March 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Dissent among scientists over key climate impact report (Matt McGrath, 3/21/14, BBC News)

Prof Richard Tol is an economist at the University of Sussex, who has been the convening lead author of the chapter on economics.

He was involved in drafting the summary but has now asked for his name to be removed from the document.

"The message in the first draft was that through adaptation and clever development these were manageable risks, but it did require we get our act together," he told BBC News.

"This has completely disappeared from the draft now, which is all about the impacts of climate change and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. This is a missed opportunity."

Critics say that some aspects of the projected effects are "alarmist", such as the impact on conflict and migration caused by climate change.

"You have a very silly statement in the draft summary that says that people who live in war-torn countries are more vulnerable to climate change, which is undoubtedly true," said Prof Tol.

"But if you ask people in Syria whether they are more concerned with chemical weapons or climate change, I think they would pick chemical weapons - that is just silliness."

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


How Liquid Natural Gas May Revolutionize Shipping, And Make Goods Cheaper (Stephen Starr, March 29 2014, IBD)

Fuel typically amounts to 70 percent of the overall cost of moving a container ship from A to B; most ships today run on cheap, dirty bunker fuel. It's a dense oil residue said to contain 2,700 times more toxic sulfur than vehicular fuels. According to studies cited by the watchdog group Transport & Environment, air pollution from shipping causes 50,000 deaths in Europe alone every year. Regulations to be introduced by the International Maritime Organization next year and in 2020 will make high-sulfur fuels, such as bunker fuel, illegal for use in ships sailing in numerous emission-control zones around the world.

Enter LNG, which, unlike bunker fuel, contains no harmful sulfur dioxide, emits 26 percent less carbon dioxide, and produces almost zero smoke.

And it's cheaper than bunker fuel too.

According to Tim Delay, vice president of fuels for liquid natural gas distributor Pivotal LNG, a unit of AGL Resources Inc. (NYSE:GAS), gas contains more energy than bunker fuel. In the U.S., he said, this works out to around $100 per metric ton cheaper than bunker fuel.

"The relative low price of natural gas and LNG compared to current high residual bunker and distillate fuel prices in the U.S and Europe has added to the attractiveness of LNG," wrote Frederick Adamchak, an adviser at New York-based brokerage Poten & Partners, in an industry publication last year.

America is also flush with gas: the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates there's enough of it underground to last 92 years at expected demand.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Campaign calls for Paris 'love locks' to be banned (Will Coldwell, 3/31/14,

For some they are a symbol of everlasting love. For others they are a rusting eyesore. But now the "love locks" - padlocks engraved with the names of lovers - that line the rails of Paris's bridges may have met their match, as a campaign takes off to have them banned.

The No Love Locks campaign, which includes a petition that currently has over 1,700 signatures, was launched in February by two Americans living in Paris who were shocked at the extent of the trend across the city. The idea is that by attaching the locks to a public place and throwing away the key, the love it represents will become unbreakable. However, with an estimated 700,000 padlocks now attached to locations across the French capital, the weight could be putting the structural integrity of the city's architecture at risk.

Originally affecting the Pont des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché, the padlocks can now be found on almost all of the bridges across the Seine, as well as many of the smaller footbridges that span the canals in the 10th arrondissement. On the most popular bridges the guard rails now consist of a solid wall of metal. In a testament to the popularity of the act, even Google Maps now denotes the Pont de l'Archevêché as "Lovelock bridge".

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Rise of the robots :Prepare for a robot invasion. It will change the way people think about technology (The Economist, Mar 29th 2014)

As consumers and citizens, people will benefit greatly from the rise of the robots. Whether they will as workers is less clear, for the robots' growing competence may make some human labour redundant. Aetheon's Tugs, for instance, which take hospital trolleys where they are needed, are ready to take over much of the work that porters do today. Kiva's warehouse robots make it possible for Amazon to send out more parcels with fewer workers. Driverless cars could displace the millions of people employed behind the wheel today. Just as employment in agriculture, which used to provide almost all the jobs in the pre-modern era, now accounts for only 2% of rich-world employment so jobs in today's manufacturing and services industries may be forced to retreat before the march of the robots. Whether humanity will find new ways of using its labour, or the future will be given over to forced leisure, is a matter of much worried debate among economists. Either way, robots will probably get the credit or blame.

Robotic prowess will to some extent be taken for granted. It will be in the nature of cars to drive themselves, of floors to be clean and of supplies to move around hospitals and offices; the robotic underpinning of such things will be invisible.

..can imagine that having a machine do your work is a mixed blessing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Why Republicans can be even more optimistic about taking the Senate (JOHN SIDES, March 31, 2014, Washington Post)

Democrats' prospects for 2014 do not look rosy.  There is little chance that they will retake the House, and a good chance they will lose seats. Even worse, there is a significant chance that they will lose control of the Senate. Our forecasting model said as many as two months ago. That forecast continues to square with the sense of many analysts -- even those who mocked the forecast. [...]

One key piece of information is whether candidates have held an elective office before and, if so, which one.  Unsurprisingly, political science research has long shown that candidates who have held elective office and higher levels of office tend to do better on Election Day.  They usually run better campaigns and make fewer mistakes, if only because they've done it before.

As we have begun to incorporate candidate experience into the model, our initial sense is this: Republicans may have a far better chance of winning control of the Senate than we or other analysts previously thought. Here is a preliminary estimate: The GOP could have as much as a 4 in 5 chance of controlling the chamber.

The wonders of adult supervision.
Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Federal Court Upholds Texas's War On Roe v. Wade (SCOTT LEMIEUX, MARCH 31, 2014, American Prospect)

Last year, as much of the nation is aware thanks to Wendy Davis, Texas passed a particularly draconian abortion law. Predictably, the law has already caused abortion clinics to close, and by the end of the year there are expected to be only 6 clinics remaining to serve the nation's second-largest state. Despite the huge burdens that the statute will undeniably place on the women of Texas and despite the fact that the laws aren't designed to accomplish anything but to make abortion less accessible, a 3-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the law. And, depressingly, the court's decision could well survive review by a Supreme Court that is almost as hostile to the reproductive rights of women.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Cuban lawmakers OK key foreign investment law (ANNE-MARIE GARCIA, 3/29/14, Associated Press)

 Cuban lawmakers on Saturday approved a law aimed at making Cuba more attractive to foreign investors, a measure seen as vital for the island's struggling economy. [...]

 Among other things, it would cut taxes on profits by about half, to 15 percent, and make companies exempt from paying taxes for the first eight years of operation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Putin informs Merkel of Russia's partial troop withdrawal on Ukraine border (Deutsche Welle, 3/31/14)

Russia has partially withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine. In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel President Vladimir Putin discussed the move and how the West can "restore stability in the region."

We have no interest in stability.

Germany ready to reinforce Nato-Russia borders (ANDREW RETTMAN, 3/31/14, Eu Observer)

 Germany has said its air force is ready to increase security on Nato's border with Russia, despite Moscow's promise not to escalate the crisis in Ukraine.

A German defence ministry spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency on Sunday (30 March) "the army could take part in flights to patrol airspace with Awacs machines [surveillance planes] over Romania and Poland as well as training flights in the framework of a Nato air policing mission over Baltic states".

The statement comes after Denmark and the US in the past few weeks agreed to send more than a dozen extra F-16 fighter jets to the region.

March 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 PM


The Demographics Behind the Democrats' 2014 Troubles : The party is losing support among whites, millennials and independents. (ANDREW KOHUT, March 30, 2014, WSJ)

Recent national surveys of registered voters by the Pew Research Center, the Washington Post/ABC News and the New York Times/CBS News show congressional voting intentions about even. But if these polls were narrowed to likely voters, they might find a strong GOP lead. It could be a replay of 2010, when Pew's final congressional poll of registered voters showed a one-point Democratic lead, but among likely voters Republicans held a six-point advantage, which was about their margin of victory when they retook the House.

Another challenge for Democrats is winning independents, who typically decide election outcomes. Democrats trail Republicans among independents by 38% to 44%, according to Pew's February survey. Democrats also lost the independent vote in the 2012 presidential election, 45% to 50%, according to national exit polls. In other words, President Obama owed his re-election victory to his base. This is an important indication of how lagging Democratic engagement could sway 2014.

A third challenge is the white vote. While winning whites is not as essential as it once was, they will still make up close to 80% of this year's midterm electorate. Democrats have consistently lost the white vote in recent decades, even in the 2006 congressional landslide. The early polls in 2014 don't show a changing tide. The Pew Research Center's February poll showed the GOP with a 53% to 38% advantage in congressional voting intentions among white registered voters.

Then there are the millennials. While support for Democratic candidates among African-Americans and Latinos remains high, young people are less enthusiastic. The Pew center's in-depth surveys of those ages 18-34 indicate that this generation, a voting bloc so important to Mr. Obama's two victories, is growing more disillusioned with the president. Millennial self-identification as Democrats has edged down to 50% from a high of 58% in 2009. Pew also found Mr. Obama's job approval among millennials has fallen to 49% in early 2014, down from 70% in the honeymoon months of 2009, his highest rating among any generation.

Opinion of the president is probably the greatest problem for Democrats this year. At 44%, Mr. Obama's overall approval rating about matches President Bush's rating in early 2006 when Republicans lost Congress. And it is not too different from Mr. Obama's own approval in 2010--45%--when the GOP regained the House.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


James Lovelock: environmentalism has become a religion : Scientist behind the Gaia hypothesis says environment movement does not pay enough attention to facts and he was too certain in the past about rising temperatures (Adam Vaughan, 3/30/14,

Environmentalism has "become a religion" and does not pay enough attention to facts, according to James Lovelock.

The 94 year-old scientist, famous for his Gaia hypothesis that Earth is a self-regulating, single organism, also said that he had been too certain about the rate of global warming in his past book, that "it's just as silly to be a [climate] denier as it is to be a believer" and that fracking and nuclear power should power the UK, not renewable sources such as windfarms.

Speaking to the Guardian for an interview ahead of a landmark UN climate science report on Monday on the impacts of climate change, Lovelock said of the warnings of climate catastrophe in his 2006 book, Revenge of Gaia: "I was a little too certain in that book. You just can't tell what's going to happen."

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


In Las Vegas, Jeb Bush stumps for better schools (LAURA MYERS, 3/28/14, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL)

"One of the things that's important is to have high, lofty expectations," Bush said during a forum at Advanced Technologies Academy. "In too many places in our country, the expectations are dumbed down, instead of starting with the premise that everybody in this classroom has a God-given ability and let's maximize it."

Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he founded, toured the campus to see how technology and digital learning tools have helped the magnet school become the top Nevada school.

A potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, Bush also is in town to meet with Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who threw a VIP party Thursday night at his private hangar at McCarran International Airport. Bush was the featured speaker.

Bush also planned to raise money for the re-election of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval at a private event. [...]

Bush spoke to about 200 students at Advanced Technologies Academy. He was on a panel with State Board of Education member Mark Newburn; state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas; state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson; Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky; Deborah Kral, principal at Advanced Technologies Academy, and student Anton Sorkin, who studied in the school's law program.

When Bush was governor of Florida, he supported innovative education programs and encouraged efforts to let students choose public or private schools.

He said his views on education changed further after he visited Sweden, where students at a private "knowledge school" learn at their own pace and use high-technology. The government pays for public and private school education.

Bush said Nevada and other states should allow more digital learning, including video game-like classes, to excite students about education and prepare them better for the working world.

"It was a customized, student-centered, performance-based system," Bush said of the Swedish school he visited. "If you mastered one class, you moved on to the next. But you have to master it."

Bush also touted advanced placement classes that allow students to gain college credits early. He said he hopes his three grandchildren will be learning in a more high-tech environment and taking college classes at the ages of 14, 15 and 16, whether remotely or in a classroom.

"By the time my three grandkids are in high school it may not be called high school," Bush said. "It may be a continuous learning environment. I do know it will be radically different. We just have to create the most open, optimum environment. ... We're moving in that direction, but it's taking way too long."

Bush said "shifting the power from the adults to the students in a customized environment" can help the United States lead the world in education by allowing students to "learn at their own pace, and in their own way."

"Be big or go home. You have a chance to change things," Bush said, explaining that many teaching methods are out of date. "Try to make it more like the world today and less like the world 50 years ago. ... Think bigger."

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Cardinals rich with young arms (Derrick Goold, 3/30/14, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

From 1981 through 2008, the Cardinals took two high school pitchers in the first 30 picks of the draft, both in 1991. But starting with Miller, the Cardinals have selected three preps pitchers in the first round of the five drafts since. To decode pitching -- "The most volatile element of the draft," Luhnow says -- the Cardinals explored, experimented with an illustrator and controversial experts, and ran forensics on their own misses, such as in 2005 when four of Luhnow's first six picks were pitchers -- none of whom remain in professional baseball.

And they collected data, lots and lots of data.

DeWitt said the Cardinals studied the profiles of successful major-league pitchers and "in a sense reverse-engineered it." They needed years and drafts to build the database necessary.

"When I say that it's part art and part science, it really is," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We want to be a data-driven team, but it takes time to accumulate data, and once you acquire all of that data it takes time to run analysis. You also need time to let natural evolution happen."

DeWitt said the Cardinals realized arms come from random rounds, early and deep, because "pitching can develop late." Powerball lefty Kevin Siegrist, 24, was a 41st-round pick who spent 4½ seasons at Class A or lower before blooming. They also saw, repeatedly, two commonalities:

Arm strength and athleticism.

A focus on those attributes wasn't novel, but it proved fertile. Eight years ago the Cardinals counted eight pitchers in the entire organization who averaged better than 90 mph on their fastball. This season's major-league staff will include at least five arms that average 95 or better. As they prepared to draft Miller, an athletic pitcher with repeatable mechanics and a thermal fastball, they also worked to sign a lithe teenager in the Dominican Republic who had been a shortstop and could throw 96 with ease. His delivery wasn't "classic," just easy, athletic and repeatable. Martinez signed eight months after Miller.

"I always thought that if you look at the best pitchers in the game, they have two common traits," Mozeliak said. "They usually have (arm strength), and they are freaky athletic. What I mean by that is Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and that generation of pitchers -- whatever they did they were really good at. That's what we're hoping to find."

In the 2009 draft, the Cardinals took 50 players, including 29 pitchers, and the draft produced opening day third baseman Matt Carpenter (13th round) and first baseman Matt Adams (23rd round). It also found two starters, a closer and a middle reliever. As a group they combined for 15.3 Wins Above Replacement in 2013.

"It was definitely strategic," Mozeliak said. "It was also fortuitous."

"At some point you have to get lucky," Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto said. "If you look at last year (and) how many times did they hit on the upside potential and how many times did they miss, they were pretty close to 100 percent. ... Young pitching is kind of the how-the-world works. If you have young pitching and you have it in volumes, you always have the next answer or the next potential answer."

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Work begins on the world's first 3D-printed house : Zero waste, lower transport costs and recyclable materials - is 3D-printing the future of housebuilding? Dutch architects are putting the process to the test for the first time in Amsterdam (Oliver Wainwright, 3/28/14, The Guardian)

Treacle-black plastic oozes from a nozzle at the bottom of a small tower in Amsterdam, depositing layer upon layer of glistening black worms in an orderly grid. With a knot of pipes and wires rising up to a big hopper, it looks like a high-tech liquorice production line. But this could be the future of house-building, if Dus Architects have their way.

On this small canal-side plot in the north of the city, dotted with twisting plastic columns and strange zig-zag building blocks, the architects have begun making what they say will be the world's first 3D-printed house.

"The building industry is one of the most polluting and inefficient industries out there," says Hedwig Heinsman of Dus. "With 3D-printing, there is zero waste, reduced transportation costs, and everything can be melted down and recycled. This could revolutionise how we make our cities."

Working on site for three weeks, the architects have so far produced a 3m-high sample corner of their future house, printed as a single piece weighing 180kg. It is one of the building blocks that will be stacked up like Lego bricks over the next three years to form a 13-room complex, modelled on a traditional Dutch gabled canal house, but with hand-laid bricks replaced by a faceted plastic facade, scripted by computer software.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Inside the game, most think the manager can make a big difference (Thomas Boswell, March 28, 2014, Washington Post)

The closest we may come to a consensus view of managerial value may be second-generation big leaguer Adam LaRoche's. Coaches in football and basketball, he says, have more direct, constant impact on their games, including play calling and in-game strategy shifts. "Baseball is a feel sport," he said. Pitch to pitch, bounce to bounce. "Managers can't make those decisions for you.

"The personal side of it is more important in baseball. Bobby Cox, you never saw him. [He] went straight to his office, never walked into the clubhouse. That was our place. You never saw him until the game started. But he always had the player's back. Even if everybody in the world knew the player was wrong, Bobby would defend him. That gets your respect. Whatever he asked you to do, you didn't just do it, you were happy to do it because it was for Bobby.

"I've had managers who never could develop that authentic respect. When a manager doesn't have respect, you can tell, even by the tone of the players' answers to questions in interviews. They're 'losing the room.' And it's hard to get it back."

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Gingerly, Iran begins to rock out (Scott Peterson, March 30, 2014, CS Monitor)

[I]ranian musicians say the growing openness of the past two years has now blossomed under centrist President Hassan Rouhani, enabling live performances today that would have been impossible not long ago. 

Exhibit A is a groundbreaking show that just finished a 20-gig run in Tehran's renowned Vahdat Hall. Redefining what is acceptable on stage, women sang solos; Western songs filled the playlist, from John Lennon to Frank Sinatra; and most lyrics were in English.

Audiences who crammed into the plush multi-story theater gasped at the spectacle, some singing quietly along as the lead female vocalist - wearing a maroon head scarf that fell to her waist - belted out Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black."

Called "The Last Days of March," the hybrid theater-band act set out to test the limits of a cultural battle with conservatives who fear "Westoxicating" influences on the Islamic Republic.

"From the third night, ticket sales shot up. People were very surprised...we could have doubled the run," says Behrooz Saffarian, the musical director.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Can Paris's next mayor - whoever she is - revitalize the city? (Sara Miller Llana, March 30, 2014, CS Monitor)

Most voters in Paris care about affordable housing - of which there is very little in Paris, a main reason that young people opt to live elsewhere - as well as jobs, crime, and pollution. But both women floated some ideas that would add to Paris's cultural portfolio - like creating urban art projects in abandoned tunnels (Hidalgo) or turning unused metro stations into swimming pools and nightclubs (NKM).

Their run-off Sunday is one of thousands across the country, which follow last Sunday's first go. The major takeaway from round one was pessimism: high rates of abstention and better-than-expected results for the far-right National Front, mostly explained by discontent with the mainstream parties, especially the ruling Socialists. NKM, in fact, squeaked out a few more votes than Hidalgo, who has been long favored to win.

The dour national mood has been another reoccurring theme in France, even making the front pages of Le Monde recently, after an Ipsos survey showed that 85 percent of respondents believe France is a country in decline.

Would it kill them to clean up their trash and dog dung?

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Smoking Proves Hard to Shake Among the Poor (SABRINA TAVERNISE and ROBERT GEBELOFF, MARCH 24, 2014, NY Times)

[A]s evidence of smoking's deadly consequences has accumulated, the broad patterns of use by class have shifted: Smoking, the leading cause of preventable death in the country, is now increasingly a habit of the poor and the working class.

While previous data established that pattern, a new analysis of federal smoking data released on Monday shows that the disparity is increasing. The national smoking rate has declined steadily, but there is a deep geographic divide. In the affluent suburbs of Washington, only about one in 10 people smoke, according to the analysis, by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. But in impoverished places like this -- Clay County, in eastern Kentucky -- nearly four in 10 do.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Christianity: Foundation of Western Success : a review of Rodney Stark's \How the West Won:  The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (ISI Books) (SAMUEL GREGG, Crisis)

First, he weaves his arguments about pre-Christian Europe, the medieval period, the Crusades, and the development of capitalism (to name just a few) into an account which dissolves many prevailing conceptual divisions between the pre-modern and modern worlds.  Many secular-minded people -- but also many Christians -- will be surprised at the high degree of continuity, for instance, between minds like Saint Albertus Magnus and Sir Isaac Newton.  Sometimes this occurs by Stark pointing to evidence that has hitherto escaped most people's attention.  In other instances, it is a question of looking at the same evidence but through a more plausible interpretative lens.

