July 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Move over : Falling labour mobility in America may reflect a more efficient market (The Economist, Jul 7th 2012)

Reduced mobility largely reflects two shifts in the nature of economic activity.

The first is that the mix of jobs offered in different parts of America has become more uniform. The authors compute an index of occupational segregation, which compares the composition of employment in individual places with the national profile. Over time, their figures show, employment in individual markets has come to resemble more closely that in the nation as a whole.

This homogenisation reflects the rising importance of "non-tradable" work. As the name suggests, non-tradable goods and services are not traded across long distances. Californian dentists tend not to clean Floridian teeth; every city has its own dentists. Cars, by contrast, are tradable, so not every state has its own car plant. Recent research by Michael Spence and Sandile Hlatshwayo of New York University's Stern School of Business found that 98% of employment growth between 1990 and 2008 occurred in non-tradable industries. Education and health-care jobs now account for 15% of employment, up from less than 10% in 1990. With more of the country's employment mix present in each state, it is less necessary to move to find work.

Yet a more uniform job distribution alone cannot account for falling mobility. As Messrs Kaplan and Schulhofer-Wohl point out, mobility has fallen for manufacturers, where jobs are more dispersed, as well as for service-sector workers. What is more, if workers know that they can find jobs they want in different places, they may become more willing to move for other reasons--to be by the coast, for example, or to savour a particular music scene. Yet survey data reveal that moves for these other reasons have not risen. The authors suggest another force is also reducing migration: the plummeting cost of information.

Young workers in particular used to have to move to gather information: to see whether they could stand a Boston winter, say, or cared enough about the Californian climate to pay Californian rents. In recent decades, however, it has become much easier to learn about places without moving house. Deregulated airlines and innovative online-travel services have slashed travel costs, allowing people to visit and assess different markets without moving. The web makes it vastly easier to study every aspect of a potential new home, from the quality of its apartment stock to the surliness of its baristas, all without leaving home. Falling mobility isn't simply caused by labour-market homogenisation, the authors argue, but also by greater efficiency. People are able to find the right job in the ideal city in fewer hops than before.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


In Defense of John Roberts (Carson Holloway, July 11, 2012, Public Discourse)

One need not agree with what Roberts did to find this line of criticism vastly overblown. Moreover, to allow the criticism to go unchallenged is to allow the undermining of the conservative movement's credibility in calling for a non-political judiciary. [...]

What, then, of Roberts's vote and opinion in the health-care case? While one need not agree with it, and while the conservative disappointment over it is certainly understandable, it is not the sorry performance that Roberts's most rabid critics pretend. That is, despite the rage of the conservative commentariat, Roberts's argument is one that could have been made by a conservative jurist seeking to adhere to a properly deferential posture toward the elected branches of government.

Considerable ire has been directed at Roberts not only because of what he did, but because of the way he did it. He concluded, to the approval of conservatives, that the individual mandate was unconstitutionally in excess of the commerce power, but then turned around and argued that it could be upheld under the taxing power of the federal government. Thus, his critics complain, he authorized the provision under the auspices of one power when the government had justified it principally under the auspices of another power. But what of that? Are conservatives--who claim to favor judicial restraint and deference to the elected branches out of respect for democratic self-government--to commit themselves to the position that the Court should strike down laws that are within the government's authority merely because the government invoked the wrong grant of power when it wrote or defended the law? Perhaps this would be justifiable in some cases, but declining to do so is hardly outside the bounds of judicial restraint traditionally understood.

In The Civil Rights Cases (1883), the Supreme Court struck down some provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The provisions in question prohibited racial discrimination in "public accommodations"--theaters, inns, and the like. The Court found the law unconstitutional because it had been passed pursuant to Congress's authority to enforce the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, but, the Court noted, the Fourteenth Amendment only prohibits racial discrimination carried on by states, not private businesses. In his dissenting opinion, John Marshall Harlan pointed out that the Court might have upheld at least those parts of the act that regulated interstate commerce. He asked: "Has it ever been held that the judiciary should overturn a statute because the legislative department did not accurately recite therein the particular provision of the constitution authorizing its enactment?" In acting much like Harlan, Roberts may have erred, but he surely was not on totally indefensible ground.  Indeed, as Joel Alicea just noted in Public Discourse, until recently many conservatives would have taken Harlan as a model of commendable judicial restraint.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


A Life-Death Predictor Adds to a Cancer's Strain (Gina Kolata, 7/10/12,  The New York Times)

Doctors try to give survival odds based on a tumor's appearance and size, but often that is just an educated guess.

