August 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM

Gary Clark Jr., Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012 (NPR, August 2, 2012)

Don't be stunned if he blossoms into a next-generation blues icon in the next few years; he's already well on his way.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


With draft constitution, Somalia draws closer to democracy (Mike Pflanz, August 1, 2012, CS Monitor)

Somalia took a step toward true democratic government today, when its leaders adopted the country's first new constitution in more than half a century. 

A gathering of 645 nominated community representatives, politicians, and elders approved the new law with a 96 percent majority, paving the way for more inclusive administration and greater human rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM

Charles Bradley, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012 (NPR, July 29, 2012 )

As much as Bradley exudes funky, live-wire energy -- his years impersonating James Brown weren't wasted -- what really fuels his music is perspective: Real-deal experience, and an understanding of hardship, infuses every note he sings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


How Milton Friedman Saved Chile : Milton Friedman gave Chileans the intellectual wherewithal first to survive the quake, and now to build their lives anew. (BRET STEPHENS, 3/01/10, WSJ)

It's not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick--and Haitians in houses of straw--when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down. In 1973, the year the proto-Chavista government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile was an economic shambles. Inflation topped out at an annual rate of 1000%, foreign-currency reserves were totally depleted, and per capita GDP was roughly that of Peru and well below Argentina's.

What Chile did have was intellectual capital, thanks to an exchange program between its Catholic University and the economics department of the University of Chicago, then Friedman's academic home. Even before the 1973 coup, several of Chile's "Chicago Boys" had drafted a set of policy proposals which amounted to an off-the-shelf recipe for economic liberalization: sharp reductions to government spending and the money supply; privatization of state-owned companies; the elimination of obstacles to free enterprise and foreign investment, and so on.

In left-wing mythology--notably Naomi Klein's tedious 2007 screed "The Shock Doctrine"--the Chicago Boys weren't just strange bedfellows to Pinochet's dictatorship. They were complicit in its crimes. "If the pure Chicago economic theory can be carried out in Chile only at the price of repression, should its authors feel some responsibility?" wrote New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis in October 1975. In fact, Pinochet had been mostly indifferent to the Chicago Boys' advice until the continuing economic crisis forced him to look for some policy alternatives. In March 1975, he had a 45-minute meeting with Friedman and asked him to write a letter proposing some remedies. Friedman responded a month later with an eight-point proposal that largely mirrored the themes of the Chicago Boys.

For his trouble, Friedman would spend the rest of his life being defamed as an accomplice to evil: at his Nobel Prize ceremony the following year, he was met by protests and hecklers. Friedman himself couldn't decide whether to be amused or annoyed by the obloquies; he later wryly noted that he had given communist dictatorships the same advice he gave Pinochet, without raising leftist hackles.

As for Chile, Pinochet appointed a succession of Chicago Boys to senior economic posts. By 1990, the year he ceded power, per capita GDP had risen by 40% (in 2005 dollars) even as Peru and Argentina stagnated. Pinochet's democratic successors--all of them nominally left-of-center--only deepened the liberalization drive. Result: Chileans have become South America's richest people.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Why President Obama needs to make history in 2012. Again. (Chris Cillizza, 08/03/2012, Washington Post)

[T]he July jobs report affirmed the now-certain reality that the unemployment rate won't drop below eight percent between today and November. And no sitting president since World War II has been re-elected with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.

The numbers are daunting for Obama. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 42 straight months-- its longest period ever.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Cass Sunstein's Resignation Encourages Advocates For Health And Safety (David Froomkin, 08/03/2012, Huffington Post)

Sunstein, who headed the White House's little-known but hugely powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, also got a warm send-off from his immediate boss. White House Office of Management and Budget director Jeffrey Zients credited him with helping design "numerous rules that are, among other things, saving lives on the highways by making vehicles safer and reducing distracted driving; dramatically increasing the fuel economy of the nation's cars and trucks; protecting public health by reducing air pollution; making our food supply safer; and protecting against discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation."

But that is a modest record in the context of the wholesale deregulation during the Bush/Cheney era and the unprecedented regulatory failures of the recent past: financial crisis; the BP oil spill; the Upper Big Branch mine explosion; a bevy of food- and toy-related health scares and the imminent dangers of climate change.

