|3:43 PM, Dec 9, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
In the East Room of the White House Sunday night, President Obama hosted the Kennedy Center Honors Reception to recognize five American artists: Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Shirley MacLaine, and Billy Joel. The president gave a brief synopsis of each artist's career, including making light of the drug-induced hallucinations of Carlos Santana as he was introduced to the music world at the 1969 Woodstock music festival:
When a 22-year-old Carlos Santana took the stage at Woodstock, few people outside his hometown of San Francisco knew who he was. And the feeling was mutual. Carlos was in such a -- shall we say -- altered state of mind that he remembers almost nothing about the other performers. (Laughter and applause.) He thought the neck of his guitar was an electric snake. (Laughter.)
The president went on to note that the musician's less than clear frame of mind apparently did not affect his Woodstock performance:
But that did not stop Carlos and his band from whipping the crowd into a such frenzy with a mind-blowing mix of blues, and jazz, and R&B, and Latin music. They’d never heard anything like it. And almost overnight, Carlos Santana became a star.
In a 2012 interview with ETOnline, Santana "expressed his views on drug use, citing the distinction between artificially manufactured drugs and those which are natural and stem from the earth, which he referred to as 'medicine.'"
2:32 PM, Dec 9, 2013 • By MICHAEL ANTON
Anniversaries come thick and fast. But 500-year marks are still rare, reminders of a simpler time, a different world. We look back to Columbus and forward to the Reformation without understanding the epochal revolution in between that made our time, our world.
On December 10, 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a letter—called the most celebrated in all Italian literature—to his friend Francesco Vettori announcing that he has just completed “a little work, On Principalities.” It later acquired the title The Prince, under which it became the most famous, and infamous, book on politics ever written.
Everyone knows that the book teaches how to win without scruple, how to get away with murder, how—and why—to squelch any feelings of remorse. Readers of Leo Strauss’s magisterial 1959 interpretation of Machiavelli’s work also know that The Prince, and its longer companion The Discourses on Livy, is about much more.
Strauss showed that Machiavelli is the cause of our time, our world, our context. He attempted a break with all prior thought and he succeeded, through these two books that recruited an army of writer-captains who, in wave after wave of intellectual change, remade the West. Everything characteristically modern—from civil rights to iPhones—is the direct or indirect result of Machiavelli’s revolution in thought.
It’s easier for modern ears to accept that a political philosopher decisively altered political practice than it is even to consider the notion that one man—a writer no less—is responsible for the incredible bounty and intricacy of the modern world. iPhones? Really?
Yes. Technology derives from engineering, which is applied natural science, which achieved its current rigor thanks to a foundation built by Descartes and Bacon, who in turn learned the core argument from Machiavelli. It’s an unlikely claim on behalf of a writer whose most substantial book seems to call for a revival of ancient Roman republican politics and who seems to have nothing at all to say about science.
Except, in fact, he does. Harvey Mansfield, arguably Strauss’s greatest student and inarguably the greatest living interpreter of Machiavelli, showed where and how at a conference Saturday at Columbia University (and in this longer treatment published earlier this year). At the heart of Machiavelli’s project is an epistemological revolution to liberate philosophy from the classical prudence that prevented it from taking a direct role in guiding human affairs.
Amid the administration’s tangled web of paradoxes and inconsistencies one message rings clear.1:15 PM, Dec 9, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
The military option against the Iranian nuclear weapons program is still on the table: That’s the message President Obama wanted to leave listeners with Saturday at the annual Saban Forum, hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Sure, Obama explained in his live interview conducted by Democratic fundraiser Haim Saban, his “preference was always to resolve the issue diplomatically.” But when audience member Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli military intelligence and one of the pilots who conducted the 1981 raid on Osirak, asked about plan B in the event there’s no agreement, Obama flexed his muscles. If, said Obama, he can’t “get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community and the P5-plus-1,” the military option is among the options “we would consider and prepare for.”
This may or may not have reassured the Saban audience and those many others concerned about the interim deal between the P5+1 and Iran outlined in Geneva two weeks ago. But the reality is that the administration’s policy is a tangle of contradictions and paradoxes. And the very incoherence which Obama gave voice to Saturday makes one thing clear: The White House long ago abandoned the idea of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons’ facilities.
