Saturday, January 31, 2015

Vaccine Critics Turn Defensive Over Measles

By JACK HEALY and MICHAEL PAULSON, NYT, JAN. 30, 2015

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Their children have been sent home from school. Their families are barred from birthday parties and neighborhood play dates. Online, people call them negligent and criminal. And as officials in 14 states grapple to contain a spreading measles outbreak that began near here at Disneyland, the parents at the heart of America’s anti-vaccine movement are being blamed for incubating an otherwise preventable public-health crisis.

Measles anxiety rippled thousands of miles beyond its center on Friday as officials scrambled to try to contain a wider spread of the highly contagious disease — which America declared vanquished 15 years ago, before a statistically significant number of parents started refusing to vaccinate their children.

In recent days, new measles cases popped up in Nebraska and Minnesota, New York and Marin County in California. Officials around the country reported rising numbers of patients who were seeking shots, as well as some pediatricians who were accepting nonvaccinated families but were debating changing their policies. The White House urged parents to listen to the science that supports inoculations.

(More here.)

This is what started all the craziness about vaccines

Journal Retracts 1998 Paper Linking Autism to Vaccines

By GARDINER HARRIS, NYT
Originally published: February 2, 2010

A prominent British medical journal on Tuesday retracted a 1998 research paper that set off a sharp decline in vaccinations in Britain after the paper’s lead author suggested that vaccines could cause autism.

The retraction by The Lancet is part of a reassessment that has lasted for years of the scientific methods and financial conflicts of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who contended that his research showed that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine may be unsafe.

But the retraction may do little to tarnish Dr. Wakefield’s reputation among parents’ groups in the United States. Despite a wealth of scientific studies that have failed to find any link between vaccines and autism, the parents fervently believe that their children’s mental problems resulted from vaccinations.

Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the retraction of Dr. Wakefield’s study “significant.”

“It builds on the overwhelming body of research by the world’s leading scientists that concludes there is no link between M.M.R. vaccine and autism,” Mr. Skinner wrote in an e-mail message.

(More here.)

Friday, January 30, 2015

How Ayn Rand became a big admirer of serial killer William Hickman

Mark Ames, AlterNet
30 Jan 2015 at 00:28 ET

There’s something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be so hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population that thought like this, but the U.S. is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who exerts a huge influence over much of the right-wing and libertarian crowd, but whose influence is only starting to spread out of the U.S.

One reason most countries don’t find the time to embrace Ayn Rand’s thinking is that she is a textbook sociopath. In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of “ideal man” she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe — former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox — along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

(More here.)

Radical Jihad Will Not Be Easily Halted

By Tom Maertens
Mankato Free Press, January 28, 2015

France has suffered a series of terrorist attacks recently, the worst being the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. Religious extremists were behind those actions, shouting allahu akbar as they executed twelve journalists. As is well known, they were Muslims acting on behalf of Islam.

Slimane Nadour, head of communications at the Grand Mosque of Paris, acknowledged that fact, saying that “Everyone in France, including Muslims, is afraid of the radicals. Muslims themselves are the biggest target of radical Islamist terrorism.”

Radical Islamist terrorist groups include ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, AQAP, and the Taliban.

Pope Francis attributed the recent killings in France and the strife in the Middle East to “deviant forms of religion” such as religious fundamentalism, noting that perpetrators use God as a pretext for their crimes. …”Violence is always the product of a falsification of religion…whose only goal is power over others.”

There is a predictable result of such religiously-based terrorism: three separate polls show respectively that 60% of Italians view Islam as a dangerous religion and that 60% of Germans and 74% of the French say that Islam is not compatible with Western society. In contrast, has anybody ever worried about Unitarian suicide bombers, Amish jihadists or Quaker sleeper cells, for example?

One explanation for the growing extremism cites the background of Muslim immigrants from the most rural areas of Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, and Pakistan. The immigrants are poorer, less educated, and more religious than their host societies.

Yet there are millions of Christians in the Middle East who don’t blow themselves up to become martyrs, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances as the supposedly oppressed Muslims.

The immigrants’ concept of nationhood is based on Islam, not on common language, history and ethnic group as in Europe. For them, the Qu’ran is seen as the constitution of an Islamic state; it uses religious rules – Shariah -- to enforce its control over all aspects of society. A 2013 Pew survey shows, for example, that 88% of Muslims in Egypt and 62% of Muslims in Pakistan support the death penalty for people who leave Islam.

Accordingly, many immigrants have refused to assimilate and instead, agitated for Islamic law, which is anathema in pluralistic and secular Europe. Many Europeans believe that immigrants should adapt to the host countries’ culture and traditions; instead, the immigrants frequently attempt to install the same dysfunctional systems they fled.

Some, such as ex-Senator Joe Lieberman, believe the response to Islamist terrorism should be open warfare, starting with a formal declaration of war. He asserted in the WSJ that the West must go on the offensive against radical Islam; that the U.S. and the European powers should form an alliance against the jihadist groups with the goal of destroying them militarily. Unfortunately, such an approach has not met with notable success; historically, it has created more jihadis, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led eventually to the creation of al Qaeda, and the US invasion of Iraq was instrumental in the formation of ISIS.

Other commentators, such as David Ignatius in the Washington Post, believe the role of religion is exaggerated. He points out that the three Paris attackers were less religious zealots than career criminals for whom jihadi groups apparently provided a sense of belonging and an outlet for adventure and their criminal proclivities: ISIS’s funding comes from pirated oil, kidnapping for ransom, bank robbery, theft, abducting and selling slaves – all sanctioned by Shariah as “spoils of war” -- and from wealthy Arabs.

