July 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Will It Be Portman? : The Ohio senator's presser feeds the buzz. (Robert Costa, 7/09/12, National Review)

 It took Rob Portman five years to graduate from Dartmouth College. He switched majors twice, and he was rarely a habituĂ© of Baker Memorial Library. Instead, Portman was a devoted outdoorsman. He spent hours on the slopes and even more on the water. For the skinny, long-haired teenager from Cincinnati, the Connecticut River's strong currents were a refreshing diversion from Ivy League academia. The river's rapids were also a training course. By 1977, Portman's third year, he and some friends won a grant to kayak the entire length of the Rio Grande, from its source in southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. They packed their bags, left Hanover, N.H., and headed west. For the next six months, Portman paddled, huddled with locals in off-the-grid Texas towns, and generally lived the life of a frugal nomad. He also perfected his Spanish, which he still speaks fluently. Portman eventually graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology, but as he told me earlier this year, his best times were on a boat.

Portman, now a freshman Republican senator from Ohio, returned to the Connecticut River this past Saturday. He spent much of the day in a canoe, gliding past his old haunts. The official reason for the summer visit to his alma mater was familial: His 17-year-old daughter, Sally, was taking a tour of the school, one of four colleges she visited over the weekend. Yet this afternoon on the river was more than a jaunt down memory lane. It was, as ever, a fresh-air escape, this time from another sort of stuffiness: the vice-presidential sweepstakes. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


The Post-Employee Economy: Why Sky-High Profits Are Here to Stay : The end of the age of consumption and the decreasing need for labor are more related than you think (Conor Sen, 7/09/12, The Atlantic)

The role of the duel forces of capital and technology is to make us more productive, to allow us to do things that labor alone can't do, or to do them more efficiently. And they've done a good job. Since 1975, in the US manufacturing sector, hours worked have fallen by 30% (blue line, left axis) while output has risen by 170% (red line, right axis).

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The New Textualists' Finest Hour? : The New Textualists found a receptive audience in the separate opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg and joined, mostly, by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. (Michael M. Rosen, June 28, 2012, American)

Philosophically, to grossly oversimplify, Originalists hew closely to the meaning of constitutional and statutory provisions as understood when written into law, while Living Constitutionalists believe our founding document must adapt with the times and accommodate contemporary developments, while remaining true to its spirit.

In baseball terms, Originalists are National Leaguers who insist on the tradition of pitchers picking up a bat, while Living Constitutionalists prefer the American League and its designated-hitter rule, which complies more fully with the current slugging-happy zeitgeist.

Yet, as Originalists came to dominate the conversation, at least in constitutional terms, a new school of liberal legal thinking began to emerge. After all, folks like Amar and Balkin reasoned, if legal conservatives could unearth and embrace, say, the rationale underlying passage of the Second Amendment in the service of enforcing gun owners' rights, why couldn't legal liberals do the same for, say, the Fourteenth Amendment and affirmative action?

"That's a ground on which political liberals can proudly stand," Amar says, "precisely because nearly every patch of constitutional text came from four generational spurts in which [members of] the prevailing group were the liberal nationalist egalitarians of their day: the Founders, the Reconstruction Republicans, the early twentieth-century progressives, and the 1960s racial reformers."

Amar, in particular, revived the spirit of liberal Justice Hugo Black, one of the original Originalists, albeit from the Left, in an effort to reclaim text-faithful interpretations from the conservatives.

This tendency was on fine display in the ObamaCare debate, where Amar--fictionally standing in for Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued the case before the Court on behalf of the administration--urged the justices to consult the Constitution's "text, its history, and its structure as glossed by subsequent practice and precedent." Responding to the conservative argument that a mandate to purchase health insurance could result in a mandate to eat broccoli, Amar cited an older mandate to buy... muskets: "The Militia Act of 1792 had a similar mandate, obliging Founding-era Americans to privately procure muskets, ammo, pouches, and so on," Amar observed. "George Washington signed onto that law. And no one at the time said that mandates such as this were somehow intrinsically improper regulatory tools."

Similarly, Elhauge, in a Daily Beast piece entitled "Don't Blame Verrilli for Supreme Court Stumble," urged legal liberals to more "squarely attack the challengers' framing of the case," citing a 1790 law "requiring shipowners to buy medical insurance for seamen" and a 1798 statute "requiring seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves." Root the arguments in precedent, Elhauge contended, and you might just convince a few of the swing justices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


July 4th Question, Part III: Americans Revolt Billions of Times a Day (Jerry Bowyer, 7/08/12, Forbes)

Alexis De Tocqueville once said that the limits placed on the central power in the new world are different from the limits placed on national power in the old world. In the New World, the national government has jurisdiction in certain specific areas. It is prohibited by law and custom from transgressing the boundaries of its jurisdiction. In that sense its power is severely limited. But within those boundaries it is sovereign and almost completely beyond challenge. If something such as war or taxing power  is deemed a 'federal matter,' challenges to that power, for example the Whiskey Rebellion, were historically rare and suppressed mercilessly when they did occur.