The way Obama sees it, a “diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us.” That’s because, according to the president, you can’t get rid of the knowledge that it takes to make a bomb. “The technology of the nuclear cycle, you can get off the Internet,” said Obama. The technology, he elaborated, “is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And [the Iranians] have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge, we’re not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.”
In other words, because there’s no way to bomb the knowledge out of existence, the only real option is to convince the Iranians that it’s not in their best interest to make use of the knowledge they already have.
Obama to speak.12:09 PM, Dec 9, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The program for the Nelson Mandela has been released by the South African government, and President Obama is scheduled to speak:
Mr Cyril Ramaphosa and Ms Baleka Mbete
11:00 - 15:00
1. National Anthem by Mass Choir
2. Welcome and Opening Remarks by Program Directors
3. Interfaith Prayers
4. Tribute by Family Friend Andrew Mlangeni
5. Tribute by Family: General Thanduxolo Mandela
6. Tribute by the Grandchildren: Mbuso Mandela, Andile Mandela, Zozuko Dlamini, and Phumla Mandela.
7. Tribute by UN Representative: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
8. Tribute by AU Commission Chair: Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
9. Tribute by Foreign Dignitaries: U.S. President Barack Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, Namibian President Hifikepunye Phamba, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz
10. Keynote Address by the President of South Africa: Jacob Zuma
11. Sermon by Biship Ivan Abrahams
12. Vote of Thanks by Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane
11:17 AM, Dec 9, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Welcome, Washington, to the real world.
Congress passed the bill and now it is having a little trouble finding out what is in it. As reported on CNN:
Congress itself is now having so much trouble signing up for the Obamacare exchanges that late Friday the top administrator in the House of Representatives laid out a backup plan in case lawmakers and staff can't get through the process by the time their enrollment ends Monday.
The good news is that while they are tangled in knots by Obamacare and pointing fingers, they won’t be able to do much in the way of other mischief.
10:15 AM, Dec 9, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
These days, the only thing in Washington performing less ably and delivering more disappointment than Obamacare would be the Washington Re****ns, a facsimile of a football team that is long on controversy, short on competence, and overflowing in controversy. The Re****ns hosted the Kansas City (Fire) Chiefs in front of a dismally small crowd yesterday. The sparsity of attendance is understandable. This is a town that a) likes winners and believes loyalty is for losers and b) doesn’t do well with foul weather, to include a few inches of rain or just about any amount of snow. When wet stuff falls from the sky, people in Washington stay inside and lock their doors.
The weather was nasty yesterday but not as nasty as the Re****ns’ play.
The (Fire) Chiefs are nobody’s idea of an offensive juggernaut but, then, yesterday they didn’t need to be. They could, in fact, have left the offense at home in the interior and still handled the warriors from the capitol. Special teams scored two touchdowns for the (Fire) Chiefs. The defense held the Re****ins to 10 points. Which will almost always buy you a win in the NFL and especially yesterday when more touchdowns were scored than on any day in NFL history. Some teams took the coin toss in for a score. But the Re****ins couldn’t move the ball.
Perhaps they learned something from watching the (Fire) Chiefs who managed to put up a season high 45 points. With a cast-off quarterback and slow-strike attack that terrifies precisely no defensive coordinators around the league. But the Re****ns almost always gave the (Fire) Chiefs a short field and the defense gave ground as profligately as Congress spends money.
The final score was 45-10 and it wasn’t that close. The fans booed … those who didn’t leave early. The players played like they wished they could leave with them. And after the game, the owner declined to speak to the press and the coach said it was too early to talk about his future.
There is some controversy about the team’s name. Among those suggested: the Washington Expectations.
8:54 AM, Dec 9, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Concerns have increased over the security of personal information collected by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as the volume of personal data has multiplied dramatically with the implementation of Obamacare. Security experts have testified before Congress about flaws they have uncovered at Healthcare.gov, and various press reports have related other potential problems with the website or with information flowing to the Federal Services Data Hub that could be exploited by hackers and identify thieves. An HHS document dated December 5 describing a more than 500 percent increase in the monitoring of cyber threat indicators since April 2013 may only increase those concerns.