Ignatius’s approach would be to have prominent Muslims explain that violence is not the real Islam, essentially, to talk them out of jihad.

Another “soft” approach is that of Denmark which attempts to steer returning jihadis towards education and jobs; it has seen the number of ISIS recruits drop from thirty in 2013 to one in 2014.

Others, like Fareed Zakaria, have pointed out that the Qu’ran does not have any prohibitions on blasphemy or criticizing the prophet: these are cynical inventions by political leaders to manipulate the naïve, which should be exposed.

No approach is likely to be successful, however, if weak governments cannot police their national territory, and equally important, cut off the groups’ financing.

The outcome of this campaign is uncertain, but it will be lengthy and expensive; civil liberties and individual privacy will likely suffer in the process. We will be lucky if we do not also suffer further major attacks in the process.

The Return of Anti-Semitism

Auschwitz survivor Miroslaw Celka walks out the gate with the sign saying ‘Work makes you free’ after paying tribute to fallen comrades at the ‘death wall’ execution spot in the former Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp on Jan. 27 Photo: Agence France-Pesse/Getty Image

Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, violence and hatred against Jews is on the rise, especially in the Middle East and among Muslims in Europe

By Jonathan Sacks WSJ Jan. 30, 2015 12:28 p.m. ET

Last Tuesday, a group of Holocaust survivors, by now gaunt and frail, made their way back to Auschwitz, the West’s symbol of evil—back to the slave-labor side of the vast complex, with its mocking inscription Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work makes you free”), and back to the death camp, where a million and a quarter human beings, most of them Jews, were gassed, burned and turned to ash. They were there to commemorate the day, 70 years ago, when Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz and saw, for the first time, the true dimensions of the greatest crime since human beings first set foot on Earth.

The moment would have been emotional at the best of times, but this year brought an especially disturbing undercurrent. The Book of Genesis says that, when God told Abraham what would happen to his descendants, a “fear of great darkness” fell over him. Something of that fear haunted the survivors this week, who have witnessed the return of anti-Semitism to Europe after 70 years of political leaders constant avowals of “Never again.” As they finished saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourners, one man cried out, “I don’t want to come here again.” Everyone knew what he meant. For once, the fear was not only about the past but also about the future.

The murder of Jewish shoppers at a Parisian kosher supermarket three weeks ago, after the killing of 12 people at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, sent shivers down the spines of many Jews, not because it was the first such event but because it has become part of a pattern. In 2014, four were killed at the Jewish museum in Brussels. In 2012, a rabbi and three young children were murdered at a Jewish school in Toulouse. In 2008 in Mumbai, four terrorists separated themselves from a larger group killing people in the city’s cafes and hotels and made their way to a small Orthodox Jewish center, where they murdered its young rabbi and his pregnant wife after torturing and mutilating them. As the Sunday Times of London reported about the attack, “the terrorists would be told by their handlers in Pakistan that the lives of Jews were worth 50 times those of non-Jews.”

An ancient hatred has been reborn.

(More here.)

How the language police are perverting liberalism

Jonathan Chait, New York Mag

Around 2 a.m. on December 12, four students approached the apartment of Omar Mahmood, a Muslim student at the University of Michigan, who had recently published a column in a school newspaper about his perspective as a minority on campus. The students, who were recorded on a building surveillance camera wearing baggy hooded sweatshirts to hide their identity, littered Mahmood’s doorway with copies of his column, scrawled with messages like “You scum embarrass us,” “Shut the fuck up,” and “DO YOU EVEN GO HERE?! LEAVE!!” They posted a picture of a demon and splattered eggs.

This might appear to be the sort of episode that would stoke the moral conscience of students on a progressive campus like Ann Arbor, and it was quickly agreed that an act of biased intimidation had taken place. But Mahmood was widely seen as the perpetrator rather than the victim. His column, published in the school’s conservative newspaper, had spoofed the culture of taking offense that pervades the campus. Mahmood satirically pretended to denounce “a white cis-gendered hetero upper-class man” who offered to help him up when he slipped, leading him to denounce “our barbaric attitude toward people of left-handydnyss.” The gentle tone of his mockery was closer to Charlie Brown than to Charlie Hebdo.

The Michigan Daily, where Mahmood also worked as a columnist and film critic, objected to the placement of his column in the conservative paper but hardly wanted his satirical column in its own pages. Mahmood later said that he was told by the editor that his column had created a “hostile environment,” in which at least one Daily staffer felt threatened, and that he must write a letter of apology to the staff. When he refused, the Daily fired him, and the subsequent vandalism of his apartment served to confirm his status as thought-criminal.

(More here.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Africa's quiet solar revolution

The continent skipped land lines for mobile phones. Now a new generation of start-ups is trying to bring sun power to rural Africa – and leapfrog the fossil fuel era.

By Lorena Galliot, Contributor, Christian Science Monitor, JANUARY 25, 2015

ARUSHA, TANZANIA — By Tanzanian standards, Nosim Noah is not poor. A tall, handsome woman with the angular features of her fellow Masai tribe members, Ms. Noah makes a good living selling women’s and children’s clothes in the markets of this northern Tanzanian city. The four-bedroom brick house she shares with her parents and three children outside town has many modern comforts: mosquito screens on the windows and doors, a gas cookstove, and, most important, a faucet with running water in the back of the yard, next to a stall with a working toilet.

But despite their relative prosperity, up until late 2013, the family had no electricity.

“We waited 10 years for them to turn the power on – 10 years and nothing,” says Noah.

