Friday, July 31, 2015

China’s Naked Emperors

Paul Krugman, NYT

Politicians who preside over economic booms often develop delusions of competence. You can see this domestically: Jeb Bush imagines that he knows the secrets of economic growth because he happened to be governor when Florida was experiencing a giant housing bubble, and he had the good luck to leave office just before it burst. We’ve seen it in many countries: I still remember the omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to Japanese bureaucrats in the 1980s, before the long stagnation set in.
This is the context in which you need to understand the strange goings-on in China’s stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn’t matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China’s remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation’s rulers have no idea what they’re doing.
Start with the fundamentals. China is at the end of an era — the era of superfast growth, made possible in large part by a vast migration of underemployed peasants from the countryside to coastal cities. This reserve of surplus labor is now dwindling, which means that growth must slow.
But China’s economic structure is built around the presumption of very rapid growth. Enterprises, many of them state-owned, hoard their earnings rather than return them to the public, which has stunted family incomes; at the same time, individual savings are high, in part because the social safety net is weak, so families accumulate cash just in case. As a result, Chinese spending is lopsided, with very high rates of investment but a very low share of consumer demand in gross domestic product.

(More here.)

Listen to WSJ’s Bret Stephens Secretly Plot With “Pro-Israel” Evangelical Group Against Iran Deal

Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

July 30 2015, 10:44 a.m.

The fanatical Israel-devoted group Christians United for Israel, which calls itself “the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States with over two million members,” yesterday held an off-the-record call to formulate strategies for defeating the pending nuclear deal with Iran. The star of the show was the Wall Street Journal’s longtime foreign affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens, who spoke for roughly 30 minutes. A recording of this call was provided to The Intercept and is posted here.
Stephens, who previously served as editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post from 2002 to 2004 (where he anointed Paul Wolfowitz “Man of the (Jewish) Year”), is essentially a standard-issue neocon and warmonger, which is why his mentality is worth hearing. He begins the strategy call with an attempt to sound rational and sober, but becomes increasingly unhinged and hysterical as he progresses. Here, for instance, is Stephens’ message that he believes should be delivered to wavering members of Congress:
Someone should say, “this is going to be like your vote for the Iraq War. This is going to come back to haunt you. Mark my words, it will come back to haunt you. Because as Iran cheats, as Iran becomes more powerful, and Iran will be both of those things, you will be held to account. This vote will be a stain. You will have to walk away from it at some point or another. You will have to explain it. And some of you may in fact lose your seats because of your vote for this deal. You’ll certainly lose a lot of financial support from some of your previous supporters.”

First, note the bizarre equation of support for the war in Iraq with support for a peace deal with Iran. Second, since when do neocons like Stephens talk about the Iraq War as something shameful, as a “stain” on one’s legacy? Stephens was a vehement advocate for the attack on Iraq, as was the paper for which he works, and never once suggested that he was wrong to do so. Third, yet again we find journalists at newspapers claiming the pretense of objectivity who are in fact full-on activists: here, to the point of colluding with a right-wing group to sink the Iran Deal — there’s nothing wrong with that on its own terms, other than the conceit that journalism is distinct from activism.

(More here.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Alaska goes up in flames … with more to come

Alaska’s terrifying wildfire season and what it says about climate change

By Chris Mooney, Washington Post

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Hundreds of wildfires are continually whipping across this state this summer, leaving in their wake millions of acres of charred trees and blackened earth.

At the Fairbanks compound of the state’s Division of Forestry recently, workers were busy washing a mountain of soot-covered fire hoses, which stood in piles roughly six feet high and 100 feet long. About 3,500 smokejumpers, hotshot crews, helicopter teams and other workers have traveled to Alaska this year from across the country and Canada. And they have collectively deployed about 830 miles of hose this year to fight fires.

An hour north of the state’s second-biggest city, firefighters were attacking flames stretching across more than 31,000 acres, including an area close to the Trans-Alaska pipeline system, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. And that’s just one of about 300 fires at any given time.

(Continued here.)

Climate change skeptics may be about to lose one of their favorite arguments

By Chris Mooney July 27, WashPost

Whenever you point to melting ice in polar regions, climate change doubters or skeptics have an answer. Ice floating atop the seas around Antarctica, they point out, is growing — and that’s not what you would expect from global warming, right?

In late 2013 and early 2014, an iconic moment capturing this phenomenon occurred when a research vessel, MV Akademik Shokalskiy, actually found itself trapped in Antarctic ice, and its 52 passengers — including some scientists — had to be rescued by helicopter. Climate skeptics had a field day. “It will take far more than helicopters … to salvage the theory of so-called ‘global warming,’” wrote Deroy Murdock. “It remains trapped in Antarctic ice.”

There’s no doubt that growing Antarctic sea ice is a mystery in the climate system — and an anomalous, seemingly contrary indicator. However, if a controversial and much-discussed new paper from famed former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 colleagues is correct, then actually it could be a troubling climate warning sign. (Indeed, other scientists have reached similar conclusions.)

According to Hansen’s thinking, expanding Antarctic sea ice is precisely what you would expect to see if the Antarctic continent itself is losing a lot of ice mass from its vast ice sheet, adding to sea level rise.

(More here.)

Windows 10 or OS X? A Mac User Falls For the PC Again

With a simpler interface and new features, Microsoft’s Windows is more like Apple’s OS X than ever before

With Windows 10, the PC has more in common with the Mac than ever. WSJ’s Joanna Stern parodies those classic Mac vs. PC ads—with a surprise 2015 twist.

By Joanna Stern, WSJ
July 28, 2015 1:54 p.m. ET

You can blame Vista and the constant pounding of Ctrl+Alt+Del that came with it. Or you can blame those clever Mac vs. PC ads. But about eight years ago, after growing up with Windows computers and countless games of “Solitaire,” I bought my first Mac. And I never looked back.

Until now.

