September 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Michelle Obama outshines all Democratic prospects for 2020 (DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN, 09/08/17, The Hill)

Let me be clear: This is not an endorsement. I have been, and still am, critical of Barack Obama's presidency. Michelle Obama would not be my candidate, and I do not agree with many of the positions I believe she would advance. But as an analyst, Michelle Obama is clearly the Democrats' best chance to reunite the party and win back the White House in 2020.

Michelle Obama is perceived as a strong, well-qualified leader with immense national popularity. Broadly, the polls show she is respected by the American people and by the near-entirety of the Democratic Party.

Although Michelle Obama has stated that she is not interested in a presidential bid, her appeal and support for her husband remain robust.

According to the January 2017 USA Today/Gallup poll, Michelle Obama left the White House with a 68 percent favorability rating, compared with 58 percent for President Obama and 61 percent for Vice President Biden. 

While it is common for first ladies to be more favored than their husbands, Michelle Obama's favorability is substantially higher than Hillary Clinton's rating of 56 percent from 2000 when she and President Clinton left the White House. 

Further, in plain terms, Michelle Obama would be a far superior candidate to Hillary Clinton. I opposed Hillary Clinton because she faced ethical issues that could very well have initiated a constitutional crisis had she been elected. Michelle Obama does not face such controversy.

If the Right seems bat-scat crazy now, wait'll 2020, when it's Michelle vs. Nikki.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


'Our Partners Have More To Lose Than We Do' : Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi says his country wants to continue adhering to its nuclear treaty, even if the United States withdraws.  (Interview Conducted By Susanne Koelbl, 9/10/17, Der Spiegel)

DER SPIEGEL: [...] Some weeks ago, Iran tested a new ballistic missile. Is this wise timing amid growing tensions?

Salehi: If the U.S. considers this an issue, then it is their problem. Nowhere in the nuclear agreement does it say that Iran does not have the right to develop its missile capacity. We are exercising our rights and it is the other side that is trying to interpret this as a provocative act. Every day for the last 38 years, we've dealt with the U.S. or other countries issuing different accusations against Iran. One day we are not "democratic enough," the next day it is about "human rights" or "false elections.

DER SPIEGEL: Isn't there some truth in that?

Salehi: There are countries in the region which have no elections at all, nor basic rights for their citizens -- where, for example, women can't even drive. But because they are in the political orbit of the West, especially the U.S., they are being left alone.

DER SPIEGEL: How does Tehran view the U.S. president's close cooperation with Saudi Arabia?

Salehi: From what I have gathered, the U.S. is in a state of confusion. Even the European allies of the U.S. do not know which strategy President Trump is pursuing. This confusion is not directed against us alone, but it has negatively impacted the U.S. administration's governance and its allies in the region. For example, recently Qatar.

DER SPIEGEL: Although the emirate is home to the U.S.'s most-important military base in the Persian Gulf, Donald Trump allowed a Saudi Arabia-led group of states to isolate Qatar.

Salehi: Suddenly you wake up and you find out that Qatar has been cut off from the military alliance of the Gulf States, the Gulf Cooperation Council. I really can't say that Qatar was a friend. In the case of Syria and in other regional conflicts it has always been on the other side. But now we are providing them with access to airspace, access to the sea and roads, because we are their only outlet. True political practice requires wisdom and a rational approach. That is why we are making these concessions to Qatar.

DER SPIEGEL: This could make Saudi Arabia's leaders even more furious. They already see themselves as surrounded by Iran.

Salehi: I lived in Saudi Arabia for four years, I know many of their officials. We always had our different views, but also enjoyed a relatively good relationship in different domains, such as economics, trade and tourism -- visitors from Iran going to Saudi Arabia and vice versa. The Iranians do not have any designs on the land or the wealth of others. We have our own ample gas and oil, and vast land.

Our allies aren't going to stop trading with Iran, so we can only hurt our own businesses.
Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Why Angela Merkel deserves to win Germany's election : And why she must become bolder in her (almost inevitable) fourth term (The Economist, Sep 9th 2017)

TO HER many fans, Angela Merkel is the hero who stands up to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and who generously opened her country to refugees. [...]

Yet, for all this, Mrs Merkel has often governed on the "easy" setting, especially in her policies at home. She has enjoyed a host of advantages. Mr Schröder's reforms made German workers competitive. The euro, raw materials and borrowing have all been cheap for much of her chancellorship, too. Emerging economies such as China cannot yet make the things Germany does (like luxury cars), so they import them. Germany has the second-oldest population in the world, but its baby-boomer bulge is largely still of working age. The country has been living through a golden age.

The trouble is that none of the factors that brought this about is permanent. Mrs Merkel had a chance to prepare the country for the future. She has squandered it. Her government's obsession with balanced books has led it to invest too little. The net value of German infrastructure has fallen since 2012. Since 2010 the country's broadband speed has fallen from 12th to 29th in the world. New industries like the internet of things and electric cars are underdeveloped. The mighty German automotive industry took a bad gamble on diesel engines, and is now mired in allegations of faked emissions tests.

