Daily Edition April 16, 2014

taxe

Most Americans filed their income tax returns “early,” and they think they pay about the right amount in federal taxes. According to the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll, 76 percent of those surveyed said early means somewhere between April 7 and April 10. 56 percent said they pay about the right amount; 42 percent said they paid more than their fair share and just 1 percent said they didn’t pay enough in federal taxes.

The poll broke the numbers down by political party, too. Of those who said they paid too much: 50 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 40 percent identified themselves as Democrats. Both parties seem to agree on how to send tax returns. Three in four Americans send theirs electronically.

low

89% of the fast-food workers who responded to a recent U.S. survey said they “have been forced to do off-the-books work, been denied breaks, or been refused overtime pay.” The survey was conducted by Hart Research for the Low Pay Is Not OK campaign, as part of an effort to raise minimum wage for fast-food workers. The survey was conducted online from Feb 15-March 19. The 1,088 respondents were recruited with ads placed on Facebook.

Hart Research was established by Peter D. Hart, who has been characterized by The National Journal as “probably the foremost Washington pollster for the Democratic Party and its centrist candidates, who plays a key role in identifying and shaping national trends and political messages.”

Escoffier

The first celebrity chef, Escoffier

I first met Escoffier when he was in New York to open the Ritz-Carlton in 1910, then again in London two years later while staying at The Carlton. I had asked him to make a menu for a dinner with Andre Simon (later head of The Wine & Food Society) and his wife. At table we had been discussing whether sauces should compliment a dish or stand apart from it, when Escoffier appeared in his Louis-Philippe-style frock coat and heightened heels. Andre addressed the question to the slender, aquiline, handsome, perceptive little man with brilliant dark eyes and snowy hair. The white quivered with his answer: “The art of the saucier consists in bringing about a marriage of the elements at his disposal, to bring them together in a way that creates a whole which harmonizes perfectly with the fundamental ingredients of the dish, to which the sauce must give value, but still be only an accompaniment.” And that settled that.  I am all for arranged marriages, even with no sauce to hide under. Our menu, composed by the Master, was the classic Russian cucumber soup Rossolnik, poached turbot, breast of chicken cooked in brown butter, roasted baron of milk-fed lamb, caneton de Rouen a la Rouennnaise (the duck cooked unbled, the only sauce the pressed juices of the carcass), asparagus, and a hot Maraschino soufflé with strawberry ice cream in the center.

Because we had drunk Pommery & Greno 1892 en magnum throughout the meal, I walked to the Travellers Club in the Mall to recover. The exercise awakened my appetite as I felt the light changing its angle to one of shining on buildings instead of hiding behind them, the air caressing one’s skin instead of challenging it. With spring changes I normally had two instincts, regret the passing of autumn and winter foods and head out to the country for a lunch of the last of their glories, or plan some glorious Pimm’s-soaked summer garden parties. Lunch won out, even it had to be dinner. I still longed for braised meats and lots of old Chateauneuf-du-Pape followed by a Churchillian-sized Punch Habana or a fistful of Black Russian gold-tipped Sobranies. I wired the Carlton with some ideas. Roasted chestnuts braised with a whole foie gras doused in Armagnac, the last of wild Belons, parsnip soup with shaved white truffles, fresh Caesar’s Amanita mushrooms grilled over vine cuttings, quinces stuffed with rose petals and braised in Riesling. And so on. My list making was interrupted by a friend in a chair next to me complaining of a headache while busy reading travel brochures. He asked the waiter for an aspirin. “Take the Titanic instead,” I told him. “It sails at eight.”  // Jeremiah Tower

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According to a recent survey conducted by online dating service Zoosk, Las Vegas is the most open-minded dating city in the US. What exactly does open-minded mean? “A willingness to date outside of their own religions, education levels, body types, drinking and smoking habits, among others.”