The second distinctive feature of How the West Won is how Stark shows how particular historical myths have less to do with the facts than with efforts to paint Christianity as a backward regressive cultural force.  To give just one example, Islamic Spain is regularly portrayed, Stark notes, as an oasis of tolerance compared to a repressive Christendom, despite the undeniable evidence of the widespread and long-term persecution and subjugation of Jews and Christians by the Moors.

In making these points, Stark is happy to engage in the deeply politically-incorrect exercise of comparing developments in the West to that of other civilizations.  His analysis suggests that if a culture does not embody a robust conception of reason and free will -- not to mention a conception of God to whom these characteristics are also attributed -- then it's road to freedom, economic prosperity, and human flourishing is going to be very difficult indeed.  Espousing such views won't win you tenure in the contemporary academy.  That, however, doesn't weaken the saliency of such perspectives.

At the core of Stark's investigation is his argument that specific ideas innate to Judaism (especially that found in Diaspora Jewish communities) and Christianity played a pivotal role in enabling the West to make and sustain political, legal and economic breakthroughs that eluded other civilizations.  First and foremost, Jews and Christians viewed God as a rational Creator.  In that sense, God was not at all like the Greco-Roman deities -- capricious, self-indulgent beings for the most part.  Moreover, the Christians, from the very beginning, not only understood the need to reason out the implications of Christ's teachings; they also viewed reason as the great gift which God gave man to know the truth about the Creator but also the world He created in order that humans might help unfold God's design.

The second religious ingredient of the West's success, Stark maintains, was Christianity's unwillingness to attribute life's ups-and-downs to fate.  Unlike the pagan (and many contemporary) religions, the Jewish and Christian "conception of God is incompatible with fate" (p. 120).  It is true, Stark writes, that particular pagans such as Cicero had a somewhat similar view of free will.  The difference is that belief in free will was more than simply a philosophical tenet for Jews and Christians.  It was also a matter of specific religious conviction, which meant, furthermore, that people could -- and would -- be held accountable for their free choices before the same rational God who had given them free will.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Azeri president to visit Iran as bilateral ties warm ( TIMES OF ISRAEL, March 30, 201)

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev will visit Iran in April to discuss expanding ties between the two counties, the semi-official Iranian Fars news site reported Saturday.

"The visit is to take place late April upon an invitation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani," the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Baku Mohsen, was quoted as saying.

Aliyev has been a trusted friend and ally to the West - and especially to Israel - and the key to a transformation that has developed oil-rich Azerbaijan from a small nation in Iran's shadow to a strategic ally and an avid consumer of Israeli arms.

Israel has cultivated ties with the Muslim nation, which has enormous reserves of oil and natural gas and a 380-mile southern border with Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Children's hyperactivity 'is not a real disease', says US expert (Daniel Boffey, 3/29/14, The Observer)

One of the world's leading neuroscientists, whose work has been acknowledged by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, has suggested that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not "a real disease". [...]

[P]erry, a senior fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston, Texas, said he was concerned that children were being labelled as having ADHD when that merely described the symptoms of a range of different physiological problems. The symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of ADHD include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness over a sustained period.

Perry added that clinicians were also too readily prescribing psychostimulants to children when the evidence suggested there were no long-term benefits. Animal studies have raised concerns over the potential for damage to be done.

It's just about controlling the bahavior of males.

March 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Egypt crisis: Young detainees allege torture (Orla Guerin, 3/29/14, BBC News)

Brutal beatings, sexual abuse, and electric shocks are being carried out on detainees, including teenage children, in Egypt, according to testimonies gathered by the BBC.

As many 20,000 people are estimated to have been held since last July in a sweeping clampdown on dissent.

A growing number are now emerging from police stations and prisons with serious allegations of torture.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Influential Republicans working to draft Jeb Bush into 2016 presidential race (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, March 29, 2014, Washington Post)

Many of the Republican Party's most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy. [...]

Many if not most of Mitt Romney's major donors are reaching out to Bush and his confidants with phone calls, e-mails and invitations to meet, according to interviews with 30 senior Republicans. One bundler estimated that the "vast majority" of Romney's top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight.

"He's the most desired candidate out there," said another bundler, Brian Ballard, who sat on the national finance committees for Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. "Everybody that I know is excited about it."

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


Outrage as US comedian mocks Asian Americans (AFP, 3/29/14) 

Social media erupted in outrage and counter-attacks Friday after US comedian Stephen Colbert used language that mocked Asian Americans in what was intended as an anti-racist jibe.

Colbert, who is liberal but parodies a blustery conservative on his late night talk show, took aim at the Washington Redskins football team whose name is considered offensive by many Native Americans.

Close, but he's a conservative parodying liberalism from cover.

March 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Putin calls Obama to discuss 'diplomatic resolution' to Ukraine crisis, White House says (Scott Wilson, March 28, 2014, Washington Post)

Russian President Vladi­mir Putin called President Obama on Friday to discuss how to pursue a "diplomatic resolution" to the crisis in Ukraine, the White House announced.

In a statement, the White House said Putin called Obama -- who is completing a visit to Europe and the Middle East, in large part to rally support against Russia's seizure of Crimea -- to go over a proposal Secretary of State John Kerry made to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, earlier this week in The Hague.

March 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Technology shakes up US economy (Robin Harding, 3/26/14, Financial Times)

In manufacturing, the story is of a productivity boom that allowed a solid increase in sales, coupled with falling employment and payrolls. Manufacturing sales rose 8 per cent between 2007 and 2012 to reach $5.8tn.

However, the industry shed 2.1m jobs - employment falling to 11.3m - and its payroll dropped $20bn to $593bn.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


The Global Economy's Tale Risks (Robert Schiller, 3/27/14, Project Syndicate)

Visiting Japan on a speaking tour, I am struck by the positive impact of the economy-related stories on people's thinking and behavior, and also by how fragile that change is. Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assumed office in December 2012 and launched his program of monetary and fiscal stimulus and structural reform, the impact on Japanese confidence has been profound. According to the International Monetary Fund, the output gap - the difference between actual and potential GDP - narrowed from -3.6% in 2011 to -0.9% in 2013.

Most of the rest of the world lacks a comprehensive, easily understood narrative of positive change similar to Japan's "Abenomics." The output gap for the world's major advanced economies, as calculated by the IMF, remains disappointing, at -3.2% in 2013, which is less than half-way back to normal from 2009, the worst year of the global financial crisis, when the gap was -5.3%.

We seem to be at the mercy of our narratives. Ever since 2009, most of us have just been waiting for some story to turn our hearts aglow with hope and confidence - and to reinvigorate our economies.

Which is why it seems silly for the UR to give up on a grand bargain.  We need a big stunt to reverse the narrative. The underlying conditions do all the rest of the work.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Entertainment Weekly wants you to write for it for free. Don't do it. (Scott Meslow, 3/27/14, The Week)

In the Hunger Games-esque world of online journalism, everyone is looking for ways to cut costs and increase traffic. Unfortunately, industry giant Entertainment Weekly has hit on the most depressing and shameful strategy for doing just that: Exploiting hundreds of aspiring professional writers for a new platform called "The Community," which will rely on a base of "community contributors" -- the vast majority of whom will be paid absolutely nothing for their work.

March 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Who else is sanctioning Russia? Investors (Anna Kordunsky, March 26, 2014, CS Monitor)

Rattled by the country's increasingly erratic and bullheaded moves, investors have responded with the greatest capital flight from Russia since the financial crisis of 2008. The sting of the exodus might not be immediately apparent to Russian consumers, but it will compound the shocks that Russia's oil-fueled economy already has to absorb -- not least among them the costs of annexing the woefully underdeveloped Black Sea peninsula and reviving a slowing economy. 

In the first three months of 2014, capital outflow from Russia amounts to $65-70 billion, Andrei Klepach, the deputy economy minister, said Monday. "Probably closer to $70 billion," he added. 

To put this in perspective, Russia's annual capital outflows last year was $63 billion, and in 2012 it was $54 billion. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Puny Putin (TIM CONGDON, April 2014, Standpoint)

The truth is that Russia is at best a middle-ranking nation in economic terms. According to the International Monetary Fund's database, its share of world output was just under 3 per cent last year. But that figure was calculated in terms of so-called "purchasing power parity", a technical method which is best if living standards in different countries are being compared. If the economic size of a nation is instead to be measured by its ability to import from other nations and to participate in international trade, the right technique is to calculate gross domestic product "at current prices and exchange rates". 

On this basis Russia may still be a medium-sized nation, but it is overshadowed by four much more significant powers. World Bank data show that in 2012 Russia's output was $2,015 billion, the same as Italy's, whereas the outputs of the US, the European Union, China and Japan were $16,245 billion, $16,687 billion, $8,227 billion and $5,960 billion respectively. Even Brazil has a slightly higher GDP than Russia. In the EU four nations (Germany, France, the UK and Italy) produce the same as or more than Russia. 

The notions of "the West" and "the rest" may have been overworked recently, but they give us a way of thinking about the issue. The West may still be viewed as a fairly cohesive group, with its membership represented in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and its spokesmen generally on the same wavelength in G20 gatherings. The US, the EU and Japan, plus Australia and Canada, are all recognised OECD nations. Their combined GDP in 2012 was $42,245 billion, more than 20 times that of Russia. Russia may dominate world maps, but it is an economic pygmy compared with the developed nations as a bloc.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Dear Orrin,

My name is Patrick Lown, and I am a graduate student in the Department Political Science at Stony Brook University.  I recently came across BrothersJudd, and the post about how technology is changing the face of labor stuck out to me.  It's really a concern!  It's strange how we can get more productive, but instead of making our lives easier it puts us out of jobs.  Creative solutions are pretty desperately needed I think. 

In any case, my colleagues and I are conducting a national survey and I was hoping that you would be interested in helping us.  The survey we are conducting is interested in how people's personal characteristics and beliefs shape their understanding of other people and American society. Conservatives tend to be underrepresented in surveys, their opinions aren't heard as a result and we don't get an accurate picture of what Americans think about their society.  

The survey takes roughly 15-20 minutes to complete. All survey responses will be completely confidential, and all identifying information will be stripped by the survey collection software.

I was hoping that you would consider posting the link to this survey on your site and encourage your readers to participate. I would be more than happy to send you (or any of your readers who are interested) the results of the data our team collects. If you have any reservations, I encourage you to take the survey yourself before posting it to your blog. I think you will find that it is interesting as well as quick and easy to complete.

The link to the survey is:   

Previous versions of this survey have been posted on a few liberal and conservative blogs and based on the feedback, readers have really seemed to enjoy taking it.  However, we desperately need conservative responses to the survey, as liberal responses currently outnumber conservatives about 2 to 1.

If you choose to post the survey, please let me know, so I can make a note to follow up with you when the study is complete.   Also, I would ask that you please discourage your readers from discussing the study until its over as it could bias other people's results if they take the study after hearing about it from someone else (disabling the comments section would be ideal).

Thanks for your time!

Best Regards,

March 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Climate change: the debate is about to change radically (Andrew Lilico, March 25th, 2014, The Telegraph)

The latest report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due out next week. If the leaked draft is reflected in the published report, it will constitute the formal moving on of the debate from the past, futile focus upon "mitigation" to a new debate about resilience and adaptation.

The new report will apparently tell us that the global GDP costs of an expected global average temperature increase of 2.5  degrees Celsius over the 21st century will be between 0.2 and 2 per cent. To place that in context, the well-known Stern Review of 2006 estimated the costs as 5-20 per cent of GDP. Stern estimates the costs of his recommended policies for mitigating climate change at 2 per cent of GDP - and his estimates are widely regarded as relatively optimistic (others estimate mitigation costs as high as 10 per cent of global GDP). 

Achieving material mitigation, at a cost of 2 per cent and more of global GDP, would require international co-ordination that we have known since the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change simply was not going to happen. Even if it did happen, and were conducted optimally, it would mitigate only a fraction of the total rise, and might create its own risks.

And to add to all this, now we are told that the cost might be as low as 0.2 per cent of GDP. At a 2.4 per cent annual GDP growth rate, the global economy increases 0.2 per cent every month.

So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government's own evaluation criteria, with a global cost of 2 per cent of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe - just maybe - we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth.

Can anyone seriously claim, with a straight face, that that should be regarded as an attractive deal or that the public is suffering from a psychological disorder if it resists mitigation policies?

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


The Shift From Low-Wage Worker to Robot Worker (ANDREW FLOWERS, 3/25/14, 538)

Based on a 2013 paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne of Oxford, occupations in the U.S. that pay at or near the minimum wage -- that's about one of every six workers in the U.S. -- are much more susceptible to "computerization," or as defined by the authors, "job automation by means of computer-controlled equipment." The researchers considered a time frame of 20 years, and they measured whether such jobs could be computerized, not whether these jobs will be computerized. The latter involves assumptions about economic feasibility and social acceptance that go beyond mere technology.

The minimum-wage occupations that Frey and Osborne think are most vulnerable include, not surprisingly, telemarketers, sales clerks and cashiers. But also included are occupations that employ a large share of the low-wage workforce, such as waiters and waitresses, food-preparation workers and cooks. If the computerization of these low-wage jobs becomes feasible, and if employers find it economical to invest in such labor-saving technology, there will be huge implications for the U.S. labor force.

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM



Proving that the r-word has been battered beyond recognition, various Labour-leaning thinkers and activists made media waves when they said Labour needed to 'shape up and be bolder and more radical'. 'Left thinkers warn Ed Miliband against safety-first election manifesto', headlines said. They seem not to realise that asking Miliband to ditch safeness in favour of daring is a bit like asking a panda bear to become carnivorous - it goes against their entire nature and, let's face it, ain't ever going to happen. So it's just as well that these Labour thinkers are really only asking Miliband to adopt a different kind of safety-first approach to politics, one that better speaks to their political prejudices, though they've dressed up their demand - hilariously - as a strike for 'radicalism'.

So in their letter - published in the Guardian, but widely discussed in the Westminster bubble - they suggest that a bolder, more edgy Labour administration would seek to address modern British people's 'social, environmental, physical and mental-health problems'. That is, it would be eco-friendly and super-therapeutic, which, far from being radical, is the fallback outlook of every political hack and operator in Christendom right now.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Hamas would accept peace with Israel, West Bank leader says (AVI ISSACHAROFF, March 25, 2014, Times of Israel)

A top Hamas official in the West Bank said his hard-line group would accept a peace deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel should it pass muster in a national referendum.

"It is our right to oppose an agreement that [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas brings, like you have your own opposition, but I stress here: we will accept the results of a national referendum and the decision of the majority," Sheikh Hassan Yousef told the Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to bring any agreement with Israel to an international referendum that would include the Palestinian diaspora.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Look out! The Bush brand is hot in the 2014 campaign. (SEAN SULLIVAN, March 24, 2014, Washington Post)

The latest member of Bush's presidential orbit to make an entree into midterm politics is his former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Rice appears in a new ad for the conservative super PAC American Crossroads defending Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan (R). Sullivan is a former Bush State Department official who has emerged as the leading Republican in the race to take on Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

Rice, who was Bush's national security adviser during his controversial decision to invade Iraq, has gradually begun to play a bigger role in politics after returning to academia in 2009. She is set to boost House Republicans by headlining a Wednesday National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), brother of the 43rd president and potential 2016 contender, has also recently raised his 2014 profile. He appeared in a Chamber of Commerce commercial for now-Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) earlier this year. The ad came at a crucial time when Jolly lacked the funds to mount a robust positive ad campaign of his own.

Jeb Bush is also a huge fundraising draw because of his deep donor network. He plans to raise money for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) this week. Meanwhile, his son George P. Bush is the Republican nominee for land commissioner in Texas.

Elsewhere, congressional candidates have tied themselves to the Bush White House. Ed Gillespie, White House counsel under the 43rd president, is running for Senate in Virginia. His introductory video included photographs of the two together. Facing a tough race in a conservative West Virginia district, Rep. Nick Rahall (D) recently told The Hill newspaper, "I probably have supported George Bush more than I have Barack Obama."

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM



"Each trip is its own adventure, and I'm always looking forward to the next one," Anderson tells Amtrak's blog, calling train travelers "people and scenery watchers."

While promoting The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson traveled coast to coast by train--even conducting this interview straight from the rails.

"One thing you almost always get on a train is time to burn," he says. "But it's especially nice to have that time while you are on the move. It can so often be the best combination of peaceful and exciting."

Of Amtrak's 500 nationwide destinations, Wes says he's most interested in New Orleans, which can be accessed along Amtrak's City of New Orleans, Sunset Limited and Crescent routes.

"It's one thing to be stuck together for the long haul to New Zealand in the upper deck of a 747 for 16 hours, but it's an altogether different matter to hit the dining car three meals a day for two and a half days running onboard the 
Southwest Chief," he says, comparing the perks of train travel to the experience on airplanes. "It's a calm, friendly, leisurely, and extremely protracted type of experience."

That leisurely experience has also served well for Anderson's creativity. A few years ago, he was able to create "a pretty serviceable first draft" of a movie script with two friends while traveling by train. "We even brought a printer with us, but unfortunately I fried it by plugging it into a razor's-only electric socket," he confesses.

March 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


U.S., allies throw Russia out of G-8 (LESLEY CLARK, 3/24/14, McClatchy)

 President Barack Obama and leaders of the world's largest industrialized countries expelled Russia from the group until it "changes course" in Ukraine and formally canceled plans to attend an economic summit in Russia in June.

The move was aimed at Russian President Vladmir Putin's plan to host the G-8 group of economic powers at Sochi, Russia, which would have been its second starring role on the world stage after this winter's Olympics.

Instead, the G-7 leaders will meet in Brussels without Putin. At the same time, the group said it would not send its foreign ministers to a planned G-8 meeting in Moscow next month.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Taxpayers fund creationism in the classroom (STEPHANIE SIMON, 3/24/14, Politico)

Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.

Now a major push to expand these voucher programs is under way from Alaska to New York, a development that seems certain to sharply increase the investment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


A $1.3 Trillion Opportunity Staring Investors Right In The Face (Nathan Slaughter, 1/22/14, Street Authority)


This is the amount of cash that S&P 500 companies (excluding banks and other financial institutions) are currently sitting on. As of the beginning of the third quarter in 2013, the largest U.S. companies collectively held $1.27 trillion. That's about 13.5% more than a year earlier. 

Remember, this is just the 500 members of the S&P. The number also excludes the cash held by the other 9,500 public companies that don't belong to the index. [...]

[M]ostly, companies are simply generating cash faster than they are spending it.

The widening difference between cash inflows and outflows has allowed businesses to sock away $150 billion over the past twelve months. As a result, cash stockpiles have ballooned from $1.11 trillion to $1.26 trillion -- an increase of $411 million per day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


89 percent of Venetians want to break up with Italy (The Week, 3/24/14)

Venetians have voted overwhelmingly in an unofficial and non-binding referendum to break away from Italy and form their own sovereign state. Eighty-nine percent of voters in the lagoon city and its surrounding area opted to break away. Organizers said that 2.36 million people -- 73 percent of those eligible to take part -- voted. The proposed new country, the Republic of Venice, would include the five million inhabitants of Italy's Veneto region.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Egypt sentences to death 529 supporters of Mohamed Morsi (Patrick Kingsley, 24 March 2014, Guardian)

A judge in southern Egypt has taken just two court sessions to sentence to death 529 supporters of Mohamed Morsi for the murder of a single police officer.

If the Brotherhood had just executed 500 senior officers, Egypt would still be a democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


No, the government isn't lying about inflation : Conspiracy theorists gonna conspiracy theorize (John Aziz, 3/24/14, The Week)

If you're paying more for food than you used to, it's easy to worry about inflation, even if rising food and energy costs are not necessarily a sign of high inflation. While inflation has actually remained below the Federal Reserve's target of 2 percent per year, lots of people think it's much higher -- 39 percent of respondents to a Business Insider poll last year thought it was above 5 percent, for example.

It's a narrative that's regularly pushed by public figures like Peter Schiff and Marc Faber (and others in what Noah Smith calls the Finance Macro Canon) on CNBC. They are critics of the Federal Reserve's bond-buying policies, and believe that such "money printing" measures will inevitably lead to high inflation, or even hyperinflation. Here's Peter Schiff last year saying that hyperinflation is already here. Here's Marc Faber in 2009 saying that the U.S. economy will experience Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation.

