September 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Some On Staten Island Opt For Buyout Of 'Houses That Don't Belong' (MATTHEW SCHUERMAN, September 19, 2014, NPR)

Staten Island's Fox Beach neighborhood used to be a working-class area with about 180 homes, mostly small bungalows. Fox Beach is -- or rather was -- a few hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean, and after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, homeowners decided their neighborhood was dangerous in terms of natural disasters and too expensive because of the rising cost of flood insurance.

So the state has been tearing down the homes. [...]

It's not just because of Sandy. This is wetlands. It floods in heavy rains and is barely above sea level. In hot weather, wildfires break out.

"If you look at what we are in the midst of right here, you realize houses don't belong here, period" says Joe Tirone, who has convinced New York state to buy out whoever wanted to sell. "It's insane to think this is what it looked like 30 or 40 years ago and someone said, 'I can build some homes here.' "

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


The Union is saved - but at what cost? : The Nos have it, but Britain has been left a divided country. How did our politicians get the referendum battle so wrong? (Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth 20 September 2014, Spectator)

The worst has not happened; Scotland has not seceded from the United Kingdom. But David Cameron will have known some time ago that, whichever side won in the referendum, there would be no victory. This morning, the United Kingdom wakes up to one of the biggest constitutional messes in its history.

Given that the unionists had the best product to sell -- Britain -- it is alarming that they were supported by only 55 per cent of Scots. For months, the opinion polls had suggested far bigger support. The unionists may have won the election, but the separatists emphatically won the campaign. The Prime Minister had to turn to Gordon Brown, and seemingly give him the authority to redraft the constitution at will. He must now accept the consequences.

Ever since the YouGov poll that put Yes ahead, the British government has -- one cabinet minister admits -- operated by one principle: to live another day. 'Nothing less than a modern form of Scottish home rule' was offered, and a vow to keep the Barnett formula was made in a desperate bid to persuade the Scots to stay. Having acted in haste, the Prime Minister will have to repent at leisure -- starting now.

This referendum was meant to settle the question of Scottish independence for good. But few believe it has done that. 'We have heard the settled will of the Scottish people,' said the Prime Minister. Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, said, 'The people of Scotland have spoken -- we have chosen unity over division.' Both will have known this to be untrue. There is no such thing as the settled will of the Scottish people, and almost half of them chose division. As one Labour insider admits, 'There's no way this is over.' But this referendum -- and more specifically the scramble to win it in the last fortnight -- has created another question which now threatens to dominate politics.

The English Question is unavoidable, for as soon as parliament returns, the parties will move on the timetable dictated by Gordon Brown. He promised that a motion would be moved in parliament, on the day of a 'no' vote, to agree extra powers for Scotland (he meant powers to the Edinburgh parliament, which is a rather different thing). They will discuss which powers to devolve, focusing on income tax, housing benefit and welfare assessments. According to Brown, there will be agreement by St Andrew's Day (30 November), and a Bill will then be presented to parliament in the New Year and agreed by Burns Night (25 January). The Union is to be rewired at breakneck speed.

It's the best of both worlds, independence in all but name and Great Britain in name only.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:46 AM


Welcome to "All That Jazz," a weekly (I hope) feature on where I will provide short reviews of some of my favorite jazz recordings. My goals are to introduce you to musicians and music you may not be familiar with, entice you to listen to some great music and, perhaps, spark your own quest to learn about this great and uniquely American art form.   (I know that the "uniquely American" thing is overused...but in this case, it really is true.)  I will try to make these pieces accessible to both jazz fans and casual listeners.

A few things before we get to our first installment:

·      When I say these will be "short" reviews, I mean short...ranging from a few sentences to maybe 2 paragraphs.  This will be a test for me, as I could go on and on about any of these recordings, spinning off into background on each of the players, comments about the songs and their composers and all sort of tangents and anecdotes.   But I have a real job and family, and despite OJ's predictions about the imminent demise of labor, I'm guessing most of you have jobs or other obligations, too.  So the quicker you get through my notes and start listening to the music, the better for all of us.  (This intro will be far longer than anything I write about a given recording.)

·      I will alternatively refer to the subject of my pieces as "recordings," "CD's," "albums" and, G-d help me, I may even slip sometimes and call them "records."   I do most of my listening on via iTunes over my laptop, iPad or may still have a vinyl fetish...but whatever I call them, you'll know what I mean.

