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California's burning up

A firefighter puts water on a burning tree as flames approach a containment line, while fighting the King fire near Fresh Pond, California.

California's burning up

Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles

More than three years into a record drought, the state has become a tinderbox, and a single spark can be enough to burn ancient forests, coastal chaparral and any houses that stand in the way.

Just this week, a popular stretch of the Eldorado national forest, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, erupted in flames. The fire, apparently started by an arsonist and fanned by high winds, ripped through more than 70,000 acres in three days, causing California’s governor, Jerry Brown, to declare a state of emergency.

More than 4,000 firefighters have rushed to the scene from around the country deploying planes, helicopters and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant.

Further north, near Mount Shasta, a seemingly innocuous brush fire near the main interstate freeway – far from any big forest – overwhelmed the small town of Weed on Monday, destroying 150 homes, two churches and the offices of the town’s main employer, a lumber processing mill.

In all, 10 major fires are raging, along with a couple of hundred classified as minor. If they are not in populated areas they tend not to generate headlines. But one fire, in the Klamath National Forest near the Oregon border, has burned through 130,000 areas and has been going for a month.

Can a Full Night's Sleep Make You More Money?

Can a Full Night's Sleep Make You More Money?

Growing research is finding that those who get a good night's sleep are usually more productive at work. WSJ's Karen Damato explains on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero.

The Scottish vote was a class war and the rich won

The Scottish vote was a class war and the rich won

 Updated by Zack Beauchamp

Scotland is remaining in the UK after a referendum for independence lost decisively at the polls Thursday. And it looks, from one snap analysis, that that's exactly what Scotland's richest citizens wanted. Rich areas, it seemed, voted overwhelmingly for staying in the UK, while poorer ones leaned towards independence.

Welfare state politics were a leading cause of support for independence: Scots in general are more left-leaning than other Britons, and independence supporters wanted a bigger government than current British politics allowed for. Poorer Scots stand to benefit the most from this more generous welfare state, so it make sense that they'd be the most ardent supporters of independence.

Alibaba surges in its stock market debut

China Alibaba IPO Tech Champions

Alibaba surges in its stock market debut

 Alibaba's stock is surging as the Chinese e-commerce powerhouse begins its first day trading as a public company. The stock opened at $92.70 and nearly hit $100 on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, a gain of 46 percent from the initial $68 per share price set Thursday evening.

At Friday's opening price, the company is worth $228.5 billion, more than companies such as Amazon, Ebay and even Facebook.

Jubilant CEO Jack Ma stood on the NYSE trading floor Friday as eight Alibaba customers, including an American cherry farmer and a Chinese Olympian, rang the opening bell.

"We want to be bigger than Wal-Mart," Ma told CNBC shortly after the opening Bell. "We hope in 15 years people say this is a company like Microsoft, IBM, Wal-Mart, they changed, shaped the world."

If states held a referendum on whether to leave the U.S.
The Sugar Daddies Who Pay for College

The Sugar Daddies Who Pay for College

By Caroline Kitchener

The popular website Seeking Arrangement sets up "mutually beneficial relationships" between wealthy older men and young female students. What the site doesn’t talk about is sex.

At 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night, Amanda, a senior at Princeton University, got her first text message from Stephen, a 60-something Wall Street banker. He wanted her at his New York City apartment. Immediately.

“I told him it was too late—the trains just stopped running,” Amanda said. “He said he’d send a limo.”

Amanda agreed, on the condition that she’d be back on campus for her 10 o’clock class the next morning. After dinner at a fancy restaurant, sex, and some post-sex apartment decorating, Amanda was back in the limo. When she got back to Princeton, she had just enough time to change her clothes, grab her books, and run to class.

Stephen is just one of the many men Amanda has met on Seeking Arrangement, a website that connects “sugar babies”—young, pretty women—with “sugar daddies”—usually rich, older men. On Seeking Arrangement, the most important part of the profile is the number at the top of the page: net worth. Men with annual incomes of over $5 or $10 million get the most attention. The site advertises “mutually beneficial relationships,” in which young women shower men with attention in exchange for “the finer things in life”—fancy dinners, extravagant vacations, or monthly allowances. What the site doesn’t talk about is sex. But sex, I was told by multiple sugar babies, is what everybody’s thinking about.

In 2013, Seeking Arrangement announced that approximately 44 percent of its 2.3 million “babies” are in college. This is a trend that the website encourages—if babies register with a .edu email account, they receive a free premium membership (something the guys have to shell out as much as $1,200 for). Seeking Arrangement creates the illusion that the sexual element of these relationships isn’t forced, but organic. No one associated with the website wants to admit that what it’s doing is facilitating sex-for-money exchanges. The large number of college women on the site helps preserve this illusion, for both the daddies and the babies.

Does Hillary Clinton Have Anything to Say?

Jim Young/Reuters

Does Hillary Clinton Have Anything to Say? 

Molly Ball

The presumed presidential candidate's speeches are long on pablum and short on content. This is the campaign we're in for.

Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.

That Clinton is a risk-averse, pragmatic politician has been her hallmark for years, of course—it’s just another way in which her current persona offers nothing new or surprising. Has America ever been so thoroughly tired of a candidate before the campaign even began?

