Monday, June 30, 2014

A Solar Show With Mixed Reviews - NYTimes.com

A Solar Show With Mixed Reviews - NYTimes.com:



"Solar maximum is now."



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Obama to Use Executive Action to Bolster Border Enforcement - NYTimes.com

Obama to Use Executive Action to Bolster Border Enforcement - NYTimes.com:



"WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday said he would order a shift of immigration enforcement resources from the interior of the country toward the southern border as part of a broader effort to use executive actions in the face of Republican refusals to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws."



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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Inequality Is Not Inevitable - NYTimes.com

Inequality Is Not Inevitable - NYTimes.com:



"AN insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?"



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Syrian "Moderates" are not so Moderate in Iraq by Robert Fisk

Confusing? You bet. So first steps first. Who are the “moderate” rebels whom Obama wants to train and arm? He doesn’t name them – and he can’t, because the original “moderates” whom America swore to arm (with the help of the CIA, the Brits, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) were the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, mostly composed of deserters from Assad’s government forces. But the FSA – briefly beloved of John McCain until he discovered a pro-al-Qa’ida fighter sharing a photo-op with him in northern Syria – has decomposed.

Its men have gone home, switched to the bearded Islamists of the Nusrah or Isis – or Isil if we heed the latest acronym – or re-deserted to the government army and taken up arms for Assad again. Some freedom fighters! They weren’t given enough weapons, we are told. Now they’ll get more. And no doubt sell them – as they did the last lot. For it is a sad fact of war that whenever a gun crosses a border, it represents not loyalty but cash.

Give an FSA man – if you can find one – an anti-aircraft missile and it will be sold to the highest bidder. In all the civil wars I’ve covered, I’ve never seen a weapon in the hands of a militia which hasn’t bought it from someone else. In a humiliating interview on Channel 4, our own Defence Secretary admitted that weapons given to Syrian rebels had fallen into the hands of the bad guys. How do you monitor all the guys whom you give a gun to? Send them off with a personal drone to make sure they don’t sell it?

Besides, how do you actually find a “moderate” these days in Syria’s war? The Islamist rebels fight to the death. No “moderates” they. And – accursed facts now intervene – these are the very same Islamist rebels now threatening the Iraqi state. And just to make things even more confusing, Maliki has just been thanking Assad’s boys for air-raiding his own rebel enemies on the Iraqi-Syrian border on the grounds that Syria and Iraq are “friends”.

So now to our own real friend, the Department of Home Truths. What’s left of the FSA has been fighting the Islamist Isis-Isil forces. So have the Kurdish militias in northern Syria. So have a few village militias. And the Syrians have a suspicion that this is Obama’s half-baked plan: to arm the anti-Islamist Syrian rebels to fight the pro-al-Qa’ida rebels and thus – indirectly – keep both the Assad and Maliki regimes in power.

The problem is that Obama must do this without revealing that the Syrian-Iraqi battle against Sunni Wahabis is one and the same war, that Assad’s Syrian army – using Russian jets – is struggling against exactly the same enemy as Maliki’s Iraqi army, also soon to be augmented (if we are to believe Maliki’s blather to the BBC Arabic Service) with Russian jets. In other words, Assad not only has the public support of Moscow; he has the private support of Washington (and therefore, of course, of Israel).

Why else would the White House say that the money for Syrian “moderates” would help “counter terrorist threats” – “terrorist” being Assad’s description of his enemies. But of course, Obama must keep calling Assad a “brutal dictator”. Difficult to explain all this on Fox News, of course. So just keep repeating the word “moderate”. Over and over again.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mexico Arrests Vigilante Leader in State Torn by Violence - NYTimes.com

Mexico Arrests Vigilante Leader in State Torn by Violence - NYTimes.com:



"MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities detained one of the most well-known leaders of vigilante groups that have been battling drug gangs in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, a federal official said on Friday."



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Border Patrol Scrutiny Stirs Anger in Arizona Town - NYTimes.com

Border Patrol Scrutiny Stirs Anger in Arizona Town - NYTimes.com:



"ARIVACA, Ariz. — Every time Jack Driscoll drives the 32 miles from this remote outpost in southeastern Arizona to the closest supermarket, or to doctor’s appointments, or to a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, he must stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint and answer the same question: “Are you a U.S. citizen?”"



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Slim's Real Estate Arm to Buy AT&T's America Movil Stock - NYTimes.com

Slim's Real Estate Arm to Buy AT&T's America Movil Stock - NYTimes.com:



 "MEXICO CITY — Carlos Slim's America Movil said on Friday it had authorized the Mexican tycoon's real estate firm Inmobiliaria Carso to buy more than 5.7 billion shares, formerly held by AT&T, equal to 8.27 percent of America Movil's stock."



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Arno J. Mayer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arno J. Mayer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:



 "Arno Joseph Mayer (born June 19, 1926) is a Luxembourg-born American Marxist historian who specializes in modern Europe, diplomatic history, and the Holocaust, and is currently Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Emeritus, at Princeton University."



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Redrawn Lines Seen as No Cure in Iraq Conflict - NYTimes.com

Redrawn Lines Seen as No Cure in Iraq Conflict - NYTimes.com:



"ISTANBUL — Over the past two weeks, the specter that has haunted Iraq since its founding 93 years ago appears to have become a reality: the de facto partition of the country into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish cantons."



