July 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Far-right Israelis celebrate Gaza kids' deaths (STUART WINER July 29, 2014, Times of Israel)

Video has emerged of far-right Israeli protesters celebrating the death of children in Gaza during a counter-demonstration to an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square over the weekend.

"There is no school tomorrow; there are no children left in Gaza," the men can be seen chanting as part of a roughly formed song that also included the stanzas "I hate all the Arabs" and "Gaza is a cemetery."

The mob also called for Israeli Arabs to be stripped of their citizenship.

One of the ways we supporters of Israel like to differentiate it from Palestine is by saying that they are the sort of people who celebrate the deaths of children.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Why Leisure is the Remedy for Sloth (DUSTY GATES, 7/29/14, Crisis)

Leisure is the remedy for sloth. Leisure is, perhaps paradoxically, the antithesis of both sloth and labor. A leisurely person is the opposite of a lazy one, and is also the opposite of a work addict. To be leisurely is to freely choose to engage in efforts dedicated not to the pursuit of financial compensation (which is the goal of servile labor), but to pursue the more lofty goals of life which truly benefit those engaged in them and the cultures in which they live. Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler described this type of activity in The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) when they wrote that "leisure, properly conceived as the main content of a free, as opposed to a servile, life, consists in activities which are neither toil nor play, but are rather the expressions of moral and intellectual virtue--the things a good man does because they are intrinsically good for him and for his society, making him better as a man and advancing the civilization in which he lives."

The pursuit of leisure has been esteemed by philosophers throughout the ages as something praiseworthy, precisely because it is not, to them, the same thing as merely doing nothing. According to Kelso and Adler, "leisure is misconceived as idleness, vacationing (which involves vacancy), play, recreation, relaxation, diversion, amusement, and so on. If leisure were that, it would never have been regarded by anyone except a child or a childish adult as something morally better than socially useful work." In other words, if we are just going to waste our free time, we would be better off working.

By restoring leisure, we restore mankind to his proper place before God as recipient and steward of his good gifts, to be cultivators and co-creators with him. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP (James Pethokoukis | July 23, 2014, The Week)

[T]he inflation alarmism driving them is taking a weird turn. Some Republicans and conservatives now argue that Washington is figuring inflation all wrong, maybe even intentionally. Better, they say, to trust independent outside sources such as the website ShadowStats, which "exposes and analyzes flaws" in government economic data. According to one set of ShadowStats calculations, the true inflation rate is nearly 10 percent today. The inflation truth is out there.

In a recent National Review Online article, conservative author Amity Shlaes approvingly cites ShadowStats as supporting her thesis that "inflation is higher than what the official data suggest." Others fans include conservative intellectual Niall Ferguson, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and a good chunk of the conservative blogosphere.

ShadowStats' popularity on the right is crazy -- because the site's methodology has been roundly ridiculed by both economists and business journalists. Critics also note that the subscription price for the ShadowStats newsletter has remained unchanged for years. Inflation for thee, but not for me. Beyond that, MIT's Billion Price Project, which tracks prices from online retailers every day, puts U.S. inflation at just over 2 percent. And consider this: If inflation were really 10 percent, that would mean the real economy, adjusted for inflation, has been sharply shrinking -- yet somehow still adding 2 million net new jobs a year.

If GOP inflationistas had their way, the weak U.S. recovery would almost surely be even weaker. Just look at Europe. Unlike the Fed, the inflation-phobic European Central Bank sat on its hands despite weak growth. The result has been an unemployment rate nearly twice America's and a nasty double-dip recession. Of course, inflation is lower than in America -- so low, in fact, that the region risks a dangerous deflationary spiral of falling prices and falling wages.

July 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


De Blasio: Broken Windows Policing Is Here To Stay (Christopher Robbins, Jul 28, 2014, Gothamist)

Eric Garner died in police custody in part because for several decades the NYPD has doggedly enforced smaller, seemingly innocuous "quality-of-life" crimes. According to Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton, the NYPD will continue to strictly enforce laws against loosie peddlers and subway dancers. "I can understand why any New Yorker may say, that's not such a big deal," de Blasio said. "But a violation of the law is a violation of the law." [...]

Left unsaid was the fact that the high number of minor marijuana arrests under Mayor Bloomberg's tenure have not budged since de Blasio took office.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry (Ron Kampeas, July 28, 2014, JTA)

Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state's efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


The Non-Eclipse of America (Norton A. Schwartz and John K. Hurley, JUL 28, 2014, Project Syndicate)

Perhaps the best indication of America's enduring stature is the dollar's dominance in international financial transactions. Last year's Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, based on a survey of more than 300 executives from 28 countries, showed that, for the first time since the Iraq War began in 2003, foreign investors view the US as the world's most attractive destination for future investment.

The ability to project power internationally begins at home. And, despite its historically slow economic recovery, there is plenty of reason for optimism in the US.

