July 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


The Best Way to See the U.S. Is by Train (William D'Urso, Jul 1, 2018, Outside)

Trains have long endured as a fixture of American industry, transporting goods and people across the country and forging what has become the United States as we know it. They still do a lot of that stuff, but long ago they stopped being a primary mode of long-haul transportation. Now they're mostly fun to gawk at while you match their speed from the highway.

Trains are more expensive than buses and cheaper than airplanes. They're definitely more spacious than both, and they chug along at just the right speed--slow enough to take in scenery and fast enough not to be bored by it--through mountain canyons, over fields of grass the settlers once trod on horseback, past decaying factory towns and deep forests.

"These secret pleasures of a railroad summon forth a vision of a sweet pastness, a lost national togetherness," wrote author Tom Zoellner in his book Train: Riding the Rails in the Modern World. "The train is a time traveler itself, the lost American vehicle of our ancestors, or perhaps our past selves."

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Has "Freedom" Lost Its Ring? (Jessica Hooten Wilson, Spring 2018 - Intercollegiate Review Online)

If, however, we distinguish between one interpretation of freedom--liberty--and another--license--we are able to use the word with accuracy. In John Milton's Paradise Lost, a poem that illustrates the human fall from reasonable and just into slavish and unjust creatures, the angel Michael explains to the postlapsarian Adam that he has lost "true liberty" because it was "twinned" with "right reason." Liberty, in this rendering, is freedom to act according to reason. For those of us predisposed to think of freedom as "doing whatever we want," we may be surprised to hear the traditional definition of freedom. Writers such as Milton--and before him Dante, Boethius, and others--considered an autonomous individual let loose to pursue her desires freely to be a soul enslaved. The "freedom" to consume, to surrender to your appetites, or to pursue your goals at the expense of others, in the traditional understanding, would be called "license." On the heels of Milton, political philosopher John Locke considered such license detrimental to society. Only liberty was an appropriate freedom within a society.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


E.P.A. Chief Scott Pruitt Resigns Under a Cloud of Ethics Scandals (Coral Davenport, July 5, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Pruitt had been hailed as a hero among conservatives for his zealous deregulation, but he could not overcome a spate of ethics questions about his alleged spending abuses, first-class travel and cozy relationships with lobbyists. Earlier on Thursday, The New York Times reported on new questions about whether aides to Mr. Pruitt had deleted sensitive information about his meetings from his public schedule, potentially in violation of the law.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


The big picture: How Corporate America is silencing the gun industry (Michael Sykes, 7/04/18, Axios)

[C]orporate entities are hesitant to support gun manufacturers and sellers as today's social media age of instant reactions increasingly demands that corporations take a stand on social issues.

Payment processing firms are limiting firearm transactions, per the Chicago Tribune.

Some financial institutions, including the Bank of America and Citigroup, have both restricted their business with gun manufacturers and buyers in recent months.

Walmart raised the age requirement to purchase firearms to 21 in February.

Dick's Sporting Goods also raised its minimum age to purchase firearms to 21 -- and banned the sale of assault-style weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


They Walked Out On Birthright To See Palestinians -- And Created Their Own Conflict (Aiden Pink, June 28, 2018, The Forward)

Katie Fenster says that she wasn't planning on walking out on her Birthright Israel tour when she arrived. But during the free 10-day trip, she grew increasingly frustrated that the answers to her questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "all came from one perspective" and did not include Palestinian views. "We felt like we weren't being engaged with honestly," she told the Forward.

So on Wednesday, the final day of activities on her trip, she and four other women staged a walkout in Tel Aviv, meeting up with the controversial anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence for a tour of Hebron in the West Bank, where they met with Palestinians and saw a shrine dedicated to an Israeli terrorist.

The video taken of the walkout, which has since gone viral, shows the five women being angrily confronted by other trip participants and their Israeli tour guide, who accused them of "pulling a fast one" and "trying to enforce [their] opinions on the rest of the participants." [...]

"Judaism is about asking questions," she added. "It seems so surprising that they would be upset at us for asking questions."