Well, the Fed's quantitative easing program has been in place for a good five years, and we still aren't transporting our cash in wheelbarrows. It's clear that these individuals are suffering from confirmation bias -- they have a belief that massive inflation is coming, so they look for evidence of high inflation, while discarding evidence of low inflation. Since most of the evidence points to low inflation, they are prepared to allege that the government is lying.

..the government just isn't very good at measuring it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Light Touch : How smart regulation and technological innovation ruined a perfectly good conservative crusade against government. (Rachel Cohen, April/May 2014, Washington Monthly)

Yet the frustration of shoppers and the whining on Fox News has died down considerably in recent months. The reason is a new kind of household bulb that started hitting store shelves en masse late last year. These are bulbs made up of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs--the ubiquitous little indicator lights you see on computers and other electronic devices. The new household LED bulbs are essentially comprised of hundreds of little LEDs of different colors that together emit a white light that is softer and more pleasant than that of compact fluorescents. They cost about the same as the latter, but their prices are falling fast. They last about twenty-five times longer than incandescents and three times longer than compact fluorescents--up to 25,000 hours of light per bulb. They don't break easily or come with aggravating health concerns. Best of all, they are up to 80 percent more efficient than traditional incandescents, which means significantly cheaper energy bills for consumers.

The coming (and staying) of LED bulbs is a case study in how government policy, rightly done, can spur private-sector innovation. While small LEDs were being sold for use in electronics as far back as the early 1960s, the technology to deploy them in household light bulbs was still fairly far off when Congress passed the EISA in 2007. In 2009 the New York Times reported on LED bulbs that exceeded $100 a piece and suffered from "performance problems," adding that they "may not displace incumbent technologies" anytime soon. But the new market for energy-efficient bulbs that was scheduled to open up in 2012--and even earlier in Europe, thanks to European Union regulations similar to the EISA--gave lighting manufacturers an enormous incentive to step up development. The EISA also contained another inducement: a $10 million cash prize to the company that could develop the best high-quality alternative to the 60-watt incandescent. Philips won the competition in 2011 for an LED product that amounted to an 83 percent energy savings. But the bulbs weren't cheap: when they first hit the U.S. market, they cost $50 a piece.

Meanwhile, conservatives began to rally hard against the forthcoming light bulb standards. editor Erik Erickson launched the attack in late 2010 with an open letter to the GOP congressional leaders who were about to take control of the House: "If you do only one thing in your time in Washington, and frankly I hope you do only one thing given your propensity to expand government ... it is this: SAVE THE LIGHT BULB." In January 2011, Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton introduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, a bill designed to repeal the energy-efficiency light bulb standards. Michele Bachmann soon followed suit with her Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. "Thomas Edison did a pretty patriotic thing for this country by inventing the light bulb. If you want to buy Thomas Edison's wonderful invention, you should be able to!" Bachmann told a group of supporters in 2011. "The government has no business telling an individual what kind of light bulb to buy."

When January 1, 2012, rolled around, lighting companies, thanks to the EISA, stopped making new 100-watt incandescents. With compact fluorescents the only real alternative on the market at the time, the mainstream press had a field day, highlighting miserable and indignant shoppers furious with the law and the federal government--a story that perfectly fit the Tea Party backlash narrative of the moment. Even Mitt Romney, despite having supported energy-efficient light bulbs as governor of Massachusetts, hopped onto the bandwagon. In front of a Chicago crowd in 2012, Romney declared, "And the government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama's regulators actually did just that."

On January 1, 2014, the new EISA-mandated standards for 40- and 60-watt bulbs--which comprise 80 percent of the residential lighting market--were to kick in. That too might have been a boon to conservatives, had prices for LEDs remained high. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy had predicted in 2011 that 60-watt LED bulbs wouldn't fall to $10 until 2015. But to almost everyone's surprise, the industry hit that target two years early. By the end of 2013, you could head into Home Depot or Walmart and purchase LED bulbs for under $10. Their cost plummeted more than 85 percent between 2008 and in 2012 alone, and experts anticipate that prices will continue to fall steadily as retailers compete to be the leading LED bulb provider.

...outstanding at forcing losers.  The trick is not to care what wins after that.

March 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


W. Virginia Rep. Capito May Tip Senate to GOP (Salena Zito - March 23, 2014, Pittsburgh Tribune Review)

Through seven terms in Congress, Shelley Moore Capito largely has avoided national attention. Now her U.S. Senate race has raised her profile as one of the Republican Party's best hopes to tip the chamber's balance of power.

The party could win a narrow majority this fall if it holds onto its 45 Senate seats and takes six of the 55 held by Democrats, including that of West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring. Political strategists agree that Capito's candidacy presents the GOP with a good opportunity.

"This race is quickly becoming 'likely Republican' if things continue to come together for Capito," said Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia political analyst. "... She is one of the few moderate candidates out there and has the right profile in this state to become the first Republican senator since the 1950s."

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Simulating the Elimination of the U.S. Corporate Income Tax (Hans Fehr, Sabine Jokisch, Ashwin Kambhampati, Laurence J. Kotlikoff.NBER Working Paper No. 19757)

We simulate corporate tax reform in a single good, five-region (U.S., Europe, Japan, China, India) model, featuring skilled and unskilled labor, detailed region-specific demographics and fiscal policies. Eliminating the model's U.S. corporate income tax produces rapid and dramatic increases in the model's level of U.S. investment, output, and real wages, making the tax cut self-financing to a significant extent. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Report: US could free Pollard to rescue Israeli-Palestinian peace talks (JPOST.COM, 03/23/2014)

With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks teetering on the brink of collapse, US officials are mulling a desperate bid to resuscitate the negotiations by making a significant move that would win the approval of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition, one that may perhaps include the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Arizona woos Mexico, downplays anti-immigrant law (KATHERINE CORCORAN, 3/22/14, AP)

Official delegations have come across the border several times in the last year looking to drum up more trade and tourism in what is already a big business relationship -- but one they say could be much bigger. They're talking binational everything: companies with headquarters in Phoenix and factories in Mexico, wine tours that visit both sides of the border, even the first Super Bowl with Mexican sponsorship when Phoenix hosts the mega-sports event next year.

"We're just like you are," said Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, who voted for Arizona's controversial law. He was speaking to a binational cocktail party in Mexico City this week, saying Mexicans and Arizonans want the same future for their children: "We'll be here a lot more frequently, and we're here to continue to make friends."

"Friends" was the furthest term from mind in 2010, when the Arizona legislature made it a state crime to fail to get or carry immigration registration papers -- a provision that was later thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices upheld the law's provision that police, while investigating other crimes, are required to question people's immigration status if they're believed to be in the country illegally. [...]

Tobin, who was leading his second delegation in six months and plans to be back in June, said he supported the legislation because "we were in a crisis mode."

What changed? The global economy.

Arizona emerged from severe recession and recognized it sits next to a country that has lured manufacturing back from Asia, is aggressively seeking foreign investment and plans to open its rich oil sector to the rest of the world. Not only that, Texas and California were already far ahead in boosting economic ties with the "new Brazil."

March 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 AM


Book Review: 'A Man Called Destruction' by Holly George-Warren : After becoming a rock star at 16, Alex Chilton grew so contemptuous of his talent that he turned self-sabotage into a lifestyle. (STEVE DANZIGER, March 21, 2014, WSJ)

It was at Ardent, a local studio founded by John Fry, a sort of benevolent Fagin who provided free recording time to loitering oddballs, that Chilton began the partnership with Chris Bell that would become Big Star. Supercilious, petulant and clinically depressed, Bell was the tormented yin to Chilton's blasé yang, and along with bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens, they spent months shaping an album according to Bell's perfectionist demands. Sessions were often volatile; Ardent's office manager remembers throwing first-aid supplies at band members to keep their blood off her paperwork, and one emblematic scenario found Bell and Hummel shattering glass, noses and each other's guitars as Chilton laughed it off.

The resulting album, "#1 Record" (1972) rife with love of the Beatles and the Byrds, hooks and harmonies, made the band a paragon of power pop, a label that both categorizes and cheapens their achievement. Songs like "The Ballad of El Goodo," "My Life is Right" and "Give Me Another Chance," are delicious examples of pop songcraft and studio finesse, alive with yearning and a sense of delight in their creation.

"#1 Record" received superlative reviews, inspired high expectations and died. Ardent's distributor was Stax; unsure how to promote a white rock group, they botched the release. It's unclear whether Chilton cared; all Ms. George-Warren offers is "Alex took it in stride" and Chilton's stated desire to stay at Ardent to learn more about production. Bell, however, claimed a conspiracy, quit the band and, according to one witness, carved "pig" into the hood of Mr. Fry's Mercedes. One night, after he was discovered erasing the "#1 Record" tapes, he attempted suicide and was committed.

Though Ms. George-Warren's prose is anemic, the Big Star chapters are heavy with anecdote and portent, and it requires only a small romantic leap to conclude that Chilton and Bell's common tragedy was to need a partnership that neither was suited to sustain. Aside from the freakish creative chemistry, they tempered each other's most self-hampering traits--Bell's anger, Chilton's lack of focus--and without each other, their lives took ruinous turns. Bell floundered, recorded erratically and died at age 27, after taking a Mandrax and bourbon cocktail and driving into a utility pole. Chilton shepherded the second Big Star album, 1974's "Radio City" (featuring the superb "September Gurls"; distribution was botched this time by CBS), but while recording "Third" the next year he was starting to collapse. According to producer Jim Dickinson, sessions began with Chilton "shoot[ing] Demerol down his throat with a syringe." On one occasion, Chilton's girlfriend Lesa showed up with black eyes, and on another, Mr. Fry told Dickinson, "We can't have blood on the console. Please speak to Alex about it." "Third" would eventually be regarded as a classic, but the consensus at the time, in the words of Memphis musician Tommy Hoehn, was that it was "crap." Hit with yet another failure, Chilton cut his wrists and ended up in the same hospital that Bell had been taken to four years earlier.

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Posted by orrinj at 2:39 AM


Mr. Putin's Very Bad Day: The Noose Tightens On His Inner Circle And The Russian People (Paul Roderick Gregory, 3/21/14, Forbes)

Friday, March 21 was a very bad day for Vladimir Putin.

In Brussels, the European Union signed the Ukrainian EU Association Agreement, which puts Ukraine on track to join the EU within a couple of years. For its part, Ukraine pledged to become an open, democratic, rule-of-law society as a condition for admission. (It was Yanukovich's refusal to sign the EU association agreement that set off the Euro Maidan demonstrations and led to Yanukovich's flight from Ukraine).

In Brussels, leaders of the European Union expanded their list of sanctioned Russian officials to members of Putin's inner circle, also included in the Washington sanctions. The Europeans added to their list Dmitry Kiselyov, Putin's appointed head of mass-media propaganda. Former Ambassador, Mike McFaul, drove the nail deeper by revealing in an interview that Kiselyov had visited Washington as a paid guest of the state department in 2010. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 AM


Why Abbas wants Marwan Barghouti to go free (AVI ISSACHAROFF, March 22, 2014, Times of Israel)

Is this a case of naiveté on Abbas's part, or is it a clever ploy to prove that Israel is not ready to take a step that would foster more talks? It actually looks like neither, and more like a sort of gamble that could pay off for Abbas (if less probably for Israel).

Abbas knows that Barghouti's release would allow him the breathing room to negotiate for many more months without fearing public criticism. Barghouti, the most popular leader in the territories today, could even sit by his side in the talks. That would be a major coup for Abbas in the eyes of the Palestinian public. Barghouti's release would also strengthen Abbas's support in Fatah.

And perhaps most importantly for Abbas, he could finally appoint a successor -- Barghouti. This would enable Abbas to keep his primary rival, Mohammad Dahlan, from taking the presidency. Abbas knows that Dahlan, sitting in the UAE, has no electoral chance against Barghouti, who enjoys endless praise for his role in the Second Intifada and his conviction on five murder charges.

...because he can uniiquely appeal to both Hamas and Fatah voters, so he's going to be the first elected president of the nation of Palestine. 

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Posted by orrinj at 1:51 AM


Congratulations, Warren Buffett : We already know that nobody's going to win the $1 billion bracket challenge. (Josh Levin, 3/21/14, Slate)

Earlier today, my colleague John Swansburg offered Warren Buffett a not-so-amazing deal, suggesting that the Oracle of Omaha buy out his then-perfect, 16-for-16 bracket for a mere $10 million. Buffett was wise to wait: Duke lost to Mercer, and Mr. Swansburg's picks were toast. He's not the only one: As of early Friday evening, after Gonzaga's win over Oklahoma State, there are just six perfect brackets remaining out of 11 million in's Tournament Challenge. And in the Buffett/Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, which is hosted by Yahoo Sports? There are a mere three.

Perfect Brackets Go Bust (Doug Feinberg, 3/22/14, AP)

The billion dollar dream is over.

A second day of upsets ended any chance of someone having a perfect NCAA tournament bracket in Warren Buffet's $1 billion challenge. It was a favorite that provided the first blemish on the final three people's brackets in the Quicken Loans contest on the Yahoo Sports website.

All three had ninth-seeded George Washington beating Memphis. The Tigers won 71-66.

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March 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


The 'wealthy poor' replace the middle class (Rick Newman, 3/21/14, Yahoo)

Some new economic analysis helps quantify just how many people might be characterized as the "wealthy poor"-- and it's a surprisingly large chunk of the overall population. A new paper by economists Greg Kaplan and Justin Weidner of Princeton University, and Giovanni Violante of New York University, finds that about 70 million Americans may live in families they describe as "wealthy hand-to-mouth" households. These are families that own assets such as homes, cars, retirement plans and even boats, yet still spend virtually every dollar of their regular income because it's necessary to pay all the bills they've racked up.

Many breadwinners may feel they have no choice but to live from paycheck to paycheck, especially if they have kids headed to college and other bills that come with the duties of raising a family. Plus, monthly expenses such as mortgage payments and tuition are a form of investing, since it's reasonable to expect some return from owning real estate or financing education (though not as much, perhaps, as we once thought).

...besides cars, homes, retirement accounts, educated kids....
Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Russian economy, tycoons take hit in Crimea crisis (NATALIYA VASILYEVA , 3/20/14, Associated Press) 

Russia's most powerful businessmen waited for over an hour Thursday to hear from President Vladimir Putin, whose decision to annex the Crimean Peninsula has cost their companies hundreds of millions of dollars in market value.

When Putin finally showed up, he spoke to them for five minutes - and gave them no reassurances that they or their companies will get any respite from the uncertainty created by the takeover of a piece of land of little value to them beyond national pride.

Russia's economy has been pinched by the crisis over Crimea, even before the new sanctions the U.S. and Europe announced Thursday.

The Russian stock market has tanked 10 percent this month, wiping out billions in market capitalization. Economists have slashed growth forecasts to zero this year and foreign investors have been pulling money out of Russian banks. The Standard & Poor's ratings agency on Thursday cited all these issues when it cut its outlook for the country.

Because U.S. and European leaders have said they are willing to impose ever stiffer sanctions, ratcheting up the pressure on Russia step by step, the concern is how severe the penalties might get.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 AM


City vs. Country: How Where We Live Deepens the Nation's Political Divide (LAURA MECKLER and DANTE CHINNI, March 20, 2014 WSJ)

There have always been differences between rural and urban America, but they have grown vast and deep, and now are an underappreciated factor in dividing the U.S. political system, say politicians and academicians.

Polling, consumer data and demographic profiles paint a picture of two Americas--not just with differing proclivities but different life experiences. People in cities are more likely to be tethered to a smartphone, buy a foreign-made car and read a fashion magazine. Those in small towns are more likely to go to church, own a gun, support the military and value community ties.

In many ways, the split between red Republican regions and blue Democratic ones--and their opposing views about the role of government--is an extension of the cultural divide between rural Americans and those living in cities and suburbs.

As Democrats have come to dominate U.S. cities, it is Republican strength in rural areas that allows the party to hold control of the House and remain competitive in presidential elections.

One of the main goals of American anti-poverty/housing policy should be to move the underclass out of the one and into the other.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 AM


2016 Republican Presidential Update: A New, Familiar Name at the Top (Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik, U.Va. Center for Politics March 20th, 2014)

Christie's problems have only elevated Bush by comparison, and the two men would occupy similar space in a hypothetical primary contest: The same voters and states that backed the successful nominations of John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 -- i.e. the ones with smaller concentrations of "very conservative" and white evangelical voters like New Hampshire, Florida and many Midwestern states -- would probably be inclined to back one of these two or someone like them.

For all the sturm und drang regarding the Tea Party in the Republican nominating process, it's going to be hard for someone who lacks widespread establishment support -- like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) or Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- to win the nomination. Political science research indicates that endorsements from sitting officeholders and party leaders can be quite predictive of presidential nominees.

And that leads us to another reason to take a potential Bush candidacy seriously: The establishment loves him.

In recent months, we've noticed an unmistakable and widespread desire among some of the Republicans we talk to, particularly ones who would be classified as members of the establishment on and off Capitol Hill, for a third Bush nominee in less than three decades. In one conversation, we mentioned several other potential candidates on our list, but the chatter kept coming back to Jeb. He was the only candidate with whom these party leaders appeared to be comfortable.

A preference for a Bush candidacy is inspired, we think, by a natural conservatism among political party leaders in searching for presidential candidates. The parties want someone who is a proven commodity capable of running a strong campaign and raising a Fort Knox of gold without much hand-holding. It's a preference for the safest choice, and it's got nothing to do with a political belief system. The desire amongst the vast majority of Democratic leaders for Hillary Clinton to run in 2016 stems from the same kind of "conservative" impulse. Compared to riskier nominees, Clinton, like Bush, would be an anodyne choice. This is the kind of establishment impulse that drives activists, particularly conservative ones, batty. But it's also a decent strategy for actually winning elections -- the "no surprises" approach.

The implications of a Bush candidacy would be wide-reaching, and -- to be clear -- we don't know if he's running. He probably doesn't know himself. The reason we're putting him first now is that if he were to run, we'd see him as a modest favorite over the other potential candidates in the field, and he might be the one Republican whose entry could keep other candidates out.

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March 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


The Unshackling of Bobby Jindal : An undervalued and often overlooked potential 2016 candidate seeks to seize the moment by embracing a more aggressive posture. (David Catanese March 19, 2014, US News)

Jindal finds himself at a unique moment in Republican politics and he appears eager to seize it, with a chance at capitalizing on the stumbles and distractions of his potential future rivals for the presidency.  

On the list of Republican governors eyeing the White House, Jindal's name usually appears toward the bottom. He lacks the edgy attitude of Christie, the magnetic backslapping charisma of Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, and the freshness of Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis.

Polling bears out Jindal's second-tier status. He dwells in the single digits in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire and captured just 2 percent at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, good enough to tie for eighth place. In last weekend's Northeast Republican Leadership Conference straw poll - where he was the featured Friday evening dinner speaker - he mustered only enough support to finish sixth. [...]

A Rhodes Scholar who ran the Louisiana's Department of Health in his 20s, Jindal has long lived with the reputation as the brainiest guy in the room. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist writes in his new book that at a retreat for prospective vice presidential candidates at Sen. John McCain's ranch in 2008, Jindal quickly turned idle small talk into a serious policy discussion. Columnist Kathleen Parker has dubbed Jindal "the intellectual equivalent of a nuclear power plant."

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


US current account deficit narrows to lowest level in 14 years as exports, income rises (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, 3/20/14, AP)

The imbalance fell to $81.1 billion in the fourth quarter, down from $96.4 billion in the July-September quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That's the smallest gap since the third quarter of 1999.

The current account is the country's broadest measure of trade, covering not only goods and services but also investment flows. A smaller trade deficit usually means that U.S. companies are producing more to meet domestic and overseas demand.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


New Stool Test Shows Promise as Colon Cancer Screen (HealthDay March 19, 2014)

A new at-home stool test screens for colorectal cancer with more than 90 percent accuracy, researchers report.

"That kind of result is really unprecedented for a noninvasive stool-based screening," said study co-author Dr. Steven Itzkowitz, director of the gastroenterology fellowship program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Yellen Debut Rattles Markets : Wary Investors Seize on New Fed Chief's Mixed Message on Pace of Rate Increases (JON HILSENRATH and VICTORIA MCGRANE,  March 19, 2014, WSJ)

Investors bristled after Janet Yellen emerged from her first meeting as Federal Reserve chairwoman with some unsettling signals about the central bank's outlook for short-term interest rates.