I’ve spent the past month solely using Windows 10, and I’ve fallen in love with Windows again. In fact, I’ve rarely missed Mac OS X. I’m more productive and faster at handling my many open windows on Microsoft ’s latest than on Apple’s. If you had told me a year ago that I’d write those words, I’d have said you’re on some mind-altering drug.

After unsuccessfully zigging for the past few years with Windows 8—which awkwardly layered a touch interface over old-school Windows—Microsoft has zagged back to the desktop it knows best with Windows 10.

Available starting Wednesday as a free upgrade on Windows 7 and 8 PCs, it takes the traditional underpinnings and spruces them up with a modern design, a helpful personal assistant and better windows-management tools. Unlike Windows 8, it stays out of your way, just letting you do what you need to do better. It’s what Windows should be in 2015.

It’s not surprising that I’ve fallen so hard for Windows 10. For nearly 30 years, the two computing rivals have picked and pulled features from each other. At this point, both Windows 10 and Apple’s upcoming Mac OS X El Capitan have so many nearly identical functions that at times it can feel like playing “Can You Spot the Difference?”

(Continued here.)

Bipartisan Push Builds to Relax Sentencing Laws

JULY 28, 2015

WASHINGTON — For several years, a handful of lawmakers in Congress have tried to scale back tough sentencing laws that have bloated federal prisons and the cost of running them. But broad-based political will to change those laws remained elusive.

Now, with a push from President Obama and, perhaps even more significant, a nod from Speaker John A. Boehner, Congress seems poised to revise four decades of federal policy that greatly expanded the number of Americans who are incarcerated, to roughly 750 per 100,000, by far the highest rate of any Western nation.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has long resisted changes to federal sentencing laws, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill ready before the August recess.

“It will be a bill that can have broad conservative support,” said Mr. Grassley, who as recently as this year praised the virtues of mandatory minimums on the Senate floor.

Even in a Congress riven by partisanship, the priorities of libertarian-leaning Republicans and left-leaning Democrats have come together, led by the example of several states that have adopted similar policies to reduce their prison costs.

(More here.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Windows 10 Review: A Welcome Upgrade, Perhaps Too Late

The new Microsoft operating system reverses the sins of Windows 8 and improves on Windows 7, yet misses chances for the PC to reclaim relevance

Microsoft's new operating system is free to owners of Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs. WSJ Personal Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler explains why Windows 10 is the best PC experience since Windows XP.

By Geoffrey A. Fowler, WSJ
Updated July 28, 2015 3:28 p.m. ET

Imagine you buy a new car, the same brand you’ve driven for years. But in this new model, the steering wheel is in the back seat. “That’s the future!” says the salesman, rattling off a list of reasons it’s better to steer from the rear. Driving home with your new car, you’d probably end up in a ditch.

The last time Microsoft updated Windows, that’s what happened. In a desperate plea for relevance in a smartphone and tablet world, Windows 8 presented radical ideas about operating computers with fingers and pens instead of mice and keyboards. But it turns out melding touch-based and traditional operating systems was the wrong idea.

Most people avoided upgrading like the plague. With Windows 10, which arrives as a free update Wednesday, Microsoft puts us back in a familiar driver’s seat. Turn it on and, hallelujah, there’s your desktop, unencumbered by gobbledygook. All the important stuff is back where you can find it, including the Start menu.

It’s worth the upgrade from Windows 8 for these repairs alone. You should also get Windows 10 if, like me, you still use Windows 7 on your primary computer. You’ll love its new search. It can do some things other operating systems can’t, like identify your face instead of making you type passwords. It will talk back when you call out, “Hey, Cortana,” to summon Microsoft’s fledgling virtual assistant.

(More here.)

Clinton’s new e-mail storm is no criminal scandal

By Ruth Marcus Columnist, July 27 at 7:54 PM, WashPost

The latest controversy over Hillary Clinton’s e-mails — the allegation that classified information was improperly transmitted on her private e-mail server — is, or should be, a non-scandal.

Clinton has only herself to blame for a lot of the e-mail mess. She should have behaved like other government officials and used an official account, however cumbersome the multiple-device consequences might have been.

If she insisted on using a private server, she should have been exceedingly careful to make certain that information was properly designated for archiving at the time — not long after the fact.

When she finally turned over thousands of e-mails to the State Department, she should not have then taken the provocative step of deleting thousands more from the server, a move guaranteed to fan conspiracy theories not quiet them.

(More here.)

This Scrabble champion is so good he can beat you in a language he doesn’t even know

New Zealand’s Nigel Richards competes at the Francophone Scrabble World Championships in Louvain-La-Neuve on July 20. (John Thys/AFP/Getty)

By Elahe Izadi July 22, WashPost

Nigel Richards doesn’t speak a word of French.

He won the French-language Scrabble World Championship anyway.

The native New Zealander is a powerhouse in the competitive Scrabble world, having repeatedly won North American and world competitions. But he set his sights on something even more challenging: Winning a competition in a language he doesn’t know.

Richards began training in May to win the Francophone world title, according to the French Scrabble Federation. His regimen consisted of memorizing the French Scrabble world list, a task that took him about nine weeks, the BBC reported following his victory on Monday.

“I’m not sure there is a secret,” Richards said in 2011 after winning the world title (in English). “It’s just a matter of learning the words.”

(More here.)

And Don’t Call Me Shirley: 35 Years of ‘Airplane!’

[LP note: I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of "Airplane" in Hollywood along with an audience of film dignitaries. Since, relatively speaking, there was very little fanfare about it before its release, no one knew quite what to expect. It received a thunderous if not standing ovation at the end. A big difference from "Heaven's Gate", of which I also watched the premiere, which had garnered a lot of adverse publicity before its release. The audience, at least those who were left, after sitting through its 219 minutes, afforded it only a stunning silence.]

The puns, non-sequiturs, sight gags and smart casting of ‘Airplane!’ create a movie still filled with surreal, anarchic laughs 35 years after its release.