But Ms. Caton had a new option, something that became possible only in this new genetic age. She could have a genetic test of her tumor that could reveal her prognosis with uncanny precision. The test identifies one of two gene patterns in eye melanomas. Almost everyone in Class 1 -- roughly half of patients -- is cured when the tumor is removed. As for those in Class 2, 70 to 80 percent will die within five years. Their cancers will re-emerge as growths in the liver. For them, there is no cure and no way to slow the disease.

No test has ever been so accurate in predicting cancer outcomes, researchers said.

The data from studies of the test are "unbelievably impressive," said Dr. Michael Birrer, an ovarian cancer specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "I would die to have something like that in ovarian cancer."

While for now the ocular melanoma test is in a class by itself, cancer researchers say it is a taste of what may be coming as they continue to investigate the genes of cancer cells. Similar tests, not always as definitive but nonetheless able to give prognostic information, are under development or starting to be used for other cancers, like cancers of the blood.

Having a prognosis allows people to plan their lives, but most do not want to know if they have a gene for an incurable, fatal illness, like Huntington's disease or early onset Alzheimer's.

The eye test raises a similar choice, with an added twist. This is not a test offered to healthy people, but to patients who have just gotten the news that they have cancer. The results will either give them reassurance that they will survive the cancer -- or near certainty that they will die from it.

Can patients in the throes of getting this terrifying news really make an informed choice about whether they want the test? Are they able to understand at such a fraught time that, for now at least, there is nothing that can save them if they get the bad prognosis?

Some doctors do not offer the test, reasoning that there is little to be gained.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Rob Portman: Comprehensive tax reform, not Bush-era tax cuts, should be focus of debate (Felicia Sonmez, 07/10/2012, Washington Post)

In a speech to the Associated Builders and Contractors legislative conference in Washington on Tuesday, Portman said that the debate ought to be focused on comprehensive tax reform rather than on the Bush-era tax cuts.
The speech came as President Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Iowa, renewed his call for Congress to extend the tax cuts on income of $250,000 and less.

"Look, I think we ought to reform the whole tax code," Portman said, according to a transcript of the speech. "We shouldn't be debating whether to deal with the current code by allowing it to be extended or not. We should have a president who shows leadership and comes to Congress and says: 'You know what? We need to reform this whole tax code.'‚ÄČ"

He also told the crowd: "The tax code is now nine times longer than the Bible, and not nearly as interesting."

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Firms Sustain Investment in U.S. (NEIL SHAH, 7/10/12, WSJ)

Companies around the world are on track to increase their investments in the U.S. during 2012, according to a report Thursday by the United Nations. [...]

[T]he U.S.--the world's most popular destination for capital--is becoming more appealing relative to other economies. Foreign investment into China--the second-most-popular destination--grew around 8% in 2011 from the previous year, to $124 billion, compared with the U.S.'s 15% gain.

"The prospects for the U.S. are much better," says James Zhan, team leader of UNCTAD's World Investment Report. "The U.S. economy is still much better than other developed economies, so it's still attractive. We have seen a lot of FDI also into the manufacturing sector."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Despite Bain Attacks, Obama Still Struggling (Josh Kraushaar, July 10, 2012, National Journal)

For all the attention paid to the effectiveness of President Obama's Bain-themed attacks, it's remarkable how Obama has been stuck right around 47 percent for a very long time.  As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza documented, the president's team has handily outspent Romney and his allied super PACs, pouring in $91 million into eight swing states in an early spending barrage intended to make Romney seem an unacceptable challenger.  But for all that effort, the numbers haven't moved much at all: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows the race deadlocked at 47 percent. Yesterday's USA Today/Gallup swing state poll showed Obama statistically tied with Romney, the exact same result the survey showed one month ago. 

...the bigger problem is that you're wasting time and money to explain a scandal that isn't one, 4 Pinocchios for Obama's newest anti-Romney ad (Glenn Kessler at 06:00 AM ET, 06/21/2012, Washington Post):

 The phrase "corporate raider" has a particular meaning in the world of finance. Here's the definition on Investopedia:

"An investor who buys a large number of shares in a corporation whose assets appear to be undervalued. The large share purchase would give the corporate raider significant voting rights, which could then be used to push changes in the company's leadership  and management. This would increase share value and thus generate a massive return for the raider."

In other words, this is generally an adversarial stance, in which an investor sees an undervalued asset and forces management to spin off assets, take the company private or break it up.

 In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered renowned corporate raiders such as Carl Icahn and his ilk. We also have closely studied Bain Capital and can find no examples that come close to this situation; its deals were done in close association with management. Indeed, Bain generally held onto its investments for four or five years, in contrast to the quick bust-em-ups of real corporate raiders. So calling Romney a "corporate raider" is a real stretch.