Critics said he did more damage than good. "That's small progress in comparison to the rules he killed," said Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and president of the pro-regulation Center for Progressive Reform.

Steinzor credits Sunstein for killing or stalling critically important regulations proposed by Obama's cabinet agencies, including those intended to improve air quality, limit exposure to silica, and protect minors from dangerous agricultural work.

Steinzor also criticized some of the rules Sunstein ushered in, such as one that allows many poultry plants to speed up processing lines by eliminating federal inspectors.

"The track record is very bad," Steinzor said.

For the Left.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Mentally Retarded and on Death Row (NY Times,  August 3, 2012)

Marvin Wilson, with an I.Q. of 61, is scheduled to be put to death in Texas on Tuesday. His execution would directly contradict the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that "the mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution" because of "their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment and control of their impulses." The court should accept Mr. Wilson's case for review and end Texas's illegal defiance of its explicit holding that the death penalty for the mentally retarded is unconstitutional.

...that raises the more difficult question of whether we should re-institutionalize such folks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


How about quantitative easing for the people? /(Anatole Kaletsky AUGUST 1, 2012

The one economic benefit of QE has been to help governments finance the huge deficits caused by recession without having to raise taxes, slash public spending or face Greek-style bankruptcy. In this sense, QE has certainly prevented the U.S. and Britain from suffering worse outcomes, but it has failed to stimulate employment or economic growth. This is exactly what Japan has experienced for 20 years - and as in Japan, additional rounds of QE now will merely act as an anesthetic, perpetuating stagnation but discouraging more effective stimulus measures.

One such radical measure is too controversial for any policymaker to mention publicly, although some have discussed it in private: Instead of giving newly created money to bond traders, central banks could distribute it directly to the public. Technically such cash handouts could be described as tax rebates or citizens' dividends, and they would contribute to government deficits in national accounting. But these accounting deficits would not increase national debt burdens, since they would be financed by issuing new money, at zero cost to government or to future generations, instead of selling interest-bearing government bonds.

Giving away free money may sound too good to be true or wildly irresponsible, but it is exactly what the Fed and the BoE have been doing for bond traders and bankers since 2009. Directing QE to the general public would not only be much fairer but also more effective.

Suppose the new money created since 2009, instead of propping up bond prices, had simply been added to the bank accounts of all U.S. and British households. In the U.S., $2 trillion of QE could have financed a cash windfall of $6,500 for every man, woman and child, or $26,000 for a family of four. Britain's QE of £375 billion is worth £6,000 per head or £24,000 per family. Even if only half the new money created were distributed in this way, these sums would be easily large enough to transform economic conditions, whether the people receiving these windfalls decided to spend them on extra consumption or save them and reduce debts.

Distributing money to the general public was the one response to intractable recessions and liquidity traps that united Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes. 

Just use debit cards with six month expiration dates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


It's over - there will be no Israeli attack on Iran (Larry Derfner, 8/01/12, 972)

[I]srael is not going to attack Iran. Not before the November 6 presidential election, not afterward if Obama wins, and maybe not afterward even if Romney wins, which is unlikely.

It's not that Netanyahu doesn't want to bomb Iran - he does, and he makes that clearer every day. What's happened is that there's been such a torrent of opposition in the Israeli media this week from the security establishment, starting with IDF chief Benny Gantz, and backed by the Obama Administration and Pentagon, that there's no way Bibi can get his cabinet to vote for a war, and without the cabinet's backing, he can't do it. The ministers will not support Bibi in an extremely risky war opposed by the heads of the IDF, IDF Intelligence, the Air Force, the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the United States of America.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


There is an Honest Republican (Michael Tomasky, Aug 3, 2012, Daily Beast)

Mitt Romney may be terrified of getting specific. But not Coburn. I had been unaware, until his aides emailed me, that the senator had produced this rather voluminous 63-page study of tax giveaways that, he believes, might all be candidates for elimination. Whether you agree or don't, it's a fascinating document if, as you read through it, you imagine all those conversations (many in "quiet rooms," no doubt!) between lobbyists and lawmakers, all those checks written, all those scotch and sodas and steaks and mulligans and four-foot gimmees that must have gone into the making of this mess.