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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

[1401.6527] Evidence for the direct decay of the 125 GeV Higgs boson to fermions

[1401.6527] Evidence for the direct decay of the 125 GeV Higgs boson to fermions:



"The discovery of a new boson with a mass of approximately 125 GeV in 2012 at the LHC has heralded a new era in understanding the nature of electroweak symmetry breaking and possibly completing the standard model of particle physics. Since the first observation in decays to gamma gamma, WW, and ZZ boson pairs, an extensive set of measurements of the mass and couplings to W and Z bosons, as well as multiple tests of the spin-parity quantum numbers, have revealed that the properties of the new boson are consistent with those of the long-sought agent responsible for electroweak symmetry breaking. An important open question is whether the new particle also couples to fermions, and in particular to down-type fermions, since the current measurements mainly constrain the couplings to the up-type top quark. Determination of the couplings to down-type fermions requires direct measurement of the corresponding Higgs boson decays, as recently reported by the CMS experiment in the study of Higgs decays to bottom quarks and tau leptons. In this paper we report the combination of these two channels which results, for the first time, in strong evidence for the direct coupling of the 125 GeV Higgs boson to down-type fermions, with an observed significance of 3.8 standard deviations, when 4.4 are expected."



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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Krugman on Mankiw


Sympathy for the Trustafarians


A number of people have asked me to comment on Greg Mankiw’sdefense of inherited wealth. It’s a strange piece, oddly disconnected from the real concerns about patrimonial capitalism. But let me focus on two key problems with Mankiw’s analysis – one purely economic, one involving political economy.
So, on the economics: Mankiw argues that accumulation of dynastic wealth is good for everyone, because it increases the capital stock and therefore trickles down to workers in the form of higher wages. Is this a good argument?
Well, if there’s one thing I thought economists were trained to do, it was to be clear about opportunity cost. We should compare accumulation of dynastic wealth with some alternative use of resources – not assume, as Mankiw in effect does, that if not passed on to heirs that wealth would simply disappear. Maybe he’s assuming that the alternative would be riotous living by the current rich, but that’s not a policy alternative.
In fact, what we’re really talking about here is taxation of wealth., and the question is what would happen to that revenue versus what happens if the rich get to keep the money. If the government uses the extra revenue to reduce deficits, then all of it is saved – as opposed to only part of it if it’s passed on to heirs. If the government uses the revenue to pay for social insurance and/or public goods, that’s likely to provide a lot more benefit to workers than the trickle-down from increased capital.
The point is that you can only justify Mankiw’s claim that inherited wealth is necessarily good for workers by insisting that the government would do nothing useful with the revenue from inheritance taxes. I’d call that assuming your conclusions; in any case, it’s a claim that deserves to be made openly, not smuggled in on the pretense that you’re just doing economic analysis.
But the larger criticism of Mankiw’s piece is that it ignores the main reason we’re concerned about the concentration of wealth in family dynasties – the belief that it warps our political economy, that it undermines democracy. You don’t have to be a radical to share this concern; not only did people like Teddy Roosevelt openly talk about this problem, so (as Thomas Piketty points out) did Irving Fisher in his 1919 presidential address to the American Economic Association.
What’s curious is that conservative economists are well aware of the danger of “regulatory capture”, in which public institutions are hijacked by vested interests, yet blithely dismiss (or refuse even to mention) the essentially equivalent problem of democratic institutions hijacked by concentrated wealth. I take regulatory capture quite seriously; but I take plutocratic capture equally seriously. And this is not an issue you can deal with by claiming that the benefits of capital accumulation trickle down to workers.
If Mankiw wants to argue that the costs of any attempt to limit wealth concentration would exceed the benefits, fine. But “more capital is good” is not a helpful contribution to the discussion.

Senator Cochran Defeats Tea Party Rival in Mississippi Republican Runoff - NYTimes.com

Senator Cochran Defeats Tea Party Rival in Mississippi Republican Runoff - NYTimes.com:



"HATTIESBURG Miss. (Reuters) - Veteran U.S. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi narrowly defeated challenger Chris McDaniel on Tuesday in a high-profile runoff election that pitted the Republican party's old guard against its anti-establishment Tea Party movement."



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Robert Fisk on the jailing of Al-Jazeera journalists: A proxy in the war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia

As if the risk of being killed is not enough. Must journalists endure the threat of imprisonment as well as the threat of death or serious injury? It is not just the outrageous, unfair, trumped-up crudity of the charges against the three Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to years of imprisonment in Cairo – we are used to this treatment from Third World pseudo-revolutionary countries, although why Egypt should wish to be among their number is a political mystery in itself.

No, it is the bald fact that prison for journalists in one of the world’s most populous, historic countries must now be regarded as a normal part of the risks we take in covering the world. Just as rape is a vile tool of war, so jail must be a routine method of shutting us up. And in an awful sense, our Western leaders go along with this. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste expected to be freed on Monday, although they must have known Egypt and “justice” do not have a lot in common.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, raised the three journalists’ cases with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before handing over almost half-a-billion dollars in aid to Egypt on Sunday. Sisi took the cash. And did nothing for the journalists. And when the Australians asked Sisi to intervene, he lectured them on the independence of the Egyptian judiciary. Oh, would that it was indeed “independent”. Was the Egyptian hanging judge who sentenced 300 Muslim Brotherhood members to death “independent” when he appalled the world with his bloodlust last month?
But let’s remember the Arab Gulf. Al Jazeera is a Qatari foreign policy project and Qatar supported the elected President, Mohamed Morsi, before Sisi rescued his beloved Egyptian people by chucking the bounder from power. And at one stroke, Egypt lost $10bn (£5.9bn) in Qatari funding – which makes Kerry’s half-billion look pretty tame.

The Saudis stepped in, of course, as they have with the Sunni chaps now threatening Iraq, to underwrite all Egypt’s debts (so long, of course, as Sisi leaves the Egyptian Salafists alone). And how to punish those pesky Qataris? Why, bang up their journos, of course. For “aiding terrorists”, for God’s sake.