By David Mermelstein, WSJ
July 27, 2015 6:55 p.m. ET

Surely it can’t be 35 years since the comedy “Airplane!” (1980) first arrived in movie theaters. In fact, it has been that long—and don’t call me Shirley. If that last remark elicits a smile, you are among the legions of film lovers with special affection for the first picture written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, in which a commercial jet, its cockpit crew rendered useless by food poisoning, seems destined to crash unless a passenger—a traumatized war pilot—can overcome his demons and land the plane safely in inclement weather. The three writer-directors would go on to create comedies that defined humor in the 1980s—spoofing police procedurals, first on TV in the series “Police Squad!” (1982) and then on the big screen in “The Naked Gun” trilogy (1988-1994), and spy films, “Top Secret!” (1984). But in some ways, they never topped their freshman feature.

Puns, non-sequiturs, sight gags and miscellaneous forms of anarchic humor defined their craft. Often the jokes were juvenile, sometimes crass, but they could also be subtle, embracing an almost absurdist ethos of the sort espoused by such paragons as Steve Martin and David Letterman. And though the influence of “Airplane!” and works like it has waned in the wake of our infatuation with more puerile, to say nothing of more vulgar, forms of comedy, its impact continues to resound. Take the recent movie “Ted 2,” which in many ways seems far removed from the concerns of the Zucker Brothers and Mr. Abrahams. Yet it opens with a joke in which viewers must guess which wedding guest might have snorted cocaine. Hint: the one acting like a maniac on the dance floor. The gag is obvious and faintly dumb, but right out of the Abrahams/Zucker playbook: The real joke is on us, how we’re expecting to be challenged and then aren’t. Similarly, in the just-released “Trainwreck,” we get LeBron James playing a tightfisted but warmhearted version of himself. “Airplane!” was there first, though, using Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to play a basketball superstar moonlighting as a co-pilot. Silly (maybe even stupid), yet somehow funny.

Vastly more impressive was the mining of comic gold from such longtime exemplars of screen rectitude as Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves and Leslie Nielsen. (Indeed, Nielsen would forge something of a new career capitalizing on his gift for delightfully affectless readings of both solemn and inane lines by Messrs. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker.)

(More here.)

A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes

For 110 days and across two seas and three oceans, crews stalked a fugitive fishing ship considered the world’s most notorious poacher.

JULY 28, 2015

ABOARD THE BOB BARKER, in the South Atlantic — As the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, began sliding under the sea a couple of hundred miles south of Nigeria, three men scrambled aboard to gather evidence of its crimes.

In bumpy footage from their helmet cameras, they can be seen grabbing everything they can over the next 37 minutes — the captain’s logbooks, a laptop computer, charts and a slippery 200-pound fish. The video shows the fishing hold about a quarter full with catch and the Thunder’s engine room almost submerged in murky water. “There is no way to stop it sinking,” the men radioed back to the Bob Barker, which was waiting nearby. Soon after they climbed off, the Thunder vanished below.

It was an unexpected end to an extraordinary chase. For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the trawler, with the three captains close enough to watch one another’s cigarette breaks and on-deck workout routines. In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history.

Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.

(More here.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies

How It Happened and What Next?

By Margaret Sullivan, NYT
July 27, 2015 10:00 am

Updated, 10:54 a.m. | The story certainly seemed like a blockbuster: A criminal investigation of Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Justice Department was being sought by two federal inspectors general over her email practices while secretary of state.

It’s hard to imagine a much more significant political story at this moment, given that she is the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

The story – a Times exclusive — appeared high on the home page and the mobile app late Thursday and on Friday and then was displayed with a three-column headline on the front page in Friday’s paper. The online headline read “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” very similar to the one in print.

But aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online. The first major change was this: It wasn’t really Mrs. Clinton directly who was the focus of the request for an investigation. It was more general: whether government information was handled improperly in connection with her use of a personal email account.

Much later, The Times backed off the startling characterization of a “criminal inquiry,” instead calling it something far tamer sounding: it was a “security” referral.

From Thursday night to Sunday morning – when a final correction appeared in print – the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections. The first change I mentioned above was written into the story for hours without a correction or any notice of the change, which was substantive.

(More here.)

GOP’s Favorability Rating Takes a Negative Turn

Republicans Less Positive About Their Party

PEW Research

The Republican Party’s image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans’ midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.

Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago. About two-thirds (68%) express a favorable opinion of their party, the lowest share in more than two years. Six months ago, 86% of Republicans viewed the GOP positively.

(More here.)

35 Bill Cosby accusers on New York magazine’s cover

(Photographs by Amanda Demme for New York magazine)

By Justin Wm. Moyer July 27 at 1:05

In the years since women first said Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them and the months since the media started paying attention, it’s been difficult to keep track of the comedian’s alleged victims. Many publications — including The Washington Post — have reported dozens of versions of the same story: A young woman, often an aspiring actress, is violated by a man who thinks himself a mentor.

After a few weeks, unfortunately, it became difficult to tell such stories apart. Was it P.J. Masten who said Cosby drugged and raped her in a Chicago hotel, or was that Lise-Lotte Lublin?

New York magazine may have ended the relative anonymity of many Cosby accusers for good. For a cover story this week, New York interviewed and photographed 35 of Cosby’s alleged victims, supplementing the story with video interviews with six.

(More here.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Neo-Confederate views are purposeful hate

July 26, 2015

My View

It has often been remarked that the South lost the Civil War but won the peace. After the war, Confederate veterans and sympathizers conducted a campaign of terror against blacks to keep them from voting, and to obstruct Reconstruction — mostly successfully.

In the intervening 150 years, neo-Confederates have attempted to whitewash the history of the Civil War, attempting to refute the fact that it was about slavery.

The recent shootings in Charleston are a continuation of the same racist violence; the North Carolina KKK endorsed it, asserting that it was commanded by the Bible. Dylann Roof, the killer, attributed his radicalization to information from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), as he noted on the white supremacist forum Stormfront. org.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, over 100 murders and hate crimes have been traced to members of Stormfront, which promotes the values of “the embattled white minority.”

