The John Batchelor Show

Friday 6 September 2013

Air Date: 
September 06, 2013

Photo, above: Woodrow Wilson Goes to Europe to Save Civilization for Democracy, 1919.


Hour One

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Amos Guiora, law professor; co-dir, Center for Global Justice, University of Utah, in re: Humanitarian Crisis, Geo-politics and the Dilemma Facing Congress   In the days ahead, the Obama Administration will make a concerted and determined effort to convince Congress to authorize US military action in Syria. While the outcome, as these lines are penned, is unknown, odds are Congress will vote in the affirmative, albeit not by a wide majority. Much will depend on the exact language of the President’s authorization request. No doubt, collective and individual recollection of the broad, in reality too broad, language of the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) in the aftermath of 9/11 will weigh heavily as will the so-called “war fatigue” that has become a phrase of choice in explaining hesitation for committing US forces. Similarly, many Members of Congress will view, and subsequently weigh, with skepticism the Obama Administration’s intelligence briefing; after all, George Tenet’s infamous “slam dunk” regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Colin Powell’s ill-fated and embarrassing appearance in the United Nations will be important reference points in the discussion. As Congress weighs the Administration’s request it is important that the focus of the debate extend beyond the alleged decision by the Syrian government to use chemical weapons against its own civilian population. Barbaric and horrific as that may be, violating any acceptable standard of law and conduct, Congress and the Administration must focus on the broader national security, international security and geo-political ramifications at stake. . . . In the late stages of World War II, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin created the postwar world; as Churchill correctly predicted, two powerful spheres of influence were created: the United States and the USSR. Those two spheres encouraged, facilitated, and participated in innumerable regional conflicts for over 40 years, under the umbrella of the Cold War. Nonaligned nations, the most powerful being Yugoslavia and Indonesia, sought to . . .  [more]

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 1, Block B: Brian Bremner, Bloomberg Businessweek, in re:  SO MUCH FOR CAVIAR  
For Russian leaders, sticking it to the Americans has long been a source of both personal satisfaction and political gain. By that standard, President Vladimir Putin is riding high. Since reclaiming the title of president, Putin has established Russia as the biggest impediment to the Obama Administration’s foreign policy aims. That’s undoubtedly played well with Russians who yearn for the days when the country was a superpower. Yet in one respect the U.S. may soon have the upper hand. America’s surprising return as an energy superpower is complicating life for the Russian petro state. Russia's economic strength is slipping away. The question is whether Putin's power will, too.   the full story…

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 1, Block C: Scott Shane, NYT, in re: Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s  (1 of 2) The scale and longevity of a data storage program run by the government in partnership with AT&T was unmatched by other government programs, including the National Security Agency’s gathering of phone call logs. The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant. The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987. The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant . . .  [more]

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 1, Block D: Scott Shane, NYT, in re: Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s (2 of 2)  [more]

Hour Two

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 2, Block A: Peter Coy, Bloomberg Businessweek, in re: THE FED'S OVEREXPOSURE PROBLEM By trying to talk to several audiences—Congress, investors— at once, the Fed doesn’t always get its message across.

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 2, Block B:  . David M Drucker, Washington Examiner Sr Congressional correspondent, in re: GOP building digital voter ID network to top Obama's  The Republican Party aims to build a digital operation that surpasses the one President Obama built for the 2012 campaign. Time, and two upcoming elections, will show whether the GOP succeeds.  The effort, begun this summer, is largely the responsibility of 33-year-old former Facebook engineer Andy Barkett, the Republican National Committee's chief technology officer. Barkett's plan is to refine and advance the innovative technology harnessed by Obama's campaign organization to identify and turn out voters.  But instead of reserving this digital network for a single presidential candidate, the RNC plans to share it with any Republican running for any office anywhere in the country.  "We're going to do something even harder than what [Obama] did. Replicating what they did isn't that hard," Barkett told the Washington Examiner.  Barkett previewed his strategy for reporters in Boston during the GOP's summer meeting and in a more in-depth interview with the Examiner in Washington. He said he wants to have the technology ready for testing in the 2014 mid-term elections and fully operational by 2016 for the . . .   [more]