Raleigh, North Carolina was ranked as the least open-minded dating city. And yet Raleigh frequently receives national recognition for its quality of life, including being ranked #2 on the “Ten Best Cities for Newlyweds” list (Forbes, 2012).

lvThe World Famous Chapel of the Bells, Las Vegas. Photo: Antoine Taveneaux

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, OBE

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, OBE

Do Americans get the Nelsonian eye piece?  Admiral Nelson famously raised his looking glass to his blind eye when asked to look at something he didn’t want to see, and hence declared he saw nothing!? 

Both Syrian opposition forces and the regime have claimed further chemical weapons (CW) usage in Syria over the last few days focused on Damascus suburbs and Hama. Both sides are claiming the other is using chlorine and Organophosphates to perpetuate the CW horror. Chemical weapons have killed relatively few people in Syria but their use is, sadly, the defining issue of the Syrian civil war thus far–along with the inertia of the international community when it comes to doing anything constructive to alleviate the suffering of, and industrial slaughter of, the innocent civilians of this embattled country. With yet another deadline about to pass for the ‘final’ removal of the regime’s CW stockpile from Syria, the regime appears keen to keep the CW issue on the front pages in order to prolong international paralysis, further aided by Russian focus on other matters like Ukraine.

The use of chlorine–the first CW ever used in warfare, debuting nearly 100 years ago on the Ypres Salient in WWI–is potentially another brilliant ruse of war. Chlorine is not part of the regime’s ‘declared’ stockpile.’ It’s also readily available domestically and commercial across Syria but is still classified as a CW under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of chlorine complicates the issue, as either side could obtain and use it. Al-Qaeda has been researching ‘improvised’ CW usage for some time, which would implicate, as the regime is doing, Al Nusra. However, the alleged delivery by barrel bombs from helicopters–not believed to be in rebels’ inventory–makes the perpetrators of this latest attack look very much like the Syrian regime. But why? The CW issue has given Assad almost free rein to do what he likes in Syria, as the international focus is almost solely on removing toxic chemicals. With this painfully slow operation potentially reaching its culminating point in the next few weeks, what better way to get the international community to raise its looking glass to it’s blind Nelsonian eye than by suggesting that CW is still rife in Syria and being freely used by the opposition?

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, OBE, is the COO of SecureBio, a CBRN consultancy. He is a former Commander of British Military CBRN Forces.

JeffreyMankoff

2paragraphs: Russian President Putin has been talking about making Ukraine to pay in advance for gas. Given that most of the pipelines transporting Russian natural gas to Western Europe run through Ukraine, does Ukraine have bargaining power it’s not effectively using?

Jeffrey Mankoff: Though Russia’s principal gas pipelines to Europe cross Ukrainian territory, Kyiv’s ability to derive leverage from the presence of these pipelines is limited by the need to maintain political support in Europe and by Russia’s possession of alternative transit options. In 2012, the EU purchased 130 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia, which accounted for about 34% of Europe’s total gas imports. More than half of that Russian gas was supplied via pipelines across Ukraine. The presence of these pipelines on Ukrainian territory would seem to give the government in Kyiv significant leverage vis-à-vis Russia: Kyiv could just shut down the flow of gas, bringing the impact of the Ukrainian crisis directly into European homes and forcing the Europeans to broker a solution to the crisis. The biggest problem with this approach is a cut in gas supplies creates real risks for the European economy—and Brussels is unlikely to take kindly to such a step. In fact, Kyiv’s efforts to siphon off Russian gas destined to Europe to offset the impact of a Russian cutoff in January 2009 provide a window onto why manipulating gas supplies is a risky strategy for Ukraine. Moscow responded to the siphoning by halting all gas sales through Ukraine for a couple of weeks, leaving much of eastern and southern Europe literally out in the cold. European leaders reacted angrily, blaming both Moscow and Kyiv for the disruption and demanding that they sort out their problems. While the EU response would likely be somewhat more sympathetic to Ukraine today, Kyiv’s very vulnerability and need for outside financial support makes incurring European anger by manipulating gas supplies very risky.

