July 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


The Secret of Saving Less for Retirement: Work Until 70 (Allison Schrager, July 24, 2014, Businessweek)

[T]he 15 percent recommended saving rate assumes retirement at age 65. Work until age 70, and you only need to save a far more manageable 6 percent.

Delaying retirement means more years of saving and fewer years of retirement to finance from savings, all things being equal. The bigger factor, though, is Social Security. As of today, taking Social Security benefits at 70 instead of 65 makes a tremendous difference. Let's take as an example a 35-year-old earning $49,000 per year, the median income for his age. If he retires at age 65, he can expect about $18,200 a year from Social Security. If he waits until he's 70, he'll get $26,500 a year, an increase of 45 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


A Rocket Scientist Designed A Saucepan That Boils Water So Fast, You Can Watch It (Adele Peters, 7/24/14, Co.Exist)

Thomas Povey's day job usually involves designing jet engines, not kitchen gadgets. But when the Oxford University engineering professor was on a camping trip, he started thinking about how to make a pot that could boil water faster. A few years later, the idea has morphed into a series of ultra-efficient indoor pans that save energy and time on gas stoves. [...]

For many people, the most obvious draw of the pots and pans might be the fact that you can cook much faster with them--in tests, water came to a boil 3.3 minutes faster than in a normal pot. But the energy savings are also large.

"A conventional pan of the same size uses 44% more gas," explains Povey. "This is quite a significant saving, but also gets people thinking about energy consumption with a product that is very visibly consuming energy--unlike the invisible energy of most of appliances like dishwashers and fridges."

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


George Patton's Summer of 1944 (Victor Davis Hanson, July 24, 2014, RCP)

When Patton's Third Army finally became operational seven weeks after D-Day, it was supposed to play only a secondary role -- guarding the southern flank of the armies of General Bradley and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery while securing the Atlantic ports.

Despite having the longest route to the German border, Patton headed east. The Third Army took off in a type of American blitzkrieg not seen since Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's rapid marches through Georgia and the Carolinas during the Civil War.

Throughout August 1944, Patton won back over the press. He was foul-mouthed, loud, and uncouth, and he led from the front in flamboyant style with a polished helmet and ivory-handled pistols.

In fact, his theatrics masked a deeply learned and analytical military mind. Patton sought to avoid casualties by encircling German armies. In innovative fashion, he partnered with American tactical air forces to cover his flanks as his armored columns raced around static German formations.

Naturally rambunctious American GIs fought best, Patton insisted, when "rolling" forward, especially in summertime. Only then, for a brief moment, might the clear skies facilitate overwhelming American air support. In August his soldiers could camp outside, while his speeding tanks still had dry roads.

In just 30 days, Patton finished his sweep across France and neared Germany. The Third Army had exhausted its fuel supplies and ground to a halt near the border in early September.

Allied supplies had been redirected northward for the normally cautious General Montgomery's reckless Market Garden gambit. That proved a harebrained scheme to leapfrog over the bridges of the Rhine River; it devoured Allied blood and treasure, and accomplished almost nothing in return.

Meanwhile, the cutoff of Patton's supplies would prove disastrous. 

Should have leap-frogged Berlin.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


For GOP, a Good Crop of Senate Candidates (FRED BARNES, 7/24/14, Weekly Standard)

What makes candidates "top-tier," in the jargon of politics? They tend to be disciplined, quick-witted, have a credible message, don't say absurd or unnecessarily provocative things, can raise money, and deal effectively with the media. It doesn't hurt to be likeable, either.    

In 2014, Republicans must gain six seats to take Senate control. And they've made this easier for themselves by dodging bullets in three Republican-held seats-Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi. In those states GOP candidates that Democrats believed would be the easiest to beat were themselves defeated in the primaries.

In Georgia on Tuesday, businessman David Perdue won a Republican runoff against Rep. Jack Kingston and now faces Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. Democrats had hoped her GOP opponent would be either Rep. Paul Broun or Rep. Phil Gingrey, but both were eliminated in the primary. Perdue, the successful CEO of Dollar General stores, will be tough to beat in red-state Georgia.

One problem with landslides is that they carry in even your worst nominees and then you can't defend the seats.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Hamas is not about to fold; like Israel, it's sure it's winning (AVI ISSACHAROFF, July 24, 2014, Times of Israel)

Wednesday's speech by the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, in Qatar, did not constitute good news. One way or another Mashaal made clear that the fighting is likely to continue for a considerable time. The stance he presented, which is accepted by all wings of Hamas -- military and political, in Gaza and overseas -- is that there will be no ceasefire without the full lifting of the blockade on the Strip.

This reality isn't easy for Israel to deal with. Among a fair proportion of Israel's political and security leadership, the hope, even the assumption, has been that Hamas is about to halt its fire, surrender, or moderate its demands. This does not reflect the reality. Hamas is adamant that it will continue to fight until Egypt and Israel accept its demands, in part because the Gaza public insists upon it. Given the very heavy price paid by Gaza, residents insist on real change and not a return to the status quo.

