October 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Most Americans Get 'Free Stuff' From The Government (FARAI CHIDEYA, 10/02/15, 538)

["F]ree stuff" from the government is far more extensive than the benefits disdained by those politicians, and is eagerly accepted by people of every race and income level. As Howard Gleckman, a tax expert who writes for the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, pointed out recently, virtually every American gets some kind of government subsidy, from people who have mortgages or employer-sponsored health care (big tax deductions) to those who work for or invest in big companies (big corporate tax subsidies). Recipients of Social Security and Medicare get back far more in benefits than they paid in taxes.

Benefits to people who are not poor often equal or dwarf the cost of those for the poor. The home mortgage interest deduction, which the Congressional Budget Office found largely benefits the top one-fifth of income earners, cost the federal government about $70 billion in 2013; food stamps cost the government $74 billion last year. The tax break for employers who provide health insurance cost Washington $250 billion in 2013.

Medicare, which is available to all seniors regardless of income level, is more expensive ($587 billion in 2013) than Medicaid ($449 billion), the health care program for the poor, and an average-income couple retiring this year will get back three times more in Medicare benefits than they paid in Medicare taxes.

These comparisons of benefits rarely come up when talk on the campaign trail turns to "handouts." But even the "free stuff" the politicians do bring up goes to a larger, more diverse group of people than is commonly believed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


The French Exception? (Kenneth Rogoff, 10/07/15, Project Syndicate)

More than ever, the French economy is at the center of the global debate about how far one can push the limits of state size and control in a capitalist democracy. To those on the left, France's generous benefits and strong trade unions provide a formula for a more inclusive welfare state. To those on the right, France's oversized and intrusive government offers only a blueprint for secular decline. For the moment, the right looks right.

Once nearly the economic equal of Germany, France has fallen well behind over the past decade, with per capita GDP now about 10% lower.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Vietnam manufacturing set to be Pacific trade pact's big winner (KELVIN CHAN, 10/07/15, AP)

An ambitious Pacific Rim trade deal anchored by the U.S. promises to boost the economies of its 12 participating countries by opening their markets to one another, but not all the gains will be spread evenly.

Among the biggest winners of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is Vietnam, where booming garment and shoe industries are poised to benefit from the elimination of tariffs in the United States and other major importing nations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Driverless car makes Paris to Bordeaux trip (The Local,  06 Oct 2015)

A driverless Citroën has completed a 580-kilometre journey from Paris to Bordeaux in a move that poses a serious challenge to tech giant Google and its self-driving car project.

In an experiment run as part of a conference in Bordeaux on intelligent mobility, the test car made the trip without the help of a driver, at least during the long stretch of smooth autoroute which connects Paris and the southern city.

The Citroën C4 Picasso used in the trial may be nothing special on the outside, but the bog-standard exterior hides a battery of relatively cheap microsensors like those used in aircraft and submarines for a number of years now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Imam network launches site to counter Isis propaganda : Online magazine Haqiqah aims to show that extremist group's message has no theological basis (Alexandra Topping,  7 October 2015, The Guardian)

Qari Asim, senior imam at the Makkah mosque in Leeds, said the community was determined to be proactive in countering extremism.

"Any solution to the problem of extremism has to come from the community," he said. "The Muslim community has suffered more at the hands of these extremists than anyone else. It is not in our interests at all to condone what they are saying, it brings our faith into disrepute, it poisons our young people and it fuels anti-Muslim sentiment."

The second issue of Haqiqah, launched on Thursday - the first edition was downloaded 75,000 times - focuses on the ideological and practical failure of Isis to created a caliphate. Clerics argue that the biggest mass migration into Europe since the second world war proves that Isis have only succeeded in spreading terror and hatred.

Writing in the magazine, Mohamed el-Sharkawy, of al-Azhar College of Islamic Studies, says: "Under Daesh [Isis] rule we have seen indiscriminate mass murder (Muslims and non-Muslims), the killing of imams and scholars that exposed them for the irreligious beings they are, the corruption of sacred laws, the destruction of mosques and places of worship, the unjustifiable enslavement of innocent young girls.