Peter King: Manning on Manning

Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

Manning on Manning

By Peter King

The Broncos quarterback on giving advice to younger players, staying on top of non-football current events and why he thinks he'd make a good free safety

The MMQB: If what happened to your brother Cooper—who had to quit football because of spinal stenosis in college—happened to you, what would have done with your life? Do football from the broadcast booth?

MANNING: That’s a good question. I mean, it’s funny because at the time, Cooper handled it so well, with an unbelievable grace and attitude. At Ole Miss, during two-a-days, he was having some numbness in his hand. They just kind of said, ‘Hey, we need to go get a look at this thing.’ So they did the full MRI and everything, and they said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa—you’ve got spinal stenosis.’ He didn’t have any neck symptoms. It was just kind of some numbness. Then they just said, ‘We can’t clear you to go back out there.’ So he handled it so well, and I’m not sure that I could have handled it as well, at that age, as he did. I know it was hard. I can’t speak for him and how disappointed he was. He just kept a good attitude about it and he’s kept a great attitude his entire life. He audibled and went on to become a ‘social legend’ at Ole Miss and obviously he’s got a great family and is successful in business. But I will say… Well, it’s different because I got to play for 20 years. But I had my neck injury and was potentially done with football. I felt like I had that same good attitude that Cooper did. Now it’s different. Like I said, I got to play. Cooper never really got his chance. But I guess I had matured since I was in college and I was able to handle that well. So I don’t know what I would have done. I really don’t. It’s hard to say. Football’s been such a part of my life. It’s allowed me to meet so many people and do so many things. At Tennessee, I was a communications major—which I enjoyed. I do enjoy public speaking. But I get asked to speak because I play football. So I’m not sure… It’s hard to say if I would have tried to stay involved in the game from another point of view—from coaching or something like that. TV, I don’t know. I’m not sure how good I’d be at it. I guess I’ve always liked being on the players’ side. Once you cross over, you’re on a different side. Obviously I won’t be a player forever, but while I am, I’m just trying to enjoy it while I can.

War against ISIS Headed for Failure

War against ISIS Headed for Failure

by Tarek Fatah - The Toronto Sun

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat down in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, surrounded by the leaders of 10 Arab states, to build a coalition against Islamic State (ISIS), the scene dripped with irony.

For decades, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with Arab billionaires in Gulf Arab states, have financed the breeding grounds of Islamic extremism in the tens of thousands of madrassas spread around the world, from Philippines to Philadelphia.

Take the case of the al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, whose death President Barack Obama boasted about at the Wales NATO summit as an example of America's approach to dismantling al-Qaida-affiliated groups.

What Obama failed to mention was the fact Godane became a jihadi terrorist only after obtaining a Saudi scholarship to study radical Islam at madrassas in Sudan and later Pakistan.

Assuming the objective of the American/Arab coalition was to fight the misogynist murderers of ISIS, it was also ironic not a single woman sat at the table. Not even a female State Department staffer or assistant.

This was not a coalition that will defeat ISIS; it was a coalition that will end up reinforcing Islamic State as the one true answer to the crimes being committed against the Arab people by its own leaders.

Islamic State is being formed exactly the way Saudi Arabia was formed when thousands of bloodthirsty jihadis rose from the Sultanate of Nejd and invaded the Kingdom of Hejaz, slaughtering the country's citizens into submission in 1925.

Remember, Saudi Arabia is a kingdom where the king had his own daughters held hostage to force their mom, his runaway wife, to return.

Then we have Turkey as a NATO ally sitting in on secret meetings where the West bungles its way trying to figure out the difference between "strategy" and "tactic".

As the New York Times disclosed today "one of the biggest source of (ISIS)recruits is neighboring Turkey, a NATO member."

The challenge posed by ISIS will not be resolved with the American airstrikes or by British Prime Minister David Cameron's declaration echoing George Bush's cliched chant that, "Islam is a religion of peace".

This will merely strengthen the jihadis' resolve and make more Muslims turn to ISIS.

Dana Milbank: Why Washington is broken

Why Washington is broken


Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican senator who asked the Discovery Channel to film him and a Democratic colleague last month as they subsisted on an uninhabited Pacific island, came home with a sunburn, a 10-pound weight loss — and a desire to see Senate leaders put through the same ordeal.

“To see Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell,” Flake said Thursday, “I will level that challenge right now. If they would spend six days and nights on an island, we could move legislation forward here.”

Flake paused, then smiled. “And if they didn’t survive, we could still move legislation here,” he added.

Talk about win-win.

There may be easier ways to improve Washington’s dysfunction than to force Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to swim in shark-infested waters, eat nothing but coconut water and hunks of raw clam for a week, and fight off the world’s largest crabs — although that would make for excellent TV.

But Flake has a point: If others went through the sort of trial Flake and Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, just put themselves through, they would learn to regard each other as partners rather than foes. There’s something about building a shelter together from palm fronds as rain and darkness approach that makes the latest filibuster seem frivolous.

The problem in Washington is less about ideology than the fact that lawmakers “don’t trust each other enough to work together,” reasoned Heinrich, who like Flake is a former House member in his first Senate term. “A lot of our predecessors were from very different ideological places but they had a personal trust so that they could negotiate in good faith.” The absence of such ties “is really caustic to the functionality of this place.”

