July 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


IS claims attack in Egypt's Sinai that killed 26 soldiers (ASHRAF SWELIAM AND MAGGIE MICHAEL July 8, 2017, AP) 

Islamic militants attacked a remote Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula with a suicide car bomb and heavy machine gun fire on Friday, killing at least 26 soldiers in the deadliest attack in the turbulent region in two years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Trump Says It Is 'an Honor' to Meet With Vladmir Putin (Eric Levitz, 7/07/17)

President Trump's first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin has begun. Ahead of their extended sitdown at the G20 summit, the two leaders briefly addressed the press. The president said that it was "an honor" to meet with the man who recently launched a multi-pronged attack on our nation's democratic process...

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Want to Secede? First, Take This Test : How libertarians can separate some independence movements from others. (Tyler Cowen, 7/07/17, Bloomberg View)

One approach to secession is the libertarian notion of self-governance. In this view, secession is a check against potential tyranny. If the rule of a centralized authority becomes too oppressive, part of the larger unit can break away and move toward freer and more democratic policies. 

A good example of a relatively libertarian secession was when Estonia left the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Today, governance in Estonia is much better than in Russia, and the separation, while perhaps still precarious, has been fully peaceful.

When an empire is crumbling, and the rulers are very bad, the libertarian approach to secession makes good sense. That said, it's not a fully general principle. 

Sometimes a region wants to leave a country because of differences of ethnicity, religion, language or background culture, as is the case with the Scottish independence movement and the Catalonian secessionists. In those instances, it's not obvious whether a unified or a newly independent government would result in greater liberty and prosperity. And for all the strong feelings you will find, I am not sure there is an objectively correct moral answer as to whether there should be one nation or two. [...]

Another problem with the libertarian approach to secession is that it doesn't offer a limiting principle. Say the city of Portland, Oregon, by a margin of 70 percent wanted to leave the Trump-led United States. Few people would regard this as a good reason to allow the separation, and it could lead to the messy fracturing of many larger political units. A successful Southern secession during the 1860s would have meant a continuation of slavery in that new country.

The conservative (small c) approach to secession tends to oppose the idea, unless there is a clear and overwhelming benefit from a political split, or unless both parties are in calm agreement, as with the separation of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. That would mean thumbs down for the secessionist movements in Scotland and Catalonia. [...]

What then was the case for American secession, putting aside the biases of American patriotism? Had America stayed part of the British Empire, taxes would have been fairly low, and perhaps slavery would have been abolished more quickly. Still, it doesn't seem that British rule could have been stable for much longer from such a distance. The question is then whether 1776 was a relatively propitious time for a separation, and given the quality of American political thought and leadership at the time, one can rationally believe the answer is yes.

The discussion of the libertarian case there presents a false dichotomy.  It is precisely because "part of the larger unit" identifies itself as distinctive in cultural (religious, linguistic, ethnic) terms that it may find central governance tyrannical even when it is actually quite liberal.  It is also a not infrequent occurrence that a distinctive geographical or cultural part will come to think of itself as a nation because its interests are not treated fairly by the central government.

Look again to the American Revolution.  It obviously would have been better for the species had America stayed a part of Britain.  Besides ending slavery, with the consequent avoidance of the Civil War, a unified Anglosphere would have acted as a stronger brake on the globalist ambitions of Napoleon, the continental Empires, Hitler, Stalin, etc. than a fairly isolated England ever could.  

And colonists did not initially seek independence, only our rights as Englishmen--chiefly representation.  Only the opposition of King and Parliament to extending these natural rights was able to create a sense of nationhood. And once England had dug in its heels, there was only one moral answer :

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We see something similar in the old Palestinian Mandate, where folk often argue that the Palestinians had never previously considered themselves a nation.  And? Now, largely because they are denied self-representation, they do. That cat too is out of the bag.

Meanwhile, in places Estonia, Scotland and Catalonia you have the added factor of historic nationhood and only reluctant (forcibly imposed) central unity.  Each people believe themselves a nation, so they are.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Qatar Employs 'Electronic Army' to Spark 'Revolt' in Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat, 7/07/17)

"We found over 23,000 Twitter accounts driven by Qatar, some of them linked to accounts calling for 'revolution' in Saudi Arabia," Information Minister Awwad Saleh al-Awwad told AFP during a visit to Paris.

"This is a matter of national security," he added, while saying that Qatar's al-Jazeera satellite television is spreading messages of hate.

"Al-Jazeera is a platform for terrorism, starting from bin Laden to al-Qaradawi. It is only normal that it be shut down. The channel and those working for it should be held accountable," demanded the minister. [...]

The accounts sought to create spite between the official authorities and the citizens, spark doubts and encourage a rebellion against the general system, he said.