"Time and time again the Qur'an and the prophetic teachings implore us to act in moderation, to act in kindness and with justice. Nowhere in the Islamic tradition do we see any justification for what Daesh are doing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Kevin McCarthy Drops Out of House Speaker Race (JENNIFER STEINHAUER and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, OCT. 8, 2015, NY Times)

Representative Kevin McCarthy on Thursday abruptly took himself out of the race to succeed John A. Boehner as House speaker, apparently undone by the same forces that drove Mr. Boehner to resign.

Mr. McCarthy announced his decision at a meeting of Republicans in the Capitol, and the gathering quickly became chaotic, with many members unable even to hear what was being said. Mr. Boehner requested unanimous consent to postpone the election -- rather than immediately moving to vote on the remaining two candidates -- and then announced, "the meeting is adjourned."

It's like the Iran vote, they get to pretend they opposed Boehner but keep him as Speaker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


U.S. officials say Russian missiles heading for Syria landed in Iran (Barbara Starr and Jeremy Diamond, 10/08/15, CNN)

A number of cruise missiles launched from a Russian ship and aimed at targets in Syria have crashed in Iran, two U.S. officials told CNN Thursday.

October 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Low oil prices are here to stay as the US shale oil revolution goes global (Robert Aguilera and Marian Radetzki, 8 October 2015, Online Opinion)

Beginning less than a decade ago, the shale oil revolution has turned the long run declining oil production trends in the United States into rises of 73% between 2008 and 2014. An exceedingly high rate of productivity improvements in this relatively new industry promises to strengthen the competitiveness of shale output even further.

A series of environmental problems related to shale exploitation have been identified, most of which are likely to be successfully handled as the infant, "wild west" industry matures and as environmental regulation is introduced and sharpened.

Geologically, the United States does not stand out in terms of shale resources. A very incomplete global mapping suggests a US shale oil share of no more than 17% of a huge geological wealth, widely geographically spread. Given the mainly non-proprietary shale technology and the many advantages accruing to the producing nations, it is inevitable that the revolution will spread beyond the United States.

We have assessed the prospects of non-US shale oil output in 2035, positing that the rest of the world will by then exploit its shale resources as successfully as the United States has done in the revolution's first ten years. This would yield rest of world an output of 19.5 million barrels per day in 2035, which is similar to the global rise of all oil production in the preceding 20 years - a stunning increase with far-reaching implications in many fields.

Another related revolution is beginning to see the light of the day, but news about it has barely reached the media. It is being gradually realised that the advancements in horizontal drilling and fracking can also be applied to conventional oil extraction.

If the rest of the world applies these techniques to conventional oil, as the United State has done, this would yield a further addition of conventional oil amounting to 19.7 million barrels per day by 2035.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


How the Gun Lobby Rewrote the Second Amendment (Cass R. Sunstein, 10/07/15, Bloomberg View)

A quick quiz: In what century did the Supreme Court first rule that people have an individual right to own guns? The answer is the 21st century. It was not until 2008 -- the year Barack Obama was elected president -- that the Court initially ruled that the Constitution imposes serious barriers to gun control. And it did so only by a narrow 5-4 margin.

To understand the magnitude of that change, go back to 1991, when Chief Justice Warren Burger agreed to an interview on national television. Burger was a strong conservative, admired on the right, and specifically chosen by President Richard Nixon to combat what he saw as the Supreme Court's left-wing activism.

Despite his conservative bona fides, Burger didn't believe the Constitution created an individual right to possess guns. On the contrary, he said the Second Amendment "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud -- I repeat the word 'fraud' -- on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime." In the next year, he proclaimed that "the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee the right to have firearms at all."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Hillary Clinton Pretends to Oppose Pacific Trade Deal (Jonathan Chait, 10/07/15, New York)

[S]he served as secretary of State during the treaty negotiations and never registered her dissent. Indeed, she praised the agreement over and over and over, even calling it "the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field." Now Clinton has repudiated a treaty with which she has closely associated herself.