The document states that the agency's Computer Security Incidents Response Center (CSIRC) has experienced more than a five-fold increase in the number of "indicators" monitored by the center in just the last eight months alone. To cope with the potential threats from this vast increase in data, HHS intends to negotiate a sole-source contract to Cyber Squared, an Arlington, Virginia, cyber security firm after allowing less than four days (including a weekend) for responses from other interested firms, and even explicitly states that HHS is not soliciting competitive quotations. HHS describes the apparently urgent need for upgraded threat monitoring as follows:
In the past eight months the number of indicators monitored by the CSIRC has grown well over 500 percent. With the inclusion of the federal Healthcare Threat Operations Center (HTOC) information sharing data from HHS CSO, VA-Network Security Operations Center (VA-NSOC), and the Space and Naval Warfare NSOC for Medical Health Systems (SPAWAR NSOC (MHS), the ability to analyze and correlate this much data requires the use of Threat Connect to be effective and efficient in combating cyber threats. This capability will allow for the joint collection and tracking of internally and externally derived indicators more efficiently as well as facilitate the analysis and correlation of a threat.
Some of the terminology used in this document raises questions about the scope of the monitoring. For instance, although the document references the "Healthcare Threat Operations Center (HTOC)", the federal government's 2013 Information Sharing Services annual report to Congress makes no mention of the HTOC among the five Federal Cybersecurity Centers, nor is there any other reference to a "Healthcare Threat Operations Center" on the HHS website or any other government website. References to each of the other potential data sources can be found on various government websites and documents.
7:49 AM, Dec 9, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Financial Times reports:
Americans who are buying insurance plans over online exchanges, under what is known as Obamacare, will have limited access to some of the nation’s leading hospitals, including two world-renowned cancer centres.
Amid a drive by insurers to limit costs, the majority of insurance plans being sold on the new healthcare exchanges in New York, Texas, and California, for example, will not offer patients’ access to Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan or MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, two top cancer centres, or Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, one of the top research and teaching hospitals in the country.
10:01 AM, Dec 8, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
If you want to keep your doctor, you might have to pay more for it, Obamacare architect Zeke Emanuel said today on Fox News Sunday:
The host, Chris Wallace, said: "President Obama famously promised, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Doesn't that turn out to be just as false, just as misleading, as his promise about if you like your plan, you can keep your plan? Isn't it a fact, sir, that a number, most, in fact, of the Obamacare health plans that are being offered on the exchanges exclude a number of doctors and hospitals to lower costs?"
"The president never said you were going to have unlimited choice of any doctor in the country you want to go to," said the Obamacare architect.
"No. He asked a question. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Did he not say that, sir?"
"He didn't say you could have unlimited choice."
"It's a simple yes or no question. Did he say if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor?"
"Yes. But look, if you want to pay more for an insurance company that covers your doctor, you can do that. This is a matter of choice. We know in all sorts of places you pay more for certain -- for a wider range of choices or wider range of benefits.The issue isn't the selective networks. People keep saying, Oh, the problem is you're going to have a selective network--"
"Well, if you lose your doctor or lose your hospital--"
"Let me just say something," said Emanuel. "People are going to have a choice as to whether they want to pay a certain amount for a selective network or pay more for a broader network."
"Which will mean your premiums will probably go up."
"They get that choice. That's a choice they always made."
"Which means your premium may go up over what you were paying so that, in other words --
"No one guaranteed you that your premium wouldn't increase. Premiums have been going up."
"The president guaranteed me I could keep my doctor," said Wallace.
"And if you want to, you can pay for it," said Emanuel.
8:20 AM, Dec 8, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
David Horovitz considers what Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu might say today at the Saban Forum:
It will be interesting to see whether Netanyahu, who speaks on Sunday, will match Obama for easygoing candor and for open acknowledgement of the yawning gulf between their mindsets.
If he does, the prime minister might remark that, in fact, he fully shares the president’s belief that the Iranian public wants a much improved interaction with the free world. It is for precisely that reason, he might add, that he is baffled and horrified by Obama’s apparent readiness to condemn Iranians to continued oppression by the uranium-enriching regime of the ayatollahs.
Cave under the pressure? That’s exactly what the regime would have done, Netanyahu might feel moved to add (though even candor has its limits), if only Obama hadn’t caved first.
5:44 PM, Dec 7, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
My father emailed out this vignette about Pearl Harbor. After 72-years, the event remains something of an abstraction, but I mark the occasion a bit more solemnly than most. Had a Japanese bomb landed a few dozen feet more to the left, I might not exist:
While it seems to be a fading historical event, December 7th will always be a very memorable day to me. My family was living in quarters on the base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. My brother (Tom) and I were pretty young, so my recollections are fuzzy and probably heavily prompted by what our parents recounted over the years. I remember that our building was damaged from some aircraft or piece of a plane, and it started a small fire. It was a 4-plex. We lived in the second one from the left. The damage was to the end unit to the right.