Alibaba's IPO Priced at $68 a Share

Alibaba's IPO Priced at $68 a Share

The $21.8 Billion Offering by the Chinese E-Commerce Giant Is Among Biggest Ever

By Telis Demos and Matt Jarzemsky

  • Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. 's shares priced Thursday at $68 apiece, putting the Chinese company on track for an initial public offering that will raise at least $21.8 billion.

The price was at the top of the company's expected range of $66 to $68, which was increased from an initial $60 to $66.

The price gives the e-commerce company an initial market value of $168 billion, making it one of the 40 biggest public companies globally, according to S&P Capital IQ, and worth more than U.S. online- shopping giant Inc.  Amazon is currently valued at $150 billion.

  A group of early investors holding more than $8 billion of Alibaba stock aren't subject to a so-called lockup, an arrangement that typically restricts share sales immediately after an IPO.

Alibaba's founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, Alibaba's top managers and their bankers have pitched the company over the past two weeks as an opportunity to invest in the growth of China's middle class, as more Chinese buy goods and services via the Internet and mobile phones, and to enjoy the profits generated by the company's "platform" model. The company connects buyers and sellers without the cost of holding inventory on its own.

With Mr. Ma joining presentations, including in the U.S., Hong Kong and the Middle East, the company fought back against criticism from some academics and investors who see great risk in Alibaba. Among the reasons for their concern is the fact that it operates in part through a series of "variable interest entities" in China that will be owned by senior executives, including Mr. Ma, rather than by Alibaba's foreign shareholders.

Mr. Ma told investors that the move to separate key units from Alibaba, such as online-payment network Alipay, was one of the toughest decisions of his life, but necessary due to rules in China about foreign control of some types of assets, people at the meetings said.

The company also faced questions about the way it concentrates its corporate power in a group of 30 partners, a system that barred it from listing in Hong Kong. Mr. Ma, in a public letter to investors, wrote that preserving the partnership culture was integral to Alibaba's future success.

In Georgia, Politics Moves Past Just Black and White

In Georgia, Politics Moves Past Just Black and White


With an emerging population of immigrants who do not or cannot vote, Democrats are trying to increase black turnout and bring back moderate whites.

Georgia has seen major demographic shifts in recent years, with significant increases in African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American populations. The politics of Georgia, however, with gun control debates and harsh immigration laws, seem to lag behind the people.

A gated community of regal brick homes with impeccable landscaping and $450,000 price tags might seem an unlikely place for a voter-registration drive. The neighborhood, with its swimming pool and tennis courts, evokes stability and a sense of having arrived.

But when Maria Palacios, 24, a part-time canvasser for a Latino rights advocacy group, knocked on doors on a sweltering summer afternoon, she was greeted by those who had never cast ballots, immigrants like herself — newcomers from Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and Mexico, all faces of a changing Georgia.

“There are a lot of people here from Mexico like us,” said Hector Velazco, an information technology consultant, telling Ms. Palacios that he and his wife are awaiting naturalization so they can vote. “It’s not only workers to mow the grass.”

This is the new Georgia, a state whose transformed economy has spawned a population boom and demographic shifts that are slowly altering its politics. With African-Americans coming in large numbers from other states, and emerging immigrant communities like this one in Lawrenceville, Georgia is less white and less rural than it was a decade ago.


Georgia’s universities — including its historically black colleges — have helped draw newcomers from out of state, nourishing Atlanta’s thriving black professional and political class. “We call it the black Mecca,” said Rodney Sampson, a founder of Opportunity Hub, where minority- and women-owned companies share office space.

As Democrats and their allies work furiously to register new voters, Republicans, aware that their future hinges on broadening their base beyond whites, have hired a minority engagement director, Leo Smith. He recently helped students at historically black Morehouse College restart a Republican club. He views his work as “a long-term investment.”

Traveling the state in this midterm election season, it is possible to see the pull and tug over which way Georgia will go. Its population may be shifting faster than its politics.

“Demographically, Georgia is changing,” said State Representative B.J. Pak, a Korean-born lawyer, Gwinnett County Republican and the sole Asian-American in the legislature. “Politically, it’s changing. But not as fast as people think.”

Clinton warns of ISIL 'terrible signal'

Clinton warns of ISIL 'terrible signal'

Bill Clinton is pictured. | AP Photo

Former President Bill Clinton says President Barack Obama’s plan to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant can succeed — but not by relying on U.S. ground forces.

Appearing on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” the 42nd president said the U.S. must act against ISIL to “send a signal there’s a price for decapitating those two people,” in reference to slain American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“You can’t let people get away with that,” Clinton said. “It’s a terrible signal to the world.”

The former president, though, said that the Iraq War showed the U.S. cannot succeed against ISIL in Iraq with a mission centered around U.S. ground troops. Instead, he said, the U.S. will have to work with the Iraqi government and military forces to make inroads against ISIL, the group that has mobilized across much of northern and central Iraq.

“[W]e can’t win a land war in Iraq. We’ve proved that. But they can,” Clinton said, in reference to the Iraqis. “And we can help them win it and that’s got to be what we’re trying to do.” He added that the U.S. can better offer support through coordinating intelligence with the Iraqis and continued airstrikes against ISIL targets.