Some of them are plain silly. The fishing tackle boxes industry gets a break that manufacturers of other types of fishing equipment do not. I counted four different kinds of ethanol credits.

But others don't seem silly at all to me. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Are Americans Still Puritan? (MATTHEW HUTSON, August 3, 2012, NY Times)

Consider a series of experiments conducted by researchers led by the psychologist Eric Luis Uhlmann and published last year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In one study, they investigated whether the work habits of today's Americans reflected the so-called Protestant work ethic. Martin Luther and John Calvin argued that work was a calling from God. They also believed in predestination and viewed success as a sign of salvation. This led to belief in success as a path to salvation: hard work and good deeds would bring rewards, in life and after.

In the study, American and Canadian college students were asked to solve word puzzles involving anagrams. But first, some were subtly exposed to (or "primed" with) salvation-related words like "heaven" and "redeem," while others were exposed to neutral words. The researchers found that the Americans -- but not the Canadians -- solved more anagrams with salvation on the mind. They worked harder.

Professor Uhlmann and his colleagues also conducted an experiment to see if Americans shared the prudishness of the Puritans. They found that American students judged promiscuous women more harshly than British students did.

In a third experiment, the researchers asked Asian-Americans to rate their support for a school principal who had canceled a prom because of sexually charged dancing and also to rate their support for a school that had banned revealing clothing. But first, the researchers primed the participants with thoughts of either their Asian or their American heritage, as well as with thoughts of work or another topic. They found that the participants showed increased approval of the prudish school officials when primed with thoughts of work -- if they had also been primed with their American heritage, but not when primed with their Asian heritage. These results suggest a tight Puritanical intermingling of work, sex and morality in the American mind.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Meet The Woman Who Can Convince Even Republicans To Use Solar Power : Sunrun's Lynn Jurich helped create a new industry--selling solar instead of as an expensive home improvement. The results have been nothing short of mind-blowing, and the people who are buying in are not who you would think. (Whitney Patorek, 8/02/12, Co.Exist)

[I]n 2007, Jurich left behind her career in finance and venture capital to join fellow Stanford grad Ed Fenster and launch Sunrun, now the nation's leading home solar company. "The utility industry and how energy is delivered had not changed in a hundred years," says Jurich. "The key innovation we brought to the market was delivering solar as a service." In a nutshell, Sunrun pays for the panels and the installation, and sells the resulting electricity back to homeowners at a rate that's locked in for 20 years. "Imagine if you'd installed a gas tank in your backyard 20 years ago, when gas was $1 a gallon, and you could buy gas for $1 a gallon for 20 years?" Jurich says. Another analogy: It's like Forever Stamps, but for your electric bill.

Starting a residential rooftop solar company (a.k.a. "distributed solar") took the Sunrun team into uncharted waters, and Jurich will admit the learning curve was steep. "The good news is there was nobody who really knew much, which made it a little less intimidating," she laughs. Eventually, they learned the technology was perfect for their business model: Unlike wind, for example, solar is peak-producing and requires little storage, and the declining price in panel hardware made the idea of leasing equipment to consumers cost-effective. Raising capital also came naturally, as the pair of finance vets turned to the venture capital world for their operating budget; they then asked giant banks to finance the project sums, like hardware and installation. Of course, with the latter, they faced what Jurich calls a "chicken or the egg" problem: "We had to get a lot of things up and running simultaneously," she says. "You have to aggregate enough customers to make banks interested, but it's hard to aggregate the customers with no reputation. You're literally asking customers to trust that you're going to provide energy for 20 years. So the biggest issue was, 'Okay, we know this works long-term, but how do we make these initial few deals prove it?'" [...]

Even more unexpected: The majority of Sunrun's subscribers self-identify as Republican. "I had a suspicion that that was the case, but I love it," Jurich says. "Renewable energy is bipartisan. It appeals to anybody who is responsible about their home. All people believe in America, jobs, creating energy here, not being dependent on foreign energy sources. And then we save people money."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM

James McMurtry At World Cafe Live (NPR, August 3, 2012)

McMurtry showcases his keenly observant storytelling and stellar guitar picking in this concert for WXPN in Philadelphia. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


The Arabs in transition : Finally the Arabs are responding to global winds of change. Not all, but all will in time (Ayman El-Amir, 8/02/12, Al Ahram)

