July 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Behind the Economic Pessimism (Robert Samuelson - July 30, 2012, Washington Post)

 It is an index of fear. Last week, interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds fell to 1.4 percent. This was the lowest on record and less than present or expected inflation (generally 2 percent to 3 percent). On 30-year Treasuries, rates have tumbled to 2.5 percent. The investors piling into Treasuries and driving rates down aren't buying risky stocks or using their cash to expand businesses. They're protecting themselves against unknowns. The question is whether the resulting plunge of rates signals something more ominous: renewed recession, deflation or both.

...and strong debt sales and domestic deflation follow.
Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Scalia stuns Identity Conservatives: says guns can be regulated (KEVIN KERVICK, 7/29/12, Examiner)

In a shocking statement made this morning on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said he believes the U.S. Constitution allows states to regulate firearms. In a response to a question about the Second Amendment from Wallace, Scalia said the following:

... there were legal precedents from the days of the Founding Fathers that banned some weapons. There were also "locational limitations" on where weapons could be carried. --They had some limitations on the nature of arms that could be borne.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Abortion insanity prevails in Arizona : A Clinton-appointed judge in Arizona buys suspect science and deals a huge blow to abortion rights (IRIN CARMON, 7/30/12, Salon)

It turns out that Judge James Teilborg's harangue of a lawyer from the bench about her allegedly insufficient compassion for the unborn was indeed a sign of what was to come: The Clinton-appointed district court judge in Arizona just did something, well, unprecedented. He upheld Arizona's ban on abortions after 20 weeks, claiming it didn't actually "ban" abortions before viability, it just "regulates" them down to the most grueling emergencies.

Worse, Teilborg even regurgitated the suspect science of "fetal pain," a first in the federal courts, though his decision was based on the contorted "regulation" versus "ban" finding. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the state can only ban abortions after viability, regardless of the rationale, but Teilborg found that Arizona's H.B. 2036 "does not impose a substantial obstacle to previability abortions," because a woman can still get an abortion after 20 weeks if she's about to die or suffer major physical impairment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Carbon tax gets unusual support (Steve Hargreaves, 7/30/12, CNNMoney)

While the carbon tax plan is drawing attention now, the idea itself is not new in conservative circles.

For example, a 2007 paper published by the American Enterprise Institute, an influential conservative group, argued that a carbon tax would be preferable to other ways of reducing greenhouse gases such as mandatory emission limits.

One of the authors was Kevin Hassett, now an adviser to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. A spokesman for Hassett said he was unavailable for comment. A Romney campaign spokeswoman said the candidate does not support such a tax, saying it would push jobs overseas.

But Inglis and others like the idea because it would let cleaner forms of energy compete with dirtier forms without the need for the complicated mandates and tax breaks that currently support renewable energy.

It could also supersede pending greenhouse gas regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency -- something the business community and politicians of all stripes are leery of but which the courts say the agency must carry out.

While no current Republican lawmaker is thought to support the plan, other influential Republicans are on board.

"We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs," President Reagan's former Secretary of State George Shultz said in a recent interview with Stanford University News. Shultz now heads a task force at Stanford that is currently studying the feasibility of a carbon tax.

For Shultz there are many reasons to support such a tax. One is making fossil fuel energy sources absorb costs that are currently borne out by society at large, such as through higher health insurance premiums or Medicare bills caused by pollution-induced diseases.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Americans Want Next President to Prioritize Jobs, Corruption : Lowest priorities are taxing wealthy and environmental problems (Jeffrey M. Jones, 7/30/12, Gallup)

Creating good jobs, reducing corruption in the federal government, and reducing the federal budget deficit score highest when Americans rate 12 issues as priorities for the next president to address. Americans assign much less importance to increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and dealing with environmental concerns.