Then, one afternoon, the Noahs had an unexpected knock on the door. An agent for a new electrical company called M-POWER said that, for a sign-up fee of only 10,000 shillings ($6), he could install a fully functioning solar home system in their house – enough to power several LED lights and a radio. The payoff was immediate. While Noah used to spend $18 a month on kerosene, she now pays a monthly average of $11 for her solar lighting, and she no longer has to go into town to charge her cellphone. The person most affected, though, may be her 2-year-old daughter, Emilia, who is afraid of the dark.

(Continued here.)

Skull Fossil Offers New Clues on Human Journey From Africa

Anthropologists discovered a 55,000-year-old skull fossil in the Manot Cave in western Galilee in 2008, and it was subjected to years of analysis. Credit Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, WashPost, JAN. 28, 2015

Anthropologists exploring a cave in Israel have uncovered a rare 55,000-year-old skull fossil that they say has a story to tell of a reverberating transition in human evolution, at a point when and where some early humans were moving out of Africa and apparently interbreeding with Neanderthals.

The story is of when the Levant was a corridor for anatomically modern humans who were expanding out of Africa and then across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of early human-related species. Given the scarcity of human fossils from that time, scholars say, these ancestors of present-day non-African populations had remained largely enigmatic.

From the new fossil find, which could be closely related to the first modern humans to colonize Stone Age Europe, it appears that these people already had physical traits a bit different from the Africans they were leaving behind and many other human inhabitants along the corridor.

Could this support recent genetic evidence that modern Homo sapiens and their Neanderthal cousins interbred, perhaps in the Middle East and most likely between 65,000 and 47,000 years ago? The discovery team urged caution on the interbreeding issue, but noted anatomical features of the cranium suggesting that some human-Neanderthal mixture had presumably occurred before any encounters in Europe and Asia.

(More here.)

An ‘expensive’ placebo is more effective than a ‘cheap’ one, study shows

By Lenny Bernstein — January 28 at 4:00 PM — WashPost

Parkinson's Disease patients secretly treated with a placebo instead of their regular medication performed better when told they were receiving a more expensive version of the "drug," researchers reported Wednesday in an unprecedented study that involved real patients.

The research shows that the well-documented "placebo effect" -- actual symptom relief brought about by a sham treatment or medication -- can be enhanced by adding information about cost, according to the lead author of the study. It is the first time that concept has been demonstrated using people with a real illness, in this case Parkinson's, a progressive neurological disease that has no cure, according to an expert not involved in the study.

"The potentially large benefit of placebo, with or without price manipulations, is waiting to be untapped for patients with [Parkinson's Disease], as well as those with other neurologic and medical diseases," the authors wrote in a study published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

But deceiving actual patients in a research study raised ethical questions about violating the trust involved in a doctor-patient relationship. Most studies in which researchers conceal their true aims or other information from subjects are conducted with healthy volunteers. This one was subjected to a lengthy review before it was allowed to proceed, and, in an editorial that accompanied the article, two other physicians wrote that "the authors do not mention whether there was any possible effect (reduction) on trust in doctors or on willingness to engage in future clinical research."

Nor would such a ruse be allowed in clinical practice, said Ted J. Kaptchuk, director of the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter at Harvard Medical School. "I don't think it has a direct practical application," Kaptchuk said. "Telling people something is expensive, that's deception. That's not allowed in clinical practice."

Nevertheless, he said, the research is "provocative" and adds to the body of proof about how the placebo effect augments treatment of disease, especially when medication is provided. While most people think of a placebo as a sugar pill that replaces a real medication, the impact more commonly comes from "the engagement between patients and clinicians," in particular the way doctors create expectations that their efforts will help, Kaptchuk said. That includes a good relationship between doctor and patient; certain medical rituals, such as taking blood pressure and a medical history; and the "color, shape, number and cost" of the placebo drug, according to the institute's Web site.

In a 2008 survey of internists and rheumatologists, half said they regularly prescribed placebo treatments, and 62 percent agreed they are ethically permissible. Only two percent acknowledged using sugar pills, but 41 percent said they prescribed over-the-counter painkillers, and 38 percent said they prescribed vitamins.

In the study released Wednesday, 12 Parkinson's patients were told they were receiving injections of a new drug to help their brains produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter deficient in Parkinson's patients, instead of their regular drug, levodopa. They were told that one injection was a $1,500 version of the drug and another was a $100 version. In fact, they were given common saline both times.

The researchers found that the patients performed better on motor skills tests when they believed they were on the expensive drug, an effect that increased when they were given the expensive placebo first. Neither placebo was quite as good as levodopa, but the expensive version came close. There was no follow-up to determine how long the improvements lasted because the patients were put back on their regular drug regimens.

"I attribute this to patients' perception of greater quality intervention when cost is higher than what they would have been accustomed to," said Alberto Espay, director of the Gardner Center for Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders at the University of Cincinnati, who led the study.

When the researchers looked at functional MRI tests of the participants' brains, however, they found that the cheap placebo activated certain areas more than the expensive one, a result they did not expect. Espay suggested that patients might have been trying harder when they believed they were on a less costly medication.

The study noted that "our findings complement the well-known patient preference of brand name over generic, as recently confirmed in a study of similar design to ours."

Espay said the challenge now is to "harness" the knowledge in patient care. Because outright deception is ethically impermissible, other ways of enhancing the effectiveness of medication should be explored, he said.

"There is a lot that we can explain to patients about the benefits of medication that will enhance the benefit that they will get from them," Espay said.

(More here.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The ugliest geopolitical mugging happening in the world today

Czar Putin’s Next Moves

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
JAN. 28, 2015

ZURICH — Last March, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, supposedly in defense of Russian-speakers there, was just like “what Hitler did back in the ‘30s“ — using ethnic Germans to justify his invasion of neighboring lands. At the time, I thought such a comparison was over the top. I don’t think so anymore. I’d endorse Mrs. Clinton’s comparison purely for the shock value: It draws attention to the awful things Putin is doing to Ukraine, not to mention his own country, whose credit rating was just reduced to junk status.

