. There's more than a little sexism at work in Brooks's diagnosis: The ambitious woman who works hard has long been disparaged as insufficiently human. And the Democratic-leaning voters least likely to view Clinton favorably, according to a recent Washington Post poll, skew young, white, and male. But those guys aren't the only ones she's having trouble reaching. And, no, it's not really because we don't know her hobbies (though if that is a burning question for you, read on).

The dichotomy between her public and private presentation has a lot to do with the fact that she has built such a wall between the two. Her pathological desire for privacy is at the root of the never-ending email saga, to name just one example. But how do you convince a woman whose entire career taught her to be defensive and secretive that the key to her political success might just be to lay all her cards on the table and trust that she'll be treated fairly? Especially when she might not be.

There are a lot of reasons -- internal, external, historical -- for the way Clinton deals with the public, and the way we respond to her. But there is something about the candidate that is getting lost in translation. The conviction that I was in the presence of a capable, charming politician who inspires tremendous excitement would fade and in fact clash dramatically with the impressions I'd get as soon as I left her circle: of a campaign imperiled, a message muddled, unfavorables scarily high. To be near her is to feel like the campaign is in steady hands; to be at any distance is to fear for the fate of the republic.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Why Israel's Occupation Is Becoming Irreversible -- and That's the Idea (Luke Baker, May 31, 2016, Tablet)

The settlement project began after Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. In the 1970s, with the government's encouragement, large number of Jews began moving onto the occupied land. There are now 550,000 of them.

Many live in large blocs near Jerusalem or the 'green line' that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, while others live deep inside the West Bank, in highly protected enclaves or pre-fabricated 'outposts' perched on hill tops. All the constructions are considered illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, and plays down the term occupation.

Calculating the financial cost of settlements to Israel is difficult; as well as the capital required to build there are defense and infrastructure costs and the price of tax breaks for residents who move there. But the Macro Center for Political Economics, an Israeli think-tank, estimates building alone has cost around $30 billion over the past 40 years.

Barely a month goes by without a fresh announcement from the government or one of its ministries about West Bank territory being declared "state land," a precursor to settlement building, or a decision to allow new construction to proceed.
At the same time, Palestinians living in a part of the West Bank known as Area C, which accounts for 60 percent of the total and is where most settlements are located, are being uprooted from the land in increasing numbers.

During a visit to a sensitive part of the West Bank near the Palestinian city of Nablus, where settlements occupy almost every hilltop and are steadily expanding their footprint, U.N. diplomats studied maps and pointed out how the Israeli enclaves were spreading east towards the Jordan Valley.

"It starts to look irreversible," said one official, a view separately supported by half a dozen foreign diplomats.

Under the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s, Israel retains full control over Area C, where large tracts have been declared closed military areas. As a result, Israeli courts tend to approve the removal of Palestinians from the area and the demolition of their homes, even though the accords did not change the illegal status of settlements there.

"Settlements are the vehicle for taking control of the land," said Catherine Cook, an official with the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian assistance and an authority on settlements, speaking last month.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


How evolution is the perfect algorithm (ALICE BONASIO, 5/31/16, Next Web)

"Evolution is the true innovation machine," says [Professor Frances Arnold, winner of the  2016 Millennium Technology Prize for her work in directed evolution.], explaining that nature's design works like a powerful algorithm that can scale from molecules to entire eco-systems

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


North Korean state media praises Donald Trump as 'wise politician,' dings 'dull Hillary' (Becca Stanek, 5/31/16, The Week)

North Korea is pretty keen on the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. So much so that North Korean state media DPRK Today published an editorial recently singing the presumptive GOP nominee's praises. Trump, DPRK Today says, is a "wise politician" and a "far-sighted candidate." "There are many positive aspects to Trump's 'inflammatory policies,'" Han Yong-mook, a Chinese North Korean scholar, wrote in the editorial. "Trump said he will not get involved in the war between the South and the North, isn't this fortunate from North Korea's perspective?"

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Why Sweden is now the EU's most competitive economy (The Local, 31 May 2016)

The 2016 edition of the IMD World Competitiveness rankings shows that only Singapore, the USA, Switzerland and China Hong Kong have a more competitive economy than the Swedes, while no nation within the EU currently fares better.

Particularly impressive was non-EU member Switzerland's position, with the country of only eight million residents placing second in the table, making it the most competitive in Europe. China Hong Kong claimed top spot meanwhile, leapfrogging the USA which dropped from first to third after leading for three successive years. 

"The common pattern among all the countries in the top-20 is their focus on business-friendly regulation, physical and intangible infrastructure and inclusive institution," said IMD World Competitiveness Center director Arturo Bris in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Eurozone inflation remains stuck below zero (dEUTSCHE-wELLE, 5/31/16)

In May, the annual inflation rate in the 19-country eurozone remained stuck below zero for a second straight month, and the third month in the last four, according to official figures released by the European Statistics Office (Eurostat) on Tuesday. Consumer prices fell 0.1 percent year-on-year, after slipping 0.2 percent in April, Eurostat data showed.

We grow ever wealthier as stuff costs ever less. God grant that we have the wisdom to stay stuck.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


The Real Story of the Syrian Family Who Donald Trump Said Might Be Terrorists  (BRYAN SCHATZMAY 31, 2016, Mother Jones)

The couple who had panicked the nation's right-wing politicians and pundits sits on a couch in a spartan ground-level apartment on the outskirts of San Bernardino, California. Thirty-two-year-old Samer is in a blue sweatshirt and jeans, lounging next to his wife, Sara. He has a round face and relaxed eyes; she is more angular, her eyes more direct. They're both wearing ankle monitors. Ever since they were released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention two months earlier, they've kept a low profile. It took me weeks to contact them, and now they've agreed to tell their story. But they have some caveats: no real names, not too many details. They don't want to stir up any more trouble than they've already been through.

Eight months before I met them, they were in Syria, on the phone with a smuggler. ISIS fighters were on the fringes of their small Christian village, firing mortars into it. Samer and Sara knew if the village fell there was a good chance they'd be abused or executed. There was no power, no work, and the price of food was punishing. Part of their home was blown up. Their little boys, two and five years old, were "afraid all the time," Sara recalls. They almost never ventured outdoors. Of Syria, Samer says, "It is not a life." So they decided to seek a new one--in America, where they hoped to join Samer's parents and sister, who live in California.

The smuggler told them he could help, in exchange for everything they had--a valuable tract of land, the remains of their home, and all its contents. The smuggler's network stretched across the globe, and he arranged to get them to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they waited three months before being supplied with expertly forged European passports--they won't say which nationality--and plane tickets to Brazil. From there, they traveled north. The smuggler told them where to go, whom to meet, when to take a car, and when to fly. The passports worked at every checkpoint, border, and airport.

On November 17, Samer, Sara, and their two little boys walked across the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas, and turned themselves in to American immigration officials. Samer remembers, "I was so happy. I finally arrived here to have a safe life, a good life for my children."

They didn't realize they were stepping into a firestorm of anti-refugee hysteria. Four days before their arrival, ISIS-backed terrorists had attacked in Paris. After Samer and Sara entered the United States, the conservative website Breitbart proclaimed--falsely--that they and another Syrian family who had crossed with them were "illegal aliens" who had been "caught" sneaking into the country. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a link to the story. Ben Carson said their arrival could be a sign that "our worst nightmare may be unfolding before our eyes." Trump tweeted that they might be terrorists: "ISIS maybe? I told you so. we need a big & beautiful wall!" In the days that followed, more than 30 governors said they did not want Syrian refugees settling in their states.

Almost immediately after requesting asylum, Sara and the boys were put in one ICE detention center, Samer in another.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


The Mormon Jesus (Jana Riess, May 27, 2016, Religion News Service)

Several years ago, John G. Turner published a remarkable biography of Brigham Young that received many accolades and became an academic bestseller.

Now Turner, who teaches American religious history at George Mason University in Virginia, has turned his attention to Mormon theology--specifically to Mormon beliefs about Jesus and how they have changed over time. -- JKR [...]

RNS: You track change over time in how Mormons have regarded Jesus Christ. Do you see these changes mostly within the last 30 years?

Turner: Over the last 50 years, really. These aren't new things, but it's an increasing emphasis: more artwork of Christ, more hymns about Christ, more General Conference talks about Christ. In terms of emphases, there is more of an emphasis now on grace, on an assurance of salvation because of Christ's atonement. Both of those are important recent emphases.

In a broader sense, the Mormon Savior has become a Christ that other Christians would more readily recognize. There's more of an emphasis on unity within the godhead than was the case in the mid-1800s. Certainly he's no longer seen as the son of Adam. Some of the things that were introduced in the nineteenth century have gone by the wayside.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Most Anti-POW Candidate in History Embraced by Pro-POW Rally (Jonathan Chait, 5/31/16, New York)

Anybody who still believes Donald Trump's appeal to the Republican base arises from any remotely concrete policy agenda -- this or that adjustment to trade or immigration policy, say -- ought to pause for a moment to consider the candidate's appearance this weekend at the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day rally in Washington. The putative purpose of the rally is and has always been to honor Vietnam-era prisoners of war. This year they cheered remarks from the candidate who last summer insisted that being captured by the Vietnamese disqualified John McCain from heroism.

News coverage of the event emphasized the ironic juxtaposition, but the full implications may be worth a bit more consideration. Taken literally, here was the equivalent of the NAACP cheering David Duke: a pro-Vietnam POW group warmly receiving the figure who has made the most disparaging remarks about Vietnam POWs of any presidential candidate in history, and quite likely any candidate for public office of any kind.

It doesn't matter that he despises his supporters, just that he despises who they despise.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Donald Trump resorts to insulting reporters during heated press conference (Jeva Lange, 5/31/16, The Week)

The press returned fire, with CNN's Jim Acosta accusing Trump of not being able to cope with the scrutiny it takes to run for president.

"I've seen you on TV, you're a real beauty," Trump replied.

Trump later pivoted to calling ABC reporter Tom Llamas, who was in attendance, "a sleazy guy."

"He's a sleaze, in my book." Trump said.

"Is this what it is going to be like covering you, if you are president?" another reporter finally asked.

"Yeah," Trump said. "Yeah, it is."

Cue his Grover Dill's explaining why this is presidential.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


The Amish understand a crucial thing about modern medicine that most Americans don't (Sara Talpos, May 30, 2016, Quartz)

The Allegheny Plateau, sprawling across northern Pennsylvania and beyond, is an ecosystem of forested hills, with land that supports black bears, bald eagles and wandering turkeys, as well as a patchwork of wild herbs: burdock, jewelweed, chamomile and sheep sorrel. Cellphone reception is spotty and gas stations are few and far between. Tucked away among the streams branching from the Cowanesque river is a cluster of small white and tan buildings, including the office of John Keim, an Amish elder and community healer.

In the 1980s, Keim's young son was scalded by a pot of boiling water, burning off his skin from collarbone to waist. Hospital care was out of the question. Previously, two of Keim's cousins had been burned in a fire and spent three months in an Indiana hospital. Every week, relatives had sent letters describing how the children screamed as their wounds were cleaned and their bandages changed. Reflecting on that, Keim says, "I just felt it was so inhumane. I would not ever take a child to a burn unit." He wanted to be autonomous of what he viewed as a brutal system.

Keim and his wife treated their son at home. Initially, they applied a salve of herbs and wrapped the wounds with gauze, but the gauze sunk into the boy's flesh. They needed a dressing that wouldn't stick.
In his book Comfort for the Burned and Wounded Keim writes, "I thought of how God created the Earth. I honestly felt He kept the poor in mind while Earth was being created." He tried to think of things in nature that might help a poor person treat burns. Hitting upon waxy plantain leaves, he gathered a hatful from a nearby field, scalded them so they would be pliable, and used them to wrap his son's wounds with a layer of herbal salve. Within five days, new skin covered the boy's body. He had survived. [...]
The Amish and other groups such as Old Order Mennonites refer to themselves as "Plain" because they choose to live a modest lifestyle centred on their faith and separated from the rest of the world. There is some diversity between Plain groups, as each community creates its own rules for everything from clothing to technology use. In general, though, Plain people complete formal education in eighth grade (aged 14), use horse and carriage for daily travel, reject mains electricity, and interact with outsiders in a limited capacity. In most Plain communities, individual families and businesses sell furniture, produce or handmade quilts to the wider population, whom they turn to for services such as banking and emergency taxi rides.

The biggest and most complicated cultural intersection is the modern health care system. Plain people often advocate for more freedom in deciding when to go to a hospital, how to get there, and what interventions will be used. In short, they want greater autonomy.

"Patient autonomy" is a relatively new concept in Western medicine, and its significance depends on your perspective. On the one hand, patients report feeling lost in the system − stripped down to a gown and underwear and pressured to follow doctors' orders. On the other hand, doctors can face demands for unwarranted treatments. With their unique cultural traditions, Plain communities might point the way towards a better concept of autonomy, one that balances patient choice with patient responsibility. One that we might all learn from. [...]

For Plain communities, autonomy in healthcare − and in life more broadly − is deeply tied to personal responsibility. This is perhaps best exemplified by their choice not to have insurance. Rather, when someone gets sick, the church collects alms to help the patient cover expenses. Marvin Wengerd estimates that, collectively, the 30,000 Amish in Holmes County spend $20-30 million a year on healthcare.

"Personal responsibility is still huge among us," he says, adding that Plain people "think there's a lot of harm in divorcing the cost from the patient." He describes communities in which individuals are beholden to their brothers and sisters in the church to make wise health care decisions that don't cost the community more money than necessary. As a result, Plain communities are highly interested in health education and disease prevention.

May 30, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


AP-NORC Poll: Voters feel disconnected, helpless in 2016 (STEVE PEOPLES and EMILY SWANSON, May. 30, 2016, AP)

Republicans and Democrats feel a massive disconnect with their political parties and helpless about the presidential election.

That's according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which helps explain the rise of outsider candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and suggests challenges ahead for fractured parties that must come together to win this fall.

"It feels like the state of politics is generally broken," said Joe Denother, a 37-year-old Oregon voter who typically favors Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


We have recently received a couple opportunities for promotional giveaways and Memorial Day Weekend seems like a good time.

First, we gave away two copies of Harry Turtledove's new novel in the NCAA Final Four contest, but I figured I'd give mine away too.  Our review is posted here.

Meanwhile, a couple years ago we received and reviewed an interesting graphic novel about sleep, of all things, R.E.M.  The creative team behind that effort are now working on a Samurai/Spaghetti Western that looks promising and they're raising money to complete the project on Kickstarter:

Orient City: Ronin & The Princess is a samurai spaghetti western that features gorgeous hand-drawn animation mixed with white-knuckle action. It combines the characteristics of the American Wild West with the architecture of Feudal Asia, inspired by the styles of steampunk and anime. Traditional western haunts such as bars, brothels and barbershops feature characteristics such as Chinese rooftops, dragon gargoyles, Chinese lampions and bamboo construction stands.

Towering up through the clouds, Orient City was built vertically on top of four rocks connected by the channels of water at their base. A city whose poor dwell at the bottom, quite literally. They live in favela-like neighborhoods, carved into the rock walls but featuring a distinct oriental-style. As the city rises up, connected by stairways and cable cars, so do the classes and high society lives an opulent, wasteful lifestyle above the clouds.

At the center of it all is Boshi, a fallen samurai who has sworn to protect a young girl whose family has been assassinated. Together they head to Orient City for one thing... revenge.

What sets apart Orient City is not only the quality of the story but also the experience and talents of the filmmaking team. The combination of hand-drawn animation with modern day filmmaking technology enables us to make something breathtaking with a relatively low cost. Our process will allow us to make a high quality picture with a shorter production schedule and less capital.

We have been building the world of Orient City for the last few years... and now we have the first story we would like to tell in this world. 10 minutes of hand-drawn animation is a lot of drawing (roughly 6,000 frames)... but we drink a lot of espresso.

There is a lot of work that has been done already. The script is written, the storyboards are done, the animatic is complete and edited and the scenery is built to the last tumbleweed. But there is a lot of work still to do... and we now need help doing it.

The short will have roughly 6,000 frames.

Zsombor can do roughly 20 keyframes per day. For him to do this on his own, it would take at least 15 months working full-time on the short. It just is not feasible.

That said, Zsombor will draw the 1000 key frames needed, as well as set the colors for each sequence.

For the other 5000 frames we need to bring on Colorists and In-Between Character Animators.

We are scheduled to be completed 24 weeks after a successful campaign. That means we will be able to deliver rewards before the holidays. The animation process will include:

Background Rendering
Background Painting
Voice Recording
Key Frame Animation
In-Between Animation
Ambience building and Visual Effects
Sound Design & Score

We have tested our pipeline on the opening shot and now... we are ready to make this dream a reality!

Financing for independent filmmakers is extremely hard to come by. Financing for first-time animation directors on a hand-drawn film is even harder. Financing for those filmmakers in that medium for a short film is essentially non-existent.

Our graphic novel R.E.M. received an overwhelming amount of support through Kickstarter and we have decided to return to this amazing community as we leap from the printed page to the screen.

In exchange for helping to spread the word, Mr Colucci is offering a an Art Print still from the film to one of our readers.

If you'd like to be entered in the drawing for book and/or print please just email me directly or leave a comment.


Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Why the US doesn't have a Muslim problem, and Europe does (Naveed Jamali, April 3, 2016, FPRI)

I'm first generation American, with a Pakistani-born father. My dad and his older brother both left Pakistan at the same time, but that is where their similarities end. My uncle, an engineer working for the German Space Agency, never felt German. His son avoided mandatory German military service and struggled with finding his identity. My father, on the other hand, came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, ran a successful business, raised two sons (one of whom joined the United States Navy), and proudly votes in every election be it local, state or federal. The contrast between these two brothers is why Europe has a Muslim problem. It's not the influx of Muslims; rather, it's Europe's inability to welcome and assimilate immigrants. The resulting racial tension creates a perfect recipe for ISIS recruitment among disenfranchised young men. America is doing it right, and we cannot repeat the European model. [...]

Unlike Europe, the US has a very different track record with Muslim immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center there are 3.3 million (or 1% of the population) Muslims living in the US. Furthermore, in the US Muslims make up 10% of US physicians, are the 2nd most educated group after the Jewish population, are as likely as other American households to report an income of $100,000 or more, and over 6,000 serve in the military[4].  The report found that Muslim Americans are "highly assimilated into American society and . . . largely content with their lives." Unlike European Muslims the report also found that 80 percent of US Muslims were happy with life in America, and 63 percent said they felt no conflict "between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society."[5] Furthermore, this integration into American culture and society, according to the report, is evident in the rates they participate in various everyday activities such as following local sports teams or watching entertainment TV -- all similar to those of the American public generally. Lastly, most telling of their loyalty and sense of inclusion, according to the Pew report, is that half of all Muslim immigrants display the US flag at home, in the office, or on their car.[6] It is this sense of inclusion that in large parts contributes to the fact that only an estimated 250 Americans have joined ISIS - a number far less than the number of Belgium citizens who have gone to Syria and Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


ISIS Forces Pushed Back In Libya (REUTERS, 05/30/16)

A force that controls oil terminals in eastern Libya said Monday it has captured the town of Ben Jawad from the Islamic State group, pushing the extremists back along a coastal strip they control east of their stronghold of Sirte.

Spokesman Ali al-Hassi said five Petroleum Facilities Guard fighters have been killed and 18 wounded in fierce clashes in the coastal town, and that fighting is continuing in the nearby town of Nawfiliyah.

A Ben Jawad resident told Reuters that PFG forces had entered the town and were combing the area to secure it. If the PFG can hold Ben Jawad it could prove significant, signaling the start of a new front in the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.

The PFG has declared its support for Libya's U.N.-backed unity government. Other brigades that back the government advanced last week to the outskirts of Sirte from the west.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


In Reporting On Hillary Clinton, Media Get Facts Wrong On Colin Powell's Private Email Use (Matt Gertz, May 29, 2016, National Memo)

[T]he report states that former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account "on an exclusive basis for day-to-day operations."

State Department OIG Report: Clinton, Powell Both Exclusively Used Private Email

Office Of Inspector General Report: Powell "Did Not Employ A Department Email Account." According to a report from the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General (OIG) on email records management and cybersecurity requirements: "During Secretary Powell's tenure, the Department introduced for the first time unclassified desktop email and access to the Internet on a system known as OpenNet, which remains in use to this day. Secretary Powell did not employ a Department email account, even after OpenNet's introduction." [U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General report, "Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements," May 2016]

OIG Report: Clinton And Powell Both "Used Non-Department Systems On An Exclusive Basis."According to the OIG report: "OIG identified many examples of staff using personal email accounts to conduct official business; however, OIG could only identify three cases where officials used non-Departmental systems on an exclusive basis for day-to-day operations. These include former Secretaries Powell and Clinton, as well as Jonathan Scott Gration, a former Ambassador to Kenya." [U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General report, "Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements," May 2016]

Clinton Campaign: Clinton "Thought It Was Allowed, As Commercial [Account] Was For Powell." On Twitter, Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon stated: "Our take on State IG report being misreported in places so want to explain. When we liken Clinton's email use to other secretaries... We mean that just as she used nongov't account for work, so did others at State. And that's bc rules did not bar use of nongovt email ... Having said that, it's true her nongovt account was on her family's server, as opposed to commercial email account. That was distinct ... But she still thought it was allowed, as commercial acct was for Powell. Now, though, State says it would've urged against that setup ... To which we say, we agree it was a mistake. If she had chance to do it again, she would have used a account." [, 5/26/16]

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


What Good Is a United Europe to America? : A Brexit advocate says U.S. support for the EU fundamentally misreads what the institution has become. (EDWARD DELMAN  MAY 25, 2016, The Atlantic)

Leave campaigners in the U.K., notably former London Mayor Boris Johnson, have criticized the American president's stance on Britain's debate. In his own Telegraph op-ed, Johnson accused the U.S. of hypocritically advocating for EU restrictions over the U.K. of a kind that it would never accept for itself.

Alan Sked, also in the Leave camp, sees a deeper flaw in the American view of the entire Britain-EU relationship. Sked, a historian at the London School of Economics, was an early proponent of British independence from the union; he founded the U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, in the 1990s with that goal in mind. (He has since disavowed the party, now led by Nigel Farage, as "a vehicle of the far right, obsessed with race and immigration.") In an article detailing "The Case for Brexit" in The National Interest last fall, he called the European Union an "up-to-date model of a supranational empire," like the Habsburg, Russian, German, and Ottoman Empires that dominated the continent prior to World War I.

"Americans," he told me earlier this year, "tend to think of Britain as just one of those [American] colonies in 1776, and all the European states as other colonies"--thus they see a kind of United States of Europe as the desirable result. Sked thinks it's the reverse: "[T]he real parallel is that Britain should secede from this empire and become an independent state, protecting freedom, as the Americans withdrew from the British Empire."

I spoke with Sked about what he sees as the stakes for Britain's referendum, and why Americans have been so involved in the European project to begin with. An edited and condensed transcript of the conversation follows. [....]

Delman: So if the EU is an empire, how would you characterize a British exit from the EU? Could that be seen as decolonization, or anti-imperialist?

Sked: It would be seen as undermining empire. It wouldn't be [anti-colonial] insofar as the Europeans haven't quite colonized us, but it would certainly be anti-imperialist. It would be a strike for freedom; it would be a strike for self-determination. It would be liberty. It would be progress.

Why should we be different from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the world's major democracies? We should have a government which is in control of its own laws, and we shouldn't have to accept regulations and laws made by a foreign bureaucrat over whom we've got no control.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


'The Great White Hope' (Pat Buchanan, May 27, 2016, Townhall)

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Israeli flag burned in Lag B'Omer festivities in Mea Shearim (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 30, 2016)

An Israeli flag was burned during Lag B'Omer celebrations last week in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, to cheers and claps from the audience.

A video of the act has emerged showing a young child standing on a chair on a stage before hundreds of people, mainly children, slowly burning an Israeli flag while music plays in the background. The child is flanked by adults on both sides, one who seems to be emceeing the event.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Turkey says it could seize IS stronghold with US (AP, May 30, 2016)

Turkey's foreign minister suggested his country could carry out joint military operations with the United States to oust the Islamic State group from Syria.

Speaking in Antalya late Sunday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that operation could "easily advance to Raqqa," the main IS bastion in Syria.

American special operations forces and a coalition known as the Syria Democratic Forces have begun clearing areas north of Raqqa in preparation for an eventual assault on the city. A major player in the coalition is the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey -- unlike the United States -- views as a terrorist organization.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Bahrain court extends prison term for Shiite opposition leader (Deutsche-Welle, 5/30/16)

An appeals court in the Gulf country stretched the jail term for Shiite leader Sheikh Ali Salman from four years to nine. Salman was convicted on charges of disturbing the peace and inciting people to disobey the law. [...]

His al Wefaq group has been regularly campaigning for more equality for the majority Shiites in the Sunni-ruled country. "The people have always called for citizenship equality... without any discrimination based on ethnicity, color, religion or sect," the organization's clerics said in a statement. They also demanded the right to free elections and to choose their own government.

"This verdict says the ruling family has no interest in dialogue, sharing power or recognizing any views other than its own," US-based NGO Human Rights First said in a statement. "Keeping the leader of the main opposition group in jail does nothing to end Bahrain's political crisis and everything to stoke further instability in the region."

Instability is the goal.  The regime needs to be replaced with popular government.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Ray Fair: The Economy is Tilting Republican (Conversable Economist, 5/19/16)

Ray Fair is an eminent macroeconomist,  as well as  a well-known textbook writer (with Karl Case and Sharon Oster) who dabbles now and again in sports economics. Here I focus on one of Fair's other interests: the connection from macroeconomic to election outcomes, a topic where he has been publishing an occasional series of papers since 1978. With time and trial-and-error, Fair has developed a formula where anyone can plug in a few key economic statistics and obtain a prediction for the election. A quick overview of the calculations, along with links to some of Fair's recent papers on this subject, are available at Fair's website.

Fair's equation to predict the 2016 presidential election is

VP = 42.39 + .667*G - .690*P + 0.968*Z

On the left-hand side of the equation, VP is the Democratic share of the presidential vote. Given that a Democrat is in office, a legacy of economic growth should tend to favor the Democratic candidate, while inflation would tend to work against the Democrat. On the right-hand side, G is the growth rate of real per capita GDP in the first 3 quarters of the election year (at an annual rate); P is the growth rate of the GDP deflator (a measure of inflation based on everything in the GDP, rather than just on consumer spending as in the better-known Consumer Price Index); and Z is the number of quarters in the first 15 quarters of the second Obama administration in which the growth rate of real per capita GDP is greater than 3.2 percent at an annual rate.

Obviously, some of these variables aren't yet known, because the first three-quarters of 2016 haven't happened yet. But here are Fair's estimates of the variables as of late April: G=0.87; P=1.28; Z=3. Plug those numbers into the formula, and the prediction is that the Democratic share of the two-party presidential vote in 2016 will be 44.99%.

Fair offers a similar equation to predict the 2016 House elections. The formula is

VC = 44.09 + .372*G - .385*P + 0.540*Z

where VC is the Democratic share of the two-party vote in Congressional elections. Plugging in the values for G, P and Z, the prediction is 45.54% of the House vote for Democrats.

History always repeats itself, as turning on another Bush will cost us this election and credit for a Peace Dividend.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Still Selling Neoliberal Unicorns: The US Applauds the Coup in Brazil, Calls It Democracy (Greg Grandin, 5/28/16, The Nation)

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's recently deposed president, calls it a coup. Many, perhaps most, of the countries in the Organization of American States call it is a coup. Even the men who helped carry out the coup admit, in a secretly recorded conversation, that what they were doing was effectively a coup, staged to provide them immunity from a corruption investigation.

But the United States doesn't think that the blatantly naked power grab that just took place in Brazil--which ended the Workers' Party's 13-year control of the presidency, installed an all-white, all-male cabinet, diluted the definition of slavery, lest it tarnish the image of Brazil's plantation sector (which relies on coerced, unfree labor), and began a draconian austerity program--is a coup.

It's democracy at work, according to various Obama officials.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Foxconn replaces '60,000 factory workers with robots' (Jane Wakefield, 25 May 2016, BBC)

Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has reportedly replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots.

One factory has "reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots", a government official told the South China Morning Post.

Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, added: "More companies are likely to follow suit."

China is investing heavily in a robot workforce.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Descent of the machines: Volvo's robot mining trucks get rolling (David Crouch, 26 May 2016, The Guardian)

In a disused military aircraft hangar buried deep in a granite hillside, Johan Tofeldt flicks a switch on the future of mining.

"Look, no hands!" he beams, as the truck lurches backwards and executes a precise reverse. "It's a little heavy on the clutch, but then it's not designed for driver comfort."

The cheerful Swede is sitting in a standard Volvo FMX heavy duty truck, a haulage industry workhorse. But where once there was a narrow bed behind the seat there is now a laptop and a tangle of wires. This is Volvo Group's driverless truck, designed to work in underground mines far beyond the limits of GPS navigation.

May 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Jazz great Sonny Rollins still not finished at 85 (Telegraph Reporters, 6 APRIL 2016, The Telegraph)

The hard-working tenor saxophonist has taken several extended sabbaticals, most famously when he temporarily retired - yet would practice on New York's Williamsburg Bridge. He later moved to India and Japan to explore spirituality.

His latest break is less intentional - respiratory problems have kept him from playing since 2012.

"I am not finished with what I want to do musically, so I definitely want to do more and I am hoping that I will be able to," Rollins said in a reflective interview on a career spanning more than 65 years.

Rollins voiced confidence that "new, modern medication" would help him return to form. Eager to keep releasing music in the meantime, he has been reaching into his vault of live recordings to put out collections.

His latest, Holding the Stage: Road Shows, Vol. 4, features 10 tracks, some of them never recorded in studio, of performances since 1979 across the United States and Europe.

Highlights include songs from his nerve-wracking yet emotionally resonant performance that he went ahead with days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which the native New Yorker witnessed firsthand as he lived near the fallen World Trade Center.

Fueling his desire to record, Rollins said he saw music as commentary on happenings around him. Another of his classic works, 1958's Freedom Suite, was driven by a strong, confident tenor sax that reflected the burgeoning movement for African American civil rights.

The saxophone legend now says he is no longer driven by current events and instead wants to reflect musically on "the bigger picture - not this world, the infinite world".

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Sustainable energy: inside Iceland's geothermal power plant (Kit Buchan, 29 May 2016, The Guardian)

To access the potential energy under the surface, wells are drilled thousands of metres into the ground, penetrating reservoirs of pressurised water. Heated by the Earth's energy, this water can be more than 300C in temperature, and when released it boils up from the well, turning partly to steam on its way. At Hellisheiði, the steam is separated from the water to power some of the plant's seven turbines, while the remaining water is further depressurised to create more steam, used to power other turbines. At its maximum output the station can produce 303MW of electricity, making it one of the three largest single geothermal power stations in the world.

The thick billows of steam notwithstanding, it is almost hard to believe that Hellisheiði is a power station at all, resembling as it does a modern art gallery or conference centre. The station is open to the public, with guided tours, educational installations and even a souvenir shop. "From the exhibition you can look over the turbine hall and hear the roar of the turbines," says Karlsdóttir, "nothing is burning, there's no mess, and we have walking paths all over the mountain." According to Karlsdóttir, a major proportion of the plant's thousands of annual visitors are British schoolchildren, witnessing a vision of clean, sustainable power dramatically different from the murky, fossilised industry they are used to.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Trump camp concedes it's low on money (Joel Gehrke, 5/27/16, Washington Examiner)

Donald Trump's campaign has alerted Senate Republicans that he won't have much money to spend fending off attacks from Hillary Clinton over the next couple months. [...]

[T]rump allies have suggested that the RNC is going to take advantage of the real estate mogul. "I don't think the RNC is 100 percent committed," a GOP donor told CNN. "If Donald Trump's seven points down in October, they're going to put that money toward Senate races and House races."

...don't give him any. His candidacy is a prank gone horribly wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


ISIS and Israel on the Golan Heights (Sam Brennan 28 May 2016, OpenDemocracy)

 ISIS is currently being pressed on all fronts; if they have to choose between attacking Israel and attacking a largely civilian area in the already decimated Deir ez-Zur province, historically they have picked the latter. Yet that does not explain Israel's reaction to ISIS' possession of such a threatening territory.

The YMB have already provoked international outrage. In 2013 the YMB kidnapped some 20 Filipino United Nation peacekeepers. They held them for two weeks before releasing them. However YMB kidnapped these peacekeepers from inside Israeli occupied territories. While YMB was only loosely affiliated with ISIS in 2013 there have been no repercussions for an Islamic militant group infiltrating an Israeli buffer-zone and kidnapping UN peacekeepers. Israel has shown in the past it is willing to attack groups on its borders that it perceives as a threat.

Israel has during the Syria civil war authorised airstrikes in Syria multiple times. These airstrikes however have aimed not at ISIS, nor al-Nusra or other Sunni jihadist groups. These strikes have overwhelmingly been targeted at the assets of Shia-affiliated groups, predominantly Hezbollah.

Israel in September 2014 also shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet for straying into Golan airspace: the first time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that the IDF has attacked Syria's official military. Israel has shown during the Syrian civil war that it is willing to attack those who threaten its territorial integrity - but not ISIS.

The YMB has entered Israeli-held territory, yet there has been no reported conflict between the two groups. In fact there have been reports by Foreign Policy Magazine claiming that far from fighting the militias on the Golan boarder, Israel has been providing health care to the militants. Around 1,000 Syrians within fourteen months have been given treatment, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. The Lt. Col. went on to say, "we don't do any vetting or check where they are from or which group they are fighting for, or whether they are civilians."

There seems to be very different treatment for rebel groups on the south of the Golan Heights border than for those in the north. But why would Israel, which authorised multiple bombings on Syrian militant groups, take such a relaxed view towards ISIS on their doorstep?

Israeli foreign policy is largely just opposition to democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


The replicator : Designing in the digital and physical worlds at the same time (The Economist, May 28th 2016)

Instead of being created with technical drawings and blueprints, most new products are today conceived in CAD systems in a three-dimensional virtual form. As these systems get cleverer some of the design processes themselves are being automated: algorithms suggest the most efficient shapes to save weight, or to provide strength or flexibility according to the loads and stresses placed upon them. Components and even entire products can be tested in their digital form, often using virtual reality. When something physical is finally built the same software drives the equipment that produces it, whether automated lathes and milling machines that cut and drill material or, in the case of additive manufacturing, 3D printers that build up objects layer-by-layer in a way never before possible.

This digital dimension gives designers a greater level of freedom to create new things (see article). But not all designers are skilled in using CAD systems. Even those who are might want to set aside the computer mouse for a saw, a file or a welding torch to get hands-on with their ideas. The ability to do both is becoming possible. A machine developed at the University of Lancaster in Britain provides a glimpse of a future in which product designers will be able to work in both digital and physical forms--at the same time.

The ReForm is a desktop machine developed by Jason Alexander, Christian Weichel (now at Bosch, a German components group) and John Hardy (now co-founder of HE Inventions, a Manchester startup) to pick up any changes made to a physical model of a product and reflect those changes back into the digital model, or vice versa. "I like to think of it as the closest implementation yet of a Star Trek replicator," says Dr Hardy, referring to the device that could create just about anything in the science-fiction TV series.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


What We Know About Hillary Clinton's Private Email Server  (ALICIA PARLAPIANO    MAY 27, 2016, NY Times)


Emails released

Emails not released


have since been classified "confidential," the lowest level of classification


have since been classified "secret."

None of the emails were marked as classified when they were sent, and it is unclear whether she would have known the information was classified.

May 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM



More than half of America's colleges and universities now have restrictive speech codes. And, according to a censorship watchdog group, 217 American colleges and universities--including some of the most prestigious--have speech codes that "unambiguously impinge upon free speech."

Judges have interpreted the First Amendment broadly, giving Americans some of the most expansive rights of speech in the world. But over the past two decades, and especially the past few years, American college administrators and many students have sought to confine speech to special zones and agitated for restrictions on language in classrooms as well. To protect undergrads from the discomfort of having to hear disagreeable ideas and opinions, administrators and students--and the U.S. Department of Education--have been reframing speech as "verbal conduct" that potentially violates the civil rights of minorities and women.

American college campuses are starting to resemble George Orwell's Oceania with its Thought Police, or East Germany under the Stasi. College newspapers have been muzzled and trashed, and students are disciplined or suspended for "hate speech," while exponentially more are being shamed and silenced on social media by their peers. Professors quake at the possibility of accidentally offending any student and are rethinking syllabi and restricting class discussions to only the most anodyne topics. A Brandeis professor endured a secret administrative investigation for racial harassment after using the word wetback in class while explaining its use as a pejorative.

As college campuses have become bastions of rigorously enforced political correctness, the limits on speech have come crashing down in the real world, with the presumptive Republican nominee for president dishing out macroaggressions on a daily basis. 

Stop subsidizing college.
Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


When the Barbarous Brits First Quit Europe (TOM HOLLAND, MAY 27, 2016, NY Times)

Just as Charles de Gaulle once warned against admitting Britain into the European Union's predecessor, the Common Market, on the grounds that, as an island nation, Britain would always look to the sea, so Roman ethnographers regarded the Britons as a people apart. The catalog of their barbarisms, from their florid body painting to their taste for milk, even made Rome's imperial strategists doubt the value of conquering them at all.

Even when, in A.D. 43, they finally decided on an invasion, the advance of the Roman legions was ultimately blunted by the increasingly inhospitable landscape and the savagery of the natives. As a result, the northern outposts were always heavily -- and no doubt oppressively -- militarized. Historians have aptly described the occupation of the north as Rome's equivalent of Afghanistan, resistant to all attempts at subjugation. Hadrian's Wall still stands as a memorial to the failure of the Caesars to subdue the rebellious Picts.

Farther south, however, classical civilization gained a greater hold. From their Continental masters, the native aristocracy acquired a taste for baths, mosaics and central heating; the villas they built during the third and fourth centuries were tributes to Roman taste.

AND yet, even these acculturated Britons remained to some degree outsiders. Unlike their counterparts in Spain and Gaul, they did not enter the highest echelons of imperial society. As late as the mid-fourth century, by which point Britain had been a Roman province for 300 years, the very notion of a cultured Briton could generate snorts of derision. "There's no such thing as a good Briton," one Roman author declared, after a British poet had dared to give him a bad review.

Britain would soon become notorious for something far removed from literary criticism: armed insurrection. "Fertile in rebels," the early Christian theologian St. Jerome wrote of the island. By the time he did so, in 415, Britain's status as the troublemaker of the Roman world was firmly established. As early as the third century, one insurgent leader declared himself the emperor of Britain and northern Gaul; and in 383, another British warlord crossed the Channel and ruled as emperor in Gaul for five years.

By the early fifth century, it was evident that the imperial authorities, struggling to cope with mass immigration and economic upheaval in their own heartlands, had lost control of Britain. It is possible that they opted deliberately to cut the province loose; but the evidence points to a more startling conclusion. The Britons, so we are told by a near-contemporary historian, "threw off Roman rule, and lived independently, no longer subject to Roman laws." So, Britain, uniquely among the provinces of the Roman Empire, seems to have chosen exit.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Trump Attacks Federal Judge in Trump U Case (REID J. EPSTEIN, May 27, 2016, WSJ)

In one of his most personal attacks against an apolitical figure since becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump delivered an extended tirade about the federal judge overseeing the civil litigation against his defunct education program.

Mr. Trump's attack on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was extraordinary not just in its scope and intensity but for its location: Before a crowd packed into a convention center here that had been primed for the New York billionaire with a warm-up speech from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Likud deputy minister says Liberman not fit for the job (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 28, 2016)

"Liberman will not be a good defense minister," Deputy Minister for Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara said at a cultural event in Beersheba. "Someone with military experience should have been appointed, someone who understands what a weapon is."

Besides his hawkish views, Liberman's appointment to the defense ministry has been criticized for his lack of military experience -- he had a short military career as a stockkeeper in the Artillery Corps and never participated in combat. His predecessor Moshe Ya'alon served as army chief and in the past had led the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

Opposition lawmakers hailed the recent resignations of Ya'alon from the Defense Ministry and Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) from the Environmental Protection Ministry as the only appropriate response to Liberman's appointment. is a useful admission by Bibi that Israel faces no external threats. Indeed, the appointment is a function of the internal ones.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Why is Egypt calling on Israel to release Marwan al-Barghouti? (Ahmed Fouad, May 25, 2016, Al Monitor)

Complementing the extraordinary groundswell of calls for Barghouti's release, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced April 17 its desire for the Israeli authorities to release him, after a meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and Fadwa Barghouti that same day. This came within the context of her trips to various countries to build up international support for calls to release her husband.

The fact that the Egyptian announcement that Cairo sought to see Barghouti released coincided with his wife's statement that he intended to run for the presidency perhaps indicates his candidacy has Egypt's blessing, given "[Barghouti's] ... wide-ranging popularity as well as his ability to convince Palestinian organizations to work with him," according to statements to Al-Monitor from a former official at the Egyptian Embassy in Ramallah.

Barghouti's role in Fatah has not been limited to political work, like most of the current crop of leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), president of Fatah and head of the Palestinian Authority, and Saeb Erekat, a member of the Central Committee. His role extended to military operations against Israel during the years of the second intifada before he was arrested -- particularly 2000, 2001 and the beginning of 2002. He was one of the founders of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's military wing. The brigades' military activity was suspended after the election of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, following Barghouti's imprisonment.

Perhaps his absence from the movement was one of the reasons that Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades lapsed into inactivity. Following his arrest in 2002, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published audio recordings of Barghouti's interrogations at the hands of the Shabak, Israel's security service. According to those recordings, Barghouti was one of the supporters of expanding the intifada's anti-occupation military activities beyond the Green Line -- in other words, beyond the territories that were occupied in 1967 and have yet to be recovered.

Dr. Yasir Tantawi, an expert in Palestinian affairs at the Al-Ahram Center for Political Studies, told Al-Monitor that occupied peoples generally tend to support leaders with a personal history of armed struggle, as is the case with Barghouti. All the more so as Fatah's armed activity receded in Barghouti's absence, and did so in a manner that ran contrary to the movement's dominant vision during Yasser Arafat's era. That vision viewed the struggle for the 1967 territories as necessary, even if it required the use of arms against Israeli forces and settlers.

Because of his popularity, the release of Barghouti has become something both rival Hamas and Fatah are competing to achieve, owing to the vast credit and accomplishment he could add to the stock of whichever party secured his release.

It should be noted that many Hamas leaders have stressed in statements to the press and televised interviews that Barghouti's release is a top priority. This includes Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political office, who said in a Nov. 4, 2015, interview that his movement was concerned with securing Barghouti's release.

A former official from the Egyptian Embassy in Ramallah who asked to remain anonymous told Al-Monitor, "The popularity of Barghouti because of his armed struggles and imprisonment made him a hero and a symbol for the Palestinian issue, and both Hamas and Fatah can't block his political programs, as happened with Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz Al-Rantissi. He can convince the two organizations to unite under his presidency, because their refusal [to do so] may reduce their popularity compared with Barghouti's popularity."

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Softbank's Pepper robot just got a job taking orders at Pizza Hut (NATT GARUN, 5/27/16, The Next Web)

It's graduation season here in the US, and the job market is busier than ever. For Softbank's emotion-reading Pepper robot, however, landing a gig seems to have been easy as pie.

MasterCard today announced that Pepper will soon be implemented in Pizza Hut restaurants in Singapore to take orders and process payments. They do so by "greeting" Pepper and pairing a MasterPass account to Pepper's attached tablet. Then, Pepper will take your order and allow you to customize it however you like without any side-eyeing or risk of getting spit in your food.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Japanese American internment survivor hears troubling echoes in Trump rhetoric : 'People do not remember,' says Madeleine Sugimoto who was locked up as a girl in the second world war, 'and that makes it easier for Trump to fan the flames' (Ed POilkington, 5/28/16, The Guardian)

Sugimoto, now 80, finds herself thinking a lot about those three years she spent in internment camps in Arkansas. The spirit of that deeply disturbing part of her childhood, an episode she believes has been all but forgotten within the narrative of American history, appears to be raising its ugly head once again.

"I think it's dangerous the way he spouts off," she said. "Not knowing any history, making no connections with what he says should be done today - it's worrying and upsetting."

She's talking about Donald Trump, and his mass targeting of ethnic and religious groups. It's not Japanese Americans this time: it's the 11 million undocumented immigrants, mostly Hispanic, he has threatened to round up and deport. It is also Muslims, who he has vowed to ban from entering the country just by dint of their faith.

To Sugimoto, a retired healthcare professional who lives in New York, where her family relocated after their release from internment in 1945, Trump's contentious policies are far too close to her reality for comfort. What she finds most unnerving is that the assumption that lay behind her internment - that all Japanese Americans were potential enemies - is being replicated by the presidential nominee of the Republican party, a man who is one step away from the White House.

"Just because I look different doesn't mean I'm a foreigner," she said. "I'm an American. That's the same with Muslims and Latinos, and other ethnic and cultural groups who should all have the right to be accepted."

She adds: "Entire communities are being blamed for something that might be relevant to an individual or small group. Trump is putting the negativity on everybody, making all of them perpetrators in the United States, and that's not true.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The Jews of the American Revolution : A ritual for Memorial Day at a cemetery in downtown Manhattan (MEIR Y. SOLOVEICHIK, May 26, 2016, WSJ)

New Yorkers strolling through Chinatown in downtown Manhattan last Sunday might have noticed an unusual flurry of activity: Jewish men and women, a rabbi in a clerical gown, and a color guard gathering in graveyard tucked away behind a wrought-iron fence. Members of the New York synagogue Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, were visiting their historic cemetery at Chatham Square.

In an annual ritual ahead of Memorial Day, they were there for a ceremony that few other synagogues in America could perform: honoring the members of their congregation who had fought in the Revolutionary War.

For Shearith Israel, where I am the rabbi, what is most striking is not that its history stretches back to the Colonial period, but rather that so many of its congregants sided with George Washington against England. New York was known as a Tory stronghold: When English forces expelled Washington's troops from the city, King George III's soldiers were greeted with a "Declaration of Dependence" signed by hundreds of New Yorkers, declaring their allegiance to Great Britain.

The Jews of New York, by contrast, were largely of the patriot persuasion, in part because Shearith Israel's spiritual leader, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was known for his vocal support for the Colonists' cause. Like many members of the Continental Congress, even Seixas had hoped for reconciliation with England. As late as May 1776, Seixas gathered his flock in the synagogue, located then on what is now South William Street, to pray that the English would "turn away their fierce Wrath from against North America."

The prayer was unanswered, and when independence was declared, Shearith Israel's members, according to one congregational account, decided "that it were better that the congregation should die in the cause of liberty than to live and submit to the impositions of an arrogant government." 

North Dakota Mosque a Symbol of Muslims' Long Ties in America (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN MAY 27, 2016, NY Times)

Richard Omar drove his pickup truck through the cemetery gate and pulled to a stop in sight of the scattered headstones. As he walked toward a low granite monument, his running shoes crunched the dry prairie grass and he tilted forward into an unrelenting west wind.

"These are my parents," he said beside a carved granite marker. Then he fixed bouquets of fabric flowers into place with metal stakes, hoping they would last until next spring.

Mr. Omar, a retired electrician, was engaged in an act of filial obligation and something larger, as well: the consecration of a piece of American religious history. This cemetery, with the star-crescent symbol on its gate and on many of its gravestones, held the remains of a Muslim community that dated back nearly 120 years. Up a slight hill stood the oldest mosque in the United States.

The original mosque, erected by pioneers from what are now Syria and Lebanon, had been built in 1929. After it fell into disuse and ruin, the descendants of its founders and the Christian friends they had made over the generations raised money to put up a replacement in 2005.

It is a modest square of cinder blocks, perhaps 15 feet on each side, topped with an aluminum dome and minarets. Several hundred yards off the main highway, on the outskirts of a town with barely 200 residents about 60 miles west of Minot, the mosque and cemetery exist much as they always have, surrounded by fields of wheat and corn and grazing lands. In this spot, all the industrial clamor of North Dakota's fracking boom feels immeasurably distant.

Muslim Scouts hoping to change perceptions (Jim Axelrod, 4/26/16, CBS News)

At first glance, it looks like any other Scout meeting. But take a second look.

Abdul Rashid Abdullah runs a Scout den in northern Virginia for 125 Muslim boys and girls.

"So we sang the national anthem, we did the Pledge of Allegiance, but at the same time, we opened up with the Al-Fatiha, the opening prayer," Abdullah told CBS News.

The Roman Catholic-turned-Muslim and U.S. Army veteran says Muslim Scouting has been around for decades.

Even so, kids like Mohammed says he often has to explain that Muslim Scouts aren't any different.

"When you see a Muslim as a Boy Scout, people don't really know how to react or anything," he said.

Abdullah says that there is a natural overlap between Scouting and Islam.

"Look at the last point of the Scout laws: a Scout is reverent. Someone who gives homage to God, respects God, but also respects others," Abdullah said. "And that's what Islam says."

Earlier this year, President Obama met a group of young Muslim Cub Scouts on a visit to a U.S. mosque.

"You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American," Mr. Obama said. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America, too."

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Turkish rockets, U.S.-led coalition hit Islamic State in Syria: media (Reuters, 5/28/16)

Turkish and US-led coalition airstrikes killed 104 Islamic State militants in retaliation for the latest attack on a Turkish border province, Turkish media reported on Saturday, citing military sources.

All against the salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


No love lost in Lewis for Trump's Scottish roots (Deutsche Welle, 5/.28/16)

On the campaign trail the prospective Republican presidential nominee has talked about keeping immigrants out of the US - from building walls at the Mexican border to banning Muslims - but has said little about his own immigrant story, particularly that of his mother who left Lewis, some 40 miles from mainland Scotland, for a new life in the US aged just 18. [...]

By the 1920s, Lewis' economy was in tatters, the herring industry decimated by unlikely twin blows of the Russian revolution and American prohibition (Salted Hebridean fish had been a popular bar snack.) Successive harvests had failed, too. In 1930, Mary Anne left for New York aboard the Scottish-built Transylvania, according to Ellis Island records. [...]

As we continue along the family line Lawson happens upon a surprising discovery: Trump's great-great grandfather, Alasdair MacLeod was known by everyone as "Ruadh," or "Red," on account of his hair - perhaps the source of Trump's own infamous mop (which was more reddish-brown than lurid yellow in his younger days). "Red hair is very common on the islands," Lawson said. "Almost everyone in the island, you trace back their DNA [and] you come to a Viking."

Trump might have got his highlights from Lewis but few on the island are rooting for a potential President Trump come November. Most islanders view Trump's presidential candidacy with a mix of wry amusement and embarrassment. The fact that so many here call him "Domhnall Iain" - the Gaelic for his first and middle name - is a mark of disparagement, not endearment.

Lewis has a strong local identity, often linked to the church. The island is arguably the UK's last religious redoubt. Presbyterianism is not as powerful as it was in Mary Anne's day but until recently the ferry did not sail on Sundays and many still observe the Sabbath.

A thrice-married c****** owner turned reality TV star turned blustery presidential candidate does not sit easily with traditional island values.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


A Posssible Republican Truce on Obamacare : The latest GOP health-care proposal doesn't repeal the Affordable Care Act. (RUSSELL BERMAN, 5/28/16, Atlantic)

Last week, a pair of Republican lawmakers unveiled the world's greatest health-care plan.

