Democrats announce their “better deal”

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his “New Deal.”  Now Democrats have unveiled their “Better Deal.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer, appearing with other Congressional Democrats, repeatedly used that phrase in announcing his party’s new policies.

The Better Deal aims to accomplish three things, in Shumer’s words:  “First, we’re going to increase people’s pay. Second, we’re going to reduce their everyday expenses. And third, we’re going to provide workers the tools they need for the 21st century economy.”

He then laid out several government initiatives that Democrats want to undertake to achieve those goals.

It doesn’t seem to measure up to the ambition of the New Deal or Lyndon Baines Johnson’s The Great Society.   Nothing trulyk ambitious or big-scale, like adopting a single payer health care plan like Great Britain’s or building a Welfare State like Sweden’s.  Increase people’s pay and make things cost less?  That sounds rather anti-climactic for the rhetorical build-up.

Is this a winning slogan?  A winning set of policies?

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The Muslim civil war

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Syria is the focal point of a global war between Shi’ite Muslims (led by Iran, with the support of Russia) and Sunni Muslims (led by Saudi Arabia, with support from the United States).

Charles Krauthammer describes the situation and explains the overall strategy, which I excerpt after the jump.

Can someone explain why the United States is involved in this conflict so deeply?  Why do we favor the Sunnis against the Shi’ites?  After all, ISIS is Sunni.  So is Al-Qaida.  And the Shi’ites are fighting them.

Both factions have their Islamic terrorists.  Both want to destroy Israel.

Is our position due to our desire to thwart Russia’s influence and its access to the Mediterranean Sea?  To our hostility to Iran that dates back to Jimmy Carter’s hostage crisis?  To our entanglement in Iraq, a country that has both Sunni and Shi’ite factions?

Yes, we have business ties to the Saudis and other Sunni countries. Are these reasons worth our involvement in what is, in effect, a Muslim civil war?  Or are there other issues that I am missing?

Map:  On a scale, the red shows the percentage of Shi’a Muslims; green shows the percentage of Sunni Muslims. Map by Baba66, NordNordWest. Before changing this file, please look at the detailed information provided in its source code. (Own work, Data from CIA World Factbook, ca. 2005) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Dissolving Illinois

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Due to its long history of corruption, political paralysis, and bad management, the state of Illinois is a basketcase.  It has $15 billion in unpaid bills, $251 billion in pension liability, and a looming revenue drop.  It hasn’t had a budget in three years.

State lawmakers are meeting in a special session with a July 1 deadline, but are making little progress in finding a way forward.  If they don’t, two major bond-rating services are saying they will downgrade the state’s bonds to “junk.”

Any attempt to raise money by selling bonds–which is inevitable, since the state has such a big shortfall–would demand the highest interest rates, assuming any investors would take the risk.  That, in turn, would mean the state would have even less money, which sets up a death spiral.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass is proposing that Illinois just be dissolved.  Distribute its land to the surrounding states.  Chicago can be split between Indiana and Wisconsin (which can rename its part of the city “South Milwaukee”).  We can have the Milwaukee Cubs and the Indiana White Sox.  He goes on in this vein for Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri.

He is being (mostly) facetious, but I don’t know what happens if a state implodes on this scale.  Any ideas or suggestions (facetious or serious) about what Illinois should do?

Read both an account of the problem and the proposal for dissolution after the jump.

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Five sentences that killed 200,000 Americans

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Addiction to opioid painkillers has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and has devastated far more lives than that.  How could this have happened?

A study has traced the problem to a five sentence, 101 word letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980.  The letter described a study of 12,000 hospital patients who were given narcotic painkillers.  It said that there were only four cases of addiction.  It concluded that there was therefore little danger in prescribing opioid painkillers.

That letter was cited and referred to in study after study.  It led doctors to prescribe that medication on a massive scale.

Unfortunately, the letter was mistaken, as a story explains after the jump.  But it led directly to the scourge that we are struggling with today.

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Global cyberattack stopped by 22-year-old who lives with his parents

Screenshot of ransomware attackA massive ransomware attack on Friday hit 99 countries and shut down thousands of operations, including FedEx and England’s National Health Service.  The malware took control of computers and kept them from working unless victims made a payment of $400, going up as time elapsed.  The virus had its origin in software stolen from the National Security Administration, whose security was last year.

What strikes me the most about this attack, however, is how it was stopped.  The world was saved, so to speak, by a 22-year-old blogger who never went to university and who lives with his parents.

He read reports about the attack, found a copy of the virus, and saw that the code included a domain name that was not registered.  So he registered it.  And that stopped the virus all over the world.

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And now, war with Turkey?

512px-Tag_des_Sieges_2Americans’ strongest and most effective allies in the fight against ISIS are the Kurdish militias in Syria.  U.S. forces have recently been embedded with the Kurdish militias as they move in on Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS.

Turkey has long been battling the rebellious Kurds within its border, which have ties with the Kurds in Syria.  Recently, Turkey has been launching airstrikes against those Kurdish militias.

Now the Turkish government is saying that Americans in Kurdish units will also be attacked.

How should President Trump handle this new potential powder keg?  Abandon our Kurdish allies and pull out of the fight against ISIS at perhaps its most crucial phase?  Wouldn’t that be a show of weakness that the president has promised will no longer happen?  If Turkey kills American advisors, should we retaliate against Turkey?  How?  And what would happen next? (more…)

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