After the explosions died down, Tom and I found a spot close to our home where we could see the damage to the base and see the ships burning in the harbor. This didn't last long, as Mom found us and made us come back home. There was some concern about the Japanese landing troops, so the neighborhood was in lockdown with armed sailors posted.
My dad was a buck sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was not on a ship, but assigned to the Marine Barracks on the base. As it was a Sunday, he was home when the attack started, but left right away, after putting Mom and the 2 kids under the dining room table. We saw him a few of days later, very briefly, as we were getting on a ship to go back to the mainland. The next time we saw him was over two years later. He had received a battlefield commission on Guadalcanal and was a captain when he came home.
By the grace of God, my grandfather survived World War II. My father didn't elaborate on the impact that day had on him. But he later attended the U.S. Naval Academy, fought in Vietnam, and after 20 years of service, retired a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps.
11:15 AM, Dec 7, 2013 • By FRANCESCA CHAMBERS
It was only 10:30 a.m., and already, we were too cold to move, let alone get out of our SUV to tailgate. We’d been parked outside Notre Dame’s football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, in the alumni lot for more than two and half hours, ahead of the university’s last home game of the year against Brigham Young. Normally, cars line up in the wee hours of the morning to claim the best tailgate spots, but today, the stadium parking lot was a ghost town, with only one other vehicle in sight.
“Don’t worry. The students will come. They usually don’t show up until around 11:30,” one of the event’s hosts told me.
“They’re probably still asleep,” Mark Gianfalla, the student who organized the event, said.
Outside our cozy vehicle, it was a chilly 28 degrees. Every so often, 36 mile an hour gusts of wind brought spurts of snow and blew over tents and tables. The DJ quickly abandoned his plan to spin beats outdoors, opting to play a boom box out the back hatch of his truck instead. It wasn’t looking good for Generation Opportunity’s anti-Obamacare tailgate party.
But, just as predicted, at 11:15 students started coming to the Generation Opportunity tents. They happily listened to the organization’s staff talk about its “Opt-Out of Obamacare” campaign and signed pledges to do just that on the group’s iPads before leaving with green and yellow Mardi Gras beads (“We try to cater to the area we’re going to,” Patrice Lee, outreach manager for the group, told me) and Opt-Out koozies, sunglasses and bottle openers. Along with the students came cases of Bud Light, bottles of Andre, jugs of Fireball Whiskey and handles of vodka, gin and rum. Generation Opportunity’s beer pong table was swiftly put to use.
At 11:30 the pizza arrived, drawing a group of 40 or so students to the tents, which encouraged Generation Opportunity to deploy one lucky staffer as its “Creepy Uncle Sam” mascot. After posing for pictures with the students already at the tailgate, Uncle Sam made his way up and down the aisles of cars, partying with any student who would have him. Soon, students from other tailgates were wandering over in search of pizza.
Two of them, Sarah and Shannon, who asked to be identified by only by first names, said they consider themselves Republicans, but hadn’t heard about the tailgate. A Generation Opportunity staffer with pizza “and was like, ‘We have two cars full of pizza, do you want some?’ And we’re like, ‘Sure, we’ll follow!’” said Shannon, who was familiar with the group’s Creepy Uncle Sam ads.
“The pizza’s a big plus,” Sarah added. “I mean I’m Republican, and my family’s Republican, and my grandpa is like, ‘Do you know anything about what’s going on?’ And I don’t because I haven’t kept up with anything. But whatever they’re [Generation Opportunity] doing, I’d be interested in learning more.”
Remembering Pearl Harbor.9:25 AM, Dec 7, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
It has been 72 years and veterans of the attack are in their 90s, some of them taking tourists out to the memorial built over the sunken battleship Arizona, which is still leaking oil. Almost 1,200 men were killed and went down with that ship when a bomb found its magazine and blew it up. Total losses that day were over 2,500 killed, 1,000 wounded. Material losses amounted to 18 ships and nearly 300 airplanes destroyed or severely damaged.
