August 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


The real cost of the Iran deal (Roula Khalaf, 8/30/15, Financial Times)

Reassurance, however, comes at a price. In the case of the Iran deal, the administration has allowed the costs to rise unnecessarily, acquiescing to actions that threaten long-term US interests. Indeed, the Arab autocratic order is back in force only a few years after popular revolts swept the region. Security crackdowns are building a new chapter of exclusion and extremism, but soliciting no more than a muted reaction from Washington.
Consider Egypt, where the international rehabilitation of Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, the country's strongman, is well under way, even though his government's relentless repression of dissent exceeds in intensity and scope the clampdowns of Hosni Mubarak, the president ousted in the 2011 revolution.

The US sent the wrong message by resuming military aid to Egypt this year, having suspended it in 2013 when an elected Islamist president was overthrown in a popularly-backed military coup. The only leverage Washington had over Mr Sisi was squandered.

In Bahrain too, the US lifted restrictions on arms sales in June, claiming Manama had made significant progress on human rights. That was two weeks after a court sent Ali Salman, leader of the main Shia opposition party, to jail for four years. Bahrain's Sunni minority regime has been fighting off repeated outbursts of unrest from disgruntled Shia; continued suppression of the political opposition is certain to further radicalise Shia youth and unsettle a country that is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet.

After nearly a decade of isolation Iran has agreed a breakthrough deal with six world powers to wind back the country's progress towards building a nuclear bomb in exchange for a sweeping reversal of international economic sanctions

In both Bahrain and Egypt, the US acted with an eye towards Saudi Arabia, the increasingly assertive leader of the Sunni Arab camp, and backer of the Bahraini monarchy and Egypt's military coup.
But it is in Yemen that the US mollification of Arab allies could have the most destructive impact. At a time when the US priority is -- and that of all its allies should be -- the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis, Washington has supported a Saudi-led military campaign that has spread more chaos.

...for the trouble they're having accepting that Iran is the ally and the Sa'uds the enemy.  An adjustment period is to be expected.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Why the Right Doesn't Win : How blue states and Christian factionalism keep conservatives at bay. (DANIEL MCCARTHY • August 31, 2015, American Conservative)

The blue states hold the keys to victory for establishment candidates: "Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney won every blue-state primary in 2008 and 2012," Cohn notes, "making it all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination." Indeed, "Mr. Romney lost all but one red-state primary held before his principal opponent dropped out of the race"--that opponent being Rick Santorum, who a few months earlier had seemed utterly hopeless. Santorum lost his Senate seat in blue-state Pennsylvania in 2006. But in red-state presidential primaries six years later, he was formidable.

The division between blue-state and red-state Republicans by itself, however, is not enough to account for the party's seeming inability to nominate anyone to the right of Romney or McCain. There remains a mystery: in the past generation, even as the GOP has come to be viewed as more right-wing than ever, conservatives have actually fared worse in its presidential primaries. In just 16 years between 1964 and 1980, conservatives won the Republican nomination twice. In the 36 years since Reagan left office, conservatives have never won it.

There were plenty of blue-state Republicans in the days of Goldwater and Reagan, of course, and even back then the party had distinct factions of conservatives and liberals--"Rockefeller Republicans," as they were called. Why, then, did conservatives succeed in 1964 and 1980 but never again?

The answer lies in a development that appeared for the first time in 1988: the emergence of a distinct religious right or social-conservative candidate. That was Pat Robertson, who carried four states and won a little over 9 percent of the overall primary vote--behind Bob Dole's nearly 20 percent and George H.W. Bush's 68 percent. Robertson's modest campaign, however, was like a hairline crack in the foundations of the political right. Since then in every election there has been a strong social-conservative contender in the Republican contest: Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012.

The gap is filled by George W. Bush, an establishment candidate who, as a born-again Christian himself, was "a uniter, not a divider" in appealing to religious conservatives. And he left nothing to chance: his "compassionate conservatism," inspired in part by the evangelical thinker Marvin Olasky, was pitched directly to Republicans of strong religious sensibilities, and he was eager to accept whatever help Catholics like Fr. Richard John Neuhaus could provide in building interdenominational political alliances. Bush's efforts came up short in November 2000, when he failed to win the popular vote--in part, his campaign believed, because not enough churchgoers went to the polls for him. But his re-election in 2004 was widely credited to success in mobilizing "values voters."

Before 1988, religious conservatives voted with other conservatives. The religious right wasn't yet organized in 1964, but "moral" voters were a significant component of Goldwater's base, sometimes to the candidate's own embarrassment. (He vetoed the distribution a short film, "Choice," intended by his supporters to rally voters with alarming images of race, sex, and crime.) Reagan in 1980 was the first Republican hopeful, and then nominee, to benefit from effectively organized social-conservative groups like the Moral Majority. thisarticleappears copy

The development of the religious right or social conservatives as a bloc discrete from conservatives generally proved to be the undoing of the right in Republican presidential primaries. 

August 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


A revolution comes in layers : The "energy crisis" hit like a locomotive in the 1970s. Today's "energy revolution" didn't happen suddenly. It grew out millions of innovations, processes, and decisions.  (John Yemma, AUGUST 30, 2015, CS Monitor)

A genuine revolution often arrives quietly, barely noticed because it unfolds gradually and cumulatively. That's today's energy revolution. 

Oil prices are tumbling. New extraction procedures have made oil and natural gas abundant. But that hasn't slowed solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative power sources. Conservation hasn't slowed either. LED lights and less-voracious appliances are curbing consumption and forcing the mothballing of carbon-spewing power plants.

And that is only the beginning. The next wave is batteries. As you'll see in David Unger's cover story, better batteries will make solar and wind power effective when the sun doesn't shine and the winds don't blow. As major undertakings such as Elon Musk's Tesla "gigafactory" improve lithium-ion batteries and manufacture them at industrial scale, prices will decrease and use will surge.

When houses, offices, and industrial plants can produce and store energy sufficient for their needs, then power plants, utility companies, and the electric grid - that 450,000-mile network of high-voltage transmission lines strung across the US that is perhaps the most complex and vulnerable installation on the planet - become less important. There will still be a need for always-available, industrial-scale electricity. But power consumption is already diminishing year by year. Ahead lies a shakeout of the 7,300 power plants in the US, especially the dirtier and less efficient ones.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Iran is 'true enemy' of Gulf Arabs -- Kuwaiti MP (AFP, August 30, 2015)

A senior Kuwaiti lawmaker on Sunday described Iran as the "true enemy" of Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states, in a sign of growing tensions with the Shiite power.

"It has become clear to all that Iran is an enemy plotting to swallow up our states and resources and is the true enemy of the region," Hamad al-Harashani, the head of the Kuwaiti parliament's foreign relations committee, said in a statement.

Even formal estimates of the Shi'a population of Kuwait put it at 40%, meaning it's probably 50% or more.  They're going to get self-determination too.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


The Two Billie Holidays (Terry Teachout, 8/25/15, Commentary)

Holiday initially recorded not as a soloist but as a "sideman" on a series of combo recordings led by Teddy Wilson, one of the top jazz pianists of the '30s.

Nevertheless, she had already become a fully formed artist. Her small, slightly raspy voice sounded at once disillusioned and hopeful, with a touch of vulnerability that was remarked on by all who heard her. "There was something about her--not just the torchy quality of her voice--that made you want to try to help her," the lyricist (and singer) Johnny Mercer recalled. She could make even the most trivial Tin Pan Alley ditties seem meaningful, and when she performed the work of such first-class songwriters as Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, she brought their immaculately crafted lyrics to vivid life without falling victim to the temptation to over-dramatize them.