She has framed her opposition in carefully hedged terms that leave her multiple escape avenues. "As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it," she said, going on to add, "I don't believe it's going to meet the high bar I have set." Is anybody going to believe that she will actually oppose the treaty as president?

Bill is her Goolsbee.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Congressional Budget Office: Budget deficit drops to $435B in just-completed budget year (ANDREW TAYLOR, 10/07/15, Associated Press)

The Congressional Budget Office report says it's the sixth consecutive drop in a row for the deficit, when measured against the size of the economy, since the $1.4 trillion deficit of Obama's first term.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM



Painkiller manufacturers are confused. Their drugs have maintained the same efficacy at relieving symptoms for the past 25 years, but the placebo effect has gotten stronger in drug trials conducted in the U.S., according to an analysis of 35 experiments published online ahead of print in the journal Pain. In 1996, a painkiller relieved symptoms in 27 percent more patients than a placebo; in a similar trial in 2013, it was only 9 percent, as Nature News reports. As a result, the drugs are appearing less effective during clinical trials, which means that fewer of them have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration; over the past 10 years, more than 90 percent of drugs designed to treat pain have failed in late stages of testing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


The Iranian Project: Why Assad Has Turned to Moscow for Help (Christoph Reut, 10/06/15, Der Spiegel)

Using a variety of pathways, both civilian and military, Tehran is currently in the process of establishing itself in Syria. Military means are being employed to strengthen the holdings of the Shiite militia Hezbollah in areas near the border with Lebanon. To serve this goal, the Syrian National Defense Forces were established, troops that exist alongside the regular Syrian army and which includes tens of thousands of fighters who were trained in Iran. Still, the National Defense Forces have begun to disintegrate into local mafia militias and have actually accelerated the loss of state control over those regions.

It is, however, primarily in the civilian sector where significant changes are afoot. Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs -- Shiite religious teaching centers -- are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to "correct" Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.

All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. "They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don't even wear headscarves and we aren't Shiites," Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: "We don't need you. We need your children and grandchildren."

In addition, Iranian emissaries, either directly or via middlemen, have been buying land and buildings in Damascus, including almost the entire former Jewish quarter, and trying to settle Shiites from other countries there.

Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: "Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don't do that."

That's why Assad has now decided to place his fate in the hands of the religiously unproblematic Russia, which last week transferred aircraft and troops to its military base in the northern Syrian town of Latakia and began flying airstrikes. The fight against the Islamic State terror militia served as a pretext for the operation, but the initial air strikes have not targeted the Islamists at all. Rather, they have been flown against areas controlled by Syrian rebels.

It is, however, questionable whether Iranian influence in the country can be reversed. Negotiations in the Syrian city of Zabadani serve to demonstrate just how far the "Iranian project" has advanced. The city northwest of Damascus, which has been surrounded for three years now, is strategically important for the Shiite militia Hezbollah. Held by rebels, Zabadani represents the last significant hurdle standing in the way of Hezbollah's plan to bring the entire Syrian border region surrounding Lebanon under its control. At the beginning of July, Hezbollah began a large-scale offensive against Zabadani. In response, rebels in Idlib laid siege to, and began firing on, the villages Fua and Kafraya, where more than 10,000 members of the Shiite minority live. Tehran then stepped in and began negotiating directly with the Syrian rebels, including the Nusra Front. The leadership in Damascus was not involved in the talks.

A deal was reached that went much further than anything that Assad has ever agreed to with the rebels. But it is explosive. It demonstrates that the Iranians no longer believe in an Assad victory, and it shows that the country's partitioning has begun, including confessional cleansing.

One of the easy measures of someone's understanding of the Middle East has always been whether they think Hezbollah and Iran are in Syria to save the regime.
Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Saudi Arabia Cuts Oil Prices Amid OPEC Price War (BENOIT FAUCON, Oct. 4, 2015, WSJ)

Saudi Arabia on Sunday made deep reductions to the prices it charges for its oil, hard on the heels of cuts last month by rival producers in the Gulf.

With U.S. production still increasing despite lower oil prices, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are battling to keep their share of the last growing markets in Asia.