There is no mistaking the white supremacist views of the CofCC, either: its Statement of Principles declares that it “oppose(s) all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people … to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”

Like its predecessor, the infamous White Citizens Councils, it has cultivated politicians and clergy over the years as cover, among them Mike Huckabee (a Southern Baptist minister who addressed its 1993 convention on tape), Ron Paul, Haley Barbour, Bob Barr and many others.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is another leading neo-Confederate group; it “commemorates” the war with monuments, flags, awards for “patriotism” and conducts (Southern) history classes. The Charleston shootings prompted some to question Confederate history and the meaning of the battle flag, leading to the flag’s removal from the South Carolina state capitol grounds and the Alabama capitol. Many diehards are refusing to disavow the battle flag, claiming it is part of their history, and denying that it is a symbol of hate or white supremacy.

The state of Texas codifies neo-Confederate revisionism in its new textbooks, adopted after a fierce battle in 2010. The new guidelines call for teaching that “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” caused the Civil War, implying that slavery was a secondary issue.

The states’ rights claim is a red herring: Ta-Nahisi Coates in Atlantic. com has compiled pre-war statements from Confederate leaders that demonstrate unequivocally that the South seceded over slavery, not states’ rights. In addition, some states — oblivious to the irony — justified secession by citing Northern states’ refusal to return escaped slaves as required by the Fugitive Slave Laws, an exercise of Northern states’ rights.

An integral element of neo-Confederate ideology is Christian Dominionism, the idea that Christians should work toward a nation governed by Christians, based on biblical law. Michael Lind argues in Politico that religiosity is one of the defining characteristics of the South, along with a pre-modern “culture of honor” that promotes violence in all its forms; that Southern politicians have long used public piety to troll for votes, something unique among English-speaking democracies.

Segregationists and neo-Confederates have traditionally adopted this Christian identity, and historically, used the Bible to justify slavery; Leviticus 25, for example, explicitly allows buying and selling slaves, including children. Other verses deal with the treatment of slaves, and admonish slaves to obey their masters.

The neo-Confederate influence is apparent in such things as Texas’s new social studies curriculum. As the Washington Post recently noted editorially, it mandates that Texas schools teach students that Moses played a bigger role in inspiring the Constitution than slavery played in causing the Civil War.

The Constitution is not based on the Ten Commandments. It lays out the responsibilities of three co-equal branches of government, but it does not mention God or the Ten Commandments; there is no proscription on worshipping idols or false gods, nothing about coveting a neighbor’s ox or donkey or male servant, about respecting parents, keeping certain days holy, committing adultery, or taking God’s name in vain. The forefathers were creating a secular republic not a Christian theocracy.

Texas’ rewriting of history is the consequence of decades of neo-Confederate propaganda, coupled with a long-standing hostility toward Washington, and recently, toward a black man in the White House, which have fueled a new secessionist movement.

As the second largest state, its textbooks have inordinate influence and are sold in many other states, spreading their unreconstructed neo-Confederate views around the country. As events in Charleston demonstrate, this can have tragic consequences.

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Weird: New York Times alters Clinton email story

7/24/15 4:58 AM EDT

The New York Times made small but significant changes to an exclusive report about a potential criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's State Department email account late Thursday night, but provided no notification of or explanation for of the changes.

The paper initially reported that two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation "into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state."

That clause, which cast Clinton as the target of the potential criminal probe, was later changed: the inspectors general now were asking for an inquiry "into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state."

The Times also changed the headline of the story, from "Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email" to "Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account," reflecting a similar recasting of Clinton's possible role. The article's URL was also changed to reflect the new headline.

(More here.)

America’s Marxist Allies Against ISIS

A Personal War

By Matt Bradley and Joe Parkinson, WSJ

SINJAR MOUNTAIN, Iraq—Nine years ago, Zind Ruken packed a bag and left her majority-ethnic-Kurdish city in Iran, escaping a brutal police crackdown and pressure to marry a man she’d never met.

Now the 24-year-old is a battle-hardened guerrilla, using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to fight Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.

She has deployed to reverse their advances on self-governing Kurdish communities. Last summer, she says, she helped rescue Kurdish-speaking Yazidis besieged on Sinjar Mountain. Her unit has fought Islamist insurgents and conventional armies in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq—countries where an estimated 30 million Kurds live.

Ms. Ruken’s journey provides a glimpse behind the remarkable rise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the cultlike Marxist-inspired group she fights for and whose triumphs against Islamic State have helped it evolve from ragtag militia to regional power player.

The PKK and its Syrian affiliate have emerged as Washington’s most effective battlefield partners against Islamic State, also known as ISIS, even though the U.S. and its allies have for decades listed the PKK as a terrorist group. The movement in the past has been accused of kidnappings, murder and narcotics trafficking, but fighters like Ms. Ruken have presented the world an appealing face of the guerrillas—an image of women battling as equals with male comrades against an appallingly misogynist enemy.

(More here.)

The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Fraud

Joe Nocera, NYT
JULY 24, 2015

Called away on family business, I was afraid I’d missed the sweet spot for commentary on the Harper Lee/“To Kill a Mockingbird”/“Go Set a Watchman” controversy — that moment right after “Watchman’s” release on July 14 when it was all anybody in literary circles could talk about.

Then again, the Rupert Murdoch-owned publishing house HarperCollins announced just this week that it had sold more than 1.1 million copies in a week’s time, making it the “fastest-selling book in company history.” “Watchman” has rocketed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, where it will surely stay for a while. And the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal not only excerpted the first chapter on the Friday before publication, but it also gave its readers a chance to win a signed first edition of the book. Talk about synergy!

So perhaps it’s not too late after all to point out that the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.

