Friday, November 30, 2012

U.S. immigrants' birthrate dropping, leading to lowest US birthrate since 1920


The right wing will love this story.  Tara Bahrampur reports, on the front page of the Washington Post on Friday Nov. 30, “U.S. birthrate plummets to lowest level since 1920: Immigrant women hurt by recession lead decrease, study finds”, link here

The study from the Pew Research Center (Pew Social and Demographic Trends) was authored by Gretchen LInginston and D'Vera Cohn, link here

The story does focus on the gradual decline in birthrate among Latino immigrants.

The lower birthrate means that it will be harder for Social Security and Medicare to collect the necessary payroll taxes in the future to support retired generations. 

On p A17, of the same paper, in the Washington Forum, Vicyotia Toensing makes the libertarian argument “Come out, pro-choice Republicans” (with a pun on Log Cabin) and mentions a Texas law that prohibited abortion in women who did not meet a certain formula, of attaining a score of 120 when multiplying age by number of children. The implication is that there is a “moral obligation” to have children.  Was this part of the incentive of the old Texas homosexual-only sodomy law 21.06 in the 1980s when I lived in Dallas?

As the film “Patriocracy” (Movies, Nov. 28) points out, the extreme right wing of the GOP seems to raise so much of the money, and it doesn’t give voters what they want: fiscal conservatism and social moderation.
Bear that in mind even during the “Fiscal Cliff” talks. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Science" issues stinging report on melting ice caps; Weather channel warns about melting permafrost and methane release


David Shulman of BBC News is reporting on a report in Science that quantifies the rise in sea level in the past two decades from melting icecaps (only slightly offset by selective refreezing) in Antarctica and Greenland. The total is 11 millimeters, or about 1 centimeter, or about 4/10 of an inch. Yet this may have been enough to make the storm Sandy much stronger, as well as a new big storm moving onto the Pacific Coast this week.

Greenland's icecap melt is five times what it was in the 1990s, and accounts for two-thirds of the ice loss.

The BBC article is here
  
The paper in Science is called “A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance”, link here

Some of the information comes from the work of National Geographic photographer James Balog, reported in the movie “Chasing Ice”, reviewed on my Movies blog Nov. 25. 

Miguel Llanos has a detailed story for NBC News tonight here



As if that weren’t scary enough, the Weather Channel has a disturbing report by Erika Bolfast about melting permafrost in polar latitudes, which can release methane gas, which has much stronger heat retention capabilities than does carbon dioxide.  This could greatly accelerate climate change in a runaway greenhouse effect, a smaller version of what happened to Venus a billion or so years ago. That link is here



There could be greater risks that warming oceans could free methane hydrate deposits, too. 

Eugene Robinson has an editorial in the Washington Post "Is this the planet we want to leave behind?" here. He adds that the US has never agreed to Kyoto, and India and China (accounting for so much of the emissions) are exempt. 

There is a T-shirt that reads "Polar bears are nice."  And probably extinct soon, too.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to soak the rich


As for the Fiscal Cliff, I think “It’s simple”.   Raises taxes on upper earners (the threshold needs to be more than $250000 now) to the extent that the money is not reinvested in businesses that employ people.  Don’t raise taxes on income plowed back into small business.  And don’t raise taxes on small business itself.

But high income spent just on luxury consumption could be taxed higher.  Most wealthy people even say they think they should pay, as long as Grover Norquist isn’t within earshot (let him appear on "Days of our Lives" where everyone walks in on everybody).

As a matter of principle, eliminating deductions for lower rates would make sense – but that would be more likely to affect those with more moderate incomes who still use deductions.

And Congress could be tempted to go after seniors with “means” – see my “Bill Retires” blog posting yesterday.

And don't forget the anomaly with the 2012 Alternative Minimum Tax.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Could new housing policies for low-lying areas affect everyone?


Visitors should take a look at the Sunday Review of the New York Times, Sunday, November 25, 2012, “Is this the end?”