According to the US Federal Reserve Board, the index of industrial production, which had declined by 17% during the recession, returned to its pre-crisis peak in the fourth quarter of last year. The US has also made some progress in "on-shoring" manufacturing activities, and the energy sector is booming, owing to a sharp increase in natural-gas production.

Moreover, new discoveries in life sciences, particularly biotechnology, are nearing commercial breakout. Reforms in primary education, especially at the state and local levels, have bolstered test scores. And American institutions of higher education, though often prohibitively expensive, consistently rank among the best in the world. [...]

According to the International Monetary Fund, the recent recession is the first in the US since the early 1980s to be followed by a significant recovery in the GDP share of value-added manufacturing. The report cites factors like a weaker dollar relative to emerging-market currencies, a narrowing gap between labor costs in the US and emerging economies, and a significant reduction in domestic energy prices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Hillary Clinton tacks right: praises Bush, criticizes Obama, cozies up to Wall Street (Bonnie Kristian, 7/28/14, The Week)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an expected contender in the 2016 presidential election, has positioned herself to appeal to more moderate or even neoconservative audiences in recent days. Speaking to CNN on Sunday, she praised President George W. Bush's AIDS relief programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, saying his initiatives there make her "proud to be an American."

In the same interview, Clinton distanced herself from President Obama's foreign policy, suggesting that he has not made it clear how D.C. "intend[s] to lead and manage" international affairs. Clinton advocated a more interventionist approach, arguing that, "We have to go back out and sell ourselves" as guarantors of worldwide stability. Currently, the U.S. military has as many as 900 bases worldwide, and has ground troops or drones active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, despite objections from supporters within her own party, Clinton has repeatedly spoken to audiences at large Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Ameriprise Financial.

If she ran as a doppleganger of her husband and the GOP nominated a Paul, she'd get 60%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Kurds hope for a brighter future (Deutsche Welle, 7/28/14)
Billed as "Irbil's newest jewel that glitters under one of the region's largest glass domes," the Family Mall is a Western-style shopping arcade a few miles from the Kurdistan regional capital's city center. Opened in 2010, it's now home to an amusement park, a vast new cinema complex and over 100 different stores, including international brands such as Carrefour, Mango, and DKNY.

In short, wandering through the neon-lit halls, you could be at any mall anywhere in the world.

And while that might disappoint foreign visitors hoping for a taste of Middle Eastern culture, for many locals the mall symbolizes Kurdistan's rapidly developing economy and the success of its first decade as a fully autonomous region within an increasingly unstable and fragmented Iraq.

Kurdistan's economic boom also provides the ground for the regional government's recent announcement that it plans to seek full independence from Baghdad and set itself up as its own nation state, says Mewan Dolamari, a 21-year-old student at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats (BILL CURRY, 7/27/14, Salon)

In 1985 moderate Democrats including Bill Clinton and Al Gore founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which proposed innovative policies while forging ever closer ties to business. Clinton would be the first Democratic presidential nominee since FDR and probably ever to raise more money than his Republican opponent. (Even Barry Goldwater outraised Lyndon Johnson.) In 2008 Obama took the torch passed to Clinton and became the first Democratic nominee to outraise a GOP opponent on Wall Street. His 2-to-1 spending advantage over John McCain broke a record Richard Nixon set in his drubbing of George McGovern.

Throughout the 1980s Nader watched as erstwhile Democratic allies vanished or fell into the welcoming arms of big business.  By the mid-'90s the whole country was in a swoon over the new baby-faced titans of technology and global capital. If leading Democrats thought technology threatened anyone's privacy or employment or that globalization threatened anyone's wages, they kept it to themselves.  In his contempt for oligarchs of any vintage and rejection of the economic and political democratization myths of the new technology Nader seemed an anachronism.

His critics would later say Nader was desperate for attention. For certain he was desperate to reengage the nation in a debate over the concentration of wealth and power; desperate enough by 1992 to run for president. His first race was a sort of novelty campaign -- he ran in New Hampshire's Democratic and Republican primaries "as a stand in for none of the above." But the experience proved habit-forming and he got more serious as he went along. In 1996 and 2000 he ran as the nominee of the Green Party and in 2004 and 2008 as an independent.

The campaigns defined him for a new generation, but he never stopped writing. His latest book, "Unstoppable," argues for the existence and utility of an "emerging left-right alliance to dismantle the corporate state." The book is vintage Nader and ranks with his best. The questions it poses should greatly interest progressives. The question is, will any read it.

It's a question because on top of all the hurdles facing even celebrity authors today, Nader is estranged from much of his natural readership. It goes back, of course, to his third race for president, the one that gave us George W. Bush, John Roberts, Sam Alito, the Iraq War and a colossal debt. Democrats blame Nader for all of it. Some say he not only cost Al Gore the 2000 election but did it on purpose. Nader denies both charges. Both are more debatable than either he or his critics allow.

