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There was a little kerfuffle yesterday as Goldblog reported on an Obama bigwig calling Bibi a “chickenshit.” My favorite bit of the column was this nugget:

“The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel, economically, militarily and politically,” Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me. (UPDATE: Foxman just e-mailed me this statement: “The quote is accurate, but the context is wrong. I was referring to what troubles this administration about Israel, not what troubles leaders in the American Jewish community.”)

Heh. But the more troubling aspect of the column is this idea that any obvious clash of views or interests between the US and Israel is some kind of “crisis”. It certainly isn’t a crisis for Obama or the US. Paul Pillar makes a good point (seconded by Larison):

Sweep aside the politically-driven fiction about two countries that supposedly have everything in common and nothing in conflict and instead deal with reality, and the concept of crisis does not arise at all.

Nor does it really matter if Netanyahu “writes off” Obama in his last two years.

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If The Democrats Hold The Senate

Oct 30 2014 @ 3:57pm

Ramesh imagines the GOP reaction:

Many conservatives … would argue that the party establishment had led them to ruin. The establishment largely got its way in the 2012 presidential primaries, and then got its way again in running an agenda-less general-election campaign. This time, Exhibit A for these conservatives would be the North Carolina Senate race, where the establishment candidate — Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House — has persistently run a little behind his Democratic opponent. (Actually, that might be Exhibit B if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell manages to lose in Kentucky.)

Conversely, a lot Republican officeholders might conclude that the Democratic attacks on them as uninterested in compromise and hostile to women had succeeded, and that they should accordingly move leftward.

Should the Democrats pull off an upset, Nate Cohn will look “to the challenges of modern polling as a big reason for the surprise”:

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A reader comments on this post:

The excerpt from Elizabeth Nolan Brown quotes “increasing progressive activism around the idea that drunk people can’t give consent.” I’m troubled by this. The fact is, people can (and do) give consent while intoxicated. Intoxication does not render one a zombie or possessed by a demon. In fact, many would argue that one’s words and actions while intoxicated reveal more of your true self than when sober (think of the guy who goes off on a racist tirade while drunk, but would never be caught saying those things out loud when sober).

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QE, We Hardly Knew Thee

Oct 30 2014 @ 3:00pm

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Yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced that it was halting the bond-buying program known as “quantitative easing”, the third round of which had begun in September 2012. While the Fed won’t divest itself of the more than $4 trillion in bonds it has accumulated, and has no immediate plans to raise interest rates, it won’t buy any more. Matt O’Brien fears that the Fed is sending the wrong signals as the economy remains lethargic:

The fact that it’s ending QE3 despite still-low inflation and still-high, though declining, unemployment, signals that the Fed is eager to return to normalcy. So does changing its statement from saying there’s a “significant underutilization of labor resources” to it “gradually diminishing.” The Fed, in short, looks much more hawkish. And that’s not good, because, as Chicago Fed President Charles Evans explains, the “biggest risk” to the economy right now is that the Fed raises rates too soon.

QE isn’t magic — far from it — but it is, as Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren told me, “quite effective.” Especially at convincing markets that the Fed won’t raise rates for awhile, which is all it should be saying right now. Because the only thing worse than having to do QE is having to do QE again. The Fed, in other words, should do everything it can to make sure the economy lifts off from its zero interest rate trap before it pulls anything back. Otherwise, we might find ourselves back in the same place a few years from now.

Justin Wolfers stresses that this isn’t really “the end” of QE, since the assets the Fed holds will continue to have a stimulative effect:

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Joe Klein is struck how Democratic candidates have “emphasized women’s issues–equal pay, parental leave, abortion rights–in the hope of luring undecided, independent women to the fold”:

[Campaigning on women's issues] has been effective and still may be–but it has never before carried the electoral burden that it does this year. The alleged toxicity of Barack Obama has made it unsafe for Democrats to discuss much else.

The party was boosted by the failed Bush wars in 2006, 2008 and 2012, but Democrats have been boggled by what to say about ISIS in 2014. They’ve had no significant new ideas, foreign or domestic, on offer. And they’ve been too afraid to tout Obama’s complicated successes–the stimulus package that prevented a depression, the health care plan that may actually be working, and relative order at the border (a result of many years of security enhancements and a diminished flow of illegals during recent rough economic times). The argument on women’s economic issues is strong. It remains to be seen whether baby boomers who boast remarkable three-month, 3-D sonograms of their grandchildren will be quite so militant about abortion rights in the future. The fate of women’s issues, in the South and elsewhere, will have an impact on whether the party has to start rethinking its message going forward. It may not be able to count on Republicans’ continuing their boorish ways. Unless, of course, the conservatives win and overread the results this year.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown identifies why the Democrats’ War on Women demagoguery isn’t working very well:

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Book Club: Waking Up The Buddha

Oct 30 2014 @ 2:21pm

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Our first installment of reader commentary on Sam Harris’ Waking Up addressed the question of the self’s existence – or lack thereof. More emails along those lines here and here. Many of the following do the same, while offering clarifications and critiques from a Buddhist perspective. The first reader emphasizes the practical effects of rejecting our usual notions of the self:

Twenty years of meditation in the Dzogchen tradition have convinced me that the self, as it is conceived in the West, does not exist. With regard to your reaching different conclusions from Harris based on the same experiences, there is an old Zen saying “Words are a finger pointing at the moon – be careful not to confuse the finger with the moon.” I might describe the experience as one of realizing immaculate Buddha nature, but the important question is: what effect does this experience have? Am I a wiser, more compassionate human being because of it?