That's not an endorsement, or even an opinion. It's the title of the bill: H.R. 5284--The World's Greatest Healthcare Plan Act of 2016.

Yet the proposal's Trumpian moniker is not the most significant thing about it. This is an expansive bill, sponsored by a member of the House Republican leadership and a member of the health committee in the Senate, that seeks to enact conservative, market-oriented reforms to the insurance industry but does not--repeat, does not--repeal the Affordable Care Act. Instead, Representative Pete Sessions of Texas and Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are proposing to allow people to leave the Obamacare exchanges and instead receive a $2,500 tax credit (plus $1,500 for each child) to purchase health insurance on the private market or put in a health-savings account.

Obamacare, in other words, would be optional.

It's a start.  But you have to force everyone into the HSAs over time.

May 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 PM


Is Bogie Ya'alon the Next Ariel Sharon? : Why a 'political earthquake' may be in store for Benjamin Netanyahu--and how his former Defense Minister could trigger it (Amir Tibon, May 25, 2016, Tablet)

As the other journalists in the studio were talking politics, Channel 2's veteran military correspondent Roni Daniel suddenly asked his colleagues to keep quiet for a minute, because he had something important to say.

Daniel, a retired lieutenant colonel in the IDF, has been a regular presence in every Israeli living room for more than two decades. Unlike most senior journalists in Israel, who are considered liberal and left-leaning, he has long been a hero of the center-right. Segments featuring him yelling at pro-Palestinian activists and Arab members of Knesset have caught fire on social media; soldiers at military bases he visits line up to take "selfies" with him; and last year, he received a glowing interview in the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon (owned by Sheldon Adelson), which complimented him for his "patriotic tone of coverage" during the last Gaza war, and highlighted his attacks on the "leftist, thought-police junta" controlling the Israeli media.

That's why when Daniel asked to say a few words about Ya'alon's ousting, nobody expected what was about to come--not his colleagues in the studio, not the viewers at home, and certainly not the prime minister (if indeed he was watching).

"I'm not a young man anymore" Daniel, 67, said in an angry tone. "I grew up in a Kibbutz near the Jordanian border. I plowed the fields. I was told to go the army--I went to the army. They told me I need to become an officer--I became an officer. Reserve duty? They told me--you need to become a battalion commander, so I became a battalion commander. I fought in all the wars. And after this week I feel, for the first time in my life, that I'm not sure I want my kids to stay here. I'm not sure that's what I want."

When another reporter tried to ridicule his statement, Daniel banged his fist on the table and yelled--"I'm speaking from the bottom of my heart here." It was an extraordinary emotional moment, even in an age of faux-dramatic reality TV. If there's an equivalent in 2016 Israel to Lyndon Johnson's comment about "losing middle America" as a result of losing Walter Cronkite on Vietnam, losing Daniel was probably it.

Netanyahu has been despised by large segments of the Israeli media for his entire career, and he has found it to be a blessing. During the last elections, the attacks on him by some newspapers became so grotesque, that even when accurate, damaging stories about him were published, many voters refused to believe them. But Roni Daniel is a different case. He has never attacked the prime minister like this before and in fact was asked more than once by Netanyahu to become his official spokesperson. Now the prime minister's political maneuver, which put Lieberman in Ya'alon's chair, had caused the gruff, popular analyst to publicly say he feared for the country's future.

The source of Daniel's anger wasn't just the fact that Ya'alon, a decorated former general, lost the Defense Ministry to Lieberman, who had served only one year in a non-combat role in the IDF. What enraged Daniel was the notion that Israel's "holiest of holies"--national defense--had become a political bargaining chip. Israelis are used to political tricks of all sorts, but the Defense portfolio is considered by many to be sacrosanct. Whoever sits in that ministry is responsible for the lives of Israel's sons and daughters. The only criteria for this position, ideally, should be the professional qualifications required to help best protect the country--not the prime minister's political interests.

Two days after Daniel's emotional outburst, Netanyahu tried to contain some of the damage. In a press conference he held in Jerusalem, the prime minister said: "I hear the voices in the media, the attempts to spread fear and despair. If I may, I want to quote someone, who once said--'enough with the sobbing and the crying.'"

As I listened to Netanyahu, I had to rub my eyes to make sure this was really happening. The man Netanyahu had just quoted was Ariel Sharon--formerly, his greatest political rival and personal nemesis--who had used that sentence in reply to complaints by senior officers in the Israeli police in 2004 and then made it a symbol of his philosophy of governance: Israelis needed to stop crying and complaining and start taking care of their future. Which is exactly what Sharon then did, by pulling Israel out of Gaza. To hear Netanyahu quote Sharon was just as strange as to watch Roni Daniel talk about leaving the country.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


U.S. new homes sales hit eight-year high, point to firming economy (LUCIA MUTIKANI, 5/26/16, Reuters)

New U.S. single-family home sales recorded their biggest gain in 24 years in April, touching a more than eight-year high as purchases increased broadly, a sign of growing confidence in the economy's prospects.

Tuesday's report from the Commerce Department, which also showed a surge in new home prices to a record high, offered further evidence of a pick-up in economic growth that could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates soon.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Explaining Ben Shapiro's Messy, Ethnic-Slur-Laden Breakup With Breitbart (Jesse Singal, 5/26/16, NY Mag)

Shortly after Shapiro resigned, Breitbart published -- and then quickly pulled down -- a bizarre article bylined with a pseudonym previously used by Shapiro's father on Breitbart and headlined "Ben Shapiro Betrays Loyal Breitbart Readers in Pursuit of Fox News Contributorship" (Shapiro's father, David Shapiro, stepped down as a contributor at the same time Shapiro did -- Ben told Politico that his father had written under a pseudonym to shield himself from the death threats Ben receives). Then, last week, Breitbart published a piece by an alt-right Twitter personality known as "Pizza Party Ben" -- yes, that was how his byline appeared on the site -- that consisted mostly of a video mocking Shapiro for having complained about anti-Semitism, the alt-right, and Trump:

The nadir came a couple of weeks ago, though, when Shapiro's wife gave birth to the couple's second child. As the Daily Wire noted, Shapiro was hit with a wave of vicious anti-Semitic abuse, including multiple Holocaust references and requests that Shapiro and his family be sent to the ovens. [...]

During the Republican primary, Shapiro supported Cruz -- no surprise given that both men are staunch conservatives. But his overriding focus this campaign season has been on Trump, whom he views as not only a fake Republican, but a legitimately dangerous figure. So on March 4, Shapiro "came out" as a #NeverTrump proponent on the Daily Wire:

I will never vote for Donald Trump because I stand with certain principles. I stand with small government and free markets and religious freedom and personal responsibility. Donald Trump stands against all of these things. He stands for Planned Parenthood and trade restrictions and targeting of political enemies and an anti-morality foreign policy and government domination of religion and nastiness toward women and tacit appeals to racism and unbounded personal power. I stand with the Constitution of theUnited States, and its embedded protection of my God-given rights through governmental checks and balances. Donald Trump does not. I stand with conservatism. Donald Trump stands against it.

I stand with #NeverTrump.

It was clear that this put him at odds with Breitbart, which by then had transformed itself, in the eyes of many, into something of a Trump propaganda outlet. [...]

It was the Michelle Fields incident that severed Shapiro's relationship with Breitbart, though. In March, Fields, then a reporter for the site, was grabbed hard by Donald Trump's chief of staff, Corey Lewandowski, after a press conference in Florida. Breitbart did not exactly come out swinging in defense of Fields, raising eyebrows among journalists both outside and within the organization -- the prevailing assumption was that Breitbart's higher-ups didn't want to jeopardize the site's cozy relationship with Trump, even in an instance where one of its reporters had been manhandled by a campaign operative. (Fields, who posted photos of her bruised arm, filed charges against Lewandowski, but they were later dropped by Palm Beach County.)

When Fields resigned in protest, Shapiro went with her (as did various other staffers) -- and on his way out the door he made a loud point about what he saw as Breitbart's dangerous trajectory. "Andrew's life mission has been betrayed," Shapiro wrote in his statement about his decision, referring to the site's founder, the controversial conservative-media figurehead Andrew Breitbart, who died in 2012 and was a mentor of Shapiro's. "Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew's legacy. In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew's mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump; he has shaped the company into Trump's personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut [Fields] in order to protect [Lewandowski]."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


On negative effects of vouchers (Mark Dynarski, 5/26/16, Brookings)

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

In education as in medicine, 'first, do no harm' is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability. to have doubts raised by negative results of social experiments.  To be an ideologue is to have none.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Donald Trump's Campaign Stumbles as It Tries to Go Big (ASHLEY PARKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MAY 27, 2016, NY Times)

 A constant stream of changes and scuffles are roiling Donald J. Trump's campaign team, including the abrupt dismissal this week of his national political director.

A sense of paranoia is growing among his campaign staff members, including some who have told associates they believe that their Trump Tower offices may be bugged.

All of the downside of Richard Nixon without the up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Despite extremism, Djerba is model of integration : The Tunisian island of Djerba is a role model in terms of a peaceful co-existance between Jews, Christians and Muslims - in a region torn by religious extremism. Kristen McTighe, 5/25/16, Deutsche-Welle)

Here in this isolated enclave in the middle of the Muslim world, is the Hara Kabira, the largest of two Jewish neighborhoods on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba, where Jews, Christians and Muslims peacefully live and work side by side.

The community has weathered the tumult that shook the region following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the changes that altered the region after the 2011 revolutions. Now, as attention has focused on a rising tide of extremism that has engulfed the region, the community says it is intent on staying.

"By the grace of God, the Jews can live here and we can grow," says Youssef Oezen, the president of the Jewish community in Djerba.

Numbering around 5,000 in 1948, the Jewish population of Djerba - which traces its origins back to the Babylonian exile of 586 BC - dropped to less than 700 by the middle of the 1990s.

But over the past two decades, the population once again began to slowly grow. Today, around 1,100 Jews live on the island, according to Oezen, and with nearly half under 20 years old, in a deeply conservative community where having large families is the norm, he is firm in his belief that they will continue to grow. [...]

"We mix, we respect each other, it's just what's normal," said Madji Barouni, a Muslim from Djerba, as he stands in a jewellry shop in the old market of Houmt Souk, Djerba's largest town. Avi Bittan, the shop's Jewish owner, examines a watch Barouni brought in for repair.

During the day, Jewish men work alongside Muslim and Christian neighbors as merchants in Houmt Souk, selling gold and silver jewellery, textiles and souvenirs.

"There are no problems," Barouni told DW, as the Muslim call to prayer sounds from a nearby mosque.
While they enjoy friendly and cordial relations with other residents of the island, when work is over, most Jews return home, keeping an insular life in their community. For Jewish leaders, it is a way to protect traditions and resist assimilation. [...]

[I]n one of his first moves after rising to power, Rashid Al-Ghannoushi, the head of Nahda, Tunisia's leading Islamist party, sent a delegation to the Jews in Djerba in an effort to reassure the community they would be protected.

Today, the government's efforts to protect the Jews of Djerba are in plain sight. Police are stationed at entrances of the Hara Kabira to monitor who comes in and out and security checkpoints are scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


The Racist Side of Bernie Sanders Supporters (Kelli Goff, 5/27/16, Daily Beast)

While high-profile Republicans step forward to denounce one of their own and to argue that minorities should be treated with courtesy and respect, plenty of white progressives seem intent on putting us in our place, so to speak, and keeping us there. Though much of the media coverage of so-called "Bernie Bros" --overzealous, predominantly white, young and male Sanders supporters--has focused on their treatment of female journalists online, their lack of respect for racial and ethnic minorities who deign to challenge Sanders has been perhaps more chilling.

The Washington Post noted that at one point #MississippiBerning became a hashtag used by Sanders supporters on social media--a witty and clever turn of phrase unless of course you are a black American who hears the words "Mississippi burning" and immediately thinks of church bombings and lynchings.

Black writers and activists who have had the temerity to challenge Sanders's record have been targeted by his supporters in ways that go against not just civility but even decency. I should know. I'm one of them. [...]

So when news broke that a prominent white, male liberal blogger known for his appreciation of Sanders and disdain for Hillary Clinton had called Neera Tanden, one of the most prominent women of color in progressive politics a "scumbag" I was not surprised.

And when I learned Sanders supporters had sent death threats to a female Democratic Party official because they were outraged at what occurred at the Nevada state convention, I was not surprised. And when Bernie Sanders declined to denounce such behavior vigorously, I was also not surprised.

Just as Donald Trump's supporters would not demonstrate thuggish behavior, such as assaulting protesters, without getting signals from their leader that it's acceptable, the same is true of Sanders' supporters.

One difference is that Republicans haven't spent decades selling themselves as the saviors of Black Americans or any Americans of color, frankly. The fact that a sizable number of prominent Republicans are willing to lose this election in the name of racial and religious tolerance is actually a jarring contrast to the increasing number of Sanders voters who argue they are willing to forfeit an election to a man many of them consider a racist and xenophobe, one who they know will harm minorities, rather than ever vote for his opponent, a woman they don't like but who is not Donald Trump.

I have a feeling that whatever the outcome of this election, more minorities have come to realize over the course of this primary season that the word "progressive" is not synonymous with "tolerant." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Dozens of Isis fighters killed in Iraqi forces' assault on Falluja, US says (Agence France-Presse, 27 May 2016)

US-led coalition strikes supporting Iraqi forces in the push to recapture Falluja have killed 70 Islamic State militants including the group's commander in the city, according to the US military.

Maher al-Bilawi, commander of Islamic State fighters in Falluja, was killed on Wednesday, said Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US-led military campaign against Isis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


How Obama talks an anti-nuke talk, walks a pro-nuke walk (Bonnie Kristian, 5/27/16, The Week)

[I]n practice, the president has reduced the American nuclear stockpile less than any other post-Cold War president. In fact, a new report from the Federation of American Scientists indicates that both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush shrank the stockpile significantly more than Obama and Bill Clinton -- yet even Clinton destroyed nearly twice as many warheads as Obama has so far.

Obama has also quietly planned a $1 trillion, 30-year update of our nuclear arsenal, a pricey program critics suggest is ill-suited to modern national security issues. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


This new super battery can last 400 times as long as your iPhone (Zach St. George (May 26, 2016, The Week)

Batteries fall into the when-your-well-runs-dry category of technology: We only miss them when they lose their charge or catch fire on the freeway, taking the stuff we really care about down with them. The best battery is basically the one we have to think about the least. Recently, a group of scientists at the University of California, Irvine, stumbled across an innovation that they think could lead to lithium-ion batteries even less demanding of our attention.

So far the new battery component has made it through three months of continuous charging and discharging without losing its ability to hold a charge, says Mya Le Thai, the doctoral candidate behind the innovation -- that's 200,000 cycles. (By comparison, iPhone batteries fade to about 80 percent of their original capacity after just 500 cycles, making hers at least 400 times better.) Thai says she's getting impatient, but that the head of her lab won't let her stop the experiment. "I keep asking my primary investigator, 'Can I take it apart?' He says, 'Did it fall apart? No? Well, then, let it keep on going.'"

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


A new law in South Carolina chips away at Roe v Wade (The Economist, May 27th 2016)

EVER since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled that women have a limited constitutional right to end their pregnancies, states have imposed restrictions designed to curtail that right or make it more difficult to exercise. Two recent examples illustrate the varying levels of intensity with which pro-life activists are trying to chip away at Roe v Wade.

Last week in Oklahoma, lawmakers passed a bill that undermines the very basis of Roe. By a vote of 33-12 in the Senate and 59-9 in the House of Representatives, Senate Bill 1552--which would have made it a felony for doctors to perform abortion unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman's life--sailed through the Oklahoma legislature. But the governor, who is pro-life, Mary Fallin, vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was clearly unconstitutional. "The bill is so ambiguous and so vague", she wrote, "that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered 'necessary to preserve the life of the mother.'" So while she "continue[s] to support a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v Wade, this legislation cannot accomplish that re-examination". A more "direct path to a re-examination" of Roe "is the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court".

Most states have used a slightly more subtle strategy to undermine abortion rights. On May 25th, South Carolina became the 17th state to ban abortion at the 20th week of pregnancy when Governor Nikki Haley signed House Bill 3114, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, into law. The legislation is based on the highly disputed claim that a fetus begins to feel pain halfway through pregnancy; in 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study finding that fetal awareness of pain "probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks". The ban permits few exceptions: even standard loopholes for rape and incest are not available. Doctors may only perform abortions after 19 weeks if the fetus has an abnormality that would cause it to die outside the womb or if the procedure is necessary "to avert [the] death" of the pregnant woman or to prevent "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function". The latter exception, the bill's authors were careful to note, does not include "psychological or emotional conditions".

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Kicking the habit: Adult smoking rate in US is falling fast (MIKE STOBBE, 5/24/16, AP)

The nation seems to be kicking its smoking habit faster than ever before.

The rate of smoking among adults in the U.S. fell to 15 percent last year thanks to the biggest one-year decline in more than 20 years, according to a new government report.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


China's angry investors leap the Great Firewall--and are shocked by what they learn of Beijing (Zheping Huang, May 26, 2016, Quartz)

[R]ecently, hundreds of Chinese investors, who may be out $6 billion in one of China's biggest financial scams, have leaped over the Great Firewall in an organized, determined way. After being ignored by China's regulators and lawmakers, these desperate investors are pouring into Twitter to spread news of their plight.

While their numbers are small, their actions are already inspiring other Chinese investors burned in a monumental number of recent scams, turning Twitter into a new venue for angry Chinese citizens to protest. And as they leap over the Great Firewall, some are coming to a new realization--the government has been cracking down on free speech and civil protests just like theirs for years.

More than 300 investors in Fanya Metal Exchange, have become active Twitter users, mostly thanks to Cong, 30, a state bank employee in Shanghai. Like many Fanya investors, Cong asked not to reveal her full name for fear that the government would retaliate. Her case is also typical: She put her life savings, nearly one million yuan (around $150,000), into the exchange because she trusted the local government and state banks which endorsed it.

Cong rallied her fellow Fanya investors to join her Twitter initiative at the end of April. In less than a month, she had gathered hundreds in a WeChat group she set up. Most of them had never used Twitter before, and more than half are middle-aged, and not even active internet users. Most just know how to use chat apps like Weibo or WeChat. [...]

China's netizens have collectively jumped the Great Firewall before, but for very different reasons. In January, an army of Chinese trolls blasted the Facebook page of Taiwan's incoming president Tsai Ing-wen with anti-Taiwan comments and memes, for example.

Fanya's investors, though, would have been unlikely to try to go around Chinese censorship beforehand. "If this hadn't happened, I would never have learned to 'jump the wall,'" one investor named Tittizhush wrote on Twitter. "I used to live my nourishing life, but now... it's horrible."

What's more, they were unlikely to express "anti-China" opinions before--but now many do.

Like most upper middle class in China who enjoy a "nourishing life" in China (an often-used phrase that means much the same as "comfortable life") Fanya's investors didn't think much about freedom of speech, assembly, demonstration, voting rights, or democracy until they realized they needed them to recover their life savings.
After joining Twitter, Cong said she realized "unfair, unbelievable things happen in China every day." She keeps on reading posts about the government's crackdown on individuals' rights and civil society. "In the past I was optimistic about our country," she said. Now she writes in her Twitter biography, "I hate China, I want leaving here, go anywhere."

Gu, 50, who accumulated his fortune through his property business, invested seven million yuan into Fanya. More than four million yuan were bank loans, and he had to borrow money from his relatives to pay them back. "I spent the past year to understand the real China," Gu said of the government's crackdown on their protests to recoup their losses. "Otherwise I'd be still living in the world of CCTV news broadcast."

Gu said he only posts about Fanya, but reads about other civil rights movements including the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, on Twitter. He hopes to see China guarantee free speech and elections in the future. "After all, we, generation after generation, live in this place," he said. But if democracy remains beyond reach in China, Gu said, many investors, himself included, think that they or their children will have to emigrate.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


A chance encounter on the Syrian front (Delil Souleiman, 27 May 2016, AFP)

It wasn't a secret that American "military advisers" were in northern Syria helping the SDF in the fight against the Islamic State. The US has said so itself, though it has insisted that they are working away from the frontlines. But it's rare for them to be photographed. And here I was, actually seeing them in the flesh and near the frontline. [...]

At first, I am careful not to photograph the American soldiers head on. I'm not sure how they'll react. So I shoot them from a distance. Ever so slowly, step-by-step, I come closer. I am nervous, but I force myself to hide the anxiety and smile, trying to reassure them and put them at ease.

They don't prevent me from taking pictures. They don't seem to think that a photographer here is something bizarre. Some have a patch of them American flag on their sleeves. Others have the patch of a Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). Still others of a women's unit within the YPG. I wonder why, but don't dare to go up and ask.

An SDF commander tells us that the men are US special forces and are there to provide training. Later, a Pentagon spokesman said that American commandos often wear insignia of the units that they train.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


How Mitt Romney can still take down Donald Trump (W. James Antle III, 5/26/16, The Week)

#NeverTrump is best vindicated by Trump collapsing in the general election on his own, without conservatives backing Romney or anyone else, or by Trump actually being elected and being a bad president. Principled opponents of Trump naturally would like to avoid the second scenario and think the first is too great a risk.

If Clinton wins with Romney taking a significant share of the vote, Trump's sins will quickly be forgotten and she will become the focus of all conservative ire -- as well as those on the right who (arguably) enabled her.

The most anti-Trump conservatives I know would consider that a price worth paying for keeping the reality TV star out of the White House. And many would harbor at least some hopes that Romney could actually win.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Obama's hug of Hiroshima survivor epitomizes historic visit (AP, May 27, 2016)

President Barack Obama may have faced the legacy of Hiroshima most directly with his embrace of a man who survived the devastating atomic blast.

He spoke briefly with two survivors in the audience after his remarks Friday at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park: Sunao Tsuboi, the 91-year-old head of a survivors group, and Shigeaki Mori, 79, a historian who was just 8 when the bomb detonated on Aug. 6, 1945.

The legacy being the size and age of the survivor group.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Pair of glasses left on US gallery floor mistaken for art (Elle Hunt, 27 May 2016, The Guardian)

A pair of US teenagers have beaten artists at their own game, pulling off a successful prank at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art earlier this week.

While Kevin Nguyen, 16, and TJ Khayatan, 17, were impressed with much of the art on display on their visit on Saturday, they questioned the artistic merits of some exhibits.

Could they do better?

Khayatan put Nguyen's glasses on the floor below an official-looking piece of paper to see how it would be received by gallery-goers.

The work seemed to hit a chord with the public, striking in its simplicity, yet - probably - a challenging commentary on the limits of individual perception.

Khayatan told BuzzFeed News that people gathered around the exhibit to view it and take photographs. He, in turn, took photographs of them admiring his work and later posted them to Twitter, where they went viral.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


CBS Calls It 'Remarkable' That Obama Didn't Apologize for Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima (David Rutz, May 27, 2016, Washington Free Beacon)

CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan said Friday it was "remarkable" that President Obama didn't offer an apology in his Hiroshima speech for the U.S. dropping the atomic bomb.

The dude is, after all, Hawaiian.

May 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Who will pick the carrots if Brexit stops migration? (DAVID MILLIKEN, 5/26/16, Reuters)

As farmer Guy Poskitt looks across a field of pumpkin seedlings, he worries how he will get them planted and picked in future if Britain votes next month to leave the European Union and closes the door on migrant workers.

Health and safety notices in Polish and Russian as well as English are posted around his farm and a vegetable packing plant full of clattering conveyor belts of carrots. The vast bulk of Poskitt's workers are from Poland or the Baltic states.

"I cannot run my business without migrant workers," Poskitt said after a team at his Yorkshire farm had finished planting thousands of seedlings which will grow and ripen in time for Halloween.

Poskitt's farm - a supplier of vegetables to British supermarkets and caterers - is typical of many businesses in agriculture, hospitality and construction who rely heavily on low-skilled, low-paid workers from poorer parts of the EU to staff long shifts, often at anti-social hours.

The demographics vary. On a recent workday, older women in plastic hair nets sorted through thousands of carrots, while younger ones walked behind tractors checking that pumpkin seedlings had been planted correctly.

Such workers are a major factor in Britain's June 23 referendum on staying in the EU, where laws mandate freedom of movement.

Official figures released on Thursday showed a record 184,000 people moved to Britain from the EU last year. Over a million have settled over the past decade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Texas' Math Standards Look Suspiciously Familiar (Sarah Garland, 5/26/16, Slate)

The Texas standards aren't the same as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, adopted by more than 40 states. It's actually illegal to teach Common Core in Texas.

But even in a state that said an emphatic "No!" to Common Core, the new math standards here are pretty similar to the standards the state rejected, experts say. Across the Lone Star State, as in the rest of the nation, number lines are replacing pizzas in lessons about fractions and lectures are losing out to rambunctious lessons in which kids seem to run the show.

And more teachers here are overhauling math class so that it's not just about getting answers right or wrong; it's about the joy and challenge of hunting for a solution, whether or not students find it on the first try.

"Really that's what I was going for. Not that they would get it. That if this is too heavy, I need to find something lighter," Demore said later about the lesson. "The idea of looking, of inquiring, of trying. The idea of the journey. It may or may not lead to a right answer, but it will certainly lead to better thinking and reasoning. And that's one of the things they need to get to."

That idea reflects a consensus across the U.S. and is the reason math classes everywhere are starting to look more alike, even in schools untouched by the Common Core.

"There is a much greater research base about how children learn ... mathematical functions than existed 20, 30 years ago," said Mark Ellis, a professor of math education at California State University-Fullerton. "The overall picture of what mathematics looks like is converging on this idea that it's not the teacher standing there for 30 minutes, then giving you 20 problems to replicate the algorithm."

They can call it whatever they want as long as they impose it universally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Donald Trump's Top Adviser: 'This Is Not A Hard Race' (Howard Fineman, 5/26/16, The Huffington Post

The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he's ready for the White House, Manafort said.

"He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn't want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO."

"There is a long list of who that person could be," Manafort added, "and every one of them has major problems."

The campaign probably won't choose a woman or a member of a minority group, he said. "In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think."

Just in case anyone doesn't think he's racist and sexist he'll only consider white men.  Just in case anyone thinks he's a serious person, he doesn't want the job he's asking you to elect him to.
Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Evolutionary engineer Frances Arnold wins €1m tech prize (Jonathan Webb, 24 May 2016, BBC)

US engineer Frances Arnold has won the Millennium Technology Prize for pioneering "directed evolution".

By driving a sped-up version of natural selection in the lab, the method has created new enzymes for industrial catalysts, household detergents, and even to make rocket fuel from sugar. [...]

"Evolution, to me, is the best designer of all time. And I figured out that this should be the algorithm for forward design, for making new biological code that is useful to humans," Prof Arnold said.


Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


The False Promise of Negative Interest Rates (Robert Skidelsky, 5/26/16, Project Syndicate)

"Negative interest rate" is a phrase seemingly designed to confuse all but the experts. Instead of paying interest on commercial banks' "excess" reserves held by the central bank, the central bank taxes these deposits. The idea is to impel the banks to reduce their unspent balances and increase their lending or investments. In the case of the European Central Bank, there is a technical reason: to increase the supply of high-class bonds for President Mario Draghi's ongoing program of quantitative easing.

The policy is supposed to work by aligning the market rate of interest with the expected rate of profit, an idea derived from the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell. The problem is that whereas until now it had been believed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, an investor's expected rate of return on a new investment may easily fall to zero or lower when aggregate demand is depressed.

When the dollar I give you tomorrow is worth more than the dollar you gave me yesterday, why should I also pay you interest?

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Swedes don't want to join the euro - now or ever (The Local, 24 May 2016)

A large majority of Swedes don't want to join the eurozone and most predict the country will never adopt the EU's common currency‚ according to a new survey.

Sixty-eight percent of Swedes are opposed to replacing the krona with the euro, a new Eurobarometer poll shows. 

The survey was carried out in the seven countries that are not yet part of the single currency but have pledged to join at some point. These are: Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Sweden. 

The two other countries outside the eurozone, Denmark and the UK, have each secured exemptions and are not obliged to join, as Europaportalen reports. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in? (Zoe Williams, 24 May 2016, The Guardian)

[A]ll the predictions lead to the same place: the obsolescence of human labour. Even if a robot takeover is some way away, this idea has already become pressing in specific sectors. Driverless cars are forecast to make up 75% of all traffic by 2040, raising the spectre not just of leagues of unemployed drivers, but also of the transformation of all the infrastructure around the job, from training to petrol stations.

There is always a voice in the debate saying, we don't have to surrender to our own innovation: we don't have to automate everything just because we can. Yet history teaches us that we will, and teaches us, furthermore, that resisting invention is its own kind of failure. Fundamentally, if the big idea of a progressive future is to cling on to work for the avoidance of worklessness, we could dream up jobs that were bolder and much more fulfilling than driving.

Marrying, raising kids, community work, etc.  The final triumph of capitalism is how easy it's going to make building social capital.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Austerity is far more than just cuts. It's about privatising everything we own (Aditya Chakrabortty, 24 May 2016, The Guardian)

Privatisation is the multibillion-pound centrepiece of Osborne's austerity - yet it rarely gets a mention from either politicians or press. The Queen mentioned it in her speech last week, but the headline writers ignored it. And if you don't know that this Thursday is the closing date for consultation on the sale of the Land Registry, our public record of who owns what property, that's hardly your fault - I haven't spotted it in the papers, either.

But without getting rid of prize assets, Osborne's austerity programme falls apart. At a time when tax revenues are more weak stream than healthy flood, those sales bring much-needed cash into the Treasury and make his sums add up. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has ruled that the only reason the chancellor met his debts target last year was because he flogged off our public assets. And what a fire sale that was, with everything from our last remaining stake in the Royal Mail to shares in Eurostar shoved out the door in the biggest wave of privatisations of any year in British history.

And more, much more, is to come. The all new and mostly grotesque housing bill will force local authorities to sell "high-value" council houses once a family moves out - which will basically hand over whatever remains of social housing in central London to investors. Osborne also wants local authorities "to dispose of potentially surplus assets", of which he calculates they have £60bn "in property not used for schools or housing". That would be property such as our public libraries and swimming pools - but to a government hellbent on asset-stripping such communal necessities are merely unsold inventory.

At Whitehall, ministers plan to sell a big chunk of Channel 4, and the public stake in the national air traffic control. And that's just the start, because here's something else you probably won't have read about: Osborne has bundled up all of our public holdings - in every company from the collapsed banks to the Royal Mint - and put them under the control of a government organisation called UK Government Investments. Its CEO (what else?) is a former doyen of the City called Mark Russell. In a rare interview in 2013, Russell declared: "We don't believe government makes for a particularly good shareholder. Our belief is that unless there is a good policy reason for government to have a shareholding then really we should be seeking to divest those shareholdings." Everything must go is no longer the cry of distressed shopkeepers - it is now public policy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


India-Iran Ties: PM Modi, President Rouhani Sign 12 Agreements In Tehran (HIMANSHU GOENKA, 05/24/16, IB Times)

On the second day of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Iran, the two countries signed a dozen agreements, one of them a tripartite transit and transport deal involving Afghanistan. The deals, signed Monday, include infrastructure projects, energy partnerships, bilateral trade, cultural exchange and intelligence sharing, with a focus on terrorism.

The most talked about contract was for the development of the Chabahar port in the Gulf of Oman on Iran's southeastern coast. India will invest $500 million in the first phase of the project, which include two terminals and five multi-cargo berths, to be developed by India Ports Global Private Ltd. in partnership with Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization.

While development of the port will be of obvious benefit to Iran, it also has both economic and strategic importance for India. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


What Aryans See in Donald Trump : He is the Aryan Warrior, come to save whiteness itself. (Robert L. Tsai, 5/26/16, Slate)

In recent years, white supremacists have tended to avoid taking part in national politics in the belief that both parties have been conquered by nonwhites who pursue their own racial interests over others. This year represents a sea change. Rarely have so many open racists flocked to a presidential candidate's banner as they have done for Donald Trump. They have shown up at rallies to do gleeful battle with "Black Lives Matter" protesters and jumped at the opportunity to serve as Trump delegates to the Republican National Convention.

The reasons for white nationalists' renewed hope in mainstream politics are more complicated than the caricature of jackbooted youths saluting one of their own. Trump has disavowed the endorsement of overt racists such as David Duke, but somehow white nationalists have "never been more optimistic." Despite Trump's profession, "I don't have a racist bone in my body," his brand of race-fueled populism promises to reforge broken psychological ties among large swaths of demoralized white voters, whether or not they self-identify as white nationalists or belong to extremist organizations. Trump seeks to recreate a coalition that includes dislocated rural workers and dissatisfied denizens of urban democracy, the relatively prosperous and the hardly working, weary defenders of the Old South and armed isolationists in the Pacific Northwest. Through a mix of policy and symbolism, Trump unites them all with a sneering form of nationalism that, more than ever, helps rekindle the racial consciousness of mainstream white voters.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


We Know What's Solving Poverty Around the World (Tori Whiting, May 24, 2016, Daily Signal)

Data collected annually in the Index of Economic Freedom demonstrate that the principles of economic freedom have a strong positive impact on the global economy and poverty.

As economic freedom has increased over the last two decades, so has real world gross domestic product (GDP). During this same time period, the global poverty rate has been cut in half.


Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Less Than Half of American Millennials Sympathize With Israel Over Palestinians: Pew Study (Sam Kestenbaum, May 25, 2016, Tablet)

Today, Millennials -- people born between 1980 and 1995 -- are the only age cohort in which less than half (43%) sympathize more with Israel. More than a quarter of Millennials (27%) sympathize more with Palestinians.

This is the highest share of any generation, Pew reported .

"American Jews' relationship with Israel is changing profoundly, but not in the way that many people believe," writes Dov Waxman, a Northeastern University professor and co-director of the university's Middle East Center, in "Trouble in the Tribe."

As American Jews in general, but particularly younger ones, have gotten to know Israel better, they have become more critical, he says, and express their attachment to the Jewish state "by opposing, and even lobbying against, the policies of the Israeli government."

For their whole lives Israel has been the victimizer, not the victim.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Less Than Half of American Millennials Sympathize With Israel Over Palestinians: Pew Study (Sam Kestenbaum, May 25, 2016, Tablet)

Today, Millennials -- people born between 1980 and 1995 -- are the only age cohort in which less than half (43%) sympathize more with Israel. More than a quarter of Millennials (27%) sympathize more with Palestinians.

This is the highest share of any generation, Pew reported .

"American Jews' relationship with Israel is changing profoundly, but not in the way that many people believe," writes Dov Waxman, a Northeastern University professor and co-director of the university's Middle East Center, in "Trouble in the Tribe."

As American Jews in general, but particularly younger ones, have gotten to know Israel better, they have become more critical, he says, and express their attachment to the Jewish state "by opposing, and even lobbying against, the policies of the Israeli government."

For their whole lives Israel has been the victimizer, not the victim.

May 25, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


As Baghdad Government Stumbles, Iraqi Kurdistan Officials Call For Partition (ERIN BANCO,  05/25/16, IB Times)

In a desperate bid to turn things around, [Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim] has proposed a radical fix: breaking away from the central government in Baghdad. 

"Kirkuk needs to get away from Baghdad," he recently told reporters, adding that the chaos in central government -- embroiled in a dispute over the appointment of a new cabinet -- is responsible for impoverishing the oil-rich province. 

Oil is the main source of Iraqi Kurdistan's revenues and the suspension of exports over the last several months has further limited the already cash-strapped region. If Karim's call for separation is realized the region could take control of its oil exports and ensure that money flows back into the local economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


911 tapes: Aborted fetus was breathing (WKYC, 5/23/16)

In the 911 calls, a clinic worker told the dispatcher a fetus that was removed had vital signs.

"There was a termination that was performed," the worker said. "There is a fetus that is breathing right now, so we need someone to do services."

The 911 operator asks if the fetus has been harmed in any way.

The worker answered no, and said the fetus needed further help other than what the clinic could provide.

"The fetus is breathing so we need care for it now," said the caller. "We can't provide that care except for oxygen and we're trying to keep the fetus stable until someone arrives."

Federal law states that a clinic has to provide medical care to a baby who survives an abortion.

That was the case in this incident.

"Nobody did anything wrong," said Kat Sabine, Executive Director of the Arizona chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America in April when she spoke with 12 News.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM



In a paper published this week in Nature Energy researchers describe building a working solar thermophotovoltaic device, or STPV. The STPV solar cell has a layer that absorbs heat and light from sunlight and reflects it back out as light, which is then captured by a nearby solar cell and turned into power. The light emitted by the device is calibrated to be the perfect wavelength for the solar cell, making it function at peak efficiency. Normally, a solar cell or photovoltaic device just convert light into electricity without going through the intermediate step with heat.

Heat is energy that is constantly wasted, just dispersing out into the world. Researchers around the world have been looking into developing new materials and methods that can harness the wasted energy and put it to work. Theoretically, this new method could double the amount of power produced by a given area of solar panels...

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


How Running for 'Obama's 3rd Term' Became a Political Asset for Hillary Clinton (Ed Kilgore, 5/25/16, NY Mag)

Barack Obama's steadily improving job-approval ratings as he approaches the end of his presidency are suddenly looking less like an albatross for Clinton and more like the wind beneath her wings. It's been a gradual rise; last year, his average job-approval number in weekly tracking from Gallup was 46 percent. This last week, it was up to 51 percent -- precisely where it was the week he was reelected in 2012.  

Moreover, Obama's particular areas of political strength are well synchronized with constituencies Clinton should and must be able to attract and energize in a general-election contest with Donald Trump. According to NBC, Obama's job-approval ratings among Sanders's primary voters is 82 percent; it's 64 percent among those ages 18-34, and 73 percent among Latinos, a group that has, on occasion, felt tepid toward him. Add in his 90 percent approval rating from African-Americans, and it's obvious the so-called Obama Coalition is alive and well. So now, instead of pivoting away from Obama after she's won the nomination, Clinton can continue her close association with the incumbent as an asset in the general elections, as well as the primaries.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine (Thomas L. Friedman MAY 25, 2016, NY Times)

Soon, this newspaper will have to call Netanyahu what he's made himself into: "Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine."

I raise this now because Israel under Netanyahu has gone from bad to worse. He just forced out Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. Yaalon, a former army chief of staff, is a very decent man -- a soldier's soldier, determined to preserve the Israeli Army as a people's army that aspires to the highest standards of integrity in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood.

Netanyahu plans to replace Yaalon with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman, who boasts he could not care less what American Jews think about how Israel is behaving and a man whom, Haaretz reported, was only recently dismissed by Bibi's team as "a petty prattler," unfit to be even a military analyst, and whose closest brush with a real battle was dodging a "tennis ball."

Lieberman, when he has not been under investigation for corruption, has mused about blowing up Egypt's Aswan Dam, denounced Israelis who want Israel to get out of the West Bank as traitors and praised an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, who fatally shot a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he was lying on the ground awaiting medical attention.

Describing Netanyahu's dumping of Yaalon for Lieberman, Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote, "Instead of presenting to the world a more moderate government ahead of the diplomatic battles to come in the fall, Netanyahu is presenting the most radical government to ever exist in Israeli history."

Yaalon himself warned, "Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants." Former Labor Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "What has happened is a hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements." Former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens wrote in Haaretz that Bibi and his far-right cronies "insulted not only Yaalon, they insulted the I.D.F. [Israeli Army]. It's a people's army."

It's fine to keep them as long as you give them the franchise and other civil rights.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


In New Mexico, Donald Trump attacks GOP governor, anti-Trump protesters attack police (Peter Weber, 5/25/16, The Week)
In Albuquerque on Tuesday, Donald Trump held his first campaign rally in almost two weeks, and he used his speech to criticize Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M.), the first Latina governor and current head of the Republican Governors Association. [...]

This was Trump's first visit to New Mexico. It was not the first violent protest outside a Trump rally.

...attacking a Republican Latina.
Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Mitt Romney, Run for President (DAVID FRENCH May 24, 2016, National Review)

 I understand why Mitt wouldn't want to run. He's lost twice, running for president is grueling at best, and the vitriol of 2016 makes 2012 look like a gentlemen's debating club. He would be savaged and vilified by the progressive left and by Trump's ragged coalition of working-class white voters and Vichy Republicans. He'd be blamed for hurting Trump if Clinton won. For Mitt Romney, there is little upside. 

For the nation, however, there is little downside. If either Trump or Clinton win, America loses. A third-party Romney bid would introduce the chance of a different outcome, giving millions of Americans the important option to choose a man of integrity as their president. It's not just politically important that voters have at least one honest choice, and that parents can tell their children that they stood against the debasement of American politics and the bankruptcy of our national character; it's culturally critical.

...a third party run would guarantee Trump couldn't win.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Obamacare is helping millions get needed healthcare, new survey finds (Noam N. Levey, 5/25/16, LA Times)
More than 60% of working-age Americans who signed up for Medicaid or a private health plan through the Affordable Care Act are getting healthcare they couldn't previously get, a new nationwide survey indicates.

And consumers are broadly satisfied with the new coverage, despite some cost challenges and an ongoing Republican campaign to discredit the law.

Overall, 82% of American adults enrolled in private or government coverage through the health law said they were "somewhat" or "very" satisfied,  according to the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Are Ultra-Fast Charging Stations Apple's Big Electric Vehicle Play? (Liane Yvkoff, 5/25/16, Forbes))

Could Apple AAPL +1.77% be trying to reinvent electric car charging? Reports suggest the company that dissed standard Micro-USB cables for its expensive Lightning cable may be developing a charging system for its hush-hush autonomous electric car.

Reuters reports that Apple is talking with several electric car charging station companies about their underlying technology. However, no company would talk in detail about the discussions, and it's not clear if the Cupertino-based company is working on a proprietary vehicle charging technology similar to Tesla's Supercharger network or something that will play nice with all chargers. A lack of charging station infrastructure is just one of the obstacles to electric car adoption. Another is long charging times. Could Apple be working on a car battery charging solution to solve both problems?

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Clinton to make new pledge to push infrastructure bill in first 100 days (Abby Phillip May 25, 2016, Washington Post)

"All told, this proposal would represent the most significant increase in infrastructure investment since President Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System," the aide said.

Clinton has also promised to address comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM



No one expects college kids to beat NASA to the punch. On Saturday, students at University of California San Diego launched a rocket with a completely 3D-printed engine.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Adidas (ADS) To Restart Manufacturing In Germany -- Using Robots (HIMANSHU GOENKA, 05/25/16, IB Times)

German sportswear manufacturer Adidas announced Tuesday that it would resume production of shoes in Germany more than 20 years after it stopped making them in its home country. Completely overhauling the way it produces shoes, the world's second-largest sportswear maker said its new "Speedfactory" will use robots, as opposed to the manual process the company employs in its manufacturing hubs in Asia.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Have U.S. wages stagnated? Probably not. (Robert J. Samuelson  May 25, 2016, Washington Post)

Typically, the median wage -- the wage exactly in the middle of all wages -- is cited as evidence of stagnation. Indeed, the Fed study confirms this. Median wage increases have fluctuated around 2 percent, unadjusted for inflation. But the median wage is misleading, the report argues, because it's heavily driven by demographic changes: an influx of young and part-time workers whose relatively low wages drag down the median; and the retirement of baby-boom workers whose relatively higher pay no longer lifts up the median.

"Exiting workers with higher wage levels are [being] replaced by entrants to full-time employment who earn less than the median wage," says the study, which was done by economists Mary Daly and Benjamin Pyle of the San Francisco Fed and Bart Hobijn of Arizona State University. The result is that all workers, as judged by the median wage, seem to be treading water when many workers are actually receiving modest increases.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Why 'Hillary Is Even Worse' Doesn't Cut It (Charles Murray, 5/25/16, National Review)

In my view, Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history. [...]

Trump's indifference to facts is an example of why he is unfit for the presidency -- not dispositive in itself, but part of a pattern. That pattern is why "Hillary is even worse" misses the point. P. J. O'Rourke recently announced that he is voting for Clinton. "She's wrong about absolutely everything," O'Rourke said. "But she's wrong within normal parameters!" Similarly, I am saying that Clinton may be unfit to be president, but she's unfit within normal parameters. Donald Trump is unfit outside normal parameters. [....]

For conveying the essence of why I think Trump is unfit outside normal parameters, I cannot write anything nearly as concise and expressive as David Brooks wrote a few months ago. 

Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn't know what he doesn't know and he's uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa. . . . He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12. 

Since Brooks wrote those words, Trump has become the presumptive Republican nominee, and he now does have advisors. He has had ten additional weeks to demonstrate his capacity to learn; to show that he is taking national policy more seriously than buying a sofa; to persuade us that underneath the showman exterior is presidential seriousness. My view is that he has not and cannot. What you see is what you get.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


London's black cabs go plug-in hybrid with generous new funding initiative (Stephen Edelstein, MAY 25, 2016, CS Monitor)

The project to build plug-in hybrid versions of the iconic London black cab is about to receive a significant new dose of funding.

The company that makes the cabs, London Taxi Company (LTC), is now owned by the Chinese carmaker Geely.

That company--which also owns Volvo--has already provided cash and design input.

Now, it's planning a bond issue to raise £276 million (about $400 million) to develop the plug-in hybrid taxis.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Obama Reasserts Hope for TPP Passage This Year (CAROL E. LEE, May 25, 2016, WSJ)

President Barack Obama told a crowd of young Vietnamese entrepreneurs that he hopes to see a new 12-nation trade pact ratified this year.

May 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Cuba to legalize small and medium-sized private businesses (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, 5/24/16, Associated Press)

Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small- and medium-sized private businesses in a move that could significantly expand private enterprise in one of the world's last communist countries.

Cuban business owners and economic experts said they were hopeful the reform would allow private firms to import wholesale supplies and export products to other countries for the first time, removing a major obstacle to private business growth.

"This is a tremendously important step," said Alfonso Valentin Larrea Barroso, director-general of Scenius, a cooperatively run economic consulting firm in Havana. "They're creating, legally speaking, the non-state sector of the economy. They're making that sector official."

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Tony Blair was Labour's most successful leader. No wonder Jeremy Corbyn wants to destroy him (John McTernan 23 MAY 2016, Telegraph)

"If" does a lot of the heavy lifting in the Corbynverse.  Actually "if" and its friend "only" do almost all the work.

If only Ed Miliband hadn't been a Blairite.
If only Labour had stood on a properly left-wing platform in 2015.
If only the voters weren't misled by the mainstream media. 
If only the voters who don't vote came out to vote.

The biggest "if only", however, is the unstated one - if only Tony Blair hadn't won three elections in a row and changed Britain for good. That's why Corbyn and McDonnell went out of their way at the weekend to join the Tories in trashing Labour's economic record, echoing almost exactly some of the distortions that George Osborne is particularly fond of.

An odd way to win an election, you might think. But that's not the point. It's never been the point. The victory that Corbyn wants is over mainstream Labour members - the ones who know that the only alternative to a Tory government is a Labour one - and over the very notion that Labour needs to appeal to the moderate middle-ground of British voters.

...than having their party be elected and govern successfully. By definition, the mass appeal is a demonstration that the ideology of the cult has not been enunciated and applied hard enough.
Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Syrian airbase used by Russia damaged in Isis attack - report (Patrick Winotour, 5/24/16, The Guardian)

An entire Russian helicopter unit based in Syria was wiped out in an Islamic State attack, satellite images appear to suggest.

The attack on 14 May targeted a strategically significant airbase in central Syria used by Russian forces, and again suggests Isis forces are trying to operate outside territory held by the terror group to undermine the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Vegan restaurateur ordered Dominos before $2M bust (Emily Saul, Carlos Greer and Beckie Strum May 13, 2016, NY Post)

The owner of an upscale vegan eatery that catered to celebrity devotees Alec Baldwin and Woody Harrelson swiped around $2 million from the company to splurge on [....] watches, lavish European vacations and trips to c[*****]s, authorities say.

But how she got caught is the most delicious part of it all: Avowed vegan Sarma Melngailis, 43, caved in and ordered a cheesy Dominos pizza while on the run in a hotel in Tennessee with her husband, sources said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


A Severed Head, Two Cops, and the Radical Future of Interrogation (ROBERT KOLKER, 05.24.16, Wired)

The modern style of questioning criminal suspects--the set of techniques practiced fruitlessly by those first detectives in the Medellin case, and familiar to all of us from a thousand police procedurals--is a rusty, stalwart invention that's been around since the days of JFK. It has a proud history: Born during a period of reform, it started out as an enlightened alternative to the bad old ways of policing that preceded it.

Until the mid-1930s, police still widely used the "third degree"--that is, torture--to get suspects to talk. Officers across the country hung suspects out of windows, dunked their heads underwater, and hit them. In 1931 a presidential panel known as the Wickersham Commission called atten­tion to the brutality of the third degree. Then, in 1936, the US Supreme Court effectively outlawed the practice with its ruling in Brown v. Mississippi, a case involving three black men who were beaten and whipped until they confessed.

Police closed ranks at first, but they eventually came around to new approaches. J. Edgar Hoover, for one, was especially keen to rebrand his agents as advanced practitioners of law enforcement science. "Third-degree methods, an ill-trained officer might think, perhaps a severe beating, will force a confession," Hoover said at the time. "But the trained officer, schooled in the latest techniques of crime detection, will think otherwise." Crime labs were developing new methods of solving cases--ballistics, fingerprinting, document examination--and with them came a new, more psychological approach to interrogation.

The most influential nonviolent method of questioning suspects debuted in 1962 with the first edition of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, by Fred Inbau, a Northwestern University law professor who ran one of the country's first crime labs, and John E. Reid, a former police officer turned polygraphy expert. Now in its fifth printing, the book set the mold for police interrogations in America. Through the 1940s and '50s, Reid had built a reputation as a master interrogator, extracting confessions in over 300 murder cases. He and Inbau likened the interrogator's task to "a hunter stalking his game." An interrogation, they explained, should be designed to persuade a suspect that confessing is the only sensible option; to get confessions, they wrote, police must sweep up suspects in a wave of momentum that they'll find impossible to reverse.

All the major tropes of a traditional police interrogation can be traced back to Reid and Inbau's manual: the claustro­phobic room, the interrogators' outward projection of cer­tainty, the insistence on a theory of the case that assumes the suspect's guilt. (The manual calls this a "theme.") The interrogators bolster that theme with what they charac­terize as incontrovertible evidence, which can include facts drawn from real detective work ("We know you got off work at 5 pm") or details that are completely fabricated ("The polygraph says you did it"). Toward the end, interrogators are encouraged to "minimize" the crime in a consoling sort of way ("He had it coming, didn't he?"). All the while, they cut off all denials until the suspect cracks. Detectives are allowed to use deceit and trickery because, as Inbau and Reid explained, none of these techniques are "apt to induce an innocent person to confess a crime he did not commit."

The manual gave rise to a new archetype: the silver-tongued interrogator--someone who, through intimidation and seduction, can get anyone to admit to anything. No less an authority than the US Supreme Court acknowledged the sway that the method held over suspects; in its 1966 Miranda decision, the court cited the Inbau-Reid training manual as an example of why all suspects should be read their rights.

Over the years, the Reid technique, as it came to be known, became a kind of powerful folk wisdom, internalized by generations of police officers. Even among those who received little formal training, it was passed down from cop to cop. "You would think that at a large organization like the LAPD, a large emphasis would be put on developing interrogation skills for their detectives," says Tim Marcia, reflecting on his own haphazard indoctrination into modern interrogation technique. "To be quite honest, we go to an 80-hour detective school, and probably about four hours is devoted to interrogation."