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 2, Block C:  Richard A Epstein, Hoover Institution, Chicago Law, in re: (1 of 2) A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain, both trained as philosophers of science, asks the intriguing question: “What is Economics Good For?” “Not much” is their largely skeptical answer. They argue that economics is a second-rate science, while the physical and biological sciences sport more impressive credentials. For all its use of fancy mathematics, they argue that “the trouble with economics is that it lacks the most important of science’s characteristics—a record of improvement in predictive range and accuracy.” Unfortunately, this increasingly fashionable view that economics is not a science too often leads people to endorse unwise regulatory policies . . .  [more]

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 2, Block D: Richard A Epstein, Hoover Institution, Chicago Law, in re: (2 of 2) A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain, both trained as philosophers of science, asks the intriguing question: “What is Economics Good For?” “Not much” is their largely skeptical answer. They argue that economics is a second-rate science, while the physical and biological sciences sport more impressive credentials. For all its use of fancy mathematics, they argue that “the trouble with economics is that it lacks the most important of science’s characteristics—a record of improvement in predictive range and accuracy.” Unfortunately, this increasingly fashionable view that economics is not a science too often leads people to endorse unwise regulatory policies . . .  [more]

Hour Three

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 3, Block A:  Jim McTague, Barron's Washington, in re: Labor Recovery Leaves More Workers Behind  The long, slow recovery in the U.S. job market is leaving ever more Americans on the sidelines—and complicating the calculus for Federal Reserve policy makers weighing when the economy can get by with less help.

August’s employment report is a mixed bag that can be used to support an immediate tapering of the Fed’s monthly asset purchases or delaying that move until later this year. Our best guess is that the cumulative evidence of improvement over the past year will convince a majority of officials that the tapering should begin at the next FOMC meeting in another couple of weeks’ time, but we’re not going to pretend this is a certainty. –Paul Ashworth, Capital Economics

The taper camp was thrown a curve ball this morning when the payroll numbers came in below expectation and after the downward revision to the prior two months the case for tightening has become less clear cut. This doesn’t mean the street will do an about-face. Instead, I expect there will be a few defections but the consensus will still call for the taper to begin. The logic will be that the jobless rate is declining. We hold on to our view that the backup in rates is counter, not pro-, cyclical. … We still think tapering is a mistake. – Steven Ricchiuto, Mizuho Securities

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 3, Block B:   David Davenport, Hoover, in re: No single branch, save the judicial, should be able to undo a law. This is part of the controversy surrounding President Obama’s recent decision to suspend aspects of Obamacare, which a member of the executive branch should not be able to do to a law passed by the legislature and signed by the president. It smacks of exactly the sort of monarchical power the founders sought to avoid. The only branch of government able to declare a law unconstitutional on its own is the judiciary . . .  [more]

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 3, Block C: Sohrab Amari, WSJ, in re: What happens when one CEO takes on the regulatory state?  That's the question I explore in my WSJ Weekend Interview with Craig Zucker, the marketing genius behind Buckyballs, a wildly successful office toy that sold millions before it was banned by the feds last year.  Now vindictive regulators are out to ruin Mr. Zucker personally for having dared to challenge their overreach.   'So this is what starting over looks like. I have a seven-by-seven space with two little desks in it." Craig Zucker is remarkably good-humored, considering what he's been through over the past year—and the tribulations that lie ahead. He's referring to his office, rented month-to-month in a dilapidated building in a dusty corner of Brooklyn. There is construction all around, graffiti on the brick walls, and unfinished doors and windows. It's a long way from the Soho digs the 34-year-old used to occupy. Mr. Zucker is the former CEO of Maxfield & Oberton, the small company behind Buckyballs, an office toy that became an Internet sensation in 2009 and went on to sell millions of units before it was banned by the feds last year. A self-described "serial entrepreneur," Mr. Zucker looks the part with tussled black hair, a scraggly beard and hipster jeans. Yet his casual-Friday outfit does little to subdue his air of ambition and hustle. Nowadays Mr. Zucker spends most of his waking hours fighting off a vindictive U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that has set out to punish him for having challenged its regulatory overreach. The outcome of the battle has ramifications far beyond a magnetic toy designed for bored office workers. It implicates bedrock American notions of consumer choice, personal responsibility and limited liability. It all began while the Ohio native was wrapping up his previous venture, Tap'd NY, "a bottled water company that was purifying New York City tap water and selling it to New Yorkers as the local, honest bottled-water alternative." You read that right: Mr. Zucker persuaded New Yorkers to pay for rebranded tap water.