Putin’s use of Russian troops wearing uniforms without insignia to invade Ukraine and to covertly buttress Ukrainian rebels bought and paid for by Moscow — all disguised by a web of lies that would have made Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels blush and all for the purpose of destroying Ukraine’s reform movement before it can create a democratic model that might appeal to Russians more than Putin’s kleptocracy — is the ugliest geopolitical mugging happening in the world today.

Ukraine matters — more than the war in Iraq against the Islamic State, a.k.a., ISIS. It is still not clear that most of our allies in the war against ISIS share our values. That conflict has a big tribal and sectarian element. It is unmistakably clear, though, that Ukraine’s reformers in its newly elected government and Parliament — who are struggling to get free of Russia’s orbit and become part of the European Union’s market and democratic community — do share our values. If Putin the Thug gets away with crushing Ukraine’s new democratic experiment and unilaterally redrawing the borders of Europe, every pro-Western country around Russia will be in danger.

“Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values — with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for,” Natalie Jaresko, Ukraine’s finance minister, told a Ukraine seminar at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

(More here.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

AIEEE! You're stealing my oil!

Murkowski's primal scream on ANWR points to Alaska's precarious balance (+video)

Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski is livid over President Obama's move to ban oil development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). To her, it betrays the promise America made to Alaska in statehood.

By Francine Kiefer, Christian Science Monitor staff writer, JANUARY 26, 2015

WASHINGTON — On Monday, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski again gave voice to the Alaska congressional delegation's primal scream.

Last week, she did it in a written statement that all but called the Obama administration economic occupiers of Alaska. On Monday, she wanted to make sure she was heard. In a fist-pounding press conference, she said that President Obama has declared “war” on her state. “The fight is on and we are not backing down,” she said.

Such strident rhetoric is not all that unusual in the Capitol. But rarely is it accompanied by such evident passion.

Mr. Obama’s proposal to declare millions of acres of the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness – giving them the highest possible federal protection from drillers – is nothing less than a violation of the state's “sovereignty,” Senator Murkowski said. And she vows to use every tool available – legislation, the budget, and the courts – to undo it.

(Continued here.)

Budget Forecast Sees End to Sharp Deficit Declines

By JONATHAN WEISMAN, NYT, JAN. 26, 2015

WASHINGTON — The federal budget deficit will continue to inch downward through next year, but even with the economy on an upward trajectory, the government’s red ink will begin to rise in 2017 and expand with an aging population, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

The new budget projections effectively signal the end of the steep decline in deficits as the economy climbed out of the recession. Lawmakers now face a familiar and politically vexing problem: What to do about increases in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending that reflect the nation’s demographics, not its economic health?

“The past will catch up to us no matter how fast we run from it,” said Senator Michael B. Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, the new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The forecast might not change President Obama’s policy proposals, which will come out on Monday, but it will fortify a Republican Congress’s resolve to pass budgets this spring that would fundamentally reorder health care spending, preserve tough spending caps and force Washington to at least look at Social Security. Democrats will say those spending plans are contradicted by efforts to overhaul the tax code without producing any more tax revenue.

And a budget season that will begin in earnest with the release of the president’s tax-and-spending plan for the fiscal year 2016 will underscore a partisan divide over post-recession policy making.

(More here.)

Save the New Ukraine

By BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY and GEORGE SOROS, NYT, JAN. 27, 2015

A NEW Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

This experiment is remarkable for finding expression not only in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the separatists, but also in constructive work. Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building.

Many of those in government and Parliament are volunteers who have given up well-paying jobs to serve their country. Natalie Jaresko, a former investment banker, now works for a few hundred dollars a month as the new finance minister. Volunteers are helping Ukraine’s one million internally displaced people as well as working as advisers to ministers and in local government.

(More here.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Did he really say that?

John Kasich Compares Federal Debt To A Burning Rome, Says Republicans Share Blame

Shahien Nasiripour
Posted: 01/25/2015 12:23 pm

Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Sunday compared the growing federal debt to the so-called great fire of Rome, appearing to lament what he perceives as a lack of action by policymakers to reduce government spending.

The U.S. government’s total debt in December surpassed $18 trillion, according to the Department of the Treasury. Kasich, a Republican and potential 2016 presidential contender, said his fellow party members shared the blame.

“We’re fiddling around while Rome burns,” Kasich said on "Fox News Sunday," referring to the blaze in A.D. 64 that spawned the popular legend that Roman leader Nero played a fiddle while most of the city was destroyed.

Kasich led the House Budget Committee during the latter years of former President Bill Clinton's administration, when Democrats and Republicans, buoyed by the technology revolution of the 1990s, were able to find agreement on spending issues to produce budget surpluses that in late 2000 led the Clinton administration to project a $5 trillion cumulative budget surplus during the 10 fiscal years beginning in October 2001.

(More here.)

Decades of isolation from development have protected reefs in Cuban waters

Unspoiled Coral Reefs Awe Scientists

Nature Conservancy

Cuba has a secret: This country's thousands of miles of coral reefs appear to be healthier than others in Caribbean waters.

Preliminary assessments indicate that the reefs do not exhibit the widespread disease and mortality occurring in places like the Florida Keys, Jamaica and Mexico, in part due to the decades of isolation from mass tourism as well as limited agricultural practices.

A study of the health of Cuba’s reefs can provide valuable insights into coral reef conservation for the Caribbean, and possibly, the world.