In 1996 I served as counselor to President Clinton and met often with Nader to discuss that campaign. Early on he told me he wouldn't be a spoiler. Judging by his message and schedule and the deployment of his meager resources, he was true to his word. In 2000 his allocation of resources was little changed: He spent 20 days in deep blue California, two in Florida; hardly a spoiler's itinerary. But he was in Florida at the end and his equation throughout of Gore with Bush -- "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" -- outraged Democrats.

The Democrats' dismissal of Nader in 2000 was of a piece with our personality-driven politics: a curmudgeon on steroids; older now and grumpier; driven by ego and personal grievance. But Nader always hit hard; you don't get to be the world's most famous shopper by making allowances or pulling punches. The difference was that in 2000 Democrats as well as Republicans bore the brunt of his attacks. What had changed? It says a lot about the Democratic Party then and now that nobody bothered to ask the question, the answer to which is, a whole lot.

Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party's upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early '70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.

In the late '70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late '90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the "modernization" of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR's historic banking reform. You'd think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life's work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what's got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it's easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party's abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader's issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party's long Wall Street tryst. Obama's economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

Even the former parties of the Left in the Anglosphere noticed the End of History.
Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Why Is Israel Losing a War It's Winning? (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, JUL 27 2014, The Atlantic)

Things change, of course--the only constant in the Middle East is sudden and dramatic change--but as I write it seems as if Israel is losing the war in Gaza, even as it wins the battle against Hamas's rocket arsenal, and even as it destroys the tunnels meant to convey terrorists underground to Israel (and to carry Israeli hostages back to Gaza). 

This is not the first time Israel has found itself losing on the battlefield of perception. Why is it happening again? Here are six possible reasons:

1. In a fight between a state actor and a non-state actor, the non-state actor can win merely by surviving. The party with tanks and planes is expected to win; the non-state group merely has to stay alive in order to declare victory. In a completely decontextualized, emotion-driven environment, Hamas can portray itself as the besieged upstart, even when it is the party that rejects ceasefires, and in particular because it is skilled at preventing journalists from documenting the activities of its armed wing. (I am differentiating here between Hamas's leadership and Gaza's civilians, who are genuinely besieged, from all directions.)

2. Hamas's strategy is to bait Israel into killing Palestinian civilians, and Israel usually takes the bait. This time, because of the cautious nature of its prime minister, Israel waited longer than usual before succumbing to the temptation of bait-taking, but it took it all the same.

People will accept civilians casualties if your war aim warrants them--like intentionally fire-bombing German and Japanese civilians to end World War II.

Israel's problem is that it is killing civilians in a war that is only about tunnels. Moreover, if Israel continues the occupation the tunnels will be rebuilt.  If Israel ends the occupation and recognizes the democratically elected government of a nation of Palestine, it will open the borders and obviate the need for tunnels.  It's a Helleresque exercise.

The Gaza Trap (Shlomo Ben-Ami, JUL 28, 2014, Project Syndicate)

The superior power in an asymmetrical conflict always has a problem defining its objectives. In this case, Israel aspires to achieve "quiet" with few enough Palestinian civilian casualties to minimize international criticism. But the failure to achieve this goal is precisely where the superior power is defeated in asymmetrical conflicts. Moreover, "quiet" is not a strategic goal; nor is Israel's way of pursuing it - a war every two or three years - particularly convincing.

The real question is this: Assuming that Israel gets the quiet that it wants, what does it intend to do with Gaza in the future? And what does it intend to do with the Palestinian problem of which Gaza is an integral part?

The question of Palestine is at the root of the asymmetrical wars that Israel has been facing in recent years, not only against Hamas, Qatar's Palestinian client, but also against Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in the region. These wars are creating a new kind of threat to Israel, for they add to the conflicts' strictly military dimension the domains of diplomacy, regional politics, legitimacy, and international law, in which Israel does not have the upper hand.

As a result, in asymmetrical conflicts, Israel finds its military superiority vitiated. These are political battles that cannot be won by military means. The asymmetry between the nature of the threats and Israel's response ends up putting the superior military power in a position of strategic inferiority. The spread of violence to the West Bank - and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's support of Hamas's objectives - means that Israel cannot avoid the conflict's political consequences. Hamas, a neglected opponent of Abbas's diplomatic strategy, is gradually becoming the avant-garde of Palestine's struggle for liberation.

Contrary to what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes, the main existential threat facing the country is not a nuclear-armed Iran. The real peril is to be found at home: the corrosive effect of the Palestinian problem on Israel's international standing. The devastation caused by Israel's periodic asymmetrical confrontations, combined with the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the ever-growing expansion of settlements, has fueled a growing campaign to undermine Israel's legitimacy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Ground Zero cross can stay at 9/11 museum, appeals court rules (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, July 28, 2014, RNS)

A cross-shaped beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center can remain on display in the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, dismissing a lawsuit brought by atheists.