The paradigm of forced takeover of power away from the ballot box has changed, though. Clandestine military coups of the 1950s and 1960s have now been replaced by the power of mass protest, armed or unarmed. For the past 40 years, Arab autocrats learned that the armed forces were the key to forced change of the regime. Therefore, they isolated them, pampered them or appointed their close family members or trusted loyalists to positions of control. Now, the paradigm has significantly shifted in favour of the people. When the Egyptian military command, for example, intervened in the clashes between protesters and security forces on 28 January 2011, it did so not according to its pre-assigned role as Mubarak's last line of defence, but to protect protesters and the masses of the people, as well as state institutions. In Syria, Al-Assad's army commanders are defecting in droves to the side of the Syrian protesters.

Ruling party propagandists and government-controlled media failed to persuade the impoverished masses of the people that they were living "the most splendid era of democracy" they have ever seen, in the words of Safwat El-Sherif, one of the closest confidantes of former president Mubarak, who is now on trial. Now the power of the people on the street has taken over revolutionary change, as was the case in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain. For Gulf States with small populations, high-tech security mechanisms are more than adequate to control protests. Protesters still do not have the critical mass to mount a full-fledged revolution. During the mass protest at the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, the joke went around Cairo that Bahrainis wanted to launch a million-man demonstration, but the total population was only 750,000. Could they borrow the rest from Egypt?

Revolutionary change in the Gulf Arab States does not have to be violent -- a people against ruler confrontation. The problem is that rulers believe their people are wallowing in petro-gas and oil wealth, and the benefits deriving from them, like no other people in the world. However, as the Bible says, man does not live on bread alone. Fundamental reforms giving the people a wider role in shaping their future and the way they are ruled are largely lacking. Activists are demanding fundamental freedoms and human rights.

The concept of constitutional monarchy was neither created overnight nor without suffering. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, nominally owns Great Britain, but the people, with an elected parliament and representative government, manage national wealth and all institutions that have developed over many years. However, the Queen cannot lease Scotland, sell the River Thames or enter into business deals for her own benefit. She, as a monarch, does receive benefits approved by the House of Commons. Would this be a far-fetched idea for the Gulf Arab states? There are, of course, sovereign funds from plush oil and gas earnings that are kept for "future generations", but is it not a one-man rule that controls everything? There are associated huge business interests, of course. But to what extent can these be guaranteed in the future, even if they are deposited in foreign banks, funds or invested in foreign businesses? And at what cost in conflict and bloodshed?

The world is changing and the Arab region is, at long last, responding to these changes and to the principles that motivate the change. Nothing is sacrosanct anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM

OBIT: Sir John Keegan: Sir John Keegan, who has died aged 78, achieved an international reputation as a military historian, then discovered a talent for writing rapid analyses of international crises as the defence editor of The (Daily Telegraph, 02 Aug 2012)

The hip grew worse again, and he found himself taken back to hospital, encased in a plaster corset. This time he was not among children, but cheerful cockney veterans in a men's ward of St Thomas's, near Westminster Bridge. The Anglican chaplain taught him Greek; a polio victim coached him in French; and, thanks to a well-stocked library, Johnnie, as he was known there, was able to read much history and almost the entire works of Thomas Hardy.

On emerging from hospital two years later, his hip immobilised with a bone graft, Keegan won a place to read History at Oxford. But on going up to Balliol he developed TB again, and was away for another year while being treated with new drugs. He then returned, walking with a stick, to find himself among a highly talented intake, which included the future Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham, Northern Ireland Secretaries Patrick Mayhew and Peter Brooke, historian Keith Thomas, the Benedictine monk Daniel Rees, and the Prince of Wales's Australian schoolmaster Michael Collins Persse.

Keegan was tutored in the Middle Ages by Richard Southern and in the 17th century by the Marxist Christopher Hill. Although there was no chance of a military career, he observed the confidence of those who had done National Service and decided to take "Military History and the Theory of War" as a special subject.

After a long tour of the battlefields of the American Civil War with his future brother-in-law Maurice Keen, the medieval historian, he returned home to find work writing political reports for the American embassy in London for two years, then obtained a post as a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. It was Keegan's first proper job.

