Saturday, September 21, 2013

Morning Reading -- September 21

This has been a good Facebook morning for me. Two provocative links that made me leave long comments, and now this. 
If Rami Khouri RTs  something I pay attention. 
Israeli forces manhandle EU diplomats, seize West Bank aid
Thomson Reuters Foundation, September 20
By Noah Browning
KHIRBET AL-MAKHUL, West Bank, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Israeli soldiers manhandled European diplomats on Friday and seized a truck full of tents and emergency aid they had been trying to deliver to Palestinians whose homes were demolished this week.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals in the occupied West Bank, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving it away. 
"They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity," French diplomat Marion Castaing said. 
"This is how international law is being respected here," she said, covered with dust.
Locals said Khirbet Al-Makhul was home to about 120 people. The army demolished their ramshackle houses, stables and a kindergarten on Monday after Israel's high court ruled that they did not have proper building permits. 
Despite losing their property, the inhabitants have refused to leave the land, where, they say, their families have lived for generations along with their flocks of sheep. 
The Israeli army said on Friday that security forces had tried to prevent tents from being erected in area, in accordance with the high court decision. 
"At the site, Palestinians and the foreign activists violently objected, throwing stones and striking law enforcement officers," a military spokeswoman said. 
"Reports that foreign diplomats abused their diplomatic privileges are currently being reviewed, and if required, complaints will be filed with the relevant authorities." 
The French diplomat jabbed a soldier in the face after picking herself up off the ground. Reuters reporters at the scene said they saw no stone throwing or foreign activists. 
Israeli soldiers stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivering emergency aid on Tuesday and on Wednesday ICRC staff managed to put up some tents but the army forced them to take the shelters down. 
Diplomats from France, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the European Union's political office, turned up on Friday with more supplies. As soon as they arrived, about a dozen Israeli army jeeps converged on them, and soldiers told them not to unload their truck. 
"It's shocking and outrageous. We will report these actions to our governments," said one EU diplomat, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to talk to the media. 
More at the link, including this comment which says it all:  I wonder if the latest group of Palestinians whose homes have been demolished are pleased to hear that London is "seriously concerned". I am sick of the UK government pussy-footing around with such "diplomatic" language that achieves absolutely nothing. If it worked we would not still be seeing scenes like these.

It should be noted that the West Bank is not part of Israel. It is occupied territory seized at the time of the Six Day War in 1967. The soldiers operating there are often called IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces), not IDF.


How the US War in Afghanistan Fueled the Taliban InsurgencyGen. Stanley McChrystal himself put it best: “Because of civilian casualties, I think we have just about eroded our credibility here.”
This from The Nation by Bob Dreyfuss restates one of the oldest challenges of warfare. It's the old hearts and minds meme redux. Check it out.

This was my Facebook response....

It's somewhat off topic, but I'm fascinated by the intellectual acumen of two high profile military commanders lately, McChrystal and Petraeus. Both of these men have extraordinary intellects and insights into human behavior. They make most marketing and business leaders look provincial by comparison. Petraeus literally "wrote the book" on counterinsurgency and was brought to my attention, I think, by Tom Ricks, one of the critics of the Iraq war (and another member of the smart commanders club) who left me with the impression that had Petraeus been in charge of more operations, sooner, his grasp of "winning hearts and minds" may have averted a lot of mistakes.

But it seems all these very bright guys have bigger egos than normal which stain their otherwise pristine images. The problems of Petraeus have been in the spotlight far longer than we need to see, and McChrystal's story includes that tawdry coverup of the Pat Tillman scandal. Seems like I have read a hit piece or two on Ricks as well but I tend not to pay attention to stuff like that.

Just thinking out loud, I guess...

I'm waiting for the commanders of the Egyptian military to show their true colors as we wait to see if they really succeed in shepherding their country into some semblance of working representative government. (Now I have drifted way off topic.)

The Egyptian military command cadre has been largely a product of American education and advanced training. I will be watching Egypt for a clue to whether (or how soon) we might expect the US to morph into a more rigid form of military-controlled system. With the military-industrial complex that Ike warned about now several decades in the making we already have a soft form of benevolent tyranny. County and local para-military police corps are becoming more developed across the country. And the prevalence of firearms is endemic....

I try not to worry about these developments but when I stop and think about it this is what happens. McChrystal's arithmetic has yet to visit America in the form discussed above. But I wonder how much the same dynamic applies to the business of illegal drugs and the formation and strength of gangs. (See Chicago for the most famous and recent example.)


This next unrelated topic makes for more weekend long reads for those who need to catch up. Learning about the dangers of antibiotic overuse and the dynamics of microbiomes is literally a life and death subject. 

Here is an infographic and three highly recommended links. 
Click to enlarge.
==>  If you hold the ctrl button as you click
most programs will open a new tab.
Drug-Resistant Superbugs Kill at Least 23,000 People in the U.S. Each Year

I always knew about how antibiotics killed "good bacteria" along with whatever was causing a problem but I had no idea what the magnitude of that was until this year. New Yorker published what was for me a life-changing article describing microbiomes (a new word for me as well) and how important they are to the ecosystems of humans as well as other animals, even plants, who thrive better when the microbiome in which they grow is optimal.

Another piece in Smithsonian makes another long read to go with it.

One of my sisters-in-law is a nurse. When I spoke with her about what I thought was an experimental procedure of fecal transplants -- using fecal matter from a family member to treat diseases of the gut in another person -- she told me that was already being done where she works. It's not what it sounds like, she said. The specimen appears to be a clear liquid and is introduced by a feeding tube.