American Atheists filed a federal suit in 2012 claiming the 17-foot display at the museum built with a mix of public and private funds was unconstitutional. The group said its members suffered from both physical and emotional damages from the presence of the beamed cross, resulting in headaches, indigestion and mental pain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Only Blue States Need Apply : Courts could allow a system in which Obamacare only exists in part of the country. (Eric Schnurer, July 28, 2014, US News)

When the law was enacted, it was anticipated that all states would create such exchanges. After all, why wouldn't they? These were a cornerstone of the act, and, unlike the mandate and Medicaid expansion, quite uncontroversial. In fact, when Democrats like to point to the core of Obamacare being based on a conservative think tank's idea that Mitt Romney then implemented in Massachusetts, this is what they're talking about. Rather than setting up government-run or government-provided health insurance, such a system creates a free market of private providers, competing against each other, with the government providing merely the "marketplace" (here virtual) and standards for the competition, as governments have done in creating markets across the world for most of recorded history.

But a funny thing happened on the way to making health insurance affordable for every American: Republicans decided to offer massive resistance to any and every provision of Obamacare, including those that were, essentially, Republican. These exchanges, unlike the employer and individual mandates that became the catalyst for a libertarian resurgence, involve voluntary participation. And unlike the Medicaid expansion, they are aimed not at near-poor Americans but the middle class. In fact, everyone, even the wealthiest, can use the exchanges to shop for the best deal on insurance, although the most likely users are those forced into the individual market because their employers don't offer group plans. Voluntary, market-based, competition-enhancing, purely private, middle-class-oriented, Republican-designed - what's not to like? Well, basically, that they're part of Obamacare.

About one-third of states - largely those under Democratic control, in the Northeast or along the West Coast - elected to set up such exchanges, and another half-dozen (not coincidentally, the group next-most-likely to go Democratic in a presidential election) worked with the feds in doing so. But half the country - you can guess which half - refused to participate in construction of an exchange at all. The effect under the law was to leave this task to the federal government.

Most of the refusenik states also have rejected Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid to cover the near-poor rather than just the dire poor. Under the law as enacted, this was not an option: Medicaid expansion was mandatory, unless a state didn't want to take any Medicaid dollars (which all do). But the U.S. Supreme Court, in upholding Obamacare two summers ago, rewrote it (you know, what Speaker John Boehner now wants the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional when Obama does it) to allow states to opt out of that, too. Near-poor in these states now can't get Medicaid coverage, but they also aren't eligible for the subsidies to make insurance affordable through the exchanges because Congress intended them to get Medicaid, not exchange-based, coverage, making them too poor for a government handout.

Small consolation to the citizenry, but letting these states keep their people poorer than the rest of us is federalism at its purest. Not that they will, States Try to Protect Health Exchanges From Court Ruling ( LOUISE RADNOFSKY
July 25, 2014, WSJ)

A number of states are scrambling to show that they--not the federal government--are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.

The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration. [...]
Among the 36 states, the level of federal involvement varies. That means states see gray areas to work with, if they want to, though the ultimate decision about their status would likely hinge on additional court decisions and determinations by the Obama administration.

For example, two states, Idaho and New Mexico, had intended to set up their own exchanges but turned to the federal government to handle their technology in May 2013. The Obama administration has described them as "federally supported state-based" exchanges and often issues data on their behalf, in which it groups them with the other 34 states with "federally facilitated" exchanges.

Two other states, Nevada and Oregon, are currently considered to be among the 14 "state-based" exchanges, but have had technological problems and are now looking to the U.S. to operate their technology for the coming year.

Idaho, Nevada and Oregon have issued statements in recent days saying they are state-based exchanges, regardless of who operates their technology. New Mexico didn't respond to inquiries.

July 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Gas price equivalent for electricity? 75 cents. (Antony Ingram,  JULY 27, 2014, CS Monitor)

The last time you could buy a gallon of gasoline in the US for 75 cents was around the late 1970s.

If you own an electric car today though, the price you're paying for electricity is equivalent to about 75 cents per gallon.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Hamas will restart tunneling as soon as we leave, IDF officer says (Mitch Ginsburg, 7/27/14, The Times of Israel)

"We won't find all of them," said Col. (res) Atai Shelach, former commander of the elite Yahalom unit that tackles the tunnels, "and the moment we leave they will start digging again."

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Explaining Online Panels and the 2014 Midterms (Nate Cohn, 7/27/14, NY Times)

On Sunday, the research firm YouGov, in partnership with The New York Times and CBS News, released the first wave of results from an online panel of more than 100,000 respondents nationwide, which asked them their preferences in coming elections. The results offer a trove of nonpartisan data and show a broad and competitive playing field heading into the final few months of the campaign.

The Republicans appear to hold a slight advantage in the fight for the Senate and remain in a dominant position in the House. They need to pick up six seats to gain Senate control, and they hold a clear advantage in races in three states: South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. The data from YouGov, an opinion-research firm that enjoyed success in 2012, finds the G.O.P. with a nominal lead in five additional states.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Billion-Dollar Billy Beane (BENJAMIN MORRIS, 7/24/14, 538)

Beane has been a godsend to the frugal A's, enabling them to achieve top-tier performance at bottom-tier prices. For this, the A's have paid him fairly modestly4 -- but since we don't know how much winning is worth to the A's organization, it's hard to say exactly how much Beane has been worth to them.