It was one of the most successful surprise attacks in the history of war. Brilliantly conceived and audaciously executed, it changed the world. The forces that it set in motion led to the utter destruction of the Japanese Empire. Retribution for having launched the attack. Beyond that, it brought the United State into a war at the end of which Germany had been reduced to rubble, the sun was conclusively setting on the British Empire, and the Soviet Union ruled half of Europe and threatened the other half.
But the greatest changes might have been to the United States. Four years later, when the Second World War was over, it was a different country with a wholly new relationship to the rest of the world.
Before Pearl Harbor, the United States had been a reluctant global player. There was an abiding strain of isolationism among its citizens. America had sent Doughboys “over there” in the last European war and the payoff for their sacrifice (more than 100,000 dead) was the prospect of another war between the same players. We had, in the minds of many, been burned once. So the United States fielded, in 1939, the world’s 17th largest standing army. Good enough since, between us and the rest of the world, there were two wide oceans and two peaceful borders.
We had a navy to assert our rights and protect our interests on those oceans. By 1941, its destroyers were already in action in the Atlantic, against German U-boats. But the less said about this, the better the government liked it. The people did not want war, understandably, and many of them believed the country could simply choose to stay out of it.
The U.S. Navy based most powerful assets based in the Pacific. These were the battleships (including the Arizona) which it moved from West coast ports to the Hawaiian Islands as tensions between the U.S. and Japan increased. By late 1941, after the U.S. had embargoed oil exports to Japan, war seemed inevitable. Still … for the U.S. to simply declare war and strike first was unthinkable. So the Japanese Navy saved it the trouble, sailing six aircraft carriers across the Pacific in total radio silence, launching some 350 airplanes before dawn on a Sunday morning, catching those proud American battleships at anchor and totally unprepared. By the end of the day, there was no American battleship fleet. And, inconveniently, the country was in a naval war. A few days later, Hitler made things easy on Washington by declaring war on the U.S.
Isolationism and neutrality seemed extinct conceptions.
12:00 AM, Dec 7, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
“Everything’s coming up roses,” a mother reassures her daughter in Gypsy, the 1959 musical chronicling the rise of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Were lyricist Stephen Sondheim surveying the American economy, he might want to extend the reassurance to the rest of us. For it does seem as if, at long last, as we celebrate the seventeenth anniversary of then-Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” speech, everything is indeed coming up roses.
Yesterday the government reported that 203,000 jobs were created in November, taking the unemployment rate down to 7.0 percent from 7.3 percent in October. The labor force participation rate—the portion of the civilian population that is either employed or looking for work—seems to have stabilized after a long decline from 67.1 percent in 2000, to 65.6 percent at the start of the recent recession, to a four-decade low of 62.8 percent in October, with 16-24 year-old workers leading the drop outs. That rate ticked up last month to 63.0 percent.
If current job-creation trends continue for another year, and the labor force participation rate stabilizes, the unemployment rate will fall to 6.5 percent sometime in late 2014, the level Fed-watchers say would have persuaded chairman Ben Bernanke to steer QE3 to dry-dock. If the members of the monetary policy committee agree at their annual review on December 17-18 that the economic recovery is on track, and the unemployment rate indeed headed to 6.5 percent, they might begin to taper early in 2014, or by mid-year. But that is not a certainty: the incoming chairman might prefer to see the unemployment rate at 5.5 percent and inflation above 2 percent before slowing or ending asset purchases and relying on the alleged growth-inducing effects of low short-term rates and inducements to banks to increase lending.
The labor market is not the only source of good news. The Fed’s recent survey of business conditions notes that the economy continues to expand, and that “manufacturers in many districts expressed optimism about near-term growth prospects. That is “a bit more upbeat” than earlier reports according to Goldman Sachs’ economists.
Share prices are over six times the level prevailing when Greenspan introduced his now-famous phrase, but remain reassuringly lower or at least no higher relative to corporate earnings than they were in 1996, suggesting that any exuberance just now cannot with certainty be called “irrational.” The estimate of third-quarter GDP growth has been revised from a healthy 2.8 percent annual rate to a positively robust 3.6 percent. The index of manufacturing activity rose in November to its highest level in over 2½ years, with both new orders and backlogs showing substantial gains, and fifteen of the eighteen industries surveyed reporting growth. “The positive growth trend characterizing the second half of 2013 is continuing,” reports the Institute for Supply Management, which compiles this index.
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