Clinton added that a main reason he believes Obama’s plan in Iraq has an opportunity to succeed is because of the country’s revamped government, led by new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The prime minister has vowed to make the new government more inclusive than that of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki, whose relationship with the U.S. grew increasingly tense as his Shiite-led government largely shut out Sunnis.

Earlier this week, al-Abadi said Iraq does not need U.S. ground troops, saying they are “out of the question.”

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison Is Stepping Down to Spend More Time With His Yachts

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison Is Stepping Down to Spend More Time With His Yachts

By Kevin Roose

Larry Ellison, the billionaire tech pioneer who became notorious outside of tech circles for cheating his way to a 2013 America's Cup championship, announced today that he is stepping down from Oracle, the company he founded. Ellison will turn over day-to-day leadership of Oracle to president Mark Hurd and CFO Safra Katz, who will become co-CEOs.

With Ellison stepping out of the top role, America will lose perhaps its most unabashed CEO — a guy who embraced his magnate status to the extent of hiring a person to chase after his yacht on a jet ski to collect stray basketballs, buying 98 percent of a Hawaiian island, and suing an airport that wouldn't let him land his private jet there.
The collapse of Arab civilization

The collapse of Arab civilization


With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries—Iraq and Syria—whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again—and with understandably great reluctance—into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?

No one paradigm or one theory can explain what went wrong in the Arab world in the last century. There is no obvious set of reasons for the colossal failures of all the ideologies and political movements that swept the Arab region: Arab nationalism, in its Baathist and Nasserite forms; various Islamist movements; Arab socialism; the rentier state and rapacious monopolies, leaving in their wake a string of broken societies. No one theory can explain the marginalization of Egypt, once the center of political and cultural gravity in the Arab East, and its brief and tumultuous experimentation with peaceful political change before it reverted back to military rule.

Nor is the notion of “ancient sectarian hatreds” adequate to explain the frightening reality that along a front stretching from Basra at the mouth of the Persian Gulf to Beirut on the Mediterranean there exists an almost continuous bloodletting between Sunni and Shia—the public manifestation of an epic geopolitical battle for power and control pitting Iran, the Shia powerhouse, against Saudi Arabia, the Sunni powerhouse, and their proxies.

Heartbreak for Scottish nationalists

"Yes" supporters appear dejected in Glasgow. (EPA)

Heartbreak for Scottish nationalists

Karla Adam

To come within a touching distance of victory is deeply agonizing for nationalists who devoted their lives to the cause of independence.

Scotland voted 55 percent to 45 percent in a referendum Thursday to remain part of the United Kingdom. The results were announced early Friday. Polls had shown the vote much closer in the last few weeks.

Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city, and it voted “yes” to independence. The city center was pulsing with rock music and blasting car horns throughout the night — until shortly before it became clear that the “no” camp would win.

For his part, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond did not wake up on Friday morning as a prime-minister-in waiting; instead, in a subdued speech in Edinburgh, he conceded defeat and called on all Scots to respect the results. He later tweeted: “Let's not dwell on the distance we've fallen short — let us dwell on the distance we have traveled.”

Michael Douglas: ‘It’s more fun to be b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad!’

Michael Douglas … 'It's much more fun to be bad'

Michael Douglas on The Reach: ‘It’s more fun to be b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad!’

There’s nowhere to hide in the desert – even for the west coast Gordon Gekko, says the veteran actor.

Henry Barnes

Is it more fun to play the villain?

Oh yeah. Much more fun. You get to be bad. B-b-b-b-b-b-bad to the bone! My father was the sensitive young man for seven pictures until The Champion. He played a prick and was nominated for an Oscar. Most everyone’s careers, their biggest successes have been through playing villains. Nice guys are more and more difficult to play in terms of getting the edges. I enjoy the challenge of winning an audience over. The audience hate you at the beginning of the picture, and by the end they’re going, “Welllllll. He’s not so bad.”

Why Presidents Are Also Celebrities

Why Presidents Are Also Celebrities

 Megan Garber

The Roosevelts transformed the United States—and made its leaders into stars.

In October of 1912, as he was leaving Milwaukee’s Gilpatrick Hotel to deliver a speech at the city’s auditorium, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest. He was campaigning at the time for a third party and third term in the White House; John Schrank, an unemployed saloonkeeper, blamed TR for the murder of President McKinley, and wanted vengeance. The momentum of the bullet had been slowed by Roosevelt’s thick overcoat, his steel-reinforced eyeglass case, and the 50-page speech he had tucked into his jacket pocket. But it hadn’t been slowed that much. Schrank’s bullet penetrated, lodging finally against Roosevelt’s fourth right rib, close to his heart. But TR refused to go to the hospital. He insisted instead that he give his speech.

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible,” he told the packed auditorium, unbuttoning his vest to reveal his bloodstained shirt. “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot."

He continued: "But it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

He went on: “The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”

TR’s not-very-long speech—a partially extemporaneous one, the original having been shot—ended up lasting an hour and a half. He paused from his delivery only to glare at the aides who neared the podium, angling to be close to him in case he should collapse.