Mashaal set out a notably tough negotiating position, but the simple fact is that Hamas has not been sufficiently damaged and does not feel its future is existentially threatened, and therefore is not seeking compromise, much less surrender.

Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza (Harriet Sherwood, 24 July 2014, The Guardian)

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority has banned a radio advertisement from a human rights organisation which listed the names of some of the scores of children killed in Gaza since the conflict began 17 days ago.

B'Tselem's appeal against the decision was rejected on Wednesday. It intends to petition Israel's supreme court on Sunday in an effort to get the ban overturned.

The IBA said the ad's content was "politically controversial".

Israel vs Hamas, a war of surprises (PAUL ROGERS, 24 July 2014, Open Democracy)

[H]amas, though facing great problems in Gaza, does not appear to be losing support among the population as a whole. There, Israel and of course the United States are being blamed for the destruction. There is also an upsurge in public support for Hamas across the region, enhanced by coverage of the war on Al-Jazeera and other TV channels and the many social-media outlets. These show the human suffering and destruction in Gaza at a much starker level that the largely self-censoring western media.

The second is that aspects of the conflict are very troubling to Binyamin Netanyahu's government in ways that are just becoming apparent. Israel's great projection of power, for example, is not stopping rockets from being fired; one even evaded the missile-screen to land in the Yehud suburb of Tel Aviv close to Ben Gurion airport. The airport was then closed on safety grounds to some of the major carriers (including Delta, US Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Air France). 

July 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


India, US, Japan to hold naval wargames in Pacific Ocean (PTI,  23 Jul, 2014)

Ignoring Chinese objections, the navies of India, the US and Japan will begin their Malabar-series of naval wargames in the Pacific Ocean from tomorrow. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Can 'Moneyball' Put on Skates? (Kavitha A. Davidson, 7/23/14, Bloomberg View)

The Leafs have fired assistant general managers Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle, replacing both with "boy wonder" Kyle Dubas. The 28-year-old stats guru -- dubbed the "Billy Beane of hockey," after the A's general manager -- is jumping to the big leagues after serving in the Ontario Hockey League. In just three seasons, Kubas turned around the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds from worst to first in the Western division, building a team around advanced statistics.

In addition to Beane, Kubas draws comparisons to Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein, who embodied the youth movement in baseball's front offices. While MLB has been out in front of the analytics game, the NHL community has slowly begun to embrace advanced metrics, a push largely driven by hockey writers themselves.

As in baseball, hockey analytics demonstrate value from nontraditional sources that aren't reflected in conventional statistics. Like average, runs and RBI, goals, assists, and shots are nice, but not as holistically informative as WAR and OPS, Corsi and Fenwick. Hockey metrics tout the importance of puck possession, and in doing so turn an age-old adage on its head: The best defense is a good offense.

The use -- and usefulness -- of advanced stats has been met with predictable resistance by executives, players and coaches alike. The Leafs' inertia in particular has been front-and-center in this debate. Last year, forward Joffrey Lupul tweeted his opposition to stats like Corsi, pleading, "Lets not look at this like Moneyball."

But as SB Nation's Adam Gretz details, a Moneyball approach to hockey might have prevented the Leafs' second-half collapse last season, which can be traced to some roster moves and a shift in coaching strategy that moved away from puck possession and ultimately caused the team to surrender the most shots in the league. Stats guys such as Gretz panned the front office in particular for allowing possession players Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur to get away from a team whose weakness in controlling the puck was exposed during the 2012-13 season.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM

NOT 200%?:

Portions of master's thesis by US Sen. Walsh of Montana appear to be lifted from other sources (Associated Press, July 23, 2014)

Montana Sen. John Walsh's thesis written to earn a master's degree from the U.S. Army War College contains unattributed passages taken word-for-word from previously published papers.

The Democrat is running against Republican Rep. Steve Daines to keep the seat Walsh was appointed to in February when Max Baucus resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, and national Democrats said Wednesday they remained "100 percent behind Sen. Walsh."

The apparent plagiarism in Walsh's 2007 thesis, titled "The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy," was first reported by The New York Times in a story posted online Wednesday afternoon. Walsh submitted the paper to earn his Master of Strategic Studies degree nearly two years after he returned from Iraq and about a year before he became Montana's adjutant general overseeing the state's National Guard and Department of Military Affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM

60 IN '14:

The Odds of a GOP Wave Are Increasing : This year's political environment is shaping up to be nearly as bleak as 2010, and that's ominous news for Senate Democrats. (Josh Kraushaar, July 22, 2014, National Journal)

Most political scientists define a wave in terms of House seats gained, because Senate contests only take place in one-third of the country. But in the House, gerrymandering and voter self-sorting have limited the universe of competitive seats. With a 234-seat majority, Republicans have already come close to hitting the upper limit of their representation. Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz found that even a sizable 5-point generic-ballot advantage for Republicans would net them only 15 House seats. The Cook Political Report, assessing a "2010-lite" environment for Republicans earlier this year, expects GOP gains of just two to 12 House seats. It's very possible Republicans could exceed expectations in the Senate while adding only marginally to their House majority.