Next, how important a priority should each of the following issues be for the next president -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not that important. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]? July 2012 results

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


tUnE-yArDs, Live In Concert: Newport Folk Festival 2012 (July 30, 2012

tUnE-yArDs' strange, joyous concoction is wild, rhythmic, layered and swirling with surprises. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


FUSSBUDGET : How Paul Ryan captured the G.O.P. (Ryan Lizza, AUGUST 6, 2012, The New Yorker)

As much as he relished the battle against Obama--"European," he repeated, with some gusto--his real fight was for the ideological identity of the Republican Party, and with colleagues who were content to simply criticize the White House. "If you're going to criticize, then you should propose," he told me. A fault line divided the older and more cautious Republican leaders from the younger, more ideological members. Ryan was, and remains, the leader of the attack-and-propose faction.

"I think you're obligated to do that," he said. "People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, 'Just criticize and don't do anything and let's win by default.' That's ridiculous." He said he was "moving ahead without them. They don't want to produce alternatives? That's not going to stop me from producing an alternative."

Ryan's long-range plan was straightforward: to create a detailed alternative to Obama's budget and persuade his party to embrace it. He would start in 2009 and 2010 with House Republicans, the most conservative bloc in the Party. Then, in the months before the Presidential primaries, he would focus on the G.O.P. candidates. If the plan worked, by the fall of 2012 Obama's opponent would be running on Paul Ryan's ideas, and in 2013 a new Republican President would be signing them into law.

Sitting in his office more than three years ago, Ryan could not have foreseen how successful his crusade to reinvent the Republican Party would be. Nearly every important conservative opinion-maker and think tank has rallied around his policies. Nearly every Republican in the House and the Senate has voted in favor of some version of his budget plan. Earlier this year, the G.O.P. Presidential candidates lavished praise on Ryan and his ideas. "I'm very supportive of the Ryan budget plan," Mitt Romney said on March 20th, in Chicago. The following week, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he added, "I think it'd be marvellous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan's budget and adopt it and pass it along to the President."

To envisage what Republicans would do if they win in November, the person to understand is not necessarily Romney, who has been a policy cipher all his public life. The person to understand is Paul Ryan. [...]

For decades, policy wonks on the Republican fringes had talked about turning Social Security, the government safety-net program for retirees, into a system of private investment accounts. The architect of the movement was Peter Ferrara, a former Harvard Law School student, who, calling it "the craziest idea in the world," sold it, in 1979, to the small-government fundamentalists at the Cato Institute. (Ferrara is now at the Heartland Institute, best known for its denial of climate change.) They evangelized on behalf of the idea for more than two decades, before pushing it into mainstream Republican politics. Bush was the first Republican Presidential nominee to embrace the idea, but it wasn't a priority in his first term, which was dominated by the response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

We all know where we're headed, the past 8 years were just a costly Republican vacation from Third Way reality.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Romney Praises Israel's Universal Health Care System, Which Includes Individual Mandate (Amanda Peterson Beadle, Jul 30, 2012, Think Progress)

[D]uring his trip to Israel, Romney inadvertently praised the individual requirement and universal health care. "[F]or an American abroad, you can't get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel," he said. And according to The New York Times, Romney spoke favorably about the fact that health care makes up a much smaller amount of Israel's gross domestic product compared to the United States:

"Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the G.D.P. in Israel? Eight percent," he said. "You spend eight percent of G.D.P. on health care. You're a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our G.D.P. on health care, 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, compare that with the size of our military -- our military which is 4 percent, 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of G.D.P. We have to find ways -- not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs."

Israel spends less on health care because of a universal health system that requires everyone to have insurance. Every Israeli citizen has the obligation to purchase health care services through one of the country's four HMOs since government officials approved the National Health Insurance Law in 1995. People pay for 40 percent of their HMO's costs through income-related contributions collected through the tax system, and the state pays the remaining 60 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Inequality: Why egalitarian societies died out (Deborah Rogers, 7/30/12, New Scientist)

For tens of thousands of years, egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies were widespread. And as a large body of anthropological research shows, long before we organised ourselves into hierarchies of wealth, social status and power, these groups rigorously enforced norms that prevented any individual or group from acquiring more status, authority or resources than others.*

Decision-making was decentralised and leadership ad hoc; there weren't any chiefs. There were sporadic hot-blooded fights between individuals, of course, but there was no organised conflict between groups. Nor were there strong notions of private property and therefore any need for territorial defence. These social norms affected gender roles as well; women were important producers and relatively empowered, and marriages were typically monogamous.