The episode was, above all, stupid and reckless. It was something the ex-president—and this is a common refrain when it comes to this particular ex-president—could never have gotten away with today. It also—and here’s another common refrain—could have killed him. But TR's refusal to abort his speech simply because of an inconveniently located bullet was also, and there is really no other way to say it, exceptionally badass. It suggested that Roosevelt, flesh and blood like the rest of us, was somehow less freighted by this fact than the rest of us.

Which is why it has become part of the mythology of Roosevelt, and along with it the mythology of the Roosevelts, and along with that the mythology of the American presidency—all of which were transformed, in ways both small and distinctly less so, by TR’s brand of manic machismo. When Roosevelt called himself a “Bull Moose,” he did it entirely unironically. As a state legislator, he had threatened to kick a fellow lawmaker "in the balls." One of his life’s big regrets was that he had not been injured—or, even better, disfigured—during his infamous adventure in Cuba. If a new form of Manifest Destiny would be an ongoing feature of the American 20th century, it was up to him, he felt, to put the “man” in it.

This was a conviction shared, in its way, by Roosevelt’s fifth cousin. Franklin Delano may not have had TR’s trust-busting, gun-toting swagger—and only in part because of the mid-life bout of polio that left him briefly depressed and permanently crippled—but he shared his outsized ambition. As Ken Burns puts it in The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: “Each took unabashed delight in the power of his office to do good. Each displayed unbounded optimism and self-confidence. Each refused to surrender to physical limitations that might have destroyed them. And each had an uncanny ability to rally men and women to his cause."

Every president, by historical default, is the first of the modern presidents. But the Roosevelts were especially modern—particularly in their ability, on top of everything else, to do this rallying. Their presidencies coincided with the rise of the telegraph, which made newspapers newly nimble, and of the radio, which brought the concept of “the broadcast” to the American consciousness and way of life. They used those new tools—tools that exist to transform flesh and blood into something more—to enlarge their voices, their ideas, and themselves in the minds of their fellow Americans. And then, their voices and their images having stretched, taut, across the newly expanded nation, they used them for something small: to do the dirty business of governing. Their status as media figures helped give them the mandate they needed to shape themselves as historical figures.

Americans ask a lot of our presidents. We ask, you could reasonably argue, too much of our presidents. We ask them not just to champion legislation, to lead powerful armed forces, to be heads of state, to be heads of political parties, to be constantly campaigning; we ask them also to lead us in a way that is fuzzier and yet, in some sense, more meaningful. We ask them to entertain us. We ask them to inspire us. We ask them to act, like TR before them, human and superhuman at the same time. The presidency as we understand it today involves not just red lines and red tape and split-second decisions in the Situation Room, but also turkey pardons and first pitches and many, many pancake breakfasts. It involves a conviction that Americans form not just an electorate, but a public.

You’ll occasionally read arguments that we would be better off splintering those two roles the way so many other democracies do, with a prime minister to handle the politics and a ceremonial figure to handle the pancakes. These are fanciful, for the most part—Americans tend to like monarchs the same we like our eagles: distant—but they emphasize how insistently we conflate executive authority and ceremonial duty in our sense of what the presidency means in the first place. That is a mingling that is only partially mandated by the Constitution. It is a mingling that George Washington, the man who would not be king, famously deflected—an in part why he stepped aside after two terms in office. Decades' worth of presidents followed Washington's example.

Until, that is, the Roosevelts. The two presidents expanded the scope of the presidency not just through the laws they enacted and the social programs they established, but also through a more psychic innovation: their elevation of the presidency to an office of de facto celebrity. They made being president about being, in the way we understand the term today, a media figure. They fostered in the minds of the public the supremely unconstitutional idea that “president” and “government” were, to a large extent, the same thing. By the end of FDR’s 12-year presidency—he had won an unprecedented fourth term—there was, the historian David Leuchtenberg says, “an acceptance in the White House that government has a responsibility—not just to a few, but to all of the nation that no subsequent president, no matter how conservative his views, has been able to get away from."

Punishment or Child Abuse?

Punishment or Child Abuse?

THE indictment last week of the N.F.L. player Adrian Peterson by a Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child has set into relief the harmful disciplinary practices of some black families. Mr. Peterson used a “switch,” a slim, leafless tree branch, to beat his 4-year-old son, raising welts on the youngster’s legs, buttocks and scrotum. This is child abuse dressed up as acceptable punishment.

While 70 percent of Americans approve of corporal punishment, black Americans have a distinct history with the subject. Beating children has been a depressingly familiar habit in black families since our arrival in the New World. As the black psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote in “Black Rage,” their 1968 examination of psychological black life: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.”

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

If beating children began, paradoxically, as a violent preventive of even greater violence, it was enthusiastically embraced in black culture, especially when God was recruited. As an ordained Baptist minister with a doctorate in religion, I have heard all sorts of religious excuses for whippings.

And I have borne the physical and psychic scars of beatings myself. I can’t forget the feeling, as a 16-year-old, of my body being lifted from the floor in my father’s muscular grip as he cocked back his fist to hammer me until my mother’s cry called him off. I loved my father, but his aggressive brand of reproof left in me a trail of un-cried tears.