There are discussions and maps of what happens in various metropolitan areas if sea levels rise five feet, twelve feet, and 25 feet.   Apparently, when I lived at 11th and Broadway in the 1970s, I was not much above the elevation, and I may have been in a dangerous position when living in an apartment complex with the Raritan River in the back in 1974. 

Civilizations have lost entire cities before, to floods, earthquakes and volcanoes.  In principle, this has plenty of precedent.

There have been other articles about whether coastal areas in southern Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and especially New Jersey (including some communities influenced by river confluence) should even be rebuilt, unless massive civil engineering flood protection projects are initiated.  

In some cases, the communities that have been disrupted are affluent. But in others, blue collar workers, especially police and fire, were homeowners.   Many small businesses owned by middle class people were destroyed. And in some areas, such as the Rockaways and Red Hook (and perhaps Hoboken and Little Ferry), there are many public housing projects.

Could permanently housing persons who are displaced and not employed in their neighborhoods become a new policy issue?  Would this lead to pressure of churches and even individuals to step up?  I remember how the Cuban refugee situation in 1980 played out in Dallas.  Does that set an example?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Walmart faces strike near Washington DC in Maryland, on Black Friday


CNN is reporting Friday morning., Nov. 23, that workers (United Food and Commercial Workers Union) are striking at the Walmart in Landover Hills, MD, in Prince Georges County MD, just east of Washington DC.

Station WUSA (9-CBS) has a preliminary story here

Because I am more busy now with my own (not yet publishable) projects, I won’t be able to get to it to photo it, but I’ll bring some embedded video as soon as it is available.  Check WJLA throughout the day for coverage.



It was not clear if the store was open for Black Friday.

The Baltimore ABC affiliate has a brief story now, link

The union has its own story here.

I’m much closer to a Target than to a Walmart. 

I wouldn’t like to have to come to work midnight Thanksgiving Day! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Urban legend claims billionaires are quickly dumping stocks before reaching Fiscal Cliff


I got a Thanksgiving morning email purporting to come from the Washington Times at 7 AM, claiming that billionaires are dumping stocks in anticipation of driving off The Fiscal Cliff, and asking the visitor to vote whether to blame Obama or blame Congress for the mess.

I didn’t click on the voter survey icon; maybe this email is a spoof to spread malware.  Maybe it’s spam.

But the “mess” really developed during the Bush years, with the exploding deficits and tax cuts at the same time, to fight the wars, while the housing bubble burst, eventually leading to the Financial Crisis of 2008.  The lack of oversight over derivatives and credit default swaps was a major cause. 

So Obama inherited this.

And it’s largely Congress who created a scene during the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, leading to a credit downgrade.

That’s not to say we don’t have to reign in on spending, including entitlements.  That means that in a free society, people will have to learn to take care of another personally better – even when they want to mind their own business.   

There could be a more sinister reason for billionaires to cower: the idea that the lights could go out.  Our power grid is terribly unprepared for both increasing solar storms and for possible terrorism.  Maybe they really believe “There’s going to be a blackout”.  Did they watch “Revolution”, “The Event”, or “Flash Forward”?  There’s no Sean Walker (a geeky Clark Kent) to save us. Remember, Sean (like Clark) is “one of them”.  

Note also George Will's wisecrack in the Washington Post Thanksgiving morning ("For these things we give thanks".) He writes, "Who says you cannot make a souffle rise twice.  Barack Obama was re-elected" (link).

Cheese souffle was one of my mom's favorite dishes when I was a boy back in the 1950s.  It definitely rose repeatedly.  But we didn't have it for Thanksgiving. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ending itemized deductions in exchange for lower rates could become new tax policy


Charles Lane has an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday November 20, 2012, “The best tax deduction to chop”, link here   
 .
He wants to chop the deduction for state and local income and property taxes, because they allow states with high taxes to rip off those with lower taxes.  That sounds like a conservative idea!