Déjà vu? Saudi clerics declare jihad on Russia (Bruce Riedel, October 7, 2015, Brookings)

In a statement harkening back to the war against the Soviet Union 36 years ago in Afghanistan, fifty-five Saudi Wahhabi clerics have signed a call for jihad against Russia for its military intervention in Syria. America and the West are accused of colluding with Moscow by only pretending to support the Syrian opposition since 2011. The statement is not an official document of the Kingdom, but it undoubtedly has much support in the House of Saud.

Could Putin's Syria folly be working any better for us?

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


The TPP deal could be Obama's greatest legacy : The new deal will help shape the contours of the global economy--from Washington, not Beijing (Andrew Hammond, October 6, 2015, Prospect)

In a dramatic, last minute-breakthrough, trade ministers from a dozen countries in the Americas and Asia-Pacific reached a deal on Monday to secure a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.  Should it be ratified by domestic legislatures, the landmark deal will represent the biggest regional free trade agreement in history, and is the largest trade deal struck since the 1994 completion of the Uruguay Round which created the World Trade Organisation.

The deal is important not just because the 12 countries--the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam--encompass around 40 per cent of world GDP.  In addition, TPP has an important rules-setting component and President Barack Obama has asserted that the treaty will enable Washington, rather than Beijing, to create the foundation stone for "21st century trade rules," including standards on trade, investment, data flows and intellectual property.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


 What If Everything Your Doctors Told You About Breast Cancer Was Wrong? (Christie Aschwanden, 10/06/15, Mother Jones)

If she knew then what she knows now, Therese Taylor would have refused the surgery. In fact, she would have canceled the mammogram. Taylor has come to realize that she lost her breast out of fear, not out of caution. She's learned that her mammogram was at least three times more likely to get her diagnosed and treated for a cancer that never would have harmed her than it was to save her life. But perhaps the most infuriating thing she's learned is that scientific evidence for the harms of mammography has been available--published in medicine's most highly regarded journals--for decades.

What scientists know and Taylor didn't is that mammography isn't the infallible tool we wanted it to be. Some things that look like cancer on a mammogram (or the biopsy that comes afterward) don't act like cancer in the body--they don't invade and proliferate in other organs. Some of the abnormalities breast screenings find will never hurt you, but we don't yet have the tools to distinguish the harmless ones from the deadly ones. And so these medical tests provoke doctors to categorize lots of merely suspicious cells in with the most dangerous cancers, which means that while some lives are saved, even more women end up with treatments they don't need. Whether the chance of benefiting from a mammogram is worth the risks of having one is an individual woman's decision, but Taylor believes her doctors owed her a truthful discussion about the potential harms before she made her choice.

Over the last 25 years, mammography has become one of the most contentious issues in medicine. The National Cancer Institute lit a firestorm in 1993 when, after finding sparse evidence of benefits, it dropped its recommendation that women in their 40s get screened. Since then, most of the debate has remained focused on what age women should start getting mammograms, and the number of women mammograms help. Now, after more than 30 years of routine screenings, some experts are raising a different, perhaps less comfortable question: How many women have mammograms harmed?

If you include everything, the answer is: millions. Mammograms do help a small number of women avoid dying from breast cancer each year, and those lives count, but a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine calculated that over the last 30 years, mammograms have overdiagnosed 1.3 million women in the United States. Millions more women have experienced the anxiety and emotional turmoil of a second battery of tests to investigate what turned out to be a false alarm. Most of the 1.3 million women who were overdiagnosed received some kind of treatment--surgical procedures ranging from lumpectomies to double mastectomies, often with radiation and chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, too--for cancers never destined to bother them. And these treatments pose their own dangers. Though the risk is slight, especially if your life is on the line, a 2013 study found that receiving radiation treatments for breast cancer increases your risk of heart disease, and others have shown it boosts lung cancer risks too. Chemotherapy may damage the heart, and tamoxifen, while a potent treatment for those who need it, doubles the risk of endometrial cancer. In a 2013 paper published in the medical journal BMJ, breast surgeon Michael Baum estimated that for every breast cancer death thwarted by mammography, we can expect an additional one to three deaths from causes, like lung cancer and heart attacks, linked to treatments that women endured.