Like many biblical literalists, lots of black believers are fond of quoting Scriptures to justify corporal punishment, particularly the verse in Proverbs 13:24 that says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” But in Hebrew, the word translated as “rod” is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The shepherd’s rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them.

Many believers — including Mr. Peterson, a vocal Christian — have confused the correction of children’s behavior with corporal punishment. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin “discipuli,” which means student or disciple, suggesting a teacher-pupil relationship. Punishment comes from the Greek word “poine” and its Latin derivative “poena,” which mean revenge, and form the root words of pain, penalty and penitentiary.

The point of discipline is to transmit values to children. The purpose of punishment is to coerce compliance and secure control, and failing that, to inflict pain as a form of revenge, a realm the Bible says belongs to God alone.

Yet secular black culture thrives on colorful stories of punishment that are passed along as myths of ancient wisdom — a type of moral glue that holds together varying communities in black life across time and circumstance. Black comedians cut their teeth on dramatically recalling “whoopings” with belts, switches, extension cords, hairbrushes or whatever implement was at hand. Even as genial a comic as Bill Cosby offered a riff in his legendary 1983 routine that left no doubt about the deadly threat of black punishment. “My father established our relationship when I was 7 years old,” Mr. Cosby joked. “He looked at me and says, ‘You know, I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, cause I’ll make another one look just like you.’ ”

The humor is blunted when we recall that Marvin Gaye’s life ended violently in 1984 at the hands of his father, a minister who brutalized him mercilessly as a child before shooting him to death in a chilling echo of Mr. Cosby’s words.

Perhaps comedians make us laugh to keep us from crying, but no humor can mask the suffering that studies say our children endure when they are beaten: feelings of sadness and worthlessness, difficulties sleeping, suicidal thoughts, bouts of anxiety, outbursts of aggression, diminished concentration, intense dislike of authority, frayed relations with peers, and negative high-risk behavior.

Equally tragic is that those who are beaten become beaters too. And many black folks are reluctant to seek therapy for their troubles because they may be seen as spiritually or mentally weak. The pathology of beatings festers in the psychic wounds of black people that often go untreated in silence.

Adrian Peterson’s brutal behavior toward his 4-year-old son is, in truth, the violent amplification of the belief of many blacks that beatings made them better people, a sad and bleak justification for the continuation of the practice in younger generations. After Mr. Peterson’s indictment, the comedian D. L. Hughley tweeted: “A fathers belt hurts a lot less then a cops bullet!”

He is right, of course, but only in a forensic, not a moral or psychological sense. What hurts far less than either is the loving correction of our children’s misbehavior so they become healthy adults who speak against violence wherever they find it — in the barrel of a policeman’s gun, the fist of a lover or the switch of a misguided parent.

Dem Donors’ Lysistrata Moment

Dem Donors’ Lysistrata Moment

By David Freedlander

Sure, they want the Democrats to hold the Senate. But several big-ticket Democratic donors say they won’t give to candidates in tight races who don’t talk the talk on climate change.

“I want to see a Democratic majority in the Senate, but I just need an acknowledgement that this is a serious problem.”

Why the Right Calls Obama a Narcissist

Now some on the right think Obama says ‘I’ too much. In fact, he doesn’t. But what does it mean that they can’t stand to hear him say it?

Charles Krauthammer has told Fox News that President Obama is a narcissist. And he should know, because once he was a psychologist.

His evidence? Obama apparently says “I” too much. He’s all into himself instead of the country he’s supposed to be running. “Count the number of times he uses ‘I’ in any speech, and compare that to any other president,” limns Doctor Krauthammer. “Remember when he announced the killing of Bin Laden? That speech I believe had 29 references to ‘I’—on my command, I ordered, as Commander-in-Chief I was then told, I this.”

Does Silicon Valley Have a Contract-Worker Problem?

Does Silicon Valley Have a Contract-Worker Problem?

By Kevin Roose

Earlier this year, I hired a house cleaner. I wouldn't have done so normally, but my place was a mess, I was busy at work, and I saw an offer on Facebook that looked too good to be true — a San Francisco start-up called Homejoy was offering home cleanings in the Bay Area for $19. (Not $19 per room or $19 per hour. Just $19.) So I booked an appointment through Homejoy's website, and a day later, a young man showed up at my door.

As the cleaner laid out his tools, we made small talk, and I asked him where he lived. "Well, right now I'm staying in a shelter in Oakland," he said. I paused, unsure if I'd heard him right. A shelter? Was my house cleaner — the one I'd hired through a company that has raised $40 million in venture-capital funding from well-respected firms like Google Ventures, the one who was about to perform arduous manual labor in my house using potentially hazardous cleaning chemicals — homeless?

He was, as it turned out. And as I told this story to friends in the Bay Area, I heard something even more surprising: Several of their Homejoy cleaners had been homeless, too.

To explain why it's possible for a cash-flush tech start-up to have homeless workers, it helps to know that the man I hired through Homejoy wasn't a Homejoy employee at all. That's because Homejoy doesn't employ any cleaners — like many of its peer start-ups, it uses an army of contract workers to do its customers' bidding. To hear Homejoy tell it, it's simply the digital middleman that allows people seeking home-cleaning services to find people willing to do it. The worker dusting off a bookshelf might look like he works for Homejoy, when he's really the sole employee of John Smith, LLC. As the Washington Post wrote, "Homejoy is just organizing the masses of people who already offer their cleaning services independently."