The Ur-fact about Harper Lee is that after publishing her beloved novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1960, she not only never published another book; for most of that time she insisted she never would. Until now, that is, when she’s 89, a frail, hearing- and sight-impaired stroke victim living in a nursing home. Perhaps just as important, her sister, Alice, Lee’s longtime protector, passed away last November. Her new protector, Tonja Carter, who had worked in Alice Lee’s law office, is the one who brought the “new novel” to HarperCollins’s attention, claiming, conveniently, to have found it shortly before Alice died.

(More here.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17

James Miller and Michael Weiss, The Daily Beast

One year after 298 civilians fell to earth over eastern Ukraine, Putin’s regime is still denying culpability. Here’s definitive evidence to the contrary.

It’s been a year since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky, killing all 298 civilians onboard. The results of the official inquiry have yet to be released, and while the fact that this Boeing 777 was immolated has not been disputed, various theories have been floated by the Ukrainian government, the Russian government, and other interested parties as to how it was and who ultimately bears responsibility for this tragedy.

The vast majority of the evidence adds credibility to the theory that an anti-aircraft Buk missile launcher, controlled by either Russian soldiers or Russian-backed fighters and fired from a field south of the town of Snezhnoye, destroyed the commercial airliner. The Buk is an advanced weapons system capable of destroying military aircraft or even ballistic missiles at an altitude up to 82,000 feet, and so its presence on Ukraine’s battlefield was always set to change both the scope and intensity of the conflict. But it suspiciously arrived in the arsenal of the Russian-backed fighters at a time when the Ukrainian military was making rapid gains and was perhaps closing in on a military solution to the conflict.

Before MH17

After Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014, bands of pro-Russian fighters began to seize police stations, government buildings, and other strategic areas across eastern Ukraine. Even at that time there was evidence that these raids were organized or led by men who were associated with or members of the Russian military. Initially, the Ukrainian military, left in serious disrepair by the ousted Yanukovych government, was hesitant to respond to this threat. It’s likely that the Ukrainian interim government was initially concerned about a possible counter-revolution launched by disloyal members of the police, military, and security apparatus. Whatever the cause, the “separatists” began to take control of large parts of eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military began its “Anti-Terror Operation,” or ATO, in April to reclaim territory that had been seized by the pro-Russian insurgents, many of whom were operating under the command of Russian citizens (and probably Russian soldiers) who arrived to fight against the new government in Kiev. On June 7, Ukraine elected its first post-revolution president, Petro Poroshenko, who won partially as a result of his pledge to restore order quickly to eastern Ukraine. The ATO had already started to gain momentum throughout May but, perhaps feeling that it had survived the aftermath of a sometimes violent revolution and now had a public mandate to act, the Poroshenko government mobilized the military to confront the separatist threat even more forcefully.

(More here.)

Meet Sergey Petrovsky, the top suspect in the shooting down of MH17


The antidote to insularity

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Yesterday was the anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, and if you read any of the mainstream media’s reporting, you probably reached the conclusion that a consensus is forming: that flight MH17 was shot down by Russian-backed rebels. You might also have been shocked by the latest video to emerge of the tragedy’s aftermath, in which pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels scrabble through the wreckage with anything but good intentions.

But the story that Ukrainian rebels shot down MH17 is false. Despite all the media reporting it, it has zero basis in fact. Of all the mainstream media coverage I reviewed, only one publisher, The Daily Beast, had a story with its facts right: Russia shot down MH17. And that story was written by outside contributors Michael Weiss and James Miller, editors of The Interpreter, an online magazine published by Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s foundation.

The only role Ukrainian rebels appear to have played in the shooting down of MH17 was to drive and provide security to the truck that transported the anti-aircraft system from the Russian border to the area from where the missile was launched. All available evidence points to active-duty Russian military personnel firing the fatal missile at MH17.

There is strong evidence that a crew of two Russian officers were manning the anti-aircraft system used to shoot down MH17 at the time it was shot down. That’s only logical, given that the system can only be operated by trained personnel, and there was little opportunity to train Ukrainian rebels how to use it.

(More here.)

The Many Manipulations of the Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

An OB/GYN explains how medically incorrect language is used to distort the facts

By Jen Gunter @DrJenGunter, TNR

The anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress—which, in 2013, claimed tax-exempt status as a biomedical charity—has recently released two “undercover” videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing post-procedure tissue donation. The group claims the videos demonstrate that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donation (which would be illegal) and that they are “haggling” over the price of “baby parts.”

As an OB/GYN, I can tell you that neither of these claims are true.

These are not "baby parts." Whether a woman has a miscarriage or an abortion, the tissue specimen is called "products of conception." In utero, i.e. during pregnancy, we use the term "embryo" from fertilization to ten weeks gestation and "fetus" from ten weeks to birth. The term baby is medically incorrect as it doesn’t apply until birth. Calling the tissue “baby parts” is a calculated attempt to anthropomorphize an embryo or fetus. It is a false image—a ten to twelve week fetus looks nothing like a term baby—and is medically incorrect.

Hearing medical professionals talk casually about products of conception may seem distasteful to some, but not to doctors. Medical procedures are gory by nature. Surgeons routinely cut skin, saw bones, and lift the uterus out of the abdominal cavity and then put it back in. We stick our hands inside people and it is messy. We handle broken limbs, rotting flesh, and cancers that smell. We talk about this calmly because this is what we are trained to do. It doesn’t mean that we are heartless; it means we are professionals and this is our norm for a clinical conversation. There is no reason a conversation about products of conception requires more or less reverence than one about a kidney or a biopsy specimen.

Hearing medical professionals negotiate with a private buyer over the price for collecting tissue may also seem distasteful, but there is indeed an expense involved for the donor (in this case, Planned Parenthood). contacted several researchers who work with human tissue, and the price range mentioned in the videos—$30 to $100 per patient—is on the low end. “There’s no way there’s a profit at that price,” Sherilyn J. Sawyer, the director of Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Biorepository, told the website.