For a team like the Red Sox, however, the picture is much more clear. Over the last 15 years, they've happily spent over $2 billion dollars in the pursuit of wins -- and because they're one of baseball's most successful franchises, no one in Beantown is complaining.

From a strictly economic perspective, not offering Beane however much money it took to get him may have been one of the Red Sox's poorest decisions since letting Babe Ruth go to the Yankees for next to nothing. And I mean that literally: Over the past 15 years, Billy Beane has been nothing less than the Babe Ruth of baseball GMs. The Red Sox offered Beane $2.5 million per year,5 but even $25 million would have been a bargain.

Finding Beane's potential dollar value to the Red Sox is relatively simple: It's the amount the team spent under general managers Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, minus the amount it would have had to spend for the same performance with Beane as GM.6

To show this, we first we need to figure out just how many A's wins Beane has been responsible for, and how much those wins would cost on the open market.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Up From Greenwich : The New Republican Populism (Ross Douthat, JULY 26, 2014, NY Times)

[I]f the G.O.P. fully embraces the ideas its younger-generation leaders are pursuing, the Democrats could suddenly find themselves in a difficult spot. Liberals can theoretically outbid a limited-government populism, yes -- but given the fiscal picture, they would need to raise taxes significantly to do so, alienating their own donors, the middle class or both. And the immediate liberal critique of Ryan's new plan -- that it's too paternalistic, too focused on pushing welfare recipients to work -- harkened back to debates that the Democratic Party used to lose.

Democrats can't outbid a Third Way Republican Party without offering Third Way solutions themselves, so we all win.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Leaked document confirms US ceasefire bid generous to Hamas (Raphael Ahren, 7/27/14, The Times of Israel)

A "confidential draft" of the American ceasefire proposal leaked to the press appears to confirm what The Times of Israel reported Friday -- that Washington was willing to generously accede to many of Hamas's demands, while all but ignoring Israel's security requirements.

The published text of the proposal, obtained by Haaretz, also shows that Qatar and Turkey - Hamas's main sponsors in the region -- were given prominent roles in the mediation, while the Palestinian Authority and Egypt were entirely marginalized. [...]

According to the text, "the Palestinian factions" and the State of Israel would make three commitments: [...]

c) Convene in Cairo, at the invitation of Egypt, within 48 hours to negotiate resolution of all issues necessary to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring solution to the crisis in Gaza, including arrangements to secure the opening of crossings, allow the entry of goods and people and ensure the social and economic livelihood of the Palestinian people living in Gaza, transfer funds to Gaza for the payment of salaries for public employees, and address all security issues.

All Israel has done is delay (c).

July 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Tylenol and Panadol Prove No Better Than Placebo at Helping Back Pain (Eliana Dockterman, July 24, 2014, TIME)

A study published this week in a medical journal called The Lancet split 1,643 people with acute low-back pain into three groups, each given two boxes. One group received two boxes of 500-miligram acetaminophen tablets, with instructions to use the second box "as needed'; the second group got a box of acetaminophen and an as-needed box of placebos; and the third group received two boxes of placebos. Researchers told the participants to take six tablets per day from the regular box and up to two from the as-needed box.

Over the course of three months, the researchers found no difference among the three groups.

...is this a reflection of the ineffectiveness of the drug or the effectiveness of placebo?

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


The most conservative way to fight poverty is to send everyone a government check (Max Ehrenfreund, July 25, 2014, Washington Post)

But wouldn't it be even more amenable to conservative principles to eliminate government interference altogether, whether federal or state? Couldn't Uncle Sam simply write checks directly to everyone? After all, aren't we the people best equipped to make decisions about how to use our money?

These are arguments for what's known as a universal basic income -- a check that everyone, regardless of income, would receive from the federal government on a regular basis. Economist Milton Friedman, a pioneer of contemporary conservatism, was probably the best-known proponent of the idea, which has recently been implemented with good results so far in Brazil. Instead of filtering through layers of bureaucracy and charitable groups, the money goes directly to the people who have the most reason to use it well, because it's theirs.

The as yet unexamined danger of bigger government spending is that it will make people too independent.
Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


Overstated : Maybe we're not so pressed for time after all. (LAURA VANDERKAM, 25 July 2014, City Journal)

Ask anyone how she's doing these days, and she'll probably answer, "Busy!" If she also happens to be a working mother of young children, she might describe life as "scattered, fragmented, and exhausting." That's how Brigid Schulte characterizes existence in her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. A Washington Post reporter and mother of two, she juggles deadlines while trying to be "the kind of involved mother who brings the Thanksgiving turkey for the preschool feast and puts together the fifth-grade slide show." Many of Schulte's friends inhabit this same frenzied zone.