Sheldon Adelson cracks open checkbook for GOP

Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson is pictured. | Getty

Sheldon Adelson cracks open checkbook for GOP


Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has donated $10 million to a Karl Rove-backed outfit boosting Republican Senate candidates and promised a similar amount to an allied group focused on House races, POLITICO has learned. The check to the Rove-conceived Crossroads GPS and the pledge to American Action Network represent the first major foray into the 2014 congressional midterms by Adelson, according to multiple sources who travel in big-money GOP circles.

It’s welcome news for Republican operatives. They believe it’s just the start of a major spending spree by Adelson and his family that will help their side offset an advertising disadvantage in recent weeks, when Democrats and their allies have aired more ads supporting their congressional candidates. And it comes amidst a long and assiduous courtship of Adelson by Republican money-men, during which there has been intense speculation about the unpredictable billionaire’s plans.

Your brain actually makes decisions while you sleep.

Your brain actually makes decisions while you sleep.

The idea that during sleep our minds shut down from the outside world is ancient and one that is still deeply anchored in our view of sleep today, despite some everyday life experiences and recent scientific discoveries that would tend to prove that our brains don’t completely switch off from our environment.

On the contrary, our brains can keep the gate slightly open. For example, we wake up more easily when we hear our own name or a particularly salient sound such as an alarm clock or a fire alarm compared to equally loud but less relevant sounds.

In research published in Current Biology, we went one step further to show that complex stimuli can not only be processed while we sleep but that this information can be used to make decisions, similarly as when we’re awake.

A California Without Illegal Immigrants

Citizens of the Golden State love complaining about undocumented immigrants, but the state would collapse without them.

On the subject of illegal immigration, the nation’s most populous state may also be the most hypocritical. Despite the fact that there is so much to do in California—so many leisure activities, in fact, that one can ski and surf in the same day—many residents have over the years developed a rather unproductive hobby. They love to complain about effects of illegal immigration, either real or imagined, as much as anyone else in the country.

It’s the usual list of gripes that one usually hears from uninhibited but uninformed hosts on talk radio. We Californians claim that the undocumented take jobs, lower wages, ruin neighborhoods, crowd schools, overrun hospitals, commit crimes, usurp public services, and pollute the environment. We don’t dare say what’s really bugging us—that illegal immigration is fueling a new demographic reality in a state where whites are now the minority and nonwhites make up the majority, and where nearly 4 out of every 10 residents is Hispanic.

The phenomenon of whites becoming the statistical minority is expected to occur in the entire United States by 2043, according to the most recent projections. That change has already happened in California. And it’s the aftereffects that many of the state’s residents—especially those who are white—are really anxious about.

Here’s what they don’t seem very troubled about: the fact that illegal immigration has become a cash cow for California. A recent report by researchers at the University of Southern California, for example, says immigrants who are in California illegally make up nearly 10 percent of the state’s workers and contribute $130 billion annually to its gross domestic product.


Today, many Californians feel ambivalent about illegal immigration. They’re under no delusions about how dependent they’ve become on a phenomenon they used to decry. They don’t really believe that the kid making lattes at Starbucks, the one with all the body piercings, is going to rush out and pick plums in 100-degree heat. And, on the home front, they’ve probably figured out that—when they come home after dark, and the lawn is perfectly manicured—it’s not the work of elves.

Scots Vote on Independence

Scots Vote on Independence

By Jason Douglas, Jenny Gross and Cassie Werber

Voters in Scotland were making the pivotal decision of whether to break up the U.K. after 307 years, in a historic referendum that pits a vision of independence against the possible economic turmoil.

After two years of campaigning, pollsters say that the outcome of the vote is too close to call at this point. The ballot asks a simple question—"Should Scotland be an independent country?"— though a vote to split off will raise many more about how the country will stand completely on its own.

Most polls show the pro-U.K. "no" campaign narrowly in the lead despite a late surge by the pro-independence "yes" camp. But pollsters say thousands of Scots won't make up their minds until they are in the polling booth, even after months of campaigning and a last-minute push by politicians from London to try to convince Scots to stay.

Counter-terror raids in Australia

Counter-terror raids in Australia

A man being arrested following the execution of search warrants across in the north-west suburbs of

Isis urging followers to carry out public beheadings, says PM Tony Abbott, as 800 officers conduct raids.

A senior member of Islamic State was urging a network in Australia to carry out public beheadings, prime minister Tony Abbott said after the largest counter-terrorism raids in the country’s history.

More than 800 police officers were involved in raids in Sydney’s north-west on Thursday morning with 15 people detained.

Two men were charged and nine people released. Under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws, those detained could be held for two weeks without charge.

One man, Omarjan Azari, 22, appeared in Sydney central court on Thursday afternoon to face charges of preparing to commit a terrorist act.

It is alleged he conspired to commit the act with another man, Mohammad Baryalei, a former Sydney bouncer and actor of Afghan origin, reportedly an Islamic State leader.