Yet for all the distinctiveness of her performing persona, Holiday's appeal was rooted no less deeply in her natural musicality. Unlike Louis Armstrong, she shunned the "scat" singing that would be adopted by such later jazz vocalists as Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé. In most other ways, though, she followed his example faithfully. She phrased with extreme rhythmic freedom, lagging far behind the beat in a way that occasionally disoriented her accompanists, and decorated the melodies of the songs that she sang with (in Szwed's words) "small but unforgettable turns, up-and-down movements, fades, and drop-offs" that were all the more effective for their subtlety.

In addition to ornamenting melodies, Holiday paraphrased them in an improvisational manner directly modeled on that of Armstrong. To hear her sing such now-familiar ballads as Kern's "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" or the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away from Me" is to grasp at once the nature of her method: She freely altered the songs she sang, often to accommodate the limitations of her untrained voice, whose effective range was barely more than an octave. Sometimes she stuck fairly close to the tune, but just as often she was more venturesome, at times radically so.

Nowhere is Holiday's musical approach more successful than in "I Must Have That Man," a little-known 1928 show tune by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields that she recorded when she was 21. Accompanied by a Wilson-led all-star band whose other members include Benny Goodman and Lester Young, Count Basie's incomparable tenor saxophone soloist and Holiday's favorite musical partner, she sings just one chorus of the cunningly rhymed song ("I need that person?/?Much worse'n just bad?/?I'm half alive and it's drivin' me mad"). On paper the lyric is little more than clever, but Holiday's plaintive voice transforms it into an unforgettably intimate confession of unrequited love.

It was at Café Society that Holiday started adding songs to her repertoire that were different in character from the show tunes and movie songs that she, Wilson, and Hammond had previously favored. The first and best known of them, "Strange Fruit," is a minor-key setting of a poem about a lynching. Sung at a paralytically slow tempo, it is full of melodramatic couplets whose sincerity cannot disguise their staginess: "Pastoral scene of the gallant South,?/?The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth." But Holiday embraced the song, recording it for Commodore in 1939 when Columbia, her regular label, refused to do so.If Holiday had died in 1937, the year in which she recorded "I Must Have That Man," she would still be remembered as a great singer. But she went on performing for two more decades, and in 1939 she embarked on a long-term residency at Café Society, a New York cabaret, in the course of which she changed her style deliberately and dramatically.

"Strange Fruit" would be followed by equally doleful songs such as "Gloomy Sunday," "God Bless the Child," and the quasi-autobiographical "My Man" ("He isn't true?/?He beats me, too?/?What can I do?"), all sung at the languorous, heroin-throttled crawl that Holiday increasingly preferred. Many were recorded with studio orchestras augmented by string sections, an innovation that dismayed jazz purists. Pop-music fans found her new style more accessible, though, and in 1947 she co-starred with Louis Armstrong in New Orleans, a Hollywood film about the history of jazz that might well have put her on the path to pop-culture celebrity. But she was arrested on a narcotics charge that same year, the first in a series of brushes with the law that instead turned her into a figure of scandal.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Leon Bridges, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2015 (RACHEL HORN, 8/26/15, NPR)

Leon Bridges took the stage at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival with a great deal of attendant buzz. Drawing favorable comparisons to Sam Cooke from many corners, he'd released his chart-topping debut, Coming Home, just a month earlier. But the 26-year-old soul singer from Fort Worth, Texas, took it all in stride, delivering a set that lived up to its promise. [...]

"Better Man"
"Brown Skin Girl"
"Pull Away"
"Smooth Sailin'"
"Coming Home"
"In My Arms"
"Twistin' And Groovin'"
"Lisa Sawyer"
"There She Goes"
"Lonely Road"

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


Liberty And Sovereignty (DANIEL JOHNSON, September 2015, Standpoint)

In Britain we have just celebrated two great anniversaries: Magna Carta and the Battle of Waterloo. To us, these two milestones in our history represent two of the most important British contributions to Western civilisation. Magna Carta symbolises liberty under the rule of law; Waterloo symbolises the defence of a free society against tyranny. 

Magna Carta is all about the rights of the "free man": "No free man is to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed . . . save by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land." The King too is subject to the rule of law, the integrity and impartiality of which he is also obliged to uphold: "To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice." In much of the world today, including parts of Europe, the rule of law cannot be taken for granted by individuals. Even within the European Union, it is by no means always and everywhere clear that the state is indeed beneath the law, or that the judiciary is impartial and incorruptible. The punishment of Nazi war criminals, for example, has been delayed in some cases for up to 70 years; many escaped justice entirely; others who were put on trial were acquitted or sentenced far too leniently, while their victims and their heirs have in many cases been denied restitution of their property (for example works of art) or adequate reparation for their suffering. 

Waterloo, for the British, is all about the independence of the nation state from the domination of an imperial despot. The British fought Napoleon Bonaparte, not merely to preserve their own freedom, but that of Europe as a whole. In a famous debate in the House of Commons in 1807 George Canning, the Foreign Secretary, justified a resumption of hostilities with France in pragmatic terms: "The single rule for the conduct of a British statesman is, attachment to the interests of Great Britain." But he went on to explain why British and European interests must coincide in the defeat of Bonapartism. "The country has the means, and I am confident it has the spirit and determination, to persevere with firmness in a struggle, from which there is no escape or retreat; and which cannot be concluded, with safety to Great Britain, but in proportion as with that object is united the liberty and tranquillity of Europe."

This refusal to accept any domination of the Continent by one power has been the biggest British contribution to European peace and prosperity: we saw it in both world wars and in the Cold War. [...]

The continuity of British foreign policy means that periods of isolation, splendid or not, are a necessary price to pay for upholding our principles. The EU has its own continuities, but at present it is unclear whether its members are prepared to adapt its rules sufficiently to enable the Union to survive into a new era. The British choice is an unenviable one, but in the past they have always chosen to preserve their own principles and traditions rather than surrender national independence. Just as Churchill felt that appeasement was a betrayal of everything that Britain had stood for, so the British today will not vote for the EU at any price. Just as the British must not expect our partners to give up their vital interests to keep us in, so Europe must not expect Britain to sacrifice principles that we regard as permanent aspects of our national identity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Wisconsin governor calls building northern wall along Canadian border a legitimate issue (KEVIN FREKING, 8/29/15, Associated Press)

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker says that building a wall along the country's norther border with Canada is a legitimate issue that merits further review.

We'll never be safe from racial mongrelization until the Atlantic and Pacific are walled too.

Chris Christie Proposes Tracking Immigrants the Way FedEx Tracks Packages (REUTERS, AUG. 29, 2015)

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Saturday that if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.

Mr. Christie, who is far back in the pack of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, said at a campaign event in New Hampshire that he would ask the chief executive of FedEx, Frederick W. Smith, to devise the tracking system. [...]

He said 40 percent of illegal immigrants are allowed into the United States legally with a visa and then stay longer than their visa allows.

Why wouldn't we just have every American get an frid chip which would replace cumbersome identification, cash, credit cards, etc. as well?

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Health savings accounts: Is an HSA right for you? (Mayo Clinic)

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are like personal savings accounts, but the money in them is used to pay for health care expenses. You -- not your employer or insurance company -- own and control the money in your health savings account. The money you deposit into the account is not taxed. To be eligible to open an HSA, you must have a special type of health insurance called a high-deductible plan.

Why were health savings accounts created?

HSAs and high-deductible health plans were created as a way to help control health care costs. The idea is that people will spend their health care dollars more wisely if they're using their own money. In addition, doctors and other health care providers will have an incentive to lower their rates because they're competing for business.

Is a health savings account right for me?

Like any health care option, HSAs have advantages and disadvantages. As you weigh your options, think about your budget and what health care you're likely to need in the next year.

