Archive for February, 2010

South Dakota legislators tell schools to teach ‘astrological’ explanation for global warming

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

– Mmmmmmm.  Walk tall, Americans, and be proud of yourselves intellectually.   I know I sure am.

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Last week, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed a resolution to “urge” public schools to teach astrology.  Brad Johnson has the amazing story in this Think Progress repost.

By a 36-30 vote, the legislators passed House Concurrent Resolution 1009, “Calling for balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools of South Dakota.” After repeating longdebunked denier myths and calling carbon dioxide “the gas of life,” the resolution concludes that public schools should teach that “global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact”:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty-fifth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature urges that instruction in the public schools relating to global warming include the following:

(1) That global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact;
(2) That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect [sic] world weather phenomena and that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative; and
(3) That the debate on global warming has subsumed political and philosophical viewpoints which have complicated and prejudiced the scientific investigation of global warming phenomena; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Legislature urges that all instruction on the theory of global warming be appropriate to the age and academic development of the student and to the prevailing classroom circumstances.


Global trade slumped 12% last year

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

– Cheer up, folks.   12%’s not much – it’s just a flesh wound, really.

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Global trade flows contracted by a catastrophic 12% in 2009, the fastest pace since the second world war, Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organisation revealed today, as he urged its 153 member countries to breathe new life into the ailing Doha trade round.

This latest estimate is considerably worse than the WTO’s previous forecast of a 10% decline for last year, underlining the hefty costs of the financial crisis for the world economy.

Lamy said there were early signs that trade was now recovering, but it was not yet clear whether the upturn would last. “Certainly there is a pick-up. Whether this pick-up is short term … or whether this is sustainable … is difficult to say but we certainly are picking up.”

In the early phases of the credit crunch in 2008, there was hope that the worst of its effects would be confined to the US and other major economies, with emerging markets such as China and India escaping unscathed.

But after confidence collapsed in the wake of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in late 2008, policymakers throughout the world watched in horror as demand plunged in every market.

Bank of England governor Mervyn King subsequently described how one company after another in the UK reported that demand had “fallen off a cliff”.

“The main explanation for this freefall in trade has been the simultaneous reduction in aggregate demand across all major world economies,” Lamy told a conference in Brussels.


– hat tip to Cryptogon

Ranking 37th — Measuring the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

– A quote from the article, below:

Despite the claim by many in the U.S. health policy community that international comparison is not useful because of the uniqueness of the United States, the rankings have figured prominently in many arenas. It is hard to ignore that in 2006, the United States was number 1 in terms of health care spending per capita but ranked 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy. These facts have fueled a question now being discussed in academic circles, as well as by government and the public: Why do we spend so much to get so little?

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Evidence that other countries perform better than the United States in ensuring the health of their populations is a sure prod to the reformist impulse. The World Health Report 2000, Health Systems: Improving Performance, ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in the world1 — a result that has been discussed frequently during the current debate on U.S. health care reform.

The conceptual framework underlying the rankings2 proposed that health systems should be assessed by comparing the extent to which investments in public health and medical care were contributing to critical social objectives: improving health, reducing health disparities, protecting households from impoverishment due to medical expenses, and providing responsive services that respect the dignity of patients. Despite the limitations of the available data, those who compiled the report undertook the task of applying this framework to a quantitative assessment of the performance of 191 national health care systems. These comparisons prompted extensive media coverage and political debate in many countries. In some, such as Mexico, they catalyzed the enactment of far-reaching reforms aimed at achieving universal health coverage. The comparative analysis of performance also triggered intense academic debate, which led to proposals for better performance assessment.

Despite the claim by many in the U.S. health policy community that international comparison is not useful because of the uniqueness of the United States, the rankings have figured prominently in many arenas. It is hard to ignore that in 2006, the United States was number 1 in terms of health care spending per capita but ranked 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy.3 These facts have fueled a question now being discussed in academic circles, as well as by government and the public: Why do we spend so much to get so little?

Comparisons also reveal that the United States is falling farther behind each year (see graph). In 1974, mortality among boys and men 15 to 60 years of age was nearly the same in Australia and the United States and was one third lower in Sweden. Every year since 1974, the rate of death decreased more in Australia than it did in the United States, and in 2006, Australia’s rate dipped lower than Sweden’s and was 40% lower than the U.S. rate. There are no published studies investigating the combination of policies and programs that might account for the marked progress in Australia. But the comparison makes clear that U.S. performance not only is poor at any given moment but also is improving much more slowly than that of other countries over time. These observations and the reflections they should trigger are made possible only by careful comparative quantification of various facets of health care systems.