Still, there's plenty of race-by-race evidence to suggest that most contests are trending in a Republican direction. Over the past several months, the Iowa and Colorado Senate races have turned from long shots to promising Republican pickup opportunities. In Iowa, Republican nominee Joni Ernst is running evenly with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the Real Clear Politics polling average, a marked shift over the last two months. And in Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall only holds a 1-point average lead over GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, according to RCP, in a race that's shaping up to be a barn burner.

And there isn't much evidence that red-state Democrats have gained ground in recent months, either. In Arkansas, reliable public polling has been sparse, but GOP Rep. Tom Cotton has led Sen. Mark Pryor (D) in three straight public polls, along with the GOP campaign's last two internals. Pryor didn't release any polling of his own to counter. An April NYT/Upshot survey showing a double-digit Pryor lead, which shaped public perception of the race, is now looking more like an outlier.

In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has never hit 50 percent in any of the all-party primary surveys, with most polls showing her well short of the mark. Outside GOP groups are already anticipating a runoff, reserving post-November election ad time on behalf of Rep. Bill Cassidy, her expected challenger. With Republicans on track to nominate a credible candidate in Georgia, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell avoiding a tough primary in Kentucky, and Sen. Thad Cochran renominated in Mississippi, it's looking less likely that Democrats can pick off a stray Republican-held seat.

To be sure, there are several races where Democrats have stabilized their standing. Sen. Kay Hagan has inched ahead of Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina, thanks largely to the state House speaker's role in a contentious budget fight in the state Legislature. Her numbers are still weak and she remains one of the most vulnerable Democrats, but her strategy of making Tillis an unacceptable alternative is very viable. Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is looking like a weak candidate, unable to capitalize on the favorable environment for the GOP in Michigan. And former Sen. Scott Brown hasn't dented Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's comfortable lead in New Hampshire, thanks to his middling favorable ratings and struggles to answer straightforward policy questions.

But even wave elections feature weak candidates and missed opportunities: 2010 was a historic year for Republicans, yet Sharron Angle and Ken Buck proved they weren't ready for prime time in otherwise winnable races. The wave wiped out Democrats in the South and Midwest that year, but it crested in the West. Sens. Patty Murray, Michael Bennet, and Barbara Boxer, top targets that year, all won reelection. That didn't change the reality of rough public opinion for Democrats.

If anything, this year's environment for Democrats is shaping up to be as bleak. Sizable majorities oppose the Obama administration's handling of nearly every issue, including the economy, health care, and foreign policy. The administration looks out of its element, lurching from foreign policy crises to domestic scandal over the past year. Even out of the headlines, Obamacare is still a driving force for Republicans and for unfavorable poll numbers. This week, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg released new data showing Obama's disapproval at a whopping 60 percent in 12 Senate battlegrounds, with half strongly disapproving of his performance. Overall, Republicans held a 2-point edge on the battleground generic ballot, 46 percent to 44 percent. 

Those are the numbers that foreshadow wave elections.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Sanctions finally find Russia's Achilles heel (William E. Pomeranz, JULY 23, 2014, Reuters)

The sanctions have definitely found Russia's Achilles' heel, and with harsher sanctions looming in the aftermath of flight MA17, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to craft an effective reply.

Obama had raised the ante for Russia the day before the Malaysian airliner disaster by unexpectedly announcing a new round of sanctions. The designated enterprises included several major Russian banks (Gazprombank, VEB), energy companies (Rosneft, Novatek) and arms manufacturers. They were not, however, the full sectoral sanctions that Putin dreads the most. These would essentially exclude Russia from the international financial system and restrict major technological transfers. Though key Russian banks and energy companies are now prohibited from receiving medium or long-term dollar financing, U.S. companies are not otherwise prohibited from conducting business with them.

But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia's economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the "red lines" that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a "gray line" -- demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis. No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty -- and risk -- of doing business in Russia.

Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel walk during a meeting in Rio de JaneiroThe market responded immediately, with dramatic declines in the Russian ruble and the Moscow stock market. In addition, the sanctions only exacerbated an already difficult situation for Russian companies. Syndicated loans for Russian commodities producers are down more than 80 percent over the past six months. The appetite for Russian bonds has also decreased considerably in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. So the current round of sanctions made a bad situation worse.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


How to break Hamas's stranglehold on Gaza (David Ignatius, July 21, 2014, Washington Post)
What goal is Israel pursuing in its latest war in Gaza? That has been a hard question to answer, as Israel expanded its war aims from seeking "quiet" from Hamas rocket attacks to closing tunnels to destroying rocket-launch sites in northern Gaza.

The tragedy of this approach is that it brings death and destruction without a change in the status quo. 

...it's just domestic politics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


On Cloudracer : The best shoe for speed work, and efficient runners with minimalist leanings. (JUSTIN NYBERG, 7/23/14, Outside)

The Cloudracer's rubber springs are no gimmick. Though the Swiss-engineered shoe sports a thin, almost minimalist mid-sole, the rubber pads compress on each impact, so it takes almost all the sting out of the road while still feeling fast and low to the ground.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Poll: Scott Walker in dead heat against Democratic challenger (Sean Sullivan, July 23, 2014, Washington Post)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is running neck-and-neck against his leading Democratic challenger, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The survey of likely voters, conducted by Marquette Law School, shows former Trek executive Mary Burke (D) leading Walker 47 percent to 46 percent. Her lead is well within the poll's margin of error. (In other words, consider it tied.)