Just as there are people who believe the moon landing was faked, there are those who refuse to believe that the full scope of reproductive health care is grounded in medical evidence. As the facts are inconvenient, the only option is to circumvent them by any means possible. These videos are the kind of propaganda that only reinforces those fixed, false beliefs.

(More here.)

Russia’s Empty Gesture on the Downed Malaysian Jet

JULY 23, 2015

A year after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard, Russia has asked the United Nations Security Council and the International Civil Aviation Organization to take a more active role in investigating the incident and bringing those responsible to justice.

On the face of it, that looks like an accommodating gesture from the government that is backing the Ukrainian separatists believed to have fired the fatal missile on July 17, 2014, and that probably supplied it to them. It’s not.

The real goal of the draft resolution Russia proposed on Monday at the Security Council is to thwart a Dutch-led criminal investigation of what happened and a Western call for a United Nations-backed tribunal.

The Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine are expected to allege that the plane was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists or Russian soldiers, and they have asked the Security Council to set up a tribunal to prosecute those responsible.

(More here.)

Trump Is the Poison His Party Concocted

Timothy Egan, NYT
JULY 24, 2015

The adults patrolling the playpen of Republican politics are appalled that we’ve become a society where it’s O.K. to make fun of veterans, to call anyone who isn’t rich a loser, to cast an entire group of newly arrived strivers as rapists and shiftless criminals.

Somewhere, we crossed a line — from our mothers’ modesty to strutting braggadocio, from dutiful decorum to smashing all the china in the room, from respecting a base set of facts to a trumpeting of willful ignorance.

Yes, how did we get to a point where up to one-fourth of the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan now aligns itself with Donald Trump? Those same political marshals would have us believe he’s a “demagogue,” a “jackass,” a “cancer.”

They say he’s trashing the Republic brand. They say he’s “stirring up the crazies,” in the words of Senator John McCain. But Trump is the brand, to a sizable degree. And the crazies have long flourished in the Republican media wing, where any amount of gaseous buffoonery goes unchallenged.

And now that the party can’t control him, Trump threatens to destroy its chances if he doesn’t get his way, running as an independent with unlimited wealth — a political suicide bomb.

(More here.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Something for vampire lovers

Why We Should Drain Blood From the Dead

Posted by Ross Pomeroy

Scarcely a week goes by without news of a blood shortage somewhere in the United States. Summertime in particular sees supplies on the wane. With families on vacation and schools out of session, the American Red Cross regularly witnesses a dip in donations.

But with one simple change, blood shortages in the United States could be drastically reduced, or perhaps eliminated entirely. It's a solution seemingly out of Count Dracula's playbook: drain blood from the dead.

Unpalatable and macabre at first glance, the idea actually makes a lot of sense. Roughly 15 million pints of blood are donated each year by approximately 9.2 million individuals. Over the course of the same year, about 2.6 million Americans will -- sadly -- pass away. If hospitals were to harvest the blood from a third of those people, roughly 4.5 million liters would be added to the reservoir.

Contrary to what you might think, blood from cadavers is not only usable, but quite safe.

"For six to eight hours, the blood inside a dead body remains sterile and the red blood cells retain their oxygen-carrying capabilities," Mary Roach reported in her book Stiff.

(More here.)

Mob in India drags ‘witch’ from home, strips her and beheads her

It’s not so unusual

By Fred Barbash July 21, WashPost

Acting on the instructions of a self-appointed “goddess,” a mob in the Indian state of Assam accused a woman in her 60s of witchcraft, dragged her from her home, stripped her and beheaded her.

As gruesome as the crime was, it was just one of thousands in India over the past decade and one of about a hundred in the past five years in Assam, a largely tribal state on India’s northeast border.

Assam is in the northeast of India.

Last July, a woman in Bihar, Saraswati Devi, was beaten to death by villagers after they forced her to consume human excrement, according to the Hindustan Times. In 2013, in the state of Jharkhand, 54 women accused of witchcraft were killed.

(More here.)

Doctors Object to High Cancer-Drug Prices

More than 100 oncologists call for new regulations to control soaring patient costs in U.S.

By Jeanne Whalen, WSJ
July 23, 2015 12:01 a.m. ET

More than 100 oncologists from top cancer hospitals around the U.S. have issued a harsh rebuke over soaring cancer-drug prices and called for new regulations to control them.

The physicians are the latest in a growing roster of objectors to drug prices. Critics from doctors to insurers to state Medicaid officials have voiced alarm about prescription drug prices, which rose more than 12% last year in the U.S., the biggest annual increase in a decade, according to the nation’s largest pharmacy-benefit manager.

In an editorial published in the Mayo Clinic’s medical journal, the doctors focus attention on the financial burden to patients, saying the out-of-pocket costs are bankrupting many just as they’re fighting a deadly illness.

Patients “have to make difficult choices between spending their incomes [and liquidating assets] on potentially lifesaving therapies or forgoing treatment to provide for family necessities,” the doctors write in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a monthly peer-reviewed journal. As a result, about 10% to 20% of cancer patients don’t take their treatment as prescribed, the doctors say.

(More here.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This is the dumbest expression of Republican anti-tax orthodoxy

By Stephen Stromberg July 22, WashPost

Congress has done some dumb things. One of the dumbest is the GOP’s penny-wise-pound-foolish campaign to defund the Internal Revenue Service. We now have official word about what its mindless tantrum against the IRS has produced for taxpayers: a tax season that was “by far the worst in memory,” according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an agency watchdog.

“The IRS’s performance in responding to taxpayer telephone calls this year was, as IRS Commissioner Koskinen has acknowledged, ‘abysmal.’ During the filing season, the IRS was only able to answer about 37 percent of the calls routed to telephone assistors, and those callers who managed to get through had to wait on hold an average about 23 minutes.”

Meanwhile, “The number of courtesy disconnects” — that is, hangups — “skyrocketed this filing season as compared with prior years, rising by more than 1,500 percent from about 544,000 in 2014 to about 8.8 million this year.”

Even when people got through, IRS customer service agents were allowed only to answer some basic tax questions, and they couldn’t say anything about tax law.

