SocraticGadfly: 10/14/07 - 10/21/07

October 20, 2007

Amen to this: The Nobel-lite economics prize should be canned

Even former prize winners critique the economics prize as as too abstract and mathematical, too ideological, or too business-leaning:
The notion that economics is scientific, said Jeff Madrick, the director of policy research at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School in New York, is “highly exaggerated.”

Madrick not only doubts that significant contributions in the field can be limited to those based on econometrics but also questions whether that type of work is as unbiased as is often claimed. “The Nobel prize has become quite a political animal,” he said, “in the disguise of being scientifically pure.”

This was the heart of the complaint from the Nobel winner Gunnar Myrdal. In a 1977 letter to a Swedish newspaper, he rejected the idea that the field of economics could claim a Nobel on the basis of its scientific rigor. Economics should concern itself with political and social needs, he argued, and he called for an end to the prize in economics.

Add to that the fact that the work cited is often too theoretical and too-Wall Street oriented, it’s time to abolish the damn thing.

As for economics not being a science, a discipline that can make psychology look scientific sure ain’t scientific itself.

Global warming kills coal-fired electric plant — in a red state

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment turned down a permit Thursday for twin 700-mW coal-fired electric plants in southwest Kansas. It cited global warming concerns as the reason for the denial.

If a regulatory agency in a “red” state like Kansas will do this, there may be hope for a bottom-up addressing of global warming issues, even if W. fiddles while America swelters on the top-down side.
The department’s staff had recommended issuing the air quality permits, but Roderick L. Bremby, the secretary of the department, said in a statement, “I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.”

Meanwhile, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation tried to spin the decision:
A spokesman, Stephen J. Miller, said the court decision merely permitted regulations on carbon dioxide but did not create them. “There are no carbon dioxide regulations in the federal rules or in Kansas,” Miller said.

That’s exactly why Bremby’s decision is such a big deal. He went beyond the letter of the law to exercise discretionary concern. The story notes that, according to the Sierra Club, this is the first time a power plant application has been rejected on global warming grounds and that various environmental groups intend to use this precedent in other states.

For more on the variety of opposition coal-fired electric power plants are drawing, including rock-ribbed red state opposition, see this story. When a Republican cattle rancher in Montana is concerned, you know that global warming denialists of the far right are playing out the tether

Big Coal and Big Electricity aren’t taking this lying down, though:
“It’s clear new coal-fired generation is running into roadblocks,” said Rick Sergel, president and chief executive of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. “I don’t believe we can allow coal-fired generation to become an endangered species. We simply must use all the resources we have.”

The story notes that red-state opposition is mainly in red states west of the Mississippi, where many GOPers already dislike Bush-Cheney over things like coal-bed methane, massive natural gas drilling on BLM land and other things that threaten hunting and fishing.

Red-staters in the South are the heartland of global warming denialists and apparently unconcerned about sweltering in ever-higher heat — and humidity, which global warming will also bring to already-humid areas.

And, even in the West, the hunting and shooting aspects of environmentalism still trump global warming concerns in many places:
“I think global warming is a hoax, and I hate to hitch my wagon to environmentalists,” C. J. Kantorowicz said recently in his living room after a hard day planting winter wheat. “I went to the meeting with the mind that I’d shoot holes in her story, her environmentalist’s view. But she and others convinced me they were right by being honest and answering our questions in detail about pollution and such.”

But, getting a rancher in Montana just to sit down long enough to listen to an environmentalist is a step forward.

And, the continued boom in wind power promises Western farmers and ranchers of the High Plains and Front Range some serious supplemental income — another reason they’re willing to stop and listen to environmentalists.

October 19, 2007

Dallas voters, vote “Yes” to vote no to an ill-planned toll road; Best Southwest leaders, it won’t help down here

Now, I’ve just moved back to the Metroplex, and don’t live in Dallas itself. Nonetheless, especially with the help of the Dallas Observer, I believe I can tell Dallas voters to vote “Yes” Nov. 6 to defeat the Trinity toll road, and speak to southside suburban claims as well.