·      My taste in jazz runs the gamut of the music from Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings in the 1920's through whatever was debuted by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra last night.  But the focus of most of what you see here will be "straight ahead" jazz...the mostly acoustic, mostly swing-standards-and-blues-based music that arose in the 1930's and continues to be the primary form of jazz performed today.  This music encompasses genres such as swing, bebop, hard bop, cool, West Coast and others.  I may sometimes write about earlier forms of the music, more "out" or avant garde styles, or jazz "fusion", but it won't be too often.

·      I will usually comment on albums...that is, compilations of individual songs...although sometimes I will focus on one particular recording of a song that blows me away or, perhaps, various recordings of the same composition by different players.  (For those of you who are new to this, there is a canon of standard songs familiar to all jazz musicians and most fans...many written by the great early- and mid-century pop and Broadway composers such as the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter and Rogers & Hart and many by jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.  In jazz these written "standards" are used as springboards for improvised solos based on the melodies and harmonies of the songs.)

·      The CD's chosen will not always be the greatest (whatever that means) or most famous examples of the music...although sometimes they will be.  What they will be are personal favorites of mine or the music I'm listening to at the time. 

·      For every recording, I will provide a link to or other online seller and, if available, a link to a YouTube post of a tune from the album or at least a representative video of the same artist.

·      I enjoy all instruments that jazz is commonly played on...heck, the subject of my first review below is a harmonica player... but my real love is the saxophone.  So expect to see sax players over-represented here.  My all-time favorites and personal heroes are Benny Carter and Sonny Rollins.  I won't bury you with the music of these titans, but if you were to only study their output (Benny's recording career spanned from 1927 - 1990 and Sonny's started in 1949 and continues to this day), you'd have a have a deep understanding of the beauty, intelligence, humor, elegance and exuberance that can be found in great jazz performances.

·      I'm calling this feature "All That Jazz" after the Benny Carter tune of the same name (and not in honor of the lame and non-jazzy Kander & Ebb song from the musical "Chicago").  I couldn't think of anything better...although given the time of day I will write most of these, "Round Midnight" was also in the running.  If you have a better suggestion, I'm open.

·      I welcome comments, feedback, debate, opinions or whatever.  I'm not sure whether the best way to do this will be through the "comments" section or some other system the Brothers Judd will set up.  But if you write a comment, I will read it and respond (if appropriate), and if requested, will recommend other albums by the same artist or other worthwhile recordings in the same genre.

That's it.  I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I'm looking forward to writing them.
Jean "Toots" Thielemans, Man Bites Harmonica (1958)

YouTube: East of the Sun

Even if you've never listened to jazz, I promise you that you have heard Toots Thielemans.  It was his harmonica playing the theme songs to the TV shows Sesame Street and Sanford and Son and the film Midnight Cowboy, and his whistling (!) in commercials for Old Spice, Pinesol and other products.  But foremost, Toots is a first rate jazzman on harmonica and guitar.   Born in Brussels, he recently retired from active touring and recording at the age of 92.  

My favorite Toots' album is Man Bites Harmonica, a 1958 release featuring Toots on a front line with the great baritone sax player Pepper Adams and supported by a top-notch rhythm section of Kenny Drew (piano), Wilbur Ware (bass) and Art Taylor (drums).   The band plays a nice mix of lightly swinging standards (kicked off by my favorite tune, "East of the Sun"), ballads and blues.  Toots shows off his sax-inspired bebop-ish chops on the harmonica and a fluid technique and ringing tone (reminiscent of Herb Ellis or Kenny Burrell) on guitar, Pepper is at his gruff, discursive best, and the rhythm section cooks at just the right temperature throughout.  The YouTube clip above is the opening tune, "East of the Sun," and will give you the flavor of this album.  Another favorite of mine is their rendition of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," a song recorded by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five in the late 20's, and not a tune usually played in more modern settings.

September 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


The Disappearing "Undue Burden" Standard for Abortion Rights (JEFFREY TOOBIN, 9/17/14, The New Yorker)

Those words--"undue burden"--represent Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's most important triumph during her long and consequential tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court. Almost single-handedly, O'Connor rewrote abortion law. She had been a politician in Arizona, and her views, not coincidentally, roughly mirrored those of most Americans: abortion should be legal, but states should be allowed to impose some reasonable restrictions on the practice. When she joined the Court, in 1981, O'Connor was still basically alone among the Justices in how she saw the issue, but by 1992 her position commanded a majority. That year, she wrote the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which said that, while states did have the right to regulate some aspects of abortion--by, say, imposing twenty-four-hour waiting periods and requiring parental consent for minors--such power to constrain a woman's choice had limits. As O'Connor put it, "Only where state regulation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to make this decision does the power of the State reach into the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause." When O'Connor wrote her last opinion for the Court, in 2006, in another case involving Planned Parenthood, the remaining eight Justices joined her in embracing the "undue burden" standard. (I tell the story of O'Connor's control of the Court's abortion jurisprudence in my book "The Nine.")