John Robinson, an eminent sociologist who has studied time use for decades, tells Schulte that women are fooling themselves. He finds that they have at least 30 hours of leisure time per week--less than men, but still a lot. "I felt like I'd been clonged on the head with a frying pan," Schulte writes. She insists that she has no such time. Robinson has her keep a time diary for a week. She finds that she can't describe her time in the little cells of his spreadsheet, and she writes stream-of-consciousness entries like this one: "2 am - 4 am try to breathe. Discover that panic comes in the center of the chest--often in one searing spot. Fear in the belly. Dread just below that." Robinson discovers that she does have down time; she just doesn't seem to enjoy it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Why nobody but the US voted against the UN's anti-Israel resolution (RAPHAEL AHREN, July 24, 2014, Times of Israel)

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted on a heavily one-sided resolution condemning "in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations" in Gaza. The Geneva-based council, which has a long history of anti-Israel bias, also declared a new "international commission of inquiry" into the events currently unfolding in Israel and Gaza, in what observers are calling a new Goldstone report.

Only the United States voted against the resolution. Twenty-nine nations voted in favor, among them not only the usual suspects such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria and South Africa, but also some ostensible friends of Israel, including Russia, Kenya, India and Mexico.

Equally hurtful for Israel, if not more so, were the abstentions of the eight European Union member states who had the right to vote: Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom. (Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are not EU members but also abstained; non-member states Iceland, Serbia, Albania and Liechtenstein aligned themselves with the EU position.)

Yes, even the Czech Republic, which in November 2012 was the only EU country to oppose granting the Palestinians nonmember state status at the UN, did not vote against a resolution that denounces Israel for "disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law, and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes." The resolution does not mention Hamas once.

For Israel, the vote was another heavy slap in the face. 

While Hamas celebrates, Israel focuses on its security (DAVID HOROVITZ, July 26, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hamas managed to get three-quarters of the international airlines that routinely fly in and out of Israel to temporarily stop using Ben-Gurion Airport, thanks to the pusillanimous lead of the authorities in the United States. Israel's security arrangements for flights leaving and entering are rigorous, yet the fact that a single one of those 2,000 rockets found its target near Tel Aviv, constituting no threat to incoming or outgoing flights, was enough to spark a dismal international capitulation to terrorism.

Entirely unsurprisingly, Hamas is managing to further blacken Israel's name wherever this conflict is depicted in terms that are the opposite of reality, which is most everywhere. Israel is under attack by the terrorist government of the state next door, which is openly committed to destroying it, in accordance with a perverted Islamist ideology, in partnership with Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah and the rest of this region's most pernicious governments and terrorist organizations. Year after year, Hamas improves its capacity to do Israel harm, while Israel does its best to minimize that capacity. No attacks on Israel or preparation for attacks on Israel? No suffering in Gaza. It really is as simple as that.

Doubtless, it has often been said, Israel would gain more sympathy internationally if only more Israelis were dying. Well, more Israelis are dying now -- except that since they're the soldiers of the side widely misrepresented as the aggressor, even that works to Hamas's advantage. Gaza's terrorist government does its best to kill Israeli civilians. It's managing to kill Israeli soldiers, drawing them into the residential areas where it's thus also getting Gaza civilians killed. Israel's even treating in its hospitals injured terrorists it captures emerging from the Hamas tunnels. And still, through every twist and turn of this conflict, the international presumption of blame is on Israel. The dangers to Israel are minimalized. The rocket attacks are dismissed as inconsequential (except, as mentioned, when they necessitate the abandonment of Ben-Gurion Airport) and the cross-border attack tunnels often aren't even being reported at all. Through the manipulation of the willingly manipulated, it's all Israel's fault. Wonderful news for the Islamists.

How the West Chose War in Gaza : Gaza and Israel: The Road to War, Paved by the West (NATHAN THRALL, JULY 17, 2014, NY Times)

Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans' passage to the outside world.

Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel's interests. It offered Hamas's political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.

Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel's security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.

Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.

But the key issues of paying Gaza's civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government's ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.

Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.

Only Ariel Sharon could have saved Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The most important battle you've probably never heard of (Hugh Schofield, 7/25/14, BBC News)

"Bouvines is the most important battle in English history that no-one has ever heard of," says John France, professor emeritus in medieval history at Swansea University.

"Without Bouvines there is no Magna Carta, and all the British and American law that stems from that. It's a muddy field, the armies are small, but everything depends on the struggle. It's one of the climactic moments of European history." [...]
King John was not at the battle. He was still in the south. But his dreams of reconquest were dashed. He returned to England, humiliated and impoverished. Less than a year later - his barons increasingly belligerent and the French now revealing their own designs on the English crown - he was forced to sign the Magna Carta, which limited his power and formed the basis of English democracy.

"The road from Bouvines to Magna Carta was direct and short," says Sean McGlynn, an expert in the period at the Open University. "Bouvines was the last straw. If John had won the battle, Magna Carta could have been avoided. But it was the decisiveness of the defeat. All his taxation had gone to waste. He was weakened, and the barons saw their opportunity."