The Fed intends to keep short-term rates near zero into next year, but investors sniffed out signs that rate increases might come a bit sooner and be a touch more aggressive than expected. 

Appointing new chairmen precipitated the '87 market crash and the '08 credit crisis. They always have to hike rates to prove their bona fides to the inflation hawks, but doing so into the teeth of deflation is disastrous.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


You are invited to join my on-line college hoops bracket group! To accept this invitation and join the group, click the link below (or cut and paste the link into your browser's address field). You'll be asked to enter the group's password before you can join. The group password is included in this e-mail.

Our Group password is: ericjulia

March 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 AM


Faithless : The postwar liberal intellectuals built a political cosmology that rejected religion. But it was still fiercely moral. : a review of The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief By George M. Marsden (Molly Worthen, Democracy)

Walter Lippmann's last book, Essays in the Public Philosophy (1955), was a long time in the making. In this slim volume, the presidential adviser and commentator on society and politics offered a summary of his "mature thinking," the ideas that he had "fought and struggled through over many years," one of his close friends said. Lippmann had begun the notes for the book on his honeymoon in Naples in 1938, watching dark clouds gather over Europe: "A civilization must have a religion.... Communism and Nazism are religions of the proletarianized masses." The war cast further doubt in his mind on the direction of Western liberalism in the wake of its liberation from traditional religious dogma and ruling dynasties. What supreme authority had taken their place?

Biographer Ronald Steel notes that Lippmann, a secular Jew, was for a time attracted to Catholicism's promise of "communion in a moral order above the whims of transient majorities and the dictates of tyrants." He echoed the Founding Fathers' trepidation at the "morbid derangement" that came when "mass opinion dominates the government" and reduces statesmen to "insecure and intimidated men." By the time he finally published the book, he had opted for a nonsectarian creed: simply the "natural law on which Western institutions were originally founded."

His fellow liberals, however, did not find in Essays a plausible course for the future of democracy. They thought Lippmann diagnosed the wrong problems and offered no real solution. They found his tone far too theological to suit the modern secular age. McGeorge Bundy, then a dean at Harvard, accused him of having "taken refuge in the bosom of God." The New Republic dismissed the book--by one of its own founding editors, no less--as the brooding of "a badly frightened man" with a "bias against democracy."

To George Marsden, however, Lippmann was one of the few twentieth-century liberals who grasped the fatal paradox of the liberal worldview: the growing distance between the ambitions of modern post-Christian liberalism and the tradition's first principles. In Marsden's telling, the liberal intellectuals of 1950s America considered themselves defenders of human freedom--the successors of the Founders, bearing the cause of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment into the fray against latter-day totalitarianism. But in criticizing Lippmann's call for moral law and stronger executive authority, his liberal colleagues failed to see that without these safeguards, their own faith in reason and liberty rested on shifting sands. They tried "to sustain the ends of the American enlightenment, but without that enlightenment's intellectual"--that is, Christian, or at least theistic--"means," Marsden writes in The Twilight of the American Enlightenment.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 AM


Pushing the Uighurs Too Far (WANG LIXIONG, MARCH 18, 2014, NY Times)

The radicalization of the Uighurs' cause is an inevitable result of Beijing's continued repression.

As Beijing has ramped up the pressure in recent years against the Uighurs, violent clashes between them and Chinese security forces have been on the rise. When a Uighur man drove a car through a crowd near Tiananmen Square in October, killing two pedestrians and the two other occupants of the car, Beijing's heavy-handed tactics only worsened.

The government likes to flaunt how much money it has showered upon Xinjiang in the last decade. Beijing boasts that urban residents in the region saw their annual per capita income more than double from 2000 to 2009, while rural villagers, officials say, tripled their annual income in that period. New transportation infrastructure and natural gas pipelines, mostly financed by Han Chinese from the East, have continued apace. The changes have propelled Xinjiang into the 10th-fastest-growing region in the country.

But while the economic indicators have soared, the majority Uighurs have been left behind. The best jobs have gone mostly to the Han Chinese. Uighurs lucky enough to find jobs often end up doing manual labor -- toiling in coal mines, cement plants and at construction sites. Unemployment among young Uighurs is widespread. On my nine visits to Xinjiang, I have often seen bands of working-age Uighur youths loitering on the streets, whether I was in a city or in the countryside.

Beijing's economic push into Xinjiang comes with a demographic rush that many Uighurs find most overwhelming. As money from the east has been piped westward, so have people -- more than 8 million of them. Han Chinese now make up some 40 percent of Xinjiang's population, a sharp rise from just less than 7 percent half a century ago. The Han go West to make money and look after their own, explaining why Uighurs are not benefiting from the economic boom. So long as Xinjiang's economy is run by the Han Chinese, Uighurs will be at a disadvantage -- in language and personal networks.

In Urumqi, the regional capital, I saw a public square that had been turned into a restaurant featuring live dance performances. I would pass by to find only a handful of Uighur tour guides accompanying foreign visitors among the several hundred overwhelmingly Han patrons. The local Uighurs had to peek through a new iron fence to enjoy performances by their own people. The image of Uighurs peering through the bars at Han Chinese and foreigners was symbolic of how marginalized the Uighurs have become in their land under Han Chinese rule.

It's not terrorism if your cause is just.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:05 AM


The Senate race that worries Democrats most (SEAN SULLIVAN, March 17, 2014, Washington Post)

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has been near the top of the list of the most vulnerable senators facing reelection since day one of the 2014 election cycle. But notable developments in recent weeks suggest her seat is increasingly at risk of falling into Republican hands.

Republican groups have blitzed Landrieu over the airwaves while she has gotten limited cover from Democratic allies; polls show she is locked in a close race against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R); and now, Landrieu is reserving $2.6 million in airtime between April and June, an apparent recognition that the cascade of opposition ads has forced her to consider spending big months before the November election.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 AM


North Dakota wants you: Seeks to fill 20,000 jobs (Blake Ellis, March 18, 2014, CNN Money)

In a new recruiting campaign to be rolled out in May, the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation is aiming to fill more than 20,000 jobs -- ranging from truck drivers and oilfield workers to receptionists and food servers. [...]

Yet, the growth continues and companies are still so desperate for workers that the state is teaming up with oil giant Hess Corp. (HES, Fortune 500) to launch an $800,000 campaign to attract new talent.

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 AM


With new Big Bang evidence, 'creation is a fact' : Torah's account of how the world began got scientific support from a major discovery announced this week (DAVID SHAMAH March 19, 2014, Times of Israel)

Whether or not it was God who did the creating is one question that will probably never be resolved -- but that there was a creation event is indisputable. The announcement Monday that researchers had discovered further evidence of the "Big Bang" theory of the world's creation "isn't going to make anyone who wasn't a believer in God into one, or vice-versa," Professor Nathan Aviezer of Bar Ilan University told the Times of Israel.

"But one thing the announcement does do is make it clear that the universe had a definite starting point -- a creation -- as decribed in the Book of Genesis," said Aviezer. "To deny this now is to deny scientific fact."

March 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Most of us are part Neanderthal (Steven Milthen, 3/19/14, NY Review of Books)

By finding the lost genome, the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo has discovered that we are all part Neanderthal--except those with an entirely African heritage. So I now feel like shaving my head to celebrate the interspecies engagement of 50,000 years ago, whether or not it is the ultimate cause for the oddity of my skull and my occasional acts of stupidity.

Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have long debated the evolutionary relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals, relying on the similarities and differences between their designs of stone artifacts and the shapes of their bones, with little real understanding of how these might have arisen. Interminable academic arguments have been swept away by the revolution in studies of ancient DNA, led by Pääbo (now at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig) and brilliantly recounted in his new book, Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes.

Pääbo has provided us with a fabulous account of three decades of research into ancient DNA, culminating in 2010 with the publication of the Neanderthal genome.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Bill Gates: Here's how you help workers compete against smart machines (James Pethokoukis, March 14, 2014, Forbes)

I think tax structures will have to move away from taxing payroll. ... Technology in general will make capital more attractive than labor over time. Software substitution --  whether it's for drivers or waiters, nurses ... it's progressing. And that's going to force us to rethink how these tax structures work in order to maximize employment given that capitalism in general over time will create more inequality, and technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of the skill set. We have to adjust, and these things are coming fast. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower, and I don't think people have that in their mental model. ... Economists would have said a progressive consumption tax is a better construct at any point in history. But what I am saying is that it's even more important as we go forward because ... I want to distort in the favor of labor. ...When people say we should raise the minimum wage -- I know some economists disagree -- but I worry about what that does to job creation. The idea that through the Earned Income Tax Credit you would end up with a certain minimum wage that you would receive, that I understand better than intentionally dampening demand in the part of the labor spectrum that I'm most worried about.

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM

all pro:

Another Bush run for the White House? Jeb may be up for it (GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI AND RICHARD COWAN, Mar 18, 2014, Reuters) 

By all appearances, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is a man on a mission.

His itinerary for the next several weeks includes stops in Tennessee, New Mexico and Nevada to appear with Republican candidates in this fall's elections or help them raise money for their campaigns.

And then he speaks at a dinner ahead of a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting featuring several potential Republican presidential contenders at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel is owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave over $100 million to Republican candidates in 2012. [...]

[S]everal other people close to him say that now more than ever, there are signs he might look past several potential hurdles - including polls that suggest Americans are not exactly enthralled with the idea of another President Bush - and seriously consider stepping into the fray.

At this point in previous election cycles when his name has surfaced, Bush has told friends, staffers and fellow Florida politicians that he would not run. However, he "has not given anyone the wave-off at this point" for 2016, said a Washington-based Republican strategist familiar with Bush's discussions about the presidency.

To the contrary, this strategist said, Bush has in place an "inner circle" of fewer than a dozen people who are in regular contact with him weighing the pros and cons of running. "They are at the beginning of a very serious conversation."

A former Bush campaign aide who remains in contact with the former governor said this year's speculation is more warranted than that in previous years: "He's really giving it true consideration. Possibly if you'd asked two years ago, we'd say, 'Oh gosh, I don't think he'd do this.' But I think he's giving it a real, serious look now."

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 AM


Why Democrats Should Back the President on Free Trade : Bill Clinton saw the promise of the global economy--and America reaped the benefits. (THOMAS F. 'MACK' MCLARTY, March 17, 2014, WSJ)

When it comes to international trade agreements, Democrats have been sounding a lot like the "party of no." From congressional leaders to some in the party base, pessimism about free trade has become almost a reflex. The default position portrays trade deals as a threat to American jobs and wages, exposing our economic weaknesses to the world, rather than as opportunities to grow our economy and maximize our strengths.

There's some irony in this attitude. One of President Obama's big achievements has been to advance the most ambitious trade agenda in a generation. The president has signed three free-trade agreements, with South Korea, Panama and Colombia in 2011. Now the administration is closing in on two historic pacts with countries representing 60% of the world's economy: The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Canada and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, including Mexico, Japan and Australia. But leading Democrats, including Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, are opposing the president's request for the authority to finish the deals, also known as "fast track."

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 AM


Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark : In unseen worlds, science invariably crosses paths with fantasy. (PHILIP BALL. MARCH 6, 2014, Nautilus)

Today its theories and concepts are concerned largely with invisible entities: not only unseen force fields and insensible rays but particles too small to see even with the most advanced microscopes. We now know that our everyday perception grants us access to only a tiny fraction of reality. Telescopes responding to radio waves, infrared radiation, and X-rays have vastly expanded our view of the universe, while electron microscopes, X-ray beams, and other fine probes of nature's granularity have unveiled the microworld hidden beyond our visual acuity. Theories at the speculative forefront of physics flesh out this unseen universe with parallel worlds and with mysterious entities named for their very invisibility: dark matter and dark energy.

This move beyond the visible has become a fundamental part of science's narrative. But it's a more complicated shift than we often appreciate. Making sense of what is unseen--of what lies "beyond the light"--has a much longer history in human experience. Before science had the means to explore that realm, we had to make do with stories that became enshrined in myth and folklore. Those stories aren't banished as science advances; they are simply reinvented. Scientists working at the forefront of the invisible will always be confronted with gaps in knowledge, understanding, and experimental capability. In the face of those limits, they draw unconsciously on the imagery of the old stories. This is a necessary part of science, and these stories can sometimes suggest genuinely productive scientific ideas. But the danger is that we will start to believe them at face value, mistaking them for theories.

March 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Humankind is better off than it has ever been (Zack Beauchamp, 3/13/14, The Week)

Life expectancy is the highest it's ever been, and getting higher. Global GDP has never reached our present heights. The number of humans in poverty has never been lower. Wars between nations are almost extinct, and wars in general are getting less deadly.

The notion of human progress isn't a grand theory anymore; it's a fact. So why do so many people insist on telling you it's impossible?

Almost everywhere you turn, some pundit or "literary intellectual" is aching to tell you the "hard, eternal truths" about the way the world works. Progress is a false idol, they'll say -- and worse, an American one. The harsh reality is that nothing ever changes; the sad truth of the human condition is pain and misery.

These people position themselves as besieged truth tellers, braving the wrath of the masses to challenge our dominant, rose-tinted national narrative. In reality, they're just saying what most people think. A reasonably large majority of Americans think the country's "best years" are behind it. Post-Great Recession, doom-and-gloom is in.

But while pessimism may be the conventional wisdom nowadays, its intellectual avatars have never been more anemic. Take British philosopher John Gray. Gray has made debunking the notion of "progress" his life's work, having written two whole books on the matter in addition to innumerable columns and magazine articles. His review of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, a book that carefully assembles immense amounts of statistical evidence showing that war and violence claim fewer lives than ever, does not dispute a single bit of Pinker's data. Incredibly, Gray thinks pointing out that some Enlightenment thinkers disagreed with each other constitutes a devastating rebuttal to Pinker's detailed empirical argument. The review's shallowness is emblematic of the general tenor of Gray's sad crusade.

It's not just John Gray. Given the enormous amounts of data on the optimists' side, pessimists have little more than handwaving left to them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


A cure for electric car range anxiety : Sales should rise rapidly thanks to the game-changing series hybrid design recently released to the market. (Alan Finkel, 3/17/14, Cosmos)

1. The car's body panels are made from a carbon fibre plastic composite, a lightweight alternative to metal that offsets the weight of the battery pack.

2. Tall, skinny tyres have the same sized contact patch with the road as conventional tyres, but lower drag through the air.

3. Lithium batteries under the car's floor hold 22 kilowatt hours of energy, typically enough to power the car on electricity alone for 150 km, BMW claims.

4. The i3's 125 kilowatt electric motor, which revs at up to 11,400 rpm, drives the car's rear wheels. Lifting off the accelerator pedal instantly switches the motor into generator mode, feeding energy back into the battery.

5. The tiny petrol-powered 25 kilowatt range-extender engine is not connected to the wheels. Its sole job is to charge the battery. [...]

The i3 is the first of its kind. It is a fully electric car but can be equipped with a small petrol tank - not for running the motor but for running an electric generator that cuts in as needed to top up a flattening battery.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Half of U.S. Business Schools Might Be Gone by 2020 (Patrick Clark March 14, 2014, Business Week)

Richard Lyons, the dean of University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, has a dire forecast for business education: "Half of the business schools in this country could be out of business in 10 years--or five," he says.

The threat, says Lyons, is that more top MBA programs will start to offer degrees online. That will imperil the industry's business model. For most business schools, students pursuing part-time and executive MBAs generate crucial revenue. Those programs, geared toward working professionals, will soon have to compete with elite online alternatives for the same population.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Al Qaeda's Brand is Dead (Zachary Keck, 3/17/14, National Interest)

As Al Qaeda's operational capability has withered, some observers have sought to reframe the terrorism threat to the U.S. and the West in terms of Al Qaeda's ideological appeal. According to this perspective, Al Qaeda continues to be a potent threat to the United States and the Western world because its ideology is spreading across the Arab world, and inspiring new groups that will attack the West.

Framing the threat in this way has the advantage of ensuring the Global War on Terror's longevity. Indeed, by this measurement the U.S. is still embroiled in WWII given that neo-Nazi groups continue to exist, and sometimes carry out terrorist attacks in the West.

But the larger problem with the argument that Al Qaeda's ideology is spreading is that it is completely inaccurate. The "Al Qaeda brand" was never as popular in the Arab world as it was portrayed in the West, and far from growing, its popularity has been rapidly declining in recent years. In fact, there are signs that Al Qaeda itself no longer believes in it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Enhanced airport security may waste money, study says (Hugo Martín, March 16, 2014, LA Times)

"It may be time to reduce security," said John Mueller, a professor of political science at Ohio State University who wrote the report with Mark G. Stewart, a civil engineering professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Mueller and Stewart conclude that airports are not good targets for terrorists and that the odds of being killed in an airport attack are extremely long. Their study, titled "Cost-benefit analysis of airport security: Are airports too safe?," appeared in the March edition of Journal of Air Transport Management.

The study relied on cost and risk reduction numbers for LAX but were calculated before the Nov. 1 rampage by a gunman who killed Transportation Security Administration agent Gerardo Hernandez, 39, and wounded several others. Mueller said the shooting did not change his cost analysis.

The Mueller-Stewart study looked at several potential threats, including a gunman, a suitcase bomb, a truck bomb and a bomb strapped to a person. The professors also looked at the cost and effectiveness of such security measures as adding more bomb-sniffing dogs, and installing permanent vehicle search checkpoints and shatterproof glass and blast deflection walls at the airports.

Using cost-analysis computations, the study concluded that the cost of such measures would not be justified, considering they would not completely eliminate the threat.

"Moreover, if the analysis suggests that enhancement of airport security is highly questionable, it may well be time to consider if many of the security arrangements already in place to protect airports are excessive," the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Bull market gives states surpluses (Reid Wilson, 3/15/14, Washington Post)

Across the country, state lawmakers and governors who had grown accustomed to recession-era budget shortfalls and politically painful cuts to schools, roads and other services are once again flush with cash. Now, they are debating whether to give some of it back to the taxpayers, spend it or save it for another rainy day.

The new surpluses are the result of a booming stock market, which has fueled a surge in personal income tax revenue in some states while boosting sales tax receipts in others. In California alone, the initial public offerings of Facebook and Twitter, which created hundreds of new millionaires and billionaires, pumped up to $3 billion into state coffers from capital gains taxes. [...]

The extra money has come as a bit of a surprise.

Policymakers were predicting more budget turmoil for states after the run-up to the "fiscal cliff" battles in Washington and continued uncertainty over tax rates and federal cuts.

As the stock market hummed, though, revenue perked up. Twenty-eight states ended fiscal 2013 with a surplus.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Air Quality Woes May Finally Force Paris to Rethink its Love Affair with Deisel (Feargus O'Sullivan, 3/17/14, The Atlantic)

After highly polluted air became trapped close to the ground across France last week by unseasonably warm weather, authorities introduced free public transport over the weekend in Paris, Bordeaux, Caen, and Rouen. Now Paris has announced that only cars with odd numbered registration plates will be allowed to drive as of 5:30 this morning. To enforce the ban, police patrols will monitor traffic and dole out 22 fines to transgressors. Should poor air quality continue--and it's highly likely it will--on Tuesday cars with even numbered registration plates will take to the roads alone. Many are already asking whether the temporary ban will really work, and whether such short-term measures will be enough.

March 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Scientists confirm dad's common sense: 5-second rule totally legit (Patrik Jonsson, March 16, 2014, CS Monitor)

In one of those satisfying moments where science confirms common sense, a British microbiologist from Aston University in Birmingham, England, has come to the conclusion that food from the floor is okay to eat as long as you pick it up really fast.

"The findings of this study will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the five-second rule for years, despite a general consensus that it is purely a myth," says Prof. Anthony Hilton, who led the important effort.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Sunday Referendum may see Venice elect to secede from Italy (nick Squires, 3/15/14, The Telegraph)

La Serenissima -- or the Most Serene Republic of Venice -- was an independent trading power for a millennium before its last leader was deposed by Napoleon in 1797. The republic encompassed not just Venice but what is now the surrounding region of Veneto and it is there that the vote will take place from tomorrow until Friday.