Earlier in his career, Marcia spent 10 years as one of the original members of the LAPD's cold-case unit. Researching old unsolved cases gave him a flyover view of interrogation tactics through the decades. While styles fluctuated somewhat, the basic outline of the Reid technique remained intact. And the most consistent thing over the years? No matter what detectives did with a suspect in the interro­gation room, they were convinced they were doing it right.

THE TROUBLE WITH modern interrogation technique, as Marcia would learn, is that, despite its scientific pose, it has almost no science to back it up. Reid and Inbau claimed, for instance, that a well-trained investigator could catch suspects lying with 85 percent accuracy; their manual instructs detectives to conduct an initial, nonaccusatory "behavioral analysis interview," in which they should look for physical tells like fidgeting and broken eye contact. But when German forensic psychologist Günter Köhnken actually studied the matter in 1987, he found that trained police officers were no better than the average person at detecting lies. Several subsequent studies have cast doubt on the notion that there are any clear-cut behavioral tells. (Truth tellers often fidget more than liars.) In fact, the more confident police officers are about their judgments, the more likely they are to be wrong.

But the scientific case against police interrogations really began to mount in the early 1990s, when the first DNA-based exonerations started rolling in. According to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, about a third of the 337 people who've had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence confessed or incriminated themselves falsely. These and other exonera­tions furnished scientists with dozens of known false-confession cases to study, giving rise to a veritable subfield of social psychology and the behavioral sciences. (At least one confession elicited by John Reid himself--in a 1955 murder case--turned out to be inaccurate; the real killer confessed 23 years later.)

Researchers have even broken down these false confession cases into categories. There are "voluntary" false confessions, like the many presumably unstable people who claimed credit for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in order to get attention. Then there are "compliant," or "coerced," false confessions, in which people are so ground down by an intense interrogation that, out of desperation and naïveté, they think that confessing will be better for them in the long run. The third category, "persuaded," or "internalized," false confessions, may be the most poignant. Here, the interrogator's Reid-style theming is so relentless, the deployment of lies so persuasive, that suspects--often young and impressionable or mentally impaired--end up believing they did it, however fleetingly.

And yet, even in the face of these documented cases, police and prosecutors have resisted admitting that false confessions are even possible. In court, they routinely move to reject expert testimony on the phenomenon by saying it goes against common sense that an innocent person would ever confess to a criminal act. But a wealth of research since the 1990s has shown that false memories are remarkably easy to implant. And in 2015, Julia Shaw, then a psychology PhD candidate in British Columbia, conducted a study that took direct aim at the idea that ordinary, innocent people would never confess to a crime they didn't commit. In fact, she found that people can be made to do it quite reliably.

In just three one-hour sessions, Shaw was able to convince 21 of her 30 college-age subjects that they'd committed a crime when they were around 12 years old--assaulted another child with a weapon, for instance--and had a run-in with the police as a result. She supplied details that were recognizable to the subjects--the location where the assault supposedly happened, who the other child was--drawn from information their parents provided in a questionnaire. Shaw tells me she designed her study to mimic the techniques used in some false-confession cases. "I'm essentially marrying poor interrogation tactics with poor therapeutic tactics," she says. The results were so strong, in fact, that she stopped administering the experiment before she had run through her full sample.

John E. Reid & Associates, a training organization that holds the official copyright on the Reid technique, maintains that problems only arise when cops deviate from the Reid formula. "False confessions are caused by investigators stepping out of bounds," says Joseph Buckley, the organi­zation's president.

While false confessions that send people to prison are the most serious problem with modern police interrogations, they aren't necessarily the most common one. Day to day, these practices may undermine good police work in another way: As a confrontational strategy built for extracting confessions, standard interrogation technique can be an ineffective tool for gathering lots of useful and accurate information. Some suspects end up confessing falsely under the glare, but far more do what Campos-Martinez did: They clam up. They sense all too readily that they're in the presence of "a hunter stalking his game," and they behave accordingly. A number of scholars have called for a wholesale shift from a "confrontational" model of interro­gation to an "investigative" one--one that would redesign interrogations around the best evidence-based approaches to eliciting facts from witnesses and suspects.

Of course, that's easy to say. If police have stuck by their methods, it's partly because, in America at least, they've had nothing truly viable to replace them with. "Up until now, a lot of the work on false confessions has been about social justice," says Christian Meissner, a psychologist at Iowa State University. 1 "What we really lacked in the field was an alternative." Then came the HIG.

In 2010, to make good on a campaign promise that he would end the use of torture in US terror investigations, President Obama announced the formation of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, a joint effort of the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon. In place of the waterboarding and coercion that took place at facilities like Abu Ghraib during the Bush years, the HIG was created to conduct noncoercive interrogations. Much of that work is top secret. HIG-trained interrogators, for instance, are said to have questioned would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The public knows nothing about how those interrogations, or the dozen or so others the HIG is said to have conducted, unfolded. Even the specific training methods the HIG employs--and that it has introduced to investigators in the Air Force, Navy, and elsewhere--have never been divulged.

At the same time, however, the HIG has become one of the most powerful funders of public research on interrogations in America. Scholars have used HIG funding, for instance, to make a careful study of law enforcement models from England and Canada, which both abandoned Inbau-Reid-style interrogation tactics long ago as unethical and unreliable. In recent years, Canadian police have been moving toward a technique called the "cognitive interview," a nonconfrontational method that's meant to get the subject narrating as much as possible--no theming or yes-or-no questions. And for more than a decade, the UK has used a similar method known as PEACE, an acronym that stands for Planning and preparation, Engage and explain, obtain an Account, Closure, and Evaluation. Police in England aren't even permitted to lie to suspects. A HIG-funded metastudy published in 2014 indicates that PEACE is more effective at producing true confessions and protecting against false ones than an accusatory approach.

In all, the HIG has funded some 60 studies in psychology and the behavioral sciences at universities around the world, digging into what works and what doesn't in interrogations. Some have focused on how to "prime" witnesses--that is, how to create environ­ments that put people in an open, talkative frame of mind. They've learned that people tend to divulge more information when sitting in a spacious room with windows (the very opposite of what the old Inbau-Reid model recommends) and that holding a warm beverage can actually create positive impressions of the people around you.

Other researchers have dabbled in lie detection, but in a way that bears little resemblance to Reid's emphasis on polygraph results and telltale fidgeting. HIG research is highly influenced by the work of UK-based researcher Aldert Vrij, who studies the "cognitive load" that lying puts on the brain. "Truth tellers ultimately will be able to give you far more detail that you can go and check," says Steven Kleinman, a veteran military interrogator who has worked with the HIG. "No matter how good the cover story is, it's not going to be as rich as a real-life story." Liars, in other words, have to work much harder to invent and keep track of details. One way researchers have found to bring this strain and effort to the surface is to ask witnesses to tell their stories in reverse chronological order: Liars have a much harder time with it.

But the central finding running through much of HIG's research is this: If you want accurate information, be as non-accusatorial as possible--the HIG term is "rapport-building." This may sound like coddling, but it's a means to an end. The more suspects say, the more that can be checked against the record. The whole posture of the interrogation--or interview, as the HIG prefers to call it--is geared not toward the extraction of a confession but toward the pursuit of information.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


A Norwegian view: are things really so bad outside the EU? (ELLEN ENGELSTAD 19 May 2016, OpenDemocracy)

When the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen that 'Outside the EU we would have no say, this is something Norway has experienced', an answer from the Norwegian Labour Party deputy leader Trond Giske came quickly. Talking to the newspaper Nationen Mr Giske replied to Corbyn: "I don't think 'it can be as bad as Norway' really works to scare people off. Norway is regularly announced the world's best country to live in. We have had the lowest level of unemployment in Europe throughout the financial crisis. We have one of the strongest welfare systems, the least inequality, the highest safety and the most trust, in addition to peace and wealth. I mean: How bad can it get? What does Corbyn fear?"

Seen from Norway, this is a key question. Two times have we said no to EU-membership in a popular vote, in 1972 and 1994, and after each time the sun has just kept on shining even more on our glistening fjords. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


The gene's still selfish: Dawkins' famous idea turns 40 (Jonathan Webb, 5/24/16, BBC News)

"I don't know whether you know the classic book by D'Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form? He showed that all mollusc shells are a tube, which is enlarging as it coils around. You only need three numbers to specify a mollusc shell."

Those three numbers can be plotted inside a cube, Prof Dawkins explains. "Evolution is then just a walk through this cube of all possible shells."

In a computerised game he wrote in 1996, people could construct their own such walk by choosing for themselves which offspring would "breed" in successive generations of shells.

This game has now been resurrected online to mark the 20th anniversary of the book it arose from, Climbing Mount Improbable.

Alongside the shell game sits an ancestral explanatory exercise: the biomorphs. These were first programmed 10 years earlier, when Dawkins wrote The Blind Watchmaker. He clearly remembers getting lost in the work.

"When I discovered that I could actually start getting something that looked like an insect, I got really obsessed with the idea of breeding insects."

As the biomorphs grow from simple, branching stick-shrubs into more elaborate and occasionally familiar shapes, they make an important point - and one that is better grasped by being involved than by hearing it explained.

"You get much more of an idea of what it's like to breed dogs from wolves, or to breed cauliflower from wild cabbage," Prof Dawkins says, clearly enjoying the sight of the spindly shapes evolving again on his screen.

It was bad enough when Mayr disposed of the idea of species, but when Dawkins declared in favor of intelligent design the jig was up.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


U.S.-backed Syrian rebel alliance begins offensive to seize territory north of Raqqa: spokesman (Reuters, 5/24/16)

An alliance of Kurdish-led armed groups fighting Islamic State in northern Syria said they had launched an offensive on Tuesday to seize countryside north of the militants' de facto capital Raqqa, their spokesman said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


New Poll Shows Majority of Americans Believe U.S. Must Do More for Refugees (Amnesty USA, 5/18/16)

[T]he survey found:

The vast majority of people in the U.S. (71%) would let refugees into the country. 15% of Americans are willing to make refugees welcome in their own homes. On top of that, another 27% said they would accept refugees into their neighborhood.

73% of Americans said people should be able to take refuge in other countries to escape war and persecution.

63% of Americans said the U.S. government should do more to help refugees.

Just 22% of Americans said the U.S. should refuse refugees entry into the country.

The public sentiment is in direct conflict with policies being set or advocated for by officials and public figures in the United States.

Running a campaign on hatred of them is, literally, unAmerican.
Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Republican Jewish Coalition decries 'anti-Semitic invective' in presidential race (JTA, 5/24/16) 

The Republican Jewish Coalition condemned the "troubling increase of anti-Semitic invective" aimed at journalists covering the presidential campaigns, but without singling out the two most widely reported incidents, both involving supporters of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

You can't run a racist campaign and not unleash it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Fed Shouldn't Kid Itself on Rate Risk, Says $200 Billion Manager (Emma Orr and  Katherine Chiglinsky, May 23, 2016, Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve policy makers must appreciate the danger that higher interest rates could hurt the U.S. economy by strengthening the dollar and pressuring global growth, said Krishna Memani, chief investment officer of OppenheimerFunds Inc.

"That reaction is going to be negative," he said Monday in a Bloomberg Television interview. "The Fed can't kid itself on that." [...]

"It's a risky move, but they're at a better place this time around than they were last year," Memani said. "The trick for them is to prove to the market that this is not a sustained rate rise."

So the key is to convince us that they recognize they're making a mistake in economic terms.

May 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Sanders Campaigns Against The Democrats (Saif Alnuweiri, May 23, 2016, National Memo)

"Bernie made his point," said an unnamed Colorado Democrat to Politico. "It's time to bring the party back together. The longer he waits, the more damage he does. The question is whether or not he cares. The rest of us do."

Sanders knows that, which is why he has begun focus on committee assignments and other minutiae at the Democratic National Convention in July. But that hasn't stopped him from focusing fire on his rival.

"We need a campaign, an election, coming up which does not have two candidates who are really very, very strongly disliked. I don't want to see the American people voting for the lesser of two evils," he said on ABC's This Week on Sunday, describing the low favorability ratings both Clinton and Donald Trump face going into a presidential election match up.

Comments like that have signaled Sanders' increasing investment in a divided Democratic Party as the primary calendar runs down to its last six contests. "The 'burn it down' attitude, the upping the ante," wrote Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo, "seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top." While blame was initially cast on Jeff Weaver, Sanders' fiery campaign manager, commentators started placing blame more directly on Sanders himself after his statement following the supposed scuffles that took place in the Nevada Democratic convention -- Sanders placed most of the blame for his delegate's rowdiness on "Democratic leadership us[ing] its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place."

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The Rooms Where It Happened : Review of Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York City) and Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (ALISON L. LACROIX, New Rambler)

To watch Hamilton is to experience a total work of art - a Gesamtkunstwerk, in which different forms are combined into a single unified whole. The production brings together a staggeringly wide array of musical styles, including hip-hop, ragtime, Broadway musical theatre, jazz, and baroque harpsichord. The tableau unfolds dynamically - actors are perpetually in motion; an ensemble of dancers surrounds the main characters with intricate, sharp choreography; at various points in the show, two turntables revolve, often in opposite directions, turning the singing actors and placing them in ever-changing speed-tableaux. The costumes manage to be elegant and period appropriate while also avoiding caricature. There are no wigs, except for one that accompanies the occasional warble from the peruked George III. 

But the most astonishing artistic weapon that Hamilton unleashes is the power - in both force and quantity - of its words. The two-and-a-half-hour show comprises 20,000 words, nearly all of them delivered in some form of song or rap. The show is "sung-through," a phrase whose new frequency among the general public is yet another consequence of Hamilton-mania. The fastest song in the show, "Guns and Ships," is reported to clock in at a rate of 6.3 words per second - most of them fired in French-accented rap cadences by the Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs). Quite simply, the audience is fusilladed with words. On and on they come; one tries in giddy vain to remember the last set long enough to savor them before the next wave arrives. Indeed, this is one reason that consultation of the printed lyrics is necessary: because the ear is incapable of processing the words as they hurtle forth. Happily, the lyrics are included in the booklet accompanying the original cast recording, and - with photographs and extensive annotations - in Hamilton: The Revolution.

One such moment comes in "Cabinet Battle #1," in which Hamilton (Miranda), Thomas Jefferson (Diggs again), George Washington (Christopher Jackson), and James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan) debate Treasury Secretary Hamilton's proposal for the federal government to assume the states' wartime debts. In response to the russet-velvet-clad Jefferson's preening self-citation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" ("These are wise words, enterprising men quote 'em/Don't act surprised, you guys, cuz I wrote 'em"), Hamilton bursts forth:

Thomas. That was a real nice declaration

Welcome to the present, we're running a real nation

Would you like to join us, or stay mellow

Doin' whatever the hell it is you do in Monticello?

If we assume the debts, the union gets

A new line of credit, a financial diuretic.

How do you not get it? If we're aggressive and competitive

The union gets a boost. You'd rather give it a sedative?

The stakes of late-eighteenth-century debates about debt assumption, the federal union, and a national bank are thus conveyed within the context of a post-millennial rap battle. We care how this clash will turn out; we want to know who will win - even though we already know, as we knew before we heard the first bars of music: Hamilton's financial system will ultimately be established; the federal government will assume the states' debts; and the Union will become more robust and centralized. The genius of Miranda's words, however, is that they make us forget that we know how it will all end. The national bank, the strong judiciary, the encounter at Weehawken - we already know. And yet we watch and listen as though we don't. Because while we know what happened to the faces on the currency and the portraits in the museum, we don't know how it will all unfold for these particular people whom we are watching and listening to.

The words are the components of the barrage issuing from Miranda and his fellow performers on stage. But the words are more than just a medium. In the world of the show, they are also the impetus behind those volleys, for Hamilton is above all about the power of words, both the purposeful and the uncontrolled, to shape individuals' destinies. We see the young Hamilton propelling himself out of the raw Caribbean periphery of the British Empire to New York City and a scholarship at King's College (the predecessor of Columbia University). As Madison describes it in the first song, "Alexander Hamilton,"

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned,

Our man saw his future drip, dripping down the drain,

Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain,

And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain.

Twenty-two songs (or, in actual historical time, fifteen years) later, in "Non-Stop," the final number of Act I, we see the mature Hamilton, clad in a gleaming bottle-green silk suit, scribbling with a quill pen atop an off-kilter wooden plan held by eight ensemble members in buff waistcoats and breeches. The scene is Hamilton at work on his towering fifty-one Federalist essays, as we are told by narrator Aaron Burr in tones of mixed awe and horror. Burr is typically played by Leslie Odom, Jr., but Odom's understudy Austin Smith gave such an outstanding performance in the show that I saw that I did not realize until days later that I had not seen the original Burr. Such is the formidable depth of the Hamilton cast. While Hamilton feverishly writes, the chorus sings with urgent speed:

How do you write like you're

Running out of time?

Write day and night like you're

Running out of time?

How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive?

How do you write like you need it to survive?

How do you write ev'ry second you're alive?

Ev'ry second you're alive? Ev'ry second you're alive?

Earlier in the same song, Hamilton chants with childlike glee, "I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!" The moment is an all-too-rare popular culture triumph for constitutional law professors.  

Federalist 78 is one of the earliest theorizations of American judicial review - a practice that had existed under the British Empire, that was not specifically named in the Constitution itself, and that was extended in the early nineteenth century by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall. Some scholars posit that Federalist 78 was essentially a restatement, albeit with Hamiltonian flourishes, of a preexisting colonial belief in popular sovereignty.  

But Miranda is depicting something more than just codification of prior practice here, and this image seems historically apt. Who better than a "bastard brat of a Scots pedlar," to borrow John Adams's epithet, to draft the fundamental structural justification for federal judicial authority? Federalist 78 married the divided authority characteristic of federal structures dating back to the seventeenth-century Anglo-Scottish union of crowns with the novel institution that Article III of the Constitution called "the judicial power of the United States." As Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78, "No legislative act . . . contrary to the constitution can be valid." Rather, he argued, judges "ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental." Popular sovereignty was a part of the story, to be sure. But what Federalist 78 invoked was something new: the Constitution as both a source of authority for governing, and as the governing power itself.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Government Report Shows Potential Trans Pacific Partnership Impact (Bryan Riley, May 23, 2016, Daily Signal)

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, the agreement would boost both U.S. employment and GDP.

By year 15 (2032), U.S. annual real income would be $57.3 billion (0.23 percent) higher than the baseline projections, real GDP would be $42.7 billion (0.15 percent) higher, and employment would be 0.07 percent higher (128,000 full-time equivalents).

The International Trade Commission's findings are based on proposed cuts in tariff and non-tariff trade barriers affecting goods and services, reduced investment barriers, and intellectual property provisions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Syrians are lining up to fight ISIS (Ben Rosen, Staff MAY 23, 2016, CS Monitor)

With the number of Syrian volunteers to fight the Islamic State militant group surging, Americans training them are becoming increasingly optimistic that a Kurdish and Arab army can defeat ISIS simply by outnumbering it.  

Following victories against the Islamic State, including the recapture of al-Shaddadah in northeast Syria, the number of Arabs who have volunteered to fight this spring has outpaced American military advisers' capacity to train them. This growth plays into a US strategy that a volunteer army larger than ISIS's can conquer the Islamic State's self-declared capital of Raqqa in Syria, further weakening it there and in Iraq.  

News of this groundswell of volunteers could foreshadow the decline of ISIS in Syria and Iraq as well, as Kurds and other ethnic groups form militias to rid their homes of the Islamic State...

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Scores dead in Isis attacks on Syrian coastal cities (Martin Chulov, 23 May 2016, The Guardian)

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a series of blasts that killed more than 120 people in a loyalist coastal enclavethat has remained the most tightly controlled part of Syria throughout the civil war.

The attacks targeted Tartous, which hosts a Russian naval base, and Jableh, 50 miles to the north. Both cities had been spared the destruction that has laid waste to other parts of the country over more than five years.

Isis announced that the explosions were its work within hours of sending suicide bombers and car bombs into the area.

...thought the regime could avoid war with ISIS.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


The next Fed rate hike and 'goat droppings': How they're related (Jared Bernstein, May 23, 2016, Washington Post)

Though there will always be critics, the broad consensus among economists is not only did the Fed perform its countercyclical function well in the recession, but since around 2010, when the tea-party-addled Congress checked out on economic (and most other) policy, the Fed's also been the only game in town.

Lately, however, its campaign to "normalize" the interest rate it controls -- i.e., raise it back up to where it usually is at this point in an economic expansion -- has been criticized by some Fed watchers, especially those of us who a) worry that Fed rate hikes will block to the path to full employment, which we still haven't reached, b) want to see less-advantaged workers benefit from growth, and c) see little in the way of inflationary threats.

For Fed officials who've spoken out on this point, like Jeffrey Lacker in this recent interview, the rationale for hiking seems to come from a somewhat vague sense that rates have been low long enough and the U.S. economy, if not many others, is finally firming up.

Meh. I'm not a central banker, but some this sounds like what I think of as MONETary policy, more impressionism ("getting behind the curve," "reducing uncertainty," rates are below where they "ought to be") than hard-core analysis of the key relations between the variables in question.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


This is the robot that will shepherd and keep livestock healthy (Next Web, 5/23/16)

While the ACFR has been working on this technology since 2014, the robot - previously known as 'Shrimp' - is set to start a two-year trial next month. Testing will take place at several farms nearby New South Wales province in Australia.

During this trial, researchers will train the robot to shepherd animals, monitor their health and make sure that herds are well fed at all times.

To track the health of the livestock, the four-wheeled farmbot mounts various thermal and vision sensors that can detect changes in the behavior and body temperature of the animals in real time.

The robot will also come with a functionality that continuously checks the ground for pasture quality.

"We want to improve the quality of animal health and make it easier for farmers to maintain large landscapes where animals roam free," project lead Salah Sukkarieh told New Scientist. "It's farmers who are driving this because labour is in short supply and they are looking for technological assistance", he continues.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


India, Afghanistan and Iran Sign Deal for Transport Corridor (NIHARIKA MANDHANA, May 23, 2016, WSJ)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed an agreement with Tehran on Monday for a transport corridor designed to open up a new route to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar, circumventing Pakistan.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Q: Regardless of whether or not you'd vote for him, do you think Donald Trump is or is not qualified to serve as president?

Results by Party ID

Show results by:



No opinion

All adults













The Washington Post - ABC News pol

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Shake-up in Israeli politics prompts 'seeds of fascism' warning (LUKE BAKER, 5/23/16, Reuters)

A military affairs commentator interrupts his broadcast to deliver a monologue: I'm alarmed by what's happening in Israel, he says, I think my children should leave.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warns of "the seeds of fascism". Moshe Arens, who served as defense minister three times, sees it as a turning point in Israeli politics and expects it to cause a "political earthquake".

The past five days have produced tumult in Israeli politics, since conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unexpectedly turned his back on a deal to bring the center-left into his coalition and instead joined hands with far-right nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, one of his most virulent critics.

Lieberman, a West Bank settler, wants to be defense minister. So on Friday, Netanyahu's former ally and confidant, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, resigned and quit Netanyahu's Likud party in disgust.

After a weekend to digest the developments, which are expected to be finalised in an agreement between Netanyahu and Lieberman on Monday to form the most right-wing government in Israel's 68-year-old history, commentators have tried to put it in perspective and found themselves alarmed.

For so long as there's a war going on, the Anglosphere can tolerate some divergence from the norm--witness South Africa, Spain, Chile, etc.

But when the war ends our allies have to practice what we preach too.  Israel is deviating ever further even as the war winds down.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Food prices falling faster than official figures show (Patrick Collinson, 23 May 2016, The Guardian)

The price of food and drink may have fallen faster than official estimates, according to the government body charged with collecting the data.

The Office for National Statistics said the official consumer prices index (CPI) figure for food shows that prices have fallen by 3.3% since June 2014, while alcoholic drinks have dropped by 3%.

But a project set up by the ONS to "scrape" price data from the websites of Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose found that between June 2014 and February 2016 food fell in price by 4.5%, while drinks were down 6.8% over the same period.

The gaps between the official and supermarket data are in some cases alarmingly wide, and may call into question the validity of the CPI numbers issued each month.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Oil Battles Wind on the Great Plains (CAROLINE PRESTON MAY 20, 2016, American Prospect)

The Great Plains of Oklahoma are dotted with cattle, wheat fields, and the seesawing donkey-shaped jacks that drag crude oil from the shale rock beneath. Notwithstanding the collapse of commodity prices, some 190,000 active oil and gas wells in the state provide jobs, directly and indirectly, to an estimated one in six Oklahomans. Even the statehouse in Oklahoma City is surrounded by wells; one is nicknamed Petunia, after the flower bed on which it was drilled.

But increasingly, in Oklahoma's western half, the land is also populated by wind turbines--giant, white structures on farms with names like Blue Canyon and Renewable Frontier.

Those turbines are turning the storied wind that comes sweeping down Oklahoma's plains into an increasingly critical statewide energy source. Wind now provides 18 percent of the state's electricity, a higher share nationally than any states besides Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. In many Oklahoma counties, wind energy equipment--including more than 2,000 turbines statewide--has put cash in the hands of landowners and driven up property values, freeing up money for schools and public services.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Dying GOP Senator Apologizes to Muslims for Donald Trump (Tim Mak, 5/18/16, Daily Beast)

Between the hectic helter-skelter of nurses, doctors, and well wishes from a long-cultivated community of friends and former aides, Bennett faced a quiet moment with his son Jim and his wife Joyce.

It was not a moment for self-pity.

Instead, with a slight slurring in his words, Bennett drew them close to express a dying wish: "Are there any Muslims in the hospital?" he asked.
"I'd love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump," Bennett told his wife and son, both of whom relayed this story to The Daily Beast. [...]

Trump's proposal to ban Muslim immigrants from America had outraged the former senator, his wife Joyce said, triggering his instincts to do what he could on a personal level. They ultimately did not canvass the hospital, but Bennett had already made an effort in his last months of life.

As they traveled from Washington to Utah for Christmas break, Bennett approached a woman wearing a hijab in the airport.

"He would go to people with the hijab [on] and tell them he was glad they were in America, and they were welcome here," his wife said. "He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party."

"He was astonished and aghast that Donald Trump had the staying power that he had... He had absolutely no respect for Donald Trump, and I think got angry and frustrated when it became clear that the party wasn't going to steer clear of Trumpism," his son relayed.

Bennett's Mormon faith also played into his beliefs on Trump and Muslims: the billionaire's proposal to ban Muslims prompted the LDS Church to issue a statement in support of religious freedom, quoting its founder saying he would "die in defending the rights... of any denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves."

"That was something my father felt very keenly--recognizing the parallel between the Mormon experience and the Muslim experience. [He] wanted to see these people treated with kindness, and not ostracized," Jim Bennett said.

May 22, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Pakistan says US drone strike that killed Taliban leader violated its sovereignty (Reuters, 22 May 2016)

Pakistan on Sunday accused the United States of violating its sovereignty with a drone strike against the leader of the Afghan Taliban in a remote border area just inside Pakistan.

Failure to exercise control over territory means you are not its sovereign.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Just What Were Donald Trump's Ties to the Mob? : I've spent years investigating, and here's what's known. (DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, May 22, 2016, Politico)

In his signature book, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump boasted that when he wanted to build a c[****]o in Atlantic City, he persuaded the state attorney general to limit the investigation of his background to six months. Most potential owners were scrutinized for more than a year. Trump argued that he was "clean as a whistle"--young enough that he hadn't had time to get into any sort of trouble. He got the sped-up background check, and eventually got the c[****]o license.

But Trump was not clean as a whistle. Beginning three years earlier, he'd hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan, including buying ostensibly overpriced concrete from a company controlled by mafia chieftains Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and Paul Castellano. That story eventually came out in a federal investigation, which also concluded that in a construction industry saturated with mob influence, the Trump Plaza apartment building most likely benefited from connections to racketeering. Trump also failed to disclose that he was under investigation by a grand jury directed by the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, who wanted to learn how Trump obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan.

Why did Trump get his c[****]o license anyway? Why didn't investigators look any harder? And how deep did his connections to criminals really go?

These questions ate at me as I wrote about Atlantic City for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and then went more deeply into the issues in a book, Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the C[****]o Business. In all, I've covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years, and in that time I've encountered multiple threads linking Trump to organized crime. Some of Trump's unsavory connections have been followed by investigators and substantiated in court; some haven't. And some of those links have continued until recent years, though when confronted with evidence of such associations, Trump has often claimed a faulty memory. In an April 27 phone call to respond to my questions for this story, Trump told me he did not recall many of the events recounted in this article and they "were a long time ago." He also said that I had "sometimes been fair, sometimes not" in writing about him, adding "if I don't like what you write, I'll sue you."

I'm not the only one who has picked up signals over the years. Wayne Barrett, author of a 1992 investigative biography of Trump's real-estate dealings, has tied Trump to mob and mob-connected men.

No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump's record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks. Professor Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said the closest historical example would be President Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome, a bribery and bid-rigging scandal in which the interior secretary went to prison. But even that has a key difference: Harding's associates were corrupt but otherwise legitimate businessmen, not mobsters and drug dealers.

All you really need to say about The Donald as businessman is that even with the mob ties he squandered his inheritance.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Whit Stillman on Jane Austen and "Love & Friendship" (Adrian Liang, May 17, 2016, Omnivoracious)
Jane Austen lovers, rejoice! Whit Stillman--director of The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan--has shifted his storytelling focus to a rarely read story by Austen that has never been seen on film or television. Love & Friendship released in theaters on May 13 and follows the tale of Lady Susan, a widow and schemer extraordinaire who tosses off bon mots as she ignites chaos and intra-family strife while she pursues her next husband.

Love and FriendshipLove & Friendship is based on Austen's incomplete novella Lady Susan, but Stillman takes his own liberties with the story, expanding some plot lines and giving it a rousing, hilarious conclusion.

Several weeks ago, we got a sneak peek of this film (released by Amazon Studios), and Love & Friendship marries the best of Austen's wry observations with a cast that makes every line sparkle. Stillman then answered our questions about his adaptation of Austen's work and why he believes that (heroine? villainess?) Lady Susan needs vindicating. [...]

Your films have been called "comedies of mannerlessness," but almost everyone in Love & Friendship is scrupulously polite.

Yes, could you remind me who wrote that? Because I would like to contact him. The "commentary of meaninglessness" is what I would call that; I think it was either the patter of one of our actors  in the context of press interviews, for which anything is excusable, or as part of a larger, otherwise okay article. Ultimately, though, it is better to be clever on the basis of something at least an itsy-bitsy tiny bit true!  Our films are pretty certainly the opposite of mannerless. The original trouble comes from the term "comedies of manners" and the diminished contemporary connotation of "manners." Stephen Fry gave a wonderful interview on the film in which he returns to the Latin original, which was "mores" or "morals" (I believe; could be garbling some of that), so "Comedies of Morals" would work much better.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Takes a Tall Gallows to Hang a Big Man: The Novel Behind "Out of the Past" (Colin Fleming, MAY 21, 2016, LA Review of Books)

In proper noir fashion, Geoffrey Homes wasn't even Geoffrey Homes, but rather the wonderfully named Daniel Mainwaring, who later adapted the book for screen. He simplified the narrative for the screenplay, which is both true and confounding (and speaks to how much is going on in the novel), because Out of the Past is one of those films where you eventually stop trying to figure out what exactly has happened, and go along with what is happening. Life is like that, which is why one can both be drawn to, and repelled by, noir in ways unlike any other genre. [...]

In film noir, intensity is sourced from relationships, the studio stars on the marquee, and from 1940s anxieties surrounding cities. But in Build My Gallows High, Mainwaring derives much of his power from, oddly enough, nature. The pine forests, the incessantly babbling brooks -- which acquire the quality of grief-drunken mourners having lost their reason -- and the weather itself become commenters on, and abettors to, the narrative. If it looks natural, chances are, it is bad. Hell of a way to live, hell of a way to think, and, as it turns out, hell of a way to die.

In the film, the rustic setting is in service to the cinematography. Ravines, with brooks at the bottom, make for rugged framing devices, with a depth of field that suggests you, too, from your couch or theater seat could cast a fly into the water, or sneak up on some would-be assassin from behind a clump of rocks. Nature is pictorial here, but in the book, nature is psychological, a reflection on internal states, with what ought to be beautiful undercut and vitiated: "Lightning repeatedly slit the cloudbanks and the rain seemed to come down faster, as though it was pouring through the holes made by the ragged blades of light." This is a language suggestive of rape at worst, and non-consent at best, which is not good at all. The would-be picturesque is instead a playing field for violence, and a character like Red Bailey is going to have things done to him that are tantamount to a violation at the level of the soul. And nature itself will reflect that, as if noir has gone a decidedly Shakespearean route.

The novel, if anything, is more convoluted, plot-wise, than the film. The film is confusing as hell, but Kirk Douglas, as the male baddie, helps it hang together. With the book, that one bad guy is cleaved into additional tormentors. Many of the characters think Bailey double-crossed them, when he double-crossed no one, nothing is what it seems, memories are not only long but hugely flawed, and a litany of people are so reviled in what they are that they must destroy Bailey as the guy who provides such a horrifying contrast.

The prose, though, is lean, imagistic, like some of Rimbaud's best letters. "He wondered if she had a conscience, if she knew what shame was," Bailey thinks at one point, about McGonigle. It is a mode of reflection that, again, gains power in contrasts, juxtapositions, because he wouldn't think that way unless he was a person of deep conscience. He feels a pain and a confusion that McGonigle will always be spared, if, indeed, it is sparing to feel less. In the noir world, it often is. But it is also why we pull so hard for someone like Bailey, even when we know that he rushes headlong into his undoing. That kind of character can lodge in the mind in ways those who "get away with it" cannot.

The key to noir's appeal is that no one ever gets away with it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Obama, Bound For Vietnam, Seeks To Turn Old Foe Into New Partner (REUTERS, 05/22/16)

Obama will be the third consecutive U.S. president to visit Vietnam since diplomatic relations were restored in 1995.

"What we want to demonstrate with this visit is a significant upgrade in the relationship between the United States and Vietnam ... even as we have areas of difference," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

Washington wants Vietnam to open up more on the economic front and also move closer militarily, including increased port visits by U.S. warships, possibly with access to the strategic harbor at Cam Ranh Bay, U.S. officials say.

One trade deal after another....

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


This is how fascism comes to America (Robert Kagan, 5/22/16, Brookings)

[T]he entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.

And the source of allegiance? We're supposed to believe that Trump's support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies--his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of "others"--Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees--whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as it has everyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous.

Fascism has historically arisen in opposition to a serious communist threat and has sought--almost always successfully--to preserve traditional institutions until the threat has passed and democracy can be restored.  Trump cares nothing for traditions and institutions and there is no threat, other than him, to them.  He is pure ego and; like all such figures, he wants to bring nihilism.  It's why he idolizes Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Iraqi army says preparing to retake IS-held Falluja, tells residents to leave (Reuters, 5/22/16)

Iraq's army said on Sunday it was preparing to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Falluja and asked residents to get ready to leave, state TV reported.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Pipelines in the Sand : The Middle East After Sykes-Picot (Rachel Havrelock, 5/17/16, Foreign Affairs)

Shortly after World War I, the Allied powers began seeking oil concessions in the Middle East. The concessions conferred the region's oil rights to the Iraq Petroleum Company. Despite its name, the Iraq Petroleum Company had nothing to do with Iraq; it was a consortium of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later BP), Calouste Gulbenkian, Compagnie Francais de Petrols (later Total), Standard Oil's Near East Development Corporation (later ExxonMobil), and Shell. The agreements ensured that local inhabitants could not make any claims to the resources above which they lived. The countries with the most oil gained the least from its discovery.
What's more, the building of the pipelines stoked regional unrest. After various attempts to sabotage the pipelines, including by Yemen's ahl al-Jebal tribe, Palestinian rebels, and right-wing Zionist paramilitary groups, oil company officials and Western governments increased regional surveillance, militarized the area, and encouraged ethnic and sectarian strife to thwart nationalist and communist movements.

The current turmoil in the Middle East has led many observers to ask whether Sykes-Picot has finally reached its end. The Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn, for example, famously portended the end of the treaty while reporting from Iraq. But a better question is whether or not the agreement can be transformed to yield greater regional stability and prosperity. The dissolution of oil concessions could hold the key to this transformation. Consider the Kurdish case. Following the Second Gulf War, private oil companies flocked to Iraq. Iraq's national oil company reserved the right to pump existing wells with partners of its choosing, but local bodies such as the Kurdistan Regional Government were allowed to explore new wells and forge their own partnerships--a boon to the Kurdish economy.

Kurdish oil shares made all the difference when ISIS emerged in 2014. The largely effective Kurdish Peshmerga fight against ISIS owes to Kurds' desire to protect not just their homeland but also the resources within it. Kurds harbor longstanding desires for autonomy, but their jurisdiction over local oil is a form of sovereignty--over resources rather than territory--that models a truly post‑Sykes-Picot Middle East. Because Sykes-Picot divided territory in the name of extracting and transporting oil to Europe, reforming the ownership of oil is the first step in dissolving the legacy of colonial administration and authoritarian rule.

Ideally, people across the Middle East should hold shares in local resources and have a say in their sale, use, and conservation. In an age of increased migration, this principle could help people inhabit new places with a sense of belonging and stewardship. Of course, local officials will still need to partner with global firms to drill, refine, and export oil, but such contracts will work best when driven by local needs rather than corporate profits. The Kurdish case proves that local stakeholders will raise an army where oil companies will not.

A Middle East defined by local sovereignty over natural resources will be richer and more secure.

The key being to have sovereignty over but not ownership of.  Popular sovereignty requires taxation.
Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Murder most foul : When periods of economic growth come to an end, old age is rarely to blame (The Economist, May 21st 2016)

The Netherlands holds the record: its longest [expansion], which ended in 2008, lasted nearly 26 years. Australia may surpass that early next year: its continuing expansion dates back to 1991. If expansions have a natural lifespan, it is longer than a decade.

Earlier this year Glenn Rudebusch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco constructed an actuarial table for America's historical expansions, much as a life-insurance company would for people. In rich countries the probability of a person's death rises gradually from middle age until the mid-80s, then quite steeply thereafter. Expansions, however, do not seem to become more vulnerable with age. There have been only 12 American expansions since the end of the second world war; the universe of people who have lived and died is somewhat larger. But the data available suggest that there was a time when cycles aged like people. Before the second world war, Mr Rudebusch notes, the odds of tipping into recession rose as an expansion got older. Yet since the 1940s age has not withered them: an expansion in its 40th month is just as vulnerable, statistically, as one in its 80th (each has about a 75% chance of surviving the next year). [...]

Post-war expansions are longer (and recessions shorter) than was once the case, but business-cycle immortality remains elusive. The end of some expansions is clearly the result of foul play. In the early 1980s, for instance, both America and Britain suffered recessions that were deliberately induced in order to bring down raging inflation.

In other cases the culprit is human error. As central bankers freely admit, their control over the economy is imperfect. Policy works on a delay. Since not every shock can be anticipated, a bad blow may start a recession before a central bank can adequately respond. Or an inflation-averse central bank may discover, after it is too late to adjust course, that it raised interest rates once too often. What's more, with interest rates in many economies near zero, central bankers find themselves increasingly reliant on unconventional tools, for which the margin of error is larger.

But there is a difference between misfortune and recklessness. Central banks that worry more about high inflation than low will tend to err on the hawkish side, and will find themselves steering into recession with some regularity. 

There is a particular danger with a new Fed Chair, as witness Greenspan in '87, Bernanke in '08 and Yellen in December.  Thankfully, the last seems to have learned her lesson. You can't raise rates into the teeth of deflation without stalling out the economy.

May 21, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Key G.O.P. Donors Still Deeply Resist Donald Trump's Candidacy (JONATHAN MARTIN and ALEXANDER BURNS, MAY 21, 2016, NY Times)

A powerful array of the Republican Party's largest financial backers remains deeply resistant to Donald J. Trump's presidential candidacy, forming a wall of opposition that could make it exceedingly difficult for him to meet his goal of raising $1 billion before the November election.

Interviews and emails with more than 50 of the Republican Party's largest donors, or their representatives, revealed a measure of contempt and distrust toward their own party's nominee that is unheard of in modern presidential politics. [...]

[O]thers simply believe Mr. Trump is unfit to serve in the Oval Office. Michael K. Vlock, a Connecticut investor who has given nearly $5 million to Republicans at the federal level since 2014, said he considered Mr. Trump a dangerous person.

"He's an ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard," Mr. Vlock said.

Mr. Vlock said he might give to Hillary Clinton instead, describing her as "the devil we know."

"I really believe our republic will survive Hillary," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


How to Save Clintonism (DAVID M. SHRIBMAN, MAY 21, 2016, NY Times)

SINCE their premiere on the national stage a quarter-century ago, Hillary and Bill Clinton have been the closest of partners in politics. Through some rocky times they have turned to each other on vital projects, as in 1993, when Mr. Clinton asked his wife to lead an ultimately failed effort to establish universal health care. And then last week, Mrs. Clinton, her campaign straining to build momentum, said that her husband would be "in charge of revitalizing the economy" in a second Clinton White House.

With that announcement, Mrs. Clinton underscored that the couple had partnered in another joint venture: trying to refurbish Clintonism, the political creed that defined his two terms as president.

Celebrated by its supporters as a synonym for peace, prosperity and a common-sense centrism, Clintonism was -- and is still -- derided by its detractors on the left as corporatism and on the right as a shorthand for scandal and impeachable offenses. [...]

"He relishes campaigning, and she does it because she has to," said Edward G. Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a longtime ally. But he insists that the two have the same outlook and ideology. "They are similar in their values," Mr. Rendell said in a recent interview, "and they are similar in what they care about."

Those shared values are in many ways at the core of Clintonism 1.0 and 2.0. Both Clintons are animated not just by a center-left approach to campaigning and governing, but also a devout faith in expertise, particularly of the academic sort, and in the power of policy. And both are dedicated globalists: As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton holds the record for number of countries visited in office, 112, while her husband made twice as many international trips as Ronald Reagan and three times as many as Richard Nixon.

It is in that global outlook that Clintonism might benefit Mrs. Clinton's campaign. At a time when Mr. Trump is vowing to restrict immigration and trade, and also reduce support for NATO and other international organizations that have been bulwarks of American foreign policy, Mrs. Clinton may find support among moderate Republicans and business interests for her vision of a more open, internationalist America.

Given that the W and UR years have been virtually identical to the Bill years, it's just smart politics to run on the policies that dominate the Anglosphere.
Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor believed killed in US drone strike (Martin Pengelly, 21 May 2016, The Guardian)

It was not immediately confirmed that he had been killed, but the Associated Press reported an American official saying the US believed Mansoor and another male had been killed in the strike, which was carried out by a drone and authorized by Barack Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Israel's Army Goes to War With Its Politicians (RONEN BERGMAN, MAY 21, 2016, NY Times)

IN most countries, the political class supervises the defense establishment and restrains its leaders from violating human rights or pursuing dangerous, aggressive policies. In Israel, the opposite is happening. Here, politicians blatantly trample the state's values and laws and seek belligerent solutions, while the chiefs of the Israel Defense Forces and the heads of the intelligence agencies try to calm and restrain them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer last week of the post of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, a pugnacious ultranationalist politician, is the latest act in the war between Mr. Netanyahu and the military and intelligence leaders, a conflict that has no end in sight but could further erode the rule of law and human rights, or lead to a dangerous, superfluous military campaign.

The prime minister sees the defense establishment as a competitor to his authority and an opponent of his goals. Putting Mr. Lieberman, an impulsive and reckless extremist, in charge of the military is a clear signal that the generals' and the intelligence chiefs' opposition will no longer be tolerated. Mr. Lieberman is known for ruthlessly quashing people who hold opposing views.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Syrian refugees give new life to struggling city of Malmö (Richard Orange in Malmö, 21 May 2016, The Guardian)

Among its members are some of the biggest success stories from three decades of Arab immigration into the city. Some 43% of Malmö's 317,000-strong population now have a foreign background, with the 40,000 Iraqi-born citizens and their descendants forming the largest single group. Together they have transformed a city which in the early 1980s was in such a deep slump after the collapse of its shipbuilding industry that one in seven inhabitants packed their bags and left, bringing the population as low as 230,000. "Malmö in the 1990s was a totally depressing place: everybody was miserable," remembers Christer Havung, whose café, Bröd och Vänner, sits next to Ibrahim's salon.

The new arrivals have created an alternative city centre around Möllevång Square, with a busy vegetable market and shops selling Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese goods. "Malmö has changed completely," says Jassim Almudafar, an Iraqi who has worked for the last 14 years for Almi, a state-run bank that gives loans to immigrants starting businesses. "When I came to Sweden, there was no one who sold falafel, there was only sausage and hamburger. Now you have hardly anyone selling sausages, but maybe 50 or 60 falafel restaurants."

The statistics are grim, however. The unemployment rate for foreign-born men between 16 and 64 in Malmö is 30%, compared with 8% nationally. For foreign-born citizens between 18 and 24 it is 41%. The average annual income in 2014 for citizens born in Iraq was 53,000 kronor (£4,000), according to Statistics Sweden, compared with 285,000 kronor (£23,000) for those born in Sweden.

Almudafar is sceptical. Many of those he has backed over the past 14 years have gone from nothing to owning major businesses, he points out. Greg Dingizian, a property developer who is one of Malmö's richest men, came to Sweden as a child from Baghdad. Officially unemployed people have jobs in the black economy, while many businesses under-report earnings to avoid Sweden's punitive taxes.

"Immigrants create growth - think how many start businesses," Almudafar stresses. He is particularly bullish on the latest wave of immigrants from Syria. "They're a little different," he says. "They have ambition. After just a few months in Sweden they already want to set something up."

He has funded more than 50 new Syrian businesses and is in talks to fund hundreds more. There is a woman who wants to set up a factory making Syrian cheeses. There are bakeries, sweet-makers, dentists, IT consultants, building firms, a market gardener who plans to grow Syrian vegetables under glass, even a shop selling ouds, a sort of Arab lute.

In October, Mohaymen Selim, a 22-year-old Iraqi, launched Hello Shisha, whose delivery vans ferry water pipes packed with fragrant tobacco anywhere in the city. The business, powered by a busy Facebook page and a website blasting out electro house, is booming.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Argentine prosecutor: Nisman may have been 'induced' to kill himself (AP, May 20, 2016)

Alberto Nisman, who investigated the 1994 bombing at a Jewish center in the capital before he was found dead in his home last year, may have been forced to kill himself, another prosecutor who was formerly in charge of his case said Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


How a falling birth rate stalls the world economy (BBC, 21 May 2016)

Which is why the world economy needs much higher US debt.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


In Sweden, an Experiment Turns Shorter Workdays Into Bigger Gains (LIZ ALDERMANMAY 20, 2016, NY Times)

Arturo Perez used to come home frazzled from his job as a caregiver at the Svartedalens nursing home. Eight-hour stretches of tending to residents with senility or Alzheimer's would leave him sapped with little time to spend with his three children.

But life changed when Svartedalens was selected for a Swedish experiment about the future of work. In a bid to improve well-being, employees were switched to a six-hour workday last year with no pay cut. Within a week, Mr. Perez was brimming with energy, and residents said the standard of care was higher.

"What's good is that we're happy," said Mr. Perez, a single father. "And a happy worker is a better worker." [...]

[C]oncerns have not deterred a growing number of small businesses in Sweden from testing the concept. Many found that a shorter workday can reduce turnover, enhance employee creativity and lift productivity enough to offset the cost of hiring additional staff.

"We thought doing a shorter workweek would mean we'd have to hire more, but it hasn't resulted in that because everyone works more efficiently," said Maria Brath, who founded an Internet search optimization start-up in Stockholm three years ago based on a six-hour day. The company, which has 20 employees, has doubled its revenue and profit each year.

"Since we work fewer hours, we are constantly figuring out ways to do more with our time," Ms. Brath said.

Sitting inside their airy office, Brath's employees checked off the ways. "We don't send unnecessary emails or tie ourselves up in meetings," said Thommy Ottinger, a pay-per-click specialist. "If you have only six hours to work, you don't waste your time or other people's time."

"It's kind of a life changer," he said, adding that the environment inspired fierce staff loyalty.

At Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska University Hospital, one of the biggest in Europe, officials have tried a similar approach to counter burnout and high absenteeism.

Last year, the orthopedics unit switched 89 nurses and doctors to a six-hour day. It hired 15 new staff members to make up for the lost time and extend operating room hours. At 1 million kroner (about $123,000) a month, the experiment was expensive, said Anders Hyltander, the executive director. But since then, almost no one calls in sick, and nurses and doctors have been more efficient.

"I had reached a point where I could only work at 80 percent capacity," said Gabrielle Tikman, a surgical nurse. "Now it's easier to rest and I have time at home to sit and really talk with my children. I've got my power back."

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


In Surprising Turnabout, Oklahoma Eyes Medicaid Expansion (SEAN MURPHY, MAY 16, 2016, AP)

Despite bitter resistance in Oklahoma for years to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, Republican leaders in this conservative state are now confronting something that alarms them even more: a huge $1.3 billion hole in the budget that threatens to do widespread damage to the state's health care system.

So, in what would be the grandest about-face among rightward leaning states, Oklahoma is now moving toward a plan to expand its Medicaid program to bring in billions of federal dollars from Obama's new health care system.

What's more, GOP leaders are considering a tax hike to cover the state's share of the costs.

"We're to the point where the provider rates are going to be cut so much that providers won't be able to survive, particularly the nursing homes," said Republican state Rep. Doug Cox, referring to possible cuts in state funds for indigent care that could cause some hospitals and nursing homes to close.

Despite furious opposition by conservative groups, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and some GOP legislative leaders are pushing the plan, and support appears to be growing in the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Is the End of Economics 101 Nigh? Nordic Bankers May Know Answer (Peter Levring, May 18, 2016, Bloomberg)

Is the link between monetary policy and inflation broken?

The central bank governor of Denmark, where nominal rates have been negative longer than anywhere else in the world, says there may be signs that the link has grown weaker.

"We're in a territory where we don't have very much experience, so we can't rule out the possibility that the relationship between rates and inflation isn't as strong as it used to be," Lars Rohde, 62, said in an interview at the central bank in Copenhagen. "Inflation requires demand pressure and globally there's very little demand pressure."

Specifically, it requires demand pressure for wage increases, which demographics, automation, off-shoring and free trade guarantee we won't have in any meaningful measure for the forseeable future.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Traumatized by millennials, employers are already desperate to make Generation Z happy (Cassie Werber, April 20, 2016, Quartz)

The research institute of ADP--a business administration group which produces data on work trends and economic health--surveyed 2,400 full-time and part-time employees in different age groups, including millennials, working at companies with over 250 people, to find out how the global workplace had changed. Their resulting study says that millennials have pushed companies to change in key areas, including giving employees more freedom (to work from wherever they want, for example) and autonomy (including to "self-manage," rather than be managed).

But the one big thing the ADP picked out was the search for a sense of fulfilment:

"[T]he need for meaning has certainly evolved over the years," the ADP researchers wrote. "Today, the younger generation of Millennials places more of an emphasis on a search for meaning within their jobs than previous generations, who tended to look for meaning outside of work."

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Robo-advisers are the hottest trend in investing, but for most there's a better way (Timothy B. Lee,  May 20, 2016,

[F]undamentally there are three things you need to do to get the most out of your retirement savings:

Invest in low-fee index funds.

As you get older, shift your investments from riskier stocks to safer bonds.

Don't sell until you reach retirement age, even if markets crash.

