July 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


The Return of the Protectionist Illusion: Trade barriers once again threaten the global economy, and the U.S. isn't helping. (DOUGLAS A. IRWIN, 7/01/12, WSJ)

Global Trade Alert, a monitoring service run by Simon Evenett at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, points out that the G-20 countries themselves have been most responsible for the protectionist creep. Many trade measures enacted by G-20 members exploit loopholes in WTO rules.

Unfortunately, President Obama has provided no leadership in trying to keep world markets open for trade. Out of fear of offending labor unions and other domestic constituencies, his administration long delayed submitting free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama for congressional approval. Instead of seeking to reinvigorate the languishing Doha round of trade negotiations at the WTO, it has been almost completely passive and allowed world-trade policies to drift.

Congress has also done little to help. Senate Republicans and Democrats teamed up late last month to maintain import restrictions for the sugar industry, defeating an amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) that would have gradually eliminated them. Keeping domestic sugar prices at twice the world level helps a few sugar-cane and beet farmers at the expense of consumers and taxpayers, while leading to job losses in sugar-using industries, such as candy and confectionary manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Congress and the administration continue to flirt with new "Buy American" provisions, drawing the ire of Canada and other trade partners. Yet economists Laura Baughman and Joseph Francois calculated that if foreign retaliation led U.S. companies to lose just 1% of the potential sales opportunities created by foreign stimulus programs, U.S. exporters would lose over 200,000 jobs. This would far exceed the 43,000 jobs supposedly created by the "Buy American" preferences included in the 2009 stimulus bill.

Any serious march backward toward protectionism would constitute a major failure of economic policy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


GOP sees down-ballot gold in Supreme Court decision (CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 6/29/12, Politico)

With Thursday's defeat, Republicans were handed a powerful tool for motivating their base and a fresh ammo clip for use in House and Senate races across the map. It removed one arrow from the Democratic quiver -- the prospect of an outraged and highly motivated base -- and provided a new one to the GOP by defining the mandate as a tax.

Some version or another of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's floor remarks Thursday in response to the ruling is undoubtedly already being scripted, soon to appear in 30 and 60-second spots in competitive House and Senate races across the map.

"The Supreme Court has spoken," McConnell said. "This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception."

While much attention was paid Thursday to how the decision plays into the narrative of the matchup between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the stakes are just as high for Democrats in the House and particularly the Senate. And Michigan GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, a former congressman, said the effect of the court decision will resonate up and down the ballot in November.

"I believe it will ignite a firestorm of protest and activity from people across the country who took comfort and security that the Supreme Court would protect them from the federal government," he said. "It's a one-two punch -- taxes and Obamacare plus the economy."

The cautious and measured statements from Democratic House and Senate candidates Thursday reflected the unease about renewing a debate that ended badly for the party in November 2010.

...try to portray Mitt Romney as a tax hiker and get to his right, just as the '08 ads portrayed John McCain as someone who'd raise health care taxes.    All the money they've spent on that meme is now wasted.  Obamacare dwarfs any tax hike since Reagan.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Obamacare 'Tax Increase' Debate Heats Up Sunday Morning News Shows (IB Times, 7/01/12)

Across rival networks, on NBC's "Meet the Press," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also pushed the line on host David Gregory, who had kicked off the show by saying the debate was "all anyone's talking about in Washington."

"It's a penalty that comes under the tax code for the 1 percent of the population who might decide they want to be free riders," Pelosi said, adding that "middle-income families get, on average, $4,000 in tax breaks and tax credits" as a result of the law.

"What we're saying is those that take responsibility get the benefits, those that decide to be free riders get the penalty," Pelosi added.

How can you not love Nancy Pelosi climbing into bed with Antonin Scalia?

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Chinese president heckled amid Hong Kong protests (Associated Press,  1 July 2012)

A pro-democracy protester interrupted a speech by the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, at the swearing in of Hong Kong's new leader, while thousands of residents marched to demonstrate against Chinese rule on the 15th anniversary of its return to Beijing's control.

The outpouring of discontent underscored rising tensions between the communist mainland and the city of 7 million, which was returned to China in 1997 after more than a century of British rule.