It would also carry longer term costs on the energy front (regardless of whether Moscow responded militarily). As recently as 2009, close to 80% of the gas Russia sold to EU countries transited Ukraine. Since then however, the opening of the Nord Stream pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea and Russia’s success in taking control of the gas transit system in Belarus have diminished Ukraine’s importance as a transit state. Last year, about 20% of Russian gas sales to Europe went via Belarus, while nearly 35% went through Nord Stream–which is still operating at below its full capacity. Moscow would like to further expand Nord Stream, and to build the South Stream pipeline across the Black Sea to the Balkans and Italy. The main goal with both of these offshore pipelines is to reduce the transit risk associated with pipelines across Ukraine (and potentially Belarus as well). So for Ukraine to cut transit of Russian gas through its territory, especially during the warmer months of the year when gas demand is lower, would not have the same impact in Europe as it would have just a few years back. Moscow already has some options for supplying gas without crossing Ukraine, and drastic steps by Kyiv would likely just accelerate Russian efforts to further cut Ukraine out of the transit picture, a step that would only strengthen Russian influence over Ukraine in the longer term.

Nord Stream Construction

 Construction of the Nord Stream pipline (2010) (photo: Gazprom)

 –Dr. Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director and fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Russia and Eurasia Program. He is the author of Russian Foreign Policy: The Return of Great Power Politics.

buzzfeed privilege badge

The Buzzfeed result that makes you think.

Everyone knows that the What Noun = You? quizzes that have blossomed out of BuzzFeed are silly. What after all does your Beyonce preference have to do with the City that = You? (If you don’t like Beyonce, are you cursed to wander the earth?) The quizzes are just social media love taps: There’s no point in being certified as Charles Bukowski, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or “not totally an ’80s kid, but you did get to experience some very cool ’80s kids things” without showing your results to Internet friends, getting them to play along, and having adorable reactions to one another’s results.

Not always, though. BuzzFeed recently invited users to check off advantages and disadvantages from a list to find out how “privileged” they were. The quiz told me I was “not privileged at all” — which shocked me, because I’m white, male, and have a roof over my head, which I imagine puts me at the apex of privilege in global terms, despite the “intersectional, complicated identity” BuzzFeed perceived as a mitigating circumstance. If an impoverished, unemployed immigrant becomes less complicated, does his social standing rise? And where I had quickly dismissed those other quizzes, I thought about this one: About why the result had surprised me, why the idea of privilege should be fungible when human needs are not, the times in my life when my privilege had dropped, risen, or bailed me out, whether privilege obligated me toward people who didn’t have it, and so on. So while the result is absurd, for me at least the testing experience was not. I don’t think this is a sign that Internet quizzes are improving. I think it’s a reminder that any little, silly thing can be an opportunity for self-examination if you let it. And this is a result worth sharing with your friends.

Roy Edroso is a writer and a columnist at The Village Voice. He blogs at alicublog and tweets here.

philippines flag

Mira Rapp-Hooper, Council on Foreign Relations Fellow, explains the US-Philippines accord

2paragraphs: President Obama will visit the Philippines this month, where he is expected to sign an agreement on US-Philippine defense cooperation. The agreement is part of the administration’s Asia “re-balancing” in the face of China’s growing power, and comes just as China’s defense minister is calling on the US to “restrain” its allies in the region. Americans tend to consider China more of an economic threat than a military one: what is the American goal of a “rebalanced” Asia? And how important to this is a larger American presence in the South China Sea?

Mira Rapp-Hooper: The goal of the “rebalance” is to broaden US cooperation with Asia, with the aim of contributing to stability, peace, and prosperity in the region. When it was announced in 2011, the “Pivot” – a geostrategic shift in emphasis as opposed to an abrupt policy change– became associated with a stronger US military presence because it included a new, but actually very modest, Marine deployment to Darwin, Australia. The rebalance, however, was always intended to be a whole-of-government approach that fosters deeper American engagement in the region after a decade in which US foreign policy had been heavily focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. It has included, for example, economic initiatives like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and diplomatic efforts like increased cooperation with ASEAN.