A financial product called a target retirement fund makes this really easy. You choose the fund that corresponds to your expected retirement date (for example, I'm in my mid-30s so I would choose Vanguard's Target Retirement 2045 fund), and the fund does the rest, gradually shifting to safer assets as you get closer to your retirement date.

There are low-cost target retirement funds available from Vanguard, Fidelity, and State Street. Signing up only takes an hour or two, and once you've deposited your cash with one of these companies, you shouldn't have to think about it again until you reach retirement age.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


'The Sound of God': In Iraq, US Airpower Bolsters the Peshmerga's Fight Against ISIS (Nolan Peterson, May 17, 2016, Daily Signal)

The old peshmerga general smiled at the sound of the U.S. fighter jets. "That's the sound of God," he said.

Gen. Omar Hama Ali Farag held a pair of binoculars to his eyes, scanning Islamic State positions about a mile away, across the Great Zab River in the direction of Mosul.

"There's two Daesh fighters hiding beneath a tree in front of the white house," Farag told me, using a pejorative Arabic acronym for the Islamist terrorist army also known as ISIS.

He handed me the binoculars. "Have a look."

And there they were. Clear as day and in the flesh.

The black-clad foot soldiers of the terrorist army responsible for so much death and destruction across the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Europe, and even back home in the United States. Disciples of the same twisted group that had brutally killed the American journalist James Foley, a friend of mine who had graduated a few classes ahead of me at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

I couldn't help it. A smile spread over my face as the sound of U.S. fighter jets roared overhead. As a former Air Force pilot, I was acquiring a unique education in the awesome ground level effects of my former profession.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


The Right Cure to Health Care (Scott W. Atlas, May 17, 2016, Defining Ideas)

Facts show that private insurance is superior to government insurance for both access and quality of medical care. History shows that the best way to control prices is through competition for empowered, value-seeking consumers. Instead of shunting more people into insurance and care provided by the government, heavily subsidized by the government, or massively regulated by the government, reforms should focus on how to produce competition-driven markets that will deliver innovation and cost savings, thereby maximizing the availability and affordability of the best care for everyone. The key is to move away from centralized models based on misguided incentives necessitating more and more taxation to one of individual empowerment with personal responsibility.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The Problem of Character: Why Conservatives Must Reject Donald Trump (Ashleen Menchaca-Bagnulo, May 19th, 2016, Public Discourse)

For students of Christianity and politics to close our eyes to the tyrannical nature of Trump would be an abandonment of Christ's mandate to "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Paul of Tarsus may have converted after God struck him down on the road to Damascus, but no Christian in her right mind would have desired to place him in high office over her when he was in thrall to his lowest passions.

Many highly intelligent people of considerable personal character are contemplating a vote for Trump. This is not because of who he is, but because of who he is not.

I understand that such people, including many whom I know and admire, have not come to this conclusion out of admiration for Trump but out of a feeling of necessity. They see Trump's vicious character, but they either view him as the lesser of two evils, or as Ross Douthat so wisely observes, they see in him a useful strong man for the secular age.

But this is a projection of their own moral universe onto the psychology of Trump. They want him to play fair in a way that he never will. In exchange for their vote, they think this man will listen to them. Why would a man who is used to ridiculing, exploiting, and dominating the vulnerable feel that he owes us anything when he comes into power--even if he used us to get that power? If we take the unity of the virtues seriously, why would we believe that he would keep his promises to us when he abandoned two wives and four children and when he has left his own family members in the breach in their times of direst need?

Perhaps, some might argue, it is not that we should have faith in him. Rather, we should trust our own ability to harness him for our own purposes. We should have faith that we can use him to smash institutions and wipe out the corruption that dominates our ossified political structure. Yet this position too ignores the reality of Trump's character. Why would a man of such expansive appetites submit to the kinds of constitutional checks and balances held dear by conservative thinkers? Remember, this is a man who uses intimidation and coercion to quash politicians and journalists who disagree with him.

What helped me to distinguish between the Republicans and the Democrats when I was younger is that the Republicans showed the kind of aspiration found in Cicero, the hope that political freedom and moral virtue might coexist and mutually enrich each other in a republic. There was a time when I thought the Republican Party attempted to articulate itself in terms of traditional ideas of virtue, character, and statesmanship.

Reasonable people will always disagree on the best way to solve policy questions. The question whether to support Trump, however, is more than a dispute about the best use of our resources or the best way to regard our natural rights. His nomination is simply a bridge too far. With the appearance of Trump as our nominee, we have become what the smartest among "value voters" have always feared. We are a faction of a coalition party; our votes are expected, but our voices are not heard. In what way can our commitments to the defense of human freedom and human dignity be taken to be the party's any longer?

The face that is emerging for the GOP is the ugly face we have always been accused of having--misogynistic, racist, and gratuitously authoritarian. If we assent to this, how can we still consider ourselves the flag bearers of the attempt to harmonize traditional accounts of virtue and the political life? We must let the party know that their acceptance of Donald Trump is unacceptable. If he receives the nomination, I fear it will be taken as evidence that the GOP's words about virtue were always just means to power. And if he is elected president, people making that critique might be right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


We're Inching Closer to Making Solar Power as Cheap as Regular Electricity : Driving down the cost of solar energy could create $400 billion in environmental and public-health gains. (Madeleine Thomas, 5/21/16, Pacific Standard)

It's been nearly five years since the Department of Energy rolled out plans to make solar power a cost-competitive electricity source by the end of the decade. Also known as the SunShot Initiative, the goal of the program is to drop the cost of solar power 75 percent by 2020. Once prices reach $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, solar power will officially become cost-competitive and could supply as much as 27 percent of the country's electricity by 2050 as more homeowners, businesses, and communities switch over. And, according to a new study published by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at University of California and the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar power could also generate more than $400 billion in environmental and public-health gains by that year as well.

May 20, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich : The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment (DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY, May 20, 2016, WSJ)

Two centuries ago, the average world income per human (in present-day prices) was about $3 a day. It had been so since we lived in caves. Now it is $33 a day--which is Brazil's current level and the level of the U.S. in 1940. Over the past 200 years, the average real income per person--including even such present-day tragedies as Chad and North Korea--has grown by a factor of 10. It is stunning. In countries that adopted trade and economic betterment wholeheartedly, like Japan, Sweden and the U.S., it is more like a factor of 30--even more stunning.

And these figures don't take into account the radical improvement since 1800 in commonly available goods and services. Today's concerns over the stagnation of real wages in the U.S. and other developed economies are overblown if put in historical perspective. As the economists Donald Boudreaux and Mark Perry have argued in these pages, the official figures don't take account of the real benefits of our astonishing material progress.

Look at the magnificent plenty on the shelves of supermarkets and shopping malls. Consider the magical devices for communication and entertainment now available even to people of modest means. Do you know someone who is clinically depressed? She can find help today with a range of effective drugs, none of which were available to the billionaire Howard Hughes in his despair. Had a hip joint replaced? In 1980, the operation was crudely experimental.

Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income--mere 100% betterments in the human condition--had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan's income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Bernie Sanders' campaign isn't about ideas anymore. It's about him. (Marc Ambinder, May 20, 2016, The Week)

Bernie Sanders made a huge mistake this week. It's one that, if not soon corrected, could squander the sizeable influence he has over his party's platform, and, more indelibly, create for the eventual Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a schism in the party that she does not have the means to reconcile.

The error: Bernie's campaign became a vehicle to advance Bernie Sanders' vainglory and cult of personality. His staff responded irresponsibly to violence at the state caucuses in Nevada. He compounded their tone deaf responses by wrapping a muted condemnation of the chaos inside a long justification of the complaints that caused it.

That's all Bernie has ever been about.  It's why there is no Sanders Bill and his mayoralty is known only for developing Burlington much as Buddy Cianci developed Providence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Why Torture Doesn't Work (Shane O'Mara, 5/20/16, Project Syndicate)

[T]orture undermines the very goals it is supposed to achieve. Confessions elicited through torture can be voluminous, but they are just as often nonsensical. Consider, for example, how many women confessed under torture that they were witches, or how the mere threat of torture induced Galileo Galilei to deny the proposition that the earth travels around the sun. Experienced interrogators uniformly repudiate torture, knowing that it does not yield usable, verifiable, or actionable intelligence.

Except that we do not torture to obtain confessions and it's easy to test the intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Construction underway in 3 states on $3.8B oil pipeline (The Associated Press, 5/20/16)

Construction is underway in three of four states on a $3.8 billion pipeline that will carry oil from western North Dakota to Illinois.

Work on the Dakota Access Pipeline has begun in North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois, spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger told the American News ( ). The 1,150-mile pipeline also will cross Iowa, but regulators there declined this week to act quickly on a request to allow Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to begin construction in that state.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Why GM's Autonomous Chevrolet Bolt is Running Around San Francisco (David Kiley, 5/19/16, CNN Money)

General Motors GM +0.79% is testing two autonomous vehicles in San Francisco with a company it acquired earlier this year-Cruise Automation. The two Chevrolet Bolt Electric vehicles running around San Francsico streets have gear and sensors strapped to the roof, the tell-tale sign of autonomous testing.

While the Bolt self-drivers are interesting, what is also interesting is that GM is not out beating the drum to call attention to the cars. While the usual Detroit officials are staying quiet, (not offering interviews or quotes) despite the cars being photographed with posts to blogs and news sites (like this one), San Francisco-based Cruise Automation has the images plastered all over its website. GM, it seems, is trying to keep the story of its research in Silicon Valley and the tech realm and not so much in Detroit.

GM's aim is to get autonomous taxis into the Lyft fleet by the end of next year.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Trump Supporters Unleash Anti-Semitic Tweets at NY Times Editor (Gabe FriedmanMay 20, 2016, JTA)

New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman is clearly familiar with the anti-Semitism of some Donald Trump supporters in the Twittersphere. So maybe he shouldn't be surprised by the reaction to his own tweet calling them out for it.

But it's hard not to be a little shocked.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Why Hillary Clinton's 90s nostalgia is so dangerous (Thomas Frank,  20 May 2016, The Guardian)

Take her apparent belief that balancing the federal budget is a good way to "revitalize" an economy stuck in persistent hard times. Nostalgia might indeed suggest such a course, because that's what Bill Clinton did in the golden 90s, and those were happy days. But more recent events have taught us a different lesson. Europe's turn toward budget-balancing austerity after the financial crisis is what made their recession so much worse than ours. President Obama's own quest for a budget-balancing "grand bargain" is what destroyed his presidency's transformative potential. There is no plainer lesson from the events of recent years than the folly of austerity and the non-urgency of budget-balancing.

And deregulation! Before I watched the video of that Hillary Clinton campaign event, I had never heard someone denounce deregulation and hail the economic achievements of Bill Clinton in the same speech. That kind of mental combination, I've always assumed, puts you in danger of spontaneous combustion or something. After all, Bill Clinton is America's all-time champion deregulator. He deregulated banks. He deregulated telecoms. He appointed arch deregulators Robert Rubin and Larry Summers to high office, and he re-upped Ronald Reagan's pet Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan. He took some time out to dynamite the federal welfare system, then he came back and deregulated banks some more. And derivative securities, too.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Why Hillary Clinton's 90s nostalgia is so dangerous (Thomas Frank,  20 May 2016, The Guardian)

Take her apparent belief that balancing the federal budget is a good way to "revitalize" an economy stuck in persistent hard times. Nostalgia might indeed suggest such a course, because that's what Bill Clinton did in the golden 90s, and those were happy days. But more recent events have taught us a different lesson. Europe's turn toward budget-balancing austerity after the financial crisis is what made their recession so much worse than ours. President Obama's own quest for a budget-balancing "grand bargain" is what destroyed his presidency's transformative potential. There is no plainer lesson from the events of recent years than the folly of austerity and the non-urgency of budget-balancing.

And deregulation! Before I watched the video of that Hillary Clinton campaign event, I had never heard someone denounce deregulation and hail the economic achievements of Bill Clinton in the same speech. That kind of mental combination, I've always assumed, puts you in danger of spontaneous combustion or something. After all, Bill Clinton is America's all-time champion deregulator. He deregulated banks. He deregulated telecoms. He appointed arch deregulators Robert Rubin and Larry Summers to high office, and he re-upped Ronald Reagan's pet Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan. He took some time out to dynamite the federal welfare system, then he came back and deregulated banks some more. And derivative securities, too.

May 19, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


The Iran Deal: Myth and Reality (Jeremy Bernstein, 5/17/16, NY Review of Books)

My own view is that the deal has been more successful than I expected, although there are flaws.

The deal has already significantly reduced Iran's supply of both centrifuges and nuclear fuel. During the height of their nuclear program the Iranians had more than 18,000 centrifuges operating to enrich uranium. Most of these were outmoded but newer versions were being built. The number has now been reduced to about 5,000 that can be used to enrich small amounts of uranium.

Construction of the advanced models has stopped. At the time of the deal, the Iranians had enriched over sixteen thousand kilograms of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride. This is a compound that is solid at room temperature but is heated to a gas when it is fed into centrifuges. Of this about 3,500 kilograms were used to make 20 percent enriched uranium. (20 percent is the maximum allowed by the non-proliferation regime.) Some four thousand kilograms of the 16,000 were also used to create uranium oxide, which can be used to make a metal. The rest was used to make uranium or uranium hexafluoride that was enriched to less than 4 percent.

But the Joint Plan stipulates that for fifteen years the Iranians can maintain a stock of only 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, and on December 28, a Russian ship took some 11,000 kilograms of Iran's uranium stockpile--in various forms and in various degrees of enrichment--to Russia. (One of the silliest comments on this came from Trump, who tweeted: "The Iran deal is terrible. Why didn't we get the uranium stockpile--it was sent to Russia"--apparently unaware that uranium hexafluoride is both toxic and radioactive.)

The Joint Plan has removed the main rationale Iran has used for producing 20-percent-enriched uranium. For many years the Iranians were claiming that the production was necessary to fuel the small Tehran Research Reactor, but they already have enough to last for the indefinite future so this explanation is no longer tenable.

Furthermore, the nuclear deal has had a significant effect on Iran's production of plutonium--which along with enriched uranium is one of the two materials that can be used to make a fission bomb. (A hydrogen bomb uses nuclear fusion but it must be triggered by a fission bomb.) Plutonium does not exist naturally on Earth so it must be manufactured in reactors, which produce it in their spent fuel. The Iranians were constructing a reactor at Arak that seemed especially designed to make plutonium. It ran on natural uranium and used heavy water to slow down neutrons, a process that enhances fission.

For years the Iranians did not allow adequate inspections of the Arak reactor. This has now changed. The original design of the reactor has been scrapped and a more suitable reactor is being built with the aid of the Russians and the Chinese. The Russians will supply the fuel and take away the spent fuel. They have already been doing this successfully with the Iranian power reactor at Bushehr. The Iranians will ship most of their heavy water out of the country. This too is a significant advance since for many years the IAEA was never allowed to inspect Iran's production of heavy water.

The fact that the nuclear bit is working is just a side benefit.
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Uber begins testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh (Marco della Cava, 5/19/16, USA TODAY)

The first Uber car that doesn't need a driver has hit the streets.

The ride-hailing behemoth announced in a blog post Thursday that it has begun testing a self-driving car in Pittsburgh, home of the company's nascent Advanced Technologies Center.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Supply Side, Demand Side, or Innovation Side? (Edmund S. Phelps, 5/19/16, Project Syndicate)

It has become impossible to deny the so-called secular stagnation gripping the world's most developed economies: Wealth is piling up, but real wages are barely rising and labor force participation has been on a downward trend.

The acknowledgement that wealth is piling up is, of course, a denial of secular stagnation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren't offended by Redskins name (John Woodrow Cox, Scott Clement and Theresa Vargas May 19, 2016, Washington Post)

Nine in 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name, according to a new Washington Post poll that shows how few ordinary Indians have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team's moniker.

The survey of 504 people across every state and the District reveals that the minds of Native Americans have remained unchanged since a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found the exact same result. Responses to The Post's questions about the issue were broadly consistent regardless of age, income, education, political party or proximity to reservations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Here's How Shale Is Making America Greener (American Interest, 5/19/16)

Our growing natural gas supplies have brought prices down to bargain basement levels, and last year's average Henry Hub spot price hit a 16-year low. As a result, we've seen a sharp uptick in natural gas-fired power production (a 19 percent increase last year) coming largely at the expense of coal. Shuttered coal-fired power plants accounted for more than four-fifths of lost generating capacity in 2015, displaced by cheaper shale gas that emits just half as much carbon.

Shale gas is dethroning Old King Coal, and the EIA expects natural gas to finally displace its sootier cousin this year as the dominant energy source in America, a remarkable green achievement brought about not by heavy government subsidies or convoluted green tax breaks, but rather by innovative new technologies that have unlocked vast new reserves of domestic sources of baseload power.

Hike taxes on coal and you speed the process.
Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


New stem cell pathway indicates route to much higher yields in maize, staple crops (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 5/16/16)

David Jackson and colleagues have discovered that gently releasing a brake on stem cell proliferation in maize (and other plants) leads to slightly more stem cells and increases in yield up to 50%. [...]

Jackson and colleagues identified the receptor for these "braking signals from the leaves" in cells in the lower part of the meristem. They named the receptor FEA3. They also discovered the ligand that interacts with the receptor, a protein fragment called FCP1.

In a highly consequential extension of the work of discovery, Jackson's team studied maize plants in which FEA3 -- the receptor for the signal from the leaves -- was dysfunctional, owing to a variety of mutations in the FEA3 gene.

When FEA3 receptors in the meristem are not able to function at all, "it is as if they are blind to FCP1," says Jackson. The inhibitory signal FCP1 sends from the leaves to the meristem is not received, and stem cells proliferate wildly. The plant makes far too many stem cells, and they give rise to too many new seeds -- seeds the plant cannot support with available resources (light, moisture, nutrients). In such FEA3 mutant plants, maize ears develop that exhibit a quality called fasciation; from their greatly extended meristems, too many baby kernels are generated, which form misshapen, and ultimately yield-poor ears.

But when Jackson's team performed a genetic trick, growing plants with so called "weak alleles" of the FEA3 gene, function of the FEA3 receptor was only mildly impaired. This moderate failure of the braking signal from outside of the meristem gave rise to a modest, manageable increase in stem cells, and to ears that were significantly larger than ears in wild-type plants.

These ears, the product of maize plants grown from weak alleles of FEA3, had more rows of kernels, and up to 50% higher yield overall than wild-type plants.

Because the newly discovered FAE3-FCP1 pathway is highly conserved across the plant kingdom, the discovery by Jackson's team holds the prospect of translating into significant increases in yield in all the major staple crops.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Clinton's Hawk-in-Waiting : If Hillary wins the White House, expect Victoria Nuland to be at her side. (PHILIP GIRALDI • May 19, 2016, American Conservative)

[Victori] Nuland is one of Hillary Clinton's protégés at the State Department, and she is also greatly admired by hardline Republicans. This suggests she would be easily approved by Congress as secretary of state or maybe even national-security adviser--which in turn suggests that her foreign-policy views deserve a closer look.

Nuland comes from what might be called the First Family of Military Interventionists. Her husband, Robert Kagan, is a leading neoconservative who co-founded the Project for the New American Century in 1998 around a demand for "regime change" in Iraq. He is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an author, and a regular contributor to the op-ed pages of a number of national newspapers. He has already declared that he will be voting for Hillary Clinton in November, a shift away from the GOP that many have seen as a clever career-enhancing move for both him and his wife.

Robert's brother, Fred, is with the hawkish American Enterprise Institute, and his sister-in-law, Kimberly, is the head of the Institute for the Study of War, which is largely funded by defense contractors. The Kagans work to encourage military action, both through their positions in government and by influencing the public debate through think-tank reports and op-eds. It is a family enterprise that mirrors the military-industrial complex as a whole, with think tanks coming up with reasons to increase military spending and providing "expert" support for the government officials who actually promote and implement the policies. Defense contractors, meanwhile, benefit from the largesse and kick back some money to the think tanks, which then develop new reasons to spend still more on military procurement.

The Kagans' underlying belief is that the United States has both the power and the obligation to replace governments that are considered either uncooperative with Washington (the "Leader of the Free World") or hostile to American interests. American interests are, of course, mutable, and they include values like democracy and the rule of law as well as practical considerations such as economic and political competition.

Obviously Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would not seek to project American values since they don't believe in them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Bernie Sanders And Racism Lite (Fromma Harrop, May 19, 2016, National Memo)

In a statement on the Nevada rampage by some of his supporters, Bernie Sanders said a remarkable thing. He said, "Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence."

Who lives in "high-crime areas"? We all know the answer: dark people. But it wasn't dark people hurling chairs and death threats at the Nevada Democratic Party convention. It was Sanders' own white followers. [...]

But then he went on, stoking the self-pity that has permeated his campaign. This was not the time to go into his allegedly unfair treatment at the hands of Democratic officials as he's been doing ad nauseam.

If Sanders' tying of political violence to "high-crime areas" were his only racially tinged remark, one might give it a pass. But he has a history.

There was his infamous waving-of-the-hand dismissal of Hillary Clinton's commanding Southern victories, which were powered by African-American voters. [...]

This is a veiled racism that cannot find cover in Sanders' staunch pro-civil rights record. Real black people seem to make Sanders uncomfortable (as Larry David captured on his "Saturday Night Live" skits).

Sanders' idea of a black surrogate has been the academic Cornel West. West has called Barack Obama "a Rockefeller Republican in blackface" and "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs," among other nasty things. Ordinary African-Americans tend to revere Obama, so where did this crashing insensitivity come from?

It may have come from decades of being holed up in the white radical-left universe. In the 1960s, Sanders abandoned the "high-crime areas" of Brooklyn, his childhood home, and repaired to the whitest state in the nation. (Vermont had become a safe haven for liberals leaving -- the word then was "fleeing" -- the cities.)

On Immigration, Bernie Sanders Sounds Like Donald Trump (Robby Soave, Jul. 28, 2015, Reason)

A particularly illuminating moment:

Ezra Klein: You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...

Bernie Sanders: Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein: Really?

Bernie Sanders: Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...

Ezra Klein: But it would make ...

Bernie Sanders: Excuse me ...

Ezra Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?

Bernie Sanders: It would make everybody in America poorer --you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

To his credit, Klein pushed back by pointing out that the poor people of the United States are actually quite wealthy when compared with the poor people of other countries. But Sanders maintained that his first obligation as a senator from Vermont was to defend American workers from the scourge of foreigners taking their jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Highly religious people say they're happier, too, survey finds (CATHY LYNN GROSSMAN, 4/15/16, Religion News Service)

Look around. Three in 10 people you see claim they are pretty satisfied with life, happy, healthy and moral, too.

They're the "highly religious," 30 percent of U.S. adults who say they pray daily and attend church at least once a week.

"Religion in Everyday Life," a new survey from Pew Research released Tuesday, teases out the particular ways they differ from the majority of U.S. Christians who are less observant and from non-Christians, including the "nones" who claim no religious identity.

The highly religious are overwhelmingly (95 percent) Protestant, Catholic or Mormon. Nearly half (49 percent) are white evangelicals. Most of the overall group (62 percent) are women.

And many are smiling. Four in 10 highly religious people say they're "very happy" with the way things are going in life, compared to 29 percent of those who are not highly religious.

May 18, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


$30K Retrofit Turns Dumb Semis Into Self-Driving Robots (Jack Stewart, 5/18/16, Wired)

[A]new startup is developing a $30,000 kit that can make any truck built since 2013 autonomous. Otto, which comes out of hiding today, is led by Anthony Levandowski, who worked at Google on Streetview and mapping, and Lior Ron, who was the Google Maps Product Lead. They're moving fast--the company launched in January and has about 40 employees nicked from Apple, Tesla, and Cruise, the autonomous startup GM recently bought for $1 billion.

Otto's kit will allow trucks handle themselves on the highway, safely keeping within a lane, maintaining a set speed, and slowing or stopping as necessary. The company says it has demonstrated its technology on two vehicles on Interstate 5 and Highway 101 in California with minimal human intervention. Like Daimler's rig, the trucks do not change lanes by themselves, they just slow down and caravan behind other slow movers (good news for anyone who's been stuck behind one slow truck passing a slightly slower truck).

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Pizzly or grolar bear: grizzly-polar hybrid is a cute result of climate change (Oliver Milman, 18 May 2016, The Guardian)

A bear shot in the frigid expanse of northern Canada is believed to be a grizzly-polar bear hybrid, a consequence of the increasing interactions between the two imposing bear species.

How about, "bear."

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Poll: Americans more upbeat about own finances than economy (JOSH BOAK and EMILY SWANSON, May. 18, 2016, AP)

Americans are of two minds about the economy in the midst of an election race that largely hinges on the issue. They are strikingly pessimistic about the national economy yet comparatively upbeat about their own financial circumstances.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


IS said to have lost half the area it once claimed in Iraq (AFP May 17, 2016 )

Those tallies had gone up in recent weeks, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

"The number right now in Iraq is about 45 percent of the territory they once held has been recovered," Cook said.

"The number in Syria is anywhere between 16 to 20 percent."

If you really wanted to defeat them once and for all you'd let them establish a state first.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Clinton vs Trump: A Shift in Gender Roles (Nancy LeTourneau, 5/18/16, Political Animal)

[I]t strikes me that these two candidates have completely flipped the script of who might be expected to take which side of that argument. When I was growing up, it was the Eisenhower Republicans who claimed the mantle of being the policy wonks to the Democrats who - even as rabble rousers - were the purveyors of peace and love. Whether you see that through the prism of Mommy and Daddy parties or the Myers/Briggs binary of "thinking vs feeling," the roles between Republicans and Democrats have been completely reversed.

But the bigger cultural dynamic will come from having a woman be the thoughtful wonk and the man being all about the bluster of feelings. 

It's not just that his followers are indulging their emotions but that their main feeling is terror.
Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


This is Obama's biggest failure (Ryan Cooper, May 18, 2016, The Week)

Here's the basic story. Back in the go-go bubble days, originators would issue new mortgages, then quickly sell them to banks, who would package them into mortgage-backed securities. Those securities would often be sliced and diced into new securities (the infamous collateralized debt obligations), and sometimes those would be repackaged again, and so on.

Details aside, the point of securitization was to create lots of new financial products that could be sold to investors. But as the bubble progressed, it was increasingly used to obscure the fact that the securities were full of toxic waste -- horrible high-interest loans given to people who could never hope to repay them. (Others were specifically created to implode so that banks like Goldman Sachs could make bets against them.)

A mortgage is a legal document governed by strict laws -- not least because it deals with the ownership of land, one of our society's foundation stones. Hence, it is legally required that transfer of ownership be accompanied by meticulous paperwork establishing clearly who owns what.

That may sound obvious -- of course one has to have one's mortgage paperwork in order, right? But because of the securities' obscurantist function, and because the mortgage originators were stamping out loans at warp speed, and because banks were rapidly bundling and shuffling the mortgages around, getting the paperwork right would have been a terrific pain in the neck -- indeed, a threat to their whole business model.

So Wall Street simply didn't.

When Ben Bernanke artificially cranked rates to prove his inflation hawk bona fides into the teeth of deflation it just made what were supposed to be marginal loans (thus the name sub-prime) fail at faster rates than they would have, exposing the risk that Wall Street had hidden from investors. 
Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Trump's Anti-Semitic Supporters (BEN SHAPIRO,  May 18, 2016, nATIONAL rEVIEW)

I was wrong. I've spent most of my career arguing that anti-Semitism in the United States is almost entirely a product of the political Left. I've traveled across the country from Iowa to Texas; I've rarely seen an iota of true anti-Semitism. I've sensed far more anti-Jewish animus from leftist college students at the University of California, Los Angeles, than from churches in Valencia. As an observer of President Obama's thoroughgoing anti-Israel administration, I could easily link the anti-Semitism of the Left to its disdain for both Biblical morality and Israeli success over its primary Islamist adversaries. The anti-Semitism I'd heard about from my grandparents -- the country-club anti-Semitism, the alleged white-supremacist leanings of rednecks from the backwoods -- was a figment of the imagination, I figured.

 I figured wrong. 

Donald Trump's nomination has drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork. 

I've experienced more pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism since coming out against Trump's candidacy than at any other time in my political career. Trump supporters have threatened me and other Jews who hold my viewpoint. They've blown up my e-mail inbox with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They greeted the birth of my second child by calling for me, my wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber.

He wasn't wrong; the Left and Right are just the same thing.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Benghazi Panel Chief Nullifies a Key Republican Theory, Democrats Say (MARK LANDLER, MAY 17, 2016, NY Times)

The chairman of the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, said on Tuesday that military reinforcements could not have reached the besieged diplomatic outpost in time to prevent the killings of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

The panel's chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, told Fox News: "Whether or not they could have gotten there in time, I don't think there's any issue with respect to that. They couldn't. 

May 17, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


How Portugal went 107 hours on only renewable energy : Proving its leadership in renewable energy, Portugal powered all of its electricity with only renewable energy for four days.  (Story Hinckley, Staff MAY 17, 2016, CS Monitor)

From the morning of May 7 to the afternoon of May 11, Portugal's electricity consumption was fully covered by renewable sources. 

For 107 hours, Portugal powered all of its electricity from biofuels, hydropower plants, wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal heat. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Melania Trump on reporter who got death threats after profile: 'She provoked them' (Natasha Bertrand , 5/17/16, Business Insider)

A Russian-American reporter who was the target of death threats and anti-Semitic backlash after profiling Donald Trump's wife, Melania, for GQ earlier this month "provoked them," Melania reportedly said in an interview with DuJour.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Germany Just Got Almost All of Its Power From Renewable Energy (Jessica Shankleman, May 16, 2016, Bloomberg)

Clean power supplied almost all of Germany's power demand for the first time on Sunday, marking a milestone for Chancellor Angela Merkel's "Energiewende" policy to boost renewables while phasing out nuclear and fossil fuels.
Solar and wind power peaked at 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, allowing renewables to supply 45.5 gigawatts as demand was 45.8 gigawatts, according to provisional data by Agora Energiewende, a research institute in Berlin. Power prices turned negative during several 15-minute periods yesterday, dropping as low as minus 50 euros ($57) a megawatt-hour, according to data from Epex Spot.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


THE HIDDEN WORKFORCE EXPANDING TESLA'S FACTORY : The automaker's urgent upgrade of its Fremont facility benefited from cheap, imported workers, but did the companies involved flout visa and labor laws? (Louis Hansen, MAY 15, 2016, Mercury News)

When Gregor Lesnik left his pregnant girlfriend in Slovenia for a job in America, his visa application described specialized skills and said he was a supervisor headed to a South Carolina auto plant.

Turns out, that wasn't true. 

The unemployed electrician had no qualifications to oversee American workers and spoke only a sentence or two of English. He never set foot in South Carolina. The companies that arranged his questionable visa instead sent Lesnik to a menial job in Silicon Valley. He earned the equivalent of $5 an hour to expand the plant for one of the world's most sophisticated companies, Tesla Motors.

Lesnik's three-month tenure ended a year ago in a serious injury and a lawsuit that has exposed a troubling practice in the auto industry. Overseas contractors are shipping workers from impoverished countries to American factories, where they work long hours for low wages, in apparent violation of visa and labor laws. 

About 140 workers from Eastern Europe, mostly from Croatia and Slovenia, built a new paint shop at Tesla's Fremont plant, a project vital to the flagship Silicon Valley automaker's plans to ramp up production of its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan. Their story emerged from dozens of interviews conducted by the Bay Area News Group, and an extensive review of payroll, visa and court documents.

Gregor Lesnik, an electrician from Slovenia, was among scores of Eastern European workers who worked on a multimillion dollar expansion of Tesla's Fremont factory in 2015. At the plant, Lesnik lifted heavy pipes, and installed them into the ceiling and through the roof of the paint shop. A typical workday was 10 hours at least six days a week.

On May 16, 2015, he climbed atop the paint shop roof and onto an unsecured tile, then fell nearly three stories to the factory floor. He broke both legs, some ribs, tore ligaments in his knee and sustained a concussion. Lesnik filed a lawsuit saying workers were paid as little as $5 an hour.

Yet neither the contractors involved nor Tesla itself have accepted legal responsibility for the hiring practices, long hours and low pay. While most of the imported workers interviewed for this story said they are happy with their paychecks, their American counterparts earn as much as $52 an hour for similar work. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Bernie Sanders Is Poised to Make a Very Weird Kind of History Tonight (TIM MURPHY, MAY 17, 2016, Mother Jones)

Bernie Sanders can make history in Tuesday night's Kentucky Democratic primary. No, he can't clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, nor is he likely to score a big win that convinces superdelegates to switch their allegiances en masse. But if he can beat Hillary Clinton in Kentucky's Clinton County, he will have defeated Clinton in all nine of the Clinton Counties in the United States.

May 16, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Wendy's Serves Up Big Kiosk Expansion As Wage Hikes Hit Fast Food (JED GRAHAM, 5/11/2016, Investors Daily)

Wendy's (WEN) said that self-service ordering kiosks will be made available across its 6,000-plus restaurants in the second half of the year as minimum wage hikes and a tight labor market push up wages.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Poll: Majority of Americans support universal healthcare (Rebecca Savransky, 5/16/16, The Hill)

A majority of Americans are in favor of a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance to all Americans, according to a new Gallup poll.

Some 58 percent of respondents support replacing ObamaCare with a universal healthcare system, while 37 percent oppose that plan.

Instead of deluding themselves about repeal, the GOP could by now have traded universality for HSAs.  Instead, we're headed towards national health.  Both lower costs, but one increases wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Clinton Hints at the 'His and Her' Presidency If She Wins (Mark Kauzlarich, 5/16/16, Reuters)

"My husband, who I'm going to put in charge of revitalizing the economy, cause you know he knows how to do it," Clinton said during a campaign rally in Kentucky. "And especially in places like coal country and inner cities and other parts of our country that have really been left out."

And he'll have the Peace Dividend to fuel another boom.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Trump says unlikely to have good relationship with UK's Cameron (GUY FAULCONBRIDGE AND KATE HOLTON, 5/16/16, Reuters)

Donald Trump said he was unlikely to have a good relationship with David Cameron because the British prime minister cast the U.S. presidential candidate as "divisive, stupid and wrong" for proposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Smart cars: how technology is putting the brakes on insurance premiums : From parking with the press of a button to crash-avoidance systems, driving is becoming safer, and cheaper (*Chris Menon, 16 May 2016, The Guardian)

Insurer Swiss Re and technology group Here have anticipated that there will be a huge decrease in car insurance premiums in the coming years as automatic crash-avoidance systems in cars reduce the likelihood of impacts. Premiums in the 14 largest car markets in the world are expected to drop by $20bn (£13.8bn) by 2020 alone, according to their projections.

At present, two versions of the same Ford Focus - one fitted with an automatic braking system that senses if there is going to be an impact, and one without - can command quotes that differ by almost a third, according to a survey by the Observer.

Of the 2.63m new cars registered in 2015, more than 1.5m came with self-activating safety systems, such as collision warning and technology that ensures drivers stay in the right lane. These technologies are used to make driving easier and safer, reducing the risk of accidents and eventually, it is hoped, insurance premiums.

Among the safety features is autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which uses a laser, radar or camera to automatically stop a car if it senses there is going to be a collision. The basic systems kick in up to speeds of 20mph, which will tackle the three-quarters of accidents that occur at city driving speeds. Thatcham Research, motor insurers' automotive research centre, says 75% of collisions occur at speeds of less than 25mph. Manufacturers have different branding for their systems - Volvo calls it "city safety", Honda "city brake active system", Ford "active city stop" and Volkswagen "city emergency braking".

A 2015 study by Euro NCAP and Australasian NCAP, international bodies that assess car safety, found that AEB led to a 38% reduction in rear-end crashes. Consequently, insurance claims have reduced on vehicles fitted with it, and insurers are keen to offer discounts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Growth Is Green : Climate change is a threat, but development must take priority. (CATRINA RORKE, May 16, 2016, American Conservative)

Global 2000, a report published by the Carter administration in 1980, offered a bleak forecast for the human race. It predicted "the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now ... Barring revolutionary advances in technology, life for most people on earth will be more precarious in 2000 than it is now--unless the nations of the world act decisively to alter current trends."

The report spawned neo-Malthusian policy prescriptions to restrict consumption, shrink the birth rate, and bring mankind into balance with the natural world. Yet Global 2000's dire projections proved woefully incorrect. Even with rising global levels of population and economic activity, our relationship with the environment has only improved. Consider that U.S. energy needs have grown dramatically since 1970, but our production of dangerous pollutants--including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and lead--has fallen. A growing population, after all, also yields more of the most important resource at our disposal: human ingenuity.

This has not put a stop to Malthusian speculation.

When have facts ever bothered them, nevermind stopped them?

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Buffett's Other Big Investment Secret (John Wasik, 5/13/16, Forbes)

[B]uffett's recent reference to a bet with the money management firm Protege Partners struck a chord with me. The Oracle ORCL +1.06% of Omaha bet the firm $1 million that a plain-vanilla stock index fund like the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund (Admiral Shares) will beat most hedge funds over a decade beginning in 2008.

Buffett's been spot on to date, with the Vanguard fund up nearly 66% over the past eight years compared to about 22% for a basket of hedge funds. Although the contest has two years to run, the boring, passive basket of the biggest U.S. stocks has built up a big lead and its performance is triple that of the active managers with the big fees.

What Buffet didn't say -- but should be mentioned to millions of average investors who need to know -- is that a passive index fund is not only avoiding many of the sins of active management, it's incredibly cost efficient.

Cost matters  big time when it comes to investing. Let's say you hire a money manager, who will charge you around 1% annually to pick stocks and bonds. Or, you could buy a mutual fund for the same fee level, which will charge even more because they will pass along commissions on buying and selling securities. Both investing modes mostly fail to beat index funds, according to research by academics.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


The world's first artificially intelligent lawyer was just hired at a law firm (Chris Weller, 5/16/16, Business Insider)

Ask ROSS to look up an obscure court ruling from 13 years ago, and ROSS will not only search for the case in an instant -- without contest or complaint -- but it'll offer opinions in plain language about the old ruling's relevance to the case at hand.

Just about the only thing it can't do is fetch coffee.

Not that anyone should blame it, seeing as ROSS is a piece of artificial intelligence software. It uses the supercomputing power of IBM Watson to comb through huge batches of data and, over time, learn how to best serve its users.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


The Triple Tax Benefit of Health Savings Accounts : The tax advantages are appealing, but HSAs are also a way to save for health care in retirement (Kate Stalter, May 16, 2016, US News)

An HSA allows account owners to pay for current health care expenses and save for those in the future. Its first advantage is that contributions are tax-deductible, or if made through a payroll deduction, they are pretax. Second, the interest earned is tax-free. Third, account owners may make tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses.

Qualified expenses include most services provided by licensed health providers, as well as diagnostic devices and prescriptions. They even include acupuncture and substance-abuse treatment.

Unlike health care flexible spending accounts, which have a maximum year-to-year carry-over of $500, HSAs have no limit on carry-overs or when the funds may be used. Even if the account is opened through an employer-sponsored program, all money in an HSA belongs to the account owner. Accounts are held with a trustee or custodian, which may be a bank, credit union, insurance company or brokerage firm.

Although the tax advantages are appealing, advisors say investors shouldn't overlook HSAs' role as vehicles to save for medical expenses in retirement, when health care expenses generally rise.

"When they are discussed, they're thought of as a tax shelter, which is true," says Shelby George, senior vice president of advisor services at Manning & Napier, a Fairport, New York, investment manager.

"There's no other vehicle under the tax code that has the kind of preferential treatment that health savings accounts have. But it's a way for those who are not focused on tax-shelter opportunities to put the money aside as well," she adds.

HSAs were established under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and are available to people covered by high-deductible health plans.

Thanks W!

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


The leaves are coming out on trees, daffodils are starting to bloom and snow is falling in parts of northern New England (AP, May 16, 2016)

In northern New Hampshire, Pittsburg recorded 2.5 inches. The Vermont towns of Middlesex and Hyde Park and near Pomfret got 2 inches Monday morning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


THE FIRST U.S. PENIS TRANSPLANT HAS BEEN COMPLETED (Claire Maldarelli, 5/6/16, Popular Science)

May 15, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Just How Good a Singer Was Dean Martin? (Ted Gioia, 5/15/16, Daily Beast)

Pop culture has forgotten so many of the top tier entertainers of the middle decades of the 20th century. A few days ago, officials at the Bob Hope Airport in Southern California voted to change its name to the Hollywood Burbank Airport. No comedian in the U.S. had a larger audience than Hope in the years following World War II, but now the airport execs felt they needed a name with a bigger draw for tourists. Other icons of the past, from Johnny Carson to Walter Cronkite, would struggle to get 10 percent name recognition among millennials. Such is the fickleness of the hive mind at the heart of pop culture.

Dean Martin is especially vulnerable because he spread himself across so many fields. He could act, sing, dance, emcee, play the straight man to Jerry Lewis, or tell his own jokes. He could improvise routines with the Rat Pack in front of a c[****]o audience, or host a TV variety show. He could play a credible cowboy or a super spy in a Hollywood movie, but he was just as happy acting like a drunk on stage or performing one of his ethnic novelty songs that mixed Italian phrases and American slang. And judging by infomercials I've seen lately, he might be best known to today's audiences for hosting a celebrity roast show on NBC.

In other words, Martin was that greatest of rarities: a top tier star who didn't mind playing second fiddle. He probably even preferred it. Martin fed off the vibe in the room and the other folks on stage--it didn't matter who, Frank Sinatra or Jerry Lewis or Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong, it was all the same to Dino.

But any comparison with Sinatra will eventually lead to the tricky question: how good of a singer was Dean Martin? This is a surprisingly difficult subject to address, if only because Martin had such a cavalier attitude to his own vocal skills.

He was an entertainer who was always entertaining.  That seems like a lot.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Ya'alon to IDF brass: Army's values under attack by 'extremist minority' (JUDAH ARI GROSS AND MARISSA NEWMAN May 15, 2016, Times of Israel)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Sunday urged Israel Defense Forces leaders to keep speaking out against the "extremist minority" who, he said, were working to undermine the values of Israel's military.

In his address Sunday, Ya'alon appeared to back Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, who seemed to liken "certain trends" in Israel to pre-Nazi Germany in an address on Holocaust Remembrance Day two weeks ago. Golan's speech was fiercely criticized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly scolded Ya'alon in a "tense" phone call.

In sharp contrast to Netanyahu, Ya'alon has dismissed the widespread criticism of Golan, saying he had "full confidence" in the "valued and accomplished" deputy chief of staff. 

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 11:52 AM


Joe Temperley - The Steadfast Titan

I just heard that the great Scottish-born baritone saxophonist, Joe Temperley died on Wednesday at 88.  Joe was the anchor and elder statesman of the fabulous saxophone section of the Jazz at Lincoln Center since that group's founding, and before that,  a long-time member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra (replacing the legendary Harry Carney) and a fixture on the NY jazz scene.  

For the last 6 months, I've been meaning to write and post a review of pianist Aaron Diehl's excellent 2015 release "Space-Time Continuum" but haven't gotten to it.  The album contains a feature, "Steadfast Titan," that was written by Diehl for Joe in the Ellington style.  So here's a taste of the late, great Joe Temperely and a preview of an upcoming ATJ: 

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


How Racism And Nativism Enabled The New Deal : a review of The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics, Jefferson Cowie  (Kyle Sammin, MAY 14, 2016, The Federalist)

The New Deal survived where progressive changes of the previous generations were rolled back for two reasons: segregation and nativism. As Cowie notes, Roosevelt united a once-fractious Democratic Party behind his New Deal plan by acquiescing in Jim Crow segregation. Cowie presents the South's racial collectivism and the North's economic collectivism as two unrelated issues, portraying the former as an idea of the Right, the latter of the Left, but both are collectivism, and both were essential components of the New Deal. The jobs most often performed by black Southerners--farm work and domestic service--were excluded from the new laws' protection.  [...]

In 2016, the only real would-be New Dealers are the supporters of Donald J. Trump.

Trump's people complain about welfare, but would not be opposed to accepting more "respectable" government handouts. They want guaranteed jobs at high wages, with tariffs taking the place of world war in keeping out foreign competition. How they seek to replicate our trade surpluses of the 1950s and 1960s is left unsaid, but Trumpites are not shy about embracing the dark side of the New Deal, too. They would gladly deport even more Mexicans than the Roosevelt administration, and the "alt-right" forces in Trump's ranks would likely not shy away from New Deal-era unions' racially restrictive membership policies.

Here, Cowie's book should serve as a warning to Left and Right. The New Deal was a unique reaction to a unique era of American history. Replicating it, whether in the Panglossian version preached by Sanders supporters or the malevolent version preferred by Trump's people, is unwise and unworkable. It is, at best, a nostalgic fantasy and will not survive first contact with the real world economy of the twenty-first century.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Will Arab faction leader Ayman Odeh start receiving classified security briefings? (Jerusalem Post, 5/15/16)

Should Zionist Union join the coalition, the Joint List, which is made up of Arab parties, would be the largest opposition party, meaning Odeh would become opposition leader, and the first Israeli Arab to ever hold the position.

By law, the prime minister must update the opposition leader on "matters of state" at least once a month. Traditionally, these meetings include classified security briefings, though the law does not specify what "matters of state" would mean.

Odeh was skeptical about the monthly meeting's impact, speaking on Sunday.

"I meet with the prime minister already. I meet him almost once a month, anyway, to try to promote things. It's not a matter of access, it's about what will happen for the good of the citizens, and I see an opaque prime minister. He is an ultranationalist, there is no doubt of that...he very simply harms the weaker sector and Arabs, and even if I will be opposition leader, I don't think I'll be able to get significant things for those populations through Netanyahu," he stated. 

Likud MK Oren Hazan bemoaned the prospect of Odeh - whom he called the head of the "Palestinian List" - becoming opposition leader.

"It's stresses me out," he lamented. "An Arab sweet-talker who represents a different nation, not the Jewish nation, will be one of the symbols of the government and hold a sensitive role. He'll sit with the prime minister once a month to receive updates on the situation.

"How can you run a country with [Odeh] as head of the opposition? He represents almost the worst of our enemies," Hazan posited.

Israel's soaring population: Promised Land running out of room? (TOVA COHEN AND STEVEN SCHEER, 9/25/15, Reuters)

The number of Jews in the Holy Land is now roughly equal to the number of Palestinians - each around 6.3 million.

In the case of the Palestinians, that includes 1.75 million who are Israeli citizens and 4.55 million in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. The occupied territories are also home to half a million Jewish settlers.

Palestinian population growth easily outpaces Israel's, with the average woman in the Palestinian territories having four children.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


China's Economy Is Past the Point of No Return (Gordon G. Chang, May 10, 2016, National Interest)

[T]here are two reasons why we should be particularly alarmed.

First, China's statisticians appear to be just making the numbers up. For the first time since 2010, when it began providing quarter-on-quarter data, NBS did not release a quarter-on-quarter figure alongside the year-on-year one. And when NBS got around to releasing the quarter-on-quarter number, it did not match the year-on-year figure it had previously reported.

NBS's 1.1 percent quarter-on-quarter figure for Q1, when annualized, produces only 4.5 percent growth for the year. That's a long distance from the 6.7 percent year-on-year growth that NBS reported for the quarter.

Even China's own technocrats do not believe their own numbers. Fraser Howie, the coauthor of the acclaimed Red Capitalism, notes that the chief of a large European insurance company, who had just been in meetings with the People's Bank of China, said that even the Chinese officials were joking and laughing in derision when they talked about official reports showing 6 percent growth.

Second, the central government simply turned on the money taps, flooding the economy with "gobs of new debt," as the Wall Street Journal labeled the deluge.

The surge in lending was one for the record books. Credit growth in Q1 was more than twice that in the previous quarter. China created almost $1 trillion in new credit during the quarter, the largest quarterly increase in history.

Of course, Chinese banks tend to splurge in Q1 when they get new annual quotas, but this year's lending exceeded all expectations.

The Ministry of Finance also did its part to refloat the economy. Its figures show that in March, the central government's revenue increased 7.1 percent while spending soared 20.1 percent.

All that money produced good results--for one month. In April, the downturn continued. Exports, in dollar terms, fell 1.8 percent from the same month last year, and imports tumbled 10.9 percent. Both underperformed consensus estimates. A Reuters poll, for instance, predicted that exports would decline only 0.1 percent, while imports would fall 5 percent.

Exports have now dropped in nine of the last ten months, and imports, considered a vital sign of domestic demand, have fallen for eighteen straight months.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


The 2016 Chevrolet Volt: Meet The New Normal (Liane Yvkoff, 5/15/16, Forbes)

GM gave the 2016 Chevrolet Volt a complete makeover to appeal to a broader audience, starting with a dramatic facelift. As a result, the plug-in hybrid no-longer screams "alternative propulsion vehicle," transforming from its awkward EV stage into a a more mainstream vehicle.  A fastback roof-line, deep angles, and sharp lines in the sheetmetal make the second-generation Volt look more like a sporty compact sedan rather than the hatchback it still is.

In addition to a more sleek exterior, the plug-in hybrid boasts a bit more braun. Its new dual motor powertrain produces an impressive 294-lb. ft. of torque to add a little excitement to the 111-kw output. MotorTrend magazine tested the claim that it reduced the 0-30 mph sprint time by 19%, and clocked the Volt's 0-30 mph sprint at 2.2 seconds. This immediate power on acceleration gives the Volt a bit of an edge during in-town driving, but driving dynamics aren't on par with its whiplash-inducing torque.

With a new 18.4 kWh battery, the Volt increased all-electric driving capacity to 54 miles. That's 16 miles more than the previous model's battery-only capacity, and is enough to cover 80% of all car trips without using a drop of gasoline, according to GM. For the other 20%, there's no need to plot elaborate charging strategies, wait 30 minutes (longer if there's a line) at a fast charging station, or take the other conventional ICE-equipped likely in your garage-its new 1.5-liter "range-extending" engine will propel you the rest of the way, and to the tune of 42 mpg for a total driving distance of 420 miles before you have to plug-in or fill up. [...]

The Volt's electric range is enough that I didn't feel compelled to maximize regenerative braking or hypermile during my week-long test, and yet the gasoline engine never kicked on. Unlike the 2016 Nissan Leaf and 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Plug In Hybrid, I rarely checked battery levels to determine capacity or range while driving. I had all the benefits of driving an electric vehicle--torque-y acceleration, zero-emissions driving, and primo parking spaces- without many of the drawbacks.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


401(k) Fees, Already Low, Are Heading Lower (ANNE TERGESEN, May 15, 2016, WSJ)

The fees savers pay in 401(k) retirement plans have been declining for years. Now, they stand to fall even further.

More information has become available about plan fees in recent years, making it easier for employers to bargain for lower costs. A wave of lawsuits alleging unreasonably high fees in 401(k) plans has pressured companies to better monitor expenses. And a new rule the Labor Department unveiled in April, which holds financial advisers to higher standards of behavior with clients, is likely to lead smaller plans--where fees remain highest--to cut costs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


We're living in an age full of possibilities. So why do so many of us feel like losers? (Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna, 15 May 2016, The Guardian)

If you could choose to be reborn at any moment in history, you should choose right now.

Why? Take life expectancy. It has risen by more in the past 50 years than in the previous 1,000. Or take incomes. For the first time in history, poverty is declining amid rapid population growth. When the Berlin Wall fell, two-fifths of humanity lived in extreme poverty. Now it's one-eighth.