As I write these words, I have beside my desk a cartridge case from a battle between the Lebanese army and Arafat’s PLO, shrapnel from Israeli artillery and a hunk of a shell case from the USS New Jersey, fired at a Druze village in 1983. So I guess that makes me guilty of assisting terrorists in the eyes of Lebanon, Israel and the US.

Reporters die on battlefields, are targeted in conflicts, are assassinated in all the continents of the world. Occasionally, like poor Farzad Bazoft of The Observer in 1990, they are accused of being spies and hanged – in this case on the orders of Saddam Hussein – and we rage about it for a while and then bash on with our work regardless. Maybe we spend too much time fearing for the lives of our own Western journos – forgetting all too quickly that hundreds of Arab reporters and photographers (in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, you name it) pay with their lives for doing what we do, but at the mercy of their own regimes. Include non-Arab Iran in that.



But the dictators of the Middle East only do to reporters what our own leaders would do to us, if they could. Didn’t a US delegation tell Saddam – before his Kuwait invasion – that his problem was with journalists? Didn’t the Americans shoot down our colleagues without compunction in Iraq? Haven’t the Israelis killed journalists and their assistants without punishment? When did you hear Americans or Brits complain about that? My guess is that Sisi will release the three Al Jazeera men on appeal. And we’ll thank him from the bottom of our Western hearts.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Multimillion-Dollar Minds of 5 Mathematical Masters - NYTimes.com

The Multimillion-Dollar Minds of 5 Mathematical Masters - NYTimes.com:



 "Mathematics has turned into an unusually lucrative profession for Maxim Kontsevich. First, Dr. Kontsevich, 49, who works at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris, won the 2012 Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences, an honor accompanied by a $1 million award. Then a couple of months later, he was among nine people who received a new physics prize — and $3 million each — from Yuri Milner, a Russian who dropped out of graduate studies in physics and became a successful investor in Internet companies like Facebook."



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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fooling Mexican Fans by Francisco Goldman

The day before the Mexican soccer team’s thrilling underdog tie with the World Cup favorite, Brazil, last week, the lead editorial of the news site SinEmbargo was titled, “Ready for your Clamato and Gatorade?” — common hangover remedies. “In about three weeks, when you wake from your World Cup dreams,” the editors wrote, “remember that when the soccer fest began, the country was on the verge of monumental decisions. If upon waking, you realize that the country’s energy reserves have been cheaply sold off or whatever else, don’t bother protesting because this is a chronicle foretold.”

To debate and pass laws that could open Pemex, the nationalized oil company, to foreign investment, the Mexican Congress scheduled legislative sessions from June 10 to 23, dates precisely coinciding with you know what. Final passage might be pushed back, but it originally looked like it was supposed to happen on Monday, when Mexico plays Croatia to decide which country advances to the elimination rounds.






Credit Johnny Selman

For weeks, critics of President Enrique Peña Nieto and his political party, the PRI, have been denouncing this ploy to hide the historic reforms behind World Cup fever, it being taken for granted that almost no one will be paying attention to whatever happens in Congress.

The writer Juan Villoro — a commentator on both politics and soccer — says this is not the first time the party has tried this. In 1998, under a previous PRI government, Congress passed a $67 billion rescue of Mexican banks, to be paid by taxpayers, on Dec. 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the start of the Christmas holiday. This past Dec. 12, PRI legislators, joined by allies on the right, “fast track” approved, with almost no debate, the constitutional reform opening the way for the Pemex privatization.

Here is a sample of news stories from the last few days (to some of these, SinEmbargo has been affixing the slogan, “And while you go on enjoying the World Cup”): skyrocketing “disappearances”; crackdowns on the press; the corruption of the police, political parties and the justice system.

Mr. Peña Nieto seems to regard the plight of his citizenry as a public relations stain that needs to be kept out of sight. Yet it was only a few months ago that Time magazine heralded him on its cover as the savior of Mexico. Outside the country, he was seen as a modernizing reformer and a committed partner in the war against the narco cartels.

But as his dismal approval ratings make clear, many Mexicans see a different Peña Nieto, one who was elected with only 38 percent of the vote, in an election rife with allegations of vote buying and other irregularities. And they see a different PRI — not a new and improved party, but the same institution that ruled Mexico for 71 years of “perfect dictatorship,” before it was temporarily pushed out of power in 2000. The structures and culture of the party that built modern Mexico are still deeply entrenched. Over nearly a century, the PRI perfected nexuses of government, organized crime and corruption. In his new book “Campo de Guerra,” the Mexican essayist Sergio González Rodríguez describes the PRI’s Mexico as “a state that simulates legality and legitimacy, while at the same time it is an un-State: the lack and negation of itself.”

Who could blame those Mexicans who, when considering the proposed energy legislation, suspected a repeat of the privatizing reforms of the 1990s, which created fortunes for a small elite and PRI cronies, but did little or nothing for ordinary Mexicans but saddle them with what is considered to be the world’s most expensive and unreliable cellphone service? It’s easy to see how privatizing Pemex would benefit some foreign oil companies and create some new Mexican millionaires, without “trickling down” to anyone else.




Protesters demonstrated this spring in Mexico City against energy reform that would open up the nationalized oil company to foreign investment. Recently, debates on the reform were scheduled at the same time as the World Cup tournament. Credit Yuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse

The energy “debates” have a recent precedent in the government’s handling of telecommunications reforms. These were portrayed as measures that would democratize telecommunications and the media, and rein in apparent monopolies such as the TV monolith Televisa’s. But when scholars and a few honest senators were finally able to read and decipher the pending legislation, it turned out that the government and allied legislators were actually designing the laws to benefit Televisa, and to crack down on Internet freedoms and access to radio licenses for community and indigenous groups.