If we had effective Intelligence agencies they'd act like Qatar.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Rouhani and Trump: Together against Iran's Men with Guns? (Amir Taheri, 7/05/17, Asharq Al-Awsat)

These days something strange is happening with regard to Iran. You might say: so what? Strange things have been happening with regard to Iran ever since the mullahs seized power in 1979.

Alright, but what is happening now may merit closer attention because it represents an unprecedented convergence between the thinking of the Trump administration in Washington, on the one hand, and that of one of the factions involved in the power struggle in Tehran, on the other.

Last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the Trump administration is putting final touches to a new policy on Iran with the ultimate aim of regime change. While details of this new policy remain a mystery, one thing maybe clear: one of its aims would be the dismantling of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which US experts identify as the mainstay of the Khomeinist regime.

National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster has more than hinted at this, while a number of Republican policymakers, among them Senator Tom Cotton, have evoked the designation of the IRGC as a "terrorist organization."

Parallel to those developments, the Islamic Republic's own President Hassan Rouhani has launched a campaign of vilification against the IRGC.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


There's No Crying in Professional Wiffle Ball (C. Brian Smith, 7/06/17,  Mel Magazine)

Golden Stick's slogan?

A backyard game taken way too far.

"We wanted to truly take it way too far," Levesque tells me, recounting the early days of the league. A few of the bucket-list items included: Playing for six-figure prizes; fully-sponsored teams; a reality show; collecting enough money to provide a disposable income to players and hiring a fleet of 20-somethings to be lemonade girls to "pour lemonade and trickle towels on the neck of players between innings," Levesque explains. "We were outrageous in what we thought. We wanted guys to find Golden Stick and feel that at 38 and chubby, with a pretty miserable life at home, they could walk on our field and scratch the surface of being the pro they always wanted to be."

Part of the charm of Wiffle ball is the fluidity in the rules depending on the backyard. Golden Stick, however, sought to bring nationwide consistency to the game by following a strict rule book, the basics of which included: four innings, three outs, two strikes to strike out, four balls to walk, 3-man* teams in the field and no one running the bases -- only "ghost runners" determined by how far the ball travels. (*There was one female Golden Stick player in 2007. She won the championship.)

The strike zone -- a 2-foot-by-3-foot square behind the batter -- determines balls and strikes. An 8-foot-by-8-foot backstop keeps balls from escaping and plays an important role on defense, which we'll get to in a minute. A "barrel line" in front of home plate (aka "the shit line," since anything that fails to pass this line epitomizes a shitty hit) marks the point past which the ball must travel to be considered fair. A second line ("the headline") is behind the pitcher's mound. If a player fields the ball in front of the headline and hits the backstop behind home plate in the air (which acts as a first baseman), the batter is out. Once the ball gets beyond that line, it can no longer be fielded for an out. "So as a hitter, you're trying to get the ball to touch the grass behind that line," Levesque explains. "And as a fielder you're trying to defend that ball from touching the grass and crossing that line."

Once it does, it's a single. Any ball that rolls to the outfield wall is a double, so a play's not dead when a ground ball comes through the infield. Instead, outfielders act as goalies at the home run fence to block the ball from making contact with the wall to avoid a double. Hitting the wall on the fly earns a triple, and a home run is a home run.

As such, the difference between Golden Stick Wiffle® and the backyard game you grew up playing, Leahy explains, is night and day. "There might be one or two kids that are above average. They can hit harder and throw strikes. Once you step on the Golden Stick field, though, it's like, 'Holy s[***], these guys are no joke.' It's like coming from T-ball and getting thrusted into Major League Baseball. A lot of people get humbled quickly, put their tails between their legs and go home."

The Spaldeen Is Back (Even if the Dodgers Aren't) (BRENDAN I. KOERNERMARCH 13, 2005, NY Times)

AGING Brooklynites tend to don rose-colored glasses when recalling the quality of equipment used in stickball. They romanticize the game's pink rubber balls, known as Spaldeens, as paragons of durability and bounciness. So, on the rare occasions when a modern Spaldeen develops a crack, the complaint line lights up at Spalding, the balls' manufacturer.

"People really give us some grief," said Dan Touhey, Spalding's vice president for marketing and development. "They say, 'Hey, it's not as good as the one we used to play with.' But the irony is that the product that was being used in the 50's was a really downgraded product. It would break a lot more often."

The original Spaldeens, first sold in 1949, were just tennis balls that had been rejected for slight defects -- before the addition of the fuzzy coating. Rather than toss them in the trash, Spalding, based in Springfield, Mass., stamped the words "Spalding High-Bounce Ball" on the pink or gray rubber rejects and sold them cheaply to wholesalers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


The Trump Administration's Own Data Says Obamacare Isn't Imploding (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Michelle Cheng and Maggie Koerth-Baker, 7/06/17, 538)

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, last week released a report about a wonky aspect of the Affordable Care Act related to insurance payments. Tucked away in the report, however, was evidence that the health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016. Contrary to the "death-spiral" narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

Explaining what CMS found requires a dip in the sea of the actuarial terminology, so take a deep breath, we'll be back up for air shortly. The report looked, in part, at so-called risk-adjustment payments, which are part of the ACA's system for encouraging insurers to enroll high-cost patients. This system is meant to prevent insurers from cherry-picking the healthiest people on the market by collecting money from plans with healthier enrollees to distribute to plans that have people with higher health care costs. (Another type of payment discussed in the report, known as reinsurance, serves a similar purpose through a different mechanism: The government effectively covers part of the cost of patients with very expensive health needs.)

