Saturday, March 30, 2024

Israeli High Court Ends Public Subsidies for Ultra-Orthodox Men Who Refuse Military Service

In a step that could have deep political and societal ramifications, the High Court of Justice issued an interim order Thursday evening barring the government from providing funds to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for students eligible for IDF enlistment — as the legal framework for deferring their military service will no longer exist.

A government resolution from June 2023 instructing the IDF to temporarily not draft Haredi students despite the expiration of a law governing the matter will itself expire at midnight on March 31.

The court decision, which goes into effect April 1, comes after the government delayed for days the submission of a proposal to the court for plans to increase ultra-Orthodox military enlistment, and constitutes a sharp indication from the judges that their patience with repeated attempts to put off decisions on the matter is finally running out.

The political battle over enlistment has thrown Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition into disarray, with National Unity’s Benny Gantz threatening to bolt if the Knesset passes a bill allowing blanket exemptions to remain — even if it does satisfy the court — while the Haredim have said they will quit if the government fails to pass legislation to prevent the draft.

Haredi parties lambasted the High Court’s decision, with the head of United Torah Judaism, Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, describing it as constituting “severe harm to those who toil in Torah” and “a stain and a disgrace.”

Read the rest here.

In 1948 when the original exemption from the draft was put in place there were approximately 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel. Most Haredi had been murdered by Hitler and the Nazis during the world war and there was a serious fear that a significant part of Jewish culture, history, religious thought and study was on the brink of being lost. Today, the ultra-Orthodox make up more than 10% of the country's population. The men generally spend their days praying and studying Torah and other religious texts. Most do not work, but subsist off public stipends, welfare and what income their wives bring in. This, coupled with their refusal to serve in the army in a nation where military service is compulsory for most men, has become a source of not inconsiderable resentment. The Haredi tend to live apart from most of society and often follow the direction of their rabbis with astonishing strictness, including in how they vote. This makes them an extremely powerful political block in Israel due to the country's system of proportionate representation in the Knesset (parliament). The current government is partly dependent on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties for its majority, and they have threatened to bring down the government if their legal privileges are not extended.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Sam Bankman-Fried Gets 25 Years

Meanwhile the great crypto-con continues. As of this post, people are spending near $70,000 a piece for imaginary money called bitcoin. Stulti et pecunia eorum cito separantur. 

If I ever feel some overwhelming urge to play with fake money, I will grab the Monopoly board in the closet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The RNC is now a fully absorbed part of the Trump cult

With members of his family now firmly in charge at the Republican National Committee, there have been some interesting changes. All donations to the RNC now go first to Trump's reelection campaign and then to the Political Action Committee that has been covering most of his legal bills. No word on what part, if any, is left for other candidates, campaigns or other issues down ballot. One of the first moves by Lara Trump on taking the helm at the RNC was to purge most of the staff with the understanding that they could reapply for their jobs. Among the questions being asked of all new applicants and reapplying purged staffers is "do you believe the 2020 election was stolen?"

Trumpism is a cult.

Russia is murdering Ukrainian POWs

Russia may have executed more than 30 recently captured Ukrainian prisoners of war over the winter months, according to reports received by the U.N. human rights watchdog.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights “verified three of these incidents in which Russian servicemen executed seven Ukrainian servicemen hors de combat,” reads the latest U.N. report on the human rights situation in Ukraine published Tuesday.

From December to February, as President Vladimir Putin’s invading Russian forces were rapidly advancing in Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, and attempting to recapture Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region, dozens of execution videos were posted on social media.

In eight of the reported cases, videos showed Russian servicemen killing Ukrainian POWs who had laid down their weapons or using other captured Ukrainian POWs as human shields.

“As of 29 February 2024, OHCHR had obtained corroborating information for one of the videos,” the report reads. “In that video, what appears to be a group of armed Russian soldiers stands 15-20 meters behind three Ukrainian servicemen who are kneeling with their hands behind their heads. After a few seconds, smoke appears from the Russian soldiers’ weapons and the Ukrainian servicemen fall to the ground.”

“One of the armed soldiers then approaches the bodies and shoots at one of the soldiers lying on the ground,” according to the report.

Over the winter Russia also released 60 Ukrainian POWs. One of them confirmed to OHCHR that the incident featured in the video took place near Robotyne in December 2023 and that the killed servicemen were from his unit.

In another incident, three Ukrainian POWs, captured by Russian troops, were executed at the beginning of January 2024 in Zaporizhzhia.

“According to a witness, two Ukrainian soldiers were executed on the spot after their surrender. Russian servicemen killed a third Ukrainian POW who had been injured by a mine while being forced by the Russian servicemen to conduct demining work,” the report states.