Even the capture this year of the drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo — a major public relations victory for the government — was a letdown for the Mexican public. As Edgardo Buscaglia, a senior research scholar at Columbia University, commented, the capo’s capture “didn’t even minimally guarantee the dismantling of a criminal network.” He said: “El Chapo Guzmán and his people in Sinaloa had hundreds of Mexican politicians in their pockets. Let’s see if they arrest them now.”

The truth is that Mr. Peña Nieto is a politically insignificant figure, ruling at the service of established powers within the PRI and elsewhere. In fact, he seems so absent and unforceful a leader that in recent days some have speculated that he is gravely ill. Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre, the former president of the PRI in Mexico City, better embodies the Mafioso depravity of the PRI. In April, Mr. Gutiérrez was accused of running a prostitution ring with party funds. At conventions, he allegedly showed up with his army of women, making them available to other politicians. It wasn’t government investigators who finally exposed Mr. Gutiérrez, but a prominent female journalist, who immediately became the object of a vilification campaign.

There is a famous line from Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano,” which also served as the epigraph to Roberto Bolaño’s Mexico City masterpiece “The Savage Detectives”: “Do you want Mexico to be saved? Do you want Christ to be our king?”

“No,” is the answer.

Who will save Mexico? Not politicians, the police, corrupt functionaries or greedy elites.

There has been much talk lately about the way the style of soccer teams manifests national characters. I don’t know if that’s true. But when I look at the Mexican team which, after barely even qualifying for the World Cup, has been playing so well, I see a team without stars — a gritty, hard-working, pretty humble, resourceful, creative, disciplined, joyous, friendly-seeming group of players who seem to be learning to play the game as it is meant to be played.

These are values that we see enacted and re-enacted all over Mexico, and in Mexican communities elsewhere, every day. Someday Mexico will get another chance to vote the PRI away and to restart the long process of building the country from the ground up. It could do worse than take some inspiration from its national team.

Francisco Goldman is the author of the forthcoming book “The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle.”

The Big Green Test by Paul Krugman

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

Immigrant Children Have Rights.

AP: "WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of immigrant children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America to cross alone into the United States can live in American cities, attend public schools and possibly work here for years without consequences."



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Saturday, June 21, 2014

How Inherited Wealth Helps the Economy - NYTimes.com

How Inherited Wealth Helps the Economy - NYTimes.com:



"Yes, says Thomas Piketty, author of the best seller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Inherited wealth has always been with us, of course, but Mr. Piketty believes that its importance is increasing. He sees a future that combines slow economic growth with high returns to capital. He reasons that if capital owners save much of their income, their wealth will accumulate and be passed on to their heirs. He concludes that individuals’ living standards will be determined less by their skill and effort and more by bequests they receive."



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How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:



 "How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a 2014 American 3D computer-animated action fantasy film produced by DreamWorks Animation[4] and distributed by 20th Century Fox, loosely based on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell. It is the sequel to the 2010 computer-animated film How to Train Your Dragon and the second in the trilogy.[5] The film is written and directed by Dean DeBlois, and stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig with the addition of Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou and Kit Harington. The film was released on June 13, 2014, and received positive reviews."



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Friday, June 20, 2014

U.S. Moves to Fight Surge in Illegal Immigration - NYTimes.com

U.S. Moves to Fight Surge in Illegal Immigration - NYTimes.com:



"McALLEN, Tex. — White House officials, saying that misinformation about administration policies helped drive a surge of illegal migrants from Central America across the South Texas border, on Friday announced plans to detain more of them and to accelerate their court cases so as to deport them more quickly."



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U.S. Moves to Fight Surge in Illegal Immigration - NYTimes.com

U.S. Moves to Fight Surge in Illegal Immigration - NYTimes.com:



"McALLEN, Tex. — White House officials, saying that misinformation about administration policies helped drive a surge of illegal migrants from Central America across the South Texas border, on Friday announced plans to detain more of them and to accelerate their court cases so as to deport them more quickly."



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Thursday, June 19, 2014

House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again: Atif Mian, Amir Sufi: 9780226081946: Amazon.com: Books

House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again: Atif Mian, Amir Sufi: 9780226081946: Amazon.com: Books:



The Great American Recession resulted in the loss of eight million jobs between 2007 and 2009. More than four million homes were lost to foreclosures. Is it a coincidence that the United States witnessed a dramatic rise in household debt in the years before the recession—that the total amount of debt for American households doubled between 2000 and 2007 to $14 trillion? Definitely not. Armed with clear and powerful evidence, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi reveal in House of Debt how the Great Recession and Great Depression, as well as the current economic malaise in Europe, were caused by a large run-up in household debt followed by a significantly large drop in household spending.



Though the banking crisis captured the public’s attention, Mian and Sufi argue strongly with actual data that current policy is too heavily biased toward protecting banks and creditors. Increasing the flow of credit, they show, is disastrously counterproductive when the fundamental problem is too much debt. As their research shows, excessive household debt leads to foreclosures, causing individuals to spend less and save more. Less spending means less demand for goods, followed by declines in production and huge job losses. How do we end such a cycle? With a direct attack on debt, say Mian and Sufi.  More aggressive debt forgiveness after the crash helps, but as they illustrate, we can be rid of painful bubble-and-bust episodes only if the financial system moves away from its reliance on inflexible debt contracts. As an example, they propose new mortgage contracts that are built on the principle of risk-sharing, a concept that would have prevented the housing bubble from emerging in the first place.