More and more women are beginning to speak up about this inconvenient reality. Tracy Weitz, a women's health researcher at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, has publicly shared the story of her mother, Diane Olds, who died 10 days after being diagnosed with an aggressive endometrial cancer that Weitz feels may have been caused by tamoxifen treatments for DCIS. In an Elle magazine story in June, Duke University breast surgeon Shelley Hwang described the "terrible feeling" that overcomes her every time she's asked to perform an elective double mastectomy on a woman with DCIS who "almost certainly" would have lived a long life without the procedure. In 2013, journalist Peggy Orenstein, once a staunch defender of mammography, wrote in the New York Times Magazine, "I used to believe that a mammogram saved my life," but 16 years after a breast cancer diagnosis, "my thinking has changed." Having read the latest studies, she wondered, "How much had my mammogram really mattered?"

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Conservatives stake their claim to the center-ground of British politics (Deutsche-Welle, 10/07/15)

"The Conservatives now have a majority government and this conference provided glimpses of what we should expect in the coming five years," says David Kirkby, senior research fellow at the liberal Conservative think tank Bright Blue. "Many see this as an opportunity to cement the party's appeal as the 'workers party', and policies such as the new National Living Wage are central for this."

Of course, it is Labour that is traditionally the party of the workers. In September, Labour elected the veteran left-wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The Conservatives believe that this was a gift. Speeches by Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne both emphasised progressive values and compassion in a manner not often seen at a Conservative conference.

"Cameron and Osborne had one clear item on the agenda at this year's Conservative conference: to root their political project in the center ground of British politics. They hope that with Labour swinging to the left under Corbyn they can win over centrist and even center-left voters who would previously have voted for Labour," says Charlie Cadywould, researcher in citizenship and political participation at the think tank Demos.

This is the opportunity Jeb has coming, especially if the Democratic primaries become a race to the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


'Renoir sucks at painting' movement demands removal of artist's works (Mahita Gajanan, 10/07/15, The Guardian)

Holding signs that said "ReNOir", "Take 'em down! Renoir Sucks" and "God Hates Renoir", members of the Renoir Sucks at Painting movement protested outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Monday. The group, led by organizer Max Geller, demanded the museum remove Renoir paintings - of which there are many, including the famous Dance at Boufival, 1883 - from its walls.

When the Guardian asked why he dislikes Renoir so much, Geller countered: "Why do so many people think he's good? Have you looked at his paintings?

"In real life, trees are beautiful. If you take Renoir's word for it, you'd think trees are just a collection of green squiggles," Geller said.

It's just splatters.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


UK foreign minister lampoons opposition leader over Israel (STUART WINER, October 7, 2015, Times of Israel)

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Tuesday scorned newly elected leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn MP for his failure to mention Israel by name at a meeting of his Labour party's pro-Israel faction.

"I've read the reports of Mr. Corbyn's attendance at the Labour Friends of Israel meeting at Labour Conference and I just want to say one word to you: Israel. I'll say it again: Israel!"

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


THE WORLD'S FIRST FULLY ROBOTIC FARM OPENS IN 2017 (Sarah Fecht, 10/07/15, Popular Science)

Robots will be the farmers of the future. A company in Japan is building an indoor lettuce farm that will be completely tended by robots and computers. The company, named Spread, expects the factory to open in 2017, and the fully automated farming process could make the lettuce cheaper and better for the environment.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


How John Boehner could stay Speaker (Scott Wong - 10/06/15, The Hill)

Speaker John Boehner, who plans to leave office a day before Halloween, told a group of Republican colleagues last week he had an awful nightmare.

"I had this terrible nightmare last night that I was trying to get out and I couldn't get out," the Ohio Republican joked, according to one of his longtime friends, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "And a hand came reaching, pulling me."

But Boehner's nightmare could become reality if House Republicans fail to rally around their nominee for Speaker in a floor vote set for Oct. 29.
Boehner's deputy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), is expected to win the nomination in a closed-door vote on Thursday. But if he can't reach 218 votes in the formal floor vote, additional rounds of voting will be held.