Yet the key phrase did not have a fixed, self-evident definition. And as the Court moved to the right, following O'Connor's resignation, the scope of the constraints on state power began shrinking. In 2007, the year after Samuel Alito replaced O'Connor on the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, for a 5-4 majority, the decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld Congress's ban on so-called partial-birth abortion. Kennedy quoted O'Connor's language from Casey, in which she defined an "undue burden" as existing when the "purpose or effect [of the regulation] is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability." But then Kennedy went on, essentially, to ignore that definition, since he was approving a law that disallowed what was then the most common form of second-trimester abortion. [...]

But now the Texas cases are being heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is renowned for its conservatism and its particular hostility toward abortion rights. In the first in a series of appeals relating to the Texas law, a three-judge panel showed a great deal of sympathy for the regulations--and a very narrow conception of the meaning of O'Connor's standard. The judges suggested that a decrease in the number of abortion providers did not impose an undue burden, because of the existence of providers elsewhere in Texas or in neighboring states, and that the emergency efforts of private parties to comply with the new requirements also did not constitute an undue burden. (Irin Carmon, on MSNBC, chronicled one effort to keep a clinic open.)

In other words, the members of the Fifth Circuit panel seem to believe that anything short of a nationwide ban on abortion does not amount to an undue burden on women's rights. This is the argument that will soon be heading to the Supreme Court. 

Can any burden be undue to prevent the taking of innocent life?
Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Why Americans--and the West--Should Care About Scottish Secession (JONATHAN FOREMAN, 9/18/14, Weekly Standard)

Even if a post-referendum secession process were to go as smoothly as that of Czechoslovakia (1918-1992), you can be sure Scotland's separation from the rest of the U.K. would radically transform and weaken America's most important military and political ally, perhaps to the point that it might give up its nuclear weapons, its key role in organizations like NATO, and its traditional advocacy of free trade. Such a diminished, demoralized U.K. would not be able, and perhaps not be willing to provide the essential diplomatic or military back-up that Washingon has long taken for granted.

The most revealing moment in the recent history of the special relationship came when Tony Blair was worried that he couldn't get Parliament to sanction British participation in the Iraq War.  Besides allowing Blair (and Colin Powell) to us the specter of WMD to try to sell their case, W told the prime minister--to the horror of him and his aides--that he shouldn't worry about losing the vote, we'd be happy to go it alone and it wouldn't harm the relationship.  We bring England along for old time sake, not because they're necessary.  And we should take away their nukes regardless,

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Scotland, Be Brave and Go It Alone (Clive Crook, 9/17/14, Bloomberg View)

It comes down to this: Scots are bound more tightly to each other -- by history, culture and ethnicity -- than they are to the rest of the U.K. In this sense, Scotland is, and for centuries has been, another country. Its desire for full nationhood has waxed and waned, but it certainly isn't new. The union is hundreds of years old, but the things that make Scotland different haven't been smoothed away, which tells you something.

What has changed in recent decades is that the U.K. has become both less hospitable to the Scots and less necessary.

The U.K. is centralized to an unusual degree, and ever more so. London and its surroundings continue to increase their cultural and economic dominance, and the Scots are right to feel marginalized. Seeming to push against this was the devolution of government, notably through the Scotland Act of 1998, which set up a Scottish parliament with limited powers. This was a mostly sincere effort to meet the Scottish demand for self-rule, but in a subtle way, it served to underline the disparity in status.

Devolution grafted special arrangements for Scotland onto an essentially unchanged settlement in England -- even at the cost of glaring constitutional anomalies (Scottish members of the Westminster parliament continued to vote on English matters; English members of Parliament don't vote in Scotland). You might think this was a nice deal for Scotland -- and it was generous enough, at any rate, to cause resentment in England. But there's another way of reading it (you have to imagine it in an English accent): "You can have more self-rule, but only if it has no implications for us. That's how little you matter."

More devolution of this kind is again on offer if Scotland votes against independence. Depending on the details, it would go some way toward meeting the Scottish desire for self-government, but it won't meet the Scottish demand to be respected as a nation. Moreover, to the extent that Scotland makes a success of its devolved political powers, it would demonstrate that it can, in fact, rule itself. Devolution was supposed to satisfy the appetite for self-determination; in fact, it made Scotland hungry for more.