Thoroughly grounded in compelling economic evidence, House of Debt offers convincing answers to some of the most important questions facing the modern economy today: Why do severe recessions happen? Could we have prevented the Great Recession and its consequences? And what actions are needed to prevent such crises going forward?



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Veterans and Zombies by Paul Krugman

You’ve surely heard about the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A number of veterans found themselves waiting a long time for care, some of them died before they were seen, and some of the agency’s employees falsified records to cover up the extent of the problem. It’s a real scandal; some heads have already rolled, but there’s surely more to clean up.

But the goings-on at Veterans Affairs shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of a much bigger scandal: the almost surreal inefficiency and injustice of the American health care system as a whole. And it’s important to understand that the Veterans Affairs scandal, while real, is being hyped out of proportion by people whose real goal is to block reform of the larger system.

The essential, undeniable fact about American health care is how incredibly expensive it is — twice as costly per capita as the French system, two-and-a-half times as expensive as the British system. You might expect all that money to buy results, but the United States actually ranks low on basic measures of performance; we have low life expectancy and high infant mortality, and despite all that spending many people can’t get health care when they need it. What’s more, Americans seem to realize that they’re getting a bad deal: Surveys show a much smaller percentage of the population satisfied with the health system in America than in other countries.

And, in America, medical costs often cause financial distress to an extent that doesn’t happen in any other advanced nation.

How and why does health care in the United States manage to perform so badly? There have been many studies of the issue, identifying factors that range from high administrative costs, to high drug prices, to excessive testing. The details are fairly complicated, but if you had to identify a common theme behind America’s poor performance, it would be that we suffer from an excess of money-driven medicine. Vast amounts of costly paperwork are generated by for-profit insurers always looking for ways to deny payment; high spending on procedures of dubious medical efficacy is driven by the efforts of for-profit hospitals and providers to generate more revenue; high drug costs are driven by pharmaceutical companies who spend more on advertising and marketing than they do on research.

Other advanced countries don’t suffer from comparable problems because private gain is less of an issue. Outside the U.S., the government generally provides health insurance directly, or ensures that it’s available from tightly regulated nonprofit insurers; often, many hospitals are publicly owned, and many doctors are public employees.

As you might guess, conservatives don’t like the observation that American health care performs worse than other countries’ systems because it relies too much on the private sector and the profit motive. So whenever someone points out the obvious, there is a chorus of denial, of attempts to claim that America does, too, offer better care. It turns out, however, that such claims invariably end up relying on zombie arguments — that is, arguments that have been proved wrong, should be dead, but keep shambling along because they serve a political purpose.

Which brings us to veterans’ care. The system run by the Department of Veterans Affairs is not like the rest of American health care. It is, if you like, an island of socialized medicine, a miniature version of Britain’s National Health Service, in a privatized sea. And until the scandal broke, all indications were that it worked very well, providing high-quality care at low cost.

No wonder, then, that right-wingers have seized on the scandal, viewing it as — to quote Dr. Ben Carson, a rising conservative star — “a gift from God.”

So here’s what you need to know: It’s still true that Veterans Affairs provides excellent care, at low cost. Those waiting lists arise partly because so many veterans want care, but Congress has provided neither clear guidelines on who is entitled to coverage, nor sufficient resources to cover all applicants. And, yes, some officials appear to have responded to incentives to reduce waiting times by falsifying data.

Yet, on average, veterans don’t appear to wait longer for care than other Americans. And does anyone doubt that many Americans have died while waiting for approval from private insurers?

A scandal is a scandal, and wrongdoing must be punished. But beware of people trying to use the veterans’ care scandal to derail health reform.

And here’s the thing: Health reform is working. Too many Americans still lack good insurance, and hence lack access to health care and protection from high medical costs — but not as many as last year, and next year should be better still. Health costs are still far too high, but their growth has slowed dramatically. We’re moving in the right direction, and we shouldn’t let the zombies get in our way.

Does He Pass the Test? by Paul Krugman | The New York Review of Books

Does He Pass the Test? by Paul Krugman | The New York Review of Books:



"But confidence in itself is not enough to deal with the broader consequences of a debt overhang. That takes policies that go well beyond saving financial institutions—policies like sustained fiscal stimulus and debt relief for families. Unfortunately, such policies were never forthcoming on a remotely adequate scale, which is why true recovery has remained so elusive. And although Geithner denies it, one contributing factor to the inadequacy of policy was surely the fact that he seemed uninterested in, and maybe even hostile to, the policies we needed after the panic subsided."



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The Fall of the US Empire - And Then What? (Peace, Development, Environment, 5): Johan Galtung: 9788230004920: Amazon.com: Books

The Fall of the US Empire - And Then What? (Peace, Development, Environment, 5): Johan Galtung: 9788230004920: Amazon.com: Books:



THE FALL OF THE US EMPIRE - AND THEN WHAT? Successors, Regionalization or Globalization? US Fascism or US Blossoming? This book explores a global phenomenon now taking place for the eyes of the world: The Fall of the US Empire. Nothing extraordinary about that, all empires so far have had life cycles, and the US Empire is no exception. In no way should that be confused with any fall of the USA; just to the contrary, the fall of the US Empire may lead to the blossoming of the US Republic. And in no way should the book be seen as "anti-American"; just to the contrary. Part I, The Present, explores the why, what, how, when and where of the present decline and fall of the US Empire, based on a theory used in 1980 to predict the fall of the Soviet empire. Part II, The Future, And Then What? explores the world as a whole with three global scenarios, successors, regionalization or globalization, mainly the latter, and the US Republic with two domestic scenarios, US fascism and US blossoming, mainly the latter. Part III, The Past, is dedicated to a study from 1979 comparing the Western Roman Empire processes with Western imperialism millennia later.