On the other hand, Tocqueville says, the Old World functioned quite differently. The monarchs tended to be in constant conflict with other political powers regarding proper jurisdiction. The crown and the aristocracy and the colonies and provinces were engaged in an eternal game of tug of war, with each citing their own interpretation of law and custom to attempt to limit the jurisdiction of the others. Tocqueville observed that the limits to the powers of the central government in that case were largely imposed by the practical limits of enforcement. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Europe Burns Coal Fastest Since 2006 in Boost for U.S. (Rakteem Katakey, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Rachel Morison, July 03, 2012, Business Week)

Europe is burning coal at the fastest pace since 2006, as surging imports from U.S. producers such as Arch Coal Inc. (ACI) (ACI) helped cut prices 26 percent in a year and benefited European power companies including EON AG.

Demand for coal, the dirtiest fuel for making electricity, grew 3.3 percent last year in Europe while sales of less- polluting natural gas fell 2.1 percent, the steepest drop since 2009, according to a BP Plc report. Germany's EON and RWE AG (RWE), the biggest utilities in Europe's largest power market, are considering shutting unprofitable gas-fired plants even as Chancellor Angela Merkel promotes gas to replace nuclear energy.

Europe's higher coal use defies its policies to penalize carbon emissions and is based on profit margins climbing to a two-and-a-half year high for coal-burning power stations, data compiled by Bloomberg Industries show. Cheaper coal was made possible partly by a 49 percent jump in first-quarter imports from the U.S., Energy Information Administration data show.

"Coal will continue to remain on the money in Europe because it's more competitive to burn than gas," said Trevor Sikorski, an analyst at Barclays Plc in London. "More and more of the coal to Europe will come from the U.S. where just the opposite is happening."

Thanks to the explosion of shale drilling, natural gas futures have fallen about 34 percent in 12 months in New York, pushing utilities to combust more gas and rely less on coal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Saudi Arabia's policy shift toward India helps nab terror suspects (Rama Lakshmi, 7/06/12, Washington Post)

Last week, Saudi Arabia deported an Indian accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, including six Americans. At the same time, news came that Riyadh is likely to deport another accused terrorist to India in the next few weeks.

The shift in Saudi policy toward India is part of the kingdom's broader foreign policy makeover since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, analysts say.

"This deportation is really a first, and it signals Saudi Arabia's changing attitude toward India as much as it also signals the internal changes in Saudi society," said K.C. Singh, a former Indian diplomat. "It coincides with India aligning itself with American interests and India's cautious distancing from Iran."

Saudi Arabia also gives India a gateway to the entire Arab region, where it has little influence, compared with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia can assist India in its quest for energy in the region, improve its access to trading partners and help it address radicalism among Indian Muslims who migrate to the Middle East for lucrative work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Is crazy the new normal? : We are at risk of turning everyday struggles into illnesses, according to prominent U.S. psychiatrist, Allen Frances. (Ola Jachtorowicz, 7/09/12, Cosmos Online)

The extraordinarily popular DSM-III was revised in 1987. But, by the late 80s, enough new data had been accumulated that a new version was needed. Dr Allen Frances, then chair of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine in the US, was chosen to head the DSM-IV task force. The six-year effort involved over 1000 individuals, required extensive review of existing research and field trials of any changes before being published in 1994. But today Frances wonders whether these measures were enough. Rates of mental illness, particularly ADHD and autism, have skyrocketed since the 1990s and Frances believes that the DSM-IV - which has become one of the most widely used texts in psychiatry - is party to blame.

Instead of inadequately treating those who most need assistance, he wonders, are we now spending time and resources treating those who don't need help at all?

THERE HAVE BEEN SEVERAL studies showing rapid increases in diagnoses worldwide, explains Frances, now an emeritus professor at Duke. A 2010 study reported in Psychological Medicine, for example, followed a cohort from Dunedin, New Zealand, and found that half reported at least one anxiety disorder by the age of 32.

A similar study done by Frances' colleagues at Duke University, epidemiologists E. Jane Costello and Adrian Angold, and published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, tested young people for symptoms several times between the ages of 9 and 21. They found that 83% of participants had met criteria for a disorder by 21.