Campaigners have been inspired by the example of Scotland, which will hold its referendum on independence in September, and Catalonia, where around half the population say they want to break away from Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Scott Brown Fires Up Senate Fight (Alexandre Jaffe, 3/15/14, The Hill)

"It definitely changes the map as far as resources are concerned," one national Democratic strategist told The Hill. The strategist insisted, however, that "you're not pulling from like a finite level of resources anywhere," and pointed out that committees traditionally take out lines of credit if they need to spend more than they've budgeted in the final months of a cycle.

And he's given Republicans further reason for optimism. Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for GOP super-PAC American Crossroads, which just reserved a $600,000 ad buy in New Hampshire for next week, said there were "more than enough" states in the mix for Republicans to take back the Senate.

"Three months ago, no one thought that Colorado, Virginia or New Hampshire would be in play and they are now. Our prospects in some states are improving," he said. "Had you asked me six months ago whether Republicans could take the Senate, I would've said I wasn't sure if there were enough states on the table. Now there are more than enough."

Democrats insist they have the money to play in every state necessary. They point to record-breaking monthly fundraising numbers -- $52.6 million overall in 2013 -- and say they've budgeted for every contingency.

But one national Democratic source told The Hill the party is expected to invest heavily in its ground game in New Hampshire now that Brown's in.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


If Hillary Clinton doesn't run, the Democratic primary race in 2016 could be one for the ages (Chris Cilliza, 3/15/14, Washington Post)

1. There's a panoply of ambitious Democrats who watched Barack Obama leapfrog them in 2008 and won't want to miss their opportunity this time around.

2. If Clinton announced on March 1, 2015, there would only be 10 months before the calendar turned to 2016. Given how much her candidacy -- or at least her decision-making about her candidacy -- has and will continue to freeze the field, there would be a mad scramble for donors, activists and key consultants in early states, the likes of which we haven't seen in modern presidential history.

3. There is no obvious front-runner in a Clinton-less field. Vice President Biden would be the nominal favorite for the nomination, but you could also make a credible case for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), or even Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), to occupy that space.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Obama Factor Adds to Fears of Democrats (JONATHAN MARTIN and ASHLEY PARKER, March 15, 2014, NY Times)

Interviews with more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress, state party officials and strategists revealed a new urgency about the need to address the party's prospects. One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming "poisonous" to the party's candidates. At the same time, Democrats are pressing senior aides to Mr. Obama for help from the political network.

"I'm a prolific fund-raiser, but I can't compete with somebody who has got 50-some-odd billion dollars," said Representative Joe Garcia of Florida, a vulnerable first-term member who has already faced more than $500,000 in negative TV ads from third-party conservative groups. "One hopes the cavalry is coming. One hopes the cavalry is coming."

The gap is yawning. Outside Republican groups have spent about $40 million in this election cycle, compared with just $17 million by Democrats.

When two senior White House officials -- Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director, and Phil Schiliro, the health care adviser -- went to the Capitol late last month to address Senate Democrats about the Affordable Care Act, they were met with angry questions about why Mr. Obama's well-funded advocacy group, Organizing for Action, was not airing commercials offering them cover on the health law.

He's helped more by a GOP takeover and all he cares about is himself.

March 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


When the Right Hated Reagan (W James Antle, 3/15/14, National Interest)

It's often forgotten that many conservatives once thought Reagan was too soft on foreign policy while in office. Longtime Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz accused Reagan of "appeasement" for withdrawing from Lebanon and not taking a hard enough line against the imposition of martial law in Poland.

"In his first term," Podhoretz wrote, "Mr. Reagan proved unwilling to take the political risks and expend the political energy that a real break with the underlying assumption of détente would have entailed... overwhelmed by the political present, and perhaps lured by seductive fantasies of what historians in the future might have to say about him as a peacemaker, Mr. Reagan seems ready to embrace the course of détente as wholeheartedly as his own."

As early as 1982, Podhoretz published in the New York Times "The Neo-Conservative Anguish Over Reagan's Foreign Policy." Four years later, he would accuse Reagan of having "shamed himself and the country" with his "craven eagerness" to give away America's nuclear advantage.

But it wasn't just the neoconservatives. The Chicago Tribune described Pat Buchanan, who would soon becoming a leading antiwar paleoconservative, as engaging "in a fight for Reagan's soul" against White House chief of staff Howard Baker on foreign policy, among other issues. In a long Newsweek piece titled "A Conservative Makes A Final Plea," Buchanan urged Reagan to shun arms control agreements as a liberal "object of veneration" and "golden calf," avoiding compromise with the left at home and the Soviets abroad during his final years in office.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Crimea Through a Game-Theory Lens (Tyler Cowen, MARCH 15, 2014, NY Times)

A commitment by a sovereign state is credible only when that state's self-interest dictates honoring it. Previous American pledges to help or protect Ukraine were not all that credible to begin with, given the greater power and historical influence of Russia in the region. Failing to protect Crimea therefore doesn't automatically lead to a big shift in the world's perception of American willingness to honor commitments where the nation's loyalties and interests are more certain. Daryl G. Press, a professor of government at Dartmouth, articulates a general version of that argument in his book "Calculating Credibility."

Still, there may be a net loss of credibility, perhaps a serious one, when the world is uncertain where American self-interest lies. For instance, how dedicated is the United States to protecting various disputed small Asian islands from Chinese domination or conquest? How much does America care about the de facto independence of Taiwan these days, or about limiting China's influence in the South China Sea? The answers may not be obvious, especially in a diverse democracy like ours.

But for strategists in China and elsewhere in Asia seeking clues to American behavior, it's possible that the effectiveness of the United States response on Crimea will matter a great deal. For actual deterrence, the United States would mainly need to create negative consequences for Russia, not just engage in posturing.

March 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Wrong Again : The economists' confession (Andrew Ferguson, March 24, 2014, Weekly Standard)

The world is a crazy place, no doubt about it. Most events that occur--even the actions of governments, sometimes--are beyond the control of economists, much as they might like to daydream otherwise. But isn't that the point? This admission just begs the question of why anyone should pay attention to their wizardry to begin with. The forecaster's chief conceit is that by feeding numbers into one end of a statistical model he can see the future come out the other side. The conceit touches off a phantasmagoria of argument in Washington, where politicians and policymakers sift the numbers from one set of econometricians or another, and then use their favorite figures to determine how they will orchestrate the activities of the folks back home. In thrall to economists, government policy-making is a fantasy based on a fantasy.

Perhaps I'm wrong to say the OECD economists aren't very good at what they do. They may be champs, for all I know. It's just that what they are trying to do is worse than worthless. The fault, if that's the word, lies with the people who are soliciting their forecasts, and why.

In an autobiographical essay published 20 years ago, the left-leaning economist Kenneth Arrow recalled entering the Army as a statistician and weather specialist during World War II. "Some of my colleagues had the responsibility of preparing long-range weather forecasts, i.e., for the following month," Arrow wrote. "The statisticians among us subjected these forecasts to verification and found they differed in no way from chance."

Alarmed, Arrow and his colleagues tried to bring this important discovery to the attention of the commanding officer. At last the word came down from a high-ranking aide. 

"The Commanding General is well aware that the forecasts are no good," the aide said haughtily. "However, he needs them for planning purposes."

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


The Republican Party is becoming the party of ideas again (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 3/14/14, The Week)

For years, a bunch of right-of-center reformers -- including yours truly, but most prominently Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, and others -- have been promoting innovative conservative policy ideas on every front: health care, taxes, unemployment, social policy, you name it.

Left-of-center writers seemed to think they could just dismiss these ideas out of hand because no actual lawmaker in the GOP was adopting them. And for awhile, that was true. But to these Democratic-friendly pundits, it wasn't just that the GOP didn't adopt these ideas. It's that the GOP couldn't adopt them. Why? These writers didn't put it in so many words in public, but basically their sense was that the problem was that Republicans are dumb. Republican politicians would never take on innovative policy ideas because their base is made up of a bunch of backward troglodytes and their paymasters are robber barons only interested in tax cuts. And in any case, to be a Republican is to have little interest in new ideas -- or ideas, period.

That narrative was always way too shallow and convenient. But even if it was once kinda-sorta right, a few things have happened to upend it. First, the 2012 election exposed the fact that, to survive, the GOP really does need new ideas. Second, a man like Paul Ryan went from being a congressman little known outside the Beltway to a figure of national prominence to a spot on a national ticket by actually promoting interesting, new (and courageous) policy ideas.

Then Tea Party Sen. Mike Lee came out with a number of bills reprising key conservative reform ideas, in particular the idea of expanding the child tax credit.

But what's happening now is most interesting: Presidential candidates are competing on policy. Rand Paul has done it, scrambling lines on foreign policy and the security state, reaching across the aisle on sentencing reform, and calling into question the Drug War. Marco Rubio, previously best known for pushing the boring old idea of immigration reform, has adopted a key conservative reform plank, wage subsidies, and other interesting ideas like a regulatory budget. Meanwhile, Ryan still pushes his policy wagon, unveiling new initiatives to fight poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Can Silicon Valley Sic Schumpeterian Disruption On Bloated City Governments? (Bill Frezza, 3/14/14, Forbes)

A Silicon Valley startup named is putting city finances online, along with a suite of analytic tools that make it easy for both city managers and any citizen to dig into the details of their city's finances, past and present. Since its launch in 2011, has helped city governments as large as Los Angeles and as small as Rockport, Texas, (population 8,766) become more transparent to the citizens they serve and more easily manageable by the elected officials and civil servants who run them. What was once an opaque morass is now a publicly accessible resource.

The key to making this work is biting off just the right amount to chew. doesn't attempt to replace the antediluvian accounting software most cities use to keep their books, nor does it implement real-time controls. Rather, it offers a subscription service that gives everyone access to historical spending and budget data from both their own and other cities, stored in the cloud, where it can be sliced, diced, displayed, and compared, enabling users to shine a light on best practices, uncover clever innovations, and root out incompetence and malfeasance.

One might think incumbent officials would be averse to such transparency, afraid of what the public might uncover. But is finding just the opposite, as it runs to keep up with demand. In an interview with RealClear Radio Hour, OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman takes us inside the world of harried city managers struggling to find out what's going on inside their own bureaucracies and elected officials stymied by outdated accounting software and turf-protecting apparatchiks. In cities plagued by scandal--like Bell City, California, where much of the prior administration ended up in jail for looting the public treasury--newly elected officials have found the prefect tool for both cleaning up the mess and winning back citizens' trust.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM

60 in '14:

Why Scott Brown is the icing on the cake for Senate Republicans (SEAN SULLIVAN, March 14, 2014, Washington Post)

After months of stoking will-he-or-won't-he speculation in New Hampshire, Republican Scott Brown plans to announce Friday that he will explore a bid for U.S. Senate.

It's the latest in a series of positive developments for Senate Republicans, who have expanded the landscape of competitive races in recent months as credible candidates have joined -- or in Brown's case, moved much closer toward officially joining -- contests that were once seen as out of reach for the GOP. Eight months before the midterms, Republicans must pick up six seats to win back the majority. Brown's decision eases that task.

March 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Why Young People Shouldn't Hesitate to Invest (Joe Udo March 13, 2014, US News)

The stock market is at an all-time high, and it can be unnerving to jump in. The thing many young people don't realize is that a big stock market correction is good for them. By contributing to your retirement plan every month, you are dollar-cost averaging in. When the market declines, you're getting a great deal by picking up more shares. Historically, the stock market does very well over the long term, so picking up shares at a discount is a great thing.

Some people stop investing when the stock market crashes, and that's a mistake. When you're young, you need to keep investing through thick and thin. And stock market crashes can actually be great buying opportunities for young folks. If your stomach can handle it, stay invested through a few of these crashes and you will see your portfolio grow after the market recovers. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Iran's dervishes are hungry for equality (Golnaz Esfandiari, 3/13/14, Asia Times)

It started on March 1, when one jailed dervish - blogger and rights activist Kasra Nouri - went on hunger strike to protest what he described as the mistreatment of his fellow prisoners. Nouri was angered that two jailed members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufis were not receiving proper health care. He then was joined by others. 

Sources close to the dervishes now say that 10 of them in prison are refusing to eat. 

They have been reportedly joined by more than 2,000 other Sufis outside of prison - in Iran and elsewhere in Europe, India, and other countries - who have also gone on hunger strike. A number of them have said they will protest on March 8 in front of the prosecutor-general's office in Tehran. 

The protest is not just about the mistreatment of jailed dervishes. It focuses on state pressure on the Nematollahi Gonabadi dervishes who make the largest Sufi group in Iran. The group is believed to have more than 2 million members across Iran. 

Farhad Nouri, the chief editor of the "Majzooban" website dedicated to news about the Sufis, tells RFE/RL that the dervishes want justice. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


In Flip-Flop, Florida Gov. Rick Scott Backs Bill To Grant In-State Tuition To Immigrants  (AP, 3/13/14) 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Meet Senator Richard Burr, the pro-waterboarding conservative who wants to give Obama more power (Ryan Cooper, 3/13/14, The Week)

[W]ith the case of Richard Burr (R-N.C.), we see a senator who would be complicit in his own institutional disenfranchisement.

As I wrote this morning, the CIA is fighting desperately to prevent the release of a Senate Intelligence Committee torture report which will, almost certainly, expose the torture program as the monstrous and illegal farce it in fact was. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has been one of the most prominent critics of the security apparatus, and he's been near the center of the CIA-Senate fight.

The security apparatus has thus been looking for an opportunity to discredit or get rid of him. Up steps Senator Burr, all but accusing Udall of trying to murder the American people in an interview with Politico: "Members can do whatever they want to. My concern is that the release of information could potentially cause the losses of life to Americans."

This is obvious misdirection, of course. This fight has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting the American people or intelligence at all. This is a bunch of torturers trying to avoid accountability for committing war crimes. Marcy Wheeler is appropriately cutting: "Right. Knowing the truth about CIA's torture will kill us all."

On one level this is merely typically monstrous Republican partisanship. Accusing Democrats of basically supporting the terrorists is standard GOP practice. And there's an individual motive, too: Burr is the number two Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and since number one Saxby Chambliss is retiring, should Republicans retake the Senate in 2014 Burr stands to gain the committee gavel.

But consider the deeper implications: Should he succeed in his attempt to undermine Senator Udall to save the CIA torturers, he will have won the chair of a rump Intelligence Committee with no power or influence. Having lost a straight oversight fight with the CIA, everyone will know they might as well not even bother to meet. The strangest thing is that Senator Burr doesn't seem to be much disturbed by this. Indeed, he seems positively eager to stop this whole fight and give the security apparatus whatever they want.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


March 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


Here's the program from tonight's HS concert in the uber-liberal academic bastion of Hanover, NH:

View image

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Tatars warn Russia risks provoking jihadi backlash in Crimea (Guy Chazan, 3/08/14, Financial Times)

Russia risks a repeat of its bloody entanglements in Chechnya if it annexes Crimea, a senior Crimean Tatar leader has warned, with extremist elements in the community threatening jihadi-style violence against Russian troops occupying the peninsula.

Mustafa Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said a number of militant Tatars had approached him to say they would fight the Russians.

"We have Islamists, Wahhabis, Salafis . . . groups who have fought [with the opposition] in Syria," he said in an interview in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. "They say: 'an enemy has entered our land and we are ready'.

"We can't stop people who want to die with honour," he said, making he clear he did not endorse a jihadist campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


It's Unclearly Defined, but Telecommuting Is Fast on the Rise (ALINA TUGEND, MARCH 7, 2014, NY Times)

[T]he typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate -- man or woman -- who earns about $58,000 a year and belongs to a company with more than 100 employees, according to numbers culled from the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey.

And the phenomenon appears to be growing. The annual survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found a greater increase in the number of companies planning to offer telecommuting in 2014 than those offering just about any other new benefit.

This winter might help push the trend even faster. Federal employees in Washington who worked from home during four official snow days saved the government an estimated $32 million, according to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, and its research arm Telework Research Network. you can get two hours of productivity out of them in the workplace.

March 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Democrats' climate-change filibuster is nothing but a lot of hot air (Dana Milbank, March 10, 2014, Washington Post)

A group calling itself the Senate Climate Action Task Force announced that at least 28 Democratic senators would be "holding the Senate floor" overnight Monday to demand legislation on climate change.

"We're not going to rest until Congress wakes up and acts on the most pressing issue of our time," declared Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the organizer of the sleepless senators. [...]

If Reid -- who kicked off the all-nighter at 6:27 p.m. with a speech quoting the Dalai Lama -- really wants "action," he doesn't have to lose sleep. All he has to do is bring a climate-change bill to the floor.

The problem? Such legislation doesn't have majority support in the Senate. When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced an amendment to a budget resolution last year calling for a "fee on carbon pollution," 13 Democrats joined all 45 Republicans in defeating it.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


OMB Projects Bigger Returns on Fannie and Freddie (NICK TIMIRAOS, 3/10/14, WSJ)

By the end of March, the two mortgage-finance companies that were seized by the U.S. in 2008 will have returned $202.9 billion in dividend payments, after receiving $187.5 billion in federal support between 2008 and 2011. The budget projections released Monday by the White House Office of Management and Budget show that the companies could return an additional $163.8 billion through the 2024 fiscal year if the bailout arrangement remains in place.

By that tally, Fannie and Freddie would return $179.2 billion more to taxpayers than they were required to borrow.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Guillotine, Gulag and Gas Chamber: The Glorious Gifts of Atheism to Humanity (Joseph Pearce, Imaginative Conservative)

The first great atheist uprising was the French Revolution, which sought to dethrone God with godless "Reason" and sought to replace the Holy Trinity with the atheist trinity of liberté, egalité et fraternité. The man who is traditionally attributed with coining this triune revolutionary war-cry, which would later be officially adopted as the motto of the French Republic, was Antoine-Francois Momoro, a rabidly anti-Christian radical who advocated the eradication of religion. He played an active and bloodthirsty role in the crushing of the Catholic peasants of the Vendée and was a key figure in the notorious Cult of Reason, an anthropocentric alternative to religion, which effectively enthroned self-worshipping Man as the Lord of the "enlightened" cosmos. In 1893, Momoro supervised the nationally celebrated Fête de la Raison (Festival of Reason) in which his own wife was dressed and paraded as the Goddess of Reason, surrounded by cavorting and costumed women. In a wild and licentious liturgical dance, the Goddess of Reason processed down the aisle of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, surrounded by her female entourage, to a newly-installed altar to Liberty, the Christian altar having been desecrated and removed. All across France, Christian churches were desecrated and re-established as Temples of Reason.

The Cult of Reason metamorphosed into the Reign of Terror in which the streets of Paris literally ran red with the blood of its victims. The Goddess of Reason made way for Madame Guillotine who was omnivorous in her bloodlustful appetite, devouring Christians and atheists alike.

A little over four months after Momoro's triumphalist Fête de la Raison, Momoro was himself a victim of the Reign of Terror that he had helped to create. Accused by his erstwhile comrades of being an enemy of the revolution, he was guillotined on March 24, 1794, a timely reminder of the words of the French political journalist, Jacques Mallet du Pan, that "the Revolution devours its own children".

Having experienced this incestuously cannibalistic debauch, any genuine age of reason would have rejected atheism's Cult of Reason and sought more humane ways of solving the problems of modernity. Not so. The nineteenth century saw a plethora or revolutions, inspired by atheism and anti-clericalism, which paved the way for the Russian Revolution of 1917, a godless monstrosity that would dwarf even the Reign of Terror in the sheer scale of the secular fundamentalist horror that it unleashed. Throughout the Soviet Union, thousands of labour camps were established in which political dissidents, enemies of the State, were literally worked to death. This system of camps, dubbed by Solzhenitsyn the Gulag Archipelago, would claim tens of millions of lives before the communist tyranny finally crumbled under the dead weight of its own corruption.

Meanwhile, in Germany, another form of Socialism, both anti-Christian and anti-Semitic in inspiration, ushered in a period of genocide, adding the ghastliness of the Gas Chamber to atheism's legacy of mass destruction.