 He reports that the Tax Policy Center wants to end all itemized deductions as well as the Alternative Minimum Tax, and actually reduce top rates to 20%.  Ending such deductions would raise $1.9 trillion in ten years, more than Obama has requested.  Would the TPC also eliminate the standard deduction? The TPC link is here

How would this change affect charitable giving?

Here is a Harvard Business School symposium, “Tax Policies that Might Work”, one month ago, with Mihir Desai and Michael Graetz:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Huge solar storm ejection Friday misses Earth; are we living on borrowed luck?


Brian Williams reported what NASA had apparently called a “tsunami on the surface of the Sun”, a giant solar storm with coronal mass ejection with radiation shield much wider than Earth around Nov. 16.  Fortunately, the Earth’s orbit did not take it through the radiation, which was blasted the other way.
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It’s possible that this eruption was large enough to cause considerable damage to the power grid in areas on Earth.

PolicyMic has a story here

Scientist predict a number of these at the peak of the solar cycle in 2013.  Will any be as big as the Carrington Event?  Some big storms have occurred in low sunspot years, however.  
Are the power companies ready?  Can they protect these huge transformers properly?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sixth Circuit uses First Amendment-style reasoning to turn down voter-approved affirmative action ban in Michigan


The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an 8-7 en banc ruling, held that the voter approved ban on affirmative action at universities by voters in Michigan is unconstitutional. The case was called the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan

The pdf for the opinion is here
  
The Court adhered to some bizarre use of both the First Amendment and Equal Protection: that voters who support affirmative action must try to amend the state constitution again, an arduous process.  It would be like banning one side of a debate the right to self-publish.  
   
The link for the New York Times story Saturday by Tamar Lewin is here.

The conservative National Review has a blog posting ("The Corner: The One and Only") criticizing the judicial activism, countering voter will on what some see as a civil rights issue,  here

Emory University has one hour Family Forum video on whether the Supreme Court really “saved” affirmative action in 2003, led by Provost Earl Lewis.  


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hostess closure highlights the way unions can fail workers; maybe a Walmart Black Friday strike?


The closure of Texas-based Hostess Brands (in Chapter 11 bankruptcy) may indeed provide a lesson that conservatives will love to tout – that unions can sometimes work against the best interest of their own members, and cause permanent job loss.  My own father used to say that all the time decades ago. In this case, the company apparently couldn’t (or wouldn’t) come to terms on wage and pension cuts for bakers. (I haven’t looked yet at what the Washington Times is going to say, but I can only imagine.)
   
A typical media account appears in the Wall Street Journal Saturday November 17, 2012 (weekend edition_, by Rachel Feintzeig, Mike Spector, and Julie Jargon, link here

That apparently means that there will be no more Hostess cupcakes (which I have bought on the road at rural convenience stores) or twinkies  (which are supposed to cause psychosis or at least hypoglycemia).
  
People are even selling the junk food items on Ebay.  But the recipes will surely be sold as part of the liquidation process, and the same products will appear under different brands.  Perhaps even the brand names  (as trademarks) will be sold to another company, in which case the products would continue to appear if profitable.

It does seem like a good question, though, whether a recipe can really be patented or copyrighted.  But the soft drink companies have jealously guarded their flavor patents (and kept them secret) for decades.  Just play baseball on the road in Atlanta again and look at the billboards (and don’t forget about the infield fly rule). 

ALSO:

There is talk that Walmart could face a strike over starting Black Friday early. Examiner story here.  Seriously, how many people like to work the graveyard shift or get up at 3 AM to work for modest wages. Remember Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickel and Dimed"?  Pay your dues?
Update: November 21

Mediation efforts Tuesday to save the company failed, and it is back into liquidation. But it seems extremely probable that other food companies will buy the trademarks to the brands (to pay off the creditors in the bankruptcy) and get the products back into the stores pretty quickly. That's how a free market economy should work, right?