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New Discovery Simplifies Quantum Physics

New Discovery Simplifies Quantum Physics:



"That’s right ladies and gentlemen, quantum mechanics just got easier to understand. A team of physicists have released a paper showing their discovery of a jewel-like geometric structure that takes equations, which can be thousands of terms long, and simplifies them to a single term. This discovery is poised to dramatically simplify the equations particle physicists use when calculating particle interactions. It also proposes the uncomfortable idea that space and time are not fundamental aspects of our reality, and it brings us much closer to unifying gravity and quantum theory under one comprehensive model."



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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Amplituhedron - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Amplituhedron - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:



"An amplituhedron is a geometric structure that enables simplified calculation of particle interactions in some quantum field theories. In planar N = 4 supersymmetric Yang–Mills theory, an amplituhedron is defined as a mathematical space known as the positive Grassmannian.[1]"



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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Conundrum of Iraq and Syria by Thomas Friedman

There is much talk right now about America teaming up with Iran to push back the coalition of Sunni militias that has taken over Mosul and other Sunni towns in western Iraq and Syria. For now, I’d say stay out of this fight — not because it’s the best option, but because it’s the least bad.

After all, what is the context in which we’d be intervening? Iraq and Syria are twins: multiethnic and multisectarian societies that have been governed, like other Arab states, from the top-down. First, it was by soft-fisted Ottomans who ruled through local notables in a decentralized fashion, then by iron-fisted British and French colonial powers and later by iron-fisted nationalist kings and dictators.

Today, the Ottomans are gone, the British and French are gone and now many of the kings and dictators are gone. We removed Iraq’s dictator; NATO and tribal rebels removed Libya’s; the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen got rid of theirs; and some people in Syria have tried to topple theirs. Each country is now faced with the challenge of trying to govern itself horizontally by having the different sects, parties and tribes agree on social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens who rotate power.

Tunisia and Kurdistan have done the best at this transition. Egyptians tried and found the insecurity so unbearable that they brought back the army’s iron fist. Libya has collapsed into intertribal conflict. Yemen struggles with a wobbly tribal balance. In Syria, the Shiite/Alawite minority, plus the Christians and some Sunnis, seem to prefer the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad to the anarchy of the Islamist-dominated rebels; the Syrian Kurds have carved out their own enclave, so the country is a now a checkerboard.

In Iraq, the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — who had the best chance, the most oil money and the most help from the U.S. in writing a social contract for how to govern Iraq horizontally — chose instead, from the moment the Americans left, to empower Iraqi Shiites and disempower Iraqi Sunnis. It’s no surprise that Iraqi Sunnis decided to grab their own sectarian chunk of the country.

So today, it seems, a unified Iraq and a unified Syria can no longer be governed vertically or horizontally. The leaders no longer have the power to extend their iron fists to every border, and the people no longer have the trust to extend their hands to one another. It would appear that the only way they can remain united is if an international force comes in, evicts the dictators, uproots the extremists and builds consensual politics from the ground up — a generational project for which there are no volunteers. 

What to do? It was not wrong to believe post-9/11 that unless this region produced decent self-government it would continue to fail its own people and deny them the ability to realize their full potential, which is why the Arab Spring happened, and that its pathologies would also continue to spew out the occasional maniac, like Osama bin Laden, who could threaten us.

But the necessary turned out to be impossible: We didn’t know what we were doing. The post-Saddam generation of Iraqi leaders turned out to be like abused children who went on to be abusive parents. The Iranians constantly encouraged Shiite supremacy and frustrated our efforts to build pluralism. Mosques and charities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar continued to fund preachers and fighters who promoted the worst Sunni extremism. And thousands of Muslim men marched to Syria and Iraq to fight for jihadism, but none marched there to fight for pluralism.

I could say that before President Obama drops even an empty Coke can from a U.S. fighter jet on the Sunni militias in Iraq we need to insist that Maliki resign and a national unity cabinet be created that is made up of inclusive Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders. I could say that that is the necessary condition for reunification of Iraq. And I could say that it is absolutely not in our interest or the world’s to see Iraq break apart and one segment be ruled by murderous Sunni militias.

But I have to say this: It feels both too late and too early to stop the disintegration — too late because whatever trust there was between communities is gone, and Maliki is not trying to rebuild it, and too early because it looks as if Iraqis are going to have to live apart, and see how crazy and impoverishing that is, before the different sects can coexist peacefully.

In the meantime, there is no denying that terrorism could be exported our way from Iraq’s new, radicalized “Sunnistan.” But we have a National Security Agency, C.I.A. and drones to deal with that now ever-present threat.

Pluralism came to Europe only after many centuries of one side or another in religious wars thinking it could have it all, and after much ethnic cleansing created more homogeneous nations. Europe also went through the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Arab Muslims need to go on the same journey. It will happen when they want to or when they have exhausted all other options. Meanwhile, let’s strengthen the islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kurdistan — and strengthen our own democracy to insulate ourselves as best we can.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Yes, He Could by Paul Krugman

Several times in recent weeks I’ve found myself in conversations with liberals who shake their heads sadly and express their disappointment with President Obama. Why? I suspect that they’re being influenced, often without realizing it, by the prevailing media narrative.

The truth is that these days much of the commentary you see on the Obama administration — and a lot of the reporting too — emphasizes the negative: the contrast between the extravagant hopes of 2008 and the prosaic realities of political trench warfare, the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the mess in Iraq, and so on. The accepted thing, it seems, is to portray Mr. Obama as floundering, his presidency as troubled if not failed.

But this is all wrong. You should judge leaders by their achievements, not their press, and in terms of policy substance Mr. Obama is having a seriously good year. In fact, there’s a very good chance that 2014 will go down in the record books as one of those years when America took a major turn in the right direction.