Guillotine, Gulag, and Gas Chamber. These are the glorious gifts that atheism has bestowed on a world grown tired of God.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


A Forgotten Holocaust: US Bombing Strategy, the Destruction of Japanese Cities and the American Way of War from World War II to Iraq (Mark Selden, Asia Pacific Journal)

But it was in the Pacific theatre, and specifically in Japan, that the full brunt of air power would be felt. Between 1932 and 1945, Japan had bombed Shanghai, Nanjing, Chongqing and other cities, testing chemical weapons in Ningbo and throughout Zhejiang province. [18] In the early months of 1945, the United States shifted its attention to the Pacific as it gained the capacity to attack Japan from newly captured bases in Tinian and Guam. While the US continued to proclaim adherence to tactical bombing, tests of firebombing options against Japanese homes throughout 1943-44 demonstrated that M-69 bombs were highly effective against the densely packed wooden structures of Japanese cities. [19] In the final six months of the war, the US threw the full weight of its air power into campaigns to burn whole Japanese cities to the ground and terrorize, incapacitate and kill their largely defenseless residents in an effort to force surrender.

As Michael Sherry and Cary Karacas have pointed out for the US and Japan respectively, prophecy preceded practice in the destruction of Japanese cities, and well before US planners undertook strategic bombing. Thus Sherry observes that "Walt Disney imagined an orgiastic destruction of Japan by air in his 1943 animated feature Victory Through Air Power (based on Alexander P. De Seversky's 1942 book)," while Karacas notes that the best-selling Japanese writer Unna Juzo, beginning in his early 1930s "air-defense novels", anticipated the destruction of Tokyo by bombing. [20] Both reached mass audiences in the US and Japan, in important senses anticipating the events to follow.
Curtis LeMay was appointed commander of the 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific on January 20, 1945. Capture of the Marianas, including Guam, Tinian and Saipan in summer 1944 had placed Japanese cities within effective range of the B-29 "Superfortress" bombers, while Japan's depleted air and naval power left it virtually defenseless against sustained air attack.

LeMay was the primary architect, a strategic innovator, and most quotable spokesman for US policies of putting enemy cities, and later villages and forests, to the torch from Japan to Korea to Vietnam. In this, he was emblematic of the American way of war that emerged from World War II. Viewed from another angle, however, he was but a link in a chain of command that had begun to conduct area bombing in Europe. That chain of command extended upward through the Joint Chiefs to the president who authorized what would become the centerpiece of US warfare. [22]

The US resumed bombing of Japan after a two-year lull following the 1942 Doolittle raids in fall 1944. The goal of the bombing assault that destroyed Japan's major cities in the period between May and August 1945, the US Strategic Bombing Survey explained, was "either to bring overwhelming pressure on her to surrender, or to reduce her capability of resisting invasion. . . . [by destroying] the basic economic and social fabric of the country." [23] A proposal by the Chief of Staff of the Twentieth Air Force to target the imperial palace was rejected, but in the wake of successive failures to eliminate such key strategic targets as Japan's Nakajima Aircraft Factory west of Tokyo, the area bombing of Japanese cities was approved. [24]

The full fury of firebombing and napalm was unleashed on the night of March 9-10, 1945 when LeMay sent 334 B-29s low over Tokyo from the Marianas. Their mission was to reduce the city to rubble, kill its citizens, and instill terror in the survivors, with jellied gasoline and napalm that would create a sea of flames. 

The simple fact is that our terrorism works.
Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Americans hopping aboard public transit in record numbers; ridership recovers from recession (JUSTIN PRITCHARD, 3/10/14,Associated Press)

Nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013, to be precise -- the highest total since 1956, according to ridership data reported by transit systems nationally and released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association.

Transit ridership has now fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession. With services restored following economy-driven cutbacks, ridership numbers appear set to continue what had been a steady increase.

"People are making a fundamental shift to having options" aside from a car in how they get around, said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the public transportation association. "This is a long-term trend. This isn't just a blip."

Expanding bus and train networks help spur the growth.

March 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Four Factions, No Favorite (Ross Douthat, 3/08/14, NY Times)

A better framework is suggested by Henry Olsen, writing in The National Interest, who argues that Republican presidential campaigns are usually defined by four factions rather than two. One faction is centrist (think John McCain's 2000 supporters, or Jon Huntsman's rather smaller 2012 support), one is moderately conservative (think the typical Mitt Romney or Bob Dole voter), one is socially conservative (think Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum backers), and one is very conservative but more secular (think Gingrich voters last time, or Steve Forbes voters much further back).

The moderately conservative faction holds the balance of power, which is why the party usually flirts with ideologues but settles down with a safer, establishment-endorsed choice. But different campaigns take very different paths to this result.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan basically worked from the right to the center, consolidating secular and religious conservatives and then wooing enough moderate conservatives to win.

In 1996, Bob Dole relied on moderate conservatives to fend off a centrist (Lamar Alexander), a social conservative (Pat Buchanan) and a secular conservative (Forbes).

In 2000, George W. Bush used support from moderate conservatives and religious conservatives to defeat both McCain's centrist insurgency and Forbes's lesser challenge from the right.

In 2008, McCain combined his original centrist base with enough moderate conservatives to win the nomination -- a trick Romney basically imitated in 2012.

Jeb has the easiest time combing the first three and the fourth is always noisy, but so ugly it doesn't matter at the national electoral level. It's confined to the Beltway.
Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Obama to Dems: It's time to worry (Justin Sink, 03/09/14, The Hill)

"We're good at Senate and House elections during presidential years -- it's something about midterms," Obama said. "I don't know what it is about us."

And at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Boston, Obama said poor turnout could lead the party's candidates to get "walloped."

"It's happened before and it could happen again," said Obama, who remembers all too well the shellacking his party took in 2010, when it lost control of the House.

In 2014, the worry is that Democrats will lose the Senate if the base doesn't come out, and it's an outcome that political observers and Democratic strategists say is more and more plausible.

Democrats are defending 21 of the 36 Senate seats up this fall, and election watchers widely expect the party to lose seats as they protect a fragile six-seat majority. 

Democrats in red states like South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana have retired, and Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.) are facing tough races.

"You just have a lot more red states than blue states in play," said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf.

Compounding that problem is that the demographic advantages the president exploited in 2012 -- an influx of young and minority voters -- are unlikely to materialize this cycle. 

Older, white voters less friendly to the president are far more likely to head to the polls for a midterm election.

"The difference in electorates between midterm elections and presidential elections is stunning," said Ken Goldstein, a political scientist at the University of San Francisco.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


What good is information? : The internet promised to feed our minds with knowledge. What have we learned? That our minds need more than that (Dougald Hine, 3/06/14. Aeon)

'Information wants to be free' declared Stewart Brand, 30 years ago now. Cut loose from its original context, this phrase became one of the defining slogans of internet politics. With idealism and dedication, the partisans of the network seek to liberate information from governments and corporations, who of course have their own ideas about the opportunities its collection and control might afford. Yet the anthropomorphism of Brand's rallying cry points to a stronger conviction that runs through much of this politics: that information is itself a liberating force. [...]

 Knowledge has a point when we start to find and make connections, to weave stories out of it, stories through which we make sense of the world and our place within it. It is the difference between memorising the bus timetable for a city you will never visit, and using that timetable to explore a city in which you have just arrived. When we follow the connections - when we allow the experience of knowing to take us somewhere, accepting the risk that we will be changed along the way - knowledge can give rise to meaning. And if there is an antidote to boredom, it is not information but meaning.

If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by

There is a connection, though, between the two. Information is perhaps the rawest material in the process out of which we arrive at meaning: an undifferentiated stream of sense and nonsense in which we go fishing for facts. But the journey from information to meaning involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience. No matter how experienced we become, success cannot be guaranteed. In most human societies, there have been specialists in this skill, yet it can never be the monopoly of experts, for it is also a very basic, deeply human activity, essential to our survival. If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by.

It is only fair to note that the internet is not altogether to blame for this, and that the rise of boredom itself goes back to an earlier technological revolution. The word was invented around the same time as the spinning jenny. As the philosophers Barbara Dalle Pezze and Carlo Salzani put it in their essay 'The Delicate Monster' (2009):
Boredom is not an inherent quality of the human condition, but rather it has a history, which began around the 18th century and embraced the whole Western world, and which presents an evolution from the 18th to the 21st century.

For all its boons, the industrial era itself brought about an endemic boredom peculiar to the division of labour, the distancing of production from consumption, and the rationalisation of working activity to maximise output.

People similarly misunderstand Fukuyama's End of History, ignoring The Last Man section. Reaching a point where all the big questions about politics and economics have been settled and society becomes ridiculously wealthy is not a utopian moment.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Self-Isolation of White Evangelicals on LGBT Issues (Ed Kilgore, 3/06/14, Washington Monthly)

Yesterday Greg Sargent drew attention to WaPo/ABC poll findings showing support for marriage equality continuing to increase, with Americans supporting it by a 59/34 margin, with half now viewing the right to marry as constitutionally protected. His main point was that Republicans were held back from accommodating this rapid and likely irreversible shift (have you ever heard of a former supporter of marriage equality?) in public opinion by the stolid opposition of white evangelicals, who aren't much shifting at all.

I think it's useful to underline the isolation of white evangelicals on all issues related to homosexuality, using the handy WaPo/ABC crosstabs.

Since the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is pretty heavily invested in efforts to resist same-sex marriage and to create broad "religious liberty" protections for those who resist it in a way that might violate discrimination laws, let's look at how rank-and-file white Catholics compare to white evangelicals on these issues:

On same-sex marriage itself, white Catholics support it 70/26, while white evangelicals oppose it 28/66.

On gay/lesbian adoptions, white Catholics favor allowing them by a 73/22 margin; white evangelicals are opposed 38/60.

Mr. Kilgore's question is accidentally revealing, if we just change the time frame slightly.  Put it this way : have you ever heard of a former supporter of abortion?

CNN Poll: Wide divide over abortion (CNN, 3/06/14)

According to the poll, 27% say that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 13% say it should be legal in most circumstances, 38% say that it should be legal in few circumstances, and 20% say abortion should always be illegal.

March 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Shrinking Governments: Good or Bad? (FLOYD NORRIS, 3/07/14, NY Times)

The jobs report for February found that governments -- state, local and federal -- had 21,851,000 civilian employees, on a seasonally adjusted basis. That was down 32,000, or 0.15 percent, from a year earlier.

This marks the 56th consecutive month, going back to July 2009, that government employment was down on a year-over-year basis, excluding the temporary jobs added for the 2010 census. [...]

Governments now employ 15.9 percent of all Americans who have jobs. That is the lowest proportion since 2001.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Russia Has Already Lost the War (CHRYSTIA FREELAND, MARCH 7, 2014, NY Times)

Kiev smells like a smoky summer camp, from the bonfires burning to keep the demonstrators still out on Independence Square warm, but every day it is tidier. Sidewalks in the city center are checkerboarded with neat piles of bricks that had been dug up to serve as missiles and are now being put back.

The police, despised for their corruption and repression, are returning to work. Their squad cars often sport Ukrainian flags and many have a "self-defense" activist from the protests with them. A Western ambassador told me that the activists were there to protect the cops from angry citizens. My uncle, who lives here, said they were also there to stop the police from slipping back into their old ways and demanding bribes.

This revolution may yet be eaten by its own incompetence or by infighting. A presidential election is scheduled for May, and the race, negative campaigning and all, has quietly begun. The oligarchs, some of whom have cannily been appointed governors of the potentially restive eastern regions, are jockeying for power. But for now, Ukrainians, who were brought together by shared hatred of the former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, are being brought closer still by the Kremlin-backed invasion.

"Yanukovych freed Ukraine and Putin is uniting it," said Iegor Soboliev, a 37-year-old ethnic Russian who heads a government commission to vet officials of the former regime. "Ukraine is functioning not through its government but through the self-organization of its people and their sense of human decency."

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


The disappearing paper: Why cash is a dying payment method (JON NORRIS, 3/08/14, Next Web)

The arguments for ditching notes and coins are numerous, and quite convincing. In the US, a study by Tufts University concluded that the cost of using cash amounts to around $200 billion per year - about $637 per person.

This is primarily the costs associated with collecting, sorting and transporting all that money, but also includes trivial expenses like ATM fees. Incidentally, the study also found that the average American wastes five and a half hours per year withdrawing cash from ATMs; just one of the many inconvenient aspects of hard currency.

Cash is a waste of money.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Iran president condemns hard-line media crackdown (AP AND AFP,  March 8, 2014)

President Hassan Rouhani told reporters Saturday that it was wrong to close down a newspaper on its first offense just because one writer was seen as inappropriate.

"The government is in favour of freedom of expression with responsibility," he said in a vigorously applauded speech to media figures broadcast live on television. "If we break the pens and shut the mouths, public trust will be deeply harmed." [...]

Rouhani said his opponents were free to attack him. [...]

Culture Minister Ali Janati recently urged an end to the ban on social media, including Facebook. That and his move to allow the publication of previously banned books has sparked a furore among conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM



Race pervaded every aspect of Armstrong's career. After he began making movies, he was given an embarrassing jungle outfit to wear in "A Rhapsody in Black and Blue" (1932), a betrayal of everything in his music. Brothers likens the ideology of nineteen-thirties racism that Armstrong lived under to what other musical geniuses suffered overseas at the time:

In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich came under attack for composing music that did not fit official Soviet expectations; his efforts to make up for such "errors" in artistic judgment lay at the root of a tortured life. Richard Strauss's German-themed compositions were easily appropriated by the Nazis, boxing him into an image that he wanted nothing do with.
Armstrong, in his own way, made that same point. During the Little Rock schools standoff, he cancelled a planned tour of the Soviet Union for the State Department. As Teachout quotes him in "Pops," "The people over there ask me what's wrong with my country? What am I supposed to say?" Yes, Armstrong compromised. "If he was going to advance further on the ladder of his career--and he definitely was--he had to assure white audiences on a deep level that he had no designs on social progress," Brothers writes.

But, in fact, he did, which we see now in his art and in his racial politics, from his interactions with the Memphis police in 1931 and Eisenhower in 1957 to his return in 1965 to New Orleans, without grandstanding or incident. As the pieces come together, a consistency of thought in Armstrong once obscured to us has finally become clear: "You name the country and we've just about been there," he said of his travels with his wife Lucille. "We've been wined and dined by all kinds of royalty. We've had an audience with the Pope. We've even slept in Hitler's bed. But regardless of all that kind of stuff, I've got sense enough to know that I'm still Louis Armstrong--colored."

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Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


"True Detective": Down the Bayou (Far From Any Road) : Landscape, sacrifice, and American horror (Jacob Mikanowski, 3/08/14, LA REview of Books)

For some viewers, True Detective never gets past the limits of its cop-show roots. To Grantland's Andy Greenwald, the show only works when it focuses on actual detective work. Otherwise it's a pretentious mess, a clichéd, anguished male-psychodrama in which "darkness isn't a stand-in for depth or maturity." For The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum, it's more of the same old thing: "macho nonsense" and "dorm-room deep talk," a triumph of style over substance, an "ominous atmosphere" covering up a "phony duet."

It's certainly possible to see True Detective as nothing more than a collection tics and gestures -- an assembly of country songs, attractive photographs, and loopy speeches, overlaid with some oddball philosophy for the illusion of depth. But I don't think that's right. I think True Detective, as a whole, is gesturing at something larger. And I think that dismissing something on the basis of style or genre is a mistake. Offbeat genres like murder ballads and B-movie noirs and cop shows allow for the exploration of things that high art can't attempt: secret histories, submerged passions, primal fears. Pulp is an art of extreme possibility. There's a reason philosophers gravitate to weirdoes like H.P. Lovecraft, and why songs like "Pretty Polly" have depths that go unplumbed no matter how often they're sung.

Old forms can conceal deep meanings. True Detective draws on various strains of American horror -- rural noir, Lovecraft's cosmic nightmares, Chambers's stories of madness and concealed identity. But what it reminds me of most is something older: Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," a short story that Melville called deeper than Dante, and that Greil Marcus has invoked in discussing Twin Peaks.

The story is set in Puritan New England -- in Salem, Massachusetts, to be exact. In it, Goodman Brown, a pious young man, ventures into the woods one night on an unknown errand, leaving his young wife, Faith, behind in town. On his walk, he meets an older man who looks much like himself, carrying what looks to be a wizard's staff. The older man knows Brown comes from reputable stock: his grandfather whipped a Quaker woman through the streets of Salem, and his father set fire to Indian villages in King Philip's War. Not long after, Brown meets another person from town, Goody Cloyse, who reveals herself to be a witch. Soon, Brown is aloft, flying towards an unseen clearing. All the townspeople are there, celebrating in front of a flame-lit altar which may or may not be full of blood. He recognizes a score of church members, "grave, reputable and pious people, elders of the church." All the people Brown grew up respecting are secretly in the Devil's company. The old men are wanton seducers; the young women sacrifice infants. Their waking lives are lies. As the assembly readies to baptize its newest members, Brown cries out -- and comes to, alone in the forest, not knowing whether what he had seen was a dream. He lives to the end of his days as a broken man. After his death, Hawthorne writes, "they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom."

Myth divides the world into the security of civilization and the wilderness of danger. The woods are full of witches and the swamps are full of ghosts. In "Young Goodman Brown" Hawthorne -- whose own ancestors were active in the witch trials -- undoes the structure of myth, exposing a deeper terror. The Puritans expected the threat to their spiritual community to come from the surrounding forest. The woods were the space of danger: of Indians, of paganism, of witchcraft, and sin. In "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne tells us plainly that the woods are never outside. The community that seems righteous is always criminal, and complicit. As True Detective heads towards its final episode, it looks increasingly like the Yellow King isn't Chthulu or a mysterious swamp god. Instead, the perpetrator is a family, its associates, its churches, schools, police officers and public officials and servants and custodians. Evil is woven into the fabric of everyday life. To some, that might be a disappointment. To me, it harks back to the original American horror story: the discovery that the woods are in the town, and the swamp is in our minds.

We're all in Carcosa now. 

For me, at least, the point of the whole exercise is that Kohle doesn't actually believe in the pessimism he espouses.  At the revival tent they visit he attacks religion as a dupe for the boobs and says to Marty:

What's it say about life hm? You gotta get together, tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe, just to get through the goddamn day? Nah. What's that say about your reality Marty?

But Marty takes him aback by saying that when Rust talks like that he sounds panicky.  

And when Rust comes back years later to re-open the investigation he portrays it as an obligation to do justice.  Likewise, Marty's wife talks about how much she respects him because he is so committed.  It's all well and good to be pessimistic about the state of the world and how it turns out in the long run, but if you fight against evil you are acting on faith.

March 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Our rightward drift goes beyond politics : Thatcher and Blair have seeped into our social and cultural lives as well (GEOFFREY HEPTONSTALL, 6 March 2014, Open Democracy)

In British terms it was Blair, not only Blair but especially Blair, crushing Clause Four before marching to war. Yes, there was relief for the worst effects of the market. No, there was no suggestion that the market might be the root of the problem, that people are not prosperous and are in debt. Credit, a euphemism for debt, is a certain recipe for disaster. The economy was, and remains, fragile, dependent on the fantasy that putative money actually exists.

It was bound to crash. The crash duly came. And whose fault was it? It was someone else's fault. It was idle scroungers and bogus refugees. It was big government spending too much on the undeserving. It was the fault of wasteful bureaucracy. It was too much red tape. It was lazy teachers and crazy social workers. It was fancy ideas in the universities and the media. It wasn't the fault of the financial system. It can't have been. The market creates wealth and then distributes it when regulations don't impede its natural course.

We are free and we are prosperous. That is the future course of history into an indefinite future. There are impediments, but these will be removed. Common sense will prevail. The only debate is how this will be achieved. Will the accent be Etonian or metromedia? The agonizing choice.

The choice is not about policies. People vote for values rather than specific legislative programmes. Values are generated by voices of persuasion within the fabric of general feeling. Once an idea is taken up it acquires a momentum that is not willed. The internal dynamics force the issue. It overflows into the forum of public conversation even, or especially, at a trivial level. This is the case even where the facts, readily available, are evidently contrary to the accepted view.

The convention (you hear it everywhere) is that the alternative has been tried, and has failed so obviously and spectacularly that the only viable system is the free market. So the ultimate choice is between Las Vegas or North Korea.