Update: Dec. 8

7-11 has used the free market to offer its own brand.  I wonder if it purchased the recipe but not the brand name. Maybe you don't need a recipe.  Taste is OK.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Naturalization oath implies government can conscript; secession calls could test Article V "Method 2" amendment process


Friday morning (November 16, 2012) the Today show broadcast a naturalization ceremony in New York City.  Some words from the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America caught my ear.  Here is the USCIS ink to the text

Note that it requires that the citizen “bear arms on behalf of the United States” when required by law, perform noncombatant service in the armed forces when required, and “perform work of national importance under civilian direction” when required by law.

That is to say, the government can still conscript people for military service or national service.
  
I wondered what would be the ramifications if “don’t ask don’t tell” were still in effect.


On a tangential topic – the secession protests, The Washington Times has an editorial (November 13) suggesting that the only way it could happen in practice (according to "political reality") is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to call a  (common, constitutional) convention, under Article V.  The link is here

Three-fourths of the states would have to ratify in this process called “Method 2”. It has never been used, but it came close in the 1970s with the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.  (The repeal of prohibition, Amendment 21, was ratified by the state ratifying conventions [instead of state legislatures, the usual method] but still proposed by Congress, which can specify the means of ratification in so-called Method 1.)  I believe that with Method 2, Congress could still determine whether state legislatures or ratifying conventions must be used (see Wikipedia, here. )

A good book to check is John R. Vile “Contemporary Questions Surrounding the Constitutional Amending Process”,  Praeger (UK), 1993. 

Secession seems like a trendy conversation piece on a weekend when the movie “Lincoln” opens nationwide in major theater chains.  When I was living in Dallas in the 1980s, I was told that Texas has some hidden right of secession, and also to split itself into several states. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A modest proposal: to avoid defaulting over the debt ceiling, borrow from China


In his column “Deals”, Allan Sloan has a column on p. A16 of the Washington Post, Thursday November 15, 2012, “Avoid the debt-ceiling trap”, called “An open letter to Tim Geithner on how to avoid the next debt crisis”, link here

He wants to borrow about $200 from a country (even China) that holds a lot of our Treasury securities, and watch those Republicans (Boehner’s gang) scream and even run to the Supreme Court.

It’s true, however, that he favors scaling back entitlement programs (or is it just the “growth” of them) for those who don’t really “need” them – even if they paid into them.  Socialism, anyone?

What happens if then China decides to have another Cultural Revolution?  Does Sloan want to take his turn as a peasant?



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

AMT and Bush tax cuts: What really does happen for tax year 2012 (let alone 2013)? IRS warns Congress!


Josh Baro has an article in Bloomberg (November 12, 2013) in which he explains that the political balance with regard to deficit reduction is unfortunately much like it was in 2010.  Republicans are willing to drive the economy off a cliff to get their way, again. The article predicts that the House and Senate will pass bills along party lines in early 2013, resulting in another deadlock.  The link is here. The net effect is that Congress is likely to let the Bush tax cuts for high earners stay in place in 2013.

That sounds as though it would give Congress a reason to keep Alternative Minimum Tax exemptions in sync, which needs to be done now for the 2012 tax year, let alone 2013. It could be done retroactively for 2012 before April 15, 2013, but imagine the wreckage in the HRBlock area of the world.  Tax programs would not work. 

A “tax topics” article in the New York Times rather clearly states that the current “Bush tax cuts” onhigh earners do indeed expire on Dec. 31, 2012.  (Look for the wording after “Years of Dispute”_. That is, the 2012 return would include them, but would have an inconsistent lower AMT exemption unless Congress also fixes that amount (for 2012, far preferably during the Lame Duck session.)

The link for the article is here

The article discusses the AMT also, but doesn’t deal with the apparent inconsistency for the rax year 2012, as far as I can see.  

If anyone understands what Congress really intended to happen in 2012 (let alone 2013), please comment. 

Stay tuned.