The released POWs also told the U.N. that Russian forces had tortured them in captivity.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to block any aid for Ukraine.

Cancer is becoming more common among the young

...Early-onset cancer, which is defined as happening in adults under 50 years of age, is no anomaly. In fact, it is part of a rising global trend in which newly diagnosed cancer patients are getting younger. Further, it deflates the myth that cancer is the preserve of older people.

During the past week alone, I saw a 37-year-old with breast cancer that had already metastasized to her lymph nodes, bones, lung and liver. In the room next door was a 45-year-old with colon cancer that had spread so diffusely throughout the liver that it had become packed and enlarged with the tumors. Both patients had stage IV cancers that can potentially be controlled for a finite time but are no longer curable.

The global incidence of early-onset cancer increased by 79.1% and early-onset cancer deaths rose by 27.7% from 1990 to 2019, a 2023 study in the journal BMJ Oncology found. More granular data on this uptick published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that from 2010 to 2019 in the United States, breast cancer accounted for the highest number of cases in this younger population, while rates of gastrointestinal cancers were rising the fastest.

This jarring increase in gastrointestinal cancers alone captures the implications and risks associated with a person’s birth year. As Dr. Kimmie Ng, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told The Boston Globe last year, “People born in 1990 have over double the risk of getting colon cancer compared to those born in 1950. And quadruple the risk of getting rectal cancer.”

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Baltimore Bridge Disaster: Who is going to pay?

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday after it was struck by a container ship could trigger a wide swath of insurance and reinsurance policies, and the loss is likely to run into billions of dollars, sources say.

Beyond marine hull, cargo and liability policies, the incident could trigger various coverages including auto, contingent business interruption, inland marine, property, trade credit and workers compensation...

...London-based marine mutual insurer The Britannia P&I Club confirmed that the Dali is insured by the club for protection and indemnity liabilities. The vessel will also have hull and cargo coverage in place, sources said.

All 22 crew members on board, including two pilots, have been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries among them, the owners and managers of the ship said.

In a statement, Synergy Marine Group, the vessel’s manager, said the owners and managers are fully cooperating with federal and state agencies. The exact cause of the incident has yet to be determined, they said, adding that there had been no pollution.

News reports said the ship may have lost steering after losing power before hitting the bridge. The bridge is valued upwards of $1.2 billion, though it is not known whether the insured limit on the property placement is that high, the Insurance Information Institute said. It is understood that Aon PLC handles the bridges and tunnels property placement for the state of Maryland.

Britannia Club is a member of the International Group of P&I clubs, an association of 12 P&I clubs that provides marine liability cover for 90% of the world’s ocean-going tonnage.

Individual clubs retain $10 million on any claim, and claims in excess of $10 million are shared between the group clubs. The group also buys group excess of loss reinsurance cover up to $3.1 billion in the open market. Axa XL leads the group excess of loss cover, according to information posted on the International Group’s site.

Excess of $30 million, the International Group pool is also reinsured by Bermuda-domiciled group captive Hydra Insurance Co. Ltd., an incorporated cell company. Each of the 12 Group clubs has its own segregated account or cell ringfencing its assets and liability from the other club cells.

The total cost of the bridge collapse and associated claims will not be clear for some time but is likely to run into billions of dollars and “well above the $100 million attachment point for the GXL contract,” rating agency A.M. Best Co. said Tuesday.

“The insurance issues due to the collapse of the bridge will take a long time to unravel and may involve several lines, such as property, cargo, liability, trade credit and contingent business interruption,” Best said.

“I would expect this event to exhaust limits, excess layers and reinsurance for most types of coverage carried by the ship’s operator,” Robert Hartwig, clinical associate professor and director, Risk and Uncertainty Management Center, at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, said in an email.

Read the rest here.

Obviously the immediate concern is for those injured and the missing, who at this point are unlikely to be found alive. However, beyond the humanitarian concerns, a major component of transportation for Baltimore and the DC beltway region has been wrecked. One of the busiest harbors in the United States is now closed indefinitely with ships unable to enter and those already there, effectively trapped. President Biden has rightly promised emergency Federal aid to get the ball rolling on clearing the wreckage and at least beginning the construction of a new bridge. I don't think anyone needs an advanced degree in engineering to grasp that the current structure is a total loss and beyond repair. That said, the American taxpayer should not be on the hook for this. Marine insurance is a complicated business, but when the dust settles some very large checks are going to be expected. And while the economic damage is likely to run into the billions, I would hope that the first checks go to the families of those injured and killed. 

Prayers for all those affected. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sunday, March 17, 2024

No Blogging

For the next few days.