The concepts about the experience are just that – concepts. They no more objectively prove your experience of the love and existence of God than they prove Harris’ rejection of God. The experience belongs to no belief system. It is what it is.

Another reader wants “to clarify something about Buddhist (Mahayana) philosophy that Sam doesn’t explain”:

In Buddhist thought, there are two sorts of frames of truth. Relative truth is the truth of bookclub-beagle-trappearance, and absolute truth is how things truly exist. Computers are an excellent example of this; there’s an apparent reality to email, blogs, the internet, but we know that those things don’t exist in any true sense – they are just conceptual representations of electrical activity. The key point is that relative reality is still real, it’s just real as appearance, in the same way that a dream or videogame might be real as a dream or videogame. Relative reality from a Buddhist perspective is all of the stuff we relate with, self, other, trees, greenery etc. Ultimate reality is reality free from concept, which is therefore impossible to describe.

When Buddhists talk about the non-existence of self, what they mean is that self is a mere appearance. In particular it doesn’t have the qualities of separateness, permanence, or solidity that we ascribe to it. From a relative perspective, self exists as an appearance, but it has no reality from an ultimate point of view. Suffering arises because we try to relate with this ephemeral, shifty, appearance of self and other as though they were more than appearances.

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Charles Pierce doesn’t want Hillary to get the nomination without a fight. He identifies “the worst thing about accepting as axiomatic the notion of the cleared field”:

It makes effective coalition-building beyond the mainstream impossible. Change within nothing but acceptable parameters is stillborn, and the really serious problems affecting the country get sanded over and obscured by tactics. People whose lives have been ground up over the past decade have their appeals drowned out by the hoofbeats of the horse race. …

To accept the idea that Hillary Clinton has cleared the field is not merely to put the Democratic party on the razor’s edge of one person’s decision. It also is to give a kind of final victory to tactics over substance, to money over argument, to an easy consensus over a hard-won mandate, and ultimately, to campaigning over governing. It is an awful, sterile place for a political party to be.

Meanwhile, Haberman and Thrush report on a meeting between Hillary and former Obama campaign guru David Plouffe. They discussed why she lost in 2008:

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Catching Catcalls On Camera, Ctd

Oct 30 2014 @ 1:11pm

A reader pinpoints another unintentionally revealing aspect of that Hollaback video:

The elephant in the room here that no one is discussing is the racial aspect. It’s pretty clear that the vast majority of men catcalling in that video, and the most egregious examples, are displayed by minorities – either African-American or Latino men. I’m not saying that harassment like this is exclusive to non-whites, as any women that has encountered a gaggle of drunk frat boys can attest. But whether intentional or not, the video presents a particular theme that people seem to be conveniently avoiding discussing. This is somewhat reminiscent of the inconvenient truth of minority support of Prop 8.

Many more readers comment along those lines:

The desire to criminalize catcalling is a classic example of two progressive causes heading on a collision course, because it would almost certainly have a disproportionate impact on young minority males, particularly African Americans.

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What Do These Midterms Mean?

Oct 30 2014 @ 12:28pm

President Obama Delivers Statement In East Room Of White House

It seems safe to say that the GOP will pick up the Senate this year. No one can quite know the details yet, and the scale and extent of the wave (or not) remains again up in the air. But what this actually means – for policy and this presidency – is a more complicated question.

Here’s what we know empirically. The public is underwhelmed by these elections and engagement is low; the average Senate seat gain for a midterm in a second presidential term is six seats for the opposing party (which is a highly likely scenario right now); the president is unpopular and many Republican candidates have made this election about him, while most Democrats (as is their wont) are running fast away; the GOP itself remains, however, also deeply unpopular; wrong-direction numbers are at a high. No great policy debate has defined these races, and when such issues have risen – such as illegal immigration or the ACA – they tend to be virulent reactions to existing law or proposed changes, rather than a constructive, positive agenda. I see no triumph for conservative or liberal ideas here, no positive coalition forming, no set of policies that will be vindicated by this election.

So these midterms mean nothing? That can’t be right either. They seem to me to be reflecting at the very least a sour and dyspeptic mood in the country at large, a well of deepening discontent and concern, and a national funk that remains very potent as a narrative, even if it has become, in my view, close to circular and more than a little hysterical. So what is the reason for this mood – and why has Obama taken the biggest dive because of it?

Here’s my stab at an answer. Even though the economic signals in the US are stronger than anywhere else in the developed world, even as unemployment has fallen, and as energy independence has come closer than anyone recently expected, the underlying structure of the economy remains punishing for the middle class. This, in some ways, can be just as dispiriting as lower levels of growth – because it appears that even when we have a recovery, it will not make things any better for most people. This shoe falling in the public psyche – a sense that we are in a deep structural impasse for the middle class, rather than a temporary recessionary hit – means a profound disillusionment with the future. And the fact that neither party seems to have a workable answer to this problem intensifies the sense of drift.

Events overseas have had another, deeply depressing effect.

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The Gluten-Free Fad

Oct 30 2014 @ 12:12pm


Michael Specter tackles it:

While there are no scientific data to demonstrate that millions of people have become allergic or intolerant to gluten (or to other wheat proteins), there is convincing and repeated evidence that dietary self-diagnoses are almost always wrong, particularly when the diagnosis extends to most of society. We still feel more comfortable relying on anecdotes and intuition than on statistics or data.

Since the nineteen-sixties, for example, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been vilified.

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