July 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Ryan to propose deficit-neutral anti-poverty plan (Zachary A. Goldfarb, July 22, 2014, Washington Post)

Echoing an idea that has been gaining traction among conservative intellectuals, Ryan will propose a pilot program whereby the federal government consolidates existing safety-net programs into a single grant offered to a state. It would group programs such as food stamps and housing aid, although it would not include Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

Ryan is not proposing any spending cuts, and he will pledge that the resources given to the state will equal what it would have received under the current law. "It is important to note that this is not a budget-cutting exercise--this is a reform proposal," according to a Ryan document obtained by The Post. The new state grant will be called an "Opportunity Grant." The document says state initiatives would be subject to accountability standards.

Ryan's decision not to immediately seek savings with his safety net proposal is striking because, as House Budget Committee chairman, he's been known for budgets that dramatically cut spending in hopes of paying down the debt.

Given that the future lies with a defined contribution wefare state, replacing the defined benefit one, it's necessary to have an initial spurt of massive spending.  Any plan without one isn't sufficient.  The much more savings come generations down the road.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man, dies aged 89 (Associated Press,  22 July 2014)

Admirers regarded Berger as unique and underappreciated, a comic moralist attuned to the American past and present. "Berger's books are accessible and funny and immerse you in the permanent strangeness of his language and attitude, perhaps best encapsulated by Berger's own self-definition as a 'voyeur of copulating words,'" Jonathan Lethem wrote in a 2012 essay.

Berger was born in Cincinnati, the son of a public school business manager and a housewife. He was a dreamer, seeking out new worlds on the nearest bookshelf. His favourite works included the legends of King Arthur and, since he was born close enough to the 19th century to hear first-hand accounts, histories of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

"Very early in life," he once said, "I discovered that for me reality was too often either dull or obnoxious, and while I did play all the popular games that employ a ball, lower hooks into the water, and, especially fire guns, I preferred the pleasure of the imagination to those of experience, and I read incessantly."

Berger served in the army from 1943 to 1946 and used some of his experiences in Germany for his debut novel, Crazy in Berlin. He was an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, then a graduate student at Columbia University.

At a workshop at the New School for Social Research, Berger met such fellow students as Jack Kerouac, Mario Puzo and William Styron and a painter, Jeanne Redpath, who became his wife. He wrote short stories in his 20s but disliked the art form, believing he needed more space "to create my alternative reality".

Little Big Man was his third novel. As he told American Heritage magazine, he began the book in 1962 with "the intention of comprising in one man's personal story all the themes of the Old West that have since become legendary".

Jack Crabb was based on a fictional character, the blowhard Kit Carson in William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life.

...but Neighbors is his funniest.  Bad movie, good book.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


When It Comes to Housing, Maybe Millennials Aren't so Different After All (NEIL SHAH, 7/22/14, WSJ)

Nearly half of Americans between the ages of 23 and 34 who lived in metro areas with "ideal housing conditions" in 2012 were married (46.1%), versus around a third who lived in "unfavorable" housing conditions, according to a new study by demographer Jonathan Vespa and others in the U.S. Census Bureau's Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. ("Ideal housing conditions" are defined as low costs, high availability/low competition, lots of detached homes, more rooms and low unemployment.) [...]

In a separate study last week, Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia Inc.TRLA +3.18%, the online real-estate information company, argued that demographic changes, such as delaying marriage and parenthood, account for nearly all of the declines in homeownership among young adults.

But many of these demographic shifts may simply postpone home-buying, rather than eliminate it. Like mom and dad, many millennials, once they finally marry and have kids, may want that white picket-fence, too. "There probably hasn't been a huge shift in millennials' attitudes toward homeownership," Mr. Kolko says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Will Automation Take Our Jobs? (The Editors, 7/15/14, Scientific American)

Last fall economist Carl Benedikt Frey and information engineer Michael A. Osborne, both at the University of Oxford, published a study estimating the probability that 702 occupations would soon be computerized out of existence. Their findings were startling. Advances in data mining, machine vision, artificial intelligence and other technologies could, they argued, put 47 percent of American jobs at high risk of being automated in the years ahead. Loan officers, tax preparers, cashiers, locomotive engineers, paralegals, roofers, taxi drivers and even animal breeders are all in danger of going the way of the switchboard operator.

Whether or not you buy Frey and Osborne's analysis, it is undeniable that something strange is happening in the U.S. labor market. Since the end of the Great Recession, job creation has not kept up with population growth. Corporate profits have doubled since 2000, yet median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped from $55,986 to $51,017. At the same time, after-tax corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product increased from around 5 to 11 percent, while compensation of employees as a share of GDP dropped from around 47 to 43 percent. Somehow businesses are making more profit with fewer workers.

The point is profits not jobs.  We can always figure out better ways to share what business makes than via jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


The Strange Relationship Between Global Warming Denial and...Speaking English (Chris Mooney, Jul. 22, 2014, Mother Jones)

[N]ot only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile, is the seventh worst.