Let me start right there. Per Jim Schutze, the only possible benefit anybody in the Best Southwest will get is if The Allen Group succeeds in its money-throwing and arm-twisting attempt to get the toll road to also be made into a truck route.

Yummm…. How many of you in Dallas are in favor of a nice, lovely, park being invaded by thousands of semis? Didn’t think so.

And, if The Allen Group wants a toll road truck route, shouldn’t it focus on Loop 9 instead? And, not just The Allen Group. What’s really needed is, indeed, the completion of an outer beltway around Dallas. If you’re The Allen Group, redistributing from your southside warehouses to Little Rock, there’s no need to drive through downtown. With a completed outer loop, there’s not even the need to drive the LBJ.

And, if you want to boost mid-Metroplex traffic more, try finding ways of limiting access on more sections of Loop 12, and boosting speed limits mildly.

I would likely, combined with other business in Dallas itself, visit a nice Trinity park. One with a lot of freeway traffic right beside it? Not so likely.

October 18, 2007

Starbucks: use different beans!

I think I figured out part of why Starbucks ain’t all that for me. It uses too many Latin American beans for its different coffees. I like the hard, dry earthiness of East African coffees and the damp earthiness of Indonesian area coffees more than the winey flavor of most Latin American coffees; no matter the roasting level, I think you always have some of the wininess, or the different types of earthiness come through.

Senate Dems and Rockefeller cave on telecom immunity in FISA

Did you really expect Jay Rockefeller to have a backbone on FISA renewal? The retroactive telecom immunity proves Jay remains the same. And why are real progressives still supposed to vote Democrat rather than Green or other options?

Besides that, it’s not clear whether or not Bush won’t move the goalposts still further.

And now, we know why House GOP members put a poison pill amendment on that chamber’s FISA renewal bill yesterday — stalling for time in the Senate.

Missing from the 2008 presidential race: governors

Especially on the Democratic side, as Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano points out. Bill Richardson is the only Democratic candidate to have served as a governor.

Meanwhile, the GOP side has Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and former NYC Mayor (a sort of executive position) Rudy Giuliani.

The story notes that Napolitano, being a governor herself, could be on Democrats’ short list of vice-presidential candidate possibilities.

DNA co-discover puts foot in mouth over race-intelligence issue

It’s hard to believe that someone of the stature of James Watson would say this in public, just as it’s hard to grasp that someone of his learning would believe it, but the Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of DNA apparently believes in a black-white intelligence gap. And, by referencing both black Africans and African-Americans, the clear inference is that he believes this is race-based and not culture-based:
Watson, an American, sparked uproar by telling Britain's Sunday Times he was “inherently gloomy about the prospects of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.”

The 79-year-old geneticist said he hoped that everyone was equal but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.”

I think “unbelievable” is the only thing to immediately come to mind.
Beyond that, the fact that Watson apparently believes there is a core, definable, and already defined “g” measure of intelligence, and that he also believes intelligence tests measure it, show that the width of his genius-level knowledge is narrow, indeed.

The first precept is hotly questioned, especially the part about whether we have defined what “g” is. The second precept is not just questioned but actually rejected by the majority of psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists that study human personality testing.

October 17, 2007

It’s time to rethink the old stereotype that “local = greener” on food

Because, in many cases, it just ain’t so. You have to know how the local and long-distance food was transported to market, how much or little fertilizer was used, etc.
“Food-miles are a great metaphor for looking at the localness of food, the contrast between local and global food, a way people can get an idea of where their food is coming from," said Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

“They are not a reliable indicator of environmental impact,” Pirog said in a telephone interview. “What one would want to do is look at your carbon footprint across a whole food supply chain.”

The problem with food-miles is that they don't take into account the mode of transport, methods of production or the way things are packaged, and all of these have their own distinct impact on emissions of carbon dioxide, a climate-warming gas.

Take the case of the well-traveled Idaho potato and its closer-to-home cousin from Maine. For a consumer on the U.S. East Coast, the Maine potato seems the winner in the local food derby.

But Maine potatoes get to market by long-haul truck while Idahos go by train, a more energy-efficient mode of transportation, so they have a smaller carbon footprint even with a larger number of food-miles.

I’m betting that long-distance conventionally grown produce can even be more “green” than locally-grown organics, at times.