Update:

Here is part of the text of the email I just sent to Rep. James Moran, 8 th District. VA:


My understanding is that the Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount drops suddenly back to a much lower number (about $33000) for the tax year 2012, even while the “Bush tax cuts” would still apply to 2012.

Is Congress going to this this before the end of 2012?

Note:

I had first thought that the AMT caused a sudden discontiuity in tax, when I wrote the letter to Moran. Apparently this is not so, as the next update explains.  


Update: Nov. 14: IRS warns Congress to fix AMT before end of 2012!

Lori Montgomery reported in the Washington Post Wednesday November 14, 2012 that acting IRS Commissioner Steven R. Miller had written to Orin Hatch (R-UT) that the IRS had taken the "risky" decision to leave the 2011 exemption structure in place, and had not programmed its system for the "cliff" in the 2012 AMT threshold. If Congress doesn't act, many taxapayers will owe thousands more and may not even be able to file returns in time.  Furthermore, taxpayers have no way to estimate their quarterly payments, avoiding penalties.  The story is here.

Folks, this is eight grade algebra.  Ir's called "interpolation".  Some members of Congress seem to have failed math in high school!  Seriously, if you look at Part II of form 6251, and then lines 44-45 of the 1040, I do see that there is an interpolation.  So it's not quite as bad as I thought. Still, I wonder -- why work harder if the government wants to do this? -- that's the "libertarian" argument!


Update: Nov. 16

HR Block tells me that technically the lower AMT minimum should be in effect now because Congress failed to restore it 60 days before the end of 2012.  But Lori Montgomery's article (above) suggests that the IRS has chosen to ignore the 60 day warning and apparently has not yet set the exemption on the lower minimum. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The fracking debate, and more on coal strip mining: from a field trip "on the ground"


I went on another little field trip Veterans Day (Nov 11-12) through some of the countryside in western Pennsylvania, the West Virginia Panhandle, and extreme eastern Ohio, to get some feel of what people think of the expansion of hydraulic fracking in the area to find a lot more natural gas inexpensively. 

Generally, people favored it.  They were glad to hear about more jobs, and weren’t very worried about earthquakes or “lighting a water faucet”.
   
The only drilling rig that I remember seeing was Sunday night around Cadiz, Ohio, and I had no place to stop for a picture.  But there are similar pictures in this Ohio Shale Coalition presentation (link).

Around western Pennsylvania I saw a number of towers that looked smaller and simpler than cell phone towers.  Some of them may have been rigs. 

There is a lot of gas development around Latrobe, east of Pittsburgh, but on private property whose hidden access makes it difficult to see without trespassing.  As with coal, the energy companies try to keep a lot of their operations out of view to avoid unfavorable political pressure.  But there is no obvious defacement of the landscape, as compared to coal mining (especially strip mining).

Regarding coal, I did see some small strip mining north of US 50 (where it tops Allegheny Mountain at about 4000 feet), around the town of Elk Garden, before the highway (SR 42)  dips down to the north fork of the Potomac at the Maryland border. 

In Ohio, I also visited the old factory town of Bellaire, just SW of Wheeling WVa (and across the river).  My father was a manufacturer’s representative for the Imperial Glass Factory, which would be bought by Lenox, until 1971.  In 1996, there was a sign indicating that the factory had been there, but now even that sign is gone. All that area is replaced by retail strip malls.  But downtown Bellaire looks like a movie set, with wit stone bridge in the middle of town.