Gaza's Suspicious Casualty Figures

The Jewish publication Tablet has a feature from Abraham Wyner, a professor of statistics and data science at the Wharton School, digging into why the Hamas-compromised Gaza Health Ministry’s casualty numbers are highly suspect. Even for the innumerate English major (such as myself), Wyner’s work is digestible, incrementally working through what data are available. Perhaps best of all, he makes no claims as to what the casualty numbers might be in actuality (Netanyahu’s figures suggest 1–1.5 civilian deaths per Hamas militant killed; for reference, there were 15 million combat casualties and 38 million civilian casualties in WWII) and instead focuses on his area of expertise to enlightening effect.

Wyner writes:
"Recently, the Biden administration lent legitimacy to Hamas’ figure. When asked at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week how many Palestinian women and children have been killed since Oct. 7, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the number was “over 25,000.” The Pentagon quickly clarified that the secretary “was citing an estimate from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry.” President Biden himself had earlier cited this figure, asserting that “too many, too many of the over 27,000 Palestinians killed in this conflict have been innocent civilians and children, including thousands of children.” The White House also explained that the president “was referring to publicly available data about the total number of casualties.”

Here’s the problem with this data: The numbers are not real. That much is obvious to anyone who understands how naturally occurring numbers work. The casualties are not overwhelmingly women and children, and the majority may be Hamas fighters."
Read the rest here.

Russia's Presidential Election

I wonder who will win. The suspense is killing me.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Patriarch Neophyte has reposed

Memory eternal!

RIP Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has died at 78. You may be forgiven if you haven't heard of him. Neither had I until I stumbled on his obituary. On the surface, Mr. Alexander's life seems fairly ordinary. He went to college, then law school, was admitted to the bar and represented many clients, wrote a book, and in his later years became something of an internet personality. What sets him apart, was that he spent most of the last 72 years of his life living in an iron lung. He was completely paralyzed by polio at the age of six and could only move his head and speak.  Mr. Alexander, who might well have had some justification for being bitter at the cruel hand that fate had dealt him, instead decided to make the best of the life he had. He became very good at memorization, vice taking notes, dictated a great deal, and learned to write with a pen taped to his nose with which he was able to type or tap a computer keyboard. At the time of his passing, he was active on social media with more than 300,000 followers. 

Paul Alexander holds the record for the longest-lived survivor of polio who had to live in an iron lung and is believed to have been the second to last person still using one. 

Memory eternal.

Hollywood's hypocritical (and dangerous) gun culture

In my first job as a military adviser on a film set, I witnessed the stark contrast between the gun safety culture of my Navy SEAL days and the cavalier attitude toward firearms that permeates Hollywood. During a break in filming, the lead actor, fresh off a stint as a teen heartthrob, picked up a gun and began waving it around, joking with the cast. Instinctively, I leaped toward the actor, grabbed the gun and gave him a hard thump to the chest, admonishing him for “flagging” the entire crew — using the military term for aiming a firearm at someone.

Later, I pulled him aside and drilled into him the cardinal rules of gun safety, rules that become second nature to anyone who handles firearms professionally: Always treat a gun as loaded. Never point it at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. These aren’t optional guidelines but ironclad laws. If you’re going to handle firearms, even those loaded with blanks, I explained, you have a duty to master these principles.

The disregard for basic gun safety I witnessed that day wasn’t an isolated incident. It was emblematic of a problem in the film industry, and a symptom of the profound contradictions in Hollywood’s attitudes toward firearms.

On movie sets, real guns, often modified to fire blanks, are commonplace. Gunfights and shootouts are staples of blockbuster entertainment, and the characters wielding those weapons, from James Bond to John Wick, are glamorized and idolized. Violence — often stylized gun violence — has long been a lucrative part of the Hollywood ecosystem. At the same time, Hollywood is perceived as a bastion of liberal politics and a leading voice in the push for gun control. After mass shootings, many actors and executives make impassioned pleas for stricter regulations on firearms. They use their influential platform to turn public opinion against American gun culture.

It’s a jarring contradiction, one that the industry has long ignored — but one that I believe it can no longer avoid confronting. The tragic shooting on the set of “Rust” in 2021, which claimed the life of a cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, has cast a harsh spotlight on the consequences of a cavalier attitude toward guns. The details of the episode paint a picture of an environment where basic gun safety protocols were neglected. Live rounds were mixed with blanks. Firearms were handled with shocking nonchalance. The result was a cascading series of errors that culminated in a preventable death.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Female Deacons? Just say "no."

I strongly recommend the below linked blog post by Fr. John Whiteford. 