Or take education. In just over a generation, 3 billion more literate brains have joined the human race. And thanks largely to the rapid expansion of higher learning in China and India, the number of people alive now with an advanced degree exceeds the total number of degrees ever awarded prior to 1980.

With a few tragic exceptions, a child born almost anywhere today can expect to grow up healthier, wealthier and smarter than at any other time in history. And more connected, thanks principally to a quartet of big events: the end of the cold war; waves of democratisation across Latin America, much of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; China's emergence from autarky; and, of central significance, the advent of the internet.

These conditions create an ideal habitat for ideas and genius to flourish, and that flourishing is well under way. The final reason why, if you could choose to be reborn at any moment in history, you should choose now, is that science and technology - jolted by humanity's sharp jump in cognitive resources - has never been closer to flipping our basic condition from scarcity to abundance.

Existing computing technologies already flood us with abundant data; quantum computing holds the promise of abundant information processing. Autonomous machines supply abundant routine work; one day, artificial intelligence may supply abundant cognition. Genetic medicine may offer pathways to abundant health. Materials science, synthetic biology and nanotechnology may soon yield abundant clean energy.

Our dense connectedness is helping to realise all these promises faster. In every field, from astronomy to zoology, discovery is now a 24/7 global effort. Meanwhile, outside the lab, millions more volunteers tackle thousands of giant-scale "citizen science" projects that would not otherwise be feasible: helping to map the 86bn neurons in the human brain, cataloguing Africa's fauna from millions of hours of camera footage, or sifting through petabytes of data from the Large Hadron Collider.

We live in a moment packed with new possibilities, and we've never been better equipped to seize them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Sunday Notes: Manaea-Giles Adversity, Astros, M's Future SS, more (David Laurila, May 15, 2016, Fangraphs)

Doug Jones' name came up yesterday when AJ Hinch met with the media. The subject was changeups, and Jones had a good one. He rode the pitch to 303 saves while playing for seven teams from 1982-2000.

Hinch caught Jones at the tail end of the latter's career, and he remembers him fondly. The mustache and personality were notable, but it was the changeup that really stood out.

"He was your classic pitcher who pitched backwards," said Hinch. "Doug used his changeup as his predominant pitch and his fastball as his secondary pitch. He was one of the first back-end guys who didn't rely on velocity. By the time I caught him, his fastball was only in the mid 80s. He'd use it as a stunt pitch, late in counts, just to surprise guys.

"His changeup was really slow. He'd throw it almost like a turned over palm ball, or screwball. And he could throw it at different speeds. He could throw a changeup off of his changeup. It would range anywhere from the lower 60s to the mid 70s. In a lot of ways he was like Koji Uehara, although Uehara does it with a split, and his fastball is a little harder than Doug's was."

And then there was the whistle.

"Doug liked to mess with hitters in spring training," remembered Hinch. "He'd have a whistle in his mouth. It would be like a circus act. He would blow on the whistle as he was pulling the string on a changeup. He liked to get us to laugh."

The Astros' manager was asked how his former teammate could get away with that.

"Nothing is illegal in spring training," answered Hinch. "We run in the outfield during games. Plus, it wasn't performance enhancing."

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


For Obama, an Unexpected Legacy of Two Full Terms at War (MARK LANDLER, MAY 14, 2016, NY Times)

President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


One of the TAs in an Artificial Intelligence Class Was Actually an A.I. (Jacob Brogan, 5/15/16, Slate)

[A].I. researchers at Georgia Tech have found a subtler application for Watson's capabilities, using them to simulate a teaching assistant for a large master's-level course. What's more, they did so without alerting the students in the class.

Fittingly, the class in question was Ashok Goel's Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence, which aims to help students learn "to build AI agents capable of human-level intelligence and gain insights into human cognition." As Melissa Korn reports in the Wall Street Journal, the class' 300-some students "typically post 10,000 messages a semester" to an online message board--more than the course's human TAs can respond to.

But as Goel notes, while "the number of questions increases if you have more students ... the number of different questions doesn't really go up." The vast majority of those requests deal with straightforward questions of course logistics, which means that they have simple, objective answers, but they can still take time to answer. So Goel and his team set out to create a system that could respond to the sort of queries that cropped up over and over again, and then they released it onto the message board. Though Goel and his collaborators didn't alert students to the artificial nature of their ninth teaching assistant, they did give it a name that winks at its origins: Jill Watson.

By the end of the semester, "Jill" was reportedly answering questions with a 97 percent success rate, having learned to parse the context of queries and reply to them accurately. As Korn writes, students apparently hadn't suspected anything was unusual about the helpful interlocutor, and at least one claims he was "flabbergasted" when he learned its true nature. (Another tells Korn he had "wanted to nominate Jill Watson as an outstanding TA," which may well be a joke.) 

It's not.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


The two-Trump trick (Josh Greenman, 5/15/16, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A strange phenomenon buoys Donald Trump's presidential prospects -- one perhaps unprecedented in American politics: Voters are rewarding a would-be President because he's proposing policies that are simultaneously dangerously radical and utterly implausible.

A mass roundup, via a federal deportation force, of every undocumented immigrant in America.

Building a wall on the United States' southern border, paid for entirely by Mexico.

Banning all Muslims from entering the country.

Imposing massive tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods.

Torturing terrorism suspects and killing civilians in combat.

Rewriting libel laws to make it easier to for the rich and powerful to sue their critics.

And many more outlandish ideas that would threaten America's core character.

Taking morally reprehensible stances should be devastating for a candidate. So should advancing proposals that are politically or practically impossible. But doing both has been key to Trump's success because the very absurdity of many of Trump's plans has helped inoculate him from charges that they, and he, are dangerous.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


This is how California's governor wants to make it easier to build affordable housing (Liam Dillon, 5/15/16, LA Times)

As part of his revised budget released Friday, Brown announced what he said was a better solution: making it easier to build homes for low-income residents. In a new package of legislation, Brown is proposing to streamline the permitting process for developers building affordable homes.

"Hopefully, the supply is going to bring down the cost," Brown said. "Otherwise, through subsidies and through restrictions, we're just spending more and more tax dollars and getting very, very little."

Brown's move indicates he sides with the idea, promoted by academics and economists, that the primary issue driving the state's out-of-control housing costs isn't a lack of housing subsidies, but rather that there's not enough homes to meet demand.

The trick is to build enough new homes to house all the immigrants you have to import to build all the new homes....rinse, lather, repeat....

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Tumbling Interest Rates in Europe Leave Some Banks Owing Money on Loans to Borrowers (PATRICIA KOWSMANN in Lisbon and  JEANNETTE NEUMANN in Madrid, April 13, 2015, WSJ)

Tumbling interest rates in Europe have put some banks in an inconceivable position: owing money on loans to borrowers.

At least one Spanish bank, Bankinter SA, the country's seventh-largest lender by market value, has been paying some customers interest on mortgages by deducting that amount from the principal the borrower owes.

With a TFR of 1.32, deflation has only begun in Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Five of the best tablets (Samuel Gibbs, 15 May 2016, The Guardian)

Amazon Fire


Amazon's Fire tablet isn't an iPad, and doesn't try to be. It runs Android, although not Google's Android, and therefore doesn't come with Google apps or the Play Store. Instead it has access to the Amazon app store and Amazon's various media, book and music services, as well as shopping apps and adverts on the screen (which cost £10 to remove). Comes loaded with only 1GB of Ram, so running multiple apps or graphics-intensive games can prove challenging. Despite the touchscreen being only 17.7cm (7in), the tablet is chunky and quite heavy. It has a relatively low-resolution screen, pretty poor cameras and only one speaker. There's a microSD card slot for adding more storage and Amazon's Fire OS 5 is pretty good for basic tablet needs.

Verdict: Cheap and cheerful - and you get a lot of tablet for your money.

We just bought one for $40 (with ads).  

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Rise of the billionaire robots: how algorithms have redefined hedge funds (Suzanne McGee, 15 May 2016, The Guardian)

On Wall Street, you eat what you kill. And boy, can they eat. According to a just-published annual survey by Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine, the 25 best-paid hedge fund honchos pocketed $13bn in 2015, a sum that exceeds the gross domestic products of many nations.

What's interesting is that the huge payout comes in a year that has been more notable for the flight of investors from hedge funds, and that this year's big winners are more reliant than ever on algorithms to make their money.

In the Information Age, knowledge workers are as easily replaced as factory workers.

May 14, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Looking up : The link between income and mortality rates is weakening (The Economist, May 14th 2016)

Mortality has fallen for almost everyone. You would expect this: health care and lifestyles (most notably, smoking rates) have improved. Less predictably, age affects how those gains are divvied out between rich and poor (see chart). Those over 50 have done best in rich counties, reinforcing the notion that the link between income and health is strengthening for the middle-aged. Yet among the young--and particularly among young men--the biggest gains have been in the poorest places.

There are three likely explanations. First, crime has fallen, benefiting poor areas more. In 1990 there were 37 homicides per 100,000 men aged 18-24. By 2014 there were 20. This has particularly affected black men, who more frequently fall victim to murder. In 1990 twice as many young black men died from any cause as young white men. That has fallen to 50% more, with the lower murder rate accounting for four-fifths of the improvement.

Second, HIV is killing fewer people. This is partly due to fewer cases. In 1990 there were 21 incidences of HIV/AIDS per 100,000 men; today there are 12 (though all the progress was before 2000). It is also due to better treatment. Because the HIV epidemic is concentrated in poor, black, southern areas, falling deaths from HIV make mortality rates more equal. HIV mortality has fallen most among 25- to 44-year-olds; among black men in this age-group, HIV deaths are down by 90% since 1990.

The third explanation is better health care for mothers, babies and children. During the 1980s, for instance, Medicaid coverage for pregnant women was greatly expanded. The benefits were long-lasting: a study in 2015 found those whose mothers were included in the expansion were healthier in adulthood. Among other things, they were less likely to be obese.

In 1997 the federal government also began helping states provide health insurance to children in families that were poor, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. This has probably reduced infant deaths that happen after mothers and babies leave hospital. A study in 2014 found that such deaths are largely responsible for America's persistently high infant-mortality rate compared with Europe's.

Targeted interventions such as the 1997 reform probably reduced infant mortality among the poor. The expansion of the earned-income tax credit in the 1990s may have helped, too, by reducing the strain on mothers, or improving toddlers' nutrition. Other public-health improvements, such as cleaner air--particularly important for childhood health--have also disproportionately benefited poor areas.

These trends are especially welcome because more equal mortality should persist throughout the lives of today's youngsters, argues Ms Currie.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Inside the GOP effort to draft an independent candidate to derail Trump (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa May 14, 2015, Washington Post)

A band of exasperated Republicans -- including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a handful of veteran consultants and members of the conservative intelligentsia -- is actively plotting to draft an independent presidential candidate who could keep Donald Trump from the White House.

These GOP figures are commissioning private polling, lining up major funding sources and courting potential contenders, according to interviews with more than a dozen Republicans involved in the discussions. The effort has been sporadic all spring but has intensified significantly in the 10 days since Trump effectively locked up the Republican nomination.

Those involved concede that an independent campaign at this late stage is probably futile, and they think they have only a couple of weeks to launch a credible bid. But these Republicans -- including commentators William Kristol and Erick Erickson and strategists Mike Murphy, Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson -- are so repulsed by the prospect of Trump as commander in chief that they are desperate to take action.

An independent candidacy is just emotional salve.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


2,000-HP Hybrid Electric Nikola One Semi is a Trucker's Dream (Jonathon Ramsey, May 13, 2016, Yahoo!)

Nikola Motor Company (NMC) has been working on the Nikola One semi truck for three years in secret and is finally ready to go public. All we have at the moment are renderings, but if Nikola can get close to the claims it's making, the world of long-haul trucks needs to prepare for revolution. The numbers are gob-stopping: a serial-hybrid Class 8 semi with 2,010 horsepower, more than 3,700 pound-feet of torque, a range beyond 1,200 miles, rated to pull a gross weight of 80,000-pounds. All that gumption comes from a 536-horsepower turbine charging a liquid-cooled, 320-kWh lithium-ion battery that powers six 335-hp electric motors - one at each wheel, every motor with dual gear reduction that blows max torque out to 86,000 lb-ft. For comparison to an existing rig, a brand new Kenworth T680 with a 12.9-liter Paccar MX-13 engine puts out 500 hp and 1,850 lb-ft. At six miles per gallon and hauling 270 gallons of diesel, the truck returns a 1,620-mile range.

The Nikola One loses out on driving distance because it employs a single 150-gallon fuel tank, but the claimed benefits more than make up for it. Nikola says the turbine can run on any fuel from natural gas to biodiesel, and a Class 2 DC charger can juice the battery directly. The company says the reduced fuel and maintenance costs (from having no transmission, for instance) can reduce a fleet operator's bill by up to $30,000 a month for a single truck.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Potemkin Villages (American Interest, 5/14/16)

Vladimir Putin held a press event at his residence in Sochi on Thursday to show off a brand new military-grade version of a Russian-built UAZ Patriot truck. In the course of the inspection, Putin tried to open the front passenger-side door, but the door wouldn't budge. The head of the Main Armor Office of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant-General Alexander Shevchenko, stepped up to help the President. The Russian General pulled on the door handle and it gave away, coming off in his hand. The nervous-looking general then proceeded to demonstrate the other strong points of the new UAZ: the back door still opens, and the vehicle can be fitted with a 12mm machine gun. The Patriot's designers tried to explain away the incident: the handle did not work because the vehicle was "blocked" since the engine was not running.

It was by no means the first time Putin's staged attempts at burnishing his country's resurgent superpower status ran headlong into technical difficulties. Two weeks ago, Putin arrived at the newly-constructed Vostochny Cosmodrome to witness the launch of a Soyuz rocket. What was supposed to be a bold display of Russia's prowess ended in debacle: the first launch failed to get off the ground due to "technical glitches", and Putin had to stay in Blagoveshchensk, in Russia's Far East, a second day for the rocket to finally take off.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Donald Trump's tough guy problem (Michael Fumento, 5/14/16, Times of Israel)

"Mike Tyson endorsed me," GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump told a crowd in Indianapolis shortly before the primary. "You know, all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, OK?" He added, "When I get endorsed by the tough ones, I like it, because you know what? We need toughness now. We need toughness."

Point granted. But Tyson's biggest connection to Indiana is that he raped a black beauty pageant contestant, Desiree Washington, there in 1992. He served three years for it. Probably not the best choice in the world for an endorsee. But this reveals The Donald's desperate desire to be seen as tough, precisely because he's really just a bully - including the pansy component.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


U.S. official: ISIS declares state of emergency in self-declared capital (Barbara Starr, CNN)

U.S. military officials are closely watching social media and news reports that say ISIS believes it may soon come under siege in Raqqa, Syria, its self-declared capital.

"We have seen this declaration of emergency in Raqqa, whatever that means," Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters Friday. "We know this enemy feels threatened, as they should."

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Hezbollah Blames Sunni Jihadists For Killing Top Military Commander In Syria (HIMANSHU GOENKA, 05/14/16, IB Times)

A day after announcing the death of its top military commander in Syria, Lebanon-based Hezbollah said Saturday that an artillery explosion triggered by jihadist insurgents killed Mustafa Badreddine. The Shiite Islamist group blamed "takfiri groups"-- a term it uses to refer to armed, hard-line Sunni Islamist groups -- for the death of Badreddine.

May 13, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


WaPo: Trump hung up when asked about spokesman (Jesse Byrnes, 5/13/16, The Hill) 

Hours after denying a Washington Post report that said he masqueraded as his own spokesman decades ago, Donald Trump on Friday reportedly hung up on reporters from the newspaper asking questions about the controversy.

Post reporters were 44 minutes into a phone interview Friday afternoon discussing the presumptive GOP presiedntial nominee's finances when they asked Trump if he ever employed a spokesman by the name of John Miller.

"The phone went silent, then dead," the newspaper reported. "When the reporters called back and reached Trump's secretary, she said, 'I heard you got disconnected. He can't take the call now. I don't know what happened.'"

The story published on Friday included audio of a man with a similar tone and cadence to Trump claiming to be John Miller, a spokesman for the businessman, during a 1991 phone call with People magazine reporter Sue Carswell.

He'd hang up on that 3am phone call too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


How the US-India Defense Partnership Came to Blossom Under Modi : As Ash Carter's recent trip to India highlights, U.S.-India defense ties are ready for a new era. (Sourabh Gupta, May 13, 2016, The Diplomat)

[C]arter and Parrikar, during their unusually-engaged period of interaction (they've met four times in the past year), have laid the foundation of a new and elevated phase of strategic defense cooperation - U.S.-India Defense Partnership 2.0 - that will fundamentally, albeit incrementally, transform the means by which the Indian Navy and the U.S. Pacific Fleet engage each other within the confined reaches of the Eastern Indian Ocean and the southern Bay of Bengal.

The agreement to share logistics during peacetime will enable the two navies to mitigate capability gaps in broader Indian Ocean waters that have seen a growth in operational commitments. It will also breathe life into the India-U.S. Maritime Cooperation Framework agreement that had envisaged "an appropriate agreement on logistics support" - 10 years after its signing. The understanding to share aircraft carrier catapult-launch technology and design capabilities will enable the two navies to operate a complementary set of deck-based platforms (P-8I patrol aircraft; E-2D Hawkeye early warning aircraft; F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters - if agreement on co-production in India is reached) that will enable the two navies to operate separately but synergistically across the Indian Ocean domain.

With Beijing's progressive sub-surface penetration of the Indian Ocean now a fact, a navy-to-navy dialogue and at-sea exercises tailored to this undersea dimension will enable New Delhi to both remedy its under-preparedness in the area of anti-submarine sonars as well as deter the entry of PLAN nuclear attack submarines into the Bay of Bengal. In time, as U.S.-sourced advanced communications gear facilitates seamless and secure ship-shore and platform-to-platform intelligence-sharing, it will also open the door - and the eyes of the Indian Navy's civilian masters - to the virtues of a more interoperable equation with the U.S. Navy along strategic approaches to the eastern Indian Ocean.

A couple of years from now, it is likely that the Indian Navy and the U.S. Pacific Fleet, individually, will operate a set of network-centric intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets that allow a common information picture about the eastern Indian Ocean to be formed and exchanged as well as provide a basis for cooperative responses to possible threats.

Credit for the renewal of defense-maritime ties goes to both parties. The proximate catalyst for the stepped-up engagement was the Modi government's willingness to cast aside its inherited blinkers and re-evaluate three Bush administration-era foundational defense agreements (on logistics, encrypted communications, and geo-spatial mapping) with a fresh set of eyes. A 'non-paper' to this end was solicited from the Pentagon in late-2014. Of even greater consequence has been laudable openness to jettisoning India's long-standing disinclination to be associated in any way, shape or form with extra-regional strategy and purpose in its hitherto jealously-guarded Indian Ocean zone of core interest.

For his part, Carter deserves credit for his perseverance in working through the fundamental alignment-autonomy contradiction that afflicts U.S.-India strategic ties to tease out a middle ground that combines New Delhi's longing for defense technology-sharing (to boost autonomous capabilities) with Washington's yearning for navy-to-navy interoperability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Donald Trump is now threatening the 401(k)s of ordinary Americans (BRETT ARENDS, 5/13/16, Marketwatch)

[W]hen Donald Trump monkeys with the U.S. government debt, as he has in two interviews in the past few days, this isn't just a matter of abstract economics or of sticking it to foreigners.

It's about threatening to take your personal 401(k) out into the back yard and beat it like, as they say, "a rented mule."

According to official data, we collectively own about $2.6 trillion in Treasury bonds directly or through mutual funds. Our pension plans own another $2.2 trillion. And our insurance policies, such as the life insurance contracts that will pay out if we fall under a bus, are backed by another $300 billion in Treasurys.

According to the Investment Company Institute, a mutual fund industry trade group, the average 401(k) plan is about 25% invested in bonds, both through bond funds themselves and through "balanced" funds. (Balanced funds are typically 60% stocks, 40% bonds).

The older you are, the more you are likely to have in bonds. For "safety."

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Trump and Taxes (Paul Krugman MAY 13, 2016, NY Times)

[M]y guess, shared by a number of observers, is that the dirty secret hidden in those returns is that he isn't as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation that he's only worth a couple of billion -- maybe even less than a billion -- would be utterly humiliating. So he'll try to tough it out.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Exclusive: U.S. to renew most Myanmar sanctions with changes to aid business (LESLEY WROUGHTON, PATRICIA ZENGERLE AND MATT SPETALNICK, 5/13/16, Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury Department has significantly eased sanctions against Myanmar by issuing general licenses that give companies and investors exemptions to sanctions targeting more than 100 individuals and businesses, including some of Myanmar's biggest business players.

U.S. officials began lifting trade and financial sanctions against the country after military leaders launched reforms that led to a civilian government being formed in 2011, beginning its transformation from a half-century as an international pariah.

In December, Treasury temporarily relaxed trade restrictions on the country also known as Burma by allowing all shipments to go through its ports and airports for six months.

This time, Washington will likely offer more general licenses to specific companies, and take some people off Treasury's list of "Specially Designated Individuals" targeted for sanctions, congressional aides and U.S. officials said. [...]

President Barack Obama's opening to Myanmar followed by its peaceful transition to an elected government is seen as one of his foreign policy achievements. He has visited there twice. But the administration also wants to maintain leverage on the country to guard against backsliding on reforms and to press for improvement on human rights.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Muqtada al-Sadr, the most powerful man in Iraqi politics? (Mohammed A. Salih, May 13, 2016, Al Monitor)

[C]apitalizing on the spiritual legacy of his father and uncle, Mohammed Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr and Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr, both senior Shiite clerics executed by Hussein, Muqtada's political fortunes rose steadily, making himself an actor to be reckoned with. In April 2004, he led a major rebellion against the US-led coalition which he considered an occupation force.

Today, amid popular demand for change in Iraq, Sadr has put his political capital on the line in advocating an overhaul of the Iraqi political system. "Muqtada has clearly enhanced his status by adopting a populist, non-sectarian stance at a time when Iraqis are peculiarly conscious of the corrupt and dysfunctional nature of their government because there is not sufficient oil revenue to cover expenditure," said Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for the British Independent and author of the book "Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the Struggle for Iraq."

Sadr has been supporting efforts by embattled Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to form a cabinet of ministers with technocratic and professional backgrounds and not beholden to political elites. Growing exasperated with Iraq's paralyzed political system, on April 20 Sadr suspended the activities of the al-Ahrar parliamentary bloc, with which he is associated as a spiritual leader.

Then, on April 30, Sadr's supporters, who had for weeks staged protests on Baghdad's streets, stormed the parliament building in the city's fortified Green Zone, which houses state institutions as well as the US and British Embassies and has become a symbol of the country's political dysfunction. This unexpected action sent shock waves through Iraq. With the country in the midst of a bloody war against the Islamic State (IS), many feared the move on parliament might lead to the collapse of the state structure.

Ever adept and calculating, Sadr acted to prevent the dramatic maneuver from spiraling out of control, pulling his supporters out of the Green Zone after a 24-hour sit in. The message was clear: Sadr showed he is willing to take extraordinary measures and that he can hold the country's center of power at his mercy. Many now wonder if Sadr's intent is to dominate the country's political landscape, rendering himself the one calling the shots. His supporters say that is not the goal.

"The Sadrist current does not seek hegemony," Dhia al-Assadi, former chief of al-Ahrar, told Al-Monitor. "If we sought hegemony, we would want a greater presence for ourselves in the Cabinet and other state institutions. ... We are not trying to attain the office of prime minister."

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Restaurant owner Dominykas Ceckauskas poses next to a mural on the wall of his establishment depicting US  Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on May 13, 2016 (AFP/Petras Malukas)

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Auction for gun that killed Trayvon Martin possibly hijacked (FREIDA FRISARO, May. 13, 2016, AP)

Bidding in an online auction for the pistol former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman used to kill Trayvon Martin appeared to have been hijacked by fake accounts posting astronomically high bids.

At one point early Friday, the bidding surpassed $65 million with the leading bidder using the screen name "Racist McShootFace." The site later showed that account had been deleted.

Other screen names of bidders on the site included "Donald Trump"...

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


The EU is pretty much a parody of the worst aspects of transnationalism.
Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Japan now has more electric car charge points than petrol stations (Justin McCurry, 10 May 2016, The Guardian)

When it comes to electric vehicles, Japan is speeding ahead of the rest of the world, blissfully free of the range anxiety that afflicts plug-in drivers elsewhere.

The country now has more electric car charging stops than petrol stations, according to a recent survey by Nissan.

The Japanese automaker, whose fully battery-powered Leaf can travel up to 172km (107 miles) on a single charge, said there were more than 40,000 places nationwide where electric car owners could recharge their vehicles, compared with fewer than 35,000 petrol stations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Alcohol sales fall for first time in nearly 20 years (Alanna Petroff, May 13, 2016, CNN Money)

Global sales of alcohol fell in 2015 for the first time since market research firm Euromonitor International started keeping records in 2001.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


The Problem With Health Care Costs: Third-Party Payment (CHRIS JACOBS, May 13, 2016, WSJ)

Several recent studies have illustrated the root of health care's cost problem: In most cases, no one person--let alone one organization--bears sole responsibility for paying the bill. Slowing the growth of health costs may well involve changing those financial incentives--but also requires changing the culture that supports the status quo.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Amid Russian Aggression, Nordic States Determined To Maintain Sanctions After Obama White House Meeting (LYDIA TOMKIW, 05/13/16, IB Times)

The leaders of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden had one nation on their minds while attending a summit at the White House on Friday -- Russia -- and its airspace violations and aggressive posturing.

While meeting with President Barack Obama, the leaders all agreed on the need to maintain sanctions against Russia following the illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and the start of an ensuing war in Eastern Ukraine that has left more than 9,300 people dead.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (profanity alert):

On Facebook, Trump's Longtime Butler Calls for Obama to Be Killed (David Corn, May 12, 2016, Mother Jones)

Anthony Senecal, who worked as Donald Trump's butler for 17 years before being named the in-house historian at the tycoon's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, has repeatedly published posts on his Facebook page that express profound hatred for President Barack Obama and declare he should be killed.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Stoned Drivers Are Killing More and More Innocent Victims (Cully Stimson, May 12, 2016, Daily Signal)

Each person was killed by a person high on marijuana. And it is only going to get worse, given the trend towards increased legalization and liberalization of marijuana laws in the United States.

According to the Washington State Marijuana Impact Report, the incidents of marijuana-impaired driving are increasing dramatically. Fatal driving accidents have risen 122 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission. Marijuana is big business in Washington state. There are more marijuana businesses than Starbucks in Washington state (despite the fact that Starbucks was founded in Seattle).

The traffic safety organization AAA has its own reports on marijuana use among drivers in fatal crashes, and the picture is equally bleak.

And don't be fooled--the pot pushers are targeting youth with marijuana. Venders sell edibles that look just like other candies routinely eaten by kids. According to the impact report, 98 percent of student drug violations in Seattle Public Schools between September 2013 and May of 2014 were due to marijuana. In 2014, youth under the age of 20 made up 45 percent of Washington Poison Center calls. That number of calls has increased 80 percent since legalization.

And things in Colorado are just as bad. The black market is thriving, despite the fact that the pot pushers promised that legalization would eliminate the black market. One in six infants and toddlers admitted to Children's Hospital in Colorado with coughing, wheezing, and other symptoms of bronchitis tested positive for marijuana, according to a study found in the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Turkish artillery, U.S.-led coalition jets pound Islamic State in Syria: sources (HUMEYRA PAMUK, 5/12/16, Reuters)

Turkish artillery pounded Islamic State targets in northern Syria overnight and the U.S.-led coalition carried out air strikes, killing 28 militants near a Turkish border town repeatedly hit by rocket fire, Turkish military sources said. [...]

NATO member Turkey was initially a reluctant partner in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State and faced criticism in the earlier stages of the Syrian war for failing to stop foreign fighters crossing its borders and joining the militant group.

But it has suffered several attacks blamed on the radical militant group, including two suicide bombings in Istanbul this year. 

The delusion that any of these states could choose not to fight ISIS is priceless.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Higher than expected Iranian oil production has helped stabilize the global oil market  (AP, May 12, 2016)

The International Energy Agency said Thursday that higher than expected Iranian oil production has helped stabilize the global oil market by offsetting concerns generated by wildfires in Canada and violence in Nigeria.

In its monthly report, the Paris-based IEA said global oil output rose to 32.7 million barrels a day in April, a figure boosted by Iran as its production increased faster than expected following the lifting of international sanctions earlier this year.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Why solving homelessness is stupidly easy (Jeff Spross, May 12, 2016, The Week)

It began in 1992 with a psychologist named Sam Tsemberis.

Studying the issue from his perch at New York University, Tsemberis made a breakthrough that was basically taxonomic. He understood that there are two types of homeless: the temporary and the chronically homeless. The former, which make up the vast majority of the homeless population, are basically just down on their luck and can be helped by relatively straightforward government assistance. But the latter group, about 15 percent of the total population, are basically homeless because of deeper issues like substance abuse, trauma, or mental disorders.

Tsemberis realized that forcing these people to jump through the hoops of testing and paperwork and rehabilitation programs before they could get a place to live was nuts. The chronic homeless more often face jail time and trips to the emergency room than the rest of the population. And homelessness is stressful: In a shelter, you can't even shut your door; if you can find a place to stay, you're often at the mercy of corrupt employers, irresponsible landlords, and abusive partners; there's no stable network of neighbors to rely upon for help looking after children. On top of it all, you can't even rest.

"I can sleep," one beneficiary of housing first policy in D.C. told The Washington Post. "Oh my goodness, I can sleep."

So Tsemberis proposed just giving the chronically homeless a place to live unconditionally and then building on that foothold by offering other social support. He helped set up a few test runs of the policy, but no one really paid him any mind until several people working on homelessness in Utah got a key official to give his ideas a hearing. Lloyd Pendleton was the executive manager of the Mormon Church's Welfare Department and director of Utah's Task Force on Homelessness. And when he heard Tsemberis' idea, he was sold.

Pendleton's backing from the Mormon Church gave him the legitimacy to get Utah's famously conservative state legislature to sign off on using funds to give people homes unconditionally. And his connections to the state's network of aid programs helped cobble together the money to run the program and to coordinate with the various rehabilitation programs and social support providers that would help the tenants with their other struggles.

This is how housing first works in most places: The chronic homeless are identified, and money is put together to permanently subsidize them in an apartment or other living space. They usually have to cover 30 percent of the rent themselves, either with money from a job or another aid program. But the rest of the subsidy is permanent and unconditional. And once they have a stable place to live, they can start regular work healing mentally or kicking their addiction or whatever challenge they need to deal with.

As a result, Utah's population of chronic homeless dropped 91 percent and is almost nonexistent today. Programs in other states have reported similar victories.

Most even report that the program has saved them money on net: Providing the chronic homeless a long-term place to stay, no questions asked, intrinsically makes their lives more stable. So governments spend less on them in other forms of aid.

Fewer homeless, a Bush legacy (David Frum, 4/29/13, CNN)

The Bush administration substituted a much simpler idea -- an idea that happened to work. Whatever the cause of homelessness, the solution is ... a home.

In 2002, Bush appointed a new national homeless policy czar, Philip Mangano. A former music agent imbued with the religious philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, Mangano was seized by an idea pioneered by New York University psychiatrist Sam Tsemberis: "housing first."

The "housing first" concept urges authorities to concentrate resources on the hardest cases -- to move them into housing immediately -- and only to worry about the other problems of the homeless after they first have a roof over their heads. A 2004 profile in The Atlantic nicely summarized Tsemberis' ideas: "Offer them (the homeless) the apartment first, he believes, and you don't need to spend years, and service dollars, winning their trust."

Many old school homeless advocates resisted Mangano's approach. They were impelled by two main objections:

1. They believed that homelessness was just the most extreme form of a problem faced by low-income people generally -- a lack of affordable housing for low-income people. Focusing resources on the nation's hardest cases would (these advocates feared) distract the federal government from the bigger project of subsidizing better housing for millions of people who did not literally live in the streets.

2. By 2002, the nation had been worrying about homelessness for several decades. Countless programs from state and local agencies responded to some separate part of the problem; tens of thousands of people earned their livings in those state and local agencies, disposing of massive budgets. "Housing first" threatened to disrupt this vast industry. "Housing first" was comparatively cheap, for one thing: a homeless shelter might look squalid, but it cost a great deal to operate -- more, oftentimes, than a proper apartment with kitchen and bath. The transition to "housing first" threatened jobs and budgets across the country.
There was only one counterargument to these objections: "Housing first" worked.

We all know where we're headed.

May 12, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Going There with Donald Trump (ADAM GOPNIK, 5/11/16, The New Yorker)

There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word "fascist." The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist, or American-variety fascist--one of that kind, all the same. Future political scientists will analyze (let us hope in amused retrospect, rather than in exile in New Zealand or Alberta) the precise elements of Poujadisme, Peronism and Huck Finn's Pap that compound in Trump's "ideology." But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum's or Barack Obama's, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and "success." It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.

To associate such ideas too mechanically with the rise of some specific economic anxiety is to give the movement and its leader a dignity and sympathy that they do not deserve. In France, Jean Marie Le Pen's voters are often ex-Communists, working people who also believe their national identity to have been disrupted by immigration. That does not alter, or make more sympathetic, the toxic nature of his program; the ideology that it resonates to is an ancient and persistent one, that thrives through good times and bad. That Trump can dominate an increasingly right-wing nationalist party with a right-wing, white-nationalist creed is neither surprising nor all that complicated. Anyway, the notion that a class cure can be had for a nationalist disease was the persistent, tragic delusion of progressive politics throughout the twentieth century.

The question is about action and here, as has been said before in this space, the best parallel in modern politics occurred in the French Presidential election of 2002, when the left and right joined to form a Republican Front--ironic term--designed to keep Le Pen from power. The lines of a similar Republican front seem dismayingly harder to see here. Almost every intelligent conservative knows perfectly well who Donald Trump is and what he stands for. But NeverTrump is a meaningless slogan unless one is prepared to say ThisOnceHillary.

The good folks in conservative circles who won't go where the necessary disdain for Trump leads remind one of the anti-anti-communists.
Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Housing shortage could 'hold back growth' for Sweden (The Local, 10 May 2016)

Sweden's economy is on track for a good year, with economic growth set to swell by 3.9 percent in 2016. But a report by Sweden's largest business federation is warning that the Nordic nation should not get complacent.

According to the paper by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), 61 percent of companies have experienced recruitment problems over the last year, with employers citing Sweden's housing shortage in 31 percent of cases.

Svenskt Näringsliv's Acting Chief Economist Jonas Frycklund argues that this could make it difficult for Sweden to reach its goal of having the lowest unemployment in the EU.

"Sweden has obvious structural problems that tend to hold back growth," he said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that there was a significant "risk of bottlenecking" in the Swedish economy.

They'll need more immigrants to build those homes, who'll need more homes themselves.... 

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Al-Qaida fighters and other ultraconservative Sunni insurgents have seized a predominantly Alawite village (ALBERT AJI and PHILIP ISSA, 5/12/16, Associated Press)

Al-Qaida fighters and other ultraconservative Sunni insurgents seized a predominantly Alawite village in central Syria on Thursday, sparking fears of sectarian violence as families from the village were reported missing by activists.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said "terrorists" were killing residents of the village of Zaara, previously controlled by the government. Syrian state media said insurgents had looted and destroyed homes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Why Obama Disappointed Progressives : a review of Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down, Bill Press (CLARK STOOKSBURY • May 12, 2016, American Conservative)

The president's signature achievement has been the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. To Obama's GOP foes, the program is tantamount to evil. Repealing it would have been President Cruz's top priority. But progressives generally see it as a win, though Bill Press is here to rain on the victory parade. To him, Obamacare is a compromised, Heritage Foundation-inspired retread that fails to achieve progressive goals: "It's a half-baked measure that falls short of what is needed and of what was politically possible. Its main provision is to force people to buy health insurance from a private insurer if they're not already insured by their employer. That is certainly not a progressive idea. In fact, its not even a good conservative idea."

While Press nails the act's shortcomings, he doesn't make the case that more was achievable and he doesn't give sufficient weight to the problem of Joe Lieberman as one of the Democrats' 60 Senate votes needed to break a Republican filibuster.

The single issue that most helped to propel Barack Obama past Hillary Clinton in 2008 was his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, which contrasted sharply with Clinton's vote to authorize the war. By 2008, the phrase "Iraq War" was shorthand not only for the disastrous invasion itself, but also for the campaign of lies and half-truths (remember the phrases "smoking gun" and "mushroom cloud"?) used to sell it, the use of torture, and the surveillance state built to contain the constant threat of terror in the United States that the war was supposed to alleviate.

Barack Obama was dealt a very weak hand from the preceding Bush administration on foreign policy. He played it poorly from the outset by arguing that the "real war" was in Afghanistan instead of Iraq. That might have at one time been true, but by 2009, that was a difficult case to make--and our time there since 2009 has accomplished little. Press writes that "with the Taliban still controlling vast areas of Afghanistan and with no guarantee that any central government ... will survive, many Americans are wondering why we went there in the first place, what we achieved in the long run, and why we stayed so long. President Obama could have pulled the plug on Afghanistan [during] his first month in office. The end result would have been the same." Press is also critical of Obama's war in Libya, which was fought absent congressional support, and that accomplished little more than turning the country into a failed state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


In U.K. Referendum, It's Sovereignty, Stupid (STEPHEN FIDLER, May 12, 2016, WSJ)

[F]or many people who want the U.K. out of the EU, the economic arguments are beside the point.

The big issue for them is to bring decision-making back to the Parliament in London and to reverse what they see as the creeping control Brussels has had over British affairs since the U.K. joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973.

For them, it's not the economy, stupid. It's about sovereignty.

Yet that raises the question about what sovereignty really is. In a new paper released this week, Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House think tank, argues "sovereignty in international affairs in the 21st century is about securing outcomes, not about preserving autonomy."

That's close to correct, with one caveat : sovereignty is about preserving the autonomy necessary to secure the outcomes the people decide upon.  That's why no demos will cede decision making to transnational bureaucrats if given the choice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Trump's empty administration (DARREN SAMUELSOHN and BEN WHITE 05/09/16, Politico)

[T]he absence of policy veterans in a new administration would have a substantive effect on the running of government.

POLITICO interviewed nearly five dozen Republicans over the past two weeks -- people with experience working in government and who understand how Congress can enact, or shred, a new president's agenda -- and heard the same sentiment expressed repeatedly. If Trump doesn't change his tune or extend much longer olive branches, many of these government veterans say they intend to cede highly coveted administration posts to less-experienced competitors.

"I would never serve in a Trump administration," said James Capretta, a former Office of Management and Budget official under George W. Bush. "The person at the top is unfit for the presidency. He's made that very clear with his behavior."

Added Matt McDonald, another Bush OMB veteran: "I wouldn't vote for Trump, much less work for him. I don't agree with half his ideas, and the other half I don't really believe what he said."

One former Republican official who worked in the Environmental Protection Agency put it this way: "You'd have to worry about your future career and the way you're perceived in these things. You just kind of think of how he deals with people. Would you really want to work for him?"

The lack of interest in serving Trump extends from the energy and financial services sectors to defense and foreign policy. And while the reluctance of former officials to join a Trump administration may spark a good-riddance response from the candidate himself, the absence of experienced professionals at the assistant-secretary level could have profound consequences on the government.

"The bottom line is Trump will be able to fill these jobs because there is a whole class of people who want these titles so badly it doesn't matter who is president," said a former senior George W. Bush administration official. "But these are B- or C-level people. They are honorable, but not very good. The A-level people, and there are not that many of them to begin with, mostly don't want to work for Trump. He will cut the A-level bench of available policy talent at least in half, if not more."

Building an administration from scratch requires filling more than 3,000 high-level federal jobs, starting with a Cabinet and trickling down to the scores of deputies, undersecretaries and assistant administrators who actually make the U.S. government tick.

It's a herculean task for any new president, but would, perhaps, especially be so for Trump, who has taken anti-Washington campaigning to new heights.

May 11, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Islamic State yearly oil revenue halved to $250 million: U.S. official (YEGANEH TORBATI, 5/11/16, Reuters)

A U.S.-led coalition has targeted the ultra-hardline Sunni Islamist militant group with airstrikes since it seized control of parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. The U.S. military launched an intensified effort in October to go after its oil infrastructure in hopes of cutting funding to the group, which U.S. officials call the wealthiest terrorist group of its kind.

Those strikes, along with a drop in the international price of oil, counter-smuggling efforts by Turkey, and difficulties Islamic State has in transporting its oil across battle lines have combined to halve its oil revenues, said Daniel Glaser, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the U.S. Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


U.S. to switch on European missile shield despite Russian alarm (ROBIN EMMOTT, 5/11/16, Reuters)

The United States' European missile defense shield goes live on Thursday almost a decade after Washington proposed protecting NATO from Iranian rockets and despite Russian warnings that the West is threatening the peace in central Europe.

Amid high Russia-West tension, U.S. and NATO officials will declare operational the shield at a remote air base in Deveselu, Romania, after years of planning, billions of dollars in investment and failed attempts to assuage Russian concerns that the shield could be used against Moscow.

Georgia begins U.S.-led military exercise, angering Russia (MARGARITA ANTIDZE, 5/11/16, Reuters)

The Georgian army began two weeks of military exercises with the United States and Britain on Wednesday, drawing an angry response from former Soviet master Russia which called the war games "a provocative step".

No one cares what Russia thinks--it's helpless.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Aetna plans to remain in Obamacare markets, may expand (Reuters, 5/11/16)

Health Insurer Aetna Inc on Wednesday said it plans to continue its Obamacare health insurance business next year in the 15 states where it now participates, and may expand to a few additional states. [...]

Aetna earlier this year said its Obamacare business had operating losses of about 3 to 4 percent in 2015, with improvements seen in the latter part of the year. It is hoping the business will have a break-even performance in 2016.

Rival insurers UnitedHealth Group Inc and Anthem Inc have missed profit expectations because of losses in their own individual Obamacare businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Iran appoints new head for state broadcasting (AP,  May 12, 2016)

The Wednesday report says Mohammad Sarfaraz has been replaced after less than two years on the job by Abdolali Ali Asgari. The change comes at the order of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. [...]

Under Sarafraz, the state broadcasting company's stance was close to hard-liners who oppose moderate President Hassan Rouhani and last summer's nuclear deal that Iran reached with world powers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Why do pro-life conservatives support anti-immigrant groups pushing population control? (Shikha Dalmia, May 11, 2016, The Week)

America's anti-immigration restrictionist movement has historically had one foot in the labor protectionist camp and another in the population control camp. Many pro-life conservatives count themselves among immigration restrictionists -- which makes the anti-immigration movement's population control argument downright bizarre, given that population control and abortion politics have been a key flashpoint in conservatives' broader culture war with the left.

But even as the environmental left has been shunning the restrictionist movement, conservatives have been embracing it. Indeed, the right is the sole link to mainstream respectability for three of America's most influential restrictionist groups -- FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), CIS (Center for Immigration Studies), and NumbersUSA -- all founded by John Tanton, an ophthalmologist who laments that Hitler gave eugenics a bad name.

Let's back up for a moment. In the 1970s, all the leading environmentalists -- such as economist Garrett Hardin, Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson, biologist Paul Ehrlich (whose Population Bomb became an overnight sensation) -- were also restrictionists. They feared that "mass migration," especially from third world countries with higher fertility rates, would lead to overpopulation and environmental catastrophe in America and the West. [...]

It's not like these outfits are subtle about their true intentions. Tanton, their founder, is clear in saying his restrictionism is part of a broader population control program that also involves abortion, family planning, and other efforts to decrease fertility. He served on the board of his local Planned Parenthood chapter and as president of Zero Population Growth. His anti-Catholic sentiments are well known, given Catholicism's religious objections to population control. He has warned incessantly about the "Latin onslaught" -- the threat that the multiplying Latino population poses to the existing Anglo-Saxon power structure -- once musing whether this was the first time in history when "those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down."

Tanton isn't worried simply about the number of humans, but also their quality. Under his leadership, FAIR accepted $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a white nationalist organization that favors eugenics for "race betterment." While social conservatives worry that modern medicine will trigger an unnatural quest for perfect, designer babies, Tanton's concern is that it will lead to the "eroding of the gene pool" by letting less intelligent people procreate faster than more intelligent ones. [...]

[T]he conservative National Review, a perennial immigration opponent, gave CIS executive director Mark Krikorian (whom I have debated) along with many of his colleagues and researchers -- including Jason Richwine, whose dissertation recommending IQ tests for immigrants and musings at white nationalist websites forced him to resign from the Heritage Foundation -- a regular blogging platform.

Krikorian, like Beck, cut his restrictionist teeth at FAIR when he wrote for its newsletter in the 1980s. Subsequently, he attended FAIR's writers workshops while heading CIS. Although he has been careful to primarily stick to making an economic and cultural case against immigration in National Review, Mario Lopez pointed out in Human Life Review that "the same [FAIR] environmentalist, abortion, and population-control ideology permeates CIS, its funders, and founders." Human Life Review is not some progressive, lefty, PC outfit looking to demonize conservatives. It is a conservative Catholic publication founded by a former associate publisher of National Review.

National Review fiercely disputes Lopez's argument, claiming that CIS and NumbersUSA "very deliberately take no position on abortion and population control," although its members might. But that's not quite right. CIS openly espouses population control -- including "curtailing needless restrictions on abortion" -- and has posted papers (authored by Roy Beck) lambasting environmentalists for "forsaking" their previous commitment to it.

Let's be clear about what is happening here: National Review, perhaps the country's leading journal for intellectual conservatives, and a magazine with strong pro-life leanings, has lent its name and platform to the leader of an organization that clearly favors population control.

The Right is not conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Magnus Carlsen: the cool grandmaster who cries when he loses to himself (Erica Buist, 11 May 2016, The Guardian)

To top it off, the defending world champion isn't a geek with the social skills of a handless sock puppet. He has an army of fans and his own app. He's even done spot of modelling.

Carlsen became a grandmaster at 13. A few days before his 22nd birthday in 2013, he bagged the title of world champion, and retained it the following year at a tournament in Sochi, defeating former champion Vishy Anand. Hailed by some as the best chess player the world has ever seen, he's appeared on TV, radio, billboards and the sides of buses. Ahead of our meeting, I half expect the 25-year-old to stride in with an entourage of doe-eyed groupies. Instead he wanders in clutching a sandwich, hands me a paper bag and says: "Sorry I'm late. I brought you a pastry."

Carlsen started playing chess with his father at five. "He started with one pawn, and I had all the pieces, and when I managed to beat him he got two pawns, and so on," he remembers. "So he made it progressively more difficult as I got better." Unlike other grandmasters, it took him until age eight to really engage with the game: "I needed to mature a bit at the start. I just wasn't ready." He needed to become a mature eight-year-old? "Well, some people can really focus on chess at a much earlier age, even four or five years old, but I couldn't. Age eight was the right time for me."

Now Carlsen believes he's already reached the peak of his brain power? "I still think people can learn at any age - I'm actually sure about that. It's just that the ceiling is lower for how far you want to go."

During an interview on the YouTube channel SoulPancake, Carlsen told actor and presenter Rainn Wilson that the first line of his autobiography would be: "I am not a genius." He's also claimed on numerous occasions to be somewhat lazy. So what catapulted this supposedly lazy, late-blooming non-genius to the top spot in the world? "It was no accident that it was me rather than my peers in Norway that made it. They may have had chess training once a week and then a tournament on the weekend, like a normal hobby. But it was something I wanted to do every day, so it was only natural that I surpassed them. How I managed to take the next steps rather than others, I cannot tell you."

Now, though constantly thinking about chess, Carlsen only sits down to practise for around an hour a day - not even necessarily at a chessboard, because he can recall the board perfectly in his head.

But Carlsen has also been applauded for making chess cool. While playing in Holland, he was spotted on TV by the head of the Dutch clothing brand G-Star - "apparently they thought chess and fashion was an interesting and unexpected mix" - and was offered a modelling contract. He did shoots and wore G-Star clothes during his 2010-11 and 2013-14 games, as well as appearing in G-Star Raw's spring/summer campaign with Lily Cole, in 2014. Now, however, he's "very happy just to play chess".

Except he's not just playing chess, he's also connecting with his fans via an app called Play Magnus: users play a computer version of Carlsen at different ages ("anyone can beat Magnus five ... the moves are absolutely random"). Does he play himself? "Yes," he grins, "a little bit." Supposedly that's a win-win situation for him? "It doesn't feel like that," says Carlsen, who admits he's both cried and punched walls over chess games, saying "it feels equally miserable to lose to myself".

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Three arrests after police spot sheep in back of car (The Guardian, 5/10/16)
Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Egyptian satirists arrested for mocking president (Associated Press,10 May 2016, The Guardian)

Police have arrested four members of a satirical street group that mocked Egypt's president and his supporters in video clips posted online. The move is part of an escalating crackdown on dissent that lays bare the government's diminishing tolerance for criticism.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


The Israel Defense Forces vs. the People of Israel (Shmuel Rosner MAY 11, 2016, NY Times)

[T]here seems to be a widening gap between the public and the I.D.F. on matters of civil behavior.

In February, the I.D.F.'s chief of staff puzzled many Israelis when, referring to Palestinian knifing attacks, he said that he did not want to see a soldier empty a magazine "at a girl holding scissors." Israelis, he hinted, are too trigger-happy when it comes to Palestinian attackers. A survey found that a majority of the Jewish Israeli public did not support his call for caution.

In March, a soldier shot a wounded Palestinian attacker in the head as he lay on the ground. The I.D.F., rightly, arrested the soldier and condemned the breach of conduct. The public, again, disagreed. A poll found that 68 percent of the Jewish public disapproved of the soldier's treatment by the I.D.F. According to one analysis, 82 percent of social media responses supported the soldier. There are more than enough institutions, Israelis feel, that specialize in smearing the Israeli military. Commanders shouldn't hand them ammunition.

These incidents are all connected: The I.D.F.'s top brass is troubled by signs that the Israeli public is less committed to keeping a high moral standard when fighting battles than it used to be. Yes, a Palestinian with a weapon could be dangerous, but the I.D.F. wants to avoid bloodshed when an attacker is a 13-year-old girl. Yes, an attacker could be killed, but the I.D.F. doesn't want to kill people who are on the ground and pose no danger. Yes, the I.D.F. drafts brave and dedicated Israelis, but it is worried about an Israel in which there is a detectable increase in hateful language and a troubling disregard for human life.

The army's leaders are in a difficult position. They have good reason to be concerned about these trends; in fact, all Israelis should be. But these leaders are also uncertain how to deal with a society that is rapidly changing. Many of them are still the members of an old elite, mostly secular and aligned with the Labor Party, that is losing power to more right-wing, more religious Israelis. These leaders feel that part of their sacred mission of guarding the country involves maintaining the standards of morality and integrity that they were taught.