(The article is here.)

Will efforts to save corals be overwhelmed by climate change?

As Oceans Heat Up, a Race to Save World's Coral Reefs

Laura Parker, National Geographic
JANUARY 15, 2015

MIAMI—Early one December morning, Chris Langdon, a biological oceanographer at the University of Miami, zipped up his wet suit and dropped overboard just off Key Largo to inspect a section of Florida's ailing coral reef. His living "laboratory," 15 feet down, is the size of several football fields. Last summer a large bleaching event turned much of the coral white.

Bleaching occurs when water temperatures rise or fall. Even a slight fluctuation can set it off. The result is dramatic and often fatal. The coral polyps expel their source of food—the algae that live within the coral and provide its vivid hues. Without food, the coral turns white and eventually dies.

Langdon's morning dive was part of his continuing work to understand the effects of climate change in the oceans, such as rising water temperatures and rising levels of acidity. He has focused on coral reefs because of their critical role in feeding the world's populations. (Can Miami Be Saved? Read the February issue of National Geographicmagazine.)

(Continued here.)

As seas rise, Florida’s bill is coming due

Photo: DownState News
Treading Water: Adaptations will buy time, but can they save Miami?

By Laura Parker
National Geographic

Frank Behrens, a gregarious pitchman for a Dutch development company that sees profit, not loss, in climate change, cuts the engine on our 22-foot Hurricane runabout. We drift through brackish water toward the middle of privately owned Maule Lake in North Miami Beach.

It’s not quite paradise.

The lake, like so many others in Florida, began as a rock quarry. In the years since, it has served as a venue for boat races, a swimming hole for manatees, and a set for the 1960s TV show Flipper. More recently, as if to underscore the impermanence of South Florida’s geography, more than one developer has toyed with partially filling in the lake to build condos. Behrens is promoting a floating village with 29 private, artificial islands, each with a sleek, four-bedroom villa, a sandy beach, a pool, palm trees, and a dock long enough to accommodate an 80-foot yacht. The price: $12.5 million apiece.

Dutch Docklands, Behrens’s firm, has optioned the lake and is marketing the islands as a rich man’s antidote to climate change. As for the risks from rising sea levels, well, that’s the beauty of floating homes. The islands would be anchored to the lake bottom with a telescoping tether similar to those that enable floating oil rigs to ride out the roughest hurricanes.

(Continued here.)

Attacking fellow Republicans with abandon

GOP clown car runs into ditch

By Roger Simon, Politico.com
1/24/15 8:04 PM EST

DES MOINES — The Republican Party’s clown car has become a clown van.

With nearly two dozen possible presidential candidates, the GOP is having a seriousness deficit. There can’t possibly be that many people who are real candidates.

But they can ride in the clown car from event to event, and nobody can stop them.

At the Freedom Summit here Saturday, two dozen speakers ground through 10 hours of speeches in front of more than 1,000 far-right Republicans.

As it turned out, clown car candidates are not necessarily funny. Since they have nothing to lose, they can attack their fellow Republicans with abandon.

(More here.)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

When the South Wasn’t a Fan of States’ Rights

The strange, often forgotten, history of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850

By ERIC FONER, Politico.com
January 23, 2015

Whenever I lecture to non-academic audiences about the Civil War era, someone is bound to insist that the South fought for states’ rights rather than the long-term survival of slavery. In an extreme version of this view, Abraham Lincoln was not the Great Emancipator but a tyrant, the creator of the leviathan national state that essentially enslaved white Americans. This reading of the conflict is why a remarkable number of libertarians, self-proclaimed defenders of individual freedom, sympathize with the Old South, and why some even make excuses for slavery.

But this history omits one important part of antebellum history: When it came to enforcing and maintaining the peculiar institution against an increasingly anti-slavery North, the Old South was all too happy to forget its fear of federal power—a little-remembered fact in our modern retellings of the conflict.

The slavery exception to otherwise robust support for states’ rights was a recurring feature of antebellum Southern politics. Southerners wrote into the Constitution a clause requiring the return of slaves who escaped from one state to another, and in 1793, only four years after George Washington assumed the presidency, they persuaded Congress to enact a law putting that clause into effect. Ironically, when it came to runaway slaves, the white South, usually vocal in defense of local rights, favored robust national action, while some northern states engaged in the nullification of federal law, enacting “personal liberty” laws that barred local officials from cooperating in the capture and return of fugitives.

(More here.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

The West’s four-part strategy to deal with radical Islam

DAVOS, Switzerland

The conversation at Davos is often dominated by economics, and this year it’s no different. But the shock of the Paris terror attacks lingers, and discussions at the World Economic Forum here often turn to radical Islam. I posited in my previous column that the solution does not lie in more American military interventions in the Middle East. What, then, is the answer?

The problem is deep and structural (as I wrote a few weeks after 9/11 in Newsweek, in an essay titled “Why They Hate Us”). The Arab world has been ruled for decades by repressive (mostly secular) dictatorships that, in turn, spawned extreme (mostly religious) opposition movements. The more repressive the regime, the more extreme the opposition. Islam became the language of opposition because it was a language that could not be shut down or censored. Now, the old Arab order is crumbling, but it has led to instability and opportunities for jihadi groups to thrive in new badlands.

Over the past few decades, this radical Islamist ideology has been globalized. Initially fueled by Saudi money and Arab dissenters, imams and intellectuals, it has taken on a life of its own. Today it is the default ideology of anger, discontent and violent opposition for a small number of alienated young Muslim men around the world. Only Muslims, and particularly Arabs, can cure this cancer.