The world has changed, too. Scots made a conspicuously disproportionate contribution to the running of the British empire. In the wars of the 20th century, they were full partners with the rest of the U.K. in fighting for Britain and celebrated as such. That unifying sense of grand British purpose, defined by colonial prerogatives and obligations, as well as by existential threats (first Germany, then Germany again, then the Soviet Union), has gone.

The world is by no means a safe place, but -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Islamic State notwithstanding -- it's safer than before. Today the European Union offers small nations equal standing in a peaceful new regional order, with guaranteed access to each other's markets and a promise of mutual support. Small EU countries, even those on Russia's borders, feel no need to be absorbed by a condescending protector. If Ireland can succeed as a modern European nation and never regret its independence, why not Scotland?

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


New Anthem Blue Cross plan takes on Kaiser (CHAD TERHUNE, 9/17/14, LA Times)

Taking aim at HMO giant Kaiser Permanente, insurer Anthem Blue Cross is joining forces with several big-name hospitals and their doctors to create an unusual health plan option for employers in Southern California.

The joint venture being announced Wednesday brings together seven rival hospital groups in Los Angeles and Orange counties, including well-known institutions Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA Health System. The deal reflects the pressure insurers and hospitals alike are facing to hold down healthcare costs for employers and their workers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Apples and Hurricanes (Frank Bruni, 9/16/14, NY Times)

The I.R.S. scandal was not as bad as Watergate. (Nothing's ever as bad as Watergate, which serves a nifty historical function as the gold standard of executive malfeasance and mendacity.)

The bungled rollout of Obamacare was not as bad as the botched response to Katrina.

It's apples and hurricanes, but they're put in the same basket, in a manner that recalls a child trying to evade punishment by ratting out a sibling for something worse. Don't be mad, Mommy, about Operation Fast and Furious and all those guns that ended up with Mexican drug cartels. Ronnie traded arms for hostages as part of this whole Iran-contra affair!

I sometimes like to imagine presidential campaigns waged along these lines and what the candidates' not-as-bad-as bumper stickers might say.

"Fewer Lies Than Nixon." "Fewer Sweaters Than Carter." "Fewer Interns Than Clinton." "Better Speller Than Quayle."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Fewer U.S. Teens Using Illegal Drugs and Alcohol, Report Finds (Mary Elizabeth Dallas, Sept. 16, 2014, HealthDay News) 

Illegal drug use among teens in the United States is on the decline, according to a new federal report.

Encouragingly, the new study also found that alcohol use, binge drinking and the use of tobacco products among young people between the ages of 12 and 17 also dropped between 2002 and 2013.

The annual survey of 70,000 people aged 12 and older across the United States revealed that between 2002 and 2013, substance dependence or abuse problems among this age group also dropped from 8.9 percent to 5.2 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Almost Every Way Of Getting To Work Besides Driving Is Better For Your Mental Health (Sydney Brownstone, 9/18/14, Co.Exist)

Three researchers who tracked more than 17,000 British commuters in surveys over a period of 18 years found that those with active modes of transportation fared better on a scale of well-being. Where an extra 10 minutes of commute time actually increased well-being levels in walkers, an extra 10 minutes of commute time decreased psychological wellness for drivers. When drivers switched to walking or biking, their psychology improved. Riding on public transit was also associated with higher levels of wellness.

The latest study is pretty consistent with other findings that show walking or biking to work is better for your physical health. But it reminds us that commuting has mental health consequences, too. Earlier this year, researchers published a study showing that drivers tend to perceive their environments more negatively than cyclists or pedestrians.

Some of the effects of switching from driving to active travel were so significant, in fact, that they mirrored the effects of other life changes like switching jobs, getting married, or having a baby. Instead of answering "no" to a question like, "Do you enjoy living in your neighborhood?" those who had made the switch started answering "yes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Ukraine parliament ratifies landmark EU deal, allows greater autonomy for rebellious east (LAURA MILLS, 9/16/14, Associated Press

Ukraine's parliament ratified a landmark association agreement with the European Union on Tuesday, firmly pivoting the country toward the West and drawing a line under the issue that last year sparked massive protests and led to the ex-president's ouster. [...]

After the ratification vote in Kiev, synchronized with the European parliament by video chat, members of parliament leapt to their feet to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

The agreement will lower trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine, require Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards, and force the Kiev government to undertake major political and economic reforms. In a speech to legislators, President Petro Poroshenko called the vote a "first but very decisive step" toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union.

Poroshenko also said that those who died during protests against the ex-president and during fighting in the east "gave up their lives so that we could take a dignified place among the European family."

"Since World War II, not a single nation has paid such a high price for their right to be European," he said.