If you're generally healthy and want to save for future health care expenses, an HSA may be an attractive choice. Or if you're near retirement, an HSA may make sense because the money in the HSA can be used to offset costs of medical care after retirement. On the other hand, if you think you might need expensive medical care in the next year and would find it hard to meet a high deductible, an HSA might not be your best option.

What are some potential advantages of health savings accounts?

You decide how much money to set aside for health care costs.
You control how your HSA money is spent. You can shop around for care based on quality and cost.
Your employer may contribute to your HSA, but you own the account and the money is yours even if you change jobs.
Any unused money at the end of the year rolls over (stays in your account) to the next year.
You don't pay taxes on money going into your HSA.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): A Win-Win-Win (GERRY LEONARD, PRESIDENT, ADP BENEFITS SERVICES, 8/26/15)

An annual census by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) of U.S. health insurance carriers shows that the number of people covered by health savings accounts/high-deductible health plans (HSA/HDHPs) totaled 15.5 million in January 2013. Clearly, a lot of people see the potential benefits of HSAs.

Let's look at three of those "wins" more closely.

WIN #1 - Out-of-pocket spending can be pre-tax using an HSA.

This can be a big win for an employee. In 2014, 72% of U.S. employees enrolled in HDHPs did not spend enough on health care to meet their deductible. That means that all of the money they spent came out of their own pockets, and their insurance provider was not involved in most of those events.

According to, HSA contributions can be:

used to pay out of pocket expenses incurred prior to meeting the HDHP deductible.
tax deductible from gross income.
pre-tax when contributed through a cafeteria plan.
invested tax-deferred.
tax-free when used for qualified medical expenses.
rolled over year after year (Said another way, there's no "use-it-or-lose-it" requirement.).

WIN #2 - Pre-tax contributions employees make to an HSA are pre-tax for the employer.

Employers who encourage their employees to open an HSA can benefit by potentially saving as much as 7.65% in employer tax costs. For example, if an employee puts $1,000 into an HSA, they can save taxes at their own marginal rate, and the client can save as much as $76.50 on those contributions. In addition to the financial wins, there is the additional win of getting the employees even more engaged in managing their health care expenses. Our clients have told us that employees who have an HDHP and an HSA are more likely to ask questions about the cost of health care services and far more likely to research the best value on those services.

WIN #3 - There is no "use-it-or-lose-it" requirement.

I mentioned this briefly above, but it's an important point that bears repeating. Unlike Flexible Spending Accounts, HSA balances can be rolled over and saved, tax-deferred, until age 65 when they can be withdrawn, similar to a 401(k) plan. This is why HSAs are often referred to as "401(k) for health care." Employees can save HSA funds and withdraw them in retirement when health care expenses are likely to be needed the most.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Why Are There Any Jobs Still Left? : Technology eliminates jobs, not work (Ronald Bailey|Aug. 28, 2015, Reason)

Analyzing technological and employment trends over the past 150 years in the United Kingdom, [Ian Stewart, Debapratim De, and Alex Cole, three economists at the business consultancy Deloitte] find that while machines have eliminated millions of jobs, they have also conjured into existence many more. Even better, living standards dramatically improved as the technological destruction of old jobs proceeded.

How? First, technology substitutes for labor, thus raising productivity and lowering prices. Since 1950, the percent of British incomes spent on food and clothing has fallen from 35 and 10 percent to 11 and 5 percent, respectively. In addition, the real price of automobiles has been halved. In 1948, a television in the U.S. would have cost the equivalent of $12,000 in today's money. Since then, the price of a TV has since fallen by 98 percent. 

Second, the sectors that are the sources of innovation expand, boosting the demand for labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of people working in computer systems design and related fields rose from 400,000 in 1990 to over 1.5 million in 2011. Similarly, the number of people employed in life sciences (biotechnology, pharmaceuticals) increased from 174,000 in 1990 to 1 million in 2012.

Third, technology improves outcomes in areas such as medicine, leading to increased demand for labor in those areas. Consider that the annual death rate for cardiovascular diseases in the United States has fallen from 805 per 100,000 in 1963 to 236 per 100,000 today. Five-year cancer survival rates have risen from 50 percent in 1970 to 70 percent today. Meanwhile, U.S. health-care employment rose from 2 percent of the workforce in 1950 to 9 percent today--that is, from 1.2 million to 13.4 million workers.

Fourth, technology lowers the cost of production and prices, enabling people to shift their spending to other goods and services, thus boosting demand for labor in those areas. For example, the demand for more personal services has greatly expanded. While the percent of their incomes Americans spent on food fell by nearly half since 1960, the percent of their food budgets spent on restaurants more than doubled from 20 percent to 43 percent. Consequently, the number of eating establishments since 1990 in the U.S. increased from 238,000 to nearly 1 million. Jobs in food service grew from 6.4 million to over 15 million now, nearly doubling as a proportion of the labor force. The number of people working as massage therapists has increased from 128,000 in 1996 to over 300,000, also nearly doubling as a fraction of the workforce. According to the Deloitte economists, since 1950 the percentage of the British workforce employed as barstaff has tripled and the percentage working as hairdressers has doubled.

...until the robots learn them.
Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Marc Lewis: the neuroscientist who believes addiction is not a disease (Melissa Davey, 30 August 2015, The Guardian)

Dr Marc Lewis, a developmental neuroscientist - perhaps most famous for detailing his own years of drug addiction and abuse in Memoirs of an Addicted Brain - strongly refutes this conventional disease model of addiction. His new book, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Disease, argues that considering addiction as a disease is not only wrong, but also harmful. Rather, he argues, addiction is a behavioural problem that requires willpower and motivation to change.

Lewis's theory has divided the medical profession and those suffering from addiction. He has been lauded by some for putting the theories challenging the disease model together into one book; others have labelled his ideas dangerous, and him a zealot.

Guardian Australia sat down with Lewis before his appearance at Melbourne writers festival on Sunday and the festival of dangerous ideas in Sydney to talk about the controversy, as well as his theories on how addiction can be treated and overcome. [...]

Why does it matter? Disease, disorder, behavioural problem? Does it affect the way we might think about treating those suffering from an addiction?

It sure does. The whole campaign to see addiction as a disease is that it works against people's sense of empowerment. If you have a disease, you're a patient. If you're a patient, you have to take instructions from your doctor and do what you're told. So people line up for rehabilitation centres and often have to wait for a long period of time, long after they've lost the motivational rush to actually quit.

Then if you do get into rehab, you're putting yourself in somebody else's hands and you're going with the program. But the best way to combat addiction is through setting different goals for yourself and setting your own goals. "I want this for my life, I don't want that, I want to change." That kind of self-perspective change and self-development of future goals and orientation is critical.

That's been an argument against rehabilitation, that it doesn't always set people up to meet personal goals and readjust to society.

That's right. It really hinges on the idea of who is setting the goals here. Who is telling you what to do? Are you telling yourself what to do, or are you being told? If you're being told what to do, you fall into a position of helplessness or disempowerment, which makes it hard to develop this head of steam, this effortful strength and self-control and willpower. I mean really, a lot of it is about willpower to master this thing, to take it in hand and change it. The best way to combat addiction is by setting goals for yourself.

Different types of rehab programs are needed for different types of drugs, for example it might take someone longer to get off ice than say, heroin, and therefore programs should be tailored to recognise that. But given what you're saying, would the model of treatment be relatively the same across all drugs, because it's more about willpower and setting goals than the type of drug being abused?

A good question. I don't think so. Even though it has those goals in common, people are very different and there are many ways to quit. Some people will need to focus more on cognitive tricks to self-program to modify their behaviour, others will need to change their environment to make sure they don't drive home past the liqour store, and for other people it's much more of a motivational thrust, more mindfulness and meditation. For others, it's about deeply connecting intimately and honestly with loved ones. Those are really different ways of getting better, even though what they all have in common is that theme of empowerment of self-motivation.