The US-Philippines agreement contributes to the rebalance because it encourages intra-alliance cooperation that may actually make conflict in the South China Sea less likely. Despite the fact that the two countries have had a defensive alliance since 1951, the United States has not maintained a permanent military presence in the Philippines since the early 1990s. The Philippines does not have a strong indigenous navy, and has been challenged by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea several times in recent years. Because the United States aims to cooperate with China as well as its East Asian allies, it does not take a position on sovereignty disputes like the Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea. But if the US is to maintain this neutral stance, the Philippines will have to have the independent capabilities and training necessary to resist coercion at sea. Improved surveillance, training with the US military, and funding for new ships will make for a more capable Philippine military, making it less likely that the United States is drawn into a conflict on its ally’s behalf. The US presence in the Philippines will also provide reassurance to Manila, which may, in turn, encourage restraint. Thus far, the Philippines has acted responsibly in its disputes with China, submitting its maritime claims for international arbitration. The United States and the Philippines have also expanded alliance cooperation on non-traditional security and economic issues.  Americans may be most concerned about China as an economic threat. But close trade ties between Beijing and Washington mean that the greatest threat to either party is conflict in the region. Recent developments in the US-Philippines alliance, and the rebalance more broadly, are multidimensional efforts to ensure that this does not come to pass.

Mira Rapp-Hooper is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Her expertise includes nuclear weapons policy and strategy, alliance politics, security issues in East Asia, and nuclear nonproliferation.

show

The most extraordinary thing about Stephen Colbert’s 9-year run as the fictional, conservative host of a Bill O’Reilly-inspired satire was Colbert’s acting. Sure, there were occasional moments when his character’s sublime bravado and buffoonery lapsed–and he’d end up singing a song with Julie Andrews. But the great thing about watching The Colbert Report consistently was seeing an airtight impersonation by a consummate performer, one who could trade wits with Nobel Prize-winning economists and cosmic astrophysicists without ever coming out of character. A monologue is one thing, but to remain in character throughout interviews with some of the smartest people on the planet–to prick and pummel, joke and jab, without ever betraying his character’s bone-deep belief in American Exceptionalism–that was the beauty, the art. Captured spies can usually respond to any question appropriately in their adopted language–they are caught only when asked to perform an exercise that requires arithmetic. We count in our original language. Something similar can be said of actors: good ones can stay in character through most any plotted scenario, but only great ones can inhabit their characters so deeply that they can conduct interviews using that persona. And not just be interviewed, but conduct interviews. Conversation, the off-the-cuff back and forth, is the arithmetic of acting. And the Stephen Colbert who played Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report was a master at it. Having him leave now to host The Late Show–where he’ll presumably play a version of himself, rather than this exquisite pastiche of Sean Hannity/O’Reilly/Glenn Beck/et al–is a tremendous loss.

This question remains, though no one’s talking about it yet: will the Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report be played by someone else? Presumably the character and the show are, at least in part, the intellectual property of the producers and Comedy Central. And they’ve invested a lot in making the name a valuable television entity. Will it become, for instance, The Colbert Report with Andy Samberg? And will Samberg play the character named Stephen Colbert–the one currently being played by Stephen Colbert? Isn’t the character too good to discontinue just because the man who–as they say in the biz–originated the role chose to leave it? It’ll be interesting to see. Because people love the character that Stephen Colbert created. They might even love the character if it’s inhabited by somebody else. You know sometimes in TV they kill off a character and replace him with another one–just ask Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher. And then other times they just slide in another actor–James Bond knows this, and so did Darren on Bewitched. They might take The Colbert Report to Broadway too, where the same character is routinely played by somebody new with each revival. Whether Colbert Nation–that SuperPAC-launching legion of dedicated fans–belongs to the character and show, or to the man who played him, we’ll soon find out.