There he goes again

ROME, Georgia — Former President Donald Trump on Saturday reiterated his claim that writer E. Jean Carroll had levied “false accusations” against him, even as similar remarks have resulted in large court judgments against him.

Speaking at a Georgia campaign rally that represented Trump’s pivot toward the general election as he seeks to prevent a second loss to Democratic President Joe Biden, Trump reiterated a number of grievances, Carroll’s civil court victories among them.

“I just posted a $91 million bond, $91 million on a fake story, totally made-up story,” he said, referencing the bond he posted this week as he appeals a defamation verdict against him.

“Ninety-one million based on false accusations made about me by a woman that I knew nothing about, didn’t know, never heard of, I know nothing about her,” he continued.

Read the rest here.

To borrow the language of the younger generation, the man appears to be SOS (stuck on stupid). How many checks does he plan on writing to Ms. Caroll?

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

The last time this happened

Ok, here we go. It is now all but certain that 2024 will see the first rematch between the same two presidential candidates since... 1956. How long ago was that? Well, in 1956 cars had tail fins, young girls were running around in poodle skirts, a hamburger cost 15 cents, and it was the last time the New York Times endorsed a Republican for president.  

(The last rematch before that was back in 1892.)

Saturday, March 02, 2024

NY Times /Siena poll gives Trump 5pt lead

President Biden is struggling to overcome doubts about his leadership inside his own party and broad dissatisfaction over the nation’s direction, leaving him trailing behind Donald J. Trump just as their general-election contest is about to begin, a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College has found.

With eight months left until the November election, Mr. Biden’s 43 percent support lags behind Mr. Trump’s 48 percent in the national survey of registered voters.

Only one in four voters think the country is moving in the right direction. More than twice as many voters believe Mr. Biden’s policies have personally hurt them as believe his policies have helped them. A majority of voters think the economy is in poor condition. And the share of voters who strongly disapprove of Mr. Biden’s handling of his job has reached 47 percent, higher than in Times/Siena polls at any point in his presidency.

Read the rest here.

Friday, March 01, 2024

The U.S. national debt is rising by $1 trillion about every 100 days

The debt load of the U.S. is growing at a quicker clip in recent months, increasing about $1 trillion nearly every 100 days.

The nation’s debt permanently crossed over to $34 trillion on Jan. 4, after briefly crossing the mark on Dec. 29, according to data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It reached $33 trillion on Sept. 15, 2023, and $32 trillion on June 15, 2023, hitting this accelerated pace. Before that, the $1 trillion move higher from $31 trillion took about eight months.

U.S. debt, which is the amount of money the federal government borrows to cover operating expenses, now stands at nearly $34.4 billion, as of Wednesday. Bank of America investment strategist Michael Hartnett believes the 100-day pattern will remain intact with the move from $34 trillion to $35 trillion.

Read the rest here.

The death of the Eisenhower-Reagan GOP

...Ronald Reagan gets most of the credit, but it was Ike, not Reagan, who transformed the G.O.P. from an anxious, inward-looking party into a confident, outward-facing one. He and his internationalist successors believed that the only way to prevent more world wars was to build a multilateral democratic world order. They had the confidence to believe America could lead such an order. The key to success in any political conflict, the political theorist James Burnham argued in 1941, is spirit and willpower: “All history makes clear that an indispensable quality of any man or class that wishes to lead, to hold power and privilege in society, is boundless self-confidence.”

Ike’s confidence launched 60 years of Republican internationalism, gradually creating a party that helped defeat Communism and ushered in more global prosperity. Reagan amplified that sense of confidence and possibility. “Emerson was right,” Reagan told the 1992 Republican convention. “We are the country of tomorrow.” Reagan was confident enough to believe that America could welcome immigrants, benefit from their abilities and still remain distinctly America: “Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

In his superb history of conservatism, “The Right,” Matthew Continetti describes dueling essays in 1989 between the conservative commentators Charles Krauthammer and Pat Buchanan that ran in the pages of The National Interest. Krauthammer argued that America should steer the world away from an unstable multipolar order and toward a more stable “unipolar world whose center is a confederated West.” Buchanan, one of the few remaining spokesmen for the older, isolationist G.O.P., titled his essay “America First — and Second and Third.”

At that time, the party embraced Krauthammer’s vision and rejected Buchanan’s. Within a decade Pat Buchanan had left the Republican Party, thoroughly marginalized. In 1999 the editors of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, where I worked, celebrated Buchanan’s departure from the party. In that same issue I wrote a humor piece trying to imagine the most hilariously unlikely version of the G.O.P. future. That piece was headlined “Donald Trump Inaugurated.”

Read the rest here.