There is said to be a fracking well as far south and east as near Bedford, PA but I did not see a well.  I did see a canyon where every single tree got blown down in the June derecho by a Bernoulli effect.
My mother’s side of the family also has considerable ties in Ohio (in the  Oberlin, suburban Cleveland, and central areas north of Columbus, along the “Days of our Lives” heartland (and red state) strip of highway 13.  Salem, by the way, is actually a small town near the eastern border of the state.  Maybe the writers of the soap know our family, vaguely.  Anything to brag about?
"Fracking" is short for "fracturing" but probably not "frackling".  The buzzwords will only grow with time. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Alternative Minimum Exemption had been scaled to Bush tax cuts, but seems to expire a year earlier

An article by Lori Montgomery in the Washington Post today, widely reprinted, notes that the rising alternative minimum tax exemption amounts, which suddenly drop back in 2012 (to about $33000 for most single taxpayers, line 38 on the1040 even before personal exemption and standard deduction) has been scaled to the Bush tax cuts.  If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, there is no reason to believe that the AMT would have to be fixed.  But if Obama (and Boehner) are to be true to their promise that family incomes under $250000 won't see increases (not clear where that is for singles) then the AMT would have to be fixed, because even the 2012 tax would be much higher for many,even most middle class people.  See Retirement blog, Mon. Nov. 5

Montgomery link is here.

I'll check soon on exactly what can happen on the 2012 tax return ("retroactively") if Congress stumbles. Much of the Fiscal Cliff drops off in 2013 -- so there is some confusion.

Friday, November 09, 2012

West Nile virus may have mutated, causing more disability


The Washington Post is reporting that the West Nile Virus may have mutated into a form that sometimes causes more neurological damage, in a variety of areas, in younger and stronger patients, than in the past.
The accounts of damage are somewhat varied, but some of it may involve cognitive functions, and others basic motor skills.  A few younger patients who recovered face lifetimes of disability, and this could increase as a public health problem.

The link to the story by Brian Vastag is here

The hardest hit area still seems to be north Texas.  Some cold snaps and hard freezes, who do occur in the Dallas area in winter (I lived there in the 1980s) could at least reduce the danger until next year. 

I last visited the Dallas area in November 2011.  

There is a veterinary vaccine for west Nile in horses, but the CDC says it would take several years to develop a vaccine for humans, and this seems to be an urgent necessity, just as it was with polio.

CBS has an account of the aftereffects of a severe case in 2005:

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Scientific American warns of out-of-control "feedback loops" from climate change


The November 2012 issue of Scientific American has an important article by John Carey on p. 50, “Global Warming, faster than expected?”, link here

The main point of the article is that relatively small increases in warming (through increased carbon dioxide levels) can cause runaway train feedback loops.

The most dangerous of these loops could be the melting of polar ice, which can slide off continents into warmer water.  There’s something to the t-shirt phrase “Polar bears are nice.”  Polar melting could contribute to “blocking highs” and extreme, stubborn jet stream dips that bring protracted periods of abnormal weather, such as the mild winter in eastern North America last year and the severe cold in Eastern Europe.  Other loops can caused decreased sunlight reflection with changes in flora, leading to heat in drought in various parts of the world, including uncontrollable and unprecedented wildfires.

Could some sort of feedback loop make super, long tracking tornadoes possible in the Mid Atlantic, or derechoes more common?  Could they make severe late fall hybrid storms like Sandy more frequent? 

The articles discusses warm periods in the Earth's past, tens of millions of years ago, as possibly related to orbital changes.  Likewise, there was once a "snowball Earth". 

There have been statements by some experts that average Earth temperature could rise as much as 8 degrees F by 2100.  From a moral viewpoint, the issue of generativity (having your own skin in a biological future -- children) seems to take on a new life. 
    
Here's something else:  around the Milky Way, it's likely that many planets in the "Goldilocks Zone" for life (with temperatures where water is a liquid) are tidally locked, and have only annular rings with mild climates -- which could have political consequences for the civilizations that are likely to have settled them.  In a couple hundred more years, if we survive long enough and can sustain ourselves, we may know.  

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Post-election: It's time to address the Fiscal Cliff and AMT. but then there is still the debt ceiling

There’s a lot of Wednesday morning quarterbacking.