I can see why people with an addiction resist this way of thinking. No one likes to think of themselves of having a lack of willpower, or being to blame. Some members of the medical establishment are resistant to this idea too. Why do you think that is?

I think it's partly ownership, it's partly they way they've been trained to operate. I don't hate doctors, there are wonderful doctors. But doctors are trained to look at things in terms of categories, diagnoses, which have a certain set of possibilities for treatment or certain sequence of things to try. It's a really strongly inbred way of looking at very serious problems. And it's hard for them to shake it.

...and why all 12 Step programs are spiritually based. Even though they refer to "addiction" the cure is a matter of restoring and building up one's will to stop; it's not a medical treatment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


One country's trash could be Hezbollah's treasure (AVI ISSACHAROFF, August 30, 2015, Times of Israel)

Tens of thousands of young Lebanese: Sunnis, Christians, Druze and others take to the streets of Beirut and demand the removal not only of trash but also of the old political elite.

"Change the system," they call.

It's the same demand that Hezbollah has been making for more than two decades -- a demand long written off by Lebanese, who attributed sectarian intentions to the Shiite organization's call for reform and viewed it as influenced by Tehran.

But the garbage crisis overwhelming the streets of the capital, spotlighted by all those young demonstrators hailing from a broad spectrum of Lebanon's ethnic and religious groups, points to just how bulky and corrupt the old system of governing is.

The system is based on the 1943 National Pact and further propagated by the Taif agreement of 1989 that ended the civil war there.

How Hezbollah helps (and what it gets out of it) (Melani Cammett, October 2, 2014, NY Times)

The provision of social welfare by Hezbollah and other Islamists is not merely founded on a material exchange of services for support. A variety of non-political motivations coexist with more overtly political goals in shaping Islamist welfare activities. A long tradition of charitable work as well as an enduring history of non-state welfare provision in Lebanon have compelled Hezbollah and other Lebanese sectarian and Islamist groups to offer social goods as part of their organizational mission. Visions of social justice undoubtedly also motivate these organizations to provide social assistance. Hezbollah may distribute or facilitate access to social services to fulfill altruistic commitments, present itself as the protector and guarantor of well-being, gain supporters or consolidate control over territory and people. In short, specific political goals as well as charitable motivations likely underlie the provision of social services by Hezbollah and other groups in Lebanon.

"Buying support" through service provision is not necessarily an economic or material transaction, nor does it always occur through direct exchanges. As in-depth interviews with citizens in Lebanon reveal, the receipt of services directly or by family members or neighbors may compel some citizens to vote for the political party associated with the provider or to participate in demonstrations organized by the party. Even for these informants and other citizens, however, service provision is usually more than an instrumental exchange. Welfare engenders a sense of belonging to a community, which has enormous psychological benefits, particularly in the context of underdeveloped and unstable national state institutions. The provider organization establishes itself as a source of social protection or a guardian of the community, however defined, which may garner popular allegiances. "Bricks-and-mortar" welfare programs, which operate from fixed physical locations in specific neighborhoods and villages, are particularly effective in establishing the provider as a community guardian because they signal a long-term commitment to a geographical space and its inhabitants. The provision of social services from bricks-and-mortar agencies as well as long-term relationships of social provision are distinct from cash payments or one-shot food distribution efforts, which predominate during electoral contests.

Welfare programs may also inspire support by individuals and families who have not received services themselves but who have observed or heard about the actions of providers in their communities and beyond. Service provision projects an image of organizational capacity and efficiency as well as a commitment to protect, which may garner the admiration or respect of observers and not just the direct beneficiaries. This is especially valuable for a political organization that aims to build a reputation as a reliable and capable actor - one that is qualified to govern. The importance of building a strong reputation cannot be overstated, particularly because it enables Islamists to cultivate a much broader range of supporters, potentially even among non-supporters or those who are ideologically distant.

The provision of social services is not the sole means that Hezbollah uses to mobilize support, but it plays an important role, particularly in a national context in which alternative sources of social protection are underdeveloped or absent. So does it work? Hezbollah and other sectarian parties in Lebanon clearly calculate that welfare activities engender political support, even if this is not their sole motivation for distributing social goods. Thus far, my own research on the impact of services on the recipients (the demand side) has been far less systematic than my work on the politics of provision (the supply side). However, extensive qualitative interviews with recipients and non-recipients of social services from Hezbollah and other groups, as well as circumstantial evidence from electoral returns, indicate that social welfare has political payoffs. Furthermore, Lebanese citizens have come to expect that officials and political parties distribute social benefits on a discretionary basis. Survey data indicate that voters themselves prioritize the provision of social services by their elected representatives in their voting calculus. In 2001, a national poll asked citizens who voted in the 2000 national elections to list the two most important factors shaping their vote choices. Over 50 percent of the respondents listed the social service activities of the candidate as one of the two most important reasons for their vote.

For Hezbollah, which has largely prioritized non-electoral political mobilization, appropriate data for assessing the political effects of welfare distribution are not readily available. Extra-state political strategies entail forms of political engagement that are inherently difficult to measure, such as participation in demonstrations and riots and service in a militia, and therefore electoral data are less illuminating. That said, a look at electoral returns from the 2005 elections yields some suggestive insights given that Hezbollah stepped up its participation in mainstream, electoral politics and increasingly sought executive offices at this time. In the Lebanese context, shifts in the degree to which sectarian parties attract support from out-group members is an indirect indicator of the political efficacy of welfare outreach for parties that participate in elections. Although data on sectarian trends in voting patterns are difficult to obtain given their political sensitivity, local analysts have generated data on party vote share by sect for the 2005 and 2009 national elections. Thus, it is useful to examine the degree to which parties, including Hezbollah, garnered out-group support in these elections, with the rather large caveats that the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and mounting regional Sunni-Shiite tensions undoubtedly shaped voter behavior. The attendant fear-mongering and intergroup conflict muted the effects of clientelism on electoral trends in recent electoral cycles.

The turnout rates for the 2005 and 2009 elections provide some insights into the political effects of welfare outreach, although the linkages between social provision and electoral behavior are tenuous for the aforementioned reasons. A comparison of the returns of the two elections indicates that Hezbollah increased its share of Christian support substantially in all districts where the party fielded candidates. This is probably due to the alliance between Hezbollah and Michel Aoun's predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) beginning in 2006. Many Christian FPM supporters undoubtedly voted for Hezbollah to express their endorsement of Aoun's decision to ally with the Shiite party; however, the receipt of social benefits from Hezbollah, which placed more emphasis on a state-centric political strategy after 2005, may have reinforced this trend. In particular, in the aftermath of the 2006 war and the alliance with the FPM, Hezbollah embarked on an extensive effort to distribute social assistance to Christian families affected by the conflict. (At the same time, in the context of rising regional and domestic tensions, Hezbollah lost Sunni vote share.) The observable trends are consistent with the claim that state-centric political strategies garnered support from out-group voters for Hezbollah, particularly across Muslim-Christian lines, although other explanations cannot be ruled out.

Anecdotal evidence (and, for the education sector, test score results) indicates that Hezbollah is indeed an effective supplier of social services, as are other Islamist groups. I suspect this is due primarily to features of organizational culture, such as internal discipline and hierarchical structure, rather than to the faith component of their missions per se. Some studies of faith-based contend that religious organizations tend to attract personnel who are committed to their missions on spiritual grounds, making them willing to put in long hours, often for relatively minimal compensation. High levels of motivation among staff members therefore enable faith-based organizations to offer comparatively high quality services at low cost. Although Koranic injunctions to serve the community and engage in charitable works undoubtedly serve as a key motivation for many staff members of Islamist welfare agencies, the alleged Islamist governance advantage likely has less to do with religious commitments. Many religious institutions from Muslim and other faith traditions operate social service programs in the Middle East, yet do not all appear to offer services of equal caliber. Arguably, staff members at non-Islamist institutions are no less committed to religious principles than Islamists, yet do not have reputations for providing high-quality services. Furthermore, Hezbollah offers noticeably higher quality services on multiple dimensions than most other non-profit health networks, even when compared with co-religionist organizations.