May 10, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


The Unbelievable Reality of the Impossible Hyperloop : Startup Hyperloop Technologies has started shooting magnetically levitated capsules along a track in Las Vegas to show off a radical idea for the future of freight and mass transit. (Ryan Bradley May 10, 2016, mit tECHNOLOGY rEVIEW)

The tube is out back, 11 feet in diameter, 60 feet long, the unfinished end spiraling into wide ribbons of steel--like a gigantic Pillsbury dough container with its seams gaping open. Behind the tube is a big blue tent known as the robot school, where autonomous welders wheel or crawl along, making the tubes airtight. The goal is to put tracks and electromagnets inside the tube and vacuum the air out. Ultimately, capsules will scream through the center of such a tube at 700 miles per hour on a cushion of air--a way to get from A to B faster and more efficiently than planes or trains. The first public tests of this concept, albeit on an open-air track, will take place in North Las Vegas this week. They're aiming to hit 400 miles per hour.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk introduced the world to the concept of a giant vacuum-tube transportation system, the Hyperloop, two and a half years ago. The basic idea is to build a partially evacuated tube, inside which capsules would float on a layer of air, pulling themselves along with a fan and getting extra propulsion from electromagnets in the tube's walls. Musk talked of trips from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes, with off ramps at each end loading and unloading pods with 28 seats every two minutes. Although the design was ambitious to the point of being outlandish, none of its components were fundamentally unproven, something often overlooked. But Musk was too busy revolutionizing the space industry (as CEO of his company SpaceX), the automotive industry (as CEO of his other company, Tesla Motors), and the energy industry (as chairman of his other other company, SolarCity), to devote any time to the Hyperloop. He released a 58-page outline of his implausible idea and left it to someone else to finish it off.

In a former ice factory by the paved-over Los Angeles River, a startup company called Hyperloop Technologies is trying, using $100 million from optimistic venture capitalists. Musk's improbable and incomplete design and his unlikely plan to get it built are suddenly looking less unbelievable--maybe even conceivable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Fatal accidents involving stoned drivers soared in Washington since pot was legalized (Chris Isidore, 5/10/16, CNNMoney)

Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana more than doubled in 2014. Pot was involved in 17% of fatal crashes in Washington in 2014, up from 8% in 2013 -- the year before recreational marijuana was allowed there.
"The significant increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana is alarming," said Peter Kissinger, CEO of the foundation, which funds scientifically rigorous studies for the drivers organization. "Washington serves as an eye-opening case study for what other states may experience with road safety after legalizing the drug."

Mothers will nip drug legalization in the bud.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Trump Selects a White Nationalist Leader as a Delegate in California (Josh Harkinson, May 10, 2016, Mother Jones)

On Monday evening, California's secretary of state published a list of delegates chosen by the Trump campaign for the upcoming Republican presidential primary in the state. Trump's slate includes William Johnson, one of the country's most prominent white nationalists.

Johnson applied to the Trump campaign to be a delegate. He was accepted on Monday. In order to be approved he had to sign this pledge sent to him by the campaign: "I, William Johnson, endorse Donald J. Trump for the office of President of the United States. I pledge to cast ALL of my ballots to elect Donald J. Trump on every round of balloting at the 2016 Republican National Convention so that we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" After he signed, the Trump campaign added his name to the list of 169 delegates it forwarded to the secretary of state.

"I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody," Johnson says.
Johnson leads the American Freedom Party, a group that "exists to represent the political interests of White Americans" and aims to preserve "the customs and heritage of the European American people." The AFP has never elected a candidate of its own and possesses at most a few thousand members, but it is "arguably the most important white nationalist group in the country," according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate groups.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Tories are lining up to help Sadiq Khan push Jeremy Corbyn into a volcano (Asa Bennett 10 MAY 2016, The Telegraph)

Sadiq Khan has a national platform as London Mayor, which will make him one of Labour's biggest beasts. Mr Khan doesn't need his party leader's patronage anymore, as I've previously written, and has to work with Tory ministers, who'll be in place for his four year term at City Hall, in order to get things done. 

Mr Khan is a serious politician who told Labour on Monday that it needs to be a "credible Government-in-waiting". Campaigns, he wrote on the weekend, should never be about "picking sides" - in a rebuke to his party leader for unveiling a poster promising exactly that. So he'll be reluctant to take any fights with ministers too far.

The Corbynite wing has already come after him for taking such a stance, with the Morning Star telling Mr Khan to "remember who your friends are". But he won't be too upset, as he is in a position to make things happen, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who has no direct power as Leader of the Opposition.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Antiques Roadshow mistakenly values high school project at $74,000 (Isabelle Gogoll, 5/11/16,

Alvin Barr from South Carolina brought in an odd-looking piece of pottery which he had purchased at an estate sale in Eugene, Oregon, for $300.

"It was up in barn. It was covered with dirt and straw. Looked like some chicken droppings were on it. It was very dirty. I had to have it. It speaks to me," he said.

Appraiser Stephen L. Fletcher, found the jug fascinating and claimed the bizarre-looking piece of pottery "dated to the late 19th century" and valued the unique piece at $50,000 (NZ$74,000).

"You even see a little bit of, like, Pablo Picasso going on here. It's a little difficult to identify precisely when this was made, but I think it's probably late 19th or early 20th century," Mr Fletcher said.

But oh so wrong!

It was later revealed the Picasso-like sculpture was actually made by high school student, Betsy Soule, from Oregon, in her ceramics class in the 1970s.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


U.S. States With The Most Telecommuting Jobs (Karsten Strauss, 5/10/16, FORBES)

It turns out that 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

But workers are not simply looking for a more convenient way to do their jobs, they're also looking to save some money. The national average of annual personal savings per telecommuter is $10,594--that's real money. Another upside for the nation as a whole is that those folks not driving to work are also lowering their output of greenhouse gas emissions to the tune of an estimated 3.6 million tons, which allows them to be green while saving on gas.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


America has near record 5.8 million job openings (Patrick Gillespie, 5/10/16, CNNMoney)

Job openings are just about everywhere today.

America had around 5.75 million job openings in March. That's just shy of the all-time high, 5.78 million openings, set last July, according Labor Department data published Tuesday.

Hurry robots...

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Buttermilk grits with bacon gravy (Perre Coleman Magness, MAY 10, 2016, CS Monitor)

For the grits:
2 cups whole buttermilk
2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut in pieces
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 cup stone ground yellow grits

1. Stir the buttermilk, chicken broth, butter and salt together in heavy bottomed large Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat until the butter is melted and it all comes to a low boil.

2. Stir in the grits and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 - 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. The grits should be tender and the liquid absorbed. You may add a bit more broth if needed. When cooked, the grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth.

For the gravy:
5 strips of bacon
I medium yellow onion
3 sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups pork stock or beef stock
generous grinds of black pepper

1. Finely dice the bacon and place in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Finely dice the onion, and when the bacon has released its fat and is beginning to brown, add the onions to the pan. Stir to coat the onions evenly in the bacon grease. Drop in the thyme stalks. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and brown and the bacon is cooked, about 5 - 7 minutes.

2. Place a strainer over a bowl and pour the bacon onion mixture into the strainer. Stir to release as much bacon grease as possible. Discard the thyme stalks. Measure out 2 tablespoons of bacon grease and return it to the pan. Whisk in the flour and cook until smooth. Slowly whisk in the stock, scraping the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you go. Simmer until the gravy begins to thicken, stirring frequently, then stir the bacon and onions back in the pot. Simmer until the gravy has thickened to coat the back of a spoon. Season generously with black pepper. The gravy may be made several hours ahead. Reheat over low, stirring in a little extra stock if you think it needs it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Obama Will Visit Hiroshima to Push for World Without Nuclear Weapons (Morgan Chalfant  , May 10, 2016, Daily Beacon)

President Obama will visit Hiroshima later this month to affirm his commitment to pursuing a world without nuclear weapons.

It's hard to think of a worse place to try and make that argument.  Even setting aside that, with a population of over 1 million people, it demonstrates that nukes are fairly limited weapons, the bombing ended WWII, saved lives and ended a brutal regime.  If anything, it stands for the efficacious use of nuclear weapons and is an indictment of our failure to use them subsequently to similar effect.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


The economy's real drag -- us (Robert J. Samuelson, 5/08/16, Washington Post)

There's an Old Consumer and a New Consumer, divided by the Great Recession. The Old Consumer borrowed eagerly and spent freely. The New Consumer saves soberly and spends prudently. Of course, there are millions of exceptions to these generalizations. Before the recession, not everyone was a credit addict; now, not everyone is a disciplined saver. Still, vast changes in beliefs and habits have occurred.

A Gallup poll shows just how vast. In 2001, Gallup began asking: "Are you the type of person who more enjoys spending money or who more enjoys saving money?" Early responses were almost evenly split; in 2006, 50 percent preferred saving and 45 percent favored spending. After the 2008-09 financial crisis, the gap widened spectacularly. In 2016, 65 percent said saving and only 33 percent spending.

What's happening is the opposite of the credit boom that caused the financial crisis. Then, Americans skimped on saving and binged on borrowing. This stimulated the economy. Now, the reverse is happening. Americans are repaying old debt, avoiding new debt and saving more. 

Our Third Way/Neoconomic future depends on accelerating/encouraging this dynamic--the less people consume (in paid goods and services) the less wealth we have to transfer and the more they save the sooner they hit means-test limits.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


The voice of baseball: Get to know Vin Scully, the man behind the mike : Longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully sits down with SI senior writer Tom Verducci and talks about his 67-year career behind the mic.
undefined (Tom Verducci, May. 10, 2016, Sports Illustrated)

His 67-year run as the voice of the Dodgers--no, wait: the voice of baseball, the voice of our grandparents, our parents, our kids, our summers and our hopes--ends this year. Scully is retiring come October, one month before he turns 89.

One day Dodgers president Stan Kasten mentioned to Scully that he learned the proper execution of a rundown play by reading a book written by Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey, who died in 1965. "I know it," Scully replied, "because Mr. Rickey told me." It suddenly hit Kasten that Scully has been conversing with players who broke into the major leagues between 1905 (Rickey) and 2016 (Dodgers rookie pitcher Ross Stripling). When Scully began his Dodgers broadcasting career, in 1950, the manager of the team was Burt Shotton, a man born in 1884.

It is as difficult to imagine baseball without Scully as it is without 90 feet between bases. To expand upon Red Smith's observation, both are as close as man has ever come to perfection.

"Los Angeles is a city of stars," says Charley Steiner, a fellow Dodgers broadcaster for the past dozen years and, at home games, a regular 5:30 p.m. dinner partner with Scully and Rick Monday, another colleague. "And Vin is the biggest star of them all. I don't care who it is--Arnold, Leo, Spielberg, Kobe, Magic--nobody is bigger than Vin, and I'll tell you why: With everybody else you can find some subset of people who don't like them. Nobody doesn't like Vin Scully.

"Vin is our Babe Ruth. The best there ever was."

Scully was named the most memorable personality in Dodgers history in a fan poll--beating all players--and that was 40 years ago. With Jerry Doggett, Scully formed the longest-running broadcast partnership in history--until his partner retired 29 years ago. Scully was inducted into the broadcaster's wing of the Hall of Fame--34 years ago.

May 9, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


The Cult of Bartolo Colon (Jennifer Rainwater, 5/08/16, Knuckleball)

This season, he was dubbed "the Willie Mays of the infield" after making yet another spectacular over the head basket catch on an infield popup.

Even more recently, he almost beat one of the fastest players in the game in the Cincinnati Reds' Billy Hamilton to first base on an infield ground ball.

In baseball you never really know what will happen and this applies more to Colon than any other player.

So, when Colon took San Diego Padres' starter James Shields deep to left on Saturday for the first home run of his 19-year career, he wowed his teammates and the crowd at San Diego's Petco Park who erupted into enthusiastic, almost hysterical cheers.

His teammates quickly cleared the dugout so Colon wouldn't find anyone waiting for him after he had just rounded the bases for the first time, leaving him alone in the dugout without anyone to congratulate him. Of course he was mobbed by the team seconds later.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Car parts maker Bosch to open business, hire staff in Iran (Reuters, 5/09/16)

German auto parts supplier Robert Bosch is opening an office in Tehran and plans to hire 50 staff by the end of this year because it sees growing potential for Iran's car market following the lifting of international sanctions.

"We are delighted to be back in Iran. In our quest to pick up speed quickly, we are benefiting first and foremost from re-establishing contact with former local partners and customers," said Uwe Raschke, Bosch's management board member responsible for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"The country's potential is tremendous. We expect to see the Iranian economy grow by just under 5 percent this year. The medium term is also highly promising."

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


The GOP Doesn't Seem To Be Cracking Up In Down-Ballot Races (Seth Masket, 5/09/16, 538)

Obviously, we can't run such a counterfactual election, but we can examine Republican nomination contests occurring at the state level across the country right now. After all, if the GOP really is experiencing a hostile takeover, we should be observing this beyond just the presidential level. Party changes tend to occur from the ground up, rather than the top down.

To narrow down the study a bit, let's first look at open-seat Senate and gubernatorial primaries in competitive states where there's substantial competition for the Republican nomination. I wanted to see what sorts of Republicans are running and which candidates seem to be leading the contests.

What I found was a substantial number of experienced, mainstream Republicans leading in their races for major office, which does not suggest a party that is cracking up.

Unfortunately, the top of the ballot will take a lot of good men and women down with it.
Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


A good prognosis for the Affordable Care Act as UnitedHealth says goodbye (Editorial Board, 5/09/16, Washington Post)

Though UnitedHealth is the country's largest health insurer, it is not a dominant player in the marketplaces that the ACA set up for individual insurance buyers. It covers only about 6 percent of 12.7 million marketplace participants. United does not appear to have been very effective at competing to attract customers. An Urban Institute study found that United's premiums tend to be higher than competitors', perhaps because its plans offer wide networks of doctors, hospitals and other providers to choose from, which is expensive. Unsurprisingly, marketplace insurance buyers tend to pick lower-cost options. The Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that even if United stopped participating in all ACA marketplaces, premiums would go up about 1 percent overall.

United's selective exit from ACA marketplaces appears to reflect two positive features of the law. First, Obamacare was meant to spur competition among insurance companies, thus constraining premiums; in many markets, this dynamic appears to be at work, to the detriment of United. Second, the law has curtailed many of the ways that insurers used to contain their costs, such as refusing to cover certain people or certain treatments, or jacking up premiums for older customers. Many insurers on the ACA marketplaces have responded by offering plans that keep costs down by narrowing their networks of providers. This is a better way to contain costs than those the law forbids.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


The Conservative Lessons of 'Captain America' (Daniel Woltornist, May 09, 2016, Daily Signal)

Despite the best attempts of villains in previous Avengers movies, the film begins with earth in one piece. The world isn't occupied by Loki or an alien army--thanks to the Avengers. (In a universe of super-powered baddies, that's not a short order.)

Does this mean that the bad guys aren't doing bad things? Certainly not, the Avengers have consistent hero housekeeping tasks to maintain the status-quo, which sometimes proves messy.

But before you know it--the U.N. is knocking at the Avengers' front door telling them that they aren't doing a good enough job staving off world catastrophes like alien invasions and complete annihilation.

To force the Avengers to do their job better, the "Sokovia Accords" are signed by 117 countries to put the Avengers under U.N. jurisdiction. This is a great idea because when aliens invade next, let's have the U.N. debate if the Avengers should fight the alien invasion. If it turns out anything like regular U.N. deliberations, the Avengers would never be used again because Russia or China negotiated a backroom deal with the aliens so that they would be global governors in the new alien world order.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


US: Islamic State leader killed in Iraq's Anbar province (LOLITA C. BALDOR AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF, May 9, 2016, AP)

Abu Wahib, the 29-year-old commander of the Sunni Al-Anbar Lions militia, was ridiculed on social media last year, after he was photographed standing next to a black IS truck in Iraq's Anbar province, wearing brown camouflage and a black beret.

A member of the anti-Islamic State group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently named Abu Mohammed posted a picture of the bearded Wahib next to a photo of shawarma being roasted on a spit with the caption #same.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


In Israel, most Jews don't see West Bank rule as 'occupation,' most Arabs do (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 9, 2016)

More than two-thirds of Jewish Israelis -- 71.5 percent -- do not consider Israel's control of the West Bank an "occupation," according to a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank released Monday.

The exact same percentage -- 71.5% -- of Arab respondents to the survey said the opposite, according to the May edition of the monthly Peace Index survey.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Payments For Opioids Shifted Substantially To Public And Private Insurers While Consumer Spending Declined, 1999-2012 (Chao Zhou1,*, Curtis S. Florence2 and Deborah Dowell3, Health Affairs)

Deaths from opioid pain reliever overdose in the United States quadrupled between 1999 and 2013, concurrent with an increase in the use of the drugs. We used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to examine trends in opioid pain reliever expenditures, financing by various payers, and use from 1999 to 2012. We found major shifts in expenditures by payer type for these drugs, with private and public insurers paying a much larger share than patients in recent years. Consumer out-of-pocket spending on opioids per 100 morphine milligram equivalents (a standard reference measure of strength for various opioids) declined from $4.40 to $0.90 between 2001 and 2012. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Funding for Bernie Sanders' health care plan would fall $18 trillion short, studies say (Julie Kliegman, 5/09/16, The Week)

The work from the Tax Policy Center and the Urban Institute suggests that Sanders has just $15 trillion planned in new taxes, while his health care plan would cost the government $33 trillion, leaving the poor and middle class to potentially foot more of the bill than the Vermont senator has budgeted for.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Exit Polls Show Split Decision on Donald Trump's Immigration Policies (AARON ZITNER, May 9, 2016, WSJ)

Nativism just isn't popular even among Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Who Is Ready for Baseball's Robot Umpires? (JASON GAY, May 8, 2016, WSJ)

[T]here's one space where no one wants to slow technology's march: sports. Here, we want the tech, we want it precise, and we want it now, especially in the matter of officiating. Officiating (umpiring, refereeing, lines-judging, whatever) is an endeavor in which there is almost zero nostalgia for the human touch, because the human touch means occasionally getting it wrong--and getting it wrong makes 
players, coaches and fans, well, cuckoo.

The other night at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox designated hitter David "Big Papi" Ortiz found himself at the plate in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and Boston trailing by one run. A 3-1 pitch crossed up the Yankee catcher and appeared to dart low and outside, and Ortiz assumed he had drawn a game-tying walk. Nope. Strike two. The ump called another borderline strike on 3-2, and Ortiz went, well, Big Papi went cuckoo.

Disputed calls like that invariably provoke chatter about a surprisingly doable proposal: robot umps. Precise camera tech to pinpoint balls and strikes has existed for years. Even if the pitch tech at Yankee Stadium showed the calls against Ortiz were not so egregious, the suggestion is clear: Had a "robo-ump" been on ball-and-strikes duty, Big Papi may have marched to first base and tied a game the Red Sox instead wound up losing.

Seems reasonable, right? Whenever possible, shouldn't tech be used to make the proper call? There are loads of examples of technology improving accuracy in sports--Hawk-Eye line-calling in tennis, for one, is crisp, quick and enjoyably theatrical (fans clap in anticipation!).

One big problem for umpires is that most telecasts now display strikezone graphics and we can all see how often pitches are called wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


Fed's Evans favors 'wait and see' on more rate hikes ( JAMIE MCGEEVER AND JOHN GEDDIE, 5/09/16, WSJ)

The U.S. economy's fundamentals are solid and growth this year should pick up to around 2.5 percent, but the Federal Reserve's current 'wait and see' approach to monetary policy is appropriate, a Fed policymaker said on Monday.

May 8, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Draghi, Schäuble and the high cost of Germany's savings culture (Wolfgang Munchau, 5/08/16, Financial Times)

By insisting on austerity during the eurozone crisis, and failing to raise investment spending at home, Berlin was instrumental in de­pressing aggregate demand at home and in the eurozone at large. The eurozone's long depression caused a fall in inflation below the target rate of just under 2 per cent. The ECB response has been to cut short-term rates to negative levels and buy financial assets. If German fiscal policy had been neutral during that period, the ECB's job would have been easier. It would have been able to achieve its inflation target and would not have had to cut rates by as much.

It would be useful at that point for Mr. Munchau to explain why no other central bank has been able to increase inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Klan's Trump Fans Rip 'Liberal Media' For Making Them Look Too 'Racist' (Asawin Suebsaeng, 5/08/16, Daily Beast)

[H]igh-ranking members of the Virginia KKK outfit aren't pleased with the Richmond NBC affiliate's report, which was filed by anchor Chris Thomas, a young black man. The group's Grand Dragon (the Imperial Wizard's lieutenant who declined to give his name), told The Daily Beast that the station had erroneously--and libelously --reported that the Rebel Brigade Knights and their leader had "endorsed" Trump for president.

The 5-minute televised report and accompanying online article do not state that the Klansman "endorsed" the real-estate mogul; merely that the Imperial Wizard said he'd be "best" fit for the presidential gig. (However, pieces published at other news outlets linking to the NBC12 story defined it as an endorsement.)

"We knew what would happen--what the liberal media always does," the (anonymous) Grand Dragon told The Daily Beast, before decrying "political correctness" in America and reiterating that Trump would be "best." He alleged that the journalists selectively edited the long interview to make them look as loathsome and bigoted as possible.

"They wanted to make us seem as racist as [they] could," the Dragon said. that the KKK thinks endorsing him would make them appear too racist.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Trump Fallout Is Alienating More Conservatives from the GOP (Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, May 8, 2016, Washington Post)

The extraordinary resistance of many figures on the right this past week to Trump has not been prompted merely by objections to his temperament and fears about his electability in November. At the core has been a calculation by self-identified "movement conservatives" that they would rather preserve their entrenched ideological project than promote a nominee whom they believe would violate their creed and ethos.

"It's a crisis," said Al Cardenas, a former chair of the American Conservative Union who is withholding support for Trump. "If we do away with the fundamental strength of the conservative movement, which is our ideas and values and principles, then you don't have anything left but politics. A movement can survive the loss of an election cycle, but it can't survive the loss of its purpose, and that's what we're battling here."

...and the reality of Anglospheric elections for the past forty or so years is that the candidate most closely associated with the rejection of the Second Way and the embrace of the Third has won.  It does not really matter which party they represent.  Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are just as acceptable as W and Margaret Thatcher. Moreover, it is the alternating willingness of the two major parties--at the leadership level, at least--to run on the Third Way that he obviated the need for a third party.  Even a figure who tends to be cast as a "progressive" like the UR, is more aggressively neoliberal than say Ronald Reagan (an unreconstructed New Dealer) was.

This leaves HiIlary Clinton with a huge opportunity in this election if she runs for Bill's third term (actually, his 7th). Here are a few easy things she could do, that would not alienate her base too badly while making conservatives more comfortable with the prospect of her presidency:

* Talk more about the role of religion in her life and her politics:

  Clinton was recently asked in Iowa what her faith meant to her. She summarized, "My study of the Bible ... has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do."

She outlined a few of the ways she felt commanded to love others through her own life: "taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoners, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up, to find faith themselves."

* Ignore Trump and eschew attacks in favor of a W-esque inclusiveness even with people she disagrees with:

When asked about her thoughts on abortion Tuesday morning, Hillary Clinton may have surprised some by taking the stance that being "pro-life" and a feminist are not mutually exclusive.

During an appearance on ABC's "The View," co-host Candace Cameron-Bure asked Clinton if she thinks it's possible to be a feminist while identifying as "pro-life."

"Yes I do, absolutely," Clinton said.

"They're not mutually exclusive?" Cameron-Bure asked.

"No, absolutely," she said. "Look, I've been, and I'm sure that Whoopi and Joy have been, we've been in these conversations now for, what, 40-plus years, right? And I respect the opinions and beliefs of every woman."

* Acknowledge the shortcomings of Obamacare and propose reforming it in ways that will make it more universal, more generous and more of a wealth-building program:

Enroll everyone in an HSA/catastrophic from birth, means-tested and funded by government where necessary

*  Revive Paul O'Neill's idea for universal savings accounts (which could really just be combined with the HSAs)

If we decided as a society that we were going to put $2,000 a year into a savings account from the day each child was born until he or she reaches age 18 -- and if we assume a 6% annual interest rate -- each child would have $65,520 at age 18. (The worst return for a 25-year investor in the stock market from 1929 before the crash to 2004 was an average of 6% a year.) With no further contributions, again with a 6% interest rate, those savings would grow to $1,013,326 at age 65.

* Revive the partial privatization of SS that both her husband and W backed (and let them be the salesmen):
According to three former top administration officials, President Clinton was strongly considering the partial privatization of Social Security prior to his impeachment in 1999. The revelation was contained in a paper delivered by David Wilcox, an assistant treasury secretary, Douglas Elmendorf, a deputy assistant treasury secretary, and Jeffrey Liebman, an aide with the National Economic Council, at a Harvard University conference last month.

According to these officials, the Clinton administration spent nearly 18 months secretly studying issues surrounding individual accounts and concluded that:

Individual accounts were administratively feasible and would likely cost $20-30 per year per account to administer. However, to hold down costs, individual investment choices would have to be limited until accounts accumulated some level of minimum balance, perhaps $5,000.

Market risks were not a sufficient reason to oppose individual accounts. Administration analysts found that long-term investment was, in reality, relatively safe. The administration also noted that the current Social Security system contains political risks that may well be worse than market risks.

Concerns over redistribution could be addressed through the adjustment of benefit formulas, matching contributions or other means.

* Embrace the free trade crusade of the last 5 presidents, especially the current occupant of the Oval.

* Embrace the free immigration crusade of the last 5 presidents, especially the prior occupant of the Oval.

* Resume the transition to Pigovian neoconomics begun under the prior occupant.  Gas taxes are particularly popular with her base and with conservative economists.

* Propose putting Bill and W in charge of a commission to examine the viability of a Universal Basic Income.

* Take up conservatives on their call for prison reform.

* Pledge to renominate Merrick Garland to the Court, as moderate a nominee as Republicans can hope for.

* Express support for Janet Yellen, to assuage fears of fed radicalism.

* Riskier, but worth considering : pick Jon Huntsman for vp. Or, at the very least, name some Republicans to serious cabinet positions.  This is something W desperately wanted to do, but after Bush v. Gore the candidates for such posts were scared they'd end their careers in Democratic politics.  She'd have no trouble finding Republicans willing to serve under current circumstances.

At the end of the day, conservatives can not be permanently brought into the fold because of social issues.  Nor can the Left be permanently silenced.  So there will be a backlash against Third Way politics--see under Gore v. Clinton or Corbyn v. Blair--and Democrats will run a Second Way candidate next time.  Likewise, chastened by defeat, the GOP will return to the Third Way, nominating the next Jeb rather than the next Trump, and conservatives will resume leadership of the GOP.  But, in the meantime, Mrs. Clinton can run a winning campaign and have a reasonably successful presidency.


Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Find Out If Your Name Was Ahead of Its Time (Chris Wilson,  May 6, 2016, TIME)

Percent of max "Orrin," which peaked in 1915

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


A tale of ice and fire: touring East Iceland : This summer, new flights from the UK to Egilsstaðir, East Iceland, bring this region of volcanoes and fjords within easy reach (Kevin Rushby, 8 May 2016, The Guardian)

We are in Fljótsdalur, an upland valley made famous in the 1930s by novelist Gunnar Gunnarsson, who lived up here. His tales of stoical people battling the elements of ice, water and fire (of the volcanic sort) still ring true today.

Denni tells me that one of his own horses was lost on the high plateau that borders the great ice cap of Vatnajokull for a whole year, and has just been found.

I get in the crate and haul myself over the river - without mishap - to an abandoned house. I peer in at the old bedstead and table: life was abominably hard here, and people were often forced to leave when their luck turned. An hour later, back at Denni's home, Arna shows me the Bible they found when they took over the dwelling, which had also been abandoned. "It's dated 1728, and we think it was left behind when the volcano, Askja, erupted in 1875. The family emigrated to America."

Despite all the departures, however, East Iceland is now experiencing a small but significant return, with people coming back, often to family roots, and finding new ways to make a living, often through tourism. Film-maker Denni was born in East Iceland, but has lived in Rejkjavik and the US. He and Arna are now based here and have built a traditional bađstofa or longhouse for guests. Their fascinating collection of artefacts and antiques from Fljótsdalur history are dotted around. Like many others they believe in slow food and slow tourism: "We encourage guests to go walking, chat in the kitchen, or just play with the dog."

It's a philosophy I find all over the area. Many farms use volunteering websites such as or to bring in visitors who want to stay longer and earn their keep. At one farm they sang the praises of a British student who had just spent a fortnight painting the barn, between making excellent pancakes and doing hill walks.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Mythology Of Trump's 'Working Class' Support (Nate Silver, 5/07/16, 538)

It's been extremely common for news accounts to portray Donald Trump's candidacy as a "working-class" rebellion against Republican elites. There are elements of truth in this perspective: Republican voters, especially Trump supporters, are unhappy about the direction of the economy. Trump voters have lower incomes than supporters of John Kasich or Marco Rubio. And things have gone so badly for the Republican "establishment" that the party may be facing an existential crisis.

But the definition of "working class" and similar terms is fuzzy, and narratives like these risk obscuring an important and perhaps counterintuitive fact about Trump's voters: As compared with most Americans, Trump's voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That's lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it's well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It's also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

...the same older, wealthier, whiter folks who are afraid "the coloreds" are going to get the welfare money (SS & Medicare) they want from the feds themselves. It's why such candidates have to pretend there's an economic and budgetary crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Netanyahu upbraids top general for 'outrageous' Shoah comparison (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 8, 2016)

Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan ignited a firestorm of criticism after telling an audience during a Holocaust memorial ceremony Wednesday night that he saw trends in Israel today that are similar to those in Europe prior to the Holocaust, warning against growing callousness and indifference toward those outside of mainstream Israeli society.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Turkish army kills 55 IS members in Syria: reports (AFP May 8, 2016)

Turkish forces launched a salvo of artillery strikes on northern Syria that killed 55 members of the Islamic State group, Turkish news agencies reported on Sunday.

All against the Salafi.

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Attack That Killed 8 Policemen Near Cairo (AVANEESH PANDEY, 05/08/16, IB Times)

Militants of the Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for an attack Sunday that killed eight police officers south of the Egyptian capital of Cairo. A statement released by the militant group's Egyptian arm reportedly called the attackers part of the "security unit of the caliphate soldiers," who had since returned to their positions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


'A way for me to come out of hiding': Immigrants in U.S. illegally are given a shot to return to their professions (Patrick McGreevy, 5/08/16, LA Times)
In Mexico, Marco Nava was a trained cosmetologist working in a salon. He specialized in hair styling and coloring. But for eight of the nine years since he came to the United States illegally he toiled in the shadows, working as a field hand harvesting grapes near Porterville.

These days, Nava is back in an air-conditioned barbershop doing what he loves thanks to a year-old California law that allows immigrants in the U.S. illegally to apply for state licenses as barbers, cosmetologists, auto mechanics, security guards and other professions.

The law also covers professionals including doctors, nurses, psychologists and pharmacists.

It always embarrassed The Wife when the trainee next to her had already practiced medicine for years.  Of course, most of these things ought not require a license in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


A Prius For The 2020s: Tesla's 'Hell Bent' Push To Make The Model 3 Affordable (Brooke Crothers, 5/08/16, Forbes)

Model 3 in, Prius out.

That's my prediction. The most-prominent symbol to date of the green car could be replaced by the Model 3 -- if Tesla can make lots of them. Elon Musk wasted no time this past week, during the company's earnings conference call, in addressing just that: manufacturing and the laser-like focus  - "hell bent" as he put it -- the company needs to make the electric car that it was born to make.  I like companies that obsess about manufacturing. That alone is a good indicator of future success. (The Intel INTC +0.50% of the 90s is a good example. China-based Foxconn and its manufacturing partnership with Apple AAPL -0.57% is another. And Toyota of course.) Musk made a great argument -- largely overlooked by the numbers-centric media -- for obsessing about manufacturing. "We believe that manufacturing technology is itself subject to a tremendous amount of innovation, and in fact we believe that there is more potential for innovation in manufacturing than there is in the design of a car by a long shot." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 AM


This is what life would actually be like without processed food (Roberto A. Ferdman, May 7, 2016, Washington Post)

To understand what life would be like without any processed food, you would have to go back more than 3 million years, not merely a few decades. And you have to understand the effect of the very first form of food processing: cutting.

This might sound ridiculous, but bear with me, because it's the most primitive form of food processing (cooking, which substantially alters the composition of food, is a significant form of processing, too) and it has changed our lives in ways few people, if any, appreciate.

"If we were to go back to the very beginning of this process that has gone to an extreme today, I think it would really surprise many people," said Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological sciences at Harvard University. "We used to spend a disproportionate amount of our days chewing."

"You can go for an entire day without chewing today, and that's really bizarre from a historical standpoint," he added.

Lieberman pointed to the eating habits of chimpanzees, who spend about half their day chewing, for perspective. That might sound ridiculous, but it's not as far off from how we used to eat than one might think. Our teeth, he said, just aren't capable of breaking certain foods down efficiently without any form of extra-oral food processing (a fancy term for any and all changes food undergoes before it enters our mouths).

The clearest example is our capacity to break down meat, which Lieberman, along with Katherine Zink, who teaches at the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, tested as part of a new study. The researchers had a group of participants chew samples of both meat (goat, in this case) and vegetables (jewel yams, carrots and beets) in various states of processing -- roasted, pounded, sliced and unprocessed (i.e. untouched). And what stood out is how poorly we're able to break down raw meat, even though people have been carnivores for more than 2.5 million years. That is, until they sliced it into smaller bits. [...]

"If I were to give you a piece of goat that's raw, it would be like chewing bubble gum," Lieberman said. "You can't break it down."

But something as simple as cutting it into smaller bits, the first of what has become an endless list of ways in which we change edible things before ingesting them, makes an enormous difference. The process didn't exist until the development of stone tools, but marked the beginning of a long and winding road toward where we are today, when chewing our food is more an afterthought than a several hours affair. 

May 7, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Orestes Brownson and the Unwritten Foundation of American Constitutionalism (Peter Augustine Lawler and Richard M. Reinsch II, Spring 2016, Modern Age)

In his 1865 book, The American Republic, Brownson rearticulates the principles of American constitutionalism. The Civil War and its horrific consequences showed that America's statesmen of his time had not grasped the full truth of the American Founding. To comprehend the guarantees of American constitutionalism requires the incorporation of its unwritten constitution as a historical and philosophical articulation of the meaning of the written constitutional order. As Brownson writes, "There must be for every state or nation a constitution anterior to the constitution which the nation gives itself, and from which the one it gives itself derives all its vitality and legal force." The constitution of the state is given to a people who constitute a republic in a particular territory or geographically delimited place in the world.

This unwritten constitution is found in a people's political culture, mores, customs, disposition, and peculiar talents. The constitution of the government is built on this assemblage of order and is forever connected to it. Thus, the authoritative law of a particular country can't be viewed outside the context of the unwritten constitution. No government built to stand the test of time can be a merely willful construction that defies the historical, spiritual, and cultural materials that have been given to a people.

Notice that the constitution that emerges from Lockean contract theory is consented to by self-interested individuals, and it exists to secure their universal natural rights. Governments are monolithic in their origin, form, and purpose, because individuals are monolithic in their origin, form, and purposes as being uprooted from their particular inheritances and even their biological differentiation. This constitution devised solely in the interest of the rights of individuals is based on the unrealistic abstraction of unrelated autonomous individuals, beings divorced from the privileges and responsibilities of being parents, creatures, and even citizens. Lockean thought isn't political enough to be the foundation of government, and it isn't relational enough to properly articulate the limits of governments with the family or organized religion in mind.

It is true that Locke's social contract teaching was for many Founders the way they justified their independence from Great Britain and the formation of the American union. It is a fact, however, tempered by the statesmanlike compromises they made to secure political unity. The content of those compromises made, from Brownson's view, what they built better than what they knew through their theory, insofar as they took into account the political, religious, familial, and other relational dimensions of the human persons that are slighted by Locke's individualism. The process of political deliberation gave our country's foundation particular or providential content that fleshed out Locke's otherwise abstract or denatured theory.

Brownson affirms the equality of human persons as a fact, but one that entered the world through Christian revelation and was later affirmed as self-evident by philosophers. Equality, as Lincoln says, is our proposition that inspires our devotion. It was brought to America, as Tocqueville says, by our Christian Puritans. That self-evidence, Brownson contends, is undermined by the pure Lockean dimension of the Declaration, where individual sovereignty becomes the foundation of government. Every man, as Locke says, has property in his own person, and, for Brownson, that assertion of absolute self-ownership is, in effect, "political atheism." But, with the providential constitution in mind, the Declaration really does become about the equality of all men by nature under God:

under the law of nature, all men are equal, or have equal rights as men, one man has and can have in himself no right to govern another; and as man is never absolutely his own, but always and everywhere belongs to his Creator, it is clear that no government originating in humanity alone can be a legitimate government. Every such government is founded on the assumption that man is God, which is a great mistake--is, in fact, the fundamental sophism which underlies every error and sin.

Brownson's deep-seated rejection of the implicit atheism of the Lockean effort to transform all of human life in terms of contract and consent is based on his observation that such misguided liberationism or individualistic "secession" inevitably led to the interlocking vices of modern political life: anarchism and consolidation. Social contract thought lacks an external standard higher than man's will that could limit, shape, and condition it. As such, the highest being is man, who would self-create government by consent as a protection against death and to secure property rights.

Brownson contends that the transformational project of self-sovereignty or political atheism as laid out by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau aims, with a misguided conception of human liberty, to displace the complex relationship between the nature of the human person and political order with a world full of self-consciously autonomous individuals. The goal is the scientific or enlightened deconstruction of the free and relational human person in order to reconstruct political order as consciously utilitarian or representing the truth about free and contracting individuals to themselves.

Here's how Brownson describes the pure Lockean doctrine concerning the institution of government among men: "The state is held to be a voluntary association of individuals. Individuals create civil society, and may uncreate it when they judge advisable." Government depends simply on individual will, and not at all on the relational virtues of citizens, beginning, as Brownson says, with the indispensable virtue of loyalty. That means, for example, that the "secessionism" of the Confederates was a necessary consequence of Lockeanism. And that's why Brownson claimed that the Confederates couldn't be charged with treason or civic disloyalty. They may have ultimately misinterpreted the Constitution, but in a way that corresponded to the theory prevalent among its framers.

Brownson's opposition to this theory emerged from his deep reading of the Western political tradition that had articulated the naturalness of political authority, our inbuilt need for society, and with Christian revelation, man's relational capacity and his end in God, which gives his life a purpose beyond government, forever circumscribing its powers.

Brownson contends that the deficiencies in modern political theory are evident in both liberalism and socialism insofar as they reduce man's social and political existence to abstract doctrines of popular sovereignty or egalitarianism without asking what is true and false in both of these conceptions and fully reckoning with the complex requirements necessary for free societies to endure. Brownson criticizes a Continental European liberalism that insisted upon the natural rights of the sovereign individual possessed separately apart from any authoritative preliberal traditions. The problem with this liberalism, Brownson thinks, is its constricted belief that the individual and the state are the only two political realities of modern society needed for a free and decent political order.

The individual armed with a bevy of rights before the state is likely to be swallowed, Brownson observes, by a collectivism made possible by the elimination of various types and scales of communities that stand between the individual and that state. There would, it follows, be no context and content for being a truthfully free and relational person. Only if the person is understood to be more than a consenting individual can the limits to government be more than "negative" or empty. To be sustainable, they must correspond to the whole truth about who we are. Brownson, for this reason, wrote of humanitarian liberals as "abolitionists" about the business of abolishing the real human distinctions that make up the world of particular persons in favor of the leveling of humanity.

The unwritten or providential constitution replaces the social contract in order to ground the actual Constitution by limiting the range of potentialities it can develop and manifest. These limits also provide reasons for affirmation of an architecture of devotion to a country's actual constitution, its way of life. This particular or political way of thinking recaptures something of the Greek polis, but with the Christian addition that each of us is more than a citizen through our relational devotion as creatures to the church. The American republic is also to be distinguished from the tribe in its devotion to a common good that's much more than collective selfishness. The American idea of the providential constitution places our particular country under the universal yet still relational and personal God.
Thus, America's written Constitution of 1787 has to be understood by the unwritten order of its common law heritage, the colonists' practice of self-government, religious pluralism, the colonies as separate and then unified political actors in war, largely democratic emigration patterns, and colonial resistance to and gained independence from an empire that had abused historic common law rights and its own tradition of limited government. Our framers built as statesmen, and as such they drew from all the sources that history, philosophy, political precedent, religion, and the rest of our civilized tradition had given them.

In the absence of God there is neither an imperative for freedom nor a necessity for controlling same--republican liberty can not be well defended.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


The Cost of the Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later (EVAN OSNOS, 5/06/16, The New Yorker)

In 1979, three years after the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited the United States. At a state banquet, he was seated near the actress Shirley MacLaine, who told Deng how impressed she had been on a trip to China some years earlier. She recalled her conversation with a scientist who said that he was grateful to Mao Zedong for removing him from his campus and sending him, as Mao did millions of other intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution, to toil on a farm. Deng replied, "He was lying."

May 16th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Mao launched China on a campaign to purify itself of saboteurs and apostates, to find the "representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture" and drive them out with "the telescope and microscope of Mao Zedong Thought." By the time the Cultural Revolution sputtered to a halt, there were many ways to tally its effects: about two hundred million people in the countryside suffered from chronic malnutrition, because the economy had been crippled; up to twenty million people had been uprooted and sent to the countryside; and up to one and a half million had been executed or driven to suicide.  [...]

[T]here are deeper parallels between this moment in China and the time in which Xi came of age, as a teen-ager in the Cultural Revolution, which illuminate just how enduring some of the features of Mao's Leninist system have proved to be. Xi, in his constant moves to identify enemies and eliminate them, has revived the question that Lenin considered the most important of all: "Kto, Kovo?"--"Who, whom?" In other words, in every interaction, the question that matters is which force wins and which force loses. Mao and his generation, who grew up amid scarcity, saw no room for power-sharing or for pluralism; he called for "drawing a clear distinction between us and the enemy." "Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?" This, Mao said, was "a question of first importance for the revolution." China today, in many respects, bears little comparison with the world that Mao inhabited, but on that question Xi Jinping is true to his roots.

That zero-sum view is distorting China's relations with the outside world, including with the United States. It was easy to laugh off the news last month that China had marked "National Security Education Day" by releasing a poster that warns female government workers about the dangers of dating foreigners, who could turn out to be spies. The cartoon poster, called "Dangerous Love," chronicled the hapless romance of Little Li, a Chinese civil servant, who falls for David, a red-headed foreign scholar, only to end up giving him secret internal documents. Other recent news has been cause for concern: in April, after years of warnings, from senior leaders, that foreign N.G.O.s might seek to pollute Chinese society with subversive Western political ideas, China passed a law to sharply control their activities. The law gives sweeping new powers to China's police in monitoring foundations, charities, and advocacy organizations, some of which have operated in China for decades. Many N.G.O.s had warned that the law, if passed, would cripple their ability to function, and they are now considering whether they can operate under the new arrangement.

As China, fifty years after the Cultural Revolution, weighs the impulse to insulate itself, once again, from foreign influence, it is worth considering that the costs may be more severe than we appreciate in real time. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Same but Different : How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture. (SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE, 5/02/16, The New Yorker)

The Minnesota twin study raised questions about the depth and pervasiveness of qualities specified by genes: Where in the genome, exactly, might one find the locus of recurrent nightmares or of fake sneezes? Yet it provoked an equally puzzling converse question: Why are identical twins different? Because, you might answer, fate impinges differently on their bodies. One twin falls down the crumbling stairs of her Calcutta house and breaks her ankle; the other scalds her thigh on a tipped cup of coffee in a European station. Each acquires the wounds, calluses, and memories of chance and fate. But how are these changes recorded, so that they persist over the years? We know that the genome can manufacture identity; the trickier question is how it gives rise to difference.

David Allis, who has been studying the genome's face for identity and difference for three decades, runs a laboratory at Rockefeller University, in New York. For a scientist who has won virtually all of science's most important prizes except the Nobel (and that has been predicted for years), Allis is ruthlessly self-effacing--the kind of person who offers to leave his name on a chit at the faculty lunchroom because he has forgotten his wallet in the office. ("We know who you are," the woman at the cash register says, laughing.)

As a child, Allis grew up in the leeward shadow of his sister, a fraternal twin, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the studious one, the straight-A student; he was the popular kid, the high-school fraternity president casual about his schoolwork. "We were similar but different," Allis said. At some point in college, though, Allis's studies became a calling rather than a chore. In 1978, having obtained a Ph.D. in biology at Indiana University, Allis began to tackle a problem that had long troubled geneticists and cell biologists: if all the cells in the body have the same genome, how does one become a nerve cell, say, and another a blood cell, which looks and functions very differently?

In the nineteen-forties, Conrad Waddington, an English embryologist, had proposed an ingenious answer: cells acquired their identities just as humans do--by letting nurture (environmental signals) modify nature (genes). For that to happen, Waddington concluded, an additional layer of information must exist within a cell--a layer that hovered, ghostlike, above the genome. This layer would carry the "memory" of the cell, recording its past and establishing its future, marking its identity and its destiny but permitting that identity to be changed, if needed. He termed the phenomenon "epigenetics"--"above genetics." Waddington, ardently anti-Nazi and fervently Marxist, may have had more than a biological stake in this theory. The Nazis had turned a belief in absolute genetic immutability ("a Jew is a Jew") into a state-mandated program of sterilization and mass murder. By affirming the plasticity of nature ("everyone can be anyone"), a Marxist could hope to eradicate such innate distinctions and achieve a radical collective good.

Waddington's hypothesis was perhaps a little too inspired. No one had visualized a gene in the nineteen-forties, and the notion of a layer of information levitating above the genome was an abstraction built atop an abstraction, impossible to test experimentally. "By the time I began graduate school, it had largely been forgotten," Allis said.

Had Allis started his experiments in the nineteen-eighties trying to pin down words like "identity" and "memory," he might have found himself lost in a maze of metaphysics. But part of his scientific genius lies in radical simplification: he has a knack for boiling problems down to their tar. What allows a cell to maintain its specialized identity? A neuron in the brain is a neuron (and not a lymphocyte) because a specific set of genes is turned "on" and another set of genes is turned "off." The genome is not a passive blueprint: the selective activation or repression of genes allows an individual cell to acquire its identity and to perform its function. When one twin breaks an ankle and acquires a gash in the skin, wound-healing and bone-repairing genes are turned on, thereby recording a scar in one body but not the other.

But what turns those genes on and off, and keeps them turned on or off? Why doesn't a liver cell wake up one morning and find itself transformed into a neuron? Allis unpacked the problem further: suppose he could find an organism with two distinct sets of genes--an active set and an inactive set--between which it regularly toggled. If he could identify the molecular switches that maintain one state, or toggle between the two states, he might be able to identify the mechanism responsible for cellular memory. "What I really needed, then, was a cell with these properties," he recalled when we spoke at his office a few weeks ago. "Two sets of genes, turned 'on' or 'off' by some signal."

Allis soon found his ideal subject: a bizarre single-celled microbe called Tetrahymena. Blob-shaped cells surrounded by dozens of tiny, whiskery projections called cilia, Tetrahymena are improbable-looking--each a hairy Barbapapa, or a Mr. Potato Head who fell into a vat of Rogaine. "Perhaps the strangest thing about this strange organism is that it carries two very distinct collections of genes," he told me. "One is completely shut off during its normal life cycle and another is completely turned on. It's really black-and-white." Then, during reproduction, an entirely different nucleus wakes up and goes into action. "So we could now ask, What signal, or mechanism, allows Tetrahymena to regulate one set of genes versus the next?"

By the mid-nineteen-nineties, Allis had found an important clue. Genes are typically carried in long, continuous chains of DNA: one such chain can carry hundreds of thousands of genes. But a chain of DNA does not typically sit naked in animal cells; it is wrapped tightly around a core of proteins called histones. To demonstrate, Allis stood up from his desk, navigated his way through stacks of books and papers, and pointed at a model. A long plastic tube, cerulean blue, twisted sinuously around a series of white disks, like a python coiled around a skewer of marshmallows.

"Histones had been known as part of the inner scaffold for DNA for decades," Allis went on. "But most biologists thought of these proteins merely as packaging, or stuffing, for genes." When Allis gave scientific seminars in the early nineties, he recalled, skeptics asked him why he was so obsessed with the packing material, the stuff in between the DNA. His protozoan studies supplied an answer. "In Tetrahymena, the histones did not seem passive at all," he said. "The genes that were turned 'on' were invariably associated with one form of histone, while the genes that were turned 'off' were invariably associated with a different form of histone." A skein of silk tangled into a ball has very different properties from that same skein extended; might the coiling or uncoiling of DNA change the activity of genes?

In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. "We became interested in the process of histone modification," he said. "What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes." The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications--inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.

Allis walked me to his lab, a fluorescent-lit space overlooking the East River, divided by wide, polished-stone benches. A mechanical stirrer, whirring in a corner, clinked on the edge of a glass beaker. "Two features of histone modifications are notable," Allis said. "First, changing histones can change the activity of a gene without affecting the sequence of the DNA." It is, in short, formally epi-genetic, just as Waddington had imagined. "And, second, the histone modifications are passed from a parent cell to its daughter cells when cells divide. A cell can thus record 'memory,' and not just for itself but for all its daughter cells."

By 2000, Allis and his colleagues around the world had identified a gamut of proteins that could modify histones, and so modulate the activity of genes. Other systems, too, that could scratch different kinds of code on the genome were identified (some of these discoveries predating the identification of histone modifications). One involved the addition of a chemical side chain, called a methyl group, to DNA. The methyl groups hang off the DNA string like Christmas ornaments, and specific proteins add and remove the ornaments, in effect "decorating" the genome. The most heavily methylated parts of the genome tend to be dampened in their activity.

In the ensuing decade, Allis wrote enormous, magisterial papers in which a rich cast of histone-modifying proteins appear and reappear through various roles, mapping out a hatchwork of complexity. (His twin, Cathy Allis, is an ace crossword-puzzle constructor, having supplied Times readers with nearly a hundred puzzles--an activity that is similar but different.) These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add "memories" to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny. "There's an epigenetic code, just like there's a genetic code," Allis said. "There are codes to make parts of the genome more active, and codes to make them inactive."

And epigenetics could transform whole animals. "The idea that cells can acquire profoundly different properties by manipulating their epigenome was becoming known," Danny Reinberg told me. "But that you could create different forms of a creature out of the same genome using epigenetics? That was a real challenge."

Even putative Darwinists are Lamarckists.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM

OUR FEARLESS LEADER (self-reference alert):

The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort Of) Rattled the Scientific Community : An improbable tale of how a British maverick harnessed crowdsourced meteorological discoveries to reveal the poetic wonders of the sky. (JON MOOALLE, MMAY 4, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

Gavin Pretor-Pinney decided to take a sabbatical. It was the summer of 2003, and for the last 10 years, as a sideline to his graphic-design business in London, he and a friend had been running a magazine called The Idler. The Idler was devoted to the "literature for loafers." It argued against busyness and careerism and for the ineffable value of aimlessness, of letting the imagination quietly coast. Pretor-Pinney anticipated all the jokes: that he'd burned out running a magazine devoted to doing nothing, and so on. But it was true. Getting the magazine out was taxing, and after a decade, it seemed appropriate to stop for a while and live without a plan -- to be an idler himself and shake free space for fresh ideas. So he swapped his flat in London for one in Rome, where everything would be new and anything could happen.

Pretor-Pinney is 47, towering and warm, with a sandy beard and pale blue eyes. His face is often totally lit up, as if he's being told a story and can feel some terrific surprise coming. He stayed in Rome for seven months and loved it, especially all the religious art. One thing he noticed: The paintings and frescoes he encountered were crowded with clouds. They were everywhere, he told me recently, "these voluptuous clouds, like the sofas of the saints." But outside, when Pretor-Pinney looked up, the real Roman sky was usually devoid of clouds. He wasn't accustomed to such endless, blue emptiness. He was an Englishman; he was accustomed to clouds. He remembered, as a child, being enchanted by them and deciding that people must climb long ladders to harvest cotton from them. Now, in Rome, he couldn't stop thinking about clouds. "I found myself missing them," he told me.

