Thursday, December 29, 2011

No wonder we're cynical about politics

When politicians just outright lie so they can get elected, no wonder citizens get turned off from political interest.  A noninterested citizenry does not work well with democracy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tiny houses catching on?

I would say these are a bit TOO tiny, but personally I could live in 400 square feet or so.  But it certainly does make sense to have just enough and be mortgage free, than have more room than you need and be weighed down by a big mortgage payment.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ecological economics catching on

"'Overwhelmingly, growth is seen as the solution to all problems, but growth is failing,' says Herman Daly, a former World Bank economist who is also known as the father of 'ecological economics,' an offshoot of the same field that spawned Adam Smith three centuries ago but challenges many of the assumptions that classical economists hold dear.  
While the term may seem like an oxymoron to some, ecological economics places the economy inside the larger 'ecosphere' that supports all life on Earth, rather than seeing the economy and job creation in direct opposition to environmental protection. That's an idea that has gained ground in recent years as businesses have become increasingly compromised by water and raw material scarcity, extreme weather, crop failures and other problems linked to global warming and environmental degradation."

It's just common sense that an economy can't grow forever.  But people still believe this. That's why people get swept up in housing bubbles, .com bubbles, and all the bubbles that build and pop one after the other.

I personally like the idea of the moral economy, where our success is gauged by how well people are doing, not how much money corporations are making.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

America the Paranoid

"A growing number of U.S. citizens have been mistakenly detained as part of the Secure Communities program. It's a federal effort to detect and deport illegal immigrants who've been arrested by local law enforcement. In Los Angeles recently, four native-born citizens — all Latino — have been held for days at a time."

ICE - the Immigration and Customs Enforcement - uses their Secure Communities program to grab anybody they suspect is in the US illegally. In the process, they grab and hold legal US citizens as if they were criminals.  Why?

"The United States, with a budget of $698 billion, spends more on defense than the next seventeen nations combined. The United States military spending is almost six times that of the next biggest spender, China ($119 billion) and more than eleven times that of Russia ($59 billion)."

What are we so afraid of that we outspend the rest of the world on military expenditures?

"Rebecca Hains said the Transportation Security Administration agent at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas took her cupcake Wednesday. According to Hains, he told her its frosting was enough like a gel to violate TSA restrictions on allowing liquids and gels onto flights to prevent them from being used as explosives."

I could go on. After 9/11 we became the most paranoid nation on earth.  We started two wars that drained our economy to the point of collapse.  We started policing ourselves to the point that even cupcakes are considered a terrorist threat. The infirm are frisked, old ladies are treated like Al Qaeda.  We've spent ourselves into the ground. All because our paranoia grew way out of proportion.

Can't it be said that the terrorist won when we react like this?  They wanted to ruin our economy. They wanted us to live in fear.  They wanted to mess with our heads.  And we let them.

It's time to turn all this down not just a notch, but a lot.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Things you don't hear about that could still ruin your day

"Environmentalists estimate at least 1 percent of Russia's annual oil production, or 5 million tons, is spilled every year. That is equivalent to one Deepwater Horizon-scale leak about every two months. Crumbling infrastructure and a harsh climate combine to spell disaster in the world's largest oil producer, responsible for 13 percent of global output.
Oil, stubbornly seeping through rusty pipelines and old wells, contaminates soil, kills all plants that grow on it and destroys habitats for mammals and birds. Half a million tons every year get into rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean, the government says, upsetting the delicate environmental balance in those waters."

There are natural oil leaks, such as off the California coast. But holy cow, 5 million tons per year, and a lot of that heading to sea?  I'm not happy about this.

Free places to learn online

And then there's this from MIT:

"Now MIT is looking to strike that balance — with an extra letter. University officials described "MITx" as a non-profit entity established inside the university that will offer an "MIT-sanctioned certificate" for completing various courses or, perhaps eventually, whole course sequences — though MIT emphasized full degrees will not be in the offing.
How exactly will it work? On a conference call Friday, university officials were short on many details — how many courses would eventually be offered, how much it would cost, even the name of the first course for the experiment in spring.
They did say they would focus, at least initially, on science and engineering, where assessment is fairly objective and easily scaled up."

With the cost of a university education skyrocketing, it's good to know there are places to go where you can learn for a decent price, free!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

city view of US economy; Milwaukee

"First, the numbers. From 1970 to 2007, the percentage of families in the Milwaukee metropolitan area that were middle class declined from 37 to 24 percent, according to a new analysis by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. During the same period, the proportion of affluent families grew from 22 to 27 percent-while the percentage of poor households swelled from 23 to 31 percent. In short, Milwaukee's middle class families went from a plurality to its smallest minority...
Late Wednesday afternoon, that was evident in the Jefferson Elementary school of West Allis, a once solidly middle class suburb bordering Milwaukee. In a crowded school gymnasium, principal Shelly Strasser said that fifty percent of students now qualify for free or reduced price school lunch programs. In other local schools, the number is ninety percent."