Specific features of Hezbollah's organizational culture are amenable to the provision of high-quality social services. In particular, its coherence and hierarchical structure facilitate the dissemination and standardization of practices and protocols as well as procedures for staff training and management.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


No, You Do Not Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day (Aaron E. Carroll, 8/24/15, NY Times)

Many people believe that the source of this myth was a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that said people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. But they ignored the sentence that followed closely behind. It read, "Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods."

Water is present in fruits and vegetables. It's in juice, it's in beer, it's even in tea and coffee. Before anyone writes me to tell me that coffee is going to dehydrate you, research shows that's not true either.

Although I recommended water as the best beverage to consume, it's certainly not your only source of hydration. You don't have to consume all the water you need through drinks. You also don't need to worry so much about never feeling thirsty. The human body is finely tuned to signal you to drink long before you are actually dehydrated.

Contrary to many stories you may hear, there's no real scientific proof that, for otherwise healthy people, drinking extra water has any health benefits. 

August 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


PM: Israel not opposed to a civilian nuke program for Iran (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AP, August 30, 2015)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday said Israel does not object to allowing Iran to have a civilian nuclear program, only a military one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Trumpalooza: We've seen this show before (Matthew Dallek, 8/28/15,  Yahoo News)

Unlike Reagan and Murphy and other entertainers turned pols who sought and won elective office, however, Trump has no clear or consistent ideology, no set of larger conservative ideas about government's role in America's economy and society. He is more akin to single-issue candidates such as Ross Perot, another eccentric billionaire who made deficit reduction his signature issue on his way to winning 19 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election. (Like Trump, Perot also wrote a book dispensing life advice for his admirers.) In Trump's case, though, his issue, immigration, extends and deepens the racism and nativism that has deep roots in our politics. Drawing on strains of venom from the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s to Strom Thurmond's segregationist Dixiecrat presidential run of 1948, Trump has built his campaign on exploiting issues of race, identity and status to blame the country's economic and social woes on immigrants from Latin America. Wittingly or not, he has made illegal immigration the most identifiable crux of his policy agenda, lashing immigrants as rapists and criminals. [...]

His ability to graft nativist appeals onto his anti-media broadsides (another well-trod meme honed by, among others, former Vice President Spiro Agnew), and his TV-fueled, carnival-like showmanship have all enabled him to become a significant, if not wholly unprecedented, force in the presidential campaign. His brand of politics has been fueled by a cultural and media environment that enables him and his followers to broadcast his messages on Twitter and Facebook and in countless television interviews and news conferences instantaneously. Yet Trump, for all his apparent strength in the polls, is such an outsider in Republican Party politics that other than as a media-entertainment phenomenon, his impact is likely to be short-lived. He has damaged the GOP's brand and sucked some of the air from the Hillary Clinton email story. Yet he has little ideological support within the Republican Party's leadership, even less support among the general electorate, and has mainly served to divide the country further along lines of ethnicity and race.

For all his flamboyance, this is one media and political drama that we have seen before. If nobody knows how or when it ends, its origins are rooted in the history of American politics. Trump has come to embody the contemporary popular affinity for wealthy nonpoliticians and other voices of protest that blame immigrants, people of color and politicians for the nation's alleged destruction and claim to be able to fix Washington and restore America's halcyon days.

Of course, those halcyon days ended when we started letting those Scottish wetbacks in....

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM



Particles don't obey the same rules as people. Poke a particle, and another one far away can instantly respond the touch -- without any messages passing through the space between, as if the two particles were one. "Entanglement" is what quantum physics calls the intimate connection.

Einstein called it "spooky." To his dying day, he refused to believe that nature could be so unreasonable.

But a new research paper from the Netherlands might have convinced even the father of relativity that he was wrong. Posted online on August 24, it describes the first experiment that meets the mathematical gold standard for proving entanglement, set down more than half a century ago. The paper hasn't yet gone through peer review; it's currently under review at a scientific journal, but it's already causing a stir in the quantum physics community.

All science eventually reaffirms faith.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


The Lessons of Anwar al-Awlaki : Four years after the United States assassinated the radical cleric in a drone strike, his influence on jihadists is greater than ever. Was there a better way to stop him? (SCOTT SHANE, AUG. 27, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

[A] document from the 9/11 Commission records at the National Archives, declassified at my request, shows that a few days after Ammar's arrival, the manager of an escort service called Awlaki to warn him that he had been interviewed by Wade Ammerman, an F.B.I. agent, who had asked about the imam's visits to prostitutes. It was clear from Ammerman's questions that the F.B.I. knew everything.

Awlaki's panic, his sudden agitation about the course of his life, does not appear to have been triggered by American hostility to Muslims. Rather, he seems to have realized that his own un-­Islamic behavior had put his career success and family comity at risk. If the bureau charged him, or leaked the files, he might instantly lose the moral authority he brought to public arguments over the war in Afghanistan or the dubious roundup of Muslim men. If the F.B.I. chose instead to threaten exposure to coerce his cooperation, that might be even worse. Within a few days, he was gone, and he would never live in the United States again.

Despite the danger that he perceived from the prostitution dossier, Awlaki did not immediately give up on the possibility of resuming his American life. Awlaki was hardly in a position to tell his family about the menacing F.B.I. file, and his father pressured him to return to Washington and resume work on his Ph.D. Awlaki returned for one visit, in October 2002, but uncertain of the F.B.I.'s intentions, he did not dare risk staying. In fact, though he had no way of knowing it, F.B.I. memos from 2002 show that officials were exploring the possibility of charging Awlaki with a prostitution-related offense. A year after his visit, in the fall of 2003, he astonished F.B.I. agents by calling the bureau's Washington field office out of the blue, expressing a desire to meet in London or Sana to clear up any suspicions, possibly as a prelude to returning to the United States. He mentioned media reports tying him to 9/11 because some hijackers had visited his mosques, which he called ''absurd''; presumably he also wanted to find out whether the bureau planned to act on the prostitution file. But the F.B.I. treated the issue as a low priority, and when Awlaki stopped answering emails, plans to meet in London fell through, records show. As late as 2004, when Awlaki returned to Yemen for what would prove to be the remainder of his life, he would sometimes suggest to family members that he might still move back to the United States. ''He would always say, 'Thank God I'm an American citizen and I have a second home to go back to if things go wrong in Yemen,' '' his uncle, Saleh bin Fareed al-Awlaki, told me.

It is a tantalizing period, hinting at an alternate history. What if the F.B.I., recognizing Awlaki's influence and value as a mediator with the Muslim community, had assured him that there was no plan to use the prostitution evidence to charge or embarrass him? What if he had resumed his life in Washington and continued to grow into an important public figure? Might he have become a responsible leader, a voice in the debates over the wars in Muslim countries, the wisdom of drone strikes, the fate of Guantánamo? Might he never have joined Al Qaeda? The contemporary history of terrorism, not to mention his playlist on YouTube, could have unspooled quite differently.

Instead, Awlaki's ambition took a new and more militant path. At first subtly in 2003, while in Britain, and more clearly after 2005, his rhetoric became increasingly ferocious, his embrace of violence more open. After moving on to Yemen, he was arrested in 2006 and held for 18 months without charges at least in part as a result of American pressure. Not long after his release at the end of 2007, angered by the Yemeni surveillance teams constantly following him around Sana, he would depart for his family's ancestral home in Shabwah province, also the hideout for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Within months he would be part of the group and, soon after that, deeply involved in plotting attacks on America.