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Why America needs more immigrants (The Economist, Jun 25th 2018)

Rogelio Sáenz of the University of Texas and Kenneth M. Johnson at the University of New Hampshire used data from the National Centre for Health Statistics of the Centre for Disease Control to find that deaths amongst non-Latino whites surpassed births in the same group for the first time in history two years ago. The white non-Latino population declined in 26 states in 2016, up from four states in 2004. Declining fertility and rising mortality both played a role: between 1999 and 2016, the number of non-Latino white births fell by 11%--with a particularly rapid decline during the financial crisis--while the number of deaths rose by 9%.

The trends are unlikely to reverse much: every year, there are fewer white non-Latino women of child-bearing age and more white old men and women. The median age of this demographic group has risen from 39 in 2000 to 43 in 2016.

The researchers' work suggests that recent Census Bureau forecasts for white non-Latino population size are probably biased upward. But even those forecasts suggested that in 2020 there would be 70,000 fewer births than deaths among that population group, with its overall size only sustained in that year by migration. And even accounting for migration, the forecasts predict the white non-Latino population will fall by about a quarter of a million people each year by 2030 and nearly three quarters of a million a year by 2050.   

Minorities and migrants are filling the gap.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Studies: Mass Detention of Migrant Families is Unnecessary, Inefficient (Eleanor Acer, July 5, 2018, jUST sECURITY)

At Human Rights First, we provide pro bono legal representation to refugees seeking asylum. From this experience, we know that asylum seekers who are afforded accurate information and legal representation overwhelmingly appear for their immigration removal hearings. Recent government data, published by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), reveals that 97% of represented mothers whose cases were initiated in 2014 were in compliance with their immigration court hearing obligations three years later, as Human Rights First detailed in a February 2018 analysis of that data. A new comprehensive statistical study, conducted by Professor Ingrid Eagly and colleagues, reveals that 86 percent of families appeared for their hearings and 96 percent of families seeking asylum attended all their hearings. With legal representation, 97 percent of asylum seekers appeared for all hearings.

In cases where people need some appearance support, there are other options, as my colleague Robyn Barnard and I pointed out in our summary of the Top 10 Reasons Family Incarceration is Not a Solution. For instance, ICE operated a Family Case Management Program that resulted in 99% attendance for ICE check-ins and appointments, as well as 100% attendance at court hearings. The program used professional social workers to provide education about participants' responsibilities, individualized family service plans and other case management support. Launched by ICE, the program was operated by GEO Group, the private prison company which also operates many immigration detention facilities. Despite the program's successes, ICE mysteriously canceled the program last year.

Faith-based groups have also initiated case management programs that are community-based. For example, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) piloted small, privately-funded community-based models, showing promising initial results with program compliance rates of 96 to 97 percent.

DHS's own advisory committee recommended expansion of community-based case management programs rather than family detention. Concluding that detention is "never in the best interest of children," the committee recommended DHS "discontinue the general use of family detention, reserving it for rare cases when necessary following an individualized assessment of the need to detain because of danger or flight risk that cannot be mitigated by conditions of release." The DHS Advisory Committee specifically recommended that "[i]f necessary to mitigate individualized flight risk or danger, every effort should be made to place families in community-based case-management programs that offer medical, mental health, legal, social, and other services and supports, so that families may live together within a community."

As the CATO Institute's Alex Nowrasteh explains, another ICE program, an intensive supervision program operated by BI Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary the GEO Group Inc, resulted in a 99.6% appearance rate at immigration court hearings, and a 91.1% compliance rate with court orders, meaning these participants either left the country as ordered or earned legal status. The "full service" program involved both case management and monitoring through the use of technology and visitation, while "technology assisted" programs use only monitoring by technology - including electronic ankle monitors.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Al Qaeda-backed terror group bans single-use plastic bags (Times of Israel, 7/05/18)

According to the newspaper, the website broadcast an audio clip in which Mohammed Abu Abdullah, al-Shabaab's governor in the Jubaland region, said that plastic bags "pose a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike."