Little has been done to prepare Germany for its demographic crunch. Mrs Merkel's outgoing government not only reversed a raise in the retirement age, but cut it to 63 for some workers and introduced a "mothers' pension" for women who took time off to care for children before 1992, benefiting a generation that was already well-catered for. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Alexander Hamilton, "Account of a Hurricane" : Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) From The Essential Hamilton: Letters & Other Writings (Library of America)

"View in Antigua: Effects produced upon the House at Clark's Hill by the Hurricane in 1772," watercolor and body color over pen and ink on laid paper by English artist Thomas Hearne (1744-1817).
245 years ago a devastating hurricane barreled through the Caribbean, making its first landfall in the same group of islands menaced today by Hurricane Irma. The storm is so widely associated with our first Secretary of the Treasury that the meteorologist and hurricane historian Wayne Neely refers to it simply as the "Alexander Hamilton hurricane of 1772."

Seventeen years old and a native of Saint Croix, Hamilton experienced the awesome power of the tempest firsthand--and the course of his life was dramatically changed by the letter he sent afterward to his father (a ne'er-do-well who had abandoned the family years earlier). Hugh Knox, a local minister, was impressed by the letter and its theological underpinnings--which were inspired, not coincidentally, by a sermon delivered by Knox himself. In addition to being a Presbyterian minister, Knox worked for the local newspaper and decided to publish the letter, which brought the young man to the attention of a wider public for the first time. Local businessmen took up a collection to send Hamilton to Boston to further his education--and the rest, as we all know, is a musical.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Freud the Egotistical Fraud? : a review of Freud: The Making of an Illusion (Matthew Hutson, 9/10/17, The Washington Post)

Freud's life has been digested and redigested for decades, but Crews, an English professor and former psychoanalysis advocate, takes on this period because, he says, it's been overlooked except by proselytizing partisans who distort the record. Plus, the complete set of Freud's letters from this period to his fiance, Martha Bernays, has recently been released.

The driving force of the narrative is Freud's yearning to become famous -- for anything. In school, he was keenest on philosophy and entered medicine not out of interest or aptitude but for a living. His first stab at notoriety came with a useless cell-staining method he overhyped in scientific papers Crews describes as "crass propaganda."

Next he turned to cocaine, which he expounded as a cure-all (and habitually injected). Freud tried to treat his friend's morphine addiction with cocaine, rendering him doubly addicted, then fraudulently championed the fiasco as a string of successes with multiple patients. He even sold fake data to a cocaine manufacturer and pseudonymously published an academic article praising his own work.

Freud's engagement with psychotherapy began in 1885 on an extended visit to a Parisian hospital. There he witnessed the treatment of "hysteria," a grab bag of physical and psychological symptoms thought to be psychogenic -- and distinctly feminine -- and he took note of hypnosis as a method of inquiry. Essentially, the staff would knowingly or unknowingly induce women to act out, and punish them if they didn't, using sedatives or clitoral cauterization. Apparently, Freud liked what he saw. He returned to Vienna and opened up shop.

Far from a passive listener, he insisted that patients had been sexually abused as children, and if they failed to recall anything, he would describe the episodes in detail. Many patients went away fuming -- or laughing.

Freud's claims skirted falsifiability, the quality of being testable, a bedrock of the scientific method. Resistance to his lurid suggestions, he argued, meant only that he was onto something: Heads I win, tails you really do want to fellate your father. He also conspired to excommunicate any analyst from the movement who dared to subject his ideas to critical scrutiny. As Freud wrote to a close colleague, he was only "fantasizing, interpreting, and guessing" toward "bold but beautiful revelations." He claimed: "I am actually not at all a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter, not a thinker. I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador."

As a result, he made claims about humanity based not on the evidence his patients presented but on hunches about his own hang-ups.

...was that Marxism, Darwinism and Freudianism were all, necessarily, unfalsifiable theories that flattered their propounders.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Domino's Tries Delivering Pizza Without a Driver (Brent Snavely, 9/10/17, Detroit Free Press)

Soon, the pizza you order from Domino's might show up in a Ford Fusion hybrid without a driver. [...]

"We are delivery experts; this is where the industry is going," said Russell Weiner, president of Domino's USA. "We think we are the right company, and we certainly are working with the right partner to make this happen."

While the idea will require the customer to do a little extra work, people have adapted in the past to self-service gas and self-checkout at grocery stores. Plus, the pizza won't cost more, and no tip will be required.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Rush Limbaugh Evacuates Palm Beach Ahead of 'Fake News' Irma (Callum Borchers, 9/10/17, The Washington Post)

Rush Limbaugh recently claimed that the media is manufacturing unwarranted panic about Hurricane Irma as part of a plot to hype climate change, boost ratings and increase advertising revenue from businesses that stand to make money off purchases of batteries and bottled water. [...]