What do these four nations have in common? They all speak the language of Shakespeare.

July 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Audio Interview: Ed Klein on Blood Feud (Ed Driscoll, July 20th, 2014, PJ Media)

MR. DRISCOLL:  Blood Feud also helps to shed some light on one of the more mysterious members of the Obama administration, and that's Valerie Jarrett.  What is her relationship with the president?  And how long have they known each other?

MR. KLEIN:  Well, you remember The Godfather and Tom Hagen, who is a consigliere to the Godfather?

MR. DRISCOLL:  Barack Obama's favorite movie!

MR. KLEIN:  Yeah, that's right, and maybe he got the idea from that movie, because Valerie Jarrett is the Tom Hagen of the Obama administration; she is the consigliere.  Both Obama and his wife Michelle have made it clear numerous times on record that they don't make a single decision without first going to Valerie Jarrett.  She's a sort of strange combination of big sister, mother figure, consigliere.

If you recall ‑‑ if you're old enough to remember the Franklin Roosevelt administration, Harry Hopkins lived in the White House and was friends with both Eleanor and Franklin.  Well, she's like that.  She literally has moved into the White House.  She has a suite of rooms in the residence that she permanently occupies.  She has a Secret Service detail of her own.  She has forty people working for her; four-zero.  And she dines with the Obamas at night; she goes on vacations with them.  She's the last person to leave the Oval Office after a meeting.  She has the president's ear like no one else.

MR. DRISCOLL:  In Blood Feud, you argue that Jarrett played a role in some of Obama's otherwise inexplicable foreign policy decisions regarding Syria. Could you talk about that?

MR. KLEIN:  Yes; I'd be happy to.  You know, this has been a mystery to the media why did Obama renege on his threat that he was going to ‑‑ that there was a red line that he would bomb the Syrian chemical-weapons facilities if they used those weapons.  And even his own staff, including Denis McDonough, who's his chief of staff, was taken by complete surprise when he said, I'm going to go to Congress and get their approval, knowing full well that Congress was not going to approve it.

And according to my sources who I feel are absolutely impeccable on this issue, it was Valerie Jarrett who talked him out of following through on the red-line threat.  And she, according again to my sources ‑‑ and I'm talking about people who speak to Valerie Jarrett, so they're not just making this up out of whole cloth; they're talking to her, and this comes from her.  She told him, you were not elected to be a war president, you ran against being a war president, you were elected to change society and make it more equal, and all that sort of stuff, you know, because she's a very big left-winger.  And he listened to her.  And the credibility of the presidency and, even more important, the credibility of the United States, was severely damaged by his failure to go through with that threat.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Did Jarrett also play a role in turning away Obama's support for Hillary's assumed upcoming presidential bid?

MR. KLEIN:  Well, you know, I think in that case we're talking really about a triumvirate in the White House:  Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, all of who see pretty much eye to eye on almost all issues.  And in their view, they're already thinking about Barack Obama's legacy and who's going to carry it out after he leaves the White House.  They're already talking about his library.  They're talking about where they're going to live.  They're talking about what Michelle and Valerie are going to do, would Michelle run for office.

And one of the things they're talking about is that the Clintons ‑‑ and we know it's two for the price of one; if you vote for Hillary, you're going to get Bill too ‑‑ would undo many of the things that Obama's been trying to do and some of which he's accomplished.  And indeed Hillary, according to The Wall Street Journal and even The New York Times, has begun to fulfill their worst dreams, or nightmares, which is, distancing herself even now from Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Israelis resolute for now, but mounting military casualties could bring pressure on Netanyahu (ARON HELLER and DAN PERRY, 7/21/14, Associated Press)

[T]he Haaretz newspaper warned against mission creep and the "wholesale killing" of Palestinian civilians. "The soft Gaza sand ... could turn into quicksand," it said in its editorial Monday. "There can be no victory here. ... Israel must limit its time in the Strip."

There was always near-consensus among Israelis for the airstrikes aimed at ending the rocket fire, which they considered unreasonable and outrageous. The Palestinian fatalities caused by the airstrikes -- over 500 in two weeks, many of them civilians -- are generally blamed here on Hamas, for locating launchers in civilian areas and for proving to be cynical and nihilistic, to Israeli eyes, at every turn.

But a ground invasion of Gaza is another story, and the government had clearly hesitated to take the risk. House-to-house fighting, tanks exposed in fields, the danger of a soldier being kidnapped, to be traded for thousands after years in captivity: It is an untidy and dispiriting affair.

The government felt it necessary to take such a risky step because despite all the damage being inflicted on Gaza by the airstrikes, the Hamas rocket fire simply did not stop. Israeli officials also felt world opinion would understand after Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted.