In Brussels, EU lawmakers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Interpreting the Scottish referendum (Prof Ijaz Khan, September 18, 2014, The International News)

The Scotland referendum, if it results in an independent Scotland, will mark a new phase in nationalist movements. This independence will be achieved peacefully and democratically. It is yet to be seen how future relations between the remaining UK and the independent state of Scotland will be, but one can make some predictions. 

Over the years the physical infrastructure of Scotland as well as its economy has developed as an integral and interdependent part of one whole - the UK. Both states have come to work on their separation or maybe even continued joint management. Then, Scotland will in all probability be a part of the European Union. If both manage their separation more like friends than enemies the European Union will be strengthened as well. Their bilateral relations may become a basis for new international interdependent management, redefining sovereignty, and security.

A people who think themselves a nation are one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The U.S. dollar has been strengthening for 3 straight years! (That's not good news.) (John Aziz | September 16, 2014, The Week)

After listening to naysayers and inflation hawks intone for years that the Federal Reserve's monetary policy would weaken the dollar and spike inflation, it's perversely gratifying to see that -- even after all that money printing -- the dollar has strengthened over the last three years: [see chart]

The dollar has been on a particular tear in the last few weeks. This is the ninth straight week where the dollar index has increased on the back of various geopolitical turmoils -- from the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine and the expansion of ISIS in the Middle East to the continuing Eurozone depression and the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence from Britain. As Catherine Evans of Reuters notes, that's the longest streak of weekly gains since 1997.

Compared to all that geopolitical turmoil, the United States -- with its moderately growing economy and relatively lower unemployment -- looks like an oasis of calm and prosperity. Money from around the world is flowing into U.S. dollars and dollar-denominated investments.

As the sole safe harbor on the planet, this is only going to accelerate.  It's also why we ought not try to balance the budget.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


A happy marriage depends on a happy wife, study shows (AFP,16 September 2014)

A husband's happiness is significantly related to how his wife feels about the union, according to researchers at Rutgers University and the University of Michigan, who say the happier the wife is with the marriage, the more content her husband will be with life in general.

Men are moral beings, so the happiness of others matters.

September 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Robots Work Their Way Into Small Factories : For as Little $20,000, Machines Handle the Tedious--With No Lunch Breaks; 'Fred, Hand Me That Wrench' (TIMOTHY AEPPEL, Sept. 17, 2014, WSJ)

A new breed of so-called collaborative machines--designed to work alongside people in close settings--is changing the way some of America's smaller manufacturers do their jobs.

The machines, priced as low as $20,000, provide such companies--small jewelry makers and toy makers among them--with new incentives to automate to increase overall productivity and lower labor costs.

At Panek Precision Inc., a Northbrook, Ill., machine shop, 21 shiny new robots hum as they place metal parts into cutting machines and remove the parts after they are done. It's a tedious and oily task once handled by machine operators who earn about $16.50 an hour.

One new robot doubled the output from a machine that was previously operated by a worker "because robots work overnight and don't take lunch breaks and they just keep going," says Gregg Panek, the company's president. In some cases, the robots, which are single articulated arms, can even hold a part while it's getting cut since there is no danger of injury.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Following negotiations, KAF to stay  (MARINA SHKURATOV, The Dartmouth)

Students used to a daily fix of brie and apple sandwiches, handmade marshmallows and skim milk mochas won't have to adjust their eating habits after all, as King Arthur Flour's Baker-Berry Library cafe will remain open, following negotiations with the College. [...]

The College has no oversight over the cafe's menu, so it can offer as many sandwich varieties as its managers deem appropriate, Tunnicliffe said. Offerings will remain essentially the same, he said. 

Both Tunnicliffe and Hogarty said that King Arthur Flour's greatest concern at the beginning of negotiations in June was the limited space in Baker-Berry library and how it compared to the cafe's volume of business. 

Calling King Arthur Flour's previous library operating space "incredibly small," Hogarty said the College has allotted them about 250 additional square feet, including expanded refrigeration space for milk and ice in the library's basement and a closet on the library's mezzanine where they can store dry goods and employees' personal items. The change involved no major renovations, and King Arthur Flour's rent has not increased. 

The additional storage also allows King Arthur Flour to make fewer deliveries to its Baker-Berry location -- two deliveries a day instead of three or four -- alleviating difficulties associated with traffic and parking, Tunnicliffe said. 

Fewer deliveries, he added, also allows King Arthur Flour to reduce its environmental footprint, which he said was a company priority. 

Tunnicliffe called the discussions a "learning experience" for both parties. 