Limbaugh said something else on Thursday: He indicated he is evacuating his Palm Beach mansion, from which he broadcasts daily, for "parts unknown."

"May as well go ahead and announce this," he said. "I'm not going to get into details because of the security nature of things, but it turns out that we will not be able to do the program here tomorrow.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Financial Globalization 2.0 (HANS-HELMUT KOTZ ,  SUSAN LUND, 9/05/17, Project Syndicate)

As the financial crisis evolved, private-sector involvement - through "haircuts" and "bailing in" - became a threatening option. From a risk perspective, domestic markets - where banks had the advantage of scale and market knowledge - became comparatively more attractive. In Germany, for example, the ratio of foreign to total assets at the three largest banks flipped, from 65% in 2007 to 33% in 2016. This was not simply a matter of shrinking the overall balance sheet; domestic assets grew by 70% during the same period.

What has emerged in the eurozone and beyond is a potentially more stable financial system, at least where banking is concerned. Banks have been required to rebuild their capital, and new rules on liquidity have reduced leverage and vulnerability. Stress testing and resolution preparedness - the sector's so-called living wills - have created significant disincentives to complexity. All of this has made foreign operations less attractive as well.

A more diverse mix of cross-border capital flows also indicates greater stability. While total annual flows of cross-border lending have fallen by two thirds, foreign direct investment has held up better. FDI is by far the most stable type of capital flow, reflecting long-term strategic decisions by companies. Equity-related positions (FDI plus portfolio investments) now account for 69% of cross-border capital flows, up from 36% in 2007.

One final measure of stability is that global imbalances, including aggregate capital- and financial-account balances, are shrinking. In 2016, these imbalances had fallen to 1.7% of global GDP, from 2.5% in 2007. Moreover, the remaining deficits and surpluses are spread over a larger number of countries than before the crisis. In 2005, the US absorbed 67% of global net capital flows. By 2016, that share had fallen by half. China, meanwhile, accounted for 16% of the world's net capital surplus in 2005; last year it was only 1%. And, with only a few exceptions, like Germany and the Netherlands, imbalances have also declined within the eurozone. Today, developing countries have become capital importers once more.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Germany praises Iran nuke deal as model for North Korea talks (AFP, September 10, 2017)

Talks between Iran and six world powers, sealed with a 2015 deal for Tehran to roll back its nuclear program and submit to inspections in exchange for some sanctions being rolled back, were "a long but important period of diplomacy" that had achieved a "good end," she added.

"I could imagine such a format for the settlement of the North Korea conflict. Europe and especially Germany ought to be ready to make a very active contribution," Merkel said.

Such a deal ought to include elections.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


The Arab Autocracy Trap (SHLOMO BEN-AMI, 9/-8/17, Project Syndicate)

Egypt offers a classic example of how revolution often ends in betrayal. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's dictatorship is even more violent than that of Hosni Mubarak, the strongman whose 30-year rule was ended by the 2011 uprising. With the help of a police force that he himself describes as a "million-man mafia," Sisi has made repression the paramount organizing principle of his regime.

It would be a Herculean feat for anyone to reform Egypt's economy so that it benefits the country's 95 million people (plus the two million added every year). And it is a task that Egypt's leaders cannot avoid, because the social contract of the Mubarak years, whereby Egyptians traded freedom for an expansive welfare state and generous subsidies, is no longer sustainable.

With youth unemployment at 40%, only a bold reformist president could pull Egypt back from the brink of economic disaster. Sadly, rather than providing hope to the younger generation of Egyptians who protested in Tahrir Square six years ago, Sisi has stifled individual initiative and made the army the primary actor in the economy.

Perhaps fearing even greater social unrest, Sisi has yet to meet the conditions set last November by the International Monetary Fund as part of a $12 billion bailout. These include drastically reducing the wage bill for Egypt's bloated public sector, which still employs six million people (not counting the army and police); and reducing subsidies, which still constitute 30% of the national budget.

Moreover, Sisi has offered even fewer institutional channels for political expression than existed under the Mubarak-era one-party system. According to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, there were five times more street protests in Egypt in 2016 than there were, on average, in the years preceding the Arab Spring. A social volcano is forming; sooner or later, it will have to erupt.

In Saudi Arabia, the monarchical-theocratic regime weathered the Arab Spring with relative ease, because it could lavish its citizens with largesse. But the kingdom's social contract, like Egypt's, has become unsustainable, owing to falling oil prices and a population that has grown by more than 25% in the last decade alone.

Earlier this year, the Saudi government was forced to cut public-sector salaries and subsidies on basic goods. This represents a major risk for the regime (indeed, the salary cuts were quickly restored, after protests were called in four cities), not least because the state is the largest employer of Saudi citizens.

Many of the region's autocrats have put their faith in the "China model" of non-democratic development. But that model has clearly failed them. It requires far too much socioeconomic and political regimentation to be workable under prevailing conditions in the Arab world.