September 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


More Evidence That GM Is Not Going Bankrupt (Joann Muller, 9/14/12, Forbes)

General Motors got some good news Friday: its first investment grade credit rating since going bankrupt in 2009.

DBRS, Canada's largest credit rating agency, upgraded GM to BBB (low) from BB (high), citing its robust financial profile due to a strong balance sheet, with low debt, and solid earnings performance over the past two and a half years. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


The Katyn Massacre Cover-Up (Jacob Heilbrunn, September 12, 2012, National Interest)

Winston Churchill had said he he would "sup with the devil" if it would help bring about victory. So he--and Franklin Roosevelt--did. They allied themselves with Stalin, even pretended, at least publicly, that he was a fine man and the Soviet Union an even finer place. Now, with the release of numerous documents from the National Archives about Stalin's murder of over twenty thousand Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyn forest in 1940, we know in even more detail just how far they were prepared to go to extol and defend the Soviet Union.

Stalin's aim was to break the spirit of the Polish nation, to destroy its governing class. The Nazis discovered the graves in the spring of 1943 and tried to blame the massacre on the Soviets. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels hoped the announcement would cause dissension among the wartime allies. But Churchill and Roosevelt were having none of it. England had gone to war over Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939. Churchill and Roosevelt didn't want to disrupt relations with Stalin, who was always accusing them of trying to cut a separate peace with Berlin. What Katyn indicates, I think, is that the West had effectively given up on Poland's freedom far before the Yalta conference.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Clinton and Bush, challengers to party orthodoxy (Michael Gerson, September 13, 2012, Washington Post)

The drought of innovative rhetoric at the conventions led me to reread two campaign speeches that now seem ancient. The first is Bill Clinton's "New Covenant" address, delivered at Georgetown University on Oct. 23, 1991. The second is George W. Bush's "Duty of Hope" speech, given in Indianapolis on July 22, 1999. (As a speechwriter, I helped produce the latter.)

There are differences between these appeals. Clinton's remarks have an edge of economic populism, including criticisms of the "gilded age of greed and selfishness" in the 1980s. Bush's are less partisan and more religious.

Both approaches, however, are similar in ways that distinguish them from most current political rhetoric. To begin with, these candidates were attempting to appeal to the political middle by challenging their own parties. Clinton pressed for reform of welfare, which should be "a second chance, not a way of life." He criticized racial quotas, saying, "I'm not for a guarantee for anybody. I'm for responsibility at every turn." And while urging corporate responsibility, he also defended corporate profits.

Bush was even more explicit in his criticism of generic Republicanism. "The American government is not the enemy of the American people," he argued. "At times it is wasteful and grasping. But we must correct it, not disdain it. . . . It must act in the common good, and that good is not common until it is shared by those in need." Bush went on to detail several initiatives designed to encourage drug treatment efforts, after-school programs and mentoring children of prisoners.

These efforts to revise the image of the parties said something not just about the candidates but about the parties themselves. Following 12 years in the presidential wilderness, Democrats were hungry enough to allow Clinton some ideological flexibility. After eight years of Clinton, Republicans were in a similar forgiving mood. In politics, desperation can be a creative force -- and could rise in either party following a loss in this election.

Clinton and Bush rooted their appeals in a similar political philosophy -- the explicit rejection of both extreme individualism and statism.

And the same dance is going on between parties of left and right in every English-speaking country.
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Dr. Thomas Szasz, Psychiatrist Who Led Movement Against His Field, Dies at 92 (BENEDICT CAREY, September 11, 2012, NY Times)

Dr. Szasz (pronounced sahz) published his critique at a particularly vulnerable moment for psychiatry. With Freudian theorizing just beginning to fall out of favor, the field was trying to become more medically oriented and empirically based. Fresh from Freudian training himself, Dr. Szasz saw psychiatry's medical foundation as shaky at best, and his book hammered away, placing the discipline "in the company of alchemy and astrology." [...]

To those skeptical of modern psychiatry, however, Dr. Szasz was a foundational figure.

"We did not agree on everything, like his view that there is no such thing as mental illness," said Vera Hassner Sharav, president and founder of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a patient advocacy group, and a longtime critic of the field. "But his message that people get designated as ill, labeled and then shafted out of society and preyed on by an industry dominated by drugs -- that's where he was very valuable."

After making his name, Dr. Szasz only turned up the heat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


False Promises on Ovarian Cancer (NY Times, September 11, 2012)

New evidence that women are more likely to be harmed than helped by screening tests for ovarian cancer is disturbing. The tests do nothing to prevent healthy women from dying from the usually fatal disease. Yet they often lead doctors to perform needless surgeries that cause serious complications in many patients.

The judgment from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, issued on Monday, updates its longstanding verdict that healthy women with an average risk of ovarian cancer should not be screened for the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


As Low Rates Depress Savers, Governments Reap Benefits (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9/10/12, NY Times)

A consumer complaint is ricocheting around the world: low interest rates are eating away at savings.

Bill Taren, a retiree near Orlando, Fla., discovered in August that his credit union would pay only 0.4 percent annual interest on his saving account, even though inflation averaged 2.8 percent over the last year. So he and his wife decided to just stuff their money in the mattress, he says, because at least there "we can see the cash when we want."

Jeanne and André Bussière, in Annecy, France, have a stable pension and a bank account that pays 2 percent interest -- "almost nothing," they say -- even though the consumer price index rose an average of 2.5 percent over the last year.

Jiang Rong, an information technology professional in Xiamen, China, decided to dive back into the speculative real estate market rather than watch his savings wither at the bank. In China, too, the cost of living is outrunning savings, as local restaurants nearly double their prices.

The fact that interest yields are so low in so many parts of the world is no coincidence.

It's just a function of globalization and technology.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Ending renewable energy's villainy (Vice-Admiral Dennis V. McGinn SEPTEMBER 12, 2012, Reuters)

It's long past time to move beyond the accusatory politics of misrepresented facts and return to the bipartisan collaborative spirit that has driven clean energy's success in this country. With less bad politics and more good policy, the sector can rapidly expand and make America a world leader in clean, renewable energy technology.

The fact is that the U.S. renewable energy industry is far stronger today than it was when the bipartisan Energy Policy Act passed in 2005; since then private investment has leveraged government support and both have played an important role in the industry's success. Overall last year, U.S. solar installations doubled. Since 2007, 35 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. came from wind power. And last year, America produced 14 billion gallons of biofuels - double the amount of oil we import from Venezuela.

The U.S. now leads global clean energy investment, and clean technology is the leading venture capital category. Recent weeks have seen the announcement of hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investments in these technologies. For example, on July 25 investment bank Credit Suisse announced $300 million in new funding for rooftop solar installers SunRun and SolarCity. That is in addition to more than $120 billion in commitments to renewable energy by Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and other major financial institutions.

The U.S. military has also become a major supporter of energy efficiency and solar, wind, biofuels and other clean technologies for the tremendous value they provide in combat effectiveness, cost savings and energy security. There are plans to install 160,000 solar systems on military residence rooftops across 33 states. Military investments have led the nation and helped reduce the cost of advanced biofuels by more than 80 percent.

And the Army is planning to invest $7 billion over the coming years to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Most importantly, these investments will save lives and make America a more secure nation.

And herein lies the contradiction: Our nation's biggest investors and armed forces clearly support the renewable energy technologies. Why, then, are so many politicians so far behind? Why are our nation's biggest investors and our armed forces sticking with renewable energy technologies when some in Congress have abandoned them?