Clouds. It was a bizarre preoccupation, perhaps even a frivolous one, but he didn't resist it. He went with it, as he often does, despite not having a specific goal or even a general direction in mind; he likes to see where things go. When Pretor-Pinney returned to London, he talked about clouds constantly. He walked around admiring them, learned their scientific names and the meteorological conditions that shape them and argued with friends who complained they were oppressive or drab. He was realizing, as he later put it, that "clouds are not something to moan about. They are, in fact, the most dynamic, evocative and poetic aspect of nature."

Slowing down to appreciate clouds enriched his life and sharpened his ability to appreciate other pockets of beauty hiding in plain sight. At the same time, Pretor-Pinney couldn't help noting, we were entering an era in which miraculousness was losing its meaning. Novel, purportedly amazing things ricocheted around the Internet so quickly that, as he put it, we can now all walk around with an attitude like, "Well, I've just seen a panda doing something unusual online, what's going to amaze me now?" His fascination with clouds was teaching him that "it's much better for our souls to realize we can be amazed and delighted by what's around us."

At the end of 2004, a friend invited Pretor-Pinney to give a talk about clouds at a small literary festival in Cornwall. The previous year, there were more speakers than attendees, so Pretor-Pinney wanted an alluring title for his talk, to draw a crowd. "Wouldn't it be funny," he thought, "to have a society that defends clouds against the bad rap they get -- that stands up for clouds?" So he called it "The Inaugural Lecture of the Cloud Appreciation Society." And it worked. Standing room only! Afterward, people came up to him and asked for more information about the Cloud Appreciation Society. They wanted to join the society. "And I had to tell them, well, I haven't really got a society," Pretor-Pinney said.

He set up a website. It was simple. There was a gallery for posting photographs of clouds, a membership form and a florid manifesto. ("We believe that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them," it began.) Pretor-Pinney wasn't offering members of his new Cloud Appreciation Society any perks or activities, but to keep it all from feeling ephemeral or imaginary, as many things on the Internet do, he eventually decided that membership should cost $15 and that members would receive a badge and certificate in the mail. He recognized that joining an online Cloud Appreciation Society that only nominally existed might appear ridiculous, but it was important to him that it not feel meaningless.

Within a couple of months, the society had 2,000 paying members. Pretor-Pinney was surprised and ecstatic. Then, Yahoo placed the Cloud Appreciation Society first on its 2005 list of Britain's "Weird and Wonderful websites." People kept clicking on that clickbait, which wasn't necessarily surprising, but thousands of them also clicked through to Pretor-Pinney's own website, then paid for memberships. Other news sites noticed. They did their own articles about the Cloud Appreciation Society, and people followed the links in those articles too. Previously, Pretor-Pinney proposed writing a book about clouds and was rejected by 28 editors. Now he was a viral sensation with a vibrant online constituency; he got a deal to write a book about clouds.

The writing process was agonizing. On top of not actually being a writer, he was a brutal perfectionist. But "The Cloudspotter's Guide," published in 2006, was full of glee and wonder. Pretor-Pinney relays, for example, the story of the United States Marine pilot who, in 1959, ejected from his fighter jet over Virginia and during the 40 minutes it took him to reach the ground was blown up and down through a cumulonimbus cloud about as high as Mount Everest. He surveys clouds in art history and Romantic poetry and compares one exceptionally majestic formation in Australia to "Cher in the brass armor bikini and gold Viking helmet outfit she wore on the sleeve of her 1979 album 'Take Me Home.' " In the middle of the book, there's a cloud quiz. Question No. 5 asks of a particular photograph, "What is it that's so pleasing about this layer of stratocumulus?" The answer Pretor-Pinney supplies is "It is pleasing for whatever reason you find it to be."

We watched the BBC documentary years ago and The Wife and kids made me a member for my 50th:

I try to post a cloud picture every day at Cloudspotting 03755.  It's oddly therapeutic, an interesting way to take one out of oneself however briefly every day.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


The War in Spain Has Ended Long Ago : Review: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, by Adam Hochschild (Joseph Bottum  , May 7, 2016, Free Beacon)

More interesting have been the reviews by the oldsters, the ones who remember the days when--even forty, fifty, sixty years after Generalissimo Franco's victory ended the fighting--we took the Spanish Civil War as a living symbol for something important. The review in the New York Times, for example, was by Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent, an old leftist magazine whose very existence in these late days resounds like a call from a distant and dying trumpet. Bob Drogin, a longtime and old-fashioned newspaperman, reviewed the book for the Los Angeles Times, and "few distant conflicts are so burned into our culture and consciousness," he notes. Which is perfectly true, if one is of an age. I suspect his younger colleagues at the Los Angeles Times lack a consciousness seared by the bombing of Guernica and the street fighting in Madrid.

In reviews such as Kazin's, matching the line Hochschild himself takes in the book, we can discern something that might be called Orwell's posthumous victory. As Spain in Our Hearts notes, nearly 40,000 foreigners dodged the international non-intervention regulations and journeyed to Spain to fight on the Republican side. Among them was George Orwell, who arrived in Spain at the end of December 1936 to join the mixed brigades of Stalinists, socialists, Trotskyites, and anarchists supporting the Spanish Republican forces. After being caught up in intra-left battles in Barcelona--and called a fascist by the Spanish communists, who would later try him in absentia for treason--he was wounded by a sniper's bullet. Returning to England to recuperate in 1937, only seven months after he left, he wrote a book about the whole sad mess, published in 1938 as Homage to Catalonia.

The naiveté of leftist forces that Orwell chronicled quickly became the standard narrative about foreign fighters during the Spanish Republicans' defeat in 1939. But before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was still resistance to Orwell's claim that the Russian-backed communists were determined to lose the war if winning came at the price of allowing non-Stalinist radicals to gain power in Spain. Nowadays, reviewers such as Kazin simply take it as read: The Soviets demanded control in return for material aid--a "devil's bargain," as Hochschild puts it--and their attempts to purge the ranks of Republican forces contributed greatly to Franco's Nationalist victory

Naiveté was certainly a dominant feature of the 2,800 Americans who traveled to Spain to support the leftist government. Many of them formed the Lincoln Brigade, which later generations of American radicals would mythologize in story and song, and about 800 of them would die in the war. (The last surviving confirmed member of the brigade--a self-proclaimed "unreconstructed communist" named Delmer Berg--died this February at age 100.) Focusing on individual stories about those Americans, Hochschild uses Spain in Our Hearts to explore the inexperience and impracticality of those who felt that the Spanish struggle demanded their involvement.

"There seemed a moral clarity about the crisis in Spain," Hochschild notes, but in history as it actually unfolds, many claims of moral clarity have a large share of moral myopia. Spain in Our Hearts recounts the tale of Lois Orr, for example, who traveled to Spain with her husband Charles and in 1936 wrote home that they were "living the revolution," in a world where "anything was possible, a new heaven and a new earth were being formed." All this, while she spoke barely a word of Spanish and was living, not so much among the peasants and proletariat, but in a luxury apartment the Republicans had seized from the local German consul.

...just compare the modern history of Spain and its nearly $30k per capita GDP to any of the middle/Eastern European states that fell to communism (just to take one at random, Romania's GDP per capita is less than a third of Spain's).

Franco was the best thing that ever happened to Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Champs-Elysees in Paris goes car-free on Sunday (The Local, 07 May 2016)

The constant thunder of cars on Paris' most famous boulevard will be silenced Sunday when the Champs-Elysees goes pedestrian-only for the day in the first instalment of a monthly effort to tackle pollution.

Paris is the archetype of the city that should be converted to the Disneyworld model.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


The Job Market's Missing Middle (Mark Whitehouse, 5/06/16, Bloomberg)

Why are so many people unhappy about a U.S. economy that has generated more than 12 million jobs over the past five years? One explanation: A lot of those jobs don't pay very well.

The latest U.S. employment report illustrates a persistent contrast between the labor market and the broader economy. Non-farm employers added an estimated 160,000 jobs in April -- less than forecasters expected, but still more than enough to compensate for natural growth in the labor force. The unemployment rate has remained at a low 5 percent (or even lower) for seven months straight.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Fewer people die in hospital at weekends, study finds (Sarah Boseley, 6 May 2016, The Local)

Fewer people - not more - die in hospital at weekends than during the week, according to a major study which contradicts evidence cited by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to justify the imposition of new contracts on junior doctors.

Hunt has repeatedly stated that junior doctors must routinely work at weekends because the higher death rate is linked to lower staffing levels.

The less health care you receive the better off you are.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


If You Are What You Eat, America Is Allrecipes : The nation's most popular recipe site reveals the enormous gap between foodie culture and what people actually cook. (Nicholas Hune-Brown, 5/06/16, Slate)

In 2009, Cook's Illustrated founder Christopher Kimball wrote a eulogy for Gourmet, the glossy Condé Nast magazine that was being shuttered after nearly seven decades. The publication had been a home for people who valued culinary expertise, wrote Kimball--a place with "respect for those who had earned the chops, as it were, who had a lifetime of good breeding and experience in order to stand at the cultural helm." In its place, Kimball saw a food culture overrun by "a million instant pundits" promoting slapdash, amateur fare. "Google 'broccoli casserole' and make the first recipe you find," he wrote. "I guarantee it will be disappointing."

The first Google result for broccoli casserole (at least when I checked the other week, though the algorithm seems to change daily) is a dish by a home cook named Stacy M. Polcyn. "Awesome Broccoli-Cheese Casserole" calls for one can of condensed cream of mushroom soup; one cup of mayonnaise; three packages of frozen broccoli; 8 ounces of cheddar cheese; an egg; a quarter cup of chopped onion; then salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Mix everything together, bake at 350. The dish has been given hundreds of five-star ratings from people who leave comments suggesting tweaks ("I added 1 teaspoon garlic salt") and expressing their enthusiasm ("All I have to say is YUM!"). It is, of course, from

In the world of online recipe aggregators, Allrecipes is distinctly unglamorous. While rival website Epicurious culls recipes from Bon Appétit and the now-defunct Gourmet, Allrecipes takes crowdsourced creations from home cooks and then writes them up in standardized form. In the era of the ornate food description, Allrecipes favors a house style shorn of ostentation. The site uses "stir" or "cook" instead of "sauté" ("because that's a French word," explains Esmee Williams, Allrecipes' vice president of consumer and brand strategy). Sugar cookies are "easy." Pancakes are "old fashioned." Many, many dishes are "creamy."

And at a time when readers of aspirational food websites are used to images of impossibly perfect dishes--each microgreen artfully placed by some tweezer-wielding stylist--Allrecipes offers amateur snaps of amateur meals. The site is awash with close-ups of sludgy-looking soups; photos of stuffed peppers that look like they've been captured in the harsh, unforgiving light of a public washroom; and shot after shot documenting the myriad ways that melted cheese can congeal. It is all, Kimball and his ilk would agree, extremely disappointing. It's also perhaps the most accurate, democratic snapshot of American culinary desires.

At the end of the day, someone has to eat what you make.  It ought to taste good.

The Kimball's of the world remind one of the scene in King of the Hill where A.E. Hotchner was reduced to eating pictures of food.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Refuge: One Syrian family's long odyssey to Georgia : Of the 4.5 million Syrians who have fled their nation's bloody civil war, fewer than 3,000 have made it to America. This is one family's story. (Matthew Shaer, 5/05/16, Atlanta)

Since 2011 at least 4.5 million people--close to a quarter of the country's population--have fled the civil war in Syria. More than 200,000 languish in overcrowded refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq. Others have attempted to flee by land or sea to Europe, often with tragic results. In 2015 a photo of the waterlogged corpse of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who had perished along with his five-year-old brother while attempting to sail with his family from Turkey to Greece, made the cover of newspapers around the globe. Around the same time, an Austrian autobahn worker opened the back doors of an apparently abandoned trailer to find 71 dead Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans inside. It eventually emerged that the traffickers hired to take the refugees further into Europe had failed to modulate the temperature in the trailer; the refugees had all suffocated.

As Paedia Mixon, the head of the nonprofit New American Pathways, told me recently when I met her in her office in Atlanta, the mad scramble to leave Syria has strained governments trying to accommodate refugees. "I've been working with refugees for a long time now, and I have never seen a situation like this," she says. "It is a crisis in every sense of the word."

Mixon, who is slight and red-haired, started her career at Catholic Charities in Atlanta before moving to the Carter Center, where she focused on peace program development. In 2005 she took a job at what is now New American Pathways, one of five resettlement agencies in Georgia and an affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Church World Service, a network of Christian organizations. Operating largely on government grants and an annual budget of $5 million, the 60-odd employees took on 200 new cases last year with families coming from a range of countries: Bhutan, Somalia, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan.

For most of these families, New American Pathways represents the final leg of a long journey that started when they filed a request with the United Nations for refugee status. If the family has demonstrated a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion," a security and medical screen is initiated.

Requirements vary depending on the country that will host the refugees. Families wishing to enter the United States, for instance, must pass a multipart evaluation carried out abroad by the State Department. They submit to biometric scans and give blood and DNA samples. Officials interview family members and known associates.

Once the family has received clearance, the files eventually get forwarded to groups like New American Pathways, which help with acclimation in the U.S. "We'll get this bio in the mail, and it'll be one page--everything you need to know about somebody in one page, if you can imagine that," Mixon says. "Then we decide whether to accept or deny the case. We almost always accept. But it could be two months before we see the family. Or two years. Or it could not happen at all--a hitch in the screening process that prevents them from coming."

The International Organization for Migration loans the family money for travel; stateside, groups like New American Pathways steer the family through a crash course in everything from Social Security and medical insurance enrollment to navigating mass transit. Employment specialists maintain relationships with local factories and warehouses, and they arrange English language instruction and classes on American culture.

"In those first six months, the goal is to get people self-sufficient," Mixon says. "You want them to understand the community, to be able to navigate on their own. And to be able to work to provide for their families."

Until last year New American Pathways had never helped resettle a family from Syria. That changed with the escalation of the civil war. "It was obvious just from watching the news that we needed to be prepared," Mixon says. "We had the capacity; we had several Arabic speakers on staff, and we'd handled cases from Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan."

In late 2014 the United States committed to increasing the number of Syrian refugees it took in from just 350 that year to 10,000 in 2015. (By comparison, at the same time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pledging to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees; Germany has since taken in 250,000.)

Through State Department contacts, New American Pathways signaled it had the capacity and the language skills to handle some of that influx.

The first four Syrian families assigned to New American Pathways began arriving in Atlanta in the spring of last year. In stark contrast to the anti-immigrant furor that would arise in the wake of the fall terrorist attacks in Paris--attacks initially and erroneously linked to Syrian refugees traveling on fake passports--the refugees were greeted warmly. The Facebook page of New American Pathways overflowed with welcoming comments from well-wishers. Donations poured in.

"I know it's corny to think of us as 'The City Too Busy to Hate,' but in some ways I think that there's some truth to that," Mixon says. "And there was real empathy--a shared understanding that all parents love their children and have the same hopes and dreams for them. If these parents are willing to put their children on an overcrowded raft and take off into the ocean, then what they're leaving behind must be so completely horrible."

Over the course of 2015, New American Pathways processed paperwork for 11 Syrian families. One of the last came in August and landed on the desk of Sarah McCormick, a case manager. Opening the file, she began reading about a laborer named Amin. He and his wife and their five children were seeking refuge in the U.S.

We all like to pretend that if we'd been around in the '30s we'd have forced FDR to welcome Jewish refugees rather than return them to Germany to die.  Given the opportunity to outperform our elders we are failing ourselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


A White Church No More (RUSSELL MOORE, MAY 6, 2016, NY Times)

YEARS ago, members of a Southern Baptist church in suburban Birmingham, Ala., who couldn't figure out why their church was in decline asked a friend of mine for advice. The area had been majority white during the violent years of Jim Crow. While civil rights protesters were beaten and children were blown apart by bombs, church members had said nothing. That would be "political," church members said, and they wanted to stick to "simple gospel preaching."

As the years marched on, the area became majority black. The congregation dwindled to a small band of elderly whites who now lived elsewhere. They tried, they said, to "reach out" to the church's African-American neighbors, but couldn't get them to join.

A canvass of the area would have told them that the church had already sent a message to those neighbors when it had stood silent in the face of atrocity. Those neighbors now had no interest in bailing out a congregation with a ministry too cowardly to speak up for righteousness when it had seemed too costly to do so.

As of this week, the nation faces a crazier election season than many of us ever imagined, with Donald J. Trump as the all-but-certain nominee of the Republican Party. Regardless of the outcome in November, his campaign is forcing American Christians to grapple with some scary realities that will have implications for years to come.

This election has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country. There are not-so-coded messages denouncing African-Americans and immigrants; concern about racial justice and national unity is ridiculed as "political correctness." Religious minorities are scapegoated for the sins of others, with basic religious freedoms for them called into question. Many of those who have criticized Mr. Trump's vision for America have faced threats and intimidation from the "alt-right" of white supremacists and nativists who hide behind avatars on social media. [...]

The thriving churches of American Christianity are multigenerational, theologically robust, ethnically diverse and connected to the global church. If Jesus is alive -- and I believe that he is -- he will keep his promise and build his church. But he never promises to do that solely with white, suburban institutional evangelicalism.

The question is whether evangelicals will be on the right side of Jesus. That will mean standing up for the church's future leaders, and for our mission, especially when they are politically powerless. American Christianity faces a test of whether we will identify as Christians first. Majorities come and majorities go. And sometimes a silent majority is too silent for its own good.

Some responsibilities simply precede those to our party, not least those to God and country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Trumps Harsh Words on Immigration Is Motivating Immigrants (SERGIO BUSTOS, 5/03/16, Associated Press)

Tens of thousands of immigrants are applying for U.S. citizenship in a year when immigration is at the center in this year's presidential campaign.

Many immigration advocates say fear of Donald Trump becoming president is motivating many longtime immigrants to apply for citizenship, so they can vote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies : For years Donald Heathfield, Tracey Foley and their two children lived the American dream. Then an FBI raid revealed the truth: they were agents of Putin's Russia. Their sons tell their story (Shaun Walker, 7 May 2016, The Guardian)

Tim Foley turned 20 on 27 June 2010. To celebrate, his parents took him and his younger brother Alex out for lunch at an Indian restaurant not far from their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both brothers were born in Canada, but for the past decade the family had lived in the US. The boys' father, Donald Heathfield, had studied in Paris and at Harvard, and now had a senior role at a consultancy firm based in Boston. Their mother, Tracey Foley, had spent many years focused on raising her children, before taking a job as a real estate agent. To those who knew them, they seemed a very ordinary American family, albeit with Canadian roots and a penchant for foreign travel. Both brothers were fascinated by Asia, a favoured holiday destination, and the parents encouraged their sons to be inquisitive about the world: Alex was only 16, but had just returned from a six-month student exchange in Singapore.

After a buffet lunch, the four returned home and opened a bottle of champagne to toast Tim reaching his third decade. The brothers were tired; they had thrown a small house party the night before to mark Alex's return from Singapore, and Tim planned to go out later. After the champagne, he went upstairs to message his friends about the evening's plans. There came a knock at the door, and Tim's mother called up that his friends must have come early, as a surprise.

At the door, she was met by a different kind of surprise altogether: a team of armed, black-clad men holding a battering ram. They streamed into the house, screaming, "FBI!" Another team entered from the back; men dashed up the stairs, shouting at everyone to put their hands in the air. Upstairs, Tim had heard the knock and the shouting, and his first thought was that the police could be after him for underage drinking: nobody at the party the night before had been 21, and Boston police took alcohol regulations seriously.

When he emerged on to the landing, it became clear the FBI was here for something far more serious. The two brothers watched, stunned, as their parents were put in handcuffs and driven away in separate black cars. Tim and Alex were left behind with a number of agents, who said they needed to begin a 24-hour forensic search of the home; they had prepared a hotel room for the brothers. One of the men told them their parents had been arrested on suspicion of being "unlawful agents of a foreign government".

Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. They were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley
Alex presumed there had been some mistake - the wrong house, or a mix-up over his father's consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the US, in an FBI operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake.

But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys' parents.

Their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were both born in the Soviet Union, had undergone training in the KGB and been dispatched abroad as part of a Soviet programme of deep-cover secret agents, known in Russia as the "illegals". After a slow-burning career building up an ordinary north American background, the pair were now active agents for the SVR, the foreign spy agency of modern Russia and a successor to the KGB. They, along with eight other agents, had been betrayed by a Russian spy who had defected to the Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


The Horrors of Communism: Roland Joffe's "The Killing Fields"  (Bradley J. Birzer, 5/07/16, Imaginative Conservative)

In 1969, President Richard Nixon began a secret, illegal, and unconstitutional incursion into Cambodia, correctly believing that Vietnamese communists were using rural parts of the country to transport weapons from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. He ordered carpet-bombing as well as the establishment of military bases in Cambodia. The struggle between American and communist forces quickly destabilized the region, radicalizing many of the already-radical elements in the country.

The most important of the insurgents was a group of existentialist communists, the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians), under the leadership of Pol Pot (an assumed name and title) and his organization, The Ankor (The Organization). Pol Pot (1925-1998) was born, Saloth Sar. Though a Roman Catholic and a devout Jeffersonian coming out of high school, Sar attended university in in Paris, from 1949 to 1953, where he came under the influence of several Marxists and, especially, under the influence of the radical, former Nazi-collaborator-turned-communist, philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

When Sar returned to Cambodia in 1953, he allied himself with Vietnamese communists and dedicated himself to the overthrow of western society in Cambodia, taking the name Pol Pot.  He and his organization,the Ankor, led by a number of Ph.D. students from France (all Cambodian), became the center of Marxist revolution.

Their Marxism, perhaps the most radical ever to gain power anywhere, was existentialist and anti-urban to the extreme. In a way that seems a pure contradiction to most in the West, Pol Pot fused Marx and Jefferson, taking the hatred of the wealthy from the former and the fear of cities from the latter.

Khmer RougeWhen South Vietnam fell to the communists (in April 1975), and the Americans abandoned their long-time allies, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge. Immediately upon taking over the country, the Khmer Rouge forced all Cambodians out of the cities, putting them to work (mostly in "make-work" projects) throughout the countryside.

Any person possessing any religious background at all, or any education past eighth grade, or foreign language skills (anything other than Khmer and French) was immediately executed. Any display of emotion--happiness, sorrow, anguish--also led to immediate execution, as emotions were defined as middle-class constructs.

During the three years the Khmer Rouge controlled the country, it murdered nearly one out of every two Cambodians in what has infamously been named "The Killing Fields," a term that ought to elicit the same horrors as "the Gulag" and the "Holocaust camps." In comparison to the Soviets who killed 62 million of their own citizens during their rule of Russia, the Chinese Communists who slaughtered 65 million of their own, and the Nazis who butchered 21 million, the number  of those murdered in Cambodia, 4.5 million, may seem a pittance. But it must not only be remembered that this number represents nearly half of the entire Cambodian population, but also that these murders were committed in a mere three years.

....the Grandfather Judd got this one wrong too.  But the boat people of Vietnam and the Killing Fields of Cambodia made the argument that America had not been opposing evil in its war with communism untenable. We may have waged the Vietnam War poorly, but it wasn't wrong.

May 6, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Jeb Bush Says He Won't Vote for Donald Trump (REBECCA BALLHAUS, May 6, 2016, WSJ)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that he won't vote for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in November, becoming the latest high-profile Republican to turn his back on the New York billionaire.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Mr. Bush congratulated Mr. Trump--his rival for the nomination before Mr. Bush dropped out of the presidential race in February--on becoming the party's presumptive nominee but said the real-estate developer doesn't have the "temperament or strength of character" to be president.

"He has not displayed a respect for the Constitution. And, he is not a consistent conservative," Mr. Bush wrote. "These are all reasons why I cannot support his candidacy."

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Homosexuals Only 1.6 Percent of the U.S. Population (Sandhya Somashekhar, 5/06/16, Orthodoxy Today)

The National Health Interview Survey, [run by the CDC] which is the government's premier tool for annually assessing Americans' health and behaviors, found that 1.6 percent of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent consider themselves bisexual.

Less than 3 percent of the U.S. population identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday in the first large-scale government survey measuring Americans' sexual orientation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Kurdistan deserves an amicable divorce from Baghdad (Masrour Barzani May 5, 2016, Washington Post)

It is time to acknowledge that the experiment has not worked. Iraq is a failed state, and our continued presence within it condemns us all to unending conflict and enmity.

Turmoil surrounds us. In the summer of 2014, the face of the nation was exposed when the Islamic State terrorist group seized a third of the country and a significant part of the border with Syria because the most credible institution in the land, the Iraqi army, failed to defend it. Eleven years after the tyranny of Saddam Hussein ended, Iraq was exposed for what it is: a country that cannot protect its people and can barely define its interests.

Compulsory coexistence has not worked. And that is why the Kurdistan region of Iraq will hold a referendum to establish a sovereign state, which would formalize a divorce from Baghdad and secure the area we now control as a homeland for the Kurdish people.

This move will not only offer hope to the Kurds; it will also bring certainty to a divided region. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Well Before It Might Produce Hearts And Livers, 3D Bioprinting Is Reshaping Modern Medicine (ELIZABETH WHITMAN,m 05/06/16, IB Times)

Ibrahim Ozbolat loves his work so much that once he nearly sacrificed a finger for its sake. It was in 2007 or 2008, he recalled, when he was a student who had spent many hours straight in tunnel-like concentration on the 3D bioprinter before him.

Suddenly, his hand felt like it was being squeezed into a part of the machine. "I was about to lose my finger," Ozbolat remembered. He rushed to the doctor just in time, and a decade later, only a thin scar remains. Ozbolat, now an associate professor at the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, wears it like a badge of honor.

"This is dedication," he said.

Today, Ozbolat is in good company. Many others are staking a great deal, though perhaps not their extremities, on 3D bioprinting. Drawn by the promise of saving lives, healing people and tapping into the lucrative world of pharmaceuticals and medicine, academic researchers and biotech companies alike are flocking to this niche field, trying to usher it along a path toward the holy grail of printing solid organs like hearts or livers. Yet even their discoveries along the way are beginning to reshape and push the limits of modern medicine.

"There has been very large growth in terms of the applications that are being investigated, the printing systems that are available, as well as advances in scientific understanding," said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Scientists can build models for surgery -- one of the least complex processes, Atala said -- or build tiny organoids of human cells that can be used for screening drugs. And that's just the beginning.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Obama Supreme Court Nominee Garland Quietly Rejected By Liberals Amid 'Do Your Job' Campaign (ABIGAIL ABRAMS, 05/06/16, IB Times)

As the White House and leading Democrats continue urging Republicans to hold hearings on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, progressive groups have adopted the president's "do your job" slogan while quietly refusing to endorse Obama's pick. 

One of the nation's leading civil rights organizations released a report Friday outlining its examination of Garland's record on civil rights and issues of equality, and its findings were less than stellar. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) said Garland is "highly qualified to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court," but the 47-page report pointed out numerous concerns with Garland's past rulings and opinions, and noticeably did not endorse his nomination.

"Our review of Judge Garland's record reveals that he is well prepared to serve on our nation's highest court. He maintains a steadfast respect for the doctrinal and technical contours of the law, forges narrow, carefully reasoned opinions, and builds consensus. In cases involving racial discrimination, Judge Garland seems to appreciate the importance of letting plaintiffs have their day in court and try to prove their case," the report said. "At the same time, LDF has concerns about Judge Garland's record in criminal justice cases, which may be influenced by his lengthy professional background and perspective as a former federal prosecutor and senior DOJ [Department of Justice] official. Those concerns are detailed in this report. Thus, LDF finds the need to grant Judge Garland a Senate hearing particularly compelling so that he can share his approach to cases and decision-making in this area."

Many other liberal groups have taken similarly cautious stances, balancing their lack of excitement, and sometimes disappointment, in Garland with their desire to back up Obama and ensure that Senate Republicans do not set a precedent by succeeding in their refusal to consider the Supreme Court nominee.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Shift in Saudi oil thinking deepens OPEC split (Dmitry Zhdannikov and Rania El Gamal, 5/05/16, Reuters)

As OPEC officials gathered this week to formulate a long-term strategy, few in the room expected the discussions would end without a clash. But even the most jaded delegates got more than they had bargained with.

"OPEC is dead," declared one frustrated official, according to two sources who were present or briefed about the Vienna meeting. {...]

[E]vents at Monday's meeting of OPEC governors suggest that if Saudi Arabia gets its way, then one of the group's central strategies - of managing global oil prices by regulating supply - will indeed go to the grave.

In a major shift in thinking, Riyadh now believes that targetting prices has become pointless as the weak global market reflects structural changes rather than any temporary trend, according to sources familiar with its views.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Donald Trump Uses Phantom Stats When Talking Taxes (RICHARD RUBIN, May 5, 2016, WSJ)

Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, said on Thursday that the U.S. is the "highest-taxed nation in the world" and that middle-class people are "being taxed at a much higher rate" than 20 years ago.

In fact, the U.S. is one of the lowest-taxed industrialized countries, and middle-class households pay significantly lower tax rates than they did in 1996.

In 2014, U.S. taxes - including state and local levies - made up 26% of the country's gross domestic product, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among OECD members, only Mexico, Chile and South Korea had lower tax burdens. 

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This is secretly killing 10% of Americans (EMMA COURT, 5/04/16, Marketwatch)
Medical error is nowhere to be found on the government's list of what kills Americans every year.

But that's a deadly oversight, according to a letter from a professor and three students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Death certificates don't allow for medical error as an option, the authors wrote, even though these deaths -- caused by preventable mistakes on the part of medical professionals -- could account for nearly 10% of deaths in the U.S., by their projections.

After heart disease and cancer, medical error would -- if tracked -- be the third-leading cause of death on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's ranking, above respiratory disease. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Cuba After Obama Left (JON LEE ANDERSON, 4/01/16, The New Yorker)

Later that day, in a meeting with a friend who is a longtime loyalist of the Revolution, I asked her what she had thought of Obama's speech. She wrinkled her nose. "Well," she began. "He said a lot of nice things, and he was very polished, but let's see what the reality is." I noted that Raúl himself had applauded Obama in the Teatro. He hadn't signalled any doubts, and indeed he had accompanied Obama to the Cuba-U.S. baseball game afterward; we had all seen the two of them chummily seated together, talking animatedly. Later, Castro, who had not been at the airport when Obama arrived, had seen him off, walking him to the foot of the stairway of Air Force One. So what was the real issue worrying her? My friend shrugged. It had all been a bit too much, she said. She couldn't really explain.

My friend's reaction was an early hint that Cuba's deep state, in the form of its Communist Party hard-liners, was unhappy. Their pushback came swiftly, during that evening's televised broadcast of a program called "Mesa Redonda" ("The Roundtable"), in which several apparatchiks sat around humorlessly dissecting the implications of the Obama visit. On Wednesday, Granma, Cuba's official Communist Party newspaper, ran an editorial titled "What Obama Says and Doesn't Say," in which the writer pointed out that Obama had used a teleprompter during his speech--"something the people can't see"--and questioned the sincerity of his intentions.

The mood in Havana over the next couple of days was strangely moody. Most habaneros, when asked about the Obama visit, spoke with a careful neutrality. A few, talking privately, expressed their chagrin at the churlishness of Cuba's Party apparatchiks, and worried that, after all of Obama's effort, his overtures were being spurned. "Nothing will change this place, ever," one friend grumbled. Another apologized for what she saw as the vulgarity of it all: "You don't invite someone to your house and then criticize them when they leave," she said.

Then came the Rolling Stones concert, last Friday, at which Mick Jagger told the crowd that he was pleased to be playing in a country that had once banned the group. With good-natured complicity, he quipped, "But I think change is in the air, isn't it?" Many in the crowd roared their assent, but I saw a few Cubans around me throwing up their hands and raising their eyebrows theatrically, as if to say, actually, Mick, I'm not sure about that.

Over the weekend, I met with another friend who works with Cuba's government. He remarked that Obama's speech in the Gran Teatro had been extraordinary, but added that it had seriously rattled a number of people he knew. One had compared it, in terms of its subversive impact, to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Echo Voyager: 50-Ton Drone Sub Can Go Six Months Without Refueling (Olga Kharif, 5/05/16,   Bloomberg Businessweek)

Form and function
This underwater robot can stay at sea for six months or more at a time without needing refueling from another ship, compared with three days for the previous model, the Echo Ranger.

The 50-ton craft can carry as much as 20 tons of sensors or other gear and operates at depths reaching 11,000 feet. While on the surface, it downloads route instructions from human minders via satellite.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


Rouhani moves to slash IRGC budget, empower army (Abbas Qaidaari, May 5, 2016, Al-Monitor)

[T]he Iranian defense budget reflects some major changes in the current Iranian fiscal year. Based on past trends, the army's spending would typically be increased by 2-5% each year. For the first time in decades, however, the army's budget is being increased by about 15%, from $1.5 billion to $1.75 billion. The Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for supplying military equipment, will also see an increase in allocated funding, from $770 million last year (ending March 19) to $890 million in the current fiscal year. The Basij and the General Staff have meanwhile each been allocated some 10% more in spending.

In contrast, the IRGC has had its budget decreased by some 16%. The $900 million cut brings its total budget allocation to some $4.1 billion. Although the decrease is considerable, the IRGC's budget in 2013-14 clearly shows that the funding allocated is sufficient to cover all its costs, except for foreign expenses.

The changes sought indicate that the Rouhani administration is looking to implement structural reform in military spending. Unlike his predecessors, Rouhani wants to increase the quality of the armed forces by supporting the Ministry of Defense and the domestic arms industry and by paying more attention to the dilapidated army. Due to decades of negligence, the regular army is worn down and in dire need of funding to be reinvigorated. The current administration is very much aware of this reality and has therefore resisted demands by the IRGC for more funding even though it already has a bigger budget than the army.

May 5, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Math Stumps Your Doctor, Too (Faye Flam, 5/05/16, Bloomberg)

Studies going back to psychologist Daniel Kahneman's work in the 1970s and 80s show that even doctors tend to misunderstand probabilities, especially as they apply to risk. That's a problem but not an insoluble one. Intuition can be retrained. People can learn to look at uncertainty in a different way.

Take the famous hypothetical example of a test that is 95 percent accurate for a disease that affects 0.1 percent of the population. Imagine you're a doctor and your patient tests positive. What is the chance that she has the disease? Most people's intuitive answer is a rather dire 95 percent. This is wrong in a big way. Despite the ominous test result, the patient is unlikely to be sick. 

"Even doctors and medical students are prone to this error," wrote Aron Barbey, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, in a paper on risk literacy published last month in the journal Science.

Some people do get the right answer: that the patient has about a 2 percent chance of having the disease.

Those few with math training can get help from a formula called Bayes' Theorem.

But there's also an intuitive approach that requires no formula at all. Imagine 1,000 people getting the test. On average, one will have the disease. The 5 percent error rate means that about 50 of the 999 healthy people will test positive. Now it's easy to see that the group of false positives is about 50 times bigger than the group of real positives. In other words, just 2 percent of the people testing positive are likely to be sick.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Famous California vegan restaurateurs under fire over revelation they eat meat (Robina Gibb, 3 May 2016, The Guardian)

The California-based husband and wife founders of celebrity-endorsed vegan restaurant group Cafe Gratitude say they have received death threats after it was revealed last week that they are raising, slaughtering and eating animals on their farm north of San Francisco.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


THE NAVY'S UNCREWED SHIP ARRIVES IN SAN DIEGO (Kelsey D. Atherton, 5/05/16, Popular Science)

On May 1st, the Sea Hunter arrived in San Diego. Over the next two years, the Navy will test the vessel, before moving on to build a full fleet of crewless, submarine-seeking ships.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Barcelona Considering New Tourist Tax (Katherine LaGrave   May 05, 2016, Conde Nast Traveler)

With its architectural masterpieces by Antoni Gaudí, centuries-old tapas bars, and sprawling, man-made beach, cosmopolitan Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Yet not everyone is thrilled about this: Ada Colau, the city's left-leaning mayor, has said her government is considering the implementation of a day-trip tax, which would charge visitors to the city--even if they didn't stay overnight.

In particular, the tax would be aimed at cruise ship passengers, who dock and visit Barcelona en masse before returning to the boat, and at travelers entering the city via coach tours, who don't stay overnight but contribute significantly to congestion during the day. At present, visitors staying in Barcelona already pay a tourist tax, typically collected via cruises, hotels, or private homes rented to tourists. City Councillor Gala Pin, who confirmed the city was currently considering the tourist tax, said it would help offset the costs of tourism, noting that visitors to the city are expensive "not only in terms of infrastructure, cleaning and security but also in terms of the floating population that is causing the indirect expulsion of local people."

One of the (many) great things about Iceland is they are grateful for American tourists.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Saudi security operation kills Islamic State fighters outside Mecca (REUTERS, 05 May 2016)

Saudi security forces shot dead two alleged Islamic State fighters and two others blew themselves up outside the holy city of Mecca on Thursday, the interior ministry said.

"The terrorists fired upon security forces requiring them to respond in kind to neutralize the threat, leading to the killing of two and the death of two others who blew themselves up with explosive belts," the ministry said in a statement.

We approach ever nearer to the goal of the WoT, which was to destabilize every non-democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Paul Ryan Is Not Ready to Support Donald Trump (Eric Levitz, 5/05/16, NY Mag)

Paul Ryan isn't sure if he wants to make America great again. On Thursday afternoon, CNN's Jake Tapper asked the Speaker of the House if he is prepared to support his party's presumptive presidential nominee.

"Well, to be perfectly candid with you, I'm not ready to do that yet," Ryan replied. whether W will openly endorse Hillary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Trump's Hispanic Outreach (Nancy LeTourneau, 5/05/16, Political Animal)

Yes, this really happened.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Clinton leads Trump by double digits nationally (Jeva Lange, May 4, 2016, The Week)

In a new CNN/ORC poll completed before Tuesday's primary results in Indiana, Clinton led Trump by 54 percent to 41 percent -- the 13-point advantage being her largest lead since last summer. The results found that Bernie Sanders has an even bigger edge on Trump, beating him by 16 points.

John Kasich -- whose odds at becoming the Republican nominee are nearly insurmountable -- actually beats Clinton in the polls, and sits only 4 points behind Sanders.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


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Can a Demagogue Help Save Iraq's Democracy? (Eli Lake, 5/04/16, Bloomberg View)

[T]oday, Sadr's followers are providing the political muscle that Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi will need to enact the reforms necessary to save Iraq from fiscal insolvency. Over the last weekend, Sadr's followers breached the gates of the heavily fortified "green zone" in the center of Baghdad and briefly took over the parliament to support a slate of technocratic ministers Abadi is proposing for his government. Unless Iraq's political bosses feel some popular pressure, Abadi's relatively modest reforms have no chance.

These reforms are aimed at preventing a dire crisis that's been years in the making. Luay al-Khateeb, a fellow at Columbia University and a former unofficial adviser to the Iraqi parliament on economic and energy issues, told me the decline in oil prices should force Iraq to cut government subsidies on energy as well as make-work jobs created when the price of oil was high. (Abadi has not gone this far) Khateeb said there were 2.5 million federal government jobs in 2003 when Saddam Hussein's government fell. Today, he estimates, there are 7 million, most of them unnecessary.

And then there is the massive corruption endemic to Iraq's political system. Over the years, ministers and members of parliament were allotted huge budgets for their personal staffs and other benefits. Even after members retire from public service, in many cases the state continues to pay for their bodyguards and secretaries. This says nothing of the self-dealing that powerful Iraqi politicians and leaders conducted to win government business for friends and associates.

May 4, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Who Is Muqtada Al-Sadr? The Man Leading Iraq's Anti-Government Protests (ALESSANDRIA MASI, 05/04/16, IB Times)

Sadr has been largely responsible for directing the wave of protests that have hit the Iraqi capital for the past two weeks. Demonstrations reached a boiling point over the weekend after Iraq's parliamentary ministers failed to hold a vote that would have approved new ministers who, unlike the current party-affiliated MPs, were technocrats.

The failure to vote sparked outrage among hundreds of thousands of Sadr's followers, who took to the streets in Baghdad and stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to several central government buildings. Protesters briefly took over Iraqi Parliament and demanded an overhaul of the country's corrupt political system.

"While politicians played parliamentary games to preserve their lucrative patronage, thousands of supporters of the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr repeatedly took to the streets to demand change," according to a report from risk consultancy Soufan Group.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Australian Islamic State recruiter killed in U.S. airstrike in Iraq (Reuters, 5/04/16)

An Australian citizen believed to be a top recruiter for the Islamic State has been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq, disrupting the militant group's ability to lure new fighters, the Australian government said on Thursday.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the United States had advised him that Prakash, who was linked to several Australia-based attack plans and calls for lone-wolf attacks against the United States, was killed in an airstrike in Mosul on April 29.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


The economy needs a Cheerleader-in-Chief (Steven A. Holmes, 5/04/16, CNNMoney)

America is near full employment with 14 million jobs added since early 2010. Gas prices are cheap. Home prices are rising. The stock market is near record highs. And the economy has grown ... for seven years.

Is that a Clinton rather than a Bush will reap the Peace Dividend thanks to a billionaire Know-Nothing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Cuba can't keep up with the US-sparked tourism boom (Marc Frank, 5/04/16, Reuters)

The influx has pushed capacity to the limit, prompting hotels to sharply hike prices and raising questions about how Cuba will absorb additional visitors when scheduled U.S. commercial airline service starts later this year.

"With the increase in demand there have occurred problems with the confirmation of reservations and some irritation with delays at the airports, most of all in Havana," Minister Manuel Marrero said at the opening of an annual tourism fair.

Fidel is right, the UR's trade deal is an assault.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Google's Self-Driving Minivan Could Bring Autonomy To the Rest of Us (Jack Stewart, 5/04/16, Wired)

 Implementation of even the more rudimentary elements of Google's technology could save lives. Human error is the cause of over 9 in 10 crashes. Of those, inattention or distraction are responsible for 41 percent, and another third are caused by poor decisions. Any technology that can override those errors will make the roads safer.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB), sometimes called city braking, is already becoming widely available, and in the US will become near standard by 2022. The systems vary from one automaker to another, but the general idea is to have the car apply the brakes when it senses an impending collision.

Kid-hauling minivans aren't just worthy of extra safety technology, they demand it. A recent study from Virginia Tech shows that drivers increase their chances of getting into a crash by a factor of 10 if they're emotionally agitated. For a parent, trying to calm a screaming child in the backseat, active safety technology can be more useful than that rear seat DVD player.

Tesla has shown that a couple of radars, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors, plus a pile of software, can be combined to create an autonomous driving experience. The automaker's beloved Autopilot lets its cars follow road markings, maintain a set distance from the vehicle in front, and park itself. Those sensors are not revolutionary, but their integration, and software that takes the data from them and makes decisions, is. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Why some conservatives have changed their tune on Merrick Garland (Story Hinckley,  MAY 4, 2016, CS Monitor)

"Republicans find themselves in a deeply uncomfortable situation: they feel compelled to block a highly qualified nominee, offered as a compromise, because they want to let President Trump fill the Supreme Court vacancy," explains MSNBC's Steve Benen. "There are quite a few vulnerable GOP incumbents in the Senate right now, and this is a tough pitch for them to make to voters in an election year."

If the GOP-led Senate continues to stall Garland's nomination, they face two other options. If Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, is elected, she could nominate a judge that Republicans dislike more than Garland. 

Or Republican Senators could place their bets on Trump winning the White House. But with this bet comes another caveat: They must also hope that he appoints a nominee with strict conservative ideals. Because Trump is "not a reliable, consistent conservative," his nominee could be just as distasteful to conservatives as Mrs. Clinton's, if she were to be elected. 

The Republican's sticky situation has not been lost on Mr. Obama, who revived his campaign for Garland's stalled nomination on Tuesday. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Hispanics Will Outspend Millennials In US By 2020 As Population And Income Grow: Analysts (ABIGAIL ABRAMS,  05/03/16, IB Times)

Hispanics will soon surpass millennials as the group with the most spending power in the U.S., MarketWatch reported Monday. Morgan Stanley analysts found that income and population growth among Hispanics of all ages will push the group past millennials in terms of consumer spending in just four years. [...]

"The aging of the population and the rise of millennials will continue to impact the consumer landscape over the next five years," the report said. "However, the share of consumer wallet controlled by the Hispanic population will experience the fastest pace of growth, driven by the addition of 8.2 million people -- 52% of total U.S. population growth -- and above-average per capita income growth."

The Hispanic population in the U.S. hit 55.4 million in 2014, accounting for 17.4 percent of the country's total population, according to data from the Census Bureau. While fewer Hispanics are immigrating to the U.S. than in the past, their population is still projected to reach 106 million by 2050.

Hispanics are also one of the youngest groups of any racial or ethnic demographic with a median age of 29. Unlike other groups, nearly 60 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. are millennials or younger, the Pew Research Center said in April.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


The U.S. Has a Massive Cheese Surplus : Imagine 1.19 billion pounds of cached cheese (Erin Blakemore, 5/04/16, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

In its dairy market report for the week of April 25 to 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture writes that "cheese vats across the country remain full in efforts to manage the plentiful milk supply....As stocks build, storage availability is becoming a concern." Phrases like "milk oversupply" and "substantial rises" are rife in the report, which notes that the United States has a total of 725.7 million pounds of "natural American cheese"--real cheese, not the processed cheese product, made in the U.S.A.--and total natural cheese stocks of a whopping 1.191 billion pounds.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


 Culture Clash: Robots Are Stealing Our Jobs! (Bill Gross, May 4, 2016, Value Walk)

No one in 2016 is really addressing the future as we are likely to experience it, and while that future has significant structural headwinds influenced by too much debt and an aging demographic, another heavy gust merits little attention on the political stump. I speak in this Outlook to information technology and the robotization of our future global economy. Virtually every industry in existence is likely to become less labor-intensive in future years as new technology is assimilated into existing business models. Transportation is a visible example as computer driven vehicles soon will displace many truckers and bus/taxi drivers. Millions of jobs will be lost over the next 10-15 years. But medicine, manufacturing and even service intensive jobs are at risk. Investment managers too! Not only blue collar but now white collar professionals are being threatened by technological change.

Nobel Prize winning economist Michael Spence wrote in 2014 that "should the digital revolution continue...The structure of the modern economy and the role of work itself may need to be rethought." The role of work? Sounds like code for fewer jobs to me. And if so, as author Andy Stern writes in Raising the Floor, a policymaker - a future President or Prime Minister - must recognize that existing government policies have "built a whole social infrastructure based on the concept of a job, and that concept does not work anymore." In other words, if income goes to technological robots whatever the form, instead of human beings, our culture will change and if so policies must adapt to those changes. 

They were punishment:

 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Robots Stake Their Claim in the Operating Room (Dennis Thompson, May 4, 2016, HealthDay News) 

A surgical robot outperformed human surgeons in stitching the small intestines of pigs back together, researchers report.

Without any direct human interaction, the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) reconnected the intestines with sutures that proved more accurate, evenly spaced and durable than those created by human hands, the machine's developers said.

One of the quaint things about intellectuals is their naive belief that we grunts are all replaceable but they and their peer groups are not.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Letting Stephen Colbert Be Stephen Colbert (Whoever That Is) (JIM RUTENBERG MAY 1, 2016, NY Times)

Last Wednesday, the CBS chairman, Leslie Moonves, ducked into that night's taping of Stephen Colbert's "Late Show," and then joined Mr. Colbert in his office above the Ed Sullivan Theater. [...]

 It was about whether they could pull off one of the most intriguing experiments in late-night television history; whether Mr. Colbert, who became a leading voice in American political satire by playing a fictional character on his Comedy Central show -- holding forth before a cable congregation of the converted -- could succeed as himself in the big broad tent of network television, whose commercial and corporate imperatives can be homogenizing.

His critique of liberalism was funny.  His adoption of liberalism isn't.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


The Electoral Map Looks Challenging for Trump (WILSON ANDREWS, JOSH KATZ and ALICIA PARLAPIANO MAY 4, 2016, NY Times)

This is how the map would look if Mr. Trump improved on his polling margin by five percentage points in each state.

He would win Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, but he would still lose the election.

It's America; you can't win running on isolationism, nativism, protectionism and anti-Semitism.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Clinton's Thinking Vs. Trump's Feelings (Cass R. Sunstein, 5/04/16, Bloomberg View)

Donald Trump is an iconic System 1 candidate -- more clearly so than any party nominee in at least sixty years. Hillary Clinton is an iconic System 2 candidate -- as clearly so as any party nominee in the same period. That distinction may well end up defining the general election.

Let me explain. Psychologists, and most prominently Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, have distinguished between two ways of thinking -- fast and slow. Fast thinking is associated with the brain's System 1: It is intuitive, quick, and sometimes emotional. When you think that two plus two equals four, and when you immediately recognize a warm, smiling face, you are using System 1.

System 2 is deliberative and reflective. When you multiple 346 times 213, or struggle to fill out your tax forms, you are relying on System 2. If you are engaging in some kind of complex cost-benefit analysis, System 2 will be working hard.

What makes this fascinating that Democrats are typically the party of emotion, and therefore women, while the GOP is generally the party of thought, therefore of men.  But Democrats have nominated the masculine candidate and Republicans the feminine.  Of course, Republicans being more thoughtful will have an easier time voting for Hillary, whereas Democrats emotionalism will keep them tied to Hill.

May 3, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Measuring the Value of Free (Charles Bean, 5/03/16, Project Syndicate)

[T]he methods we use to measure our economies are becoming increasingly out of date. The statistical conventions on which we base our estimates were adopted a half-century ago, at a time when the economy was producing relatively similar physical goods. Today's economy is radically different and changing rapidly - the result of technological innovation, the rising value of intangible, knowledge-based assets, and the internationalization of economic activity.

In light of these challenges, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne asked me ten months ago to assess the United Kingdom's current and future statistical needs. While my research focused on the UK, the challenges of producing relevant, high-quality economic statistics are the same in many countries.

Recent technological advances have radically altered the way people conduct their lives, both at work and at play. The advances in computing power underpinning the digital revolution have led not only to rapid quality improvements and product innovation, but also to new, connectivity-driven ways of exchanging and providing services.

One particular challenge for economic measurement stems from the fact that an increasing share of consumption comprises digital products delivered at a zero price or funded through alternative means, such as advertising. While free virtual goods clearly have value to consumers, they are entirely excluded from GDP, in accordance with internationally accepted statistical standards. As a result, our measurements may not be capturing a growing share of economic activity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Medical Errors Are Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. (Steve Sternberg, May 3, 2016, US News)

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer, causing at least 250,000 deaths every year, according to an analysis out Tuesday indicating that patient safety efforts fall far short.

"People don't just die from heart attacks and bacteria, they die from system-wide failings and poorly coordinated care," says the study's lead author, Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's medical care gone awry."

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Why Trump and Clinton Voters Won't Switch: It's in Their Brains : Neural images show it takes more than logic and facts to win a political argument (Natalie Jacewicz, May 3, 2016, sCIENTIFIC aMERICAN)

To win the White House, candidates in the presidential race will need to change minds. Bernie Sanders may try converting Hillary Clinton's superdelegates to gain the Democratic nomination while Ted Cruz and John Kasich plan to woo delegates during a contested Republican convention. If frontrunners Clinton and Donald Trump clinch their parties' nominations, then in the general election they will need to win over reluctant voters who supported their competitors.