While much of the discontent revolves around growing economic inequality and stunted democratic development, residents are also upset over what they see as arrogant Chinese behaviour as wealthy mainlanders take over retail outlets during lavish shopping trips, for example, or even the choice of language during Sunday's swearing-in ceremony - Beijing-accented Mandarin instead of the Cantonese dialect spoken locally.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Film Highlights Islamic Art's Contribution to World Culture (David Byrd, June 28, 2012, Voice of America)
The film is not an exhaustive treatment of Islamic art - though it's high-definition video and interviews with scholars are more than a taste of the subject. Through compelling visuals and narration, the film breaks Islamic art up into several categories: The Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water. Each category is used to illustrate how Muslim artists of the past 1,400 years have used various art forms to express their faith.

The film explores the motive behind the beauty of Arabic calligraphy - including quotes from the Quran - something Michael Wolfe says was a driving force in much of the art featured.

"You know, the language - the written language of Arabic arrived on the scene about the same time as the Quran," said Wolfe. "The codification of the Quran became the inspiration for developing a written language. So it comes from a very spiritual place. And very early on in the development of the written language people tried to make it beautiful."

Islamic Art also features several striking examples of Islamic architecture. The Alhambra Palace, the great mosques of Damascus and Cordoba, the Shaykh Lutfallah mosque and the Taj Mahal highlight the film with their use of geometric, zoomorphic, and floral designs, their striking colors, and their intricate patterns.

Producer Michael Wolfe says he hoped to show how Muslim artists thought design and beauty were important in all objects - from grand buildings to everyday items like bowls or plates.

"So you might say that the language of art in Islamic culture is purveyed through just about every daily and minor and tiny and vast expression you can think of," he said. "It makes for a wonderful kind of variety and diversity in the work."

The film also touches on the use of geometric patterns in Islamic art, and the importance of geometry to the faithful - from orienting a mosque towards Mecca, to navigation in the desert and on the sea, to its use in designing and creating elaborate interior courtyards, domes, and ceilings meant to evoke a vision of paradise.

That vision of paradise carries through the film's discussion of color, ornament and water as well. Viewers are shown artisans weaving elaborate textiles and making delicate pietra dura ornaments. Also, they are taken to lush gardens stimulating the senses with fruit trees, shrubbery, fountains, water channels and flowers.

Even the mud bricks and scaffolding of the great mosque at Djenné in Mali - with long shadows cast across its exterior - evoke a sense of a place set aside for a unique experience with the numinous.
The film airs on PBS on July 6th, but we've seen a sneak preview and it's lovely. Members of The Box (we have some invitations available) can also check out The Hidden Art of Islam, which focuses on older Islamic works that depicted humans, and Paradise Found - Islamic Architecture and Arts, hosted by the wonderful art presenter Waldemar Januszczak.
Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


EU: New Tory battle lines drawn: David Cameron has opened the door to a historic referendum on Britain's future relationship with the European Union -- declaring that voters need a "real choice". (Patrick Hennessy, 6/30/12, The Telegraph)

The Prime Minister uses an article in The Sunday Telegraph to say that Britain is in danger of getting swamped by EU legislation and bureaucracy which he would like to see scrapped. He makes clear for the first time that changes will need the "full-hearted support of the British people" down the line and adds: "For me the two words 'Europe' and 'referendum' can go together."

Mr Cameron's landmark move comes as Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, prepares to up the stakes by calling for an immediate renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU. If other member states fail to back this solution, Dr Fox believes, there should be a referendum with the government recommending pulling the UK out of the EU.

This newspaper has learned that Dr Fox, the standard bearer of the Tory right, will tell activists tomorrow: "For my own part, life outside the EU holds no terror. We have not moved the goalposts. But they have been moved nevertheless. We must now respond."
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Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Israel's Best Friends: Human Rights Watchdogs Are Best Defense Against Isolation (Naomi Chazan, June 18, 2012, Forward)

[B]efore we shrug our shoulders and turn away from this latest example of doublethink, let's look more closely at how the norms of international law are affecting even Israel's intransigent leadership.

Netanyahu's remarks were made in the middle of a political maelstrom. He opposed legislation that would have retroactively legalized construction on private Palestinian land -- most notably in the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement -- and thereby would have nullified a firm decision of Israel's high court to vacate these units. Despite a wave of protest from the settlers and their political representatives, the prime minister imposed coalition discipline; the proposed bill was soundly defeated.