According to the BBC there was no mention of how the ban was to be enforced; however, fear of violence at the hands of the terrorists means that their edicts are usually followed. [...]

This is not the first time terrorists have shown concern for the environment -- documents seized during the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan included a letter in which he called on Americans to help then-president Barack Obama fight "catastrophic" climate change and "save humanity," the Reuters news agency reports.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Our Say: Today, we're walking in the Fourth of July parade to help Annapolis heal (Capital Gazette, 7/04/18)

We're hurting, but we know Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are, too. It's so difficult to grasp that our community was the site of a mass shooting; that Annapolis has joined the names synonymous with abhorrent violence.

On Independence Day, we're not taking part in the parade because we stand for some brand of political thought or calls for gun control or arguments against. We will not be there for those who are mad at the president or those who are mad at people who are angry with the president. Even those in the world of journalism who have offered a breathtakingly welcome wave of support for us aren't the reason we'll walk.

We'll be on West Street and Main Street because we want our readers and our community to see that we believe things will, eventually, be OK again. Eventually.

Have a glorious Fourth.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


American cities are reviving-but leaving the poor behind: The post-industrial U.S. "legacy" cities are experiencing a renaissance. But lower-income, majority-black enclaves are struggling more than ever. (EILLIE ANZILOTTI, 7/05/18, Fast Company)

The popular narrative of gentrification goes something like this: In cities, young, affluent college grads move into lower-income neighborhoods of color, and before long, coffee shops and hip boutiques start to replace older stores. It's not long before the real estate developers and agents follow and the rents skyrocket. This narrative is largely derived from cities like New York, D.C., and Seattle, where population growth-especially due to an influx of wealthy people-is far outstripping the housing supply, and essentially all neighborhoods are changing and becoming more expensive.

But cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, which are the focus of Mallach's book, have only recently begun to welcome new residents. These new people were likely drawn, Mallach says, by jobs at the educational and medical institutions like the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore that have slowly but surely replaced the manufacturing industries that anchored the cities in the past. Gentrification in these places is more gentle, and revolves around not displacing residents (because there were so few to begin with), but more around filling in gaps.

The movement of young people into Lawrenceville, for instance, brought a swath of new amenities and investment. While some, like a yoga studio, might prompt older residents to roll their eyes, Mallach writes, others, like better grocery stores and improved transit, offer fairly universal benefits. It's still affordable, because Pittsburgh is still affordable, and Mallach argues that if Lawrenceville hadn't experienced that initial influx of young residents, it may very well have declined: "The reality," he writes, "is that today most neighborhoods that don't survive, go downhill."

The latter situation, Mallach says, is something that low-income, majority-black neighborhoods in U.S. legacy cities are all too familiar with. And even as the cities around them draw buzz and New York Times culture pieces, and as the Lawrencevilles of the landscape start to turn around, they're unlikely to do the same. In American cities, race and poverty are inextricably linked, and in these post-industrial cities, as Mallach writes, "the revival is ignoring the poor."

Cities make fine business parks, entertainment complexes and temporary housing for young professionals, but no one else should live there--especially if they have children. Like Disneyworld, they should empty overnight.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


The good news about black men in America (W. Bradford Wilcox, @WilcoxNMP Wendy Wang, Ronald Mincy, July 3, 2018 | CNN

Our new report, "Black Men Making It In America," spotlights two pieces of particular good news about the economic well-being of black men.

First, the share of black men in poverty has fallen from 41% in 1960 to 18% today. Second, and more importantly, the share of black men in the middle or upper class -- as measured by their family income -- has risen from 38% in 1960 to 57% today. In other words, about one-in-two black men in America have reached the middle class or higher.

This good news is important and should be widely disseminated because it might help reduce prejudicial views of black men in the society at large, and negative portrayals of black men in the media. It should also engender hope among all African-Americans -- particularly young black males.

Correcting overly negative depictions and attitudes regarding black men is important because they shape how black men are treated, and how black men view their potential. Alan Jenkins, executive director of Opportunity Agenda, a social justice organization, noted that "Research and experience show that expectations and biases on the part of potential employers, teachers, health care providers, police officers, and other stakeholders influence the life outcomes of millions of black males."