Complicating the situation from Israel's perspective, Hamas does not seem to be coming under significant pressure from the people of Gaza despite the devastation they are enduring. While Gaza is no democracy and Hamas rules by force, this seems to reflect genuine support for Hamas' aim of breaking the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the strip.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Smart Money Buys Brand X (Cass R. Sunstein, 7/13/14, Bloomberg View)

To test whether a lack of information is responsible for consumers' choices, Bronnenberg and his co-authors compared a range of consumers who shop in the same markets and chain stores during the same time periods. They used both indirect and direct measures of how well-informed the shoppers were about headache remedies. The indirect measures included occupation and education. The direct measures came from shoppers' responses to questions about the active ingredients in headache remedies. There was a close connection between the indirect and direct measures: The average person accurately answered the ingredient question 59 percent of the time, but that figure rose to 85 percent for registered nurses and to 89 percent for pharmacists.

Using purchase data on more than 77 million shopping trips from 2004 to 2011, the authors matched consumers' actual choices to their knowledge and professions. Pharmacists bought national brands only 8.5 percent of the time, while the average consumer bought them 26 percent of the time. People lacking a college education were especially likely to buy national brands. On the other hand, health-care professionals -- including nurses and doctors -- were more likely to buy store brands than lawyers, who don't have relevant expertise.

In the case of pantry staples (salt, sugar, baking soda and the like), national brands accounted for 40 percent of total sales volume. But among chefs, the share dropped to just 23 percent -- the smallest for any other occupation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Iran Continuing To Comply With Nuclear Reduction (DAVID LUDWIG, 7/21/14, The Wire)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran is complying with an interim international deal reached last year which called for the reduction of its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. 

The IAEA said that as of July 20, Iran had reduced half of its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpiles to 5 percent, a level that can be used for nuclear reactors, but not weapons production. Although 90 percent enrichment is needed to produce a nuclear weapon, once production reaches 20 percent, it can be converted quickly to arm nuclear weapons.

July 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


On the Trail of 'True Grit': A Tale Comes to Life (JAY JENNINGS, 7/16/14, NY Times)

On a January night in Fort Smith, Ark., on a desolate block off the main drag of Garrison Avenue, I was having a nightcap of Knob Creek on the rocks at Doe's Eat Place, after consuming two tamales with chili, a three-inch-thick eight-ounce filet and a couple of glasses of cabernet sauvignon. The motley collection of sports and historical memorabilia hanging on the walls cultivated a divey atmosphere consistent across Doe's eight Southern locations.

I was in this particular Doe's more for what it was than for what it is. By downing a whiskey in the winter in this rough-stone building, constructed in 1851 by Joseph Knoble as a brewery and now on the National Register of Historic Places, I was coming as close as I could in the present day to replicating the venue and circumstances that caused "a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney" to gun down Frank Ross in this town and start the revenge quest of 14-year-old Mattie Ross in Charles Portis's classic novel "True Grit." Chaney "went to a barroom and got into a game of cards with some 'riffraff' like himself," Mattie narrates. Then he "sulled up like a possum" before killing her father in the street as he tried to stop Chaney from confronting the gamblers he thought were cheating him.

I later learned of a similar true-life deadly quarrel outside the brewery in 1867, in which a man named McKenzie shot an unarmed Charles W. Brown, after the former "called him a d---d son of a bitch and told him to kiss (an indecent part of his person)," according to court records.

The old brewery is one of the few buildings that would have been standing in that tough town at the time the novel is set, the mid- to late 1870s. Joseph Knoble positioned it close to the Arkansas River so he could chip ice blocks out of it, I was told by the affable young barkeep at Doe's, going by the name of Trent Gallant (too corny for any novelist to make up). When I revealed to him my plan to retrace the novel's story, looping from Fort Smith through the modest mountains of eastern Oklahoma as do Mattie, the United States Marshal Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, he mentioned to me that the story had inspired a number of theme businesses in town, among them the five-year-old True Grit Tattoo. The tamales, a signature dish at Doe's, are also part of my itinerary, I explained: At a crowded triple hanging that Mattie attends early in the book, she finds a boy selling them from a bucket and tries the "cornmeal tube filled with spicy meat that they eat in Old Mexico," opining: "They are not bad." The ones at Doe's are better than that.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


My Problem With People Who Agree With Me (PJ O'Rourke, 7/20/14, Daily Beast)

[T]herein lies my problem. Nobody really disagrees with us these days. Our own children, at their most rebellious age, believe in the first two things we toasted. (Although, until they acquire jobs and babies, they practice passive resistance to the third.)

At the core of libertarian belief is the free market. But now everybody believes in that too, including Communist dictators in China and the rajahs of India's corrupt bureaucracy. Even villainous crony capitalists who reign over much of the rest of the world (and aren't exactly absent in the U.S.A.) believe in the free market - if they can keep other people out of it.

The next day I was talking to the new president of a libertarian think tank. "Have you been to many of these conferences?" he asked. I hadn't. He said, "They bother me a little."

"Preaching to the converted?" I ventured.

To make a ridiculous comparison, it's as if the Twelve Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot -- played by Bill Maher) never left Jerusalem. They just hung around the Mount of Olives evangelizing themselves.

"No," said the think tank president, "it's not just to whom we preach but what we're preaching."

That is, people love to hear what libertarians have to say until those people go into the voting both. Then limitations on the size, power, and expense of government start to get personal.