While it is certainly true that there are no longer any serious advocates of socialism and communism--both having failed as economic systems--neither are there any serious advocates of a return to naked capitalism--it having failed as a social system.  Instead, what all the leading politicians in the Anglosphere advocate is putting the social welfare system of the Second Way on a sounder financial footing via the mechanisms of the First Way. Our drift is thus rightward on the left and leftward on the right and we're meeting in the middle.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


America's Natural Gas Lever (MICHAEL WARA, MARCH 7, 2014, NY Times)

At present, the United States lacks the capacity to ship any of this natural gas overseas. But an export terminal capable of supplying three billion cubic feet of gas per day in liquefied form is under construction in Cameron Parish, La., and numerous others are in the planning and permitting stages. These vast projects hold the potential for a long-run solution to problems like the one in Ukraine.

The hitch is that these projects are bedeviled by a complex and uncertain permitting process, especially in order to sell their gas to countries, like those in the European Union, that haven't signed a free-trade agreement with the United States. As a result, each project must petition the Department of Energy for a finding that exporting gas to our European allies is in the "public interest." Events of the past week show that the energy security of our closest allies is decidedly within the public interest of the United States.

The president can help to accomplish this by issuing an executive order finding that liquefied natural gas exports to our allies meet the legal standard. The president should also direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department to expedite the complex permitting process for these terminals, consistent with state and federal safety and environmental laws.

In doing so, Mr. Obama should make clear that the intent of such action is to give Europe flexibility, not to cut Russia out of its European gas business.

Has there even been a case in history where the Imperial state was the provider of commodities to its colonies, rather than vice versa?  This has the potential to devastate the global economy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Baby boomer humor's big lie: "Ghostbusters" and "Caddyshack" really liberated Reagan and Wall Street : Harold Ramis was a master of subversive comedy. But the politics of "Caddyshack" and rude gestures have backfired (THOMAS FRANK, 3/02/14, Salon)

There is nothing "crypto" about Ramis's 1984 hit, "Ghostbusters": Its Reaganism is fully developed, as numerous critics have pointed out. Here the martinet is none other than a troublemaking EPA bureaucrat; the righteous, rule-breaking slobs are small businessmen--ghost-hunting businessmen, that is, who have launched themselves deliriously into the world of entrepreneurship. Eventually, after the buffoon from the EPA gets needlessly into the businessmen's mix and blunders the world into catastrophe, the forces of order find they must outsource public safety itself to the hired ghost-guns because government can't do the job on its own

Both Reagan and his closest advisers were transfixed by the film, Sidney Blumenthal tells us; "Ghostbusters" fit nicely into their idea of an America guided by "fantasy and myth." And while the film itself piled up its stupendous box-office returns in that summer of '84, Jack Abramoff and his College Republican pals got together a troupe of "Fritzbusters" to warm up the crowds at Republican events, mocking Democratic presidential candidate "Fritz" Mondale with an offensive take-off on the catchy "Ghostbusters" theme song.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Bernie Sanders: 'I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States' (John Nichols, March 6, 2014, The Nation)

Bernie Sanders says he is "prepared to run for president of the United States." That's not a formal announcement. A lot can change between now and 2016, and the populist senator from Vermont bristles at the whole notion of a permanent campaign. But Sanders has begun talking with savvy progressive political strategists, traveling to unexpected locations such as Alabama and entertaining the process questions that this most issue-focused member of the Senate has traditionally avoided.

In some senses, Sanders is the unlikeliest of prospects: an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate but has never joined the party, a democratic socialist in a country where many politicians fear the label "liberal," an outspoken critic of the economic, environmental and social status quo who rips "the ruling class" and calls out the Koch brothers by name. Yet, he has served as the mayor of his state's largest city, beaten a Republican incumbent for the US House, won and held a historically Republican Senate seat and served longer as an independent member of Congress than anyone else. And he says his political instincts tell him America is ready for a "political revolution."

Recall how far even Bill Bradley, who wasn't all that liberal, moved Al Gore to the Left in the primaries.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


The real life George Smiley wasn't happy with his portrayal (Martin Rouse, 3/7/14, Melville House)

MI5 agent John Bingham is cited as inspiration for John le Carré's iconic spy George Smiley--a character boasting wildly successful turns in novels, TV, and films--but it turns out that he wasn't a fan. Newly released papers from Bingham's life show that, not only did he dislike his by-proxy fame, but that he "deplored" the way le Carré portrayed it.

"You are far from being pro-Soviet or pro-communist," Bingham wrote in an October 1979 letter to him, as if to suggest that le Carré is not not a communist, "but I would think the attacks gave comfort and even pleasure and glee [to such people] in some places."

LeCarre has always come across as resenting America so much for surpassing Britain that he favors anyone who opposes us.

March 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Schoolboy, 13, creates nuclear fusion in Penwortham (BBC, 3/06/14)

A 13-year-old Lancashire schoolboy has become one of the youngest people in the world to carry out nuclear fusion.

Jamie Edwards, a pupil at Penwortham Priory Academy, created the project from scratch with help from his school.

"I can't quite believe it - even though all my friends think I am mad," he said. [...]

"One day, I was looking on the internet for radiation or other aspects of nuclear energy and I came across Taylor Wilson," said the junior scientist who faced a race against time to complete the project before his 14th birthday on Sunday.

"I looked at it, thought 'that looks cool' and decided to have a go."

"You see this purple ball of plasma - basically it's like a star in a jar," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


U.S. Household Net Worth Hits Record High : Fed Finds 14% Increase in Americans' Wealth, Thanks to Stock and Home-Price Rally (NEIL SHAH, March 6, 201, WSJ)

The net worth of U.S. households and nonprofit organizations--the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus debts and other liabilities--rose 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2013, up about $3 trillion from the prior quarter, to $80.7 trillion, according to a report by the Federal Reserve released Thursday.

Overall, Americans' wealth rose 14% in 2013, or $9.8 trillion, from 2012. [...]
The Fed's figures don't account for inflation or population growth. Still, even after adjusting for inflation using the Fed's preferred inflation gauge, Americans' net worth is at record levels. That suggests Americans have made considerable progress repairing the damage inflicted by the housing crash and recession, which ran from December 2007 through June 2009.

March 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Ted Cruz reserves course (WILL WEISSERT, 3/05/14, Associated Press)

Firebrand U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz refused to endorse his colleague John Cornyn before the Texas primary. But a resounding Cornyn victory has changed Cruz's mind.

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


The First Mass-Produced Hydrogen Car : Bye-bye, gasoline! (Daniel Dumas, 03.04.2014, Popular Science)
When it comes to alternate energy sources, most automakers think simply--battery power or bust. That's what makes the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell an outlier. The SUV will be the first mass-produced hydrogen car in the U.S. when it debuts this spring.

Hydrogen Fuel Is Set to Take Off, but Is It Safe?/ (NAVEENA SADASIVAM, March 04, 2014, Pacific Standard)

Later this year, 1,000 of Hyundai's hydrogen-fueled cars will go on sale in California, and Toyota has announced plans for a commercial model to go on sale in 2015. Ford, Daimler, Nissan, General Motors and Honda have also announced plans for partnerships on hydrogen fuel cell technologies. The California Air Resources Board has projected that there will be over 50,000 electric and hydrogen cars in California by 2018.

California Governor Jerry Brown last year agreed to devote $20 million every year over the next decade to build 100 additional hydrogen fueling stations. The state currently has 23 active stations.

Hydrogen as a fuel source is an attractive proposition mainly because it doesn't emit toxic, heat-trapping pollutants the way gasoline does. An analysis conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy shows that for a mid-size SUV, the total greenhouse gas emissions from using hydrogen as a fuel is at worst half that for gasoline.

Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Texas G.O.P. Beats Back Challengers From Right (MANNY FERNANDEZ, MARCH 4, 2014, NY Times)

Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents, and a race for lieutenant governor headed for a runoff.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


The De-Darwinizing of Cultural Change (Daniel C. Dennett, 3/04/14, The Edge: HeadCon '13 Part X)

Think for a moment about a termite colony or an ant colony--amazingly competent in many ways, we can do all sorts of things, treat the whole entity as a sort of cognitive agent and it accomplishes all sorts of quite impressive behavior. But if I ask you, "What is it like to be a termite colony?" most people would say, "It's not like anything." Well, now let's look at a brain, let's look at a human brain--100 billion neurons, roughly speaking, and each one of them is dumber than a termite and they're all sort of semi-independent. If you stop and think about it, they're all direct descendants of free-swimming unicellular organisms that fended for themselves for a billion years on their own. There's a lot of competence, a lot of can-do in their background, in their ancestry. Now they're trapped in the skull and they may well have agendas of their own; they have competences of their own, no two are alike. Now the question is, how is a brain inside a head any more integrated, any more capable of there being something that it's like to be that than a termite colony? What can we do with our brains that the termite colony couldn't do or maybe that many animals couldn't do?

It seems to me that we do actually know some of the answer, and it has to do with mainly what Fiery Cushman was talking about--it's the importance of the cultural niche and the cognitive niche, and in particular I would say you couldn't have the cognitive niche without the cultural niche because it depends on the cultural niche.

What I'm working on these days is to try to figure out--in a very speculative way, but as anchored as I can to whatever people think they know right now about the relevant fields--how culture could prune, tame, organize, structure brains to make language possible and then to make higher cognition (than reason, and so forth) possible on top of that. If you ask the chicken-egg question--which came first--did we first get real smart so that now we could have culture? Or did we get culture and that enabled us to become smart? The answer to that is yes, it's both, it's a co-evolutionary process.

What particularly interests me about that is I am now thinking about culture and its role in creating the human mind as a process, which begins very Darwinian and becomes less Darwinian as time goes by. This is the de-Darwinizing of cultural change in the world.

It becomes the putative Darwinists that they reject the theory in practice.

March 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Syria's 'third force' Kurds may emerge stronger from conflict (Ariel Zirulnick, March 4, 2014, CS Monitor)

There's a third party to Syria's civil conflict, and it may be the only one to emerge somewhat victorious from the war. 

As President Bashar al-Assad's grip has loosened, the roughly 2 million Kurds in Syria's northeast have made their strongest bid yet to break away from Damascus. Earlier this year, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Kurds' dominant political force, created a new regional government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Congressional Democrats Face Uphill Battle in Midterms (Charlie Cook, March 3, 2014, National Journal)

The Senate's playing field keeps getting larger and, at least so far, entirely at Democrats' expense. Three of their seats are, to put it charitably, uphill challenges. The open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia are pretty much gone. In Montana, it's unclear whether newly appointed Sen. John Walsh is in any better position, apart from fundraising, than he was when he was just the lieutenant governor running for an open seat. Between national party committees and super PACs, the amount of money raised by the candidates and their campaigns means less than ever before. With a handful of people in each party apparently ready to spend $50 million to $100 million of their own money on behalf of their favored candidates, a lot of things that used to be important aren't so much anymore.

Although it is getting surprisingly little attention, Democrat Carl Levin's open seat in Michigan is a toss-up; neither of the candidates is particularly strong or well defined, but the natural advantage that a Democrat in the Motor State could be expected to have is likely offset by ugly headwinds caused by radioactive Obama and ACA numbers. The same can be said for Tom Harkin's open seat in Iowa. In both states, the presumptive Democratic nominees have Obamacare votes to defend, but the highly problematic GOP nomination process in Iowa might well yield an exotic and unelectable contender.

Five Democratic incumbents now face tough races, Arkansas's Mark Pryor is in the most challenging situation, followed by Kay Hagan (North Carolina), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), and Mark Udall (Colorado). Udall became the latest addition to the list when GOP Rep. Cory Gardner announced his candidacy Saturday. Also worth keeping a close eye on are Al Franken (Minnesota); Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), if former Sen. Scott Brown runs; and Mark Warner (Virginia), who is as strong as a Democrat can be in that state but would be in trouble in the event of a meltdown. When there is a president with numbers this bad, even incumbents who might normally be OK need to be watched carefully, particularly if there is deeply unpopular policy weighing down the party's candidates.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Face-Saving Ways To Get Russia To Back Down (Steve Forbes, 3/04/13, Forbes)

It may be too soon for Moscow to be thinking about how to resolve its self-made crisis in Ukraine. But as events that Putin unintentionally unleashed begin to hit Russia's oligarchs and its already none-too-robust economy, the U.S. and Europe should have solutions at the ready. Here are two possibilities.

• The Hong Kong solution. Crimea is home to much of the Russian fleet. Western diplomats can pretend to take at face value the idea that Putin acted as he did out of fear for the safety of the fleet and the local Russian population. Carve out the naval base area and some real estate around it and Ukraine can lease it to Moscow for 99 years. [...]

• The Guantanamo Bay Naval base solution. This is a variation on the Hong Kong solution, the only difference is that the naval base and surrounding area lease would be permanent, though Ukraine would retain sovereignty. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Bitcoin Loss Highlights Elusive Paths of Regulation (PETER J. HENNING, 3/03/14, NY Times)

Can nearly $450 million go missing without a crime taking place? That is only one of the questions stemming from the collapse of the Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox that present a host of challenges for governments worldwide that are struggling to regulate virtual currencies.

Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan after the disappearance of more than 744,000 Bitcoins owned by customers, along with 100,000 of its own. Unlike an ordinary robbery, this appears to be the work of hackers who exploited a weakness in the system for tracking Bitcoin transactions that allowed the currency to be diverted, perhaps over a few of years.

The number taken amounts to about 6 percent of the total Bitcoins in circulation, raising serious questions about how any virtual currency can be made safe for consumers and investors.

"...He would not have made them sheep."
Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Putin Hits Pause (Christopher Dickey, 3/04/14, Daily Beast)        

As a testy Putin fielded a few sharp queries and a lot of softballs (and ordered a woman out of the room when her phone rang) what may have been most remarkable was the way he described the drama he's been watching in the Ukraine. [...]        

Putin said there had been no ultimatum for Ukrainian forces to surrender, as was widely reported Monday. He announced Tuesday that the threatening Russian military maneuvers near the Ukrainian border are now over. And even as Putin said he supported Yanukovych, he dissed him. The infamously corrupt president-in-exile has "no political future," Putin said, but had to be taken in by Russia for humanitarian considerations, otherwise he might have been killed.    

The USSR wasn't much of an opponent, but this is embarrassing. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Evangelical, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine (Todd Deatherage, Mar 4, 2014, RNS)

A growing number of Americans are beginning to ask some very important questions about U.S. involvement in the Middle East. We understand that by virtue of our citizenship and our government's decisions, our opinions matter. As an evangelical Christian, I believe that by virtue of my faith, I may not walk away. It's not a question of whether I'm involved, but how.

How can I act on the values I hold as a follower of Jesus?

How do I best serve the residents of the Holy Land?

How do I act in ways that encourage mutual flourishing of Israelis and Palestinians alike?

How do I heed the words of the prophet Micah, who told us to do justice and love mercy?

And what do Jesus' words about peacemaking mean in this context?

Peace advocates are frequently told that we're "naive," particularly if we seek reconciliation in the Middle East. But I would suggest, on the contrary, that we're the realists. It's the purest idealism to continue to behave as if the Israeli-Palestinian status quo is sustainable, and dangerously naive to believe that Israel will remain both Jewish and democratic if Palestinians aren't allowed to control their own destiny.

The current state of affairs, in which millions of Palestinians live and labor under Israeli military control, is a tragedy for Palestinians, but it is also a clear and present danger for Israel. The status quo is, in fact, one of the greatest threats facing Israel's security today.

My Christian faith teaches me that we all are made in the image of a God who loves us. And as a follower of Jesus, I feel compelled to be an agent of a peaceable kingdom built on love, justice, mercy and mutual human flourishing. I am utterly convinced that Israelis and Palestinians will never achieve the peace, security and freedom they both desire without recognizing that their own aspirations can never be achieved at the expense of the other.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


Atlanta Braves have strong young core under contract for years to come (Adam Kilgore, March 3, 2014, Washington Post)

Signing extensions with homegrown stars early in their careers has become common practice. The Braves, in the span of three weeks in February, took it to the extreme. They viewed several factors, some league-wide, some specific to their situation.

Most important, they had the players. After conducting a study, the Braves found their players 25 and under generated 18.2 wins above replacement, Wren said. The next highest was the Los Angeles Angels with 12 -- and 11 came from Mike Trout. The Braves had more WAR from their under-25 players than the lowest 11 teams in the majors combined.

"We felt like we had a really good, young dynamic young group of players under age 25 that we could extend," Wren said. "And we'd be capitalizing on their most productive years."

Across the league, both the quality and quantity of free agents have declined, and many suspect stronger testing for performance-enhancing drugs has resulted in players declining more rapidly from their peak seasons. Sign a free agent to an eight-year contract, and you get the shaky end of his career. Sign Freeman at 24, and you get his entire prime. And the free agent would cost more.

"We are seeing, 30 is 30 again. 32 is 32 again," Wren said. "And I think that drives a lot of these decisions. Of the five guys we signed, the oldest is going to be 31. We're getting their prime years, which was part of their strategy."

The rash of extensions also has created a cycle: As more teams use extensions for their homegrown players, the free agent crop has thinned.

"As more and more teams take on this philosophy, you're seeing less quality in the free agent market," Wren said. "And so clubs are looking to keep their own and not have to go into that market. Because it's not only less quality, but it's less efficient. You're at the mercy of a supply-and-demand system. Usually, there's more demand than supply."

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Another Bitcoin Site Gets Completely Wiped Out by Thieves (ALLIE JONES, 3/04/14, The Wire)

Flexcoin, a relatively small Bitcoin bank, announced early Tuesday morning that it's shutting its doors in light of being completely robbed of its currency. All of it. Just days after a massive theft at another major Bitcoin depository, Flexcoin was completely cleaned out by hackers, leaving the site no choice but to shut down. [...]

According to Flexcoin's terms of service, Flexcoin users aren't owed anything: "We have taken every precaution to defend your bitcoins from hackers and/or intruders.," the terms clearly state. "However, Flexcoin Inc is not responsible for insuring any bitcoins stored in the Flexcoin system. You are entering into this agreement with Flexcoin Inc. You agree to not hold Flexcoin Inc, or Flexcoin Inc's stakeholders, or Flexcoin Inc's shareholders liable for any lost bitcoins."

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM

60 in '14:

Poll: Democrats' advantage on key issues is not translating to a midterm-election edge (Dan Balz and Scott Clement, March 3, 2014, Washington Post)

Political handicappers rate Republicans as favorites to maintain their House majority and say the GOP has a legitimate opportunity to gain the six seats it needs to take control of the Senate. 

The Post-ABC survey affirms those projections, showing Republicans in a stronger position than Democrats in the states with Senate races this fall and more than holding their own in the battle for control of the House. In the 34 states with Senate races, 50 percent of voters say they favor Republicans and 42 percent favor Democrats. [...]

This "generic" vote question is not a pure predictor of the outcome of House races, however. Less than half of eligible voters are expected to cast ballots, and the size of Republicans' typical midterm edge is unclear. In October 2006, Democrats held a double-digit advantage on this barometer. That proved enough of a margin, with Democrats capturing control of the House that November. But in the month before Republicans made historic gains and took control of the House in 2010, this indicator still showed narrow support for the Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Save the Ukraine By Exporting Natural Gas (Diana Furchtgott-Roth, 3/04/14, RCM)

A prescient House Energy and Commerce Committee report released last month, just in time for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, suggested that "by becoming a natural gas exporter, the U.S. can supplant the influence of other exporters like Russia and Iran while strengthening ties with our allies and trading partners around the world."

President Obama does not want to use military force to counteract Russia. His 2015 Budget, due out this week, will shrink the military still further. But he has another weapon at his disposal, liquid natural gas exports.

Congress and the president should without delay pass laws to make it easier to export liquid natural gas. Such laws would help our allies and hit Russia where it hurts, in the pocketbook.

More than half of Ukraine's natural gas, and 30 percent of Europe's natural gas, is provided by Russia. Russia gets about half of its revenue from oil and gas. LNG is cheaper in the United States than in Russia, so increasing America's exports of LNG would lower Russia's profits.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


4 Reasons Putin Is Already Losing in Ukraine (Simon Shuster, March 03, 2014, TIME)

At home, this intervention looks to be one of the most unpopular decisions Putin has ever made. The Kremlin's own pollster released a survey on Monday that showed 73% of Russians reject it. In phrasing its question posed in early February to 1,600 respondents across the country, the state-funded sociologists at WCIOM were clearly trying to get as much support for the intervention as possible: "Should Russia react to the overthrow of the legally elected authorities in Ukraine?" they asked. Only 15% said yes -- hardly a national consensus.