And if no other GOP candidate for Speaker can secure 218, Boehner would not resign his post as Speaker.

All comedy is conservative.

October 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Both Rubio and Jeb Are Running for Another Bush Term : They are George W. Bush Republicans in every conventional sense. (Jamelle Bouie, 10/06/15, Slate)

[T]hey come from a specific GOP tradition--they are both George W. Bush Republicans. What this means is straightforward: They primarily represent the affluent donor base of the GOP, but bundle those interests--broad tax cuts and privatization in particular--with a few policies that benefit more modest families.

You see this with their economic plans. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush bridged the divide between the Republican donor class and ordinary voters with a massive upper-income tax cut, sold as middle-class tax relief. The Bush plan also had a large child tax credit and gave a break to married couples. It was, his campaign argued, a tax plan for everyone. "High-income people would pay a bigger proportion of the tax bill after the Bush tax cuts than before them," said his head economic advisor. This was only true in the axiomatic sense that wealthy people pay more taxes than poorer ones. In terms of value, however, the vast bulk of the worth of Bush's tax cuts would eventually go to the highest earners.

This is the Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush tax approach, full stop. On the more populist side, Rubio would create a new child tax credit, Bush would "nearly double" the standard deduction, and both would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. Both would reduce deductions and other tax subsidies for high-income families, and both would reduce rates for low- and middle-income Americans. But most of the Bush and Rubio tax cuts would go to the wealthiest Americans, from the huge rate cuts for high-income earners and an end to the estate tax, to slashing corporate tax rates and--in the Rubio plan--ending taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest.

You also see George W. Bush's influence on immigration, a key priority for business conservatives. Going against a part of his base, the older Bush brother made a failed push for comprehensive immigration reform in his second term in office. Before that, he used a friendly message, sustained outreach, and visible diversity in his administration to build ground with Latino voters. Contrary to exit polls, Bush probably didn't win 44 percent of Latino voters in the 2004 election. But he certainly broke the 30 percent mark in 2000 and 2004, outperforming every Republican in recent memory. Indeed, Bush--who also made modest inroads with black and Asian American voters--is the only Republican since his dad did it in 1988 to capture 50 percent or more of the national vote.

The UR is essentially just continuing the Clinton/Bush presidencies himself.
Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Tiny Budget Victories : The latest defense authorization bill doesn't contain too many budget shenanigans (Ryan Alexander Oct. 6, 2015, US News)

The National Defense Authorization is the bill that sets policy for the Pentagon. This massive piece of legislation sets the table for the defense appropriations bill that actually gives the Pentagon the cash for the fiscal year. Typically, the authorization bill enjoys bipartisan support and is signed into law each year - for more than 50 years running, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are quick to point out. This makes it unusual in the Washington echo chamber that has developed in the last five years where important legislation languishes for lack of political will to pass it. (Transportation legislation, raising the debt ceiling, etc, ad nauseum.)

The fact that the defense authorization bill will reliably become law makes it a magnet for non-germane issues like last year when Department of Interior land swaps and a commemorative coin for the National Park Service found their way into the bill. So I was pleasantly surprised to find these shenanigans weren't repeated in the fiscal year 2016 version of the bill.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Exclusive: Biden himself leaked word of his son's dying wish : The vice president is mourning. He's also calculating. (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 10/06/15, Politico)

According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau's face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because "the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values."

It was no coincidence that the preliminary pieces around a prospective campaign started moving right after that column. People read Dowd and started reaching out, those around the vice president would say by way of defensive explanation. He was just answering the phone and listening.

But in truth, Biden had effectively placed an ad in The New York Times, asking them to call.