"Either the criteria are way too loose and we're including people who have the normal aches and pains of growing up," says Frances, "or everyone's real sick."

Frances outlines the rapid cycling of diagnostic fads in psychiatry, his own view being that while labels and labellers may change, human nature doesn't. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


China approaches a defining moment (Rogier Creemers, 6 July 2012, OpenDemocracy)

The problem facing the Party now is that different aspects of this model seem to be running out of steam. China's economic growth, for example, has been fuelled by export and investment. Enormous quantities of money have been shifted from private wealth, particularly savings, to large, mostly State-owned enterprises, in an effort to cushion the impact of market liberalization. This has avoided the economic catastrophe that happened after the Russian "shock therapy", but also created a new class of officials and SOE managers that grew tremendously wealthy off graft and corruption. As a result, Chinese household wealth remains relatively low, and the nearly non-existent social safety net further reduced incentives to spend. As the ongoing economic malaise in the United States and Europe dampens demand for Chinese products, it is clear that further growth needs to be fuelled by increase in domestic consumption.

Also, China is faced by economic challenges it created itself, in terms of inflationary pressure on commodities, but also matters such as environmental pollution. The voracious appetite of the Chinese economic machine has raised commodity prices across the board, causing inflation inside the country. The increasing use of cars causes traffic gridlock and severe environmental pollution in the larger cities, which themselves grow at breakneck pace. Growing meat consumption is straining Chinese agriculture. The speed at which new infrastructure is constructed, and the concomitant corruption, has led to quality and safety issues. There are significant amounts of bad investments, aimed at artificially boosting GDP numbers and local employment.

Most importantly, maintaining high levels of growth itself is becoming more difficult. While China's double-digit performance is hailed as an economic miracle, it is easy to forget that China started from an extremely low base, which was to no small extent caused by the disastrous economic policies that were implemented between 1949 and 1979. Enormous gains could be made with simple measures, such as permitting farmers to sell some of their surplus produce on open markets, introducing financial incentive systems into enterprises and permitting foreign trade. The establishment of basic legal and regulatory structures went relatively rapidly in the beginning, but there's a difference between recognizing the necessity of a patent system to incentivize innovative activities, and dealing with the enormous technological and legal complexities that operating a patent system in the twenty-first century entails. Also, the external conditions for Chinese growth were beneficial. Particularly after the end of the Cold War, the new impetus for international trade enabled China to grow swiftly through exports to the developed world, which at that time had the capacity to absorb this influx of cheaper goods. Now, China will need new consumers to support further growth of their manufacturing capacity, either at home or abroad. In other words, the low-hanging fruits for China's economic development have been picked, and further economic development will become more arduous and less susceptible to centralized policy-making.

At the same time, the political model advocated by Deng is showing cracks as well. First and foremost, the next generation of leaders will be the first not to have been hand-picked by revolutionary Communists. Hu Jintao's ascendancy was marked as Deng ensured a place for him on the Standing Committee of the Politburo in 1992, as the second youngest member ever. Hu had come to Deng's eye because of his managerial skills, but also his determined actions in putting down an uprising in Tibet, where he was party secretary, a few months before the Tiananmen incident. This new generation lacks that blessing, and the resulting political strife. Second, Deng's model of collective leadership is threatened by economic diversification. In the Nineties it was possible to have the rising tides lift all boats, as the economy was much more homogenous, meaning that simpler policies could have broader effects. Now, economic policymaking, by necessity, is becoming more of a balancing exercise between different interests. China's goal to move up the value chain, for example, is now pushing lower value-added manufacturing into other Asian countries. However, these tend to be labour-intensive industries, and their departure may have a significant impact on employment. Inflation is an ever-present threat, with strong political repercussions in a country where most people rely on personal savings for pensions, in the absence of a stronger social safety net.

As a result, Chinese society is rapidly becoming more pluralized, as far as economic interests go, but this pluralisation is not reflected in politics. The enormous popularity of the recently ousted Bo Xilai, indicates that Chinese citizens might welcome a more open political debate. However, pluralized politics would strike against the very notion of collective leadership. Third, Deng advocated control over the public debate in order to maintain social stability. The Internet, however, has vastly increased the potential for citizens to communicate and organize outside of the official purview, raising the stakes in the control game. The Chinese government itself has spent enormous resources in policing the Internet, but has increasingly made websites and other service providers responsible for content inspection. This in turn greatly inhibits the development of commercial Internet activities, and may be a brake on further economic development. Development is a complex affair, and it may be true that the recipes that brought China to the position where it is now, may effectively be hindering its future path, something that is called the "middle income trap".

Resistance to democracy, capitalism and protestantism is not avoidance.