Bush goes nutbar on World War III mongering

Can you spare us the apocalyptic prophecy about what will happen if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, Mr. “Anointed.” World War III will happen in that case only because you and His Satanic Majesty Dick Cheney want it.

Rick Perry sure to solidify his RINO status in Texas

His endorsement of Rudy Giuliani can’t help but draw fire from social conservatives. Perry signaled it could be a problem precisely through how he attempted to downplay it. Referring to Rudy’s pro-choice stance on abortion, we have:
Perry said when he buys a pickup truck, he doesn't rule it out simply because it has one option he doesn't like.

But, Gov. Helmethair then contradicted himself:
“The one (issue) that I wanted to hear him give me an answer and look me right in my eyes was that issue of who can I expect, what type of individual can I expect on the Supreme Court,” Perry said at a news conference with Giuliani.

You just admitted you’re OK with him being pro-choice; does that then mean you’re OK with the pro-choice justices he’ll name?

October 16, 2007

Is the middle class partly to blame for its own woes, part two?

Yesterday, I argued the middle class is partially (but certainly not totally) to blame for its own woes.

Here’s a more in-depth look, based on Liz Pulliam’s smackdown of financial whiners and an analysis stating today’s middle class has less disposable income after essentials, to which I give a contrarian take.

I’ll buy the argument that college costs have unnecessarily, and pretty uncontrollably for the average middle-class parent, risen beyond inflation, as the second article states. But, housing costs? People have brought this on themselves by buying ever-bigger houses even as average family size continues to shrink.

Nobody put a gun to any family’s head and told them to buy a 2,600-square foot house, let alone a 3,500-square foot one, when an 1,750-square foot house would be adequate to their needs and a 2,200-square foot one would be more than adequate.

Financiers smelling the java on severity of housing slump

A J.P. Morgan analyst says we ain’t seen nothing yet. And, at last, some home builders and manufacturers’ groups are undergoing at least a mild confessional, too:
“It’s going to be a long time before we see it bottom out and recover,” said David Lowman, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase's Global Mortgage unit. “There's too much inventory already in the marketplace.”

Lowman and the three other participants in a round-table session before most of the (Mortgage Bankers Association) convention’s 4,000 participants differed slightly on the size of price declines still upcoming, but they agreed no price recovery is likely until at least 2009.

"I think this year we will see a 2 percent decline in national home prices, and we're projecting about a 4 percent decline next year," said Thomas Lund, an executive vice president at Fannie Mae.

Prices likely will flatten in 2009, Lund said, before gradually rising.

Lowman said it might be 2010 before the price decline ends.

There you go: a multi-year housing slump is being accepted by mainstream financiers, mortgage backers. It’s not far-out pessimism any more.

Paulson ’fesses up on severity of housing slump; will others join him?

Well, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is finally admitting there’s a real problem. And, at last, some home builders and manufacturers’ groups are undergoing at least a mild confessional, too:
The National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday its housing market index, which tracks builders' perceptions of conditions and expectations for home sales over the next six months, fell two points to 18 in October, the lowest level since the index began in January 1985. It was the eighth straight monthly decline. ...

Declines in builder confidence were seen across the country, except for the Midwest, which increased by two points but remained the weakest region nationwide.

Builders, including Pulte Homes Inc. and Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., have been holding special promotional sales with deep discounts. Still, Brian Catalde, the trade group’s president, said in a statement that many potential buyers are hoping that even better deals will come along.

The group's chief economist, David Seiders, said in a statement that many prospective buyers have “unrealistic expectations” about new home prices and about how much their current homes are worth in this market.

Seiders projected that sales will stabilize in the next six months and show “significant improvement” in the second half of next year.

The report came as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in a speech at Georgetown University’s law school, said the housing market correction is persisting for longer than expected and appears likely to “continue to adversely impact our economy, our capital markets and many homeowners for some time yet.”

That said, it looks like Seiders is just sniffing decaf coffee so far, compared to Paulson. Seiders doesn’t yet seem to have the phrase “some time yet” in his vocabulary.