During a visit to the company's Norwich location, Hogarty said she and executive vice president and chief financial officer Rick Mills sought to understand the King Arthur Flour's "pinch points" and plan for an evolving relationship with Dartmouth. 

One potential change would involve adding more seating to the cafe area, likely in time for the winter term, Hogarty said. 

Both King Arthur Flour and Dartmouth representatives were highly interested in keeping the cafe's library location open, Tunnicliffe said. 

"From an economic development perspective, the better all the businesses do, the better it is for the region," Hogarty said. "Certainly, selfishly, an operation like this is fantastic for the Dartmouth community." 

When the Baker-Berry cafe opened for the term on Monday morning, Tunnicliffe said, students lined up and faculty members applauded. 

"We feel like it's a win for the College and it's a win for us," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Judging by inflation, it's good to be American (Patrick Gillespie, September 17, 2014, CNNMoney)

Here's one thing Americans can cross off their worry list: inflation.

While the prices of some things -- notably beef -- are rising, the situation overall is very tame for Americans. It doesn't cost that much more to buy fruits or vegetables than it did a year ago, and filling up at the pump is actually cheaper.

Inflation in August only increased 1.7% from the same time last year, according to the latest government data released Wednesday. That's below the Federal Reserve's 2% annual target. In fact, the August rate was the first decline in inflation since the spring of 2013.

This slight dip isn't huge cause for concern yet. If anything, it's a reminder of how much better off the U.S. economy is right now than many other places in the world.

Reality can't penetrate the minds of goldbugs.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Joe Biden under fire for using anti-Jewish slur (Bonnie Kristian, 9/17/14, The Week)

Vice President Joe Biden drew rebuke this week from the Anti-Defamation League for using an anti-Jewish slur, "Shylocks," while speaking at a conference for the Legal Services Corporation.

September 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Did Hamas Win? (Mkhaimar Abusada, 9/15/14, Project Syndicate)

Before the latest war erupted, Hamas was politically isolated. It had lost traditional allies in Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Most damaging, the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government had deprived Hamas of its lifeline of supplies and armaments.

Egypt's military regime, led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been unrelentingly hostile toward Hamas, blaming it for the fighting in Sinai between the army and insurgent groups. Egypt even mounted an operation to destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, isolating Gaza completely.

Hamas faced an intensifying crisis. Unable to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 public employees in Gaza, it was being slowly strangled by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities. And the unity government that it established with the Palestinian Authority in June brought no relief.

With nothing to lose, Hamas decided that another round of fighting with Israel was the only way to shake things up. Despite its modest military capabilities, Hamas managed to hold out for 51 days - and, in the process, place itself at the center of Palestinian and regional politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Japanese woman is first recipient of next-generation stem cells (David Cyranoski, 12 September 2014, Nature)
A Japanese woman in her 70s is the first person to receive tissue derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, a technology that has created great expectations since it could offer the same regenerative potential as embryo-derived cells but without some of the ethical and safety concerns.

In a two-hour procedure starting at 14:20 local time today, a team of three eye specialists lead by Yasuo Kurimoto of the Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital, implanted a 1.3 by 3.0 millimetre sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into an eye of the Hyogo prefecture resident, who suffers from age-related macular degeneration, a common eye condition that can lead to blindness.

The procedure took place at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation, next to the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), where ophthalmologist Masayo Takahashi had developed and tested the epithelium sheets. Takahashi had reprogrammed some cells from the patient's skin to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. ('Pluripotent' means able to differentiate into virtually any type of tissue in the body.) She then coaxed those cells to differentiate into retinal pigment epithelium cells and grow into a sheet for implantation.

How does Michael J. Fox sleep at night?

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The Poverty Problem is a Marriage Problem (Joe Carter, 9/16/14, Acton)

The poverty rate among married couples is less than half the average (about 6 percent). And for married couples who both have full-time jobs, the rate is almost non-existent (0.001 percent). The rate for single parents, though, is about 4 to 5 times higher than for married couples (25 percent among single dads and 31 percent among single moms).

The effect of the decline in marriage, coupled with a increase in single parenthood, is that many more children live in poverty than they would if marriage was more common. As the Heritage Foundation reports, marriage is the greatest weapon against child poverty:

The collapse of marriage, along with a dramatic rise in births to single women, is the most important cause of childhood poverty--but government policy doesn't reflect that reality, according to a special report released today by The Heritage Foundation.

Nearly three out of four poor families with children in America are headed by single parents. When a child's father is married to his mother, however, the probability of the child's living in poverty drops by 82 percent.