October 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


How Red Was My Hollywood : review of Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters--Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, Allan H. Ryskind (TIMOTHY STANLEY • October 5, 2015, American Conservative)

[R]yskind succeeds in three regards. First, he conclusively proves that each of the Ten was guilty of having been a Communist at some stage and that the degree of Communist subversion of Hollywood was substantial. The lying was extraordinary. In the case of the writer Lillian Hellman, it lasted a lifetime: obfuscating the details of her support for Communism until her death and, along the way, gaining plaudits for her supposedly noble resistance to false charges. Entertainment professionals joined cells so secret that each could operate quite separately from the others. These men and women put into their movies Marxist messages ranging from the subtle to the overt. MGM's 1944 film "Song of Russia" stars Robert Taylor as an American conductor who visits the USSR in 1941. His love affair with a beautiful pianist in a surprisingly prosperous socialist republic is ruined by Operation Barbarossa. Ayn Rand, testifying before HUAC, described the Nazi invasion as depicted in "Song of Russia." Border guards are shown listening peacefully to a Tchaikovsky concert:

Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians are unprepared. Now realize--and that was a great shock to me--that the border that was being shown was the border of [Soviet-occupied] Poland. That was the border of an occupied, destroyed, enslaved county which Hitler and Stalin destroyed together. That was the border being shown to us--just a happy place with people listening to music.

Ryskind's second success is to remind us of the moral ghastliness of the Nazi-Soviet pact. One of the frequent excuses made for Communist sympathy in the 1930s is that it was a form of opposition to fascism. Yet between 1939 and 1941, Stalin carved up Eastern Europe with Hitler, allowing the German dictator to wage war uninterrupted in the West. Ryskind shows how faithful Soviet agents fell in line, switching overnight from advocating an anti-fascist front to urging America to stay out of the war. It is upsetting to see included on the list of guilty people the names of some the century's greatest writers: "Lillian Hellman, Donald Ogden Stewart, Langston Hughes, Dashiell Hammett, and Erskine Caldwell backed [the antiwar effort], which savaged the parties resisting Hitler and the nations overwhelmed by his armies as 'imperialist'. Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre, sent greetings from Moscow."

But Hollywood did fight back, and Ryskind's third achievement is to revive some of the reputations of the red baiters. Enter Ronald Reagan. He was a transformative president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s. Reagan was a liberal in transition to conservatism, and he navigated Hollywood's complex politics with intelligence and skill. His goal was to preserve the principles of fair union representation without succumbing to left-wing agitation. Ryskind is at his most revealing when detailing meetings between union activists and stars like Reagan, Gene Kelly, Dick Powell, and Robert Taylor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Facebook to beam free internet to Africa with satellites (Heather Kelly , 10/05/15, CNN Money)

The social network is teaming up with the French satellite company Eutelsat (ETCMY) to launch a satellite that will provide internet access to people in sub-Saharan Africa. The satellite will launch next year and service will start in the second half of 2016. It will reach 14 countries in West, East and Southern Africa.

Facebook (FB, Tech30) will use the satellite to bring free Internet access to rural areas. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Labor, Leisure and Liberal Education (Mortimer Adler, Imaginative Conservative)

There seem to be two ways in which men can be bettered or improved: first, with respect to special functions or talents and, second, with respect to the capacities and functions that are common to all men. Let me explain. In civilized societies, and even in primitive societies, there is always a rudimentary, and often a very complex, division of labor. Society exists through a diversity of occupations, through different groups of men performing different functions. In addition to the division of labor and the consequent diversity of functions, there is the simple natural fact of individual differences. So one view of education is that which takes these individual and functional differences into consideration and says that men are made better by adjusting them to their occupations, by making them better carpenters or better dentists or better bricklayers, by improving them, in other words, in the direction of their own special talents.

The other view differs from this, in that it makes the primary aim of education the betterment of men not with respect to their differences, but with respect to the similarities which all men have. According to this theory, if there are certain things that all men can do, or certain things that all men must do, it is with these that education is chiefly concerned.

This simple distinction leads us to differentiate between specialized education and general education. There is some ground for identifying specialized education with vocational education, largely because specialization has some reference to the division of labor and the diversity of occupations, and for identifying general education with liberal education because the efforts of general education are directed toward the liberal training of man as man.