First, health reform is now a reality — and despite a shambolic start, it’s looking like a big success story. Remember how nobody was going to sign up? First-year enrollments came in above projections. Remember how people who signed up weren’t actually going to pay their premiums? 

The vast majority have.

We don’t yet have a full picture of the impact of reform on the previously uninsured, but all the information we do have indicates major progress. Surveys, like the monthly survey by Gallup, show a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans reporting themselves as uninsured. States that expanded Medicaid and actively promoted the new exchanges have done especially well — for example, a new survey of Minnesota shows a 40 percent drop in the number of uninsured residents.

And there’s every reason to expect a lot of additional progress next year. Notably, additional insurance companies are entering the exchanges, which is both an indication that insurers believe things are going well and a reason to expect more competition and outreach next year.

Then there’s climate policy. The Obama administration’s new rules on power plants won’t be enough in themselves to save the planet, but they’re a real start — and are by far the most important environmental initiative since the Clean Air Act. I’d add that this is an issue on which Mr. Obama is showing some real passion.

Oh, and financial reform, although it’s much weaker than it should have been, is real — just ask all those Wall Street types who, enraged by the new limits on their wheeling and dealing, have turned their backs on the Democrats.

Put it all together, and Mr. Obama is looking like a very consequential president indeed. There were huge missed opportunities early in his administration — inadequate stimulus, the failure to offer significant relief to distressed homeowners. Also, he wasted years in pursuit of a Grand Bargain on the budget that, aside from turning out to be impossible, would have moved America in the wrong direction. But in his second term he is making good on the promise of real change for the better. So why all the bad press?

Part of the answer may be Mr. Obama’s relatively low approval rating. But this mainly reflects political polarization — strong approval from Democrats but universal opposition from Republicans — which is more a sign of the times than a problem with the president. Anyway, you’re supposed to judge presidents by what they do, not by fickle public opinion.

A larger answer, I’d guess, is Simpson-Bowles syndrome — the belief that good things must come in bipartisan packages, and that fiscal probity is the overriding issue of our times. This syndrome persists among many self-proclaimed centrists even though it’s overwhelmingly clear to anyone who has been paying attention that (a) today’s Republicans simply will not compromise with a Democratic president, and (b) the alleged fiscal crisis was vastly overblown.

The result of the syndrome’s continuing grip is that Mr. Obama’s big achievements don’t register with much of the Washington establishment: He was supposed to save the budget, not the planet, and somehow he was supposed to bring Republicans along.

But who cares what centrists think? Health reform is a very big deal; if you care about the future, action on climate is a lot more important than raising the retirement age. And if these achievements were made without Republican support, so what?

There are, I suppose, some people who are disappointed that Mr. Obama didn’t manage to make our politics less bitter and polarized. But that was never likely. The real question was whether he (with help from Nancy Pelosi and others) could make real progress on important issues. And the answer, I’m happy to say, is yes, he could.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

[1406.3025] Detecting industrial pollution in the atmospheres of earth-like exoplanets

[1406.3025] Detecting industrial pollution in the atmospheres of earth-like exoplanets:



 "Detecting biomarkers, such as molecular oxygen, in the atmospheres of transiting exoplanets has been a major focus in the search for alien life. We point out that in addition to these generic indicators, anthropogenic pollution could be used as a novel biomarker for intelligent life. To this end, we identify pollutants in the Earth's atmosphere that have significant absorption features in the spectral range covered by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). We estimate that for an Earth-mass planet in the habitable zone of a white dwarf, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) can be detected at earth-like concentrations with an integration time of ~1.5 hrs and 12 hrs respectively. Detecting pollutants that are produced nearly exclusively by anthropogenic activities will be significantly more challenging. Of these pollutants, we focus on tetrafluoromethane (CF4) and trichlorofluoromethane (CCl3F), which will be the easiest to detect. We estimate that ~1.5 days (~3 days) of total integration time will be sufficient to detect or constrain the concentration of CCl3F (CF4) to ~100 times current terrestrial level."



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Iraq Questions by Thomas Friedman

THE disintegration of Iraq and Syria is upending an order that has defined the Middle East for a century. It is a huge event, and we as a country need to think very carefully about how to respond. Having just returned from Iraq two weeks ago, my own thinking is guided by five principles, and the first is that, in Iraq today, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy. Other than the Kurds, we have no friends in this fight. Neither Sunni nor Shiite leaders spearheading the war in Iraq today share our values.

The Sunni jihadists, Baathists and tribal militiamen who have led the takeover of Mosul from the Iraqi government are not supporters of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, the only Iraq we have any interest in abetting. And Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has proved himself not to be a friend of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq either. From Day 1, he has used his office to install Shiites in key security posts, drive out Sunni politicians and generals and direct money to Shiite communities. In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk. Besides being prime minister, he made himself acting minister of defense, minister of the interior and national security adviser, and his cronies also control the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry.

Maliki had a choice — to rule in a sectarian way or in an inclusive way — and he chose sectarianism. We owe him nothing.

The second principle for me derives from the most important question we need to answer from the Arab Spring. Why is it that the two states doing the best are those that America has had the least to do with: Tunisia and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq?

Answer: Believe it or not, it’s not all about what we do and the choices we make. Arabs and Kurds have agency, too. And the reason that both Tunisia and Kurdistan have built islands of decency, still frail to be sure, is because the major contending political forces in each place eventually opted for the principle of “no victor, no vanquished.”

The two major rival parties in Kurdistan not only buried the hatchet between them but paved the way for democratic elections that recently brought a fast-rising opposition party, that ran on an anti-corruption platform, into government for the first time. And Tunisia, after much internal struggle and bloodshed, found a way to balance the aspirations of secularists and Islamists and agree on the most progressive Constitution in the history of the Arab world.