Bill Gates: the Most Important Climate Speech of the Year

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

– I’ve been deeply disappointed in the past with Bill and Melinda Gates and their efforts to improve the world.

– See and .

– Oh, I believed that their hearts were in the right place and they were sincerely trying to use their wealth to improve the world.  But I felt that they had been misled into working on the symptoms rather than the causes.

Their aim has improved considerably as evidenced by this speech, however. Now they are focused on one of the great drivers, climate changing emissions, that will shape the world’s future in a very negative way if we, humanity, do not confront it decisively.

– So bravo to them for correcting their course and refocusing on a cause rather than an effect.

– Having said that, I’d still like to point out that while this is a good step, it is not the last step.

– People, like the Gates, who have the idealism and power to make an impact, need to maximize their efforts by studying the entire landscape of problems confronting mankind and the biosphere and to trace the chains of cause and effect underlying these problems back to their deepest roots.

– Only, when we are dealing with the root causes of why our behaviors are so maladaptive, will we then have a genuine chance of ameliorating the problems effectively rather than just suppressing them with more bandages.

– And long time readers of this Blog will know that in my opinion, the deepest root cause of our maladaptive behaviors are our inborn biological imperatives.

– See and .

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When We Talk Zero, We Sound Crazy. When Bill Gates Does It, Bankers Pick Up the Phone.

On Friday, the world’s most successful businessperson and most powerful philanthropist did something outstandingly bold, that went almost unremarked: Bill Gates announced that his top priority is getting the world to zero climate emissions.

Now, I’m not a member of the Cult of Bill myself (I’m typing this on a MacBook), but you don’t have to believe that Gates has superhuman powers of prediction to know that his predictions have enormous power. People who will never listen to Al Gore, much to less someone like me, hang on Gates’ every utterance.

And Friday, Gates predicted extraordinary climate action: zero. Not small steps, not incremental progress, not doing less bad: zero. In fact, he stood in front of a slide with nothing but the planet Earth and the number zero. That moment was the most important thing that has happened at TED.

What, exactly, did he say, and why is it so important?

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.


China faces growing gender imbalance

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

– No single drop thinks it’s responsible for the flood.

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More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses by 2020, says the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The gender imbalance among newborns is the most serious demographic problem for the country’s population of 1.3 billion, says the academy.

It cites sex-specific abortions as a major factor, due to China’s traditional bias towards male children.

The academy says gender selection abortions are “extremely common”.

This is especially true in rural areas, and ultra-sound scans, first introduced in the late 1980s, have increased the practice.


Becoming a Third World Country

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

– A couple of quotes from the article, below to whet your appetite.   I think the writer’s got it right.  His stuff can be a bit dense to wade through at times but he’s certainly on the money here.   It’s a good read – I recommend it.

…over the next decade or so, the United States is going to finish the process of becoming a Third World country.

…the United States ranks dead last for life expectancy among industrial nations….

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In the course of writing last week’s Archdruid Report post, I belatedly realized that there’s a very simple way to talk about the scope of the brutal economic contraction now sweeping through American society – a way, furthermore, that might just be able to sidestep both the obsessive belief in progress and the equally obsessive fascination with apocalyptic fantasy that, between them, make up much of what passes for thinking about the future these days. It’s to point out that, over the next decade or so, the United States is going to finish the process of becoming a Third World country.

I say “finish the process,” because we are already most of the way there. What distinguishes the Third World from the privileged industrial minority of the world’s nations? Third World nations import most of their manufactured goods from abroad, while exporting mostly raw materials; that’s been true of the United States for decades now. Third World economies have inadequate domestic capital, and are dependent on loans from abroad; that’s been true of the United States for just about as long. Third World societies are economically burdened by severe problems with public health; the United States ranks dead last for life expectancy among industrial nations, and its rates of infant mortality are on a par with those in Indonesia, so that’s covered. Third World nation are very often governed by kleptocracies – well, let’s not even go there, shall we?

There are, in fact, precisely two things left that differentiate the United States from any other large, overpopulated, impoverished Third World nation. The first is that the average standard of living here, measured either in money or in terms of energy and resource consumption, stands well above Third World levels – in fact, it’s well above the levels of most industrial nations. The second is that the United States has the world’s most expensive and technologically complex military. Those two factors are closely related, and understanding their relationship is crucial in making sense of the end of the “American century” and the decline of the United States to Third World status.