In 2010, when Obama ordered a legal review and then approved the killing of Awlaki, some civil libertarians objected, saying that he was being denied his constitutional rights as an American citizen. But some Muslim commentators publicly expressed caution for more practical reasons. One was Mohamed Elibiary, a security consultant and a law-and-order Texas Republican. ''It was very clear, at least to me, that if you're trying to fight a martyrdom culture, you don't go make martyrs,'' he said. ''I'm sorry to say, I think I was right.'' In recent years, Elibiary has regularly interviewed Americans charged with terrorism for the federal public defender's office. ''In that world, to the last person, you find that they're convinced that Anwar al-Awlaki is a good guy and a martyr,'' he said. ''What seals the deal for them is that he was killed by the United States.'' [...]

So, was there a better idea of how to deal with Awlaki once he had joined Al Qaeda? Yemeni tribes might have been induced to capture him and turn him over, but a criminal trial would have given a global audience to a mesmerizing orator. Martyrdom would have been avoided, but his YouTube presence would have lived on intact. A more outlandish idea was raised immediately after Awlaki's death by Ed Husain, a former British militant who recounts his journey into and out of extremism in his memoir, ''The Islamist.'' Husain suggested then, and believes now, that a better approach might have been a careful, high-profile public release of the prostitution files on Awlaki. ''He was an imam when he was up to these shenanigans,'' Husain told me. ''Exposing that, I think, would have discredited him and more important undermined the message -- that they are these high and mighty, pious, believing brothers who are declaring jihad on the West. Expose them for what they are.''

The notion that the same people who think Awlaki was a good guy would also have believed US evidence that he was a glutton for hookers is obviously non-sensical, as the failure of his reputation among them to suffer even after Mr. Shane's revelations demonstrates.   Nevermind that al Qaeda has essentially ceased to exist.

The analysis in Mr. Shane's book is even sillier though.  To his detriment, he's a terrific journalist.  So he gives a detailed account of how Awlaki came to make war on his own country, on behalf of al Qaeda, which group Awlaki himself acknowledged the US was at war with. But then Mr. Shane wrings his hands over the legality of killing Awlaki, because he was an American citizen.  Instead, he suggests that the jihadi was entitled to due process.

Can't you just see General Meade bellowing down the hill to George Pickett to stop his charge and surrender so that he and his men could face trial?  And that, of course, was on American soil. Not in some corner of the world that lacked any sovereign power for us to deal with.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


A Cautionary History of US Monetary Tightening (J. Bradford DeLong, AUG 28, 2015, Project Syndicate)

The US Federal Reserve has embarked on an effort to tighten monetary policy four times in the past four decades. On every one of these occasions, the effort triggered processes that reduced employment and output far more than the Fed's staff had anticipated. As the Fed prepares to tighten monetary policy once again, an examination of this history - and of the current state of the economy - suggests that the United States is about to enter dangerous territory.

Unfortunately, there's a long history of new Fed chairmen feeling pressure to demonstrate their hawkish bona fides, even though there hasn't been any inflationary pressure since Thatcher/Volcker/Reagan crushed it in the early 80s.  So you take rates that are already artificially high and then drive them to usurious levels, inevitably triggering at least a wobble, or, even a recession. Even the underlying health of institutions can't withstand such high real rates.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Jeremy Corbyn will have to learn Blairite lessons if I'm deputy, says Caroline Flint (Daniel Boffey, 8/29/15, Observer)

Caroline Flint, a candidate in the Labour deputy leadership contest, has put herself on a collision course with Jeremy Corbyn by claiming that she would use the strength of being directly elected to force the next leader to learn the lessons of the electorally successful Blair years.

The shadow energy secretary said that even if the leftwing candidate were to triumph, she would be in a powerful position to force him to focus on winning support in the wider country if chosen by Labour supporters to be his deputy.

As the Greeks will tell you, electing an apostate doesn't resstart History.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Fact Check: Which Republican candidates actually cut spending? (John Stossel, Maxim Lott,  August 28, 2015,

This chart...shows that Bush was indeed the biggest budget cutter. During his tenure, Florida's spending shrunk by 3.6 percentage points more than the average. He cut spending by 1.39 percent per year in his state, while other states increased theirs by 2.3 percent during that same period. Kasich was also conservative by this measure, cutting spending 1.76 percentage points more than other states did. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


How Netanyahu's threats pushed the US into a flawed deal with Iran (Yossi Melman, 8/29/15, Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu's public warmongering ‒ threatening to bomb Iran since he came to power for his second term in 2009 ‒ and his confrontational and defiant policies unwittingly played a major role in shaping the US strategy against Iran. [...]

Israel's words and actions under the two previous prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, were based on two tenets. First, not to make it appear that Israel was spearheading the campaign ‒ "to be positioned on the rear slope," in Israel military parlance, to stop Iran's nuclear program. This position, recommended by the Mossad, Military Intelligence and the Atomic Energy Commission, derived mainly from fears that if Israel took a leading role in the campaign, it would backfire.

After all, Israel is considered by foreign observers to be the sixth largest nuclear power in the world and questions were bound to be asked why the international community was focusing only on Iran, and not on Israel, too.

"If you have butter on your head, don't stay out in the sun," a former senior Israeli official summarized.

The second reason not to be at the frontline of the struggle was that all major Israeli strategic decisions traditionally are coordinated with the US. On the Israeli side, the overall responsibility for executing the anti-Iranian policy was given to the Mossad. Its chief at that time, Meir Dagan, became the undisputed "czar" of attempts to slow down Iran's progress to a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli policy, which was shared and accepted by US president George W. Bush's administration, was to create the conditions that would cause the Iranian leadership to understand that it was under international siege, which eventually might lead to its collapse. In other words, to make the Iranian leaders realize that their choice was between the continuation of the nuclear project or the regime's survival.

The key error was the failure to recognize that the Iranians had chosen survival.
Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


The doctor is online: Remote video medical exams gain popularity (LISA ZAMOSKY, 8/28/15, LA Times)

Remote video medical exams, also called telehealth or e-visits, are offered by a host of companies, including Teledoc Inc., American Well, MDLive Inc., Healthspot and Doctor on Demand. These consultations are growing quickly and increasingly included as a part of benefits packages offered by employers and insurers.

Typically, you'll pay a fee of roughly $40 to $50 (sometimes less if it's offered as part of your health benefits) for a 15-minute visit with a board-certified, state-licensed physician.

In its most recent annual survey, the National Business Group on Health in Washington found that 74% of large employers plan to offer telehealth services in 2016, up from about half in 2015.

A report last year by consulting firm Deloitte projected as many as 300 million e-visits within a few years, compared with just 800,000 the American Telemedicine Assn. expects in 2015.

"It's being adopted more and more. We're at the beginning of the curve," said Adam Jackson, co-founder and chief executive of Doctor on Demand.

There are a number of reasons for this service's rapid rise, experts say.

E-visits are everything traditional healthcare is not, said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "It's convenient, it's accessible after hours.... It's efficient, and it's efficient from a cost perspective as well," he said.

As high-deductible health plans increasingly become the norm and consumers pay more for healthcare, they are demanding low-cost, convenient options.