 So how does the Obama campaign justify this phrase? It cites a single Reuters story from last August, about a campaign stop in New Hampshire, written by a stringer. Buried in the article is a reference to Romney as a "former corporate raider."

 "Reuters typically refers to Romney as a 'former private equity executive' or something along those lines," said Ros Krasny, the Boston bureau chief.  "Of the hundreds of times we have referenced Romney over the past year or more, honestly, that example from [the stringer] must have just slipped through the net -- 10 months ago.

 A better source for Romney's behavior as an investor might be someone who actually worked on Wall Street, such as former Obama auto czar Steven Rattner. "Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path," Rattner wrote in Politico this year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Armor on the Field: The NFL's Headlong Race to Build the Unbreakable Linebacker (Sean Conboy, July 9, 2012, Wired)

Rob Vito stood at the front of a hotel conference room in Phoenix one day last August, a custom Kevlar vest strapped over his blue dress shirt. Vito is a large man, and the shiny black suit of armor strained to cover his belly. But he wasn't concerned about fashion, or even looking good. He had a point to make, and wanted to make it with flair.

He raised a carbon-fiber hockey stick over his head, looked out over the 150 or so members of the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society gathered before him and challenged any one of them to whack him with it.

A murmur went through the crowd. People looked at each other. These were professional trainers, and they knew what a shot to the gut could do to a man. But Vito had just spent 10 minutes telling anyone in shouting distance that Kevlar is a miracle material capable of stopping a .44 caliber bullet. Finally, two members of the Edmonton Oilers training staff took the bait.

"Are you serious?" one of them asked from the middle of the room.

"Dead serious," Vito replied, waving the stick as if to taunt them. "I want you to hit me with this hockey stick as hard as you can."

One of the men stepped up and hit Vito with a tepid cross-check. Vito didn't flinch. "Come on," he barked. "Harder." The trainer obliged, hitting Vito so hard the stick nearly snapped in two. Vito's belly shook and quaked as he doubled over. The crowd gasped. But after hamming it up a moment, Vito stood up and roared with laughter.

"Is that all you've got?" he asked the trainer. "No wonder you guys lose so much."

The room erupted with laughter, but the trainers from Edmonton were all business. They placed an order for Vito's Kevlar pads on the spot.

Vito has been taking a lot of orders lately. He's the charismatic CEO of Unequal Technologies, a Philadelphia company that manufactures military-grade Kevlar padding for sports equipment. Since 2010, Vito has been touting Kevlar as the best shock-suppression material in the world and boasting that his patented "EXO Skeleton CRT" -- CRT for "concussion reduction technology" -- absorbs as much as a quarter of the force a player takes to the head or chest, significantly reducing the risk of injury.

"If Kevlar can stop a bullet, it can damn sure stop a blitz," Vito told Wired.

Over the past year, his pitch has convinced more than 20 NFL and NHL teams to use his pads in their equipment. Two dozen professional players are using EXO Skeleton CRT pads in their helmets, and more than 100 are wearing it in shoulder pads, elbow pads and other gear. As the NHL and NFL grapple with an epidemic of concussions, Kevlar-reinforced helmets are increasingly viewed as a magic bullet. The technology is proving particularly attractive to players who have sustained head trauma and desperately want to keep playing. And later this summer, Vito plans to take his product mainstream, unveiling a multi-million dollar advertising campaign aimed at the hundreds of thousands of youth league players around the U.S.

But in the rush to make their players unbreakable, pro teams aren't asking many questions of Vito beyond how quickly he can do the job. Neurologists intimately familiar with sports-related concussions warn that there is no scientific evidence that Kevlar can reduce the risk of head trauma. Worse, they fear the pads could make the problem worse by masking symptoms. The leagues have yet to independently test the effects of Kevlar, and neurologists - including one who has treated many concussed NFL and NHL players -- expressed surprise when told it was being installed in helmets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


China's Achilles heel : A comparison with America reveals a deep flaw in China's model of growth (The Economist, Apr 21st 2012)

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


CBS broadcaster Visser aiming to guide her wurst to first (Bob Wolfley, 7/10/12,  Journal Sentinel)

Some dream of running with the bulls in Pamplona.

Others, like CBS Sports broadcaster Lesley Visser, dream of running with the sausages in Miller Park.

We don't know if Visser  is bullish about a Pamplona run, but we do know she is relishing her role in the sausage race Friday at Miller Park in the wurst way.

"I'm going to be one of the racing sausages!" Visser said in an e-mail. "Yes, do you have your breath back? Staggering for me."

Last January Visser was the keynote speaker at the annual Red Smith Banquet in Appleton. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was on the dais with Visser and the two got to talking about, as Visser put it, "the giddy glory of the sausages." Melvin said maybe there was a date that would work out.

Friday is Visser's dog day.