Jake Bronstein, Mr. Zucker's marketing director at Tap'd NY, was at the time the proprietor of a blog called Zoomdoggle. "He would produce eight posts a day," Mr. Zucker recalls, "one for each hour of the workday: games, jokes, adult fun. What Jake wanted to do was to find a product that would fit perfectly with that audience." The answer came in the form of neodymium magnets. These small, powerful rare-earth magnets can be stacked like Legos, stretched and used to make infinite shapes. Maxfield & Oberton, the company Messrs. Zucker and Bronstein eventually formed, packaged the magnets and called them "Buckyballs," after the American architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller. "In March of 2009, we ordered 100 sets of magnets from China. We literally put our last $1,000 each in the business," Mr. Zucker says. At first the company filled a few hundred orders a day on its own website. But then Buckyballs made their way into the blogosphere. "Then very, very quickly other websites were calling to buy the product and resell it. We realized we had a really great brand." In August 2009, Maxfield & Oberton demonstrated Buckyballs at the New York Gift Show; 600 stores signed up to sell the product. By 2010, the company had built a distribution network of 1,500 stores, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Brookstone. People magazine in 2011 named Buckyballs one of the five hottest trends of the year, and in 2012 it made the cover of Brookstone's catalog. Maxfield & Oberton now had 10 employees, 150 sales representatives and a distribution network of 5,000 stores. Sales had reached $10 million a year. "Then," says Mr. Zucker, "we crashed."

On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a "corrective-action plan" within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs' alleged safety defects. Around the same time—and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story—the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton's retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the "severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by" Buckyballs and requesting them to "voluntarily stop selling" the product. It was an underhanded move, as Maxfield & Oberton and its lawyers saw it. "Very, very quickly those 5,000 retailers became zero," says Mr. Zucker. The preliminary letters, and others sent after the complaint, made it clear that selling Buckyballs was still considered lawful pending adjudication. "But if you're a store like Brookstone or Urban Outfitters . . . you're bullied into it. You don't want problems." As for the corrective-action plan, it was submitted at 4 p.m. on the July 24 deadline. Yet the very next morning the commission filed an administrative lawsuit against Maxfield & Oberton, suggesting the company's plan was never seriously considered. The commission alleged that Buckyballs pose substantial hazards, which no remedy short of a full recall could address. Buckyballs, the commission said, "pose a risk of magnet ingestion by children below the age of 14, who may . . . place single or numerous magnets in their mouth.  [more]


Listener writes in on What happens when one CEO takes on the regulatory state? (see above).  In re: buckyballs and neodymium iron boron magnets: if there is a hole or serious scratch in the plating or covering of most rare earth magnets, in particular neodymium iron boron, the magnet material can corrode rapidly to powder which is toxic.

For toxicity, see  For the definition of cytotoxicity, see

Almost anything is dangerous, but some things are much more dangerous than others. Boron nitride is the best high-temperature electronic circuit ceramic, but please don't break or machine it. If the company inspects the buckyballs it gets from China, great. The coating is critical. If the Chinese goods are "shoddy" (your podcast) then the CPSC (which likely didn't know any of this) may have inadvertently done the right thing.

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Photo, below: In Zanzibar, Michamvi Pingwe is a pristine beach having two restaurants, one a thatched beach shack and the other perched atop a large rock.  

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 3, Block D: Nichoas Kulish NYT, in re:  Amid Coral Reefs and Ruins, Ripples of Fear Over a Recent Attack Saïd Ola began training early for the tourist trade in Zanzibar. As a youth he would come down to a popular park overlooking the Indian Ocean, one of the young men known as “practice boys” who learn English by chatting with visitors. A boy tried to catch the eye of tourists at the beach. Residents are worried that Westerners will brand the island as hostile territory. Mr. Ola used the English he picked up to work as a taxi driver and tour guide for the throngs who flock to the island each summer to snorkel among the coral reefs, explore spice plantations and wander through the ruins from the bygone days when Zanzibar was the capital of an Omani sultanate. Like the rest of the dozen or so tour guides gathered recently at the edge of the park in historic Stone Town, Mr. Ola refused to believe that a local resident could have been behind the acid attack last month on two 18-year-old British girls, an episode that has brought unwelcome scrutiny to an island better known as a vacation paradise. “We’re not that stupid,” Mr. Ola said, referring to the islanders’ dependence on tourist revenues. Without the sightseers and beachgoers who throng the island, he said, “at the end of the day we’re going to eat grass.” Ali Abdul Kareem, another guide, agreed. “This is our life,” he said. “We depend on tourism.” Murmurs of assent rippled through the group. “If we knew who it was,” said another, “we would be the first to punish them.”  Zanzibaris worry that the acid attack will be declared a case of Islamist extremism and that the island, overwhelmingly Muslim, will be branded hostile territory to Westerners. The assault reinforced fears that stretch back to the discovery that one of the men behind the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, was from Pemba, the smaller of the main two islands that make up Zanzibar. In recent years, a group called Uamsho, or “Awakening,” has called for an independent Zanzibar governed under Shariah law. Christian churches in Zanzibar have been burned and priests have been attacked in the past two years; one of them was killed. On the mainland, a radical cleric . . . [more]

