September 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


The election's invisible war (Fred Hiatt, August 31, 2012, Washington Post)

Obama has commanded the war in Afghanistan with a kind of split-the-baby ambivalence. In 2009, he ordered a major ramp-up of U.S. troops while setting the date to begin their withdrawal. His motivations -- encouraging the Afghans to take ownership of the fight, managing war fatigue at home -- were understandable. But the obvious question was: If the strategic goal justifies such a commitment of U.S. lives, how can it be prudent to order a withdrawal regardless of whether the goal has been achieved?

Iraq was strategic. It worked. Afghanistan was a sideshow.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Mitt Romney's Congressional Allies Gear Up for First 100 Days (Steven T. Dennis, 8/31/12, Roll Call)

No one, however, may be more valuable to a Romney administration than Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio). He has experience in the House, knows the budget and tax issues as well as anyone outside of Ryan and has the respect of and credibility with Democrats, aides and fellow lawmakers told Roll Call.

Although Portman doesn't have a powerful chairmanship, he's trusted by his Conference, is very close to Romney and was on the nominee's very short list for vice president.
Portman told Roll Call earlier this week that he wants to stay in the Senate rather than join a Romney cabinet, suggesting that his experience would be best suited to navigating legislation through that chamber. He's already discussed the intricacies of the Senate reconciliation process with Romney.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the Romney campaign's liaison to the Senate, also has a lot of experience as the former House Majority Leader and Whip; he's a consummate dealmaker who knows how to make the trains run on time. Blunt has a keen political sense and navigated the bruising intraparty battles the last time the GOP held the House, the Senate and the presidency.
Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), a senior member of the Finance Committee who is one of the Senate's most respected leaders on budget issues, also gets mentioned as someone who will play a larger role in the chamber.

Romney has grown close to a cadre of key surrogates, many of whom are younger GOP lawmakers, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), among others.

Former Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney surrogate, said some of the younger Republicans will help push Romney's agenda beyond the obvious players chairing committees and in the leadership.
"These new and very aggressive and dynamic Senators, everybody from a Rubio to a Portman, to a Roy Blunt, and Ron Johnson" will give energy to the administration's efforts, Talent said. "There are a lot of people even thought they are new to the Senate [who] are very accomplished in getting a reform agenda done, and Rob [Portman] is one, Roy [Blunt] is another obviously; I think Rubio's hit the ground running there, and Johnson has too. There's a lot of those people."

He continued, "And then you are going to have people who have been there for a long time, and want to do things and haven't been able to do it - your Mike Crapos, people like that, and I think you'll see them stepping up to."

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said Ryan's selection also will help Romney get the ball rolling.

"You've got a lot of former House Members in the Senate now ... so he's got a lot of those guys that he's worked with, and he's close to the leadership as well," said Spicer who named Sens. John Thune (S.D.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Portman and Blunt.

"Romney already has a lot of relationships on the Hill but Ryan's got a lot of connections that will add some firepower to Hill outreach," Spicer said.

Spicer pointed to Camp as someone likely to be particularly helpful.

"If you look at the challenges that we're going to face legislatively, having the chairman of the Ways and Means committee who is committed to making things roll is a good thing," he said.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Liberal Values in the Age of Interdependence (Benjamin Barber, Spring/Summer, 2012, Logos Journal)

In taking up issues facing liberalism today, we need not focus on liberal values, because they haven't changed. They are still defined by equality, social and economic justice, democracy and democratic participation and engaged citizenship, which has been true since the inception of liberal democracy in the age of democratic revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. And as the name suggests, as liberals we continue to cherish liberty; we know however that sustaining liberty require citizenship, equal access to political power and a democratic political community - call it public liberty.

Nor need we divert ourselves with nomenclature. In speaking of liberals, I mean progressives, leftists, small-d democrats, those willing to advocate change on behalf of improving the world and who work on behalf of equality, justice and democracy. It saddens me that so many liberals are reluctant to be called liberal when the term should be a banner for effective political struggle and a fighting liberal creed.

We do need to address our altered realities, however. For liberals seem to have taken too little account of changes in capitalism, technology and the global order that impact how liberal values must be framed to be relevant to today's political struggles. Where capitalism and its political allies acknowledge automation, globalization and the new information economy (if only in order to exploit to further their political and economic interests), liberalism has remained stationery, failing to take the measure of such changes. As a consequence, a politically costly asymmetry has emerged between conservative political thinking and liberal political thinking. Liberals too often act as if we still live and organize and vote in a 19th century society of manufacturing jobs, bi-polar class struggle and independent and sovereign nation states; and in a political arena where the goal is to maintain the power of national syndicalism and enlarge the social-state and improve the conditions of our American working class without thinking about the consequence for workers elsewhere in the world.