Lowering costs will be a function of making consumers pay out of their own pockets--even if we put the cash in those pockets for them.
Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


The Future of Work: Stagnation, Automation ... Frustration : The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace. (STEVEN GREENHOUSE  AUG 27, 2015, Pacific Standard)

For more than a century, economists have maintained that new technologies create as many jobs as they destroy. Think of the auto plants that succeeded the buggy makers. But now robots and artificial intelligence have become so hugely sophisticated--doing more and more work that humans do, doing knowledge jobs and service jobs and no longer just factory jobs--that many economists say automation might begin wiping out far more jobs than it creates. That is one explanation economists give for why some five million workers have dropped out of the U.S. labor force since 2008. Not only does automated checkout replace many cashiers at CVS, but bellhop robots deliver items to hotel guests' rooms, software algorithms write sports articles for newspapers, and self-driving vehicles might someday replace truck and taxi drivers, perhaps even Uber drivers.

In a recent article, Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times wrote that over the "15-year period that digital technology has inserted itself into nearly every aspect of life, the job market has fallen into a long malaise." She noted that more than 16 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working, up from five percent in the late 1960s, while 30 percent of women in that age group are not working, up from 25 percent in the late 1990s.

Automation of course means greater productivity per worker, indeed greater economic output overall. And that's certainly a good thing. But what happens if today's vastly more sophisticated robots and automation lead to fewer jobs overall and millions of workers forced out of the labor market? This raises some weighty questions: How do we as a nation, as a world, share the benefits of automation? Will those benefits go overwhelmingly to the shareholders of the companies that own that automation--the companies that own the bellhop robots and the self-driving cars? (To be sure, automation helps lower production costs, leading to lower prices for consumers.)

If automation means we do not need as many workers, what happens to those displaced? Do we let them languish, do we let them fall into poverty? Or will we as a society figure out a way to spread the work--perhaps by adopting a four-day (or even three-day) workweek, spreading the work to reduce unemployment and giving full-time workers an extra day or two off? Or will we, should we, adopt a broader, more generous social safety net to help those displaced by ever more sophisticated automation? just presents a question of how to redistribute the resulting vastly increased wealth. Given that we're a democracy, we know it will be redistributed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Democrat Donna Brazile says Bush got Katrina right (Bruce Alpert, August 27, 2015,

Veteran Democratic consultant Donna Brazile offered up praise Thursday (August 27) for former President George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina.

 Brazile made the comments aboard Air Force One as it carried President Barack Obama and others to New Orleans for observance of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

 "I'm one of those individuals that believes that under President Bush's leadership we got it right," Brazile said. "It was slow.  Remember the same local government was overwhelmed and the federal government had to step in.  The federal government had to figure out its role, and it took a while for the federal government to really figure out how to help us."

 "And I think once the president made the decision that New Orleans would be rebuilt -- and despite some of the conversation on Capitol Hill that didn't believe that the federal government should invest hundreds and billions of dollars into the recovery effort -- the president made a commitment and I think he kept his word."

Brazile, a Kenner native who served on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, had praised President Bush before, but probably never on Air Force One carrying President Obama. Her praise of Bush is particularly noteworthy given that she helped run the presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, who lost to Bush in 2000 despite winning the popular vote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Rethinking Warren G. Harding (RONALD RADOSH and ALLIS RADOSH, AUG. 27, 2015, NY Times)

Harding's victory was a rejection of the Democrats and President Woodrow Wilson, who had promised, then failed, to keep America out of World War I. During the war, Wilson had greatly expanded the federal government, including intrusive, powerful new agencies like the War Industries Board and a government takeover of the railroads.To pay for it, the Federal Reserve inflated the money supply, causing the nation's debt to grow from $1 billion in 1914 to $24 billion in 1920. To put a lid on dissent, Wilson introduced the nation's first "red scare," when many antiwar dissenters as well as socialists, anarchists and union members were jailed. A Southerner, Wilson also introduced segregation into the federal government.

By the time Harding was inaugurated, in March 1921, the nation was in the doldrums, experiencing a postwar depression. In 1918, four million doughboys came home from the war and many could not find jobs. Unemployment hit African-American soldiers especially hard, and race riots broke out in the Midwest industrial belt.

Harding, much like Ronald Reagan in 1980, brought an upbeat message to Americans. The dour Wilson had ended the public's access to the White House. Harding opened the doors. Before the arrival of the Hardings, wrote The New Republic's Edward Lowry, "The social-political atmosphere of Washington" was "one of a bleak and chill austerity." Now, "the sunny side is up ... The news has gone all over the country that the White House is open again."

Thanks to this openness, Harding -- a former newspaper editor and publisher -- had perhaps the best relationship with the press of any president before or since, and he inspired many newsmen to communicate his message. While Wilson had discontinued his news conferences, the accessible Harding held them twice a week, making him the first president to hold news conferences on a regular basis.

Harding immediately stressed his commitment to equal opportunity for all Americans, men and women, "whatever color, blood or creed." A fiscal conservative, he pledged to right the nation's finances and resuscitate the economy by lowering taxes, reducing the debt, balancing the budget and making government smaller and more efficient.

Harding appointed the businessman Charles G. Dawes, who had been President William McKinley's comptroller of the currency, to set up a new Budget Bureau. At the time each federal department submitted its own budget, without any coordination. Dawes worked magic: By the time he left office in June 1922, the federal budget had been balanced, revenues exceeded expenditures and the public debt had been reduced. Spending had been $6.3 billion in 1920; by 1922 it had dropped to $3.3 billion.

Most telling was Harding's veto of the popular so-called bonus bill, which would have given veterans an expensive bonus paid over time through deficit spending. The country, he told Congress in a speech, simply did not have the money. He argued it would also set a precedent to use public funds to pay for anything if it was "publicly appealing."

Oddly, one reason for Harding's continued low reputation was a racist smear during the 1920 campaign, in which opponents charged that he had black ancestry -- a fact that the recent DNA test disproved. Though such a heritage doesn't matter to us today, at the time it demeaned Harding in the minds of millions of Americans. More telling, though, is that while Harding denied the charge, he also told a reporter that for all he knew "one of my ancestors may have jumped the fence."

And indeed, Harding was a racially enlightened president, especially for the time. During the campaign and his presidency, he supported an anti-lynching bill proposed by Republicans. (It passed in the House, but the Southern Democrats in the Senate successfully filibustered it.)

In October 1921, Harding traveled to Birmingham, Ala., where, in a powerful speech to a mixed-race (though segregated) audience, he demanded justice for African-Americans. In the first speech in the South by a sitting president on race, he argued for full economic and political rights for all African-Americans. Pat Harrison, a Democratic senator from Mississippi, was aghast. If Harding's views "were carried to its ultimate conclusion," he said, "that means that the black man can strive to become president of the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Independence from whom? Catalonia's existential elections (KATE SHEA BAIRD 27 August 2015, Open Democracy)

For many in Catalonia, the 'double crisis', national and economic, is really one and the same: a crisis of popular sovereignty, whether it be in the face of "authoritarian" state institutions or the global financial markets. A similar argument was made passionately by many campaigning for a Yes vote in Scotland in 2014.

In the Barcelona mayoral race, Ada Colau (a former grassroots activist) swept to victory calling for "real sovereignty" and "the right to decide on every issue", including independence, and Together for Yes candidate, Raül Romeva, a former European MP coming from the green-left, has said "the elections of 27 September are about the policy tools at the government's disposal. In order to guarantee increased opportunities and social justice we need the tools of a state." The prevalence of this view is reflected by the growing strength of pro-independence radicals, particularly the Popular Unity Candidates (CUP). The CUP's slogan 'independence to change everything' neatly sums up the hopes of many in the movement beyond the party.

However, the increasingly sophisticated debate on the nature of sovereignty in Catalonia has also led the usefulness of independence per se to be called into question. Concerns about the practical effects of independence in a context of the Eurozone crisis were thrown into stark relief by the Greek bailout referendum. After all, here was the government of an independent state, capable of holding a referendum, but ultimately unable to carry out its democratic mandate.