There is still another way of differentiating education in terms of its ends. Aristotle often talks about the difference between the useful and the honorable. What he means by the "useful" and the "honorable" can sometimes be translated into extrinsic and intrinsic ends. An educational process has an intrinsic end if its result lies entirely within the person being educated, an excellence or perfection of his person, an improvement built right into his nature as a good habit is part of the nature of the person in whom a power is habituated. An extrinsic end of education, on the other hand, lies in the goodness of an operation, not as reflecting the goodness of the operator but rather the perfection of something else as a result of the operation being performed well.

carpenter-woodworking-toolsThus, for example, there can be two reasons for learning carpentry. One might wish to learn carpentry simply to acquire the skill or art of using tools to fabricate things out of wood, an art or skill that anyone is better for having. Or, one might wish to learn carpentry in order to make good tables and chairs, not as works of art which reflect the excellence of the artist, but as commodities to sell. This distinction between the two reasons for learning carpentry is connected in my mind with the difference or distinction between liberal and vocational education. This carpentry is the same in both cases, but the first reason for learning carpentry is liberal, the second vocational.

All of this, I think, leads directly to the heart of the matter: that vocational training is training for work or labor; it is specialized rather than general; it is for an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of slaves or workers. From my point of view it makes no difference whether you say slaves or workers, for you mean that the worker is a man who does nothing but work--a state of affairs which has obtained, by the way, during the whole industrial period, from its beginning almost to our day.

Liberal education is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and, as compared with vocational training, which is the education of slaves or workers, liberal education is the education of free men.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Soon, Power Will Be Delivered to Your Device by Air (CHRISTOPHER MIMS, Oct. 5, 2015, WSJ0

What is coming are hermetically sealed smartphones and other gadgets that charge without ever plugging into a wall. And soon after there will be sensors, cameras and controllers that can be stuck to any surface, indoors or out, without the need to consider how to connect them to power.

Wireless power will be, in other words, not just a convenience, but a fundamental enabler of whole new platforms.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


How the Fed saved the economy (Ben S. Bernanke, 10/05/15, WSJ)

What the Fed can do is two things: First, by mitigating recessions, monetary policy can try to ensure that the economy makes full use of its resources, especially the workforce. High unemployment is a tragedy for the jobless, but it is also costly for taxpayers, investors and anyone interested in the health of the economy. Second, by keeping inflation low and stable, the Fed can help the market-based system function better and make it easier for people to plan for the future. Considering the economic risks posed by deflation, as well as the probability that interest rates will approach zero when inflation is very low, the Fed sets an inflation target of 2%, similar to that of most other central banks around the world.

How has monetary policy scored on these two criteria? Reasonable people can disagree on whether the economy is at full employment. The 5.1% headline unemployment rate would suggest that the labor market is close to normal. Other indicators--the relatively low labor-force participation rate, the apparent lack of wage pressures, for example--indicate that there is some distance left to go.

But there is no doubt that the jobs situation is today far healthier than it was a few years ago. That improvement (as measured by the unemployment rate) has been quicker than expected by most economists, both inside and outside the Fed.

On the inflation front, various measures suggest that underlying inflation is around 1.5%. That is somewhat below the 2% target, a situation the Fed needs to remedy. But if there is a problem with inflation, it isn't the one expected by the Fed's critics, who repeatedly predicted that the Fed's policies would lead to high inflation (if not hyperinflation), a collapsing dollar and surging commodity prices. None of that has happened.

It is instructive to compare recent U.S. economic performance with that of Europe, a major industrialized economy of similar size. There are many differences between the U.S. and Europe, but a critical one is that Europe's economic orthodoxy has until recently largely blocked the use of monetary or fiscal policy to aid recovery. Economic philosophy, not feasibility, is the constraint: Greece might have limited options, but Germany and several other countries don't. And the European Central Bank has broader monetary powers than the Fed does.

Europe's failure to employ monetary and fiscal policy aggressively after the financial crisis is a big reason that eurozone output is today about 0.8% below its precrisis peak. In contrast, the output of the U.S. economy is 8.9% above the earlier peak--an enormous difference in performance. 

Appointing the authority on the Depression prevented another one.

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