That seems astounding in light of all the brainwashing Russians have faced on the issue of Ukraine. For weeks, the Kremlin's effective monopoly on television news has been sounding the alarm over Ukraine. Its revolution, they claimed, is the result of an American alliance with Nazis intended to weaken Russia. And still, nearly three-quarters of the population oppose a Russian "reaction" of any kind, let alone a Russian military occupation like they are now watching unfold in Crimea. The 2008 invasion of Georgia had much broader support, because Georgia is not Ukraine. Ukraine is a nation of Slavs with deep cultural and historical ties to Russia. Most Russians have at least some family or friends living in Ukraine, and the idea of a fratricidal war between the two largest Slavic nations in the world evokes a kind of horror that no Kremlin whitewash can calm.

Indeed, Monday's survey suggests that the influence of Putin's television channels is breaking down. The blatant misinformation and demagoguery on Russian television coverage of Ukraine seems to have pushed Russians to go online for their information. And as for those who still have no Internet connection, they could simply have picked up the phone and called their panicked friends and relatives in Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


UTSA, Minnesota researchers say ovulation alters women's economic decisions (KC Gonzalez, Feb. 26, 2014, UTSA) 

For approximately one week every month, millions of women change their economic behavior and become more focused on their social standing relative to other women.
According to new research from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, the ovulatory cycle alters women's behavior by subconsciously motivating them to outdo other women. This research could have important implications for marketers, consumers and researchers.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


This energy source could solve all of our problems -- so why is no one talking about it? (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 3/04/14, The Week)

There's a band of hipsters within the community of people who think hard about energy who think this is a bunch of hoo-ha. We already have a perfectly useful and clean energy source, they say: nuclear power. In terms of its capacity, nuclear power could provide almost all of our energy needs. In terms of carbon emissions, nuclear power is totally clean. Outside of a handful of countries whose names you probably already know, proliferation isn't an issue. Of course, there's the issue of safety. But nuclear power is safe, advocates say. Chernobyl happened because of the insanity of communism, and Fukushima because you probably shouldn't build reactors on the path of tsunamis, not because of anything inherent to nuclear power. The solution to nuclear waste, they say, is more R&D, so that waste can be recycled. Look at France! It draws almost all of its energy from nuclear power, with no serious incident to note in the past 50 years, and the power is cheap, plentiful, and clean.

Within the energy analysis community, nuclear advocates are one hipster subset. But as always when we're talking about hipsters, there's a subset within the subset. And these energy hipsters are pushing a nuclear technology that has all the advantages of traditional nuclear and none of the drawbacks. Its name is thorium.

Thorium is an element, like uranium and plutonium, which you can use as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium is abundant. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium reactors could have "passive" safety. Traditional nuclear reactors sometimes have the annoying tendency of sometimes exploding and showering the area around them with radioactive waste. This is because plutonium and uranium reactors, when shut down, cannot cool off on their own. They need "active" systems to cool them down. If these systems fail, the reactor starts going into meltdown. Thorium, being a lighter element, doesn't have that problem. If you have an emergency in a thorium reactor, you shut it off, and it cools down on its own. It can't melt down. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium produces minimal amounts of waste, and even the little waste it does produce is potentially recyclable. And finally, unlike uranium and plutonium, with thorium you can make a reactor, but you can't make a bomb.

And there you have the problem.

Thorium advocates point out that almost from the beginning, nuclear research has been sponsored by governments -- or, more accurately, military-industrial complexes.

One of our favorite confusions on the Right is that we should all convert to nuclear energy because it's such an awesome power source but Iran should close its entire nuclear program.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


Lots of People Who Support *** Marriage Think ****** Is Immoral  (EMMA GREEN, MAR 3 2014, Atlantic)

But the most surprising statistics are buried toward the end of the study. A majority of those surveyed said that s** between adults of the same gender was morally wrong. It was a slim majority--only 51 percent--and roughly 43 percent said that gay s** is fine. There were regional differences, too. About half of Californians and Floridians had no objection to gay s**, while only a third of Texans were okay with it.

Compare this to the proportion of people who support gay marriage: 53 percent of Americans for, 41 percent against. This suggests that roughly a tenth of Americans don't like gay s** but think gay people should be able to get married anyway. In other words, they don't think public policy should necessarily mirror their private beliefs. 

One of the greatr failures of conservative social policy in recent years was to not recognize that the simple American sense of fairness meant we'd adopt some form of civic institution for such couples and to act to ensure that it was something wholly artificial, like civil union, instead of something organic and meaningful, like marriage.
Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Equations Are Art Inside a Mathematician's Brain (Scientific American, Mar 4, 2014)

When mathematicians describe equations as beautiful, they are not lying. Brain scans show that their minds respond to beautiful equations in the same way other people respond to great paintings or masterful music. The finding could bring neuroscientists closer to understanding the neural basis of beauty, a concept that is surprisingly hard to define.

The ugly is always wrong.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


No climate change impact on insurance biz: Buffett (Matthew J. Belvedere, 3/03/14, CNBC's "Squawk Box")

The effects of climate change, "if any," have not affected the insurance market, billionaire Warren Buffett told CNBC on Monday--adding he's not calculating the probabilities of catastrophes any differently.

While the question of climate change "deserves lots of attention," Buffett said in a "Squawk Box" interview, "It has no effect ... [on] the prices we're charging this year versus five years ago. And I don't think it'll have an effect on what we're charging three years or five years from now." He added, "That may change ten years from now."

He said the U.S. has been "remarkably free of hurricanes" in the past five years with only slightly more tornadoes.

"The public has the impression that because there's been so much talk about climate that events of the last 10 years from an insured standpoint and climate have been unusual," he continued. "The answer is they haven't."

March 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


Did better mothering defeat the Neanderthals? (Paul H. Mason, Cosmos)

This exciting new series is inspired by the research outcomes of a major five-year project at Kochi University of Technology in Japan. It offers some support for my view. "Replacement of Neanderthals" collates a large body of multidisciplinary research on the factors that contributed to the extinction of Neanderthals, including their anatomy, cranial volume, stone tool technology, rituals, climate change and recent discoveries about the genes they carried. The novel theme of this series, though, is the emphasis on learning differences: the authors consider them the most important factor in the replacement of Neanderthals by humans. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Search on to find face-saving Ukraine exit for Vladimir Putin (Peter Spiegel in Brussels and Kathrin Hille in Moscow, 3/03/14, Financial Times)

Although the US and EU could hit Russian economic interests through sanctions, diplomats stressed on Monday that their priority was different: lowering tensions and offering Vladimir Putin a face-saving way out of the crisis.

Ukraine crisis sends Russian stock market tumbling (Phillip Inman, Dominic Rushe in New York and Alec Luhn in Moscow, 3/03/14, The Guardian)

Russia's financial system punished Vladimir Putin far more swiftly than western diplomacy on Monday, as the Moscow stock market suffered one of its biggest one-day falls in recent years and the rouble tumbled sharply in a first nervous reaction to the Kremlin's gambit in Crimea.

Putin is "winning" in much the same way House Republicans won the budget crisis in '08.
Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Are we close to cheaper cleaner methanol? : A newly discovered nickel-gallium catalyst can convert carbon dioxide into methanol leaving fewer by-products, say scientists. (Sudeshna Chowdhury, March 3, 2014, CS Monitor)

Thanks to a newly discovered nickel-gallium catalyst that can convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methanol leaving behind considerably less carbon monoxide as a by-product, according to a paper titled "Discovery of a Ni-Ga catalyst for carbon dioxide reduction to methanol" published in the March 2 online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry. [...]

"You get ideas for new functional materials based entirely on computer calculations. There is no trial-and-error in the lab first. You use your insight and enormous computer power to identify new and interesting materials, which can then be tested experimentally," Jens Nørskov, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford and co-author said in a press release. [...]

Current production of methanol though is dependent upon hydrogen and carbon dioxide, largely obtained from hydrocarbons (mainly methane), says Nørskov.

The bigger aim therefore is to  "synthesize methanol using hydrogen from renewable sources, such as water split by sunlight, and carbon dioxide captured from power plants and other industrial smokestacks," Nørskov said. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Putin's Catastrophic Error in Ukraine (David Ignatius, March 3, 2014, Washington Post)

What Putin misunderstands most is that the center of gravity for the former Soviet Union has shifted west. Former Soviet satellites such as Poland and the Czech Republic are prosperous members of the EU. The nations that made up what was once Yugoslavia have survived their bloody breakup, and most have emerged as strong democracies.

Ukraine was set to join this movement toward the European Union last November when Yanukovych suddenly suspended trade and financial talks with the EU and accepted what amounted to a $15 billion bribe from Putin to stay in Russia's camp. To the tens of thousands of courageous Ukrainians who braved the cold and police brutality to protest, Yanukovych's submission to Moscow looked like an attempt to reverse history.

The opportunity for Putin is almost precisely opposite his atavistic vision of restoration. It is only by moving west, toward Europe, that Russia itself can reverse its demographic and political trap. Year by year, the Russian political system becomes more of a corrupt Oriental despotism -- with Moscow closer to Almaty than Berlin. The alternative is for Ukraine to encourage Russia to move with it toward the West.

As former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski explained in a 2008 book, "If Ukraine moves to the West, first to the EU, eventually maybe to NATO, the probability that Russia will move towards Europe is far greater. ... Russians will eventually say, 'Our future will be safest, our control over the Far East territories will be most assured ... if there is a kind of Atlantic community that stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok.'"

Putin's Russia may well make more mistakes: We may see a cascading chain of error that brings Russian troops deeper into Ukraine and sets the stage for civil war. Those are the kind of miscalculations that lead to catastrophic consequences, and Obama would be wise to seek to deter Russian aggression without specifying too clearly what the U.S. ladder of escalation might be.

The oligarchs can make more in the West than contained to the East.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


New spy technology to spawn oil revolution (James Burgess, 4 March 2014, online opinion)

The next step in technology takes us off the ground and airborne - at a much cheaper cost - according to Jen Alic, a global intelligence and energy expert for OP Tactical.

The newest advancement in oil exploration is an early-phase aerial technology that can see what no other technology-including the latest 3D seismic imagery-can see, allowing explorers to pinpoint untapped reservoirs and unlock new profits, cheaper and faster.

"We've watched supercomputing and seismic improve for years. Our research into new airborne reservoir-pinpointing technology tells us that this is the next step in improving the bottom line in terms of exploration," Alic said.

"In particular, we see how explorers could reduce expensive 3D seismic spending because they would have a much smaller area pinpointed for potential. Companies could save tens of millions of dollars."

The new technology, developed by Calgary's NXT Energy Solutions, has the ability to pinpoint prospective oil and gas reservoirs and to determine exactly what's still there from a plane moving at 500 kilometers an hour at an altitude of 3,000 meters.

The Stress Field Detection (SFD) technology uses gravity to gather its oil and gas intelligence - it can tell different frequencies in the gravitational field deep underground.

March 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Beautiful minds : Medicating America's children (C.H., 3/01/14. The Economist)

These figures suggest a misallocation of resources. Too much money is being spent to treat attention disorders, and not enough attention is being paid to children's anxiety and depression. ADHD is real, but it is hard to believe that everyone who is diagnosed with ADHD actually has it and should be treated with stimulants. The American Psychiatric Association says that in most cultures ADHD occurs in about 5% of children. In America the number of children diagnosed with ADHD increased by an average of 3% each year from 1997 to 2006, then about 5% each year from 2003 to 2011, according to the CDC. By 2011 more than one in ten children and more than one in eight boys had been diagnosed with ADHD. In Kentucky a staggering 19% of children have been diagnosed with the disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association itself is seems set to exacerbate the problem. Its new diagnostic manual, published last year, eased the guidelines for identifying ADHD. It instructs psychiatrists to look out for children who, among other things, are reluctant to do homework, who lose school books and who are fidgety.

And so, A Clockwork Orange has gone from dystopian fiction to reportage.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Kunming knife attack: Muslim separatists blamed for 'Chinese 9/11' (Jonathan Kaiman in Kunming and Tania Branigan in Beijing, 2 March 2014, The Guardian)

It is the first time people from the north-western region have been accused of such a major and organised attack outside its borders, despite rising unrest there in recent years. Many of its Uighur ethnic group, who are Muslim and Turkic-speaking, chafe at Chinese policies and a smaller number want an independent state.

A doctor at the hospital described a scene of bedlam as scores of the seriously injured arrived. He told the Guardian the attackers appeared to be well trained because many of the cuts directly targeted internal organs. He said police were stationed in patients' rooms and doctors had been shown a notice ordering them not to divulge information on the injured, including their condition and how many there were. They were told to tell families the government would arrange compensation.

It's not terrorism when you're right.
Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Jerusalem protest unites Haredim against army service : Even relative moderates in the massive ultra-Orthodox crowd wax vociferous over criminal sanctions for draft-dodgers (
Mitch Ginsburg, 3/02/14, The Times of Israel)

Everyone I spoke to at the protest prayer on Sunday afternoon - and I tried to speak with those who appeared on the more moderate side of the ultra-Orthodox camp, the sort of young men who might consider military or national service - was convinced it would only increase the animosity and unite all behind a staunchly rejectionist leadership.

"They used to say, 'Whoever is not studying should go to the army,'" said Shai Dvir, a 17-year-old student from the Torat Chaim Yeshiva in Modi'in Illit. "Today they say, 'Don't anybody dare.'"

Dvir, in gray slacks, stood with a group of friends. Most wore fashionable glasses, velvet yarmulkes and short sidelocks. Some smoked cigarettes, some worked on a pocketful of sunflower seeds. They interviewed me at length about the perception of the ultra-Orthodox in the secular world. Dvir even said he was "curious about the army." But all agreed that the government's show of force in criminalizing draft-dodging made the notion unthinkable.

Benzion Hefetz, the most vociferous of the bunch, said he felt the divide between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society was more entrenched and less solvable even than the Arab-Israeli conflict. "The gap is even greater," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


More homework, please (R.A., 2/28/14, The Economist)

[T]ariff rates are not universally low. On some categories of goods they remain quite high, and while those categories might be too small to make liberalisation macroeconomically important, tariff-reduction might nonetheless be microeconomically desirable. Slashing tariffs on equipment used in wind-power installations or solar-energy facilities will not make a dent in GDP growth. But it would still be a really good thing to do. And trade in environmental goods and services is part of the TPP agenda.

Second, one of the stated ambitions of both TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is reduction in non-tariff barriers, which in most cases add substantially more to goods costs than tariff barriers. According to estimates by the World Bank, for instance, American tariff restrictions on agricultural imports are relatively low on the whole, at just 2.2%. But the tariff equivalent of an all-in measure of restrictiveness, which takes into account non-tariff barriers, jumps to 17.0%. The all-in rates for many of the partners in TPP negotiations are substantially higher; Japan's all-in tariff equivalent on agricultural imports is 38.3%. South Korea's is 48.9%. Australia's is 29.5%.

Third, "implicit protection of services" does indeed impose additional costs. For instance, the cost to foreign providers of some crucial transport and shipping services within the American market is basically infinite. Services account for four times as much economic output as goods production in America but only around one-fifth of American trade. Many services aren't tradable, of course; haircut tariffs will not be on the TPP agenda. But a growing array are. And rules on service trade have barely changed at all in two decades. TTIP and TPP (as well as the Trade in Services Agreement) are aimed at updating rules on services trade to make it easier to sell insurance, or financial and consulting services, or IT and environmental services, and so on, across borders. Now maybe these deals are "really about" intellectual property, and all-powerful Hollywood has convinced the government to expend a lot of time and effort setting standards for services trade, the better to provide a smokescreen for its own nefarious activities. But I doubt it.

Investment is another key item on the agenda. At present rules on cross-border investment can be pretty ad hoc; a firm interested in buying shares in a business in another country often needs to be careful not to buy too much or not to invest in politically sensitive industries, lest the investment invite political scrutiny. TPP is working to reduce the scope for ad-hockery in interference in investment, which I think we would generally consider to be a good thing. TTIP is as well (that's what the "I" is all about).

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


The Bell Tolls for AIPAC, the Late, Great Pro-Israel Lobbying Group : With Washington locked in partisan warfare, the organization has to choose between being liked or winning (Lee Smith|March 2, 2014, Tablet)

In spite of the widespread conviction, held by both pro- and anti-Israel activists, that AIPAC holds unmatched sway over American Middle East policy, the outfit's recent loss underscores the real and growing limits of its political power. It was only a matter of time before someone zeroed in on the organization's fundamental dilemma and made it choose between form (bipartisanship) and substance (pro-Israel legislation). Now that President Barack Obama has forced that choice, AIPAC is clearly at a crossroads.

For almost a decade now, AIPAC's biggest battle in Washington has been to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons program. The sanctions provided for in the most recent bill were to come into effect only if negotiations over a permanent agreement to replace the interim agreement failed. Nonetheless, Obama threatened to veto the bill and the Democrats backed off. When Republicans wanted to push ahead, AIPAC chose bipartisanship over sanctions, siding with Democrats in asking to postpone the vote. "The better part of valor is to come back another day," said Amitay. "I'm sure it was a tough decision."

As Rosen explained, there was a collision between AIPAC's two core principles. "The problem of Iran is a cardinal issue, but bipartisanship is too," he said. It might be emotionally satisfying to act out when the vote goes against you, but AIPAC's main job is to produce bipartisan majorities. "AIPAC decided to pull a punch," Rosen went on, "because it had no other choice."

And that's precisely the problem--AIPAC had no choice. And now everyone sees it. The organization's power resides largely in the appearance of power, which depends on its presumed ability to punish those who act against it.

When AIPAC lost its campaign to stop the Carter Administration from selling F-15s to Saudi Arabia in 1978, the White House agreed not to equip the Saudi purchases with the most advanced equipment. But there were no concessions to sweeten the bitter taste of defeat this time around. AIPAC lets on that it's happy to have the bill on the legislative schedule for a vote sometime in the future. However, there will almost surely never be a vote on more sanctions while Obama sits in the Oval Office, because it is in the interest of both the administration and the Iranians to roll over the six-month interim agreement indefinitely--while Iran continues work on its ballistic missiles and warheads as well as "research and development" on its second-generation centrifuges. In other words, taken together with the fact that the administration intentionally collapsed the sanctions regime in order to empower the "moderate" Hassan Rouhani, the fight over Iran sanctions is over and AIPAC was routed.

AIPAC's failure is not simply the result of the fact that the lobbying group's preferred strategy of bipartisanship has been riddled with contradictions for almost half a century--even as it has kept wealthy Democratic donors on board. Rather, the group's bipartisan inclinations seem to have blinded them to the fact that the president had his own Middle East strategy--even as he mimed agreement with the general idea that Iran should be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Violating the ideals he pledged to uphold (Hina Shamsi, March 2, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer)

By asserting the right to kill based on his authority alone, President Obama violates the constitutional principles he swore to uphold and undermines the security we all seek. He also paves the way for a President Christie, Clinton, or Cruz to decide who lives and who dies.

President's don't have the luxury of liberal principles.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM


US threatens Russia with isolation after Crimea incursion (Deutsche-Welle, 3/02/14)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the US was willing to impose visa bans, asset freezes, trade and investment penalties on Russia, after President Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade Ukraine.

The top US diplomat added that Russia risked losing its position in the Group of Eight (G8), and that the organization's other global economic powers were willing to boycott an upcoming summit in Sochi scheduled for June.

...but it's long past time to take away their permanent UN Security Council seat and give it to India.

March 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Utility CEO: Generators Will Soon Make Electric Grid an 'Antiquated System' (Alan Neuhauser, Feb. 28, 2014, US News)

The head of America's second-largest energy provider hopes to make the foundation of his industry's current business model obsolete.

David Crane, president and CEO of NRG Energy, said as solar power, wind power and energy storage grow more efficient, and as more American homes also come to rely on cheap natural gas, energy customers will switch from buying power to generating their own through "microgrids" - perhaps in as little as 30 years.

"There will come a day, in a generation or so, when the grid is at best an antiquated system to a completely different way of buying electricity," he said Tuesday during a panel discussion before a crowd of hundreds at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit outside Washington, D.C.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Tea party gathering brings older Americans together. (Feb. 27, 2014, US News)

Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, June 19, 2013.