And to change opinions, candidates will have to contend with neurobiology. Scientists say there's a tension in the brain between responding to new information and resisting overwhelming amounts of conflicting data--and the latter can prevent opinion change. Altering opinion depends on using different psychological methods tailored to different types of belief, according to research. "There's not much convincing people," even when the beliefs in question are purely false, says psychiatrist Philip Corlett of Yale University School of Medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Politics Move Left, Americans Move Right (Joel Kotkin, May 03, 2016, New Geography)

[I]f politics are now being dominated by big cities along the coasts, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that when it comes to their own lives, Americans are moving increasingly elsewhere, largely to generally Republican-leaning suburbs and Sunbelt states. In other words, politics and power are headed one way, demographics the other.

Perhaps no American president has been less sympathetic to suburbs than Barack Obama. Shaun Donovan, Obama's first secretary of Housing and Urban Development, proclaimed the suburbs' were "over" as people were "voting with their feet" and moving to dense, transit-oriented urban centers. More recently, Donovan's successor, Julian Castro, has targeted suburbs by proposing to force them to densify and take more poor people into their communities. Other Democrats, notably California's Jerry Brown, have sought to use concerns over climate change to make future suburban development all but impossible.

This divergence between politics and how people choose to live has never been greater. As economist Jed Kolko has observed, the perceived "historic" shift back to the inner city has turned out to be a relatively brief phenomena. Since 2012, suburbs and exurbs, which have seven times as many people, again are growing faster than core cities.

This is not likely to be a short-lived phenomena. Generally speaking, Kolko notes that an aging population tends to make the country more suburban. The overwhelming trend among seniors is not to move "back to the city" but to stay in or move out to suburban or exurban areas. Between 2000 and 2012, notes demographer Wendell Cox, 99.6 percent of the senior population increase in major metropolitan areas was in the suburbs, a gain of 4.3 million compared to the gain of 17,000 in the urban core.

There is also the well-demonstrated tendency for people entering their 30s, prime child-bearing age, to move to suburban locations for safety, space and better schools. Here's the basic score: Core counties last year lost a net 185,000 domestic migrants, while the suburban counties gained 187,000. Rather than a reversal of suburbanizing trends, we see something of an acceleration.

Primarily Republican-leaning areas may be losing their political power for now, but their demographic growth is relentless. Like the suburbs, the sprawling Sunbelt metros were widely predicted by urban pundits to be heading toward an inevitable extinction.     

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Donald Trump's ethnic cleansing program (Ryan Cooper, May 3, 2016, The Week)'

This brings me to Trump's plan to put together a "deportation force" to remove the 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, an idea he justifies by reference to a somewhat similar program called "Operation Wetback" carried out in the mid-50s.

Perhaps the best way to begin to grasp what a horror this would be is to consider the sheer logistics of such an operation. First, one has to find the unauthorized population -- no small task, as such people are understandably not keen on being rounded up and deported, and doubly so given the wide adoption of cell phones and internet service.

Though there isn't a complete database for unauthorized immigrants, demographic estimates find that over 70 percent are from Mexico and Central America. That means a titanic amount of law enforcement rooting around in mostly poor Latino communities -- probably starting with checkpoints demanding immigration papers from every brown person stopped along highways in states with high Latino populations, dragnet electronic surveillance, and huge pressure on employers. Absent a brutal secret police, it would be nigh-impossible.

But suppose the Trump Troopers manage to root out every unauthorized immigrant, with a mere few thousand U.S. citizens caught up by mistake. Then they would need to transport them back to their places of origin. Even if we assume that he wouldn't bother to figure out where people came from, even just dumping them in Mexico (1.5 million Asians and all) would be extraordinarily complicated and expensive. Forcibly packing up 1.3 times the population of New York City, holding them while they're processed through some sort of legal bureaucracy, and moving them thousands of miles would take thousands of trains, trucks, planes, or ships.

Any method would cost billions in fuel, food, and logistics, and grotesque abuse would be an iron certainty.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


How smart contact lenses will create the sci-fi eyes of the future (Julie Kliegman, May 2, 2016, The Week)

One group that stands to benefit are glaucoma patients, who experience high eye pressure that can lead to irreversible blindness. Right now, such patients -- there are nearly 3 million in the U.S. alone -- get their eye pressure measured three to four times every year. But electronic sensors in contact lenses would measure pressure continuously, giving doctors more data points to determine how to proceed with treatment and dosages. Eventually, pressure-measuring contact lenses will also be able to administer medicine, eliminating the high potential for human error associated with daily eye drops. The makers of Sensimed, a contact lens that measures users' eye pressure, have already secured marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other similar lenses are in development.

"It's potentially revolutionary," said Andrew Iwach, a glaucoma specialist and American Academy of Ophthalmology spokesman based in San Francisco.

In addition to measuring eye pressure, contact lenses of the future may be able to gauge glucose levels, replacing the finger prick method of blood sugar testing for people with diabetes. Google secured a patent for such a product in 2015.

Auto-focusing lenses like the ones Jiang is developing are another exciting area in ophthalmology. Like pressure-measuring lenses, they're still years away from being widely available. But they stand to help people who, as a natural function of aging, have trouble shifting their focus between near and far distances -- people who now wear bifocals, trifocals, or special contact lenses. The lenses could also give users better night vision.

"I think it's very exciting, and I think as a lot of people sit down and think harder about it, there are going to be more potential applications that we could come up with," said Jiang.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Pro-Rouhani candidates scoop up most seats in runoff (Rohollah Faghihi, May 2, 2016, Al Monitor)

Overall, the Feb. 26 vote gave Reformists and moderates 83 out of parliament's 290 seats, while the Principlists got 64 and independents won 55. In many cities other than Tehran, elections went to a second round as a number of candidates failed to gain the necessary 25% quorum of votes. The runoff, which was held April 29, was over the 68 remaining seats -- lesser in number than the first round, but nevertheless momentous since it determines whether one side will have a majority.

The results of the runoff have baffled the hard-liners as much as the outcome of the first round. Based on the results published by Iranian media, 38 of the contested 68 seats were won by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani.

Overall, the Reformists and the moderates are now considered the biggest faction, with 121 seats in parliament. The Principlists and independents have meanwhile won 83 and 81 seats, respectively.

The independent members of parliament will play a major role in the decisions of the next parliament. It is still not fully known which side they favor. However, a number of moderates ran as independents. Iranian political analyst Hossein Kanani Moghaddam told Al-Monitor, "[The independent parliamentarians] are mostly close to [incumbent Speaker] Ali Larijani." He added, "I think the independent members of parliament will form an alliance with the Reformists and will support Rouhani's policies."

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Anti-Semitism From the Left (Ian Buruma, 5/02/16, Project Syndicate)

[A] streak of anti-Semitism has always tainted the left as well. Stalin was of course notorious for persecuting Jews, or "rootless cosmopolitans" as he called them, whom he regarded as natural agents of capitalism and traitors to the Soviet Union. But well before Stalin, Karl Marx himself, although Jewish by birth, set the tone for a vicious type of anti-Semitism that infected the left, especially in France.

It was Marx who wrote, "Money is the jealous God of Israel," and that Hebrew was "the muse of stock exchange quotations." Marx was not oblivious to the dangers of anti-Semitism. He simply thought they would go away once the worker's paradise had been established. In this, he was clearly mistaken.

When the state of Israel was founded in 1948, the Soviet Union and leftists in general were quite sympathetic. For several decades, socialists of Russian and Polish extraction dominated Israeli politics. Zionism was not yet regarded as a noxious form of racism, along with apartheid in South Africa. There was no need to "hate the Jews in Israel."

Things began to change in the early 1970s, after the occupation of the West Bank and other Arab territories. Two intifadas later, the Israeli left finally lost its grip, and the right took over. Israel became increasingly associated with the very things leftists had always opposed: colonialism, oppression of a minority, militarism, and chauvinism. For some people, it was perhaps a relief that they could hate Jews again, this time under the guise of high-minded principles.

At the same time, and for much the same reasons, Israel became popular on the right. People who might have been fervent anti-Semites not so long ago are now great champions of Israel. They applaud the Israeli government's tough line with the Palestinians.

Israel, in a common right-wing view, is a bastion of "Judeo-Christian civilization" in the "war against Islam." As the Dutch demagogue Geert Wilders once put it: "When the flag of Israel no longer flies over the walls of Jerusalem, the West will no longer be free."

It is remarkable how often the old anti-Semitic tropes turn up in the rhetoric of these cheerleaders for Israel. But this time it is Muslims, not Jews, who are the target. Muslims in the West, we are repeatedly told, can never be loyal citizens. They always stick to their own kind. They will lie to people outside their faith. They are naturally treacherous, a fifth column, bent on world domination. Their religion is incompatible with Western values. And so forth.

We all want someone to hate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Corporate Bonds Point to Continued Economic Growth (Simon Constable, May 3, 2016, US News)

The corporate bond market has some good news for us. The economy is set to continue growing.

It's a message that is in stark contrast to the bearish sentiment that emanated from Wall Street during the first few weeks of the year, and it has implications for the type of stocks and other securities which will do well going forward.

The smart way to read the bond market is to look at credit spreads. They measure the amount of interest a borrower must pay over and above what the government pays to borrow. That extra is to compensate lenders for the risks of default, or nonpayment of the loan. The government can't really default - if it runs out of cash it can always print more money.

In the case of corporate bonds, investors are seeing lower risks ahead in the economy because the size of the spread between what the government and what corporations pay in interest has dropped dramatically since mid-February.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


A surprising number of Americans dislike how messy democracy is. They like Trump. (John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, 5/02/16, Washington Post)

[F]ew have noticed another side of Trump's supporters. A surprising number of Americans feel dismissive about such core features of democratic government as deliberation, compromise and decision-making by elected, accountable officials. They believe that governing is (or should be) simple, and best undertaken by a few smart, capable people who are not overtly self-interested and can solve challenging issues without boring discussions and unsatisfying compromises.

Because that's just what Trump promises, his candidacy is attracting those who think someone should just walk in and get it done. His message is that our country's problems are straightforward. All we need is to get "great people, really great people" to solve them. No muss, no fuss, no need to hear or take seriously opposing viewpoints. Trump's straight-talking, unfiltered, shoot-from-the-hip style promises a leader who will take action - instead of working toward a consensus among competing interests. That sounds perfect to the millions of Americans who are just as impatient with standard democratic procedures.

For Hoffer's hero is 'the autonomous man,' the content man at peace with himself, engaged in the 
    present.  In Hoffer's book, this hero, nourished by free societies, is set off against 'the true believer,' 
    who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a 
    cause oriented to some future goal. -Editor's Preface to the Time-Life Books edition of The True Believer

"Make America great again!"

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


An Argentine TV station made an incredible ad for the Copa América tournament featuring Donald Trump (Jeva Lange, 5/03/16, The Week)

The United States is hosting the Copa América soccer tournament for the first time in June, and an Argentine television station decided to have a little fun with that fact.

The station's advertisement for coverage of the event is set to one of Donald Trump's "I'm going to build a wall" speeches in which he blasts "dangerous" South Americans for coming over the border. "These are total killers," Trump rants. "These are not the nice, sweet little people that you think, okay?"

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Woman Card Earns Hillary $2.4 Million in Three Days (JENNA LIFHITS, 5/02/16, Weekly Standard)
Hillary Clinton raked in $2.4 million over the course of three days from selling "Women's Cards," the Clinton campaign said Monday. The haul is nearly a tenth of her fundraising total for April. [...]

The Clinton campaign launched the cards in response to Donald Trump's assertion Tuesday that people only vote for Clinton because she is a woman.

He got pwned by a girl.

May 2, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


PODCAST: FRANK WILCZEK -- Why Is the World So Beautiful? (Krista Tippett, On Being)

Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek sees beauty as a compass for truth, discovery, and meaning. His book, A Beautiful Question, is a long meditation on the question: "Does the world embody beautiful ideas?" He's the unusual scientist willing to analogize his discoveries about the deep structure of reality with deep meaning in the human everyday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Songs We Love: Bill Evans Trio, 'You're Gonna Hear From Me [Alternate Take]' (Jackson Sinnenberg, 4/30/16, NPR)

There are two basic structures that inform the majority of performances by the Bill Evans Trio. The first kind are simple vehicles for Evans to build and flesh out his ideas -- pretty standard fare for any jazz ensemble. The second kind, the kind that Evans' fame as one of jazz's greatest improvisers and bandleaders is built on, are less like vehicles and more like conversations. This take on "You're Gonna Hear From Me," a hit for crooner Andy Williams in 1966, is an example of just how fervent the trio's conversations could be.

The Bill Evans Trio went through countless lineup changes over Evans' 23 years as a bandleader. This particular configuration, featuring Evans' longtime collaborator Eddie Gomez and future fusion titan Jack DeJohnette, is probably the least known. Though Gomez joined Evans in the fall of 1966 and would stay with him for 11 years, DeJohnette's tenure lasted only a few short months. What they did in that time was previously only documented on the Bill Evans At The Montreux Jazz Festival LP. Recorded during that same period in 1968, Some Other Time: The Lost Session From The Black Forest is a new two-disc set that captures this trio's potency in its only studio appearance.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


'Lost, frustrated, suicidal youths': Journalist infiltrated ISIS-linked cell plotting French attacks (RT, 2 May, 2016)

The Canal+ journalist who used the pseudonym Said Ramzi (Ramzy) carried out his investigations over a six-month period. The complete documentary entitled 'Allah's Soldiers' will be released later on Monday. The intrepid journalist gave interviews about his mission to the AFP news agency and Telerama magazine.

Ramzi describes himself as a Muslim "of the same generation as the killers," who carried out the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015.

"I am a Muslim. Each new attack impacts my personal life because it complicates the issues around racism and integration," he told Telerama.

He said he doesn't blame those who treat Muslims and Muslim migrants with prejudice.

"The terrorists of 13 November are all descendants of immigrants. So the dread of Muslim terrorists is real. I want to fight those guys who kill in the name of Allah. And the weapon that I have chosen is infiltration."

Ramzi told AFP that he was working to reveal the deeper motivations behind terrorists' actions and "to understand what was going on inside their heads."

"One of the main lessons was that I never saw any Islam in this affair. No will to improve the world. Only lost, frustrated, suicidal, easily manipulated youths," he said. "They had the misfortune of being born in the era that Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] exists. It is very sad. They are youngsters who are looking for something and that is what they found."

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Value-Added Taxes aren't a bad idea for small businesses (William G. Gale, MAY 2, 2016, CS Monitor)

Value-added taxes (VATs) have been attracting growing attention in the United States. GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has proposed a VAT as part of a sweeping tax reform plan. The idea has also been backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), and others.

There are many benefits to such a tax. It could replace the revenue lost from reducing and simplifying the income tax, it could shore up the nation's long-term fiscal situation, and a well-designed VAT could be more efficient than today's messy income tax.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


CNN craves Fox News's conservative viewers (Erik Wemple May 2, 2016, Washington Post)

Dumping on the decisions of your predecessors isn't classic CEO-ish behavior. Yet there was CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker, telling the Wall Street Journal, "I think it was a legitimate criticism of CNN that it was a little too liberal. We have added many more middle-of-the-road conservative voices to an already strong stable of liberal voices. And I think that we are a much more-balanced network and, as a result, a much more inviting network to a segment of the audience that might not have otherwise been willing to come here."

A much "more-balanced network," huh? Note that Zucker didn't say that the introduction of additional conservative voices made for a "more fair and balanced network." Because that's the target here: Zucker wants the expansive audience of the Fox News Channel. This statement, in other words, was an iteration of executive savvy -- an attempt to position CNN for growth. And not the result of an ombudsperson's earnest examination of past CNN programming tilt.

Go for the 60%, not the 40.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


M​​oqtada al-Sadr: who is the cleric directing Iraq's protests? (Simon Tisdall, 2 May 2016, The Guardian)

The street protest movement that has rocked Baghdad in recent weeks, culminating in the weekend invasion of the walled government, parliament and embassy enclave known as the green zone, is largely directed by Sadr, who has moved his centre of operations from the holy city of Najaf to the capital. Some demonstrations have drawn up to 200,000 people.

No longer the sectarian firebrand and anti-US insurgent, Sadr has recast himself as a man of all the people, a fervent Iraqi nationalist and federalist who upholds the democratic process by non-violent means. The Mahdi army militia was disbanded in 2008. In the 2014 elections, the Sadrist al-Ahrar bloc won 34 seats in parliament. In short, Sadr has gone legit.

Far from seeking Abadi's overthrow, Sadr says he wants to help him implement reforms, in particular to end the discredited quota system introduced by Washington after the 2003 invasion. Quotas were intended to ensure Iraq's main ethno-religious constituencies - Shias, Sunnis and Kurds - shared power, but they have been widely abused to enrich office-holders and extend party political patronage.

What could be more democratic and patriotic than opposing foreign occupation?  He was right.  We were wrong.
Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Sinking the Belgrano: the Pinochet connection (Colin Brown, Kim Sengupta Monday 2 April 2012, Independent)

It was the moment which came to define the Falklands conflict, immediately claiming more than 300 lives and setting in chain events which would lead to the invasion of the disputed islands by British troops. Now, as services are held to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the war, a member of Margaret Thatcher's War Cabinet has revealed details of how intelligence received from the Chilean regime of fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet led to the decision to sink the Argentine warship General Belgrano.

The sinking of the former US warship was controversial because at the time it was outside a British 200-mile Total Exclusion Zone around the Falklands and was steaming away from the UK Task Force. The cruiser went down with the loss of 323 lives - more than half of the total Argentine losses in the war.

In an exclusive interview for a forthcoming book on the history of Britain, Real Britannia, Lord Parkinson discloses that the War Cabinet took the decision after receiving secret intercepts from Chilean intelligence services revealing the orders from the Argentine junta to the warship's captain, Hector Bonzo.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Donald Trump's new target: Bernie Sanders supporters (MJ Lee, 4/29/16, CNN)

"I think Bernie Sanders should run as an independent. I think he'd do great," Trump said at a victory rally in New York City Tuesday night, after sweeping five GOP contests in the Northeast.

The next morning, Trump said on MSNBC: "Bernie Sanders has a message that's interesting. I'm going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them."

Trump's advisers say these comments are a preview of more explicit overtures the campaign is ready to make to Sanders' supporters once the populist liberal exits the 2016 race. That strategy is based on the broad areas of overlap between voters attracted to Trump and those who have flocked to Sanders. Both have angrily denounced the political system as corrupt and expressed deep frustration that Washington is not helping ordinary people. They both oppose international trade deals, saying they hurt American jobs.

The two wings are united in their opposition to economics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Wary of China's Indian Ocean Activities, U.S., India Discuss Anti-Submarine Warfare (Sanjeev Miglani and Greg Torode, 5/02/16, Reuters) 

India and the United States are in talks to help each other track submarines in the Indian Ocean, military officials say, a move that could further tighten defense ties between New Delhi and Washington as China steps up its undersea activities.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


President Hassan Rouhani has urged for a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula (NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Monday appealed for a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons during a visit to Tehran by his South Korean counterpart, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


The Best Things to Buy at the Dollar Store (Patrick Allan, 5/02/16, Lifehacker)

Cleaning Supplies: The household cleaning products at the dollar store, like window cleaner, bleach, and dish soap, are just as effective as the pricier stuff at the supermarket. The ingredients are pretty much the same, they'll just have cheap labels and silly names.

Tools: Depending on your local dollar store, you can usually find decent tools. You're not going to find brand-name power tools, but there are screwdrivers, hammers, tape measures, and other simple stuff that works and gets the job done. If you want to put together a basic toolbox for small, occasional projects, start at the dollar store.

Kitchen Utensils and Tableware: Spatulas, tongs, mixing bowls, and even tableware like plates and cereal bowls from the dollar store are affordable, and often just as sturdy as something you'd buy elsewhere. I personally outfitted my entire table set, including utensils, from a dollar store and they actually look pretty great. Some items, like pots and pans, appliances, and chef's knives are probably worth spending some money on though.You don't have to pay for a set of knives, but you'll definitely want a few nice ones.

Shampoo, Deodorant, and Other Bathroom Products: If you don't mind using generic or off-brands, Consumer Reports explains that shampoo, deodorant, soap, and body wash are basically the same ingredients you pay more for elsewhere, and in some cases, the same companies that make the brand name stuff make the generic versions. Even first aid items like bandages and antiseptic cream are a good buy. [...]

Reading Glasses: If you can find them, reading glasses at dollar stores are basically the same thing you'd find at the drugstore or supermarket, only a lot cheaper. You don't have to worry about breaking them or losing them, so grab a few pairs.

May 1, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Video: 'The History of Beards,' by Vin Scully (Dodgers Insider)
Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


The Imperfect Victim : Galen Baughman seemed like an ideal spokesman for sex offenders' civil rights. Then he got arrested for texting a teenage boy. (Leon Neyfakh, 4/29/16, Slate)

Skenazy had met Baughman while reporting out her parenting book, Free-Range Kids, about the virtues of letting children take risks and the perils of trying to protect them from every conceivable danger. In the course of her research, Skenazy came to believe that American sex offenders were being oppressed by the criminal justice system--that in the name of protecting children, lawmakers had turned hundreds of thousands of people into helpless pariahs while doing next to nothing to make kids safer.

Baughman, who grew up in the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, and attended Indiana University to study opera, arrived at the brunch wearing a blue collared shirt and a bright, friendly smile.* As he told his story, he spoke with the deliberate diction of a former theater kid.

"When I was 19, I went to prison for what was supposed to be 6½ years for having a consensual relationship with a high-school-age kid," he said. "He was 14½. He was someone I'd known for a while and was really close to."  

After he completed his prison sentence, Baughman said, the state of Virginia refused to let him out. Instead, he was kept behind bars for more than two additional years because prosecutors believed he might fit the profile of a sexually violent predator. That meant Baughman could be held against his will under what's known as "civil commitment," a form of long-term psychiatric treatment that in practice amounts to indefinite detention. (Civil commitment is legal at the federal level and in 20 states. According to the New York Times, roughly 5,000 people convicted of sex crimes are now being held under civil commitment laws around the country.)  

Despite Virginia's best efforts, Baughman won his freedom in 2012, at which point he was placed on probation and added to the state's sex offender registry. Upon his release, he set about becoming an activist on behalf of the population he would later start calling "my people." He co-founded a nonprofit called the Center for Sexual Justice, dedicated to changing "the cultural beliefs leading to unjust sex laws that effectively target sexual minorities." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Could paying everyone benefits - rich and poor - be the best way to tackle poverty? (Peter Spence, 1 MAY 2016, The Telegraph)

For decades, economists have made the case for a third way - giving money to those in need. Such schemes go by different names, but the most well-known might be the "basic income", which would see governments give a fixed amount of money to every person, regardless of earnings.

The idea is starting to gain traction. In the past year, plans to introduce pilots have gained traction in Germany, Holland, Finland and Canada. A basic income policy has been put forward as a radical answer to streamline the British welfare state.

Now, GiveDirectly, a charity that gives money to people in Kenya and Uganda, is gearing up to launch its own basic income trial. For the first time, the idea of a basic income - which has existed for centuries - will put be put to a rigorous test.

Michael Faye, a GiveDirectly co-founder, says that "there is often an implicit assumption that the poor can't be trusted to make decisions for themselves". As a result, governments have relied on large, bureaucratic systems to help those in need.

Perversely, these can create poverty traps, as recipients of aid often face losing access to welfare payments if they get a new job, or increase their earnings. The complexity involved means that many people are often better off working less.

Guaranteeing an income regardless of earnings, employment, or any other characteristic eliminates that problem. GiveDirectly's previous work, distributing cash to people in East Africa using mobile phones, suggests those who receive money unconditionally can also be expected to spend it prudently.

Faye points to a growing pool of evidence to support cash transfers. Rather than the poor being unable to make good decisions for themselves, they are often able to make better ones than the top-down approach used in much of the development aid sector.

Data from GiveDirectly's work in Kenya found that those receiving cash transfers were more likely to replace their thatched roofs with longer- lasting, metal ones.

Academics have also found that recipients have chosen to invest in livestock and small businesses, boosting income well after the initial transfer of around $1,000 (£680) has been spent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East (ROBIN WRIGHT, 5/01/16, The New Yorker)

In the Middle East, few men are pilloried these days as much as Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot. Sykes, a British diplomat, travelled the same turf as T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), served in the Boer War, inherited a baronetcy, and won a Conservative seat in Parliament. He died young, at thirty-nine, during the 1919 flu epidemic. Picot was a French lawyer and diplomat who led a long but obscure life, mainly in backwater posts, until his death, in 1950. But the two men live on in the secret agreement they were assigned to draft, during the First World War, to divide the Ottoman Empire's vast land mass into British and French spheres of influence. The Sykes-Picot Agreement launched a nine-year process--and other deals, declarations, and treaties--that created the modern Middle East states out of the Ottoman carcass. The new borders ultimately bore little resemblance to the original Sykes-Picot map, but their map is still viewed as the root cause of much that has happened ever since.

"Hundreds of thousands have been killed because of Sykes-Picot and all the problems it created," Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, the Governor of Iraq's Erbil Province, told me when I saw him this spring. "It changed the course of history--and nature."

May 16th will mark the agreement's hundredth anniversary, amid questions over whether its borders can survive the region's current furies. "The system in place for the past one hundred years has collapsed," Barham Salih, a former deputy prime minister of Iraq, declared at the Sulaimani Forum, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in March. "It's not clear what new system will take its place."

The colonial carve-up was always vulnerable. Its map ignored local identities and political preferences. Borders were determined with a ruler--arbitrarily. At a briefing for Britain's Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, in 1915, Sykes famously explained, "I should like to draw a line from the 'E' in Acre to the last 'K' in Kirkuk." He slid his finger across a map, spread out on a table at No. 10 Downing Street, from what is today a city on Israel's Mediterranean coast to the northern mountains of Iraq.

"Sykes-Picot was a mistake, for sure," Zikri Mosa, an adviser to Kurdistan's President Masoud Barzani, told me. "It was like a forced marriage. It was doomed from the start. It was immoral, because it decided people's future without asking them."

For a century, the bitter reaction to the Sykes-Picot process has been reflected in the most politically powerful ideologies to emerge--Nasserism, in Egypt, and Baathism, in Iraq and Syria--based on a single nationalism covering the entire Arab world. For three years, Egypt and Syria, despite being on different continents, actually tried it, by merging into the United Arab Republic; the experiment disintegrated after a 1961 coup in Damascus.

Even the Islamic State seeks to undo the old borders. After sweeping across Syria and Iraq in 2014, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced, "This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy."

Yet the premise of American policy (and of every other outside power) today--in stabilizing fractious Iraq, ending Syria's gruesome civil war, and confronting the Islamic State--is to preserve the borders associated with Sykes-Picot. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Why Christians are 'Called to Resist' Donald Trump (David Gushee, 5/01/16, Religion News Service)

The language of "confessional resistance" harkens back to two moments in 20th century history in which groups of Christians in a particular context made major statements claiming that the very purity of the faith that Christians confess was at stake in a political phenomenon, such that failure to resist represented a failure to follow Jesus. Those two instances were Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. While no direct comparison is intended, the language of confessional resistance draws on that history.

Any such claims from Christians about a political figure, party, regime, or policy need to be made very carefully and very sparingly. That's because politics is messy, and political figures and parties almost inherently evoke starkly different responses. Our statement is not a mere declaration of political preference or candidate taste. It is about something much more fundamental.

This line from early in the document summarizes the heart of our concern:

The ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, is a threat to both the values of our faith and the health of our democracy. Donald Trump directly promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion.

Our analysis is that Donald Trump has gained the following that now puts him on the brink of the Republican nomination by exploiting the economic stresses and cultural tensions that exist in our rapidly changing society. He has risen to power by deliberately inflaming resentment, in particular white, male, working-class, "Christian" resentment. We say it this way:

Donald manipulating...anger for his own political advantage - at the expense of the common good. Trump is shamelessly using racial resentment, fear, and hatred - always dangerously present in our society - to fuel a movement against "the other," targeting other races, women, cultures, ethnicities, nations, creeds, and a whole global religion.

Our statement includes an appendix which attempts to list every particular act or type of act (and speech is an act, including social media speech) of Mr. Trump that we think requires specific condemnation and resistance. This bill of particulars aims to remind our forgetful land of the full scope of Mr. Trump's offenses and the reasons why he must be resisted in a more-than-ordinary way.

These offenses go as far back as his playing the "birther" card against President Obama many years ago, and include his attacks on Mexicans and other immigrants, his statements about American Muslims celebrating after 9/11, his mocking of a disabled reporter, his numerous calumnies directed against particular women, the atmosphere of violence at some of his rallies, his attacks on certain media members and the threatening environment for reporters at his rallies, and his tendency toward making threats and personal attacks on his political opponents.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


U.S. Decline Is Campaign Hype, Not Reality (Albert R. Hunt, 5/01/16, Bloomberg View)

[N]o Western economy has recovered from the recession as well as the U.S. The unemployment rate has been cut in half, with 14 million jobs added over the past six years. 

Most other indices are encouraging: Consumer confidence has risen and the housing market has basically recovered. Budget deficits have plummeted, there's less reliance on foreign oil than any time in almost three decades, and the health care overhaul has had more positive consequences than negative ones. [...]

There are encouraging developments on issues emphasized by conservatives. There are only about half as many abortions as 30 years ago. Teenage pregnancies have plummeted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that the birthrate among American teenagers has fallen to a historic low. This continues a quarter-century of improvement; especially important to experts is that the sharpest drops have been among Hispanic and black teenagers.  

And there is good news on crime. Both the murder rate and overall violent crime rate have been cut almost in half since the 1980s. There's bipartisan consensus to try to do something about the outrageously high incarceration levels, particularly for blacks. There is a chance that even this do-nothing Congress might pass measures.  

The world is a dangerous place, but it's not as threatening to the U.S. as it was 10 years ago when two wars raged. There is slow progress in the fight against the Islamic state, though future terrorist acts are inevitable and the danger will remain for years.

Critics claim that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has consistently outmaneuvered President Barack Obama. Yet Russia is more isolated today and subject to economic sanctions. And Putin's Syrian involvement could become a quagmire. China is more important and has been more aggressive in Asia, but its internal political and economic problems dwarf those of the U.S.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


If Trump is nominated, the GOP must keep him out of the White House (George F. Will, 4/29/16, Washington Post)

Donald Trump's damage to the Republican Party, although already extensive, has barely begun. Republican quislings will multiply, slinking into support of the most anti-conservative presidential aspirant in their party's history. These collaborationists will render themselves ineligible to participate in the party's reconstruction.

Ted Cruz's announcement of his preferred running mate has enhanced the nomination process by giving voters pertinent information. They already know the only important thing about Trump's choice: His running mate will be unqualified for high office because he or she will think Trump is qualified. [...]

Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states -- condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation's civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible.

It was 32 years after Jimmy Carter won 50.1 percent in 1976 that a Democrat won half the popular vote. Barack Obama won only 52.9 percent and then 51.1 percent, but only three Democrats -- Andrew Jackson (twice), Franklin Roosevelt (four times) and Lyndon Johnson -- have won more than 53 percent. Trump probably would make Clinton the fourth, and he would be a tonic for her party, undoing the extraordinary damage (13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 11 governorships, 913 state legislative seats) Obama has done.

If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power. Six times since 1945 a party has tried, and five times failed, to secure a third consecutive presidential term. The one success -- the Republicans' 1988 election of George H.W. Bush -- produced a one-term president. If Clinton gives her party its first 12 consecutive White House years since 1945, Republicans can help Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, or someone else who has honorably recoiled from Trump, confine her to a single term.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Listen Carefully for Hints of the Next Global Recession (ROBERT J. SHILLER, APRIL 29, 2016, NY Times)

[I]t's instructive to remember that global recessions have usually begun suddenly and been a real surprise to most people. As I have argued in this column and with George A. Akerlof in "Animal Spirits" (Princeton 2009), such events can largely be ascribed ultimately to contagious stories of wide significance. Basically, global recessions tend to begin when newly popular narratives reduce individuals' motivation to spend money. Psychology matters a great deal.

The biggest recession of all, the Great Depression, began suddenly with the stock market crash of October 1929, as Christina Romer, the former chairwoman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, pointed out in a famous paper. Even before 1929 was over, she found, department store sales and automobile registrations had declined, indicating that consumer spending had already dropped sharply. But why?

Economists were alarmed by the crash, she found, and their warnings helped make consumers wary. But let's not overestimate the importance of these economic forecasts: Most people never actually read them. They received their information from other channels.

Back then, immediately after the market crash, church sermons were a powerful influence. Congregations were told that many businesspeople had behaved like gamblers and hucksters. Through these sermons and other word-of-mouth sources, moralizing about the stock market crash spread, affecting mass psychology. Frederick Lewis Allen, in the epilogue to his 1931 best seller "Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s," wrote that cultural values changed after the crash: People began to dress more modestly, adopting a new formality and religiosity, reviving Victorian sexual taboos. It is reasonable to assume that many of these changes had an economic impact, mainly by discouraging spending.

Similarly in more recent downturns, broad cultural and social changes had big effects, too. Since World War II, there have been four global recessions, according to the International Monetary Fund, which defines such an event very specifically as negative global per capita economic growth over at least one year. In each case, these recessions lasted only one year, though relatively slow economic growth rates were also an issue in periods surrounding them. The recessions ended in 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2009.

As they had with the Great Depression, economists have cited concrete causes for these events. Oil has been named as a fundamental factor in each case, with price spikes blamed on the Yom Kippur war of 1973, the Iran-Iraq War beginning in 1980, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war and rising energy demand in China and other emerging countries in 2008.

Broader social narratives are sometimes ignored, but they matter, too. Consider the recession of 1975. Along with oil prices, common ways of understanding and describing daily life also changed. The oil crisis was widely said to signal the end of an era of abundance. Lower highway speed limits were imposed to conserve fuel, and cars grew smaller. Americans were told to lower their home thermostats to 68 degrees. In large numbers, people began wearing sweatsuits, flannel leg warmers, thermal underwear and long johns. Among all this austerity, the economist E. F. Schumacher's 1973 best seller "Small Is Beautiful" became a global morality lesson.

Let's jump to the most recent global recession, the one of 2009. Oil prices, subprime mortgages and the freezing up of the financial system after the collapse of Lehman Brothers were all important factors. But why did we have a global recession? The transformation of distinct events into a broad global slowdown occurred through a variety of mechanisms. Reports about financial misdoings, the possible collapse of venerable institutions, rising unemployment caused by advanced technology -- all of these affected the psychology of spending.

True disaster occurs when central bankers believe the narratives instead of the numbers. Witness the hilarity of Fed members arguing that we need rate hikes to fight the always imminent hyper-inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


A Private View of Quantum Reality : Quantum theorist Christopher Fuchs explains how to solve the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. His price: physics gets personal.  (Amanda Gefter, June 4, 2015, Quanta)

Christopher Fuchs describes physics as "a dynamic interplay between storytelling and equation writing. Neither one stands alone, not even at the end of the day." And indeed Fuchs, a physicist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has a radical story to tell. The story is called QBism, and it goes something like this.

Once upon a time there was a wave function, which was said to completely describe the state of a physical system out in the world. The shape of the wave function encodes the probabilities for the outcomes of any measurements an observer might perform on it, but the wave function belonged to nature itself, an objective description of an objective reality.

Then Fuchs came along. Along with the researchers Carlton Caves and Rüdiger Schack, he interpreted the wave function's probabilities as Bayesian probabilities -- that is, as subjective degrees of belief about the system. Bayesian probabilities could be thought of as gambling attitudes for placing bets on measurement outcomes, attitudes that are updated as new data come to light. In other words, Fuchs argued, the wave function does not describe the world -- it describes the observer. "Quantum mechanics," he says, "is a law of thought."

Quantum Bayesianism, or QBism as Fuchs now calls it, solves many of quantum theory's deepest mysteries. Take, for instance, the infamous "collapse of the wave function," wherein the quantum system inexplicably transitions from multiple simultaneous states to a single actuality. According to QBism, the wave function's "collapse" is simply the observer updating his or her beliefs after making a measurement. Spooky action at a distance, wherein one observer's measurement of a particle right here collapses the wave function of a particle way over there, turns out not to be so spooky -- the measurement here simply provides information that the observer can use to bet on the state of the distant particle, should she come into contact with it. But how, we might ask, does her measurement here affect the outcome of a measurement a second observer will make over there? In fact, it doesn't. Since the wavefunction doesn't belong to the system itself, each observer has her own. My wavefunction doesn't have to align with yours.

In a sea of interpretations of quantum weirdness, QBism swims alone. The traditional "Copenhagen interpretation" treats the observer as somehow standing outside of nature, imbued with mysterious wave-function-collapsing powers, governed by laws of physics that are different from those that govern what's being observed. That's all well and good until a second observer comes along to observe the first observer. The "many worlds" interpretation claims that the universe and all of its observers are described by a single, giant wave function that never collapses. Of course, to make that work, one must insist that at every fork in the road -- every coin toss, every decision, every moment -- the wave function branches and so do we, splitting into countless versions of ourselves who have collectively done and not done everything we'll ever do or not do. For those to whom a set of infinite parallel realities is too high a price to pay to avoid wave-function collapse, there's always the Bohmian interpretation, which seeks to restore a more concrete reality to the world by postulating the existence of a guiding force that permeates the universe and deterministically governs everything in it. Unfortunately, this new reality lies forever out of reach of scientific probing.

Those interpretations all have something in common: They treat the wave function as a description of an objective reality shared by multiple observers. QBism, on the other hand, treats the wave function as a description of a single observer's subjective knowledge. It resolves all of the quantum paradoxes, but at the not insignificant cost of anything we might call "reality." Then again, maybe that's what quantum mechanics has been trying to tell us all along -- that a single objective reality is an illusion.

It's a choice among homocentrist universes.
Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Iran's new parliament has more women than clerics (AFP May 1, 2016)

Iran's new parliament will have more women than clerics when its members are sworn in this month, a first in the Islamic Republic and a sign of the country's evolving politics.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Indiana Economy Offers Caution and Inspiration as Primary Nears ( TRIP GABRIELMAY 1, 2016, NY Times)

[Indiana, which holds its primary on Tuesday, defies an easy picture of Rust Belt decline. By many measures, the state is humming economically, offering a contrarian reality to the gloomy scenario that the presidential candidates are presenting to motivate voters.

With nearly one in five jobs in manufacturing, the highest share of any state, Indiana's gross domestic product is accelerating faster than any of its Great Lakes neighbors, according to the latest figures from the Commerce Department.

Unemployment at the end of last year was 4.4 percent, below the national average of about 5 percent. Even though the figure has ticked up in 2016, economists attribute the increase to the large number of people returning to the work force, including job seekers moving to Indiana.

Factories in heavily industrial Elkhart County, a center of recreational vehicle manufacturing where unemployment has been significantly reduced, have resorted to calling a homeless shelter to look for workers.

The Indianapolis region is growing faster than Chicago, Cleveland or Detroit, and personal income statewide rose 3.6 percent last year, faster than the national average.

"The economy here in terms of the data is as good as it's been in a generation," said Michael J. Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Mr. Hicks said that if measured by the value of goods produced, manufacturing has never been stronger in Indiana. The boom in the auto industry has played a big role in this because of the many parts factories in the state.

Factory jobs have declined, he added, but not because of trade deals with other countries as Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders assert, but because Indiana factories are increasingly efficient and fewer workers are needed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


How to measure prosperity (The Economist, Apr 30th 2016)

If GDP is failing on its own terms, as a measurement of the value-added in an economy, its use as a welfare benchmark is even more dubious. That has always been so: the benefits of sanitation, better health care and the comforts of heating or air-conditioning meant that GDP growth almost certainly understated the true advance in living standards in the decades after the second world war. But at least the direction of travel was the same. GDP grew rapidly; so did quality of life. Now GDP is still growing (albeit more slowly), but living standards are thought to be stuck. Part of the problem is widening inequality: median household income in America, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for 25 years. But increasingly, too, the things that people hold dear are not being captured by the main yardstick of value.

With a few exceptions, such as computers, what is produced and consumed is assumed to be of constant quality. That assumption worked well enough in an era of mass-produced, standardised goods. It is less reliable when a growing share of the economy consists of services. Firms compete for custom on the quality of output and how tailored it is to individual tastes. If restaurants serve fewer but more expensive meals, it pushes up inflation and lowers GDP, even if this reflects changes, such as fresher ingredients or fewer tables, that customers want. The services to consumers provided by Google and Facebook are free, so are excluded from GDP. When paid-for goods, such as maps and music recordings, become free digital services they too drop out of GDP. The convenience of online shopping and banking is a boon to consumers. But if it means less investment in buildings, it detracts from GDP.

Measuring prosperity better requires three changes. The easiest is to improve GDP as a gauge of production. Junking it altogether is no answer: GDP's enduring appeal is that it offers, or seems to, a summary statistic that tells people how well an economy is doing. Instead, statisticians should improve how GDP data are collected and presented. To minimise revisions, they should rely more on tax records, internet searches and other troves of contemporaneous statistics, such as credit-card transactions, than on the standard surveys of businesses or consumers. Private firms are already showing the way--scraping vast quantities of prices from e-commerce sites to produce improved inflation data, for example.

Second, services-dominated rich countries should start to pioneer a new, broader annual measure, that would aim to capture production and living standards more accurately. This new metric--call it GDP-plus--would begin with a long-overdue conceptual change: the inclusion in GDP of unpaid work in the home, such as caring for relatives. GDP-plus would also measure changes in the quality of services by, for instance, recognising increased longevity in estimates of health care's output. It would also take greater account of the benefits of brand-new products and of increased choice. And, ideally, it would be sliced up to reflect the actual spending patterns of people at the top, middle and bottom of the earnings scale: poorer people tend to spend more on goods than on Harvard tuition fees.

It's an information economy and information wants to be free.
Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


An unlikely trio: Israel, Hamas and Egypt reportedly form alliance to fight ISIS in Sinai (Jerusalem Post, 5/01/16)
Israel, Hamas, and Egypt have formed an unlikely alliance against the Islamic State in Sinai, who are planning increasingly sophisticated and daring attacks in the region, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. [...]

Last week, Hamas deployed several hundred fighters along the border between Gaza and the northern Sinai as a precautionary measure together with Egypt to prevent ISIS fighters in the region from breaching the coastal enclave. 

Hamas has also, for the first time, set up military checkpoints and border patrols along the frontier border with Israel, according to AFP.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Tiger Nuts Are The Newest, Greatest 'Superfood' (Eric Owens, 04/30/2016, Daily Caller)

It's not clear why paleo dieters have taken a sudden liking to tiger nuts, reports National Public Radio, though it could be because baboons eat them and, some scientists say, primates ate them a couple million years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


A Star Is Made (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT,  May 7, 2006, NY Times)

Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University, says he believes strongly in "none of the above." He is the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?

Ericsson, who grew up in Sweden, studied nuclear engineering until he realized he would have more opportunity to conduct his own research if he switched to psychology. His first experiment, nearly 30 years ago, involved memory: training a person to hear and then repeat a random series of numbers. "With the first subject, after about 20 hours of training, his digit span had risen from 7 to 20," Ericsson recalls. "He kept improving, and after about 200 hours of training he had risen to over 80 numbers."

This success, coupled with later research showing that memory itself is not genetically determined, led Ericsson to conclude that the act of memorizing is more of a cognitive exercise than an intuitive one. In other words, whatever innate differences two people may exhibit in their abilities to memorize, those differences are swamped by how well each person "encodes" the information. And the best way to learn how to encode information meaningfully, Ericsson determined, was a process known as deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task -- playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers -- whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming -- are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love -- because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

...but only he wants to be.

PODCAST: How to Become Great at Just About Anything (Stephen J. Dubner, 4/27/16, Freakonomics Radio)

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM

How to Make a Moscow Mule : You'll need lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer. (DAVID WONDRICH, JAN 7, 2016, Esquire)

In which our half-pint dissertation on the Progress of Vodka in America is brought to a felicitous conclusion. In 1934, one Rudolf Kunett bought the U.S. rights to the French Smirnoff brand (formerly, of course, Russian, until the hugger-mugger with that Lenin fellow) and started making and marketing vodka in America. Now, Americans had heard of the stuff, to be sure: It's not like we as a nation were entirely unprovided with Russians -- some of them refugees from the revolution, many from other Russians. G. Selmer Fougner's 1935 Along the Wine Trail, a distillation of the wisdom to be found in his daily column in the New York Sun, presents a tidy little section of vodka drinks -- including the earliest vodka martini our tireless researchers have been able to uncover, lurking under the guise of the Vodka Perfect (as in martini; unless, of course, it's a vodka Perfect Manhattan). But when Fernand Petiot, inventor of the Bloody Mary, moved to New York from Paris after Repeal, so scarce was vodka that he was forced to build his creation with gin. It wasn't that we didn't know vodka, it was that we didn't like it (one 1933 drink book defined vodka as "Russian for 'horrendous'").

In 1939, an exec at Heublein Inc. by the name of John G. Martin convinced his employer -- Lord knows how -- to buy out Kunett for all of 14K. Martin was not a stupid man, although it kinda seemed that way at first. But he was a push, push, push hard-charger, and he caught a couple of lucky breaks. First off, when they bottled Kunett's remaining stock, they used the leftover corks from his even-less-successful attempt at making whiskey. Heublein's distributor in South Carolina, the story goes, took one look at the cork and was visited with the slogan "Smirnoff White Whiskey. No taste. No smell." This, especially once refined into "Smirnoff leaves you breathless," inaugurated vodka's lock on the, ahem, dedicated daytime drinker.

Yet these brave souls, however loyal, weren't enough to support a business on the scale that Martin had in mind. Cut to Hollywood, 1946. Martin's sitting at the Cock 'n' Bull pub in Hollywood, commiserating with its owner, Jack Morgan. Morgan, you see, had been bottling this nice, spicy ginger beer that nobody wanted to drink. The deal was done: Smirnoff, Cock 'n' Bull ginger beer, and half a lime (swiped, no doubt, from the Cuba Libre), dumped into a special copper mug -- sourced by yet another friend with business problems -- and stuck with a meaningless but catchy name. The Moscow Mule. A little careful promotion, and wham! Vodka's breakout cocktail. Professional bartenders hated it, but the suckers bit.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM

...AND SAFER...:

AP Interview: With 92 percent of the world's declared chemical weapons destroyed...  (MIKE CORDER, 5/01/16, Associated Press)

With about 92 percent of the world's declared chemical weapons stockpiles destroyed, the watchdog agency overseeing the elimination of poison gas and nerve agents is looking now to counter emerging threats from extremist groups while still dealing with unfinished business in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


The Future of Work: Having Our Pie and Eating It Too (Rosanne Currarino, Pacific Standard)

Happiness is not a word usually associated with work, workers, or the labor movement. Misery is. And there's good reason for that. Work is hard. The dictionary on my computer tells me that work means "activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result" and the example it gives of the word in action is pretty dismal: "He was tired after a day's work in the fields." In the Judeo-Christian tradition, work is the punishment humans must endure for having nibbled at the apple in the Garden of Eden. For the 40 million or so Americans who earn less than what the federal government designates as the poverty line for a family of four (a measly $24,250 in 2015) work means effort, exhaustion, and perhaps punishment. It does not mean economic security, sufficient food, adequate housing, child care, or health care. Work certainly does not mean, lead to, insure, or even suggest happiness.

Alas, in American culture, the misery of work has been seen as a virtue -- and the suffering of the working poor, their "reward" for not working hard enough. In the 1890s, opponents of Gompers and the labor movement fumed that workers didn't want to work hard enough. They just wanted to indulge in unnecessary luxuries. "They even eat pie," one especially outraged individual squawked, "which is no food for working people and does them no good." [...]

Maybe pie, not misery, should be a virtue. Maybe leisure time and recreation and just plain fun and happiness should be what we talk about when we talk about work in the future. [...]

[W]hat if we put pie on the table? What if we stressed the importance of life outside work? I'm not certain that is possible in the United States. The firm grip of an especially grim version of the Protestant work ethic lends a moralistic tinge to any discussion of leisure. When "works and days were offered us," explained Ralph Waldo Emerson in the mid-19th century, "we took works." It was, Emerson implies, an either/or choice: works or days, but not both. As a result, work has become linked inextricably with virtue and leisure with vice, making it easy to explain one person's economic difficulty as the result of his or her own failings -- or conversely to explain success as both deserved and earned. Systemic obstacles to employment, good wages, and job stability stay obscured under the rhetoric of virtue and vice. Just look at explanations -- explicit or implicit -- of African-American and Latino poverty as reflective of "no desire to work" or "laziness." The lesson remains clear: you should take works, not days.

The lack of high paying jobs is only being treated as a crisis precisely because it's impacting those of us who've always judged the lazy poor.  As labor disappears so too will the notion of measuring a man's worth by his job. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Venezuela's president is ordering a 30 percent increase in the minimum wage (AP, 5/01/16)

Venezuela's president is ordering a 30 percent increase in the minimum wage, the latest move by the socialist government to grapple with high inflation and economic stagnation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Roadside History: General John Stark, 1728-1822 (Union Leader, 5/01/16)

What the markers say: 

Derry: "Rogers' Ranger and Revolutionary hero, served at Bunker Hill and in Washington's New Jersey campaign of 1776-77, and commanded the American militia which decisively defeated two detachments of Burgoyne's army near Bennington, Vermont, August 16, 1777. A stone marks his birthplace on Stark Road, six-tenths of a mile easterly on Lawrence Road."

Manchester: "This 30 acre tract along the Merrimack River was the family farm of Revolutionary War hero General John Stark and his wife Molly. When soldiers were stricken with smallpox at Ticonderoga, the General sent them here to his farm to recover. General Stark returned here at the end of the war. He died in 1822 and is buried in the family plot in the park. The city of Manchester purchased this site from Stark descendants in 1891, and it was dedicated as a public park in 1893."

Charlestown: "To impede a British invasion from Canada into eastern New York, the New Hampshire legislature, on July 19, 1777, commissioned John Stark of Derryfield to recruit and lead a force of 1500 New Hampshire militiamen. At Charlestown's Fort No. 4, forces were assembled with food, medical supplies and military stores. On August 3, they marched west and, in the famed Battle of Bennington on August 16, they defeated the combined British-German forces, thereby achieving a major turning point of the war."

But this was even better (prior to winning the Battle of Bennington):

My men, yonder are the Hessians. They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. Tonight, the Americna flag floats from yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


In last laugh, Obama roasts presidential candidates (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 1, 2016).

"If this material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year," Obama said. "Earn me some serious Tubmans," he added, referring to plans to put abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman on the new $20 bill.

Obama took a few swipes at the presidential race, noting that "next year at this time someone else will be standing here in this very spot, and it's anyone's guess who she will be."

Calling presidential candidate Bernie Sanders the bright new face of the Democratic Party, Obama contrasted his slogan, "Feel the Bern," with one he said was that of rival Hillary Clinton: "Trudge Up the Hill."

But Republicans took the brunt of Obama's humorous broadsides. "Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish," he told the diners, "and instead a whole bunch of you wrote in 'Paul Ryan.'"

Of Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Obama said, "He has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world -- Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan."

He added: "And there's one area where Donald's experience could be invaluable, and that's closing Guantanamo -- because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground."

He's finally ready to be president...