The US has the world’s most expensive military because, just now, it has the world’s largest empire. Now of course it’s not polite to talk about that in precisely those terms, but let’s be frank – the US does not keep its troops garrisoned in more than a hundred countries around the world for the sake of their health, you know. That empire functions, as empires always do, as a way of tilting the economic relationships between nations in a way that pumps wealth out of the rest of the world and into the coffers of the imperial nation. It may never have occurred to you to wonder why it is that the 5% of the world’s population who live in the US get to use around a third of the world’s production of natural resources and industrial products – certainly it never seems to occur to most Americans to wonder about that – but the economics of empire are the reason.


Waxman Launches Probe Into Blue Cross’ Massive California Rate Increases

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

– Good luck, Congressman Waxman.  These bastards know what they are doing.  They can grind the American public for whatever they want.  Who’s going to stop them?   The U.S. Government?   Yeah, right.   It’s the U.S. Supreme Court that just gave corporations the power to buy elections wholesale.  Does anyone really imagine that that the big corporate insurance companies are NOT going to optimize their profits when they know there’s nothing to stop them?

– Corporations exist, after all, for one purpose – to maximize the returns for their shareholders.

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Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, launched an investigation Tuesday into massive rate increases Anthem Blue Cross intends to impose on as many as 800,000 California customers beginning March 1.

Waxman (D-California) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) sent a letter Tuesday to Angela F. Braly, chief executive of Blue Cross parent company WellPoint, asking her to voluntarily testify before the subcommittee February 24 and provide “a detailed explanation of the reasons for the premium rate increase proposed by Blue Cross in California.”

Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported that Anthem Blue Cross, California’s largest for-profit insurance provider, planned to hike individual insurance premiums by as much as 39 percent. California state officials and the Obama administration have called on Anthem Blue Cross and WellPoint executives to justify the rate hikes, noting that the parent corporation saw its profits skyrocket last year.


Wilder Weather Exerts a Stronger Influence on Biodiversity Than Steadily Changing Conditions

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2010) — An increase in the variability of local conditions could do more to harm biodiversity than slower shifts in climate, a new study has found.

Climate scientists predict more frequent storms, droughts, floods and heat waves as the Earth warms. Although extreme weather would seem to challenge ecosystems, the effect of fluctuating conditions on biodiversity actually could go either way. Species able to tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures, for example, may be eliminated, but instability in the environment can also prevent dominant species from squeezing out competitors.


‘Worse to come’ bushfire warning

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Jan 6, 2010

CANBERRA – As firefighters continued to battle huge fronts in Western Australia and Tasmania yesterday, confirmation came that worse lies ahead as the nation is heated further by global warming.

The Bureau of Meteorology said Australia had been getting hotter every decade for the past 70 years and the trend was expected to continue.

Its latest climate statement said the past 10 years were the hottest decade since records began.

Last year – Australia’s second-hottest – produced record-breaking heatwaves that saw temperatures soar to 46.4C in Melbourne and forced Adelaide to endure eight consecutive days above 35C.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement said the mean temperature for the past 10 years had climbed 0.48C above the 1961-1990 average, climbing further last year to 0.9C above the average.


February 19 2010: A thousand miles behind

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

– And people wonder why I’ve moved to New Zealand and write a Blog.   Jeez.

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Ilargi: When on any given morning you see consecutive headlines that read

  1. “US bank lending falls at the fastest rate in history”,
  2. “Lending to British businesses falls at record pace”,
  3. “UK mortgage lending falls to 10-year low “,
  4. ”Shock as British deficit equals that of Greece” and
  5. “Britain posts first deficit for January since records began”

is your first thought that the economic recovery is nicely on pace? If so, perhaps a Tiger Woods press-op is more your thing.

How about we add this one:

    “Fed raises interest rate on emergency loans to banks”

Think perhaps that would switch on the light?

See, what those headlines tell us is that the spigots on the private sector are not just closed, they’re still tightening ever more. While at the same time, government debt keeps rising. There can be only one conclusion. The only thing that lets our economies continue to exude a semblance of normality is the dwindling rests of our own remaining wealth, and we are not only not adding any, we are spending what is left, and fast. Our governments, eager to stay in power and remain wealthy, keep us thinking we’re doing just fine, borrow enormous amounts of money in world markets that is not used for any sort of recovery, but instead to pay for the debts of a small group of people who gained access to our full faith and credit by buying the representatives we elect.

And once the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, while simultaneously drawing down its purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, we will come to understand that we have been living in a soapbubble of our own making, built at the expense of many trillions of dollars and that this bubble is about to pop. That is true in the US as it is in the UK, and all the attention presently squandered on Greece and Ireland is but a trick to make us look the other way for a little bit longer, until everything of value has been stripped from around us and we can wake up one day to find all support and stimulus measures vanished into thin air, a bad moon rising, and a cold wind blowing through the cracks of our unheated MacMansions, with no gas stations able to supply us with the fuel to get out and get away.