Many commentators saw politics at play, and indeed that was a huge factor. With a governing coalition of 94 Knesset members, Netanyahu can afford, at least for the time being, to anger his extreme right flank. But news reports about the process leading up to the bill cited another reason: The prime minister knew that if a high court decision protecting Palestinian property rights was nullified, then not only would the government be undermining the rule of law inside Israel, but its leaders could also face legal action under international law. Specifically, according to the opinion of the attorney general, if this legislation had passed, Israeli officials could face criminal indictment at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

For those aware of the past three years of attacks on Israel's human rights community, such sensitivity to international human rights law is no small thing. Since this government came to power, official attempts to penalize and defund human rights groups have advanced without shame or pretense. Human rights activists have been threatened more than once with parliamentary investigations and have been denounced as anti-Zionist or worse. Unfortunately, the politicians leading these campaigns have significant public support. A survey of Jewish Israelis in 2010 showed that more than half agreed that human rights organizations that expose improper conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely.

As president of the largest private funder of human rights groups in Israel, I am deeply concerned about these issues. And it is hard to explain to Americans, for whom the free operation of civil society is a given, just how contentious the arguments in favor of human rights are in Israel. For some time, Israeli democratic norms have been threatened by a tyranny of the majority. If that majority believes that citing human rights law against Israeli policy is troublesome, then silencing those who inconveniently monitor, investigate and report human rights violations appears to be the appropriate answer.

Yet the prime minister seems to have recognized Israel's legal jeopardy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


NYC Churches Win Right to Hold Weekend Services in Public Schools (Stoyan Zaimov, 6/29/12, Christian Post)

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) won on Friday a permanent injunction in the 17-year legal battle involving the Bronx Household of Faith and the NYC Board of Education. Religious groups will now be allowed to meet freely for worship services in public school facilities.

"Churches that have been helping communities for years can continue to offer the hope that empty buildings can't," expressed ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence in a statement. "The court's order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups. ADF will continue to defend this constitutionally protected right if the city chooses to continue using taxpayer money to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city's communities, including the public schools themselves."

The ADF had argued against claims that allowing congregations to come on Sundays to worship at public schools would be seen as government endorsement of religion, and insisted that churches would not be doing anything that religious groups at school are not already allowed to do.

If you really want to ban churches you have to ban everyone.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


States may opt out of Medicaid expansion: Court ruling made refusal local decision (Brian MacQuarrie, June 30, 2012, Boston Globe)

The benefits and burdens of the Medicaid expansion are particularly great in states with the greatest number of low-income uninsured residents.

In Texas, the expansion would add 1.2 million people to Medicaid in the first year and cost the state $27 billion over 10 years, said Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

In Indiana, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels has decided to defer a decision about the Medicaid program to the next governor and Legislature. Expanding the program in Indiana, he said, would add 500,000 people to the rolls and cost the state $2 billion over 10 years.

Although states face a financial burden if they do participate in the program, low-income residents face living without insurance if the states do not. In those states that opt out, residents could be uninsured if their income falls below 100 percent of the federal poverty level but is greater than the state's threshold for Medicaid benefits, Salo said. In New Hampshire, that bar is 66 percent of the federal poverty standard.

For people whose income falls between 100 and 133 of the federal poverty figure, Salo said, subsidies under the health care act should be available to buy insurance on new exchanges in each state.

Restuccia said he foresees a gradually forming consensus in state capitals that Medicaid expansion is acceptable.

Initially, he said, "some states that have strong Republican governors and legislatures are not going to cooperate." But by 2019, Restuccia predicted, "we will see every state in the country having Medicaid expansion."

The benefits will begin to be seen as all stakeholders work to control costs, just as they are in Massachusetts, he said.

"It's hard to do this kind of work, but if one has the motivation and persists with it, it has a tremendously positive effect both on costs and quality," Restuccia said.

...are the easiest to put into HSAs, but we should just fund that at the federal level.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


1 Million Defense Jobs at Risk by 2014 (Stacy Curtin, Jun 27, 2012, Yahoo! Daily Ticker)

[L]ittle discussion has been given to the direct impact on jobs, particularly in the defense sector, which will suffer from half of the budget cuts. The $500 billion cut to defense spending would be phased in over 10 years with $55 billion to take effect next year.

A recent study by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a lobbying and advocacy group, found that more than 1 million private sector jobs could be lost by 2014 due to fiscal constraints. The proposed job cuts would increase the national unemployment rate by 0.7 percent and decrease Gross Domestic Product by nearly 1 percent, according to NAM.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) recently warned that the majority of its 100,000-plus workforce is at risk of being laid off due to the federal budget cuts to defense; however, the defense contractor said it would ultimately reduce just a small percentage of its workforce after the cuts took effect. Other defense companies will likely follow suit in cutting back on labor costs.