Many have pointed to Greece as a sign that independence may be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for real sovereignty. The manifesto of 'Catalonia Yes We Can', the coalition backed by Podemos, Iniciativa and Equo, and which could come second in the elections, picked up on this idea, saying: "We want a candidature that defends the full social, national and economic sovereignty of Catalonia. We want real sovereignty; not formal sovereignty subjugated to the impositions of the Troika or the TTIP." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


SoCal Couple Says Solar Panels Too Powerful (Randy Mac and Richard Washington, 8/27/15, NBC)

"They're hooked up, but they're not turned on," Hall said. "They're saying that the system that I have will generate 128 percent, that's 28 percent over what they estimated."

SoCal Edison did not allow the Halls to activate their system because it exceeded state standards for residential energy production. [...]

The larger concern for the state is whether a homeowner exceeding standards for energy production could then turn around and sell it.

A rep for SoCal Edison says producing more solar energy than you can use makes you a potential energy retailer, with that title, you become subject to commercial business regulations and you're eliminated from any homeowner rebates that come with going solar.

There's a simple legislative fix.
Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Are there any reasons for hope in the Middle East? Maybe. (Henri J. Barkey and David F. Gordon, August 27, 2015, Reuters)

There is an increasing possibility for new geopolitical alignments throughout the region. The confluence of the growing fear in both Saudi Arabia and Iran of the threat posed by Islamic State; the weakening of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's policy shift to cooperate with the United States in Syria, and Moscow's and Washington's growing shared interests in steering the Saudi-Iran rivalry onto a less escalatory path, while also creating a broad coalition against Islamic State, is creating real political fluidity.

As diplomatic moves accelerate, the United States and its allies look to be preparing a serious onslaught on Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. The opening of Turkish air bases to coalition aircraft, manned and unmanned, will enable the allies to prepare for a major ground offensive by local allies to recapture Mosul. Iraq's third-largest city has been under Islamic State control for more than a year. More inchoate is the parallel jockeying around Syria's political future, and whether a compromise framework can be found to end that country's civil war.

The simple new reality of the Middle East is that new that the Amnerican/Shi'a alliance is explicit there's no point in the Sunni Arabs resisting. Focus can turn to their near enemy instead--the Sunni Arab Salafists/Islamicists in their midst. 9-11 Could hardly have back-fired more completely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


The Myths of Katrina : Ten years after the storm, falsehood about warnings, violence, and recovery persist. Here's the truth. (Marta Jewson and Charles Maldonado, 8/28/15, Slate)

Hurricane Katrina itself was a natural phenomenon, but most of the flooding in and around New Orleans was the result of the poor construction and design of the city's flood-protection system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, causing more than 50 breaches. Researchers estimated that water pouring in through the broken levees may have caused as much as 84 percent of the flooding. The extent of the flooding also made it harder to push the water out of the city because many pump stations were flooded. Some that worked were useless because they were just recirculating water in and out of the breaches.

The other problem: A disaster of this scale had been predicted, and levee failure had been discussed.

A Katrina-like catastrophe was predicted as recently as one year before the storm. In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness conducted the "Hurricane Pam Exercise." The exercise modeled a Category 3 hurricane hitting New Orleans, overtopping the levee system and flooding the city with up to 20 feet of water.

The Pam model showed levees being overtopped, but it did not predict that the levees would break.

That possibility, however, did appear in the Times-Picayune's 2002 series, "Washing Away." That series described a worst-case scenario storm, one even more intense than Katrina, hitting the metro area. Experts interviewed in the series described a scenario where the city's levees, combined with its bowl-shaped geography, would trap storm surge water inside for weeks or months in the event of major overtopping or a breach.

"Hundreds of thousands would be left homeless, and it would take months to dry out the area and begin to make it livable. But there wouldn't be much for residents to come home to. The local economy would be in ruins," reporters Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid wrote.

More troubling, though, were the unheeded warnings of possible levee failure one year before Katrina.

In 2004, residents who lived near the 17th Street Canal, which was breached in the storm, reported water pooling in their yards to the water utility, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. This was a sign that the levees were likely leaking, an early signal of their instability. But the Corps of Engineers was never informed of the problem. [...]

Like the unpredictable natural disaster myth, New Orleans' low elevation has played a role in political debates about whether the city is a worthwhile investment. Some have even asked why the city was built in the first place.

This one is half true: About half of New Orleans is below sea level. But even some areas above sea level, including much of the Lower 9th Ward, flooded after Katrina because of levee failures.

In a 2007 report, Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella found that 51 percent of the urbanized area in metropolitan New Orleans was above sea level. In 2000, 185,000 people in the city lived above sea level.

So if half a city is below sea level, along a major river in a hurricane zone there may be problems?  I missed the myth part.

Isn't the real myth that anyone was to blame but the residents?

Lessons Learned From the Response to Katrina's Havoc : Experts cite overreliance on local and state governments that were overcome by a storm of such historic proportions (VALERIE BAUERLEIN, Aug. 28, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Brown still largely blames former Mayor Ray Nagin and former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco for the fiasco, arguing that the two were at odds and moved too slowly to evacuate New Orleans.

"It was a miserable situation for those people, but I refuse to accept responsibility," he said. "I went on every network that would have me and encouraged people to get out of New Orleans by any way they could. To this day, it truly angers me that the mayor and the governor did not do their jobs."

Mr. Nagin, now serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for wire fraud, influence-peddling and money laundering in crimes that took place before and after Katrina, couldn't be reached for comment. In a 2011 self-published book, Mr. Nagin, a black Democrat, argued that race, class and politics played a role in the delayed federal response, as many of those left behind were poor black people.

Ms. Blanco, a white Democrat, said the state successfully evacuated 1.3 million people from coastal areas, and was relying on FEMA to bring in buses immediately after the storm to help the thousands who either "could not or did not leave."

"If those buses had run on time," she said, "the president would not have been embarrassed, Michael Brown would have kept his job and they wouldn't have had to scapegoat me," she said.

Experts say the nation's disaster-response system relied too heavily on local and state governments that were overwhelmed by a storm of historic proportions and generally ill-equipped to respond rapidly. And FEMA, the agency in charge of marshaling federal resources for disasters, didn't have a direct reporting line to the White House.

Yes, the solution to such storms is to depopulate the city.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


King Arthur Flour: 225 years of baking history (SUSAN REID, August 28, 2015, Burlington Free Press)

The Sands family became the sole owners of the company in 1932, and in 1984, Frank (a Dartmouth alum) and his wife Brinna Sands moved the company to Vermont. Tired of lugging bags of flour to the post office to mail to retirees in Florida who couldn't buy King Arthur outside of New England, Brinna started The Baker's Catalogue in 1990.

She also published the "200th Anniversary Cookbook," which has sold well over 100,000 copies to date.

In a pivotal move, Frank and Brinna decided to sell the company to their employees, launching King Arthurs Employee Stock Ownership plan. The company has seen steady growth since then.

By 1999, the company officially changed its name to King Arthur Flour, and the Baker's Catalogue was mailing six million catalogues per year. Distribution of the flour to grocery stores up and down the East Coast was well established, and expanding steadily westward. In 2000, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was on hand to break an oversized baguette in two to celebrate the opening of the bakery and school in Norwich. In 2004 the company became 100 percent employee-owned.

With all of these changes, the principles that the company began with survived and thrived. In 2007, King Arthur Flour was a founding and certified B Corp. Its bylaws reflect a commitment to all stakeholders, including the community and the environment, as well as shareholders and business partners.

Now a national brand known for its quality, customer service, and expertise in all things baking, King Arthur has grown both the brand and its service programs. Bake for Good: Kids teaches 8-to 12-year olds how to bake bread in a curriculum-based program that provides a community service component of giving a loaf back to someone in need. King Arthur has long had a policy of giving 40 paid hours of volunteer time to all employees, full- and part-time.

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