Keeping the playing field level was a matter of survival. These small-scale, nomadic foraging groups didn't stock up much surplus food, and given the high-risk nature of hunting - the fact that on any given day or week you may come back empty-handed - sharing and cooperation were required to ensure everyone got enough to eat. Anyone who made a bid for higher status or attempted to take more than their share would be ridiculed or ostracised for their audacity. Suppressing our primate ancestors' dominance hierarchies by enforcing these egalitarian norms was a central adaptation of human evolution, argues social anthropologist Christopher Boehm. It enhanced cooperation and lowered risk as small, isolated bands of humans spread into new habitats and regions across the world, and was likely crucial to our survival and success.

How, then, did we arrive in the age of institutionalised inequality?  [...]

One line of reasoning suggests that self-aggrandising individuals who lived in lands of plenty ascended the social ranks by exploiting their surplus - first through feasts or gift-giving, and later by outright dominance. At the group level, argue anthropologists Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd, improved coordination and division of labour allowed more complex societies to outcompete the simpler, more equal societies. From a mechanistic perspective, others argued that once inequality took hold - as when uneven resource-distribution benefited one family more than others - it simply became ever more entrenched. The advent of agriculture and trade resulted in private property, inheritance, and larger trade networks, which perpetuated and compounded economic advantages.

It is not hard to imagine how stratification could arise, or that self-aggrandisers would succeed from time to time. But none of these theories quite explain how those aiming to dominate would have overcome egalitarian norms of nearby communities, or why the earliest hierarchical societies would stop enforcing these norms in the first place. Many theories about the spread of stratified society begin with the idea that inequality is somehow a beneficial cultural trait that imparts efficiencies, motivates innovation and increases the likelihood of survival. But what if the opposite were true?

In a demographic simulation that Omkar Deshpande, Marcus Feldman and I conducted at Stanford University, California, we found that, rather than imparting advantages to the group, unequal access to resources is inherently destabilising and greatly raises the chance of group extinction in stable environments. This was true whether we modelled inequality as a multi-tiered class society, or as what economists call a Pareto wealth distribution (see "Inequality: The physics of our finances") - in which, as with the 1 per cent, the rich get the lion's share.

Counterintuitively, the fact that inequality was so destabilising caused these societies to spread by creating an incentive to migrate in search of further resources. The rules in our simulation did not allow for migration to already-occupied locations, but it was clear that this would have happened in the real world, leading to conquests of the more stable egalitarian societies - exactly what we see as we look back in history.

In other words, inequality did not spread from group to group because it is an inherently better system for survival, but because it creates demographic instability, which drives migration and conflict and leads to the cultural - or physical - extinction of egalitarian societies.

So, let's see if we have this straight: once the human population was small and barely scraped by at subsistence level; now it is large and has surplus wealth and food, in part because inequality better equipped civilized Man for competing with hunter-gatherers, who we annihilated.  But it's not a better system for survival?

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Olympics empty seats row: Locog calls in the army (again) (Robert Booth and Owen Gibson, 7/29/12, guardian.co.uk)

Locog chairman Lord Coe says seats left empty will 'not be an issue' throughout the Games Link to this video
Soldiers have been drafted in to fill empty seats at the London 2012 Olympics after prime seating at the aquatics centre, gymnastics arena and basketball venue again went unused on the second day of competition.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Electric cars: How many miles will kill 'range anxiety'? : Most electric car charges last longer than 95 percent of the trips made in the US, but 'range anxiety' is still a major drawback for many potential electric car buyers. How many miles will it take to curb that fear? (Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, July 29, 2012, CS Monitor)

Even though research clearly shows that present electric cars can satisfy the requirements of 95 percent of all trips made in the U.S., many car buyers say electric cars need to travel further per charge before they'll consider buying one. [...]

With battery technology improving, building an electric car with a range of 120 miles per charge within the next few years seems technologically feasible. 

More importantly, with electric car battery prices already dropping faster than analysts previously predicted they would, a larger capacity battery pack capable of 120 miles of range per charge is much more likely than it was even two years ago.