That does not leave the United States and the West helpless. Washington and its allies can support Muslim moderates, help their societies modernize and integrate those that do. But that’s for the long haul. Meanwhile, Washington and its allies must adopt a strategy that has four elements: intelligence, counterterrorism, integration and resilience (ICIR).

(More here.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Citizens United should be seen as an aberration, not a new American standard

How to Make Our Democracy Work for Everyone

By [former Senators] Alan Simpson, Bill Bradley and Bob Kerrey
Roll Call, Jan. 22, 2015

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission. Rather than lamenting the verdict by cataloguing its considerable damage to American elections, we prefer to focus on two things: The erosion of democracy that happens in between elections, and feasible solutions to restore, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, “the consent of the governed.”

In between election days, money has two pernicious effects on the governing process.

First, it stands in the way of legislating sensible, comprehensive solutions to nearly every issue that ordinary Americans care about.

From deficit-reduction to energy and climate, public health to tax reform, bold policies and big ideas don’t stand a chance under the onslaught of political money.

We all pay a personal price for this terribly broken political system. Whether it’s a husband’s job shipped overseas, a woman faced with shuttering her small business, a new graduate struggling with loan payments, or a child suffering from chronic asthma, we pay for the ways in which well-financed interests are able to bend legislation to their benefit or block good policy ideas at the starting gate.

(Continued here.)

Blame it on the vagus nerve

Why Rich People Don't Care About You

Posted by Ross Pomeroy, January 22, 2015, RealClearScience

Examine the income ladder of the United States, and you'll soon stumble upon a surprising fact: Rich people donate a smaller portion of their income to charity than poor people. In 2011, people in the bottom 20% donated 3.2 percent of their earnings. People in the top 20% donated just 1.3 percent.

Similar trends show up in the psychology lab, too.

"What we've been finding across dozens of studies and thousands of participants across this country is that as a person's levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases," Paul Piff, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine, announced in a 2013 TEDx talk.

In one study, Piff brought rich and poor members of the community into the lab and gave them each $10. Participants were told that they could keep the money or share it with a stranger. The poorest subjects, those making less than $25,000 a year, gave 44% more than those making between $150,000 and $200,000.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

It's the 'Golden Rule' that's paramount, not religion

How secular family values stack up

By PHIL ZUCKERMAN, Los Angeles Times

More children are “growing up godless” than at any other time in our nation's history. They are the offspring of an expanding secular population that includes a relatively new and burgeoning category of Americans called the “Nones,” so nicknamed because they identified themselves as believing in “nothing in particular” in a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center.

The number of American children raised without religion has grown significantly since the 1950s, when fewer than 4% of Americans reported growing up in a nonreligious household, according to several recent national studies. That figure entered the double digits when a 2012 study showed that 11% of people born after 1970 said they had been raised in secular homes. This may help explain why 23% of adults in the U.S. claim to have no religion, and more than 30% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say the same.

So how does the raising of upstanding, moral children work without prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Quite well, it seems.

Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.

(Continued here.)

Say It Like It Is

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
JAN. 20, 2015

I’ve never been a fan of global conferences to solve problems, but when I read that the Obama administration is organizing a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism for Feb. 18, in response to the Paris killings, I had a visceral reaction: Is there a box on my tax returns that I can check so my tax dollars won’t go to pay for this?

When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians (most of them Muslims) by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by Al Qaeda in Paris and by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We’ve entered the theater of the absurd.

Last week the conservative columnist Rich Lowry wrote an essay in Politico Magazine that contained quotes from White House spokesman Josh Earnest that I could not believe. I was sure they were made up. But I checked the transcript: 100 percent correct. I can’t say it better than Lowry did:

“The administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness. Asked why the administration won’t say [after the Paris attacks] we are at war with radical Islam, Earnest on Tuesday explained the administration’s first concern ‘is accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it.’

(More here.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pope Francis on climate change: 'Man has gone too far'

"It is man who continuously slaps down nature.... We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth. I think man has gone too far. Thank God that today there are voices that are speaking out about this.” — Pope Francis

(Source here.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Massive destabilization of the 'Earth System' could occur within century

Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’

By Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, January 15

At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings. That is the conclusion of anew paper published Thursday in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.

The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They are the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

“What the science has shown is that human activities — economic growth, technology, consumption — are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center and is the lead author of the paper.

These are not future problems, but rather urgent matters, according to Steffen, who said that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated the transgression of the boundaries. No one knows exactly when push will come to shove, but he said the possible destabilization of the “Earth System” as a whole could occur in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”

The researchers focused on nine separate planetary boundaries first identified by scientists in a 2009 paper. These boundaries set theoretical limits on changes to the environment, and include ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

FLASH! Congress to decide whether climate change is real or not!

Does climate change exist? The Senate is about to let us know: An amendent to the Keystone XL pipeline bill hopes to force Republican climate change deniers to state whether they agree with the science or not.

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, The Guardian

Congress is to vote on whether climate change is real. Seriously.

The measure, which will come up in the debate about the Keystone XL pipeline, will ask the Senate to vote on whether climate change is real, caused by human activities, and has already caused devastating problems in the US and around the world.

It is intended to force Republicans who deny the existence of climate change – and they are a majority in Congress – to own their anti-science positions, said Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont behind the amendment.

“The bottom line is that I think as a nation that we walk down a very dangerous road when the majority party in the United States Congress is prepared to reject science,” Sanders told the Guardian. “I think it is important for Republicans to tell their constituents, to tell the American people, and to tell the world whether they agree with the science or not.”

That could make for some very awkward moments.

Sanders’s amendment has no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Congress – and he acknowledges that is not the point.