According to the Census Bureau, 49 percent of Americans receive some kind of government benefits. And political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides of The Century Foundation (which is liberal-centrist) say that if you throw in everything that can be construed as a government benefit, e.g. mortgage interest deductions, 96% of Americans are on the take.

The dichotomy is not a problem, but an opportunity.  Nearly 100% of us agree that capitalism renders the best economic results (First Way) and nearly 100% of us agree that the liberal democratic social contract includes a safety net (Second Way).  So make the welfare state capitalist--defined contribution instead of defined benefit (Third Way).  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Could the next generation of Republicans already be here? (Kyle Smith, July 19, 2014, NY Post)

[I]n contrast with our image of decadent, self-centered, pleasure-craving youth, in many ways today's youngsters are throwbacks -- spurning drugs, crime and disorder, being sexually responsible and making sound choices about education. They might be the least disaffected, least rebellious kids since the Kennedy years. And that might have surprising political implications down the road.

A July 12 Economist piece reviewed some surprising data, finding that (contrary to popular belief) teen drinking and binge drinking have fallen sharply in recent years. The percentage of high-school seniors who have ever taken alcohol, for instance, fell from 80% to 71% from 2000 to 2010. In 1980, that figure was 93%. Asked whether they'd had a drink in the last 30 days, only 41% said yes in 2010. In 2000, it was 50% and in 1980, 72%. Similarly, the teen pregnancy rate is slightly more than half what it was in the mid-1990s, and teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did then.

Violent-crime arrests for people from 10 to 24 are half what they were in 1995 (for males) and down 40% for females. Juvenile incarceration is at its lowest rate since 1975. Teen smoking peaked around 1997 and is now, at an all-time low of 17%, less than half of what it was then. (Pot use is an exception to the trend: 23% of high-school seniors regularly get high. But weed is still less widely used than it was in the 1970s, or even in 1999, when 26.7% reported regular use.)

What's behind all these surprising numbers? I can't say, but it's hard not to notice that a decline in destructive behavior associated with peer pressure has happened at the same moment that the US became a fully wired nation.
Now that broadband access is nearly universal -- 78% of homes, and that's not counting all the schools and library and Wi-Fi hotspot connections available to most kids with minimal effort -- restless youth don't have to go along with whatever the local knuckleheads are up to. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


What your coffee choice says about you (Kate Mishkin, 7/20/14, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Last year, when Nicholas Coffee's prices went up minimally -- no more than 10 cents -- employee Seth Denne noticed that customers who typically order black coffee were the most observant of the price change.

"They were like 'What? That's not what I usually pay,' " he said.

This wouldn't be all too surprising to Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, whose study last year found that coffee drinkers tend to be simple and resistant to change.

Her online survey, coordinated in conjunction with "The Dr. Oz Show," tracked the correlation between coffee order and personality type, and found that there may be a connection between the two.

Latte drinkers tend to be people-pleasers, and those who ordered frozen or blended drinks tend to be trendsetters and sometimes reckless. Instant coffee drinkers are laid back and sometimes procrastinators, and those who ordered decaf or specially ordered drinks err on the perfectionist side and often make healthy choices. [...]

"People who order several different orders are just trying to show off and look knowledgeable or look hip," Mr. Inzana said. "Black coffee drinkers don't care what people think of them."

Although the study was more "playful," according to Ms. Durvasula, there may be some validity in her findings.

"We're a lot more pattered than we think. Even in the smallest decision, our personality drives that a bit," she said. "I don't know if anything defines anyone, but you get insight into peoples' habits."

Buying coffee instead of making it yourself is a function of moral lassitude.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Ted Williams' honesty was refreshing - and rare (Frank Fitzpatrick, 7/20/14, Philadelphia Inquirer)

When Red Sox fans sought to make amends with great ovations, he refused to acknowledge them with a tip of his cap.

How many players would like to vent nightly at critical sportswriters? Williams did.

He disdainfully referred to Boston writers as "the knights of the keyboard." A voracious newspaper consumer, if he saw something he believed unfair or overly personal, he told off the author, usually loudly and profanely.

How many players mired in long funks would like to rail at the world? Williams did.

When he failed, he didn't don a happy mask. He moped, questioned his career choice, and sometimes threatened to quit. Once in a while, after a bad call or a prolonged 0-fer, he'd even fail to hustle.

That behavior wasn't admirable. But, from the perspective of 60-plus sanitized years later, it certainly seems refreshing. And Williams, dead for 12 years now, remains a far more complex figure than any of today's emotionally restrained stars.

In baseball, as in other sports, increased scrutiny and money have yielded less candor.

Players are coached in how to behave in public, how to interact with the media, how to protect their brand. Their answers to questions, more often than not, are bland and safe. Their real feelings remain sheltered. Though in essence they're always on camera, they've learned to reveal less, not more, of themselves.

"The pitch got away." "Our fans are the greatest." "We all make mistakes."

It's understandable. In a world in which the slightest indiscretion can go viral instantly, an honest reaction can be perilous.

Broadcaster Roy Firestone was once asked how athletes could avoid making media mistakes. His response was a guidebook for contemporary athletes.