Remember, if you're on the Right, government checks to government employees are a waste of money, but government checks to defense employees are vital, and vice versa for the Left.

The argument here, that defense is nothing more than a jobs boondoggle, is too honest for its own good.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The Medication Generation: Many young people today have now spent most of their lives on antidepressants. Have the drugs made them 'emotionally illiterate'? (Katherine Sharpe, 6/30/12, WSJ)

When I started using antidepressants, I didn't know anyone else my age who was taking them. Within a few years, I felt hard-pressed at times to find someone who wasn't. Antidepressants and other psychiatric medications went mainstream in the 1990s and 2000s, and my generation became the first to use these drugs in significant numbers as adolescents and young adults.

Young people are medicated even more aggressively now, and intervention often starts younger. In children, as in adults, antidepressants and medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are often used continuously for years. These trends have produced a novel but fast-growing group--young people who have known themselves longer on medication than off it.

The National Center for Health Statistics says that 5% of American 12- to 19-year-olds use antidepressants, and another 6% of the same age group use medication for ADHD--in total, about four million teenagers. Around 6% of adults aged 18 to 39 use an antidepressant. Usage often becomes long term. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62% of Americans aged 12 and over who take antidepressants have done so for two years or longer; 14% have taken them for 10 years or longer. Not all are well supervised. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that fewer than a third of patients of all ages who take an antidepressant have seen a mental-health professional within the past year.

Drugging children was largely a function of having two working parents, a problem that competition and productivity gains are ameliorating.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


The Battle for New Hampshire (David Shribman - July 1, 2012, RCP)

A generation ago, no one would have thought that New Hampshire, with its sturdy Republican tradition, could possibly be a presidential battleground once the candidates, like characters in "Brigadoon," a summer-stock favorite here for nearly a half century, packed up their dial telephones, index cards and metal buttons and moved on to the next stage. Between Franklin Roosevelt's last campaign in 1944 and Bill Clinton's first in 1992, New Hampshire voted Republican every time but in the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide. Even then this county went for Barry Goldwater, the only one in New England to do so.

But since then this state, once resolutely red, has turned purple, which by a sort of perverse poetic justice is the very color of the sky in Cole's Chocorua oil landscape. Clinton won the state in 1992 by a hair, and then Gov. George W. Bush seized it by just as slim a margin -- but would have lost both the state, and the 2000 election, had not Ralph Nader taken about 22,000 votes, almost all of them from Vice President Al Gore.

John Harrigan, a veteran North Country newspaperman, has described New Hampshire as "a jumbled geography of mountains, valleys and ridges, more than 90 percent woods and water, peopled by relatively few individuals, mostly unposted and open to all." It is the openness that defines the place, even though its people are famously closed -- to outside fashions and frippery.

Now it is open to changing colors, from red to blue and then back again twice, and the irony is that this year's election is between two men who were defeated in primary fights here in 2008 and left for dead, only to recover, Obama later that year and Romney in four years' time.

The velocity of the change in staid old New Hampshire has been stunning, which is why Romney's forces believe they will prevail here -- a notion that has prompted Obama to intensify his organizational efforts.

Two years ago, Democrats controlled the state House (224-176) and the state Senate (14-10), only to become the victims of a stunning GOP surge that gave the Republicans overpowering margins in both, 293-104 in the House and 19-5 in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Republicans took back two congressional seats, elected a senator to an open seat and overturned a 3-2 disadvantage on the Executive Council, an institution with colonial antecedents and functions so peculiar and inscrutable that no other state has copied it, and now have a 5-0 margin there.

Travelling downstate nowadays is like going to Massachusetts.  Thus the county border rule.
Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


What would replacing Obamacare look like? (Kevin Ferris, 7/01/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

To do away with the costly, intrusive, tax-increasing Obamacare, now blessed by the Supreme Court, means dealing with the issues -- among them costs, the uninsured, covering preexisting conditions -- that inspired the push for reform.

The authors note that scores of plans offer a market-based approach to health care -- the only way to control costs and make coverage both affordable and accessible -- but they all share seven core "pillars." (I'll give highlights, but read the whole article at www.nationalaffairs.com; look under "archives" for either author's name.)