Capitalism, and particularly the predatory elements that support a brute version of unregulated capitalism, have taken the measure of change and developed an approach to privatization, markets and the flow of labor and capital that take advantage of new conditions and thus privilege neo-liberal ideology, however unjust, as relevant and effective. The liberal reaction to globalization has been parochial, to oppose or overcome it. The neo-liberal and conservative reaction has been cosmopolitan, to embrace it.

And what was the result of liberal conservatism routing the progressives? Well, in addition to liberating the Communist world and the Middle East, Dire Poverty Falls Despite Global Slump, Report Finds (ANNIE LOWREY, March 6, 2012, CS Monitor)

A World Bank report shows a broad reduction in extreme poverty -- and indicates that the global recession, contrary to economists' expectations, did not increase poverty in the developing world.

The report shows that for the first time the proportion of people living in extreme poverty -- on less than $1.25 a day -- fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008. And the biggest recession since the Great Depression seems not to have thrown that trend off course, preliminary data from 2010 indicate.

The progress is so drastic that the world has met the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half five years before its 2015 deadline.

And what does the future hold if the triumph of conservative values endures?:  Global poverty to be virtually wiped out by 2030, claims top U.S. think tank (DAILY MAIL, 29 July 2012)
Poverty across the planet will be virtually eliminated by 2030, with a rising middle class of some two billion people pushing for more rights and demanding more resources, the chief of the top U.S. intelligence analysis shop said on Saturday.

If current trends continue, the 1 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day now will drop to half that number in roughly two decades, Christoper Kojm said.

'We see the rise of the global middle class going from one to two billion,' Kojm said, in a preview of the National Intelligence Council's global forecast offered at the Aspen Security Forum in 
Colorado. [...]

The rising middle class will have little tolerance of authoritarian regimes, combined with the economic resources and education needed to challenge them.

That Mr. Barber is right is a damning refutation of him and his ilk.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


A Breakthrough in U.S.-Indian Relations? (Bruce Riedel | August 29, 2012, National Interest)

The Indian military is close to purchasing a major American combat-weapon system for the first time in decades. Despite a history that might suggest otherwise, India is betting on American reliability as an arms supplier.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The Coming Collapse: Authoritarians in China and Russia Face an Endgame (Jackson Diehl, September/October 2012, World Affairs)

There is a broad consensus that China's growth is likely to slow, but when and at what pace is uncertain and there is no saying whether this slowdown will be smooth or not. Any sudden slowdown could unmask inefficiencies and contingent liabilities in banks, enterprises and different levels of government--heretofore hidden under the veil of rapid growth--and could precipitate a fiscal and financial crisis. The implications for social stability would be hard to predict in such a scenario.

Similarly, in late May a group of experts convened by Aleksei Kudrin, a mainstay of the Putin government for more than a decade until his resignation last year, issued a report declaring that "research shows that the crisis" in the Russian economy and political system "has become irreversible, regardless of the scenarios of its further development. Maintaining political stability, let alone a return to the pre-crisis status quo, is no longer possible." In a press conference, Kudrin said there was a fifty-percent chance that Russia was headed for a recession that would produce a political breakdown and a change of government.

Despite such auguries, the Obama administration continues to pursue a policy toward both Russia and China that assumes that the existing power structures will continue indefinitely. Its primary aim is to "engage" the top leaders on a transactional basis--a strategy that, for Obama, has become a quasi-ideology in foreign policy. Thus did he welcome Xi to Washington in February with talks that focused on economic issues and geopolitical cooperation--and ignored the incipient domestic political turmoil in China that had prompted a senior police official from the city of Chongqing to seek asylum in a US consulate days earlier, in a development that would soon become a full-blown leadership crisis.

After Putin's controversial election as president in March, Obama, overlooking the growing street protests in Moscow, invited him to an early meeting at Camp David (which Putin later cancelled) and dispatched National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon to Putin's dacha outside Moscow to deliver what a Russian official described as "a multi-page detailed document, whose main message is that Obama is ready to cooperate with Putin."

While critiquing these advances, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign also appeared unprepared for the possibility of upheaval in Russia or China. 