Wherever we look--whether in the streets or the social science research--we find confirmation that the breakdown of the family is correlated with societal ills such as poverty. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Mitch McConnell responds to Alison Lundergan Grimes' gun ad in devastating fashion (Philip Bump September 16, 2014, Washington Post)

You may recall/do recall/should recall that on Monday, his opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) suggested that McConnell wasn't a real Kentuckian because he once held an antique rifle in the air. (See above.) The spot featured Grimes shooting skeet while talking about her campaign platform and how she is different than President Obama.

Then McConnell responded Tuesday.

McConnell's assertions in the ad that Grimes has repeatedly sided with the president on unpopular-in-Kentucky issues doesn't offer any context, but none is really needed. McConnell's point is that Grimes is an Obama clone, and his point is made very effectively -- even making sure the two Democrats' weapons are pointing in the same direction.

Grimes consistently trails in the polling, in part because McConnell has effectively made the race about Obama. Yeah, on the thin veneer surface, this is a race about guns and gun use. But it's really about whether or not Grimes is an Obama clone, thanks to McConnell's very effective framing. Meaning that by releasing her gun ad, Grimes basically walked right into McConnell's strategy.

Adrian Peterson is gentler on his kids....

September 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The case for open borders (Dylan Matthews, September 13, 2014, Vox)

The economic case that open borders would dramatically improve the well-being of the world is rock solid.

"Imagine that you've got a million people farming in Antarctica. They're eking out this bare subsistence in agriculture in the snow," [George Mason economist Bryan Caplan] says. "Obviously, if you let those farmers leave Antarctica and go someplace else to farm, the farmers are better off. But isn't it also better for the world if you let people stop eking out this existence, contributing nothing to the world, and go someplace where they could actually use their skills and not just feed themselves, but produce something for the world economy?"

Alternately, think about what happened in the 1960s and '70s as more and more women joined the workforce in the United States. Was the result mass unemployment for men, as women took all their jobs? Of course not -- the economy adjusted, and we're all better off for it. "Would we really be a richer society if we kept half the population stuck at home?" Caplan asks. "Isn't it better to take people who have useful skills and let them do something with it, than to just keep them locked up someplace where their skills go to waste?"

That's the basic argument for open borders: that you're "moving productive resources" -- people -- "from places where they're next to useless to places where they can contribute a lot." The size of the numbers involved makes the case even more compelling. "You might think that moving from Haiti to the United States would cause a 20 percent increase in wages, but no. It's more like a 2,000 percent increase in wages," Caplan notes. "The difference between the productivity of labor in poor countries and rich countries is so vast, it's hard to wrap your mind around it."

If you're a real nationalist who cares about all Americans, then you should favor immigration because only like 5 or 10 percent of Americans are losing

With numbers that big, the potential gains are enormous. A doubling of world GDP is a reasonable estimate. "This isn't just trickle-down economics. It's Niagara Falls economics," he says. "If production in the world were to double, almost everyone is going to get enough of that doubling that they're going to, in the end, be better off as a result. You can't double the output of the world and leave a lot of people poor as a result." [...]

Immigration also has a well-documented, positive effect on housing prices. Most Americans own homes at some point in their life, so even if they lose out from immigration in the labor market, they could make up the loss in the housing market. "The Americans who lose from immigration are those who are very low-skilled, who also don't speak very good English to begin with, and also don't own real estate," Caplan concludes. "It's a quite small group. If you're a real nationalist who cares about all Americans, then you should favor immigration, because only like 5 or 10 percent of Americans are losing." And in any case, whatever losses that 5 or 10 percent incurs are swamped by the gains to the rest of the world, and in particular the migrants themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Pew report finds that Millennials use libraries as much as their elders, and read more (Julia Fleischaker, 9/15/14, Melville House Press)

A Pew report pulling together years of research found that American millennials (defined as ages 16-29) use libraries as much as their elders (but are less engaged), and are more likely to have read a book in the last year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Hello, Kurdistan : The Kurds have proved to be, roughly speaking, the Swiss of the Muslim Middle East.  (Daniel Pipes, 9/11/12, National Review)

In 1991, after the Gulf War had ended and as Saddam Hussein attacked Iraq's 6 million Kurds, I made three arguments against American intervention on their behalf, arguments still commonly heard today: (1) independence for Iraq's Kurds would spell the end of Iraq as a state, (2) it would embolden Kurds to agitate for independence in Syria, Turkey, and Iran, leading to destabilization and border conflicts, and (3) it would invite the persecution of non-Kurds, causing "large and bloody exchanges of population."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Far-right French party sees sharp rise in popularity among Jewish voters, surveys find (JTA, 9/14/14)

The number of Jews who voted for the far-right National Front party soared in the most recent presidential election from the previous two votes, surveys showed.