Most pundits are saying that the electorate has changed.  Race is part of it.  But so is culture.  According to Ari Fleischer, married couples with children tend to vote Republican, and singles are more likely to vote Democratic, and singles are increasing.  Maybe the Republicans could benefit some day from same-sex couples raising children.  But there does seem to be an idea that if you want less government, you have to do more taking care of other people (and not just the children you sire) yourself.

There was some discussion on AC360 of the Democratic Party's computer analysis of voting patterns, which is a big top secret.  
   
The American Spectator has a variety of post-mortems.  Ben Stein called it a “painful night”, link here

The critical issues for the president and the divided Congress is going to be the Fiscal Cliff. That has three or four pieces:  the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the end of the partial FICA-tax holiday, and the expiration of the more generous exemption amount of the Alternative Minimum Tax (that is, for the tax year 2012), which really can shock a lot of people (and not just well-to-do families with children).   The last of these can set some nasty traps and quandaries, and in some cases could make it safer not to work at all.  A fourth issue is the expiration of extended unemployment benefits.
  
The president needs to get right to work on these three issues now.  But then how will we reduce the deficit and meet the automatic cuts from the “debt ceiling” agreement?  I don’t get it yet.


Monday, November 05, 2012

Do some mothers become surrogates just to make ends meet?


On Sunday, Nov. 4, Susan Straight ran an op-ed in the New York Times Review with a bit of a moral edge: “Making babies, just to make ends meet”, link here

The article discusses the somewhat obscure fact that the Romney’s have used a surrogate mother to have twins.

She describes the story of an unidentified neighbor who has had three babies, for a total over $100000.  

One of them was got a gay male couple.

One could see this as taking advantage of “unfairness”, when giving birth becomes a “job”. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Big dikes to protect lower Manhattan could cause more flooding elsewhere


A friend in NYC yesterday tweeted about the effectiveness of bikes in NYC and asking when the dikes would be built – like in the Netherlands (particularly Rotterdam). 

But scientists warn that protecting some valuable coastal real estate (like extreme lower Manhattan) can cause other areas to flood even more, as with McKenzie Funk’s op-ed “Deciding future disasters will strike”, in the New York Times Review Sunday, link here

A dike project for Manhattan would cost five times what the US spends to protect poorer parts of the world from rising sea levels due to climate change.

We also need to  remember, whatever the libertarian arguments are, we depend on some people to take the risk of living in lower-lying or exposed areas for us.  Yes, it’s true, others want to, and don’t mind the disruption of storms.  But I certainly would.  

Here's a video, 3 months ago, on the Rotterdam seawall, which has made The Netherlands "bigger".

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Will superstorms and evacuations become the "new normal"?


The “experts” (and amateurs) are warning that an era, or a new normal, of superstorms is upon us, as in this CNN op-ed  by Tim Lister, link here.

People in many areas will be living through a sequence of drills to survive seasonal threats, including wildfires, hurricanes, floods, monster tornadoes.  And areas of the country regarded as much safer (such as the DC area, at least the inland, western part) could face megadisasters known in coastal and plains areas of the country. 

Was Sandy's explosive ferocity the result of climate change?  Normally, Sandy would have veered off to the East, but was driven to shore by a blocking high.  It’s not clear if that northern high pressure system has anything to do with climate change.  But the strength of the cold front and jet stream dip that swallowed the hurricane may be related.

New York City might have been spared the worst had the southern sea wall been several feet higher, but the collision of currents causing East River flooding would have happened.  I’ll have to find out how the concert space “Bargemusic” under the Brooklyn Bridge fared.

A more hostile climate, making infrastructure less reliable, could have profound social consequences, making “family values” even more important and social isolation, often common among geeks and artists (and necessary for them to work) even less acceptable.  Without technical infrastructure, some of us amount to nothing.  Maybe the Amish are on to something.


Climate change does not affect two important environmental risks: super earthquakes (and volcanoes), and space weather (possible super solar geomagnetic storms).

Neither presidential candidate has addressed what it takes to make our infrastructure, especially power and communications grid, robust to deal with all these possible threats.