The academy had some similarities with an Oxford college, including beautiful grounds and buildings as well as good company. But while Oxford encouraged debate, Keegan found himself, as a civilian, lecturing on Military History to motivate young men who were part of a chain of command, trained to accept orders.

The rebellious streak that lurked within him meant that he did not always find this easy; nevertheless, he discovered how liberal and open-minded the Army could be (as long as its core values were not undermined). It tolerated the Keegan family donkey, Emilia, which kept breaking into the student officers' quiet room. But while writing half a dozen 40,000-word potboilers for "Ballantyne's Illustrated History of the Violent Century", he was constantly aware that neither he nor his charges had any personal experience of war.

As a result, his first major book, The Face of Battle (1976), asked: what is it like to be in a battle? Instead of adopting a commander's perspective, seeing every conflict as an impersonal flow of causation, currents and tendencies in the way favoured by contemporary historians, Keegan concentrated on the experience of the common soldier.

After elegantly discussing why history is usually written by victors and the limitations of survivors' accounts, he examined three battles: Agincourt in 1415, Waterloo in 1815 and the Somme in 1916. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, including priests' eyewitness accounts of the first, a post-conflict questionnaire sent out by an officer after the second, and the flood of letters, diaries, poetry and official reports written during the last, he described what in the past had all too often been skated over: the deep fears, the lust for killing, the willingness to risk one's life for a comrade -- characteristics common to the soldiers of all three battles. He evoked the sights, sounds and smells of war, vividly bringing home the experience for both veterans and civilian readers.

The book was an immediate success, and has never been out of print. It marked out Keegan as the most sparkling writer among the talented lecturers of the Sandhurst war studies department.

Here he is on Booknotes.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Five myths about the middle class (Lane Kenworthy, Friday, August 3, 2012, Washington Post)

1. Today's middle-class Americans are worse off than their parents.

The standard of living for Americans in the broad middle of the income ladder -- households with incomes higher than the bottom 20 percent and lower than the top 20 percent -- hasn't stagnated or worsened in the past generation. It has improved.

Analyzing data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a long-running survey of U.S. households, the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project found that as of 2000-08, 86 percent of Americans who grew up in a middle-class household had a higher income (adjusted for inflation) than their parents. This share has surely decreased in the years since, but probably not by much: Median household income fell by just $1,500 between 2008 and 2010.

Moreover, income changes alone don't capture the enhanced quality of life that stems from greater access to information and entertainment through personal computers, smartphones, the Internet and cable TV; advances in medical care such as MRIs and new surgical techniques; and more choices for all kinds of goods and services.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Decoding the Science of Sleep : In today's always-on economy, we're tired like never before. Caffeine and sleeping pills only do so much. How did we get this far away from our most basic, ancient habits? And how can we get back on track? (DAVID K. RANDALL, 8/03/12, WSJ)

So why is sleep, which seems so simple, becoming so problematic? Much of the problem can be traced to the revolutionary device that's probably hanging above your head right now: the light bulb. Before this electrically illuminated age, our ancestors slept in two distinct chunks each night. The so-called first sleep took place not long after the sun went down and lasted until a little after midnight. A person would then wake up for an hour or so before heading back to the so-called second sleep.

It was a fact of life that was once as common as breakfast--and one which might have remained forgotten had it not been for the research of a Virginia Tech history professor named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent nearly 20 years in the 1980s and '90s investigating the history of the night. As Prof. Ekirch leafed through documents ranging from property records to primers on how to spot a ghost, he kept noticing strange references to sleep. In "The Canterbury Tales," for instance, one of the characters in "The Squire's Tale" wakes up in the early morning following her "first sleep" and then goes back to bed. A 15th-century medical book, meanwhile, advised readers to spend their "first sleep" on the right side and after that to lie on their left. A cleric in England wrote that the time between the first and second sleep was the best time for serious study.

The time between the two bouts of sleep was a natural and expected part of the night, and depending on your needs, was spent praying, reading, contemplating your dreams or having sex. The last one was perhaps the most popular. A noted 16th-century French physician named Laurent Joubert concluded that plowmen, artisans and others who worked with their hands were able to conceive more children because they waited until after their first sleep, when their energy was replenished, to make love.

Studies show that this type of sleep is so ingrained in our nature that it will reappear if given a chance.