In the surveys of French Jews, some 13.5 percent of 1,095 respondents who self-identified as Jews said they voted for National Front President Marine Le Pen in the 2012 presidential elections.

Asked about the two previous presidential elections, from 2002 and 2007, respectively only 6.1 percent and 4.3 percent of Jewish voters polled said they chose the National Front candidate -- Le Pen's father and predecessor as party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has a history of convictions for "inciting racial hatred" and Holocaust denial.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Leo vs. science: vanishing evidence for climate change (Tom Harris and Bob Carter, September 14, 2014, NY POst)

Oregon-based physicist Gordon Fulks sums it up well: "CO2 is said to be responsible for global warming that is not occurring, for accelerated sea-level rise that is not occurring, for net glacial and sea ice melt that is not occurring . . . and for increasing extreme weather that is not occurring."


 According to NASA satellites and all ground-based temperature measurements, global warming ceased in the late 1990s. This when CO2 levels have risen almost 10 percent since 1997. The post-1997 CO2 emissions represent an astonishing 30 percent of all human-related emissions since the Industrial Revolution began. That we've seen no warming contradicts all CO2-based climate models upon which global-warming concerns are founded.

Rates of sea-level rise remain small and are even slowing, over recent decades averaging about 1 millimeter per year as measured by tide gauges and 2 to 3 mm/year as inferred from "adjusted" satellite data. Again, this is far less than what the alarmists suggested.

 Satellites also show that a greater area of Antarctic sea ice exists now than any time since space-based measurements began in 1979. In other words, the ice caps aren't melting.

 A 2012 IPCC report concluded that there has been no significant increase in either the frequency or intensity of extreme weather events in the modern era. The NIPCC 2013 report concluded the same. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was devastating -- but it's not part of any new trend.

The climate scare, Fulks sighs, has "become a sort of societal pathogen that virulently spreads misinformation in tiny packages like a virus." He's right -- and DiCaprio's film is just another vector for spreading the virus.

Belief that man is primarily responsible for the climate betrays a lack of humility that is incompatible with conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


True American Exceptionalism Today (Peter Augustine Lawler, September 15, 2014, National Review)

Our Jim Ceaser in his signature work on American exceptionalism puts forward the proposition that a large part of the singular mission of our country these days is to protect the practice of Biblical religion -- which, in this case, means Christianity and Judaism -- in the world. That means protecting the truth found in the Bible about the personal Creator and human persons being essentially "transpolitical." True religion is not essentially civil theology, and religious truth isn't essentially a matter of law. Human freedom, if you think about it, can't just be the freedom of autonomous individuals. Just as it can't just be some abstract "intellectual" or philosophic freedom. It has be a moral, relational, and intellectual freedom characteristic of each and every whole person, a freedom for religious communities as organized bodies of thought and action not subservient to the state.

The recognition of that freedom might be the main difference between our Constitution and the constitutions that flow from the French Revolution. And it was the main thing that connected our country in the war against Communism with our European allies that had, to some large extent or another, abandoned and stood against the French revolutionary idea of an omnicompetent state that depends on something like Rousseau's civil religion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Hezbollah vows to destroy Islamic State in Syria (ADIV STERMAN, September 15, 2014, Times of Israel)

"There could never be a war of words between ISIS and us, but there is the field where we will defeat them," Nabil Qaouk maintained, according to the Daily Star, a Lebanese media outlet.

"Day after day, it is becoming clear to Lebanon, the Arab, Muslim and international communities that there is a great need for Hezbollah to remain in Syria. The current situation today imposes on Hezbollah to stay in Syria more than any other time," he added.

Qaouk, speaking during a ceremony in the village of Aita Shaab, claimed that Hezbollah, along with the Shi'ite Amal movement, has played a key roll in containing sectarian tensions in Lebanon in recent weeks, after two Lebanese soldiers were reported to have been brutally beheaded by Islamic State jihadists last week.

"The beheading of soldiers by ISIS was aimed at inciting strife between Sunnis and Shiites but Hezbollah and Amal succeeded in eliminating such strife, not just putting out the blaze," he said, using an alternative abbreviation for the Islamic State group.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Obama justifying war on ISIS using the Bush war authorization he tried to repeal (Bonnie Kristian, 9/15/14, The Week)

While running for President in 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama sponsored a resolution to require President George W. Bush to get explicit authorization from Congress before waging war against Iran. Today, the Obama White House says the war on ISIS is legally permissible without explicit authorization from Congress, because it's covered by the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- which Obama wanted to repeal as recently as last year.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of ideologues.
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