It is equally horrifying for Left and Right that the End of History is real, for the Left because their self-hatred turns out to have been misplaced and for Right because there's no one left to hate.  
Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


How leaping into bed harms relationships : Study backs what mother always said; when it comes to sex it's best to wait (ROGER DOBSON, 02 SEPTEMBER 2012, Independent)

Religion and science don't normally make for happy bedfellows, especially when it comes to sex. But now, it seems, they're in total agreement. A study into the effects of having sex before marriage suggests it's much better not to. Those who abstain during their courtship or build up a gradual sexual relationship, rather than leaping into bed on the first date, are more likely to have happier and longer relationships.

The researchers who carried out the study, the first of its kind, say that early sexual satisfaction may stunt the development of other key ingredients of healthy relationships, such as commitment, caring, understanding and shared values. "Precocious premarital sexual activities may have lasting effects on relationship quality," they say. "Courtship is a time for exploration and decision-making about the relationship, when partners assess compatibility, make commitments and build on emotional and physical intimacy."

Almost 50 years since the sexual revolution, which began, according to Philip Larkin, in 1963, the evidence suggests an open-legs policy is not so rewarding after all. "The postponement of sexual involvement is associated with higher levels of relationship quality," say the researchers from Cornell University. "Women who deferred sexual involvement for over six months reported significantly higher levels of relationship satisfaction, commitment, intimacy and emotional support, as well as sexual satisfaction with their partner, than did those who became sexually involved within the first month."

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


LANCE ARMSTRONG'S SECRET IS OUT : The news leaks about The Secret Race have vastly undersold its importance. Tyler Hamilton's book is a historic, definitive indictment of cycling's culture of doping during the Armstrong era. (CHRISTOPHER KEYES, September 2012, Outside)

 It's hard to describe the impact of The Secret Race by boiling it down to seven or eight shocking anecdotes. The book delivers them--make no mistake--but its real power comes from Hamilton's unprecedented attempt at full disclosure. And I mean full. The book is the holy grail for disillusioned cycling fans in search of answers. In a taut 268 pages, Hamilton confidently and systematically destroys any sense that there was ever any chance of cleaning up cycling in the early 2000s, revealing the sport's powerful and elaborate doping infrastructure. He's like a retiring magician who has decided to let the public in on the profession's most guarded techniques.

Beginning with his first doping experiences as a member of the U.S Postal Service team in 1997, Hamilton reveals not only what he and other riders were doing and taking (EPO, steroids, testosterone, Actovegin, blood transfusions, and on and on), but also how they were taking it (in the case of EPO, intravenously--and Hamilton has the scar to prove it). He tells us how most riders evaded detection (one trick: French laws bar testers from showing up between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M., so cyclists "microdosed" EPO at ten and the drug was gone by morning) and how the game was rigged in a way that made testing nearly irrelevant ("If you were careful and paid attention," writes Hamilton, "you could dope and be 99 percent certain that you would not get caught"). Supporters still clinging to the claim that Armstrong passed more than 500 drug controls will be shocked to learn how insignificant those tests really were.

Not that all this doping and evading was a cinch. Hamilton describes the exhausting deceptions and logistics required to obtain the drugs, hide the drugs, store the blood bags, schedule the dosing--the hundreds of details necessary to maintain the high-40s hematocrit level that keeps a racer competitive on the course and safe in the control room. At times the evasive measures sound like techniques from a cheap spy novel. There are disguises, prepaid cell phones, clandestine meet-ups in random hotel rooms, and lots and lots of code names, including "red eggs" (testosterone pills), "Edgar" (EPO), and "oil" (testosterone drops). At one point, Hamilton get a text from his doctor on his prepaid phone during a Tour de France rest day: "The restaurant is 167 miles away." Translation: Meet me in room 167 for your blood transfusion.

The drugs are everywhere, and as Hamilton explains, Armstrong was not just another cyclist caught in the middle of an established drug culture--he was a pioneer pushing into uncharted territory. In this sense, the book destroys another myth: that everyone was doing it, so Armstrong was, in a weird way, just competing on a level playing field. There was no level playing field. With his connections to Michele Ferrari, the best dishonest doctor in the business, Armstrong was always "two years ahead of what everybody else was doing," Hamilton writes. Even on the Postal squad there was a pecking order. Armstrong got the superior treatments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


The Shock of the New (MARTIN AMIS, 9/01/12, NY Times)

In the official version, though, Alex is afforded full redemption. He simply -- and bathetically -- "outgrows" the atavisms of youth, and starts itching to get married and settle down; and he carries around with him a photo of "a baby gurgling goo goo goo." We are asked to accept that Alex has turned all soft and broody -- at the age of 18.