Hour Four

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 4, Block A:  Michael Vlahos, Naval War College, in re: Obama to give Syria speech Tuesday 
President Obama said Friday he will address the American people on Tuesday about Syria, and acknowledged that efforts to win congressional . . . 
Obama to Speak on Syria Tuesday

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 4, Block B:  Michael Vlahos, Naval War College, in re: President Woodrow Wilson's Address in Favour of the League He gave one of his final addresses (as President) in support of the League in Pueblo, CO., on 25 September 1919. The text of Wilson's address is reproduced . . .    [wilson mayflower september 1919]

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 4, Block C: Robert Zimmerman,,  in re:  NASA has lost contact with its Deep Impact probe and is racing against time to save it. An engineering problem during construction of one of the shuttle-derived solid rocket boosters for SLS is causing delays.  [The] original test target of mid-2013 slipped when an issue with the aft segment [of the booster] was found. Inspection of the segment showed it was contained an area where propellant had debonded from the inside of the segment wall. Following analysis – which notably found no voids in the propellant itself – NASA decided to ask ATK to scrap the segment and cast a replacement. Preparations … continued, with the shipping and integration of forward and center segments at the test site, while ATK went to work to replace the aft segment, following approval – post investigation – from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. After ATK successfully cast the replacement segment in July, technicians carried out routine ultrasound and x-ray tests. Unfortunately, the tests showed this segment had also had similar voids [emphasis mine]. The Space Launch System (SLS), was mandated by Congress to use as much shuttle-derived components as possible in order to supposedly save money as well as employ as many of the companies that built those components as possible. In reality, however, every one of those components has required significant redesign to make them work in SLS. In the case of the solid rocket boosters, the four segment shuttle boosters were not powerful enough. They had to be expanded to five segments. Moreover, it appears from this article it was other technically unnecessary changes to the boosters that are now causing this problem . . .

The competition heats up: While the launch industry eagerly awaits SpaceX’s first commercial Falcon 9 launch on September 10, Arianespace has been signing up customers.  Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said Aug. 29 after the last Ariane 5 launch that the company has booked around 300 million euros ($400 million) in new orders in recent weeks, bringing this year’s total contract volume to 1 billion euros. Industry officials said the contracts are for government missions in Brazil and Japan, and commercial operators in Brazil, the United States, Mexico and Spain.  The Ariane 5 is incredibly reliable, having successfully completed more than fifty launches in a row. It is also much more expensive that Falcon 9, which is expected to cost a customer about half as much to get a payload into orbit.  Until SpaceX proves Falcon 9, Arianespace will be in a strong position to get customers. Once Falcon 9 starts flying regularly however, Arianespace will begin to lose business to this cheaper alternative. Thus, the new contracts will help tide the company over while they scramble to figure out how to reduce costs in order to compete.  In related news, SpaceX readies the new upgraded Falcon 9 for launch.

Friday  6 September 2013 / Hour 4, Block D:  John Lauerman, Bloomberg, in re:

‘ANIMAL HOUSE’ PRESIDENT INHERITS FRAT CHALLENGE. Dartmouth Leader Tied to Animal House Vows Tolerance Amid Outcry – Dartmouth’s new president, Philip Hanlon, once a member of the Hanover, New Hampshire-based college fraternity that inspired the 1978 movie Animal House, inheriting a campus roiled by a federal probe into student sexual harassment and once again grappling with a fraternity-dominated social scene considered by many to be toxic to women and minorities.  [more]

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Hour 1:  Dark Knight Rises.   After Earth. 

Hour 2:  Michael Clayton.

Hour 3:  Ghost Writer, Green Zone

Hour 4:  Green Zone, Babylon AD