The report didn’t even touch on the massive amounts of money that the government will lose from degraded tax enforcement, which rewards tax cheats. Republicans warn about the United States emulating Greece, apparently ignoring the fact that lax tax-collecting has been a major driver of the fiscal problems there.

(More here.)

Second Heavily Edited Planned Parenthood Attack Video Is Also a Big Bust

By Amanda Marcotte,

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today.

The Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday made good on its threats to release more misleading Planned Parenthood “sting” videos into the world. Last week the group released a hidden-camera video in which it tried to lure unsuspecting Planned Parenthood officials into secretly recorded conversations about donating fetal tissue, which CMP dishonestly tried to spin as a video about selling fetal body parts. In the latest heavily edited video, another Planned Parenthood official talks about such donations in terms that come across as overly frank to those of us who don't work in the medical profession but are actually quite normal.

This video, unsurprisingly, is being received with a whimper in the media, especially compared with last week's deceptively edited footage. That original eight-minute video, which purported to show illegal “harvesting” of fetal body parts for profit but demonstrated nothing of the sort, seemed to come out of nowhere. The longer video showed, despite claims to the contrary, that Planned Parenthood's Deborah Nucatola did not offer to sell fetal body parts, but the opposite: She insisted that selling fetal tissue is simply not done. With the same, dishonest crew claiming to have another “shocking” video, you can guess that it's probably the same kind of hoax: misleading editing, outrageous claims not held up by the evidence, and attempts to titillate people with gross details of medical procedures to distract from the fact that they have no evidence of wrongdoing.

(More here.)

Former Top NASA Scientist Predicts Catastrophic Rise In Sea Levels

Science says it has happened before

Kate Sheppard, Senior reporter/Environment and energy editor, The Huffington Post
Posted: 07/21/2015

WASHINGTON -- One of the nation's most recognizable names in climate science, Dr. James Hansen, released a new paper this week warning that even 2 degrees Celsius of global warming may be "highly dangerous" for humanity.

The paper, which will be published online in the European Geosciences Union journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion later this week, projects sea levels rising as much as 10 feet in the next 50 years.

The paper notes there is evidence indicating that average temperatures just 1 degree Celsius warmer than today caused sea levels to rise 16 to 30 feet and fed extreme storms thousands of years ago.

Hansen and 16 co-authors drafted the paper as a message to policymakers that current greenhouse-gas reduction goals are not strong enough. World leaders have committed to limiting average warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal articulated in the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 and reiterated by G7 leaders in June.

"The message for policymakers is that we have a global crisis that calls for international cooperation to reduce emissions as rapidly as practical," wrote the authors.

(More here.)

‘Car hacking’ just got real: In experiment, hackers disable SUV on busy highway

By Michael E. Miller July 22 at 4:25 AM

It was a driver’s worst nightmare.

Andy Greenberg was speeding along a busy interstate in St. Louis recently when he suddenly lost control of his vehicle. The accelerator abruptly stopped working. The car crawled to a stop. As 18-wheelers whizzed by his stalled vehicle, Greenberg began to panic.

His car hadn’t spun out on black ice, however. It hadn’t been hit by another vehicle or experienced engine trouble.

It had been hacked.

(More here.)

Anti-abortion forces: lies, lies and more lies

The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood

JULY 22, 2015

A hidden-camera video released last week purported to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses. It shows nothing of the sort. But it is the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, which offers health care services to millions of people every year. The politicians howling to defund Planned Parenthood care nothing about the truth here, being perfectly willing to undermine women’s reproductive rights any way they can.

The nine-minute video clip released by the Center for Medical Progress, an outfit apparently created in 2013, invites viewers to “Hold Planned Parenthood accountable for their illegal sale of baby parts.” In it, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, is seen discussing the collection of fetal tissue in a lunch meeting with two people posing as potential tissue buyers. A second video, released on Tuesday, shows another Planned Parenthood staff member discussing fetal tissue.

After the first video’s release, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky pledged to “introduce an amendment to pending Senate legislation to immediately strip every dollar of Planned Parenthood funding.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called for defunding and for “an investigation of Planned Parenthood’s activities regarding the sale and transfer of aborted body parts.” The House Energy and Commerce Committee is undertaking an investigation, and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have ordered investigations in their states.

The full video of the lunch meeting, over two hours long and released by the Center for Medical Progress after complaints by Planned Parenthood, shows something very different from what these critics claim. Clearly, the shorter version was edited to eliminate statements by Dr. Nucatola explaining that Planned Parenthood does not profit from tissue donation, which requires the clear consent of the patient. Planned Parenthood affiliates only accept money — between $30 and $100 per specimen, according to Dr. Nucatola — to cover costs associated with collecting and transporting the tissue. “This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at,” she said. Under federal law, facilities may be reimbursed for costs associated with fetal tissue donation, like transportation and storage.

(More here. Also see this article, which points out convincingly that if you really want to lower the abortion rate, supply free contraception.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

GMOs: the answer to safer, more efficient farming or poster child for an unhealthy food supply?

GMOs: Are They Safe? What Are the Pros and Cons?

“I stood on a farm in Bangladesh and saw how the gene we discovered allowed farmers to triple their yields from flooded fields.”

By Barry Estabrook, "Good Seed, Bad Seed," July/August 2015
Eating Well

For 50 years, plant breeders grappled with a vexing difficulty whose solution was tantalizingly evident, but out of reach. Rice loves to sink its roots into water-saturated soil, but most rice varieties die if the plants are totally submerged for more than a few days. In impoverished eastern India and Bangladesh alone, farmers lose an estimated 4 million tons of rice each year—enough to feed 30 million people—when floodwaters inundate their crops, something that is all too common in the low-lying, monsoon-wracked area, and bound to become even more common as sea levels rise because of climate change. But agricultural experts knew of one ancient, almost forgotten, variety of rice that could survive being submerged for as long as two weeks. Unfortunately, its yields were too skimpy to make it a practical source of food. Decades of trying to cross it with high-yielding rice strains resulted in a series of frustrating failures. It seemed like the genetic traits that gave the rice its ability to survive submersion were intractably linked to those that made it produce low quantities of grain.