Hence my rule: The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them — when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm. Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth. It is the early 21st century, and too many of them are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century. It has to stop — for them, and for their kids, to have any future.

Principle No. 3: Maybe Iran, and its wily Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, aren’t so smart after all. It was Iran that armed its Iraqi Shiite allies with the specially shaped bombs that killed and wounded many American soldiers. Iran wanted us out. It was Iran that pressured Maliki into not signing an agreement with the U.S. to give our troops legal cover to stay in Iraq. Iran wanted to be the regional hegemon. Well, Suleimani: “This Bud’s for you.” Now your forces are overextended in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and ours are back home. Have a nice day.

We still want to forge a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from developing a bomb, so we have to be careful about how much we aid Iran’s Sunni foes. But with Iran still under sanctions and its forces and Hezbollah’s now fighting in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, well, let’s just say: advantage America.

Fourth: Leadership matters. While in Iraq, I visited Kirkuk, a city that has long been hotly contested between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. When I was there five years ago, it was a hellish war zone. This time I found new paved roads, parks and a flourishing economy and a Kurdish governor, Najimaldin Omar Karim, who was just re-elected in April in a fair election and won more seats thanks to votes from the minority Arabs and Turkmen.

“We focused on [improving] roads, terrible traffic, hospitals, dirty schools,” and increasing electricity from four hours a day to nearly 24 hours, said Dr. Karim, a neurosurgeon who had worked in America for 33 years before returning to Iraq in 2009. “People were tired of politics and maximalism. We [earned] the confidence and good feelings of Arabs and Turkmen toward a Kurdish governor. They feel like we don’t discriminate. This election was the first time Turkmen and Arabs voted for a Kurd.”

In the recent chaos, the Kurds have now taken full military control of Kirkuk, but I can tell you this: Had Maliki governed Iraq like Karim governed Kirkuk, we would not have this mess today. With the right leadership, people there can live together.

Finally, while none of the main actors in Iraq, other than Kurds, are fighting for our values, is anyone there even fighting for our interests: a minimally stable Iraq that doesn’t threaten us? And whom we can realistically help? The answers still aren’t clear to me, and, until they are, I’d be very wary about intervening.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Iraq crisis: Sunni caliphate has been bankrolled by Saudi Arabia by Robert Fisk


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So after the grotesquerie of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 suicide killers of 9/11, meet Saudi Arabia’s latest monstrous contribution to world history: the Islamist Sunni caliphate of Iraq and the Levant, conquerors of Mosul and Tikrit – and Raqqa in Syria – and possibly Baghdad, and the ultimate humiliators of Bush and Obama.
From Aleppo in northern Syria almost to the Iraqi-Iranian border, the jihadists of Isis and sundry other groupuscules paid by the Saudi Wahhabis – and by Kuwaiti oligarchs – now rule thousands of square miles.
Apart from Saudi Arabia’s role in this catastrophe, what other stories are to be hidden from us in the coming days and weeks?
n The story of Iraq and the story of Syria are the same – politically, militarily and journalistically: two leaders, one Shia, the other Alawite, fighting for the existence of their regimes against the power of a growing Sunni Muslim international army.
n While the Americans support the wretched Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his elected Shia government in Iraq, the same Americans still demand the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his regime, even though both leaders are now brothers-in-arms against the victors of Mosul and Tikrit.
n The Croesus-like wealth of Qatar may soon be redirected away from the Muslim rebels of Syria and Iraq to the Assad regime, out of fear and deep hatred for its Sunni brothers in Saudi Arabia (which may invade Qatar if it becomes very angry).
n We all know of the “deep concern” of Washington and London at the territorial victories of the Islamists – and the utter destruction of all that America and Britain bled and died for in Iraq. No one, however, will feel as much of this “deep concern” as Shia Iran and Assad of Syria and Maliki of Iraq, who must regard the news from Mosul and Tikrit as a political and military disaster. Just when Syrian military forces were winning the war for Assad, tens of thousands of Iraqi-based militants may now turn on the Damascus government, before or after they choose to advance on Baghdad.
n No one will care now how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered since 2003 because of the fantasies of Bush and Blair. These two men destroyed Saddam’s regime to make the world safe and declared that Iraq was part of a titanic battle against “Islamofascism”. Well, they lost. Remember that the Americans captured and recaptured Mosul to crush the power of Islamist fighters. They fought for Fallujah twice. And both cities have now been lost again to the Islamists. The armies of Bush and Blair have long gone home, declaring victory.
n Under Obama, Saudi Arabia will continue to be treated as a friendly “moderate” in the Arab world, even though its royal family is founded upon the Wahhabist convictions of the Sunni Islamists in Syria and Iraq – and even though millions of its dollars are arming those same fighters. Thus does Saudi power both feed the monster in the deserts of Syria and Iraq and cosy up to the Western powers that protect it.
n We should also remember that Maliki’s military attempts to retake Mosul are likely to be ferocious and bloody, just as Assad’s battles to retake cities have proved to be. The refugees fleeing Mosul are more frightened of Shia government revenge than they are of the Sunni jihadists who have captured their city.
n We will all be told to regard the new armed “caliphate” as a “terror nation”. Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, the Isis spokesman, is intelligent, warning against arrogance, talking of an advance on Baghdad when he may be thinking of Damascus. Isis is largely leaving the civilians of Mosul unharmed.
n Finally, we will be invited to regard the future as a sectarian war when it will be a war between Muslim sectarians and Muslim non-sectarians. The “terror” bit will be provided by the arms we send to all sides. 

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