(More here.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

The perfect trifecta: Befouling earth, air and water

Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says

Carl Zimmer, NYT
JAN. 15, 2015

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

“We’re lucky in many ways,” said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and another author of the new report. “The impacts are accelerating, but they’re not so bad we can’t reverse them.”

Scientific assessments of the oceans’ health are dogged by uncertainty: It’s much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet.

(More here.)

Ho hum, just another banner year for soaring temperatures

2014 Was Hottest Year on Record, Surpassing 2010

By JUSTIN GILLIS, NYT
JAN. 16, 2015

Last year was the hottest in earth’s recorded history, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.

Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Several European countries set temperature records. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except around Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.

In the annals of climatology, 2014 now surpasses 2010 as the warmest year in a global temperature record that stretches back to 1880. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human emissions and poses profound long-term risks to civilization and to the natural world.

Of the large inhabited land areas, only the eastern half of the United States recorded below-average temperatures in 2014, a sort of mirror image of the unusual heat in the West. Some experts think the stuck-in-place weather pattern that produced those extremes in the United States is itself an indirect consequence of the release of greenhouse gases, though that is not proven.

Several scientists said the most remarkable thing about the 2014 record was that it occurred in a year that did not feature El Niño, a large-scale weather pattern in which the ocean dumps an enormous amount of heat into the atmosphere.

Longstanding claims by climate-change skeptics that global warming has stopped, seized on by politicians in Washington to justify inaction on emissions, depend on a particular starting year: 1998, when an unusually powerful El Niño produced the hottest year of the 20th century.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 'one percent' avoiding their fair share of taxes … again

How Government Helps the 1 Percent

By E.J. Dionne - January 15, 2015

WASHINGTON -- You may think that government takes a lot of money from the wealthy and gives it to poor people. You might also assume that the rich pay a lot to support government while the poor pay a pittance.

There is nothing wrong with you if you believe this. Our public discourse is dominated by these ideas, and you'd probably feel foolish challenging them. After Mitt Romney's comments on the 47 percent blew up on him, conservatives have largely given up talking publicly about their "makers versus takers" distinction. But much of the right's rhetoric and many of its policies are still based on such notions.

It is thus a public service that the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has issued a report showing that at the state and local level, government is, indeed, engaged in redistribution -- but it's redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy.

It's entirely true that better-off people pay more in federal income taxes than the less well-to-do. But this leaves out not only Social Security taxes, but also what's going on elsewhere.

The institute found that in 2015, the poorest fifth of Americans will pay, on average, 10.9 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes and the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent. But the top 1 percent will pay states and localities only 5.4 percent of their incomes in taxes.

(Read more here.)

EPA's plan to cut methane emissions lets current polluters off the hook

Obama's Methane Crackdown to Come Slow and Easy: Cautious approach to regulating oil and gas industry disappoints environmentalists, who regard the plan as a 'toe in the water.'

By Neela Banerjee, InsideClimate News
Jan 14, 2015

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on January 14 rolled out its long-awaited plan to control the oil and gas industry's emissions of methane, saying it would cut leaks of the potent global-warming pollutant nearly in half in the coming decade.

The White House called its approach a crucial step to achieving the ambitious greenhouse-gas emissions targets President Obama announced last November in Beijing, but some environmental advocates said the plan, which relies heavily on voluntary efforts, failed to go far enough.

The methane plan calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to propose methane reductions at new oil and gas sites by summer 2015 and issue a final rule next year. The goal is to cut the industry's emissions 40 to 45 percent below the 2012 level by the year 2025.

Despite being an important expansion of greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, the proposed rule would not address methane leaking from existing oil and gas wells and delivery networks. Rather, the administration said it would work with industry on voluntary efforts to cut methane from existing oil and gas sites, which studies have found to be riddled with leaks.

(Continued here.)

In the Millennials vs. Boomers battle, a case of blaming the victim

Millennials: A product of baby boomer missteps

By Meg Fry, NJBIZ
January 9, 2015 at 12:18 PM

What a way to throw down the gauntlet.

Round of applause for Ross Pomeroy and William Handke at Real Clear Politics for giving a hoot and calling it as they see it.

“For the first time in America’s history, an entire generation of her citizens are poorer, more indebted and less employed than the preceding generations,” they write.

And as lazy and narcissistic as the older generations may paint us, according to Pomeroy and Handke — and us young things over at NJBIZ, too — millennials are not to blame.

“This is a classic case of blaming the victim,” Pomeroy and Handke said.

Here comes the boom — you ready for it?

We’re a product of the Great Recession.

(Continued here.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Charles Krauthammer: Raise gas tax a buck a gallon

The Case for a Revenue-Neutral Gas TaxWhy it actually makes sense to raise it by $1 per gallon

By Charles Krauthammer

or 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.

The only time you can even think of proposing a gas-tax increase is when oil prices are at rock bottom. When I last suggested the idea six years ago, oil was selling at $40 a barrel. It eventually rose back to $110. It’s now around $48. Correspondingly, the price at the pump has fallen in the last three months by more than a dollar to about $2.20 per gallon.

As a result, some in Congress are talking about a ten- or 20-cent hike in the federal tax to use for infrastructure spending. Right idea, wrong policy. The hike should not be 10 cents but $1. And the proceeds should not be spent by, or even entrusted to, the government. They should be immediately and entirely returned to the consumer by means of a cut in the Social Security tax.

The average American buys about twelve gallons of gas a week. Washington would be soaking him for $12 in extra taxes. Washington should therefore simultaneously reduce everyone’s FICA tax by $12 a week. Thus the average driver is left harmless. He receives a $12 per week FICA bonus that he can spend on gasoline if he wants — or anything else. If he chooses to drive less, it puts money in his pocket. (The unemployed would have the $12 added to their unemployment insurance; the elderly, added to their Social Security check.)