John France adds: "If the English and their allies had won at Bouvines, John would have had the plunder and the prestige. The baronial opposition would have melted away. This was that rare thing: a battle that was genuinely decisive."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Stone Soup : How the Paleolithic life style got trendy. (ELIZABETH KOLBERT, July 28, 2014, The New Yorker)

The first day I put my family on a Paleolithic diet, I made my kids fried eggs and sausage for breakfast. If they were still hungry, I told them, they could help themselves to more sausage, but they were not allowed to grab a slice of bread, or toast an English muffin, or pour themselves a bowl of cereal. This represented a reversal of the usual strictures, and they were happy to oblige. It was like some weird, unexpected holiday--Passover in July.

The Paleolithic diet--"paleo," for those in the know--represents a new, very old form of eating, one confined to the sorts of food available in pre-agricultural days. These foods, as it happens, were not many. According to Sarah Ballantyne, the author of "The Paleo Approach," a paleo diet consists of "meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds." According to John Durant, the author of "The Paleo Manifesto," even seeds are suspect and should be avoided. (A genuinely Paleolithic diet, Durant concedes, probably ought to include human flesh; however, he does not advise this.)

The list of foods that are not paleo, meanwhile, is a great deal longer; it includes cereal grains like wheat, corn, and rice; pseudo-cereal grains like amaranth and quinoa; legumes, dairy products, most vegetable oils, sugar, and anything that contains corn syrup or artificial coloring or flavorings or preservatives, which is to say, just about everything a contemporary American consumes. Most days, my kids pack their own lunches, but since I had banned the standard ingredients, starting with the bread for peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, I figured I was obligated to step in. I rolled up some turkey slices and arranged them in a plastic container with some cut-up avocados. Then I gave each kid a banana and some paleo "cookies" I had made using ground-up almonds. The cookies looked like little hamburgers and tasted like sawdust.

There are, of course, lots of ways to resist progress. People take up knitting or quilting or calligraphy. They bake their own bread or brew their own beer or sew their own clothes using felt they have fashioned out of wet wool and dish soap. But, both in the scale of its ambition and in the scope of its anachronism, paleo eating takes things to a whole new level. Our Stone Age ancestors left behind no menus or cookbooks. To figure out what they ate, we have to dig up their bones and study the wear patterns on their teeth. Or comb through their refuse and analyze their prehistoric poop. And paleo eating is just the tip of the spear, so to speak. There are passionate advocates for paleo fitness, which starts with tossing out your sneakers. There's a paleo sleep contingent, which recommends blackout curtains, amber-tinted glasses, and getting rid of your mattress; and there are champions of primal parenting, which may or may not include eating your baby's placenta. There are even signs of a paleo hygiene movement: coat yourself with bacteria and say goodbye to soap and shampoo.

The result is a small library of what might be called paleo literature--how-to books that are mostly how-to-undo books. Such is the tenor of our time that the ultimate retro movement is lavishly represented on the Web. From a site called Paleo Grubs, I downloaded recipes for Delicious Paleo Carrot Cake Muffins and Paleo Apple Nachos, and from a site called Nom Nom Paleo I got instructions on how to make Paleo Krabby Patties and Civilized Caveman's Apple Cinnamon Cookies. (All of these dishes rely heavily on ingredients--including "flour"--made from coconuts, a quirk that reminded me of "Gilligan's Island" and its many coconut-shell contraptions.)

Three days into my family's experiment in Stone Age eating, my sons were still happily gorging themselves on sausage and grass-fed steak. My husband was ruminating on the tenuousness of existence, and, probably true to the actual Paleolithic experience, I found that I was spending more and more time preparing the few foods that we could eat.

July 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Let Darwinism Decide Barclays Fate (Mark Gilbert, 7/25/14, Bloomberg View)

Barclays Plc is seeking to rebut New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's lawsuit accusing it of misleading customers about who they were sparring with in the bank's dark pool. Financial Darwinism, rather than judges and courts, should be allowed to settle the issue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


Arkansas Republicans Just Proved Why Obamacare Will Survive  (Brian Beutler, 7/25/14, New Republic)

 At the time of the ruling in 2012, zero people in the country were eligible for expanded Medicaid, because the Medicaid expansion wasn't effective until January 1, 2014. Republican governors could opt out without making anyone's lives worse. Or rather, they could make people's lives worse without taking anything away from them.

That won't be the case if the Court invalidates Obamacare subsidies in Healthcare.gov states. People will lose their health plans, and will expect their state and Congressional representatives to reinstate them. And it wasn't the case in Arkansas earlier this year, when the state had to authorize the federal funds designated for its Medicaid expansion, after tens of thousands of people had already enrolled.

The measure required 75 votes in the 100-member, Republican-dominated state House. And for weeks, more than two dozen Republicans withheld their support. In vote after vote, the authorization failed. If a handful of Republicans hadn't changed their minds, they would've kicked all those new beneficiaries out of the program, just days after they'd entered it.

But that's exactly what happened.

The Arkansas News quoted two of the GOP legislators who ultimately caved.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, said on the House floor that he had decided to vote "yes" after voting against the appropriation earlier in the session.