One, "move American health care away from open-ended government subsidies and tax breaks, and toward a defined-contribution system." Health coverage would come from competing insurance plans, and government would make a fixed contribution toward each person's insurance purchase -- tax credits for most taxpayers, and more generous subsidies for those on Medicaid and Medicare. Pick a plan more expensive than the contribution, and you make up the difference. A cheaper one allows you to keep the savings. Though a new health-care tax break would go to individuals, employers would still be able to deduct their coverage costs

Just as Democrats couldn't open;y call the mandate a tax, the GOP won't openly call it a mandate anymore.

Of course, the key to bringing market forces to bear on health costs is to not subsidize coverage generally, which forces people into less expensive HSAs/catastrophic coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The 1934 Dinner Party That May Have Helped Save Obamacare (Jonathan Alter, Jul 1, 2012, Daily Beast)

In late 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been in office more than a year and decided to move forward on what would become his greatest domestic achievement: Social Security. He assigned his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins, the first woman ever to serve in the Cabinet, to lead the way on designing the program.

But Perkins was worried. The Supreme Court was moving toward a narrow interpretation of the Commerce Clause that would invalidate many of the great achievements of the New Deal. Soon that would include the National Recovery Act, the capstone of FDR's famous First Hundred Days in 1933.

(It would be another four years before Justice Owen Roberts--no relation--would famously switch sides and the Court would begin reversing itself, partly in response to FDR's 1937 "court packing" scheme.)

Perkins went to dinner at the home of someone lost to history and recalls in her memoirs that she bumped into Justice Harlan Fiske Stone there.

When Perkins expressed worry about whether an old-age and survivors insurance program would pass constitutional muster, Stone, a Republican appointee to the court and future chief justice, replied: "The taxing power of the federal government, my dear; the taxing power is sufficient for everything you want and need."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Why Romney Is a Foreign Policy Lightweight : His ideas range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous. (Fred Kaplan, June 29, 2012, Slate)

This gets to the main point: Romney doesn't seem to understand--nor do some of his advisers--the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. International politics were never as cut and dried as that era's image suggested--two superpowers, each dominating its sphere of the globe and competing for influence at the margins of the other's domain.

Still, the superpowers did tend to view the politics of "strategic regions" in that broader framework, and the leaders within those regions often acceded to the interests of one superpower, in order to stave off the other, or tried to play the two off each other.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the demise of the Cold War system, this wedge of entry is no longer open. This is not to say that the United States is a "declining power." By every traditional measure of national power, the United States still dominates the rest of the world. But because the world has changed, those measures no longer translate so directly into influence. Or, to put it another way, the rules of the game, the dimensions of the playing field, have changed. The tokens of strength in the old game don't have the same potency in the new one.

Obama seems to understand this (though, for obvious political reasons, he can't say so directly); Romney and his people seem not to. In April, one of Romney's top surrogates, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, told reporters that Obama was "withdrawing in leading the free world," leaving us open to "huge new vulnerabilities." Asked to cite an example, Lehman said, "We are seeing the Soviets pushing into the Arctic with no response from us."

The entire globe is, as it has always been, our strategic region.  All that the toppling of the USSR did was accelerate our influence.  Where the Right is wrong in perceiving "new" vulnerabilities, as they were about the old ones, the Left is wrong in trying to get out of the historic Anglospheric leadership role in aiding the spread of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism globally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


India, Republic of Korea, Japan hold a trilateral meet; discuss South China Sea (PTI,  Jun 29, 2012)

Asserting that India, Japan and Republic of Korea depend heavily on the Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) for their energy security which are also the mainstay for trade and connectivity, Sanjay Singh, Secretary (East) in Ministry of External Affairs, said "there is indeed a compelling case for us to cooperate on maritime security."

"India has a valued geostrategic location straddling the SLOCs. The Indian Ocean Rim is characterized by large Exclusive Economic Zones and unexplored and untapped marine resources. Similar potential exists for example in the South China Sea which today is witnessing competing claims.

"Our common objective is to see that the seas and oceans become regions of co-operation instead of competition particularly as our energy security and trade depends on them. The primacy of our efforts must be to maintain maritime trade, energy and economic security in the seas around us. There is indeed a compelling case for us to cooperate on maritime security," he said while inaugurating the India-Japan-ROK Trilateral Dialogue.

Singh said as "leading" democracies of the world, the shared values provide them similar perspectives and perceptions of the fast evolving regional and global environment.

"Similarly, our strategic interests also coincide. We seek a peaceful and secure Asia free from the threats of terrorism, proliferation, piracy and conflict between states. There is common commitment to maintaining freedom of the seas, combating terrorism and promoting inclusive economic growth," he said.

There are no vulnerabilities, only opportunities.