(More here.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ways of Looking at the Prophet

Devout Muslims see him as the model for human behavior. Non-Muslims have seen him as lustful, barbarous or worse.

By Eric Ormsby, WSJ
Jan. 9, 2015 5:13 p.m. ET

The Prophet Muhammad might justly be described as the Jekyll and Hyde of historical biography. For centuries, he has been “alternately revered and reviled,” as Kecia Ali, an associate professor of religion at Boston University, notes in her excellent overview of the abundant literature. As a result, Muhammad presents two violently incompatible faces to the historian. For devout Muslims, relying both on the Quran and the vast corpus of sacred traditions, the hadith, he serves as the unimpeachable model for human behavior, not only in matters of faith and ritual but in the most humdrum aspects of daily life, from marital and business relations to personal hygiene, including even the proper use of the toothpick. For non-Muslims, drawing on the same sources, he has been viewed from the earliest times as lustful and barbarous, as a raving impostor aping the ancient prophets; nowadays he is further charged with misogyny and pedophilia. The contrast is so stark as to appear irreconcilable.

The Lives of Muhammad
By Kecia Ali
Harvard. 342 pages, $29.95

Instead of attempting to skirt this divergence, Ms. Ali uses it to structure her inquiry. Each of her chapters is prefaced by a capsule account of some episode in the Prophet Muhammad’s career taken from traditional Muslim sources, most of which involve some age-old point of contention. She follows these up with lively and often intricate discussions of Muslim and non-Muslim reactions. In this manner, she addresses such fraught matters as Muhammad’s “multiple wives” or the brutal seventh-century massacre of the Jewish tribe of the Banu Qurayza in Medina.

Two of the book’s best chapters deal with the most prominent of Muhammad’s 12 or so wives: the saintly Khadija, a Meccan businesswoman 15 years older than he; and the more spirited—and controversial—Aisha, the child-bride who became Muhammad’s “favorite wife” in later years. For both Muslim and non-Muslim biographers, Khadija represents a model wife. She is Muhammad’s comforter in moments of doubt or distress—an “angel of mercy,” according to the modern Egyptian biographer Muhammad Husayn Haykal—and their household is an abode of domestic felicity. Much is made of the fact that Muhammad took other wives only after Khadija’s death.

(More here.)

The Time of the Assassins

The Arab world has no counterforce to the murderers in our midst

By HISHAM MELHEM, Politico.com
January 09, 2015

There is something malignant in the brittle world the Arab peoples inhabit. A murderous, fanatical, atavistic Islamist ideology espoused by Salafi Jihadist killers is sweeping that world and shaking it to its foundations, and the reverberations are felt in faraway continents. On the day the globalized wrath of these assassins claimed the lives of the Charlie Hebdo twelve in Paris, it almost simultaneously claimed the lives of 38 Yemenis in their capital Sana’a, and an undetermined number of victims in Syria and Iraq. Like the Hydra beast of ancient Greece this malignancy has many heads: al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Sunni Salafists and Shiite fanatics, armies and parties of God and militias of the Mahdi. This monstrous ideology has been terrorizing Arab lands long before it visited New York on 9/11, and its butchers assassinated Arab journalists and intellectuals years before committing the Paris massacre of French journalists, cartoonists and police officers.

The devil’s rejects of this ideology engage in wanton ritualistic beheadings while intoxicated with shouts of Allahu Akbar, oblivious to the fact that most of their victims are Muslims. They are perpetuating mass killings and rapes, uprooting ancient communities, declaring war on the great pre-Islamic civilizations and religions of the Fertile Crescent, and managing to turn large swaths of Syria and Iraq into earthly provinces of hell.

The time of the assassins is upon us. And the true tragedy of the Arab and Muslim world today is that there is no organized, legitimate counterforce to oppose these murderers—neither one of governments nor of “moderate” Islam. Nor is there any refuge for those who want to escape the assassins.

Instead, there is only the grim promise of further disintegration. Last year, the area stretching from Beirut on the Med to Basra at the mouth of the Gulf became a long front of Sunni-Shiite bloodletting. The religious and ethnic minorities in the region are cowering with fear and loathing. In this fragmented world identity politics and parochial loyalties are the powers that move the people. The region is being contested now by the Islamic State and Iran, which is for all intents and purposes a prominent, even if not fully recognized, member of the international coalition fighting the dark forces of the Islamic State. Just think of this surreal scene; Iran the only Shiite theocracy in the region is fighting the Islamic State, the radical claimant of an ephemeral Sunni Caliphate. In 2014 many Arab lands, from Yemen to Libya, oscillated between despair and disintegration. There is no room for moderation or reform or tolerance in theses societies. The weak nation-states are getting weaker and falling apart at the seams. Without reconstituted nation-states there can be no serious societal, political or religious reform.

(More here.)

Friday, January 09, 2015

Forget the 1%: It's the 0.1%

Saez and Zucman, 2014 via Slate
1/1000 Of The US Now Controls More Than 1/5 Of The Wealth

SCOTT BIXBY, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
JAN. 5, 2015, 7:38 AM

Forget the 1% — the real winners of the post-collapse economy are America’s top one-thousandth.

Using data gleaned from tax returns to estimate the distribution of household wealth in the United States since 1913, economists Emmanuel Saez, of UC-Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman, of the London School of Economics, have determined that the top 0.1 percent of American households control more than 22% of the nation’s wealth.

Or, in layman’s terms, one-thousandth of the country controls one-fifth of the wealth:

Notice anything terrifying?

(Read more here.)