OWS came about because of the economic inequality building in the US.  If the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, pretty soon you just have serfs and lords.  All the wealth winds up behind castle walls while the populous barely scrapes by.  Devolution.

Friday, December 16, 2011

LEDs for a brighter future

"A field trial of LED light fittings in social housing says the new technology can deliver huge energy savings, reduce costs and makes residents feel safer. The study, carried out by the Energy Saving Trust (EST), measured the performance of more than 4,250 LED light fittings installed at 35 sites. The EST said it carried out the trial because an increasing number of LED lights were now commercially available. It is predicted the technology could dominate the lighting market by 2015."

Talk about win-win!  LEDs are cheaper to run, last longer, and give off a more natural light!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Half of America is officially poor

The latest figures out of the US Census Bureau show that in addition to the 49.1 million Americans who fall below the official poverty line, those that rake in enough to be between that level and the income equitable to double it fall into a new “low-income” category, which counts an additional 97.3 million people. Altogether, that clump of nearly 150 million Americans living in dire economic standing accounts for around 48 percent of the US population.
American officials have deemed the current poverty line to be at around $22,000 for a family of four, but the new category just about doubles that figure to $45,000 and places those that fall between the numbers as low-income. The Associated Press reports that for families that fit in that range, often half of the household income is spent on child-care costs and housing bills."

America is still rich. It's just that the wealth has accumulated with the top 1%.  It took 30 years for us to get here, but hopefully it won't take that long to rebuild a middle class.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marriage going out of favor?

A new report shows that the share of American adults who are married dropped to a record low in 2009-2010 — to just a smidgen over half of population 18 and older. And the age at which Americans first tie the knot has never been higher, according to analysis of U.S. Census data by Pew Research Center published Wednesday.
It’s no secret that the 'market share' of marriage has been in decline for decades — from 72 percent in 1960 to 51 percent today, a trend that has been accompanied by a rising tolerance for single parents, cohabitation without marriage and other alternatives. At the current pace, the share of U.S. adults who are married will dip to less than half within a few years, the Pew study says."

Is this good?  Bad?  Unimportant?  I'm not sure.  I personally think if you're going to have children, a married couple makes the best parents.  But if you don't have and don't plan to have children, it seems to make little difference.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Defunding our schools is not how to improve the economy

"Rappaport's ruling concludes a five-week trial in one of the most provocative education lawsuits in Colorado's history. Lobato v. State of Colorado was filed in 2005, arguing that the state's education system is unconstitutional, by failing to comply with a clause in the state constution that calls for a 'thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state.'"

The U.S. and states have been designed to stress education as one of the most important parts of government duty.  And yet, as here in South Dakota, education takes a big whack whenever the economy suffers.  It's yet another case of the people wanting something that they don't want to pay for.

I just don't see how crippling our education system will help anyone, or any economy.  Without qualified workers and educated voters there's not much hope for a society like ours.  It will turn into something else.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Demand-side economics makes sense

"I’ve never been a 'job creator.' I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate. That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be."

All my life I've heard "supply-side economics" pushed as the most useful economic theory. This means that you stress those companies and people that produce things as the engine that makes our economy works. But this never really made sense to me, because what if people don't buy?  You can wind up with warehouses full of stuff and still if no one buys, what is the point?  So I'm happy to see demand-side economics explained and promoted.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

buh bye phone privacy

"Intelligence officials discovered that when they switched off the tampered phones, two lines would disappear from the network, and when switched on again, two lines would reappear, even though only one SIM card was actually installed in the phone.
The purpose of 'twinning' is to allow third parties to remotely access the data records of the phone, trace its location and eavesdrop on conversations in the vicinity of the phone, regardless of whether the phone is switched on or off.
'The benefits would allow you to eavesdrop on the phone communications,' said Taher. "'f you can also activate the hands-free, you can listen in on what is going on in the room, even when there is no phone call being placed on the phone, so it's an open mike on your target the whole time.'"

Holy crap this is a scary article if you like to have phone privacy.  Essentially if some nefarious person gains inside access to a cell phone system, your privacy is screwed.  They may even be able to use your phone as a microphone to listen in on you whenever they like.

The joys of technology have unfortunately been followed by the fears of spying.  Like the Internet, apparently our cell phone system has not been well designed to prevent infiltration.  What a bummer.