In the mid-1990s, Pamela Ronald, Ph.D., a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, and her two associates David Mackill and Kenong Xu, brought their expertise to the problem and used genetic-engineering techniques and advanced computer programs to discover—out of the 42,000 genes in rice—a single gene that carried the submergence-tolerance trait. They spliced that gene into a high-yielding rice variety that would normally have died in a flood and transplanted the genetically modified seedlings along with unmodified seedlings into a Davis greenhouse plot that they intentionally flooded. Two weeks later, they returned. They noticed that most of the rice plants were weak, spindly, pale and dying, but encountered a few rows of vigorous, bright green plants. Bending over for a closer look, they determined that the survivors were the ones into which they had inserted the flood-resistant gene. Ronald was elated, but her happiest moment came several years later. “I stood on a farm in Bangladesh and saw how the gene we discovered (which Mackill had introduced into a new rice variety) allowed farmers to triple their yields from flooded fields,” she said when I visited her office earlier this year.

Ronald is a trim, fit woman. She rides her bicycle five miles to and from work each day and the diet she and her husband and two teenage children eat is healthy and rarely includes red meat. She is also an evangelist for what she calls “plant genetic improvement.” Listening to her relate the story of her “scuba” rice and how it is helping feed some of the world’s poorest people, I found myself thinking, this is a no-brainer. What’s not to like? How is it that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) became one of the hot-button food issues of our day, sparking furious debate?

(Continued here.)

Monday, July 20, 2015

You want to stop abortion? Give free birth control

Free Birth Control: An Evidence-Based Policy

Posted by Ross Pomeroy

The Affordable Care Act required many types of birth control to be made available to women free of charge, but not everyone can take advantage. Millions of women too poor to afford private insurance or working at employers granted a religious exemption to the law are still on the hook for contraception, the costs of which can range from $15 to $50 a month for pills to an$800 up-front cost for an intrauterine device (IUD).

There is, of course, a simpler solution to ensure that women have access to contraception: make it free for all low-income women. Publicly funded birth control.

Public birth control is an issue enveloped in ideology. Let's strip it all away and look at the evidence.

From 2007 to 2011, doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provided free birth control and counseling services to 9,256 women and girls ages 14 to 45 in the St. Louis, Missouri area. The effort was a resounding success. Abortion rates among study participants were 62 to 78% lower than the national average. Critically, among girls ages 15 to 19 enrolled in the study, the annual birth rate was 6.3 per 1,000, well below the U.S. rate of 34.3 per 1,000 for girls the same age.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina conducted a similar study in 2010, providing free IUDs to low-income women and comparing their pregnancy rates to a control group of women without free birth control. Rates of pregnancy were significantly lower in the group given IUDs.

(Continued here.)

Earth on track to beating 2014 as the hottest year ever recorded

First Half of 2015 Was a Scorcher

By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth dialed the heat up in June, smashing warm temperature records for both the month and the first half of the year.

Off-the-charts heat is "getting to be a monthly thing," said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. June was the fourth month of 2015 that set a record, she said.

"There is almost no way that 2015 isn't going to be the warmest on record," she added.

NOAA calculated that the world's average temperature in June hit 61.48 degrees Fahrenheit (16.33 Celsius), breaking the old record set last year by 0.22 degrees (.12 degrees Celsius). Usually temperature records are broken by one or two one-hundredths of a degree, not nearly a quarter of a degree, Blunden said.

And the picture is even more dramatic when the half-year is considered.

(Continued here.)

In defense of Neville Chamberlain, hindsight’s most battered punching bag

By Ishaan Tharoor July 20 at 5:00 AM

After the final agreement with Iran over its nuclear program was announced in Vienna last week, references to one long-gone politician surged on social media: Neville Chamberlain.

This is not surprising. The late British prime minister, who presided over the ill-fated Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler in September 1938, is the metaphor of choice for all who prefer confrontation to mediation.

As my colleague Philip Bump noted, Twitter mentions of “Neville Chamberlain” spiked on July 14, with neo-con hawks and others on the American right lambasting the Obama administration’s supposed “appeasement” of the Islamic Republic.

[The Iran deal: How it works.]

The historical talking point centers on Chamberlain's negotiated pact with Nazi Germany, which granted Hitler the right to extend his rule over German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia rather than risk the prospect of a full-blown invasion. In a speech delivered upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain quoted a phrase first uttered by an earlier 19th century British premier who had also conducted diplomacy with the Germans.

(More here.)

Is Scott Walker ignorant by choice?

By Richard Cohen Opinion writer July 20 at 7:57 PM, WashPost

I have a question for Scott Walker. At what point did he decide to be heterosexual? At what age did he decide that he would not be homosexual or, if he had the energy, bisexual? I know for myself that I am unaware of making such a decision and did not mark it down — as I now would — in my Google Calendar or tweet it to much of America and the ships at sea.

I ask these questions of Walker as a way to clarify his befogged mind. The man is running for president of the United States. He is governor of the state of Wisconsin. He is a husband and a father and a former Boy Scout, and yet he cannot say — or he will not say — whether he thinks being gay is a choice.

“I don’t have an opinion on every single issue out there,” the Republican candidate told CNN while campaigning recently in Iowa for the nation’s loftiest office. “I mean, to me, that’s I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.” I see.

Much has already been made of things that Walker does not know — foreign policy, for instance, or evolution, about which he offered no opinion when asked about it in London back in February. He just wouldn’t say yes or no, maintaining that he was in England on a trade mission and not to discuss evolution. He implied that Wisconsin taxpayers would not like it if, while on an overseas trip to hustle cheese and stuff, he responded to a non-cheese question. You can see his point.

(More here.)