"[Avoid] anything involving brashness. Any confrontation. It's always a big mistake to challenge the media. Keep it to yourself. Never ever . . . name- call. You don't ever make the mistake of trying to exchange verbiage with a member of the broadcast or newspaper business, because you're going to lose. And you're going to look bad. . . . Don't ever confront a member of the media. It's a mistake. They play it over and over again on TV, and you look like a fool."

Williams was a big-enough talent and a strange-enough individual that he didn't care. It's hard to imagine anyone ever behaving like him again. As a result, as well as we'd like to think we know our favorite ballplayers, we really don't.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


A safer world, even as global energy struggles abound (Robin Mills, July 20, 2014, The National)

[D]espite these conflicts, the world has become a much safer place. From a peak during the 1980s, wars within and between states have dropped sharply since 1990. Even including the Syrian civil war, the death rate from political violence has fallen steadily since the 1970s. Oil price volatility has been exceptionally low over the past three years, and although prices remain high, there has not been a 1973 or 1979-style shock.

How do we resolve these contradictions?

Even in an overall more secure world, oil companies' exposure to insecurity may have increased. Since the 1990s, higher energy prices, the depletion of traditional safe areas such as the North Sea and Alaska, and the entry of Asian companies seeking to carve out their own positions have led the industry into more risky territory. Chinese companies, which have come under attack in South Sudan and Ethiopia, have realised this.

At the same time, countries once largely inaccessible to international energy investment, such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Mexico, have opened up. The Middle East, the world's most important oil-producing region, is passing through a period of political upheaval and conflict, even though lesser producers in Latin America and South East Asia have become more peaceful.

More recently, the North American shale oil and gas boom has opened up enormous resources in safe regions, changing US perceptions about energy security and helping to cap oil and gas price volatility.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Financial Savvy Starts in Childhood : Early Financial Lessons Influence How Adults Handle Money (LINDSAY GELLMAN, July 20, 2014, WSJ)

Regardless of whether they fully sink in at the time, having conversations about how money works early and often is the key to raising financially savvy children, financial-literacy experts say. "Money is right up there with basic hygiene" in terms of essential areas of child education, says Alexa von Tobel, founder and chief executive of financial-planning site LearnVest.com and author of "Financially Fearless."

Your child's earliest money-related memories have a lasting impact on how he or she comes to handle finances as an adult, Ms. von Tobel says, so be sure to set a positive tone in money discussions, even if circumstances are less than ideal. You might use your child's request for an expensive toy as an opportunity to talk about saving for big purchases.

Many parents establish a system where the child receives an age-appropriate allowance in exchange for performing certain household chores. Talk with your child about what to do with this income, says John Linfield, executive director at the Institute for Financial Literacy, a Portland, Maine-based nonprofit. Mr. Linfield suggests dividing the money (not necessarily evenly) among three jars: one for short-term spending, one for saving and one for donating. Help your child choose a charitable organization to which to donate, he says.

Even if you do most of your banking online, there's value in taking a field trip to a brick-and-mortar bank branch with your child, says Ted Beck, chief executive of the National Endowment for Financial Education, a financial-literacy nonprofit in Denver. Explain to your child that this organization holds money you deposit for safekeeping, he says. And teach him or her that the ATM isn't a magical money dispenser, but rather a means for withdrawing cash from your bank account, says Ms. Godfrey.

Ask about opening a savings account for your child. Some banks offer children's savings accounts that don't require large minimums. They also may offer passbooks, in which a child can track the compounding interest in his or her account.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Sunday bloody Sunday (AVI ISSACHAROFF, July 20, 2014, Times of srael)

Video uploaded to the internet in recent hours includes horrific footage of bodies strewn in the streets, and greatly exaggerated claims are emerging of a massacre as horrendous as the one in Sabra and Shatila in 1982. Thousands of the neighborhood's residents have fled to seek refuge in UNRWA schools and in hospitals.

The difficult pictures will likely turn the tide of international public opinion, which has so far been relatively sympathetic toward Israel's campaign in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which has refused an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, seems far from breaking. On the contrary, the organization's top brass is confident and determined to continue fighting in order to achieve a strategic diplomatic coup vis-a-vis its international standing and the status of the Gaza Strip. [...]

The question, then, is whether Hamas's achievements could be the very thing that will prompt it to change its tack and seek a ceasefire. The problem, however, is that footage of multiple civilian casualties in Shejaiya only plays into Hamas's hands and makes it stronger. The organization wants to see many civilian casualties in order to bring about strong international criticism of Israel and pressure from Cairo on Jerusalem to accede to Hamas's demands. Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political leader, has been sitting tight in Qatar, refusing even to accept an Egyptian invitation to fly to Cairo to discuss a truce. Mashaal knows full well that Hamas's political leaders and military capabilities have barely been damaged by the Israeli campaign; it can still fire rockets at Israeli population centers, and the network of bunkers dug under Gaza enable it to target a growing number of IDF soldiers.

Mashaal is set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday in Doha. Abbas will likely entreat him to accept an Egyptian proposal and hold his fire. But in all likelihood, Mashaal, certain that victory is in his grasp, will refuse.

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