It feels like a startling loss of nerve on Burgess' part, or a recrudescence (we recall that he was an Augustinian Catholic) of self-punitive guilt. Horrified by its own transgressive energy, the novel submits to a Reclamation Treatment sternly supplied by its author. Burgess knew something was wrong: "a work too didactic to be artistic," he half-conceded, "pure art dragged into the arena of morality." And he shouldn't have worried: Alex may be a teenager, but readers are grown-ups, and are perfectly at peace with the unregenerate. Besides, "A Clockwork Orange" is in essence a black comedy. Confronted by evil, comedy feels no need to punish or correct. It answers with corrosive laughter.

In his 1973 book on Joyce, "Joysprick," Burgess made a provocative distinction between what he calls the "A" novelist and the "B" novelist: the A novelist is interested in plot, character and psychological insight, whereas the B novelist is interested, above all, in the play of words. The most famous B novel is "Finnegans Wake," which Nabokov aptly described as "a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room." The B novel, as a genre, is now utterly defunct; and "A Clockwork Orange" may be its only long-term survivor. It is a book that can still be read with steady pleasure, continuous amusement and -- at times -- incredulous admiration. Anthony Burgess, then, is not "a minor B novelist," as he described himself; he is the only B novelist. I think he would have settled for that.

Except, of course, that if Ludovico's Technique doesn't work then the central philosophical question of the entire novel is removed and all that remains is some violence and obscure dialect.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


At Paralympics, First Thing Judged Is Disability (SARAH LYALL, 9/02/12, NY Times)

Paralympians have to be assessed by international classifiers before arriving at the Games. But, said Peter van der Vliet, the International Paralympic Committee's chief medical classifier, some 245 athletes here have been deemed borderline -- hovering between one grade and another -- and have been reassessed at the Games. Forty have been moved to different classifications, and eight athletes (in track and field, swimming and judo) have been ruled ineligible and sent home because, he said, they did not meet "the minimal disability criterion."

The classification process is multifaceted and different for each sport. Riders in international equestrian events are observed riding in competition. They also have to undergo face-to-face medical evaluations from two international classifiers, involving a range of movements that tests for strength, coordination and flexibility. The exercises can be as straightforward as touching a finger and thumb together, moving the shoulder, or placing a heel in set spots on the ground.

"They seem like simple tasks," said Dawson, "but when I started doing them I was like, 'Oh, my life -- this is so difficult.' "

The system is meant to focus on the athletes' physical abilities and on the limitations their disabilities impose, not on their riding prowess. But it can anger competitors who believe that they are being forced to compete against people who are less disabled than they are.

"People will say, 'You shouldn't be in grade 1A -- you ride so well,' " said Donna Ponessa, a rider on the United States team. She has multiple sclerosis and is paralyzed from the chest down. She uses a wheelchair and a ventilator, except when she rides. "But I've given up a year and a half of my life for the Olympics," she said -- time almost entirely spent riding, exercising at the gym or working.

Riders with fluctuating conditions like multiple sclerosis are frequently re-evaluated, and athletes unhappy with their classifications can appeal.

"There are two reasons for this," Mr. van der Vliet said. "First, it's a fundamental right that if an athlete believes a wrong decision is taken, he has a right to protest. And with some athletes their default mode is that they will challenge a decision any time they can when they are not in agreement with it." their results in the event?

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


The Woman Who Would Save Football : Dr. Ann McKee has been accused of trying to kill the sport she loves, but she may be its only hope (Jane Leavy, August 17, 2012, Grantland)

"I'm a Cheesehead," McKee says.

This explains the framed 1968 Green Bay Packers yearbook and the January 22, 1969, cover of Sports Illustrated with Jerry Kramer cradling Vince Lombardi in his arms. Her pooches at home wear Green Bay Packers dog tags. Within reach of her desk, she has a roster of empty-headed bobbleheads -- Brett Favre in green-and-gold, in white-and-green, in purple-and-white; and Aaron Rodgers, Favre's estimable successor in the huddle and in her affections. And a hero of another kind of artistry -- a ringer in street clothes named Vincent van Gogh.

Every football Sunday, she parks herself in front of the TV in her authentic Packers foam Cheesehead ($17.95 at and Rodgers's no. 12 jersey and prays that none of the men on the field end up on a dissection table. To date, she has found ravages of CTE, the neurodegenerative brain disease that has become her life's work, in over 70 athletes, nearly 80 percent of those she has examined. Among them: 18 of the 19 NFL players she has autopsied; three NHL enforcers; and a boy just 17 years old. McKee, who received $1 million in funding from the VA as well as a home for her lab, has also documented evidence of CTE in combat veterans exposed to roadside bombs.1

"The coolest thing about Ann is she spends all day doing autopsies on NFL players and can't wait for the weekend to put on her Packer sweatshirt and climb into bed with a big bag of popcorn and a beer," says Gay Culverhouse, former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who now advocates on behalf of former players.