To determine the mix of healthy and sick enrollees for risk-adjustment payments, the federal government assigns risk scores to people based on their age, sex and health diagnosis and then averages the scores for a plan. What CMS found was that those averages were relatively stable in 2016. That's a good sign for the marketplaces, because stabilizing the mix of healthy and sick people buying on the marketplaces goes a long way toward stabilizing prices. Despite expectations that in the face of rising premiums, healthier enrollees would be less inclined to enroll last year, that doesn't appear to have been the case.

That doesn't mean the marketplaces are working for everyone. There are millions of people who don't qualify for subsidies, face high prices in the private market and likely haven't enrolled in insurance as a result. That's a problem that needs solving, but it's a different problem than the marketplaces being in a death spiral.

Republicans will expand it to more of those people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Van Jones' Excellent Metaphors About the Dangers of Ideological Safety (Jonathan Haidt, Mar 2, 2017, Heterodox Academy)

Last week Van Jones offered the most perfect combination of strong reasons and intuitively compelling metaphors I have ever seen to explain why current campus trends regarding political diversity are bad for students and bad for the American left more generally.

Jones was a guest at David Axelrod's Institute of Politics, at the University of Chicago. During their 80 minute discussion, with S. E. Cupp,  Axelrod mentioned that he had hosted Corey Lewandowski (Trump's former campaign manager) the previous week, which had led many students to protest the event, arguing that merely to have him on the Chicago campus would "normalize" the Trump administration. Axelrod noted that he disagrees with that thinking, and then asked Jones for his own thoughts on the question: what is the proper response when someone associated with Trump or supportive of Trump is brought onto a college campus and given an opportunity to speak publicly? What should college students do?
You have to watch Jones' response to get the full power and passion of his remarks. But afterward you might want to see them written out, in order to quote them or tweet them or just meditate on their brilliance. I was not able to find a full and neat transcript online, so I had the staff at Heterodox Academy transcribe the clip and I post it below the video, with a closing comment.


David Axelrod: We had Corey Lewandowski here last week. That engendered a protest outside the meeting--also part of our democracy. There's a lot of anger and a lot of rage about what this administration is doing and the sense that [you should not have] anybody associated with him because then you're normalizing the [Trump] administration. I have a different view but I am interested in yours.

Van Jones: I don't like bigots and bullies. I just want to point that out... But I got tough talk for my liberal colleagues on these campuses. They don't tend to like it but I think they like me so I get away with it. I want to push this.

There are two ideas about safe spaces: One is a very good idea and one is a terrible idea. The idea of being physically safe on a campus--not being subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse, or being targeted specifically, personally, for some kind of hate speech--"you are an n-word," or whatever--I am perfectly fine with that.

But there's another view that is now I think ascendant, which I think is just a horrible view, which is that "I need to be safe ideologically. I need to be safe emotionally I just need to feel good all the time, and if someone says something that I don't like, that's a problem for everybody else including the administration."

I think that is a terrible idea for the following reason: I don't want you to be safe, ideologically. I don't want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That's different.

I'm not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I'm not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that's the whole point of the gym. This is the gym. You can't live on a campus where people say stuff you don't like?! And these people can't fire you, they can't arrest you, they can't beat you up, they can just say stuff you don't like- and you get to say stuff back- and this you cannot bear?! [audience applause]

This is ridiculous BS liberals! My parents, and Monica Elizabeth Peak's parents [points to someone in the audience and greets her] were marched, they dealt with fire hoses! They dealt with dogs! They dealt with beatings! You can't deal with a mean tweet?! You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless, but obnoxious and dangerous. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset, and then to learn how to speak back. Because that is what we need from you in these communities. [applause]

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


U.S. Spends More on Health Care Than Other High-Income Nations But Has Lower Life Expectancy, Worse Health (Commonwealth Fund, October 8, 2015)

Commonwealth Fund researchers found the U.S. to be a substantial outlier when it comes to health spending. Health care consumed 17.1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, about 50 percent more than any other country. Despite being the only country in the study without universal health care coverage, government spending on health care in the U.S.--mainly for Medicare and Medicaid--was high as well, at $4,197 per person in 2013.

By comparison, the U.K., where all residents are covered by the National Health Service, spent $2,802 per person.