This would make a good infographic. 
A clear majority of the American conservative movement has degenerated into a fraudster-elevating, money-making, influence-peddling racket whose primary goal is little more than to give public expression to the hatred of liberalism (and, commonly, liberals), and get rich and famous at the expense of the public good while doing it. 
This is a terrible development, because conservatives frequently hold what is more-or-less the superior general political position. The supposed conservative movement taints such ideas and makes them unpalatable to minorities, the young, and the poor.

I think it will be the job of many thinkers of my generation to reclaim conservatism from the racket and construct a positive, tolerant vision of a twenty-first century conservatism.
He makes a good point, especially the part about  conservatives frequently hold what is more-or-less the superior general political position.  In my life some of the most respected authority figures have been the older people in my life -- parents, clergy, teachers -- and for the most part they are intuitively "conservative" not wanting to rock the boat too much, careful not to rush into changes without lots of introspection and with plenty of backup plans. A conservative temperament is the bedrock of social, political and community leaders and role models. We look to them for leadership, wise decision-making and the determination to follow through with plans made well in advance.  It takes a measure of blind determination to soldier through tough times. And that is not a liberal instinct. The Liberal is forever looking for a quicker, better, less sacrificial path through hard times. That need to push aside perceived obstacles instead of working with or around them is the stuff that makes revolutions.

Somehow during the decades of my life it seems Liberals have been the ones seeking safety, security and predictability and Conservatives have opted for a somewhat atavistic return to the laws of the jungle. Helped along by the nutty purism of laissez-faire capitalism and Randian Libertarianism, what passes for conservatism today has become a small-minded, somewhat paranoid reflection of childhood instead of adulthood, more attracted to playing games and getting lost in sophomoric discussions of arcane wrinkles than finding ways to make a bigger, stronger, more reliable garment in which to care for the swollen masses looking to leaders for protection in the present and security in the future.

I'm getting old. I'm not supposed to be more Liberal. It's time for me to get Conservative. But today's Conservatism scares the shit out of me.

Why is the Federal Poverty Line So Far Off?
September 18, 2013
by John Light

Excellent overview. Excerpt here:
[...] 1969, a review committee made up of representatives from many government agencies decided the thresholds would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index, not to changes in the cost of food or the share of a family’s income spent on food. Since that time, the method for calculating the poverty thresholds has changed little. 
The poverty measure today 
America, however, has changed quite a bit since 1969 — and has changed even more since the mid-1950s, when the USDA budget Orshansky used for her thresholds was designed.

“In some ways, the poverty measure such as it is today made a lot of sense in 1965, 1966, in the late ’60s. The problem is we haven’t really updated it in a meaningful way,” says Shawn Fremstad, a senior research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research. “We’ve updated it for inflation, but that just means you’re measuring what it means to be poor today in what are essentially early 1960s terms.”

The share of a family’s income spent on food has changed dramatically — some recent studies place the share of a family’s income spent on food as low as six or seven percent of total household expenditures. That would mean Americans today are spending roughly 1/14th of their income on food, compared with the one-third figure used to calculate the poverty guidelines. 
“A lot has happened to society and to families needs,” says Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Fewer people needed to drive to work — you could walk to work. People didn’t need to save the same for childcare, or for college. People could get away without having a telephone and still have a successful job search. It was just a very different world. 
“The rise in families with children where all parents are working for pay is driving up the importance of paid childcare. Spending a few thousand dollars on childcare is fairly typical now. Childcare costs have risen faster than inflation. Healthcare spending is a growing part of family budgets just like it’s a growing part of the national economy. 
“The fact that other basic needs have increased in cost more rapidly than food is one reason why the old poverty line is out-of-date and, in fact, is too low: It hasn’t kept up with our new necessities, it hasn’t kept up with new ideas of what our basic needs are.” 
And the line doesn’t just omit key expenses — because it looks at a family’s before-tax cash income, it also ignores important sources of non-cash income for poor people such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). If the poverty guidelines don’t incorporate income from benefits, it’s hard to measure if these benefits programs are doing their job and lifting people out of poverty.
“This is relevant right now because there are bills moving through Congress that would cut SNAP by tens of billions of dollars over the coming decade,” says Sherman. “And if you don’t know that SNAP is helping people, you’re more likely to say it doesn’t work.” 
A new measure?
Right now, many of those who study poverty are not overly hopeful that the U.S. will implement a new poverty measure in the near future. It’s a difficult topic, especially in today’s fraught political environment. Conservatives argue that the measures cover too many people, including many who are lifted out of poverty by government programs like the EITC. Liberals argue that the poverty measures don’t take expenses into account realistically. 
Those who work with the U.S. poverty line often look to the U.K.’s system of measurement as an alternative model the U.S. might follow. There, federal agencies use multiple measures of poverty to create policy. 
“It would be good for both the left and the right to say, ‘There is no single best way.’ And maybe we could adopt sort of a suite of measures along the U.K. line,” says Fremstad. “And some of those could be more conservative, more absolute, and some of them could be more relative, more liberal. And then we could argue about which ones are the best. But at least we’d have a few — three or four measures that were all good, that Census and the federal government put out and that narrowed the debate.” 
Even before her long career researching American poverty ended with her retirement in 1982, Orshansky was unsettled to see her poverty measure become outdated, but remain as federal policy. In 1969 — the year the poverty measure was adopted nationwide and tied to inflation — she expressed skepticism about its implementation. “The best you can say for the measure is that at a time when it seemed useful, it was there,” she wrote.
The paper linked above is densely academic. The first 21 pages are the introduction, contents and main body, followed by two Appendices, bibliography and endnotes running the entire project to fifty pages.
Interested readers can plow through it at their leisure, but the long and short of it is that there are many ways to view poverty, and the official metrics that have been in use for decades are as old-fashioned as vacuum tubes in radios.

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