"Well, I don't usually do it in my bed," McKee says.

The Packers' loss to the Giants in the playoffs was a blow, but also an opportunity to work. By Super Bowl Sunday, she had recovered sufficient equilibrium to host a family party. She wore her Cheesehead -- and even volunteered to send me a photograph. "I love it -- I love football," she says, her face falling like the pocket collapsing around her favorite quarterback. "I'd like to put everything I know about it in another room when I'm watching it. But it's hard to do it through the whole game. I have enormous admiration for the physical athleticism and ability. It's strategic but requires skill that most people don't have. I get extremely caught up in it. At the end of the game I think, How could I watch this?"

The day America gave itself to Super Bowl XLVI feels as long ago as the Roman Empire. Since then?

March 2: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces the findings of an investigation into bounty hunting by the New Orleans Saints, a system -- football's favorite word -- organized by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

March 21: Goodell suspends Williams as well as Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton.

April 4: A tape recording of Williams's pregame exhortation is released: "Kill the head, the body will die." (Those pregame, pep talk fighting words sicken Perfetto. "I've seen what happens when the brain is killed," she told me a month before her husband's death. "It is a long, agonizing journey for that body to die.")

April 19: Ray Easterling, former Falcons safety, commits suicide. He and his wife were lead plaintiffs in the first class action suit filed against the NFL, in August 2011, seeking damages for seven former players. A year later, there are approximately 113 suits pending, involving more than 3,000 players, which have been consolidated into a master complaint in federal district court in Philadelphia. This class action suit charges the NFL and official helmet maker Riddell with negligence and hiding information linking football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries.2

April 30: Headstrong, an Off-Broadway play about a former NFL player living with post-concussion syndrome, premieres.

May 2: Goodell suspends four Saints players, including Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee who has advocated for independent neurologists to be on the sidelines. That same day, Junior Seau, a future Hall of Famer who did not have a diagnosed history of concussions, was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest -- the same awful methodology Dave Duerson chose when he killed himself, leaving a suicide note asking that his brain be left in care of Ann McKee and her team. The findings of CTE in Duerson's brain were released on May 2, 2011.

June 13: Pop Warner football, which registered more than 285,000 children ages 5-15 to play in 2011, bans head-to-head hits and limits contact in practice to 40 minutes a day.
That night, Terry Bradshaw, the former Steelers quarterback who now receives treatment for short-term memory loss at the Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, California, told Jay Leno: "In the next decade, we will not see football as it is."

It is a measure of the sea change in public perception that Junior Seau was immediately popularly diagnosed with CTE, despite the existence of personal problems that might have played a role in the suicide. On July 12, his family announced that part of his brain tissue had been donated to the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for study. Two weeks later, Goodell announced the creation of NFL Total Wellness, a new program of mental health benefits, including Life Line, a free telephone service staffed by mental health professionals and suicide prevention experts. The next day the medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia, confirmed a diagnosis of CTE in Easterling's brain.

The potential cost of employment in McKee's favorite sport is never far from her mind. She reaches for Green Bay Brett and flicks his molded-plastic noggin with her finger. The oversize head bobbles and wags, lurching back and forth on its spring like a kid trying out a pogo stick. Only the smirk on his prefab mug remains fixed.

"Get the irony?" she says.

Over the last four years, McKee has become the most visible member of a cohort of research scientists and family members -- wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the dead, dying, and demented -- who have forced the issue of chronic brain trauma into the forefront of American consciousness. The process has engendered enormous publicity as well as criticism and jealousy in the scientific community, which is every bit as competitive as the NFL. Her work has brought "a great deal of acclaim, exposure, and recognition," says neurosurgeon Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University and co-director of CSTE. "But at the same time it's brought a great deal of pressure. Not everybody greets her findings with the same degree of enthusiasm."

War-painted denizens of the upper deck may view her as The Woman Trying To Destroy Football. In fact, she is The Woman Trying To Save Football From Itself. The process has engendered a particular intimacy with those who entrust their loved ones to her posthumous care. Virginia Grimsley, whose husband, John, was the first NFL player diagnosed by McKee, says, "He's in good hands with her. They're all in good hands with her.

"If Joe Six-Pack was as educated as the wives that have gone through this and as Dr. McKee, Joe Six-Pack would sit down, shut up, and continue to drink his six-pack," Grimsley says. "She's not trying to destroy football."

McKee says: "I'm just trying to tell football what I see."
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