The attorney general, George Brandis, said an operation had been under way since May and he understood the raids had taken on a sense of urgency. Brandis told the ABC that he believed the atrocities would have gone ahead, had it not been for the intervention of the security services, the Australian federal police and forces from Queensland and New South Wales. “If ASIO and the AFP and the Queensland and NSW police had not acted today there is a likelihood this would have happened,” Brandis said.

Are Humans Heading For Extinction?

Are Humans Heading For Extinction?

By Mario D. Garrett, PhD


A perfect storm is brewing, with women having fewer children, sperm count declining and the obesity rate increasing making it harder for women to conceive, all point towards the extinction of the human race. Where we so wrong in the 60s? Can we make it right?

The decline in sperm involves numerous factors, but the finger is pointing towards the use of pesticides and hormones in our food chain. Such an interpretation is supported by the increasing occurrences of testicular cancer and possibly also of malformations of the genital tract.

On the other side of the spectrum is the ability and motivation of women to have children. Women are having children later in life and when they have two or more children they are delaying each birth. Education—both formal and informal—plays a role in determining that women don't get pregnant early and then have children in quick succession. There is also a declining ability of women to have children, known as fecundity—the capacity to bear children. Women are experiencing increasing problems with conceiving and maintaining pregnancies.

What Happens When People Live to 100?

What Happens When People Live to 100?

If life-expectancy trends continue, that future may be near—with surprising consequences.

By Gregg Easterbrook

Beginning in the 19th century, that slowly changed. Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months with each passing year. In 1840, life expectancy at birth in Sweden, a much-studied nation owing to its record-keeping, was 45 years for women; today it’s 83 years. The United States displays roughly the same trend. When the 20th century began, life expectancy at birth in America was 47 years; now newborns are expected to live 79 years. If about three months continue to be added with each passing year, by the middle of this century, American life expectancy at birth will be 88 years. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years.

Viewed globally, the lengthening of life spans seems independent of any single, specific event. It didn’t accelerate much as antibiotics and vaccines became common. Nor did it retreat much during wars or disease outbreaks. A graph of global life expectancy over time looks like an escalator rising smoothly. The trend holds, in most years, in individual nations rich and poor; the whole world is riding the escalator.

Projections of ever-longer life spans assume no incredible medical discoveries—rather, that the escalator ride simply continues. If anti-aging drugs or genetic therapies are found, the climb could accelerate. Centenarians may become the norm, rather than rarities who generate a headline in the local newspaper.

Iran Warns Obama to Stay Out of Iraq

So much for an alliance of convenience. This week some of the Iraqi militias fighting ISIS issued a warning to President Obama not to send in ground forces.

Three top Iraq Shiite militias warned the United States this week not to reoccupy the country—and leading the charge was Muqtada al-Sadr. The firebrand cleric, who was the face of the anti-American Shiite insurgency of the last decade, said in a statement Monday: “As we made you taste the heat of our fire and [power] in the past, we will make you taste the scourge of your decision," according to a translation from the Institute for the Study of War. Two other Shiite militias, Asai’b Ahl al-Haq and Katai’b Hizballah, followed Sadr’s Mahdi Army and issued a statement Monday telling the United States to stay out of Iraq.

The groups, which receive considerable backing from Iran, fought bitterly with U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in the last decade, when U.S. forces were battling to build up an Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Still, these same militias also have fought on the ground against ISIS positions, in some cases retaking ISIS-controlled territory with the indirect help of American airpower. That was the case earlier this month, when Asai’b al-Haq took back Amerli following a U.S. air campaign.

But this week Iran’s supreme leader publicly rejected the Obama administration’s entreaties to cooperate in the fight against ISIS, though Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would still be interested in discussing possible cooperation against ISIS in the future.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday evening that Iran provides the militias with help organizing, some weapons, and military advisers. He also stressed they were disorganized.

Nonetheless, Zarif said that any U.S. ground presence in Iraq would likely spur opposition. “The problem also when it comes to the United States is that the presence of foreign forces in any setting creates domestic opposition and domestic resentment,” he said. “And it is best, whether we support this or not—and we certainly do not support anybody engaging in anything that would complicate the situation—is to allow the Iraqis to fight this.”

Scottish Vote Weighs Pride Against Risk

Scottish Vote Weighs Pride Against Risk

The people of Scotland decide Thursday whether national pride outweighs economic risk.

The vote on independence is taking place without any of the usual factors that drive the dissolution of great nations: no war, no acute economic crisis, no raging territorial dispute. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite: peace, a slowly recovering economy and a central government in London that promises to grant more powers over taxing and spending to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scots cannot claim they have not been warned about the uncertain and even dire economic consequences of splitting from the United Kingdom, on issues like the currency, investment, pensions and declining energy revenues from the North Sea.

Economists normally as ideologically disparate and disputatious as Alan Greenspan, Paul Krugman, Adam S. Posen and Niall Ferguson all have predicted a negative economic outlook for an independent Scotland, while expressing anxiety, too, about the impact of such uncertainty on the larger European and global economies.

But half of Scots, give or take a few percentage points, are expected to vote for independence anyway. Some do not believe the negative forecasts, calling them “fear-mongering.” Some say they resent the sense that an outside elite is patronizing them or doubting their capacity. And many will vote yes for other reasons — to feel responsible for their own fate and to build, or rebuild, what they hope will be a fairer, less unequal country of their own, for better or worse.

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