Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

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January 19, 2015

The Children

I don’t know how I missed this David Halberstam book when it came out. The Children is the story of the young early leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, all those not named Martin Luther King. Halberstam is one of our great historians. And the largely unsung heroes in this tale deserve better recognition. It is a book you would want your children to read in order to better understand our nation’s history, and how messy real social change often is.

January 15, 2015

I Absolutely Love This Idea

Crowd-sourcing (think Yelp, TripAdvisor etc.) comes to economic forecasting!  The Good Judgment Project is a bold attempt to harness the “wisdom of crowds” as a more reliable predictor of future economic and geo-political events than expert forecasters.  I am really excited by this development.  University of Pennsylvania’s Philip Tetlock who brilliantly took on the failings of “expert” political judgement with his book of the same name, is behind the project.

January 10, 2015

Sharpening Contradictions

Historian Juan Cole was one of my must-reads in the wake of 9/11.  Had more of us paid attention to Professor Cole’s line of thought regarding what al Queda was trying to accomplish, the US might have been saved going to war in Iraq.

In response to the gruesome murders in Paris, Cole offers this analysis Sharpening Contradictions. Much as with 9/11, this attack, Cole argues, was less an act of revenge as much as yet another attempt to horrify and to provoke.   What could be a better recruitment tool to rally the vast and largely disinterested Muslim world to their cause than goading the West into taking violent and indiscriminate measures against Muslim populations and countries. These are classic agit-prop tactics, employed to great effect by Stalin during the Russian Revolution, and revolutionaries of all stripes since. See the classic film The Battle of Algiers.

Time will tell whether the recent atrocities in Paris provoke a further and violent tilt to the extremist right parties in France and other European nations.

January 7, 2015

A Sad Day for Literary Freedoms


Place de la Republique, Paris. Photo by Youssef Boudlal/Reuters


December 19, 2014

ABLE Accounts – Congress Agrees on Something

ABLE Accounts, which are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families, will be created as a result of the passage of the ABLE Act of 2014. Income earned by the accounts would not be taxed. Contributions to the account made by any person (the account beneficiary, family and friends) would not be tax deductible.

For anyone with a disabled family member or loved one, this is a huge step forward.  Envisioned as a variation on 529 college-savings plans, these accounts should make life simpler for those facing the enormous financial challenges of providing for a lifetime of support for a disabled person. The ABLE law specifies these accounts are for those persons with “significant” disabilities and with onset of disability prior to age 26. Annual contributions will be capped at $14,000.

Passed almost unanimously by both houses of Congress, the bill goes to the President for his signature. Look for implementation sometime in 2015.

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