"There are people that would be hurt if I don't vote for this, and I don't want to see those innocent people get hurt because of that," he said, adding that he would continue to fight for changes to the program and that he would vote against it next year if it does not produce the promised results.

Also voting for the program, after voting against it as recently as two weeks earlier, were Reps. Skip Carnine, R-Rogers, and Mary Slinkard, R-Gravette.

Carnine said later he has many reservations about the program, but he said the Legislature will have other chances to revisit it.
"Now was the time to move on," he said.

I imagine the pressures facing legislators from Healthcare.gov would be similar if subsidies suddenly became unavailable and tens of thousands of their constituents lost their health plans. Arkansas is no squishy liberal state. But the politics of sitting on your hands when your voters are about to be (or have just been) harmed don't wear well, even in the most conservative parts of the country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Low support among younger Americans for Israel in Hamas war (JTA, 7/25/14)

The poll posted on the pollster's website Thursday showed a statistical dead heat between those who believe Israel's actions against Hamas are justified, 42 percent, and those who believe they are unjustified, 39 percent. The difference was within the poll's margin of error of four percentage points. [...]

There were other dramatic differences in how subgroups measured support for Israel, with 65 percent of Republicans calling Israel's actions justified and just 31 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Independents saying they were justified; 50 percent of whites said Israel was justified, while just 25 percent of non-whites agreed with that characterization; 51 percent of men agreed and 33 percent of women.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Americans Still Oppose Lowering the Drinking Age (Jeffrey M. Jones, 7/25/14, Gallup)

Thirty years after federal legislation established 21 as a uniform minimum age to drink alcohol in all states, Americans are widely opposed to lowering the legal drinking age to 18. Seventy-four percent say they would oppose such legislation, while 25% would favor it. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


How I learned to relax and embrace the plutocratic world of Thomas & Friends (Peter Weber, 7/25/14, The Week)

[T]he world of Thomas & Friends is deeply retrograde and anti-democratic. It celebrates logging and mining and the burning of coal and diesel; values efficiency and following orders above individual initiative and entrepreneurialism; has only a handful of female engines and characters; and is subject to the whims and fancies of Hatt and his titled peers, the Earl of Sodor and the Duke and Duchess of Boxford.

The highest praise for a Sodor engine is being "really useful," and the worst thing is "causing confusion and delay." There is a strong competitive spirit -- the engines want to be the fastest and most useful -- but it seems driven at least partly by the (apparently unfounded) fear that underperforming trains will be sent to the smelting yard of banished from Sodor. Sir Topham Hatt may be an "imperious, little white boss" whose attire suggests that he's "the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island," as Van Slyke says, but he's mostly a benevolent despot.

The rest of Van Slyke's critique reads like a parody of postmodern literary criticism. Sodor "seems to be forever caught in British colonial times," she writes, and "if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages."

Well, yes, Britain was a colonial giant back in 1945, when the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, an Anglican minister, published the first Thomas book, based on his memories of childhood. And not much has changed on Sodor since then: the cars are still vintage-looking, like Cuba with aristocracy; the main form of transport still seems to be steam engines; and Sir Topham Hatt hasn't aged much in the last 70 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Smart Aid for the World's Poor : How can rich countries best help poor ones? Matt Ridley identifies five priorities (MATT RIDLEY, July 25, 2014, WSJ)

Most of the original Millennium Development Goals will have been met or nearly so by 2015. Since 2000, for example, the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger around the world will have been cut in half--an astonishing achievement. Other goals included universal primary education, gender equality, reductions in child mortality, improvements in maternal health, progress against HIV and malaria, environmental sustainability and (most vaguely) a "global partnership for development."

The lesson, surely, from this first round of setting development goals is the need to be even more ruthlessly selective next time. A list of eight goals is too long for most outsiders to remember. When I asked several of my colleagues in the British Parliament, they remembered only three to five. Several development experts I spoke to say that the new list should have just five discrete, quantitative, achievable goals. [...]

The Copenhagen Consensus Center process has won world-wide respect for its scrupulously fair methods and startling conclusions. Its 2012 report, published in book form as "How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place," came to the conclusion that the top five priorities should be nutritional supplements to combat malnutrition, expanded immunization for children, and redoubled efforts against malaria, intestinal worms and tuberculosis.

Their point wasn't that these are the world's biggest problems, but that these are the problems for which each dollar spent on aid generates the most benefit. Enabling a sick child to regain her health and contribute to the world economy is in the child's interest--and the world's.

The numbers produced by this exercise are eye-catching. Every dollar spent to alleviate malnutrition can do $59 of good; on malaria, $35; on HIV, $11. As for fashionable goals such as programs intended to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius in the foreseeable future: just 2 cents of benefit for each dollar spent.

Nor is this just about the cold tabulation of dollars and cents. The calculus used by the Copenhagen Consensus also includes such benefits as avoided deaths and sickness and potential environmental benefits, including forestalling climate change.

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