If not Paulson’s mug, Seiders might need a couple of sips from Ben Bernanke’s cup of java.
Wall Street sank for a second straight session Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the slumping housing market remains a “significant drag” on the economy.

Bernanke’s speech Monday night in New York elevated concerns that the summer's credit tightness might persist into the winter — a sobering thought for investors, who are sifting through mixed third-quarter earnings and watching energy costs rise.

Despite the Fed’s rate cut last month, between housing and energy news, I’m keeping my nine-month recession odds prediction near 50-50 and my 15-month prediction (January 2009) at above that.

Kay Bailey not running for Senate again

And may leave before the end of her term to run for governor.

Yeah, but didn’t we hear this about Chicken Shit Little Kay two years ago, before she pulled her horns in against Rick Perry?

More on the Iraqi clusterfuck, from former U.S. boots on the ground

Twelve former Army captains spell out Iraqi corruption, the paucity of boots on the ground (including in the “surge”) and more.

Their final thought? One that no Republican has entertained or will entertain for a moment, and that has also escaped acceptance from the three “top-tier” Democrats:
There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

If “war-lite” Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards get the nomination, you know what to do with your conscience.

Vote Green.

Warrantless telecom snooping goes beyond terror

Verizon turned over customer records in kidnapping and sex crime cases, too. Plus, it turned over not just records of suspect callers but also of the persons they contacted.

Five bucks says the Democratic Senate FISA renewal bill gives retroactive telecom prosecution immunity in exchange for some vague promise not to do it again.

The bottom line is: no telecom immunity and no basket warrants. We’ll see what actually happens.

OPEC owning up to Peak Oil shadow?

As oil passed $85/bbl today, OPEC admitted that growing tightness in production may not loosen up because non-OPEC members aren’t producing as much oil:
Despite the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' decision last month to boost its production by 500,000 barrels per day beginning next month, the rest of the world will likely produce 110,000 fewer barrels of oil per day than expected in the fourth quarter, OPEC said in a report.

The Peak Oil, it is a coming, Dylan might sing.

Is the middle class partly to blame for its own woes?

Whilethis story doesn’t editorialize a “yes,” that’s its arguable conclusion.

A woman, albeit a single mother with two kids, albeit in Miami (pricey, but not as pricey as New York or California) with an income of more than $70,000 and who claims to be poor needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

For Texas residents, would a single mother with an income of $55,000-60,000 (translating costs of living) count as “poor” rather than “middle class”? I think not.

Live within your means. Yes, the rich-middle class gap may be widening along with the rich-poor gap, but you’ll feel better in the long term (after the hassles’ of fighting off kids’ TV-induced greed) by detaching even a little bit from the modern materialistic Wheel of Suffering. Stop feeding the beast quite so much. The fact that you call yourself poor, Ms. Suarez, suggests that you are part of the problem.

Feminists are sexy

That’s the word from two Rutgers researchers:
Feminism was linked to healthier heterosexual relationships for women, they found, while men with feminist partners reported more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.

Doesn’t get much simpler than that, does it?

No wonder Southern evangelical Protestants have a divorce rate higher than the national average.

October 14, 2007

You have a right to be an atheist in the U.S. Armed Forces

Even if it takes a lawsuit to defend that right.

You know, it’s a pretty effing sad commentary on how much heavily evangelistic religious right groups have infiltrated the U.S. military when the Turkish General Staff has to give an American major general a lecture spelling out what American church-state separation actually means.

Here’s hoping Mikey Weinstein’s lawsuit against the U.S. Army on behalf of Spec. Jeremy Hall leads others to come forward, assuming there is, as there seems to be, a pattern of religious abuse in the military.

Oh, and reports of other soldiers in Iraq talking about fragging Hall show that hate, not love, is the driving force behind a lot of these insider evangelist groups.

The general American public deserves no pass on Iraq

Frank Rich is right. The time has long passed for the American people not only to become disillusioned with Iraq, but to become de-delusioned from Bush’s PR spinning and fear mongering.

The American public, or percentage of it, that continues to support Bush, or that continues to give a pass to a Democratic Congress that won’t do the simple things of continuing to work at passing a bill to get us out of the war and a second bill to stop funding mercenaries, period, has the blood of torture on its own hands.