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Clean energy will do to gas what gas has done to coal: Globally, solar and wind projects now have the lowest life-cycle cost of all electricity sources (Jules Kortenhorst & Mark Dyson, 5/30/18, WEF)

Natural gas is currently cheap and its power plant technology is mature. This is why it is so prominent in electricity production and why so much investment is planned for it. But innovation in other technologies is quickly catching up and will likely put that investment in natural gas at risk. RMI analysis found that the costs of renewable energy, battery storage and energy efficiency are continuing to fall very quickly. In the US, benchmark prices for wind, solar photovoltaic and battery projects have fallen by 65-90% in the past 10 years. They are forecast to continue falling by a further 50% or more through 2030. Globally, solar and wind projects now have the lowest life-cycle cost of all electricity sources, according to data from the World Economic Forum released in December 2016.

The rapid pace of decline in cost has important implications for the global market for new gas infrastructure. Even in the US, with its domestic sources of cheap natural gas, the recent RMI report found that a portfolio of renewable energy, battery storage and energy efficiency can often be developed at a lower cost than a new gas-fired power plant, with lower financial risk and zero carbon emissions. RMI also found that because the cost to develop new clean energy portfolios is falling so rapidly, they are likely to beat just the operating costs of efficient gas-fired power plants within the next two decades.

RMI's US-focused analysis suggests that hundreds of billions of dollars of planned investment in natural gas infrastructure could be stranded over the coming decades, despite the US' abundance of cheap, local gas. In many global markets, imported LNG is much costlier than domestic gas in the US (adding US$2-4/MMBtu). In other markets, such as Western Europe, political risks associated with gas supply could limit availability or raise prices even further. As prices for renewable energy fall quickly around the world, more and more markets will find it attractive to lock in low-cost renewables, instead of paying more for natural gas-based power generation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


WANT A WIFE? GROW A BEARD (Melissa Pandika, NOV 30 2016, OZY)

A team led by Barnaby Dixson of the University of Queensland concluded that women find men with scruff attractive as short-term partners, but gravitate to full-on beards for long-term relationships.

Although it's not clear why women view a bearded man as a keeper, earlier research suggests that beards make men look more mature and socially dominant -- in other words, more likely to take the lead, whether it's overseeing a project or rounding everyone up for happy hour. The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, propose that a full beard does double duty, masking extremely masculine features -- which signal a potential Mr. Hit and Quit -- while also advertising husband qualities.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The robodoctor will see you now (Mark Piesing, 05 JULY 2018, UnHerd)

The heroic age of the surgeon, they believe, is coming to an end for the same reasons the age of the pilot and driver did. Robot surgery offers patients more precise and less invasive keyhole surgery than they get from a human with a scalpel, gown and mask. In time, whole new operations may become possible.

More precise surgery means faster operations, quicker recovery times and less chance of secondary infection - of vital importance with an ageing population and the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections. It is predicted that in some countries, 40% of the population may be over 65 by the middle of the century. And deaths from these opportunistic infections could amount to 50 million a year globally by 2050. The robots could save them.

Robotic surgery would also mean busier operating theatres and patients spending less time in hospital beds afterwards. It would make recruitment easier, when the predicted shortage of 100,000 doctors in the USA becomes a reality.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Assad critic seizes chairmanship of key Iran parliament commission (Ehsan Bodaghi July 4, 2018, Al Monitor)

After 14 years, the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy commission has a new chairman. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh will replace Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who has headed the commission since 2005. Although both men are conservatives, they differ greatly in the policies they have adopted in the past. They also diverge in terms of the support they have derived from parliamentary factions. As such, the leadership shift is viewed by observers as much more than simply a game of musical chairs. Indeed, a commission headed by Falahatpisheh will likely experience very different days ahead. [...]

But more than anything, the difference between Boroujerdi and Falahatpisheh can be seen in how they coordinate their policies based on the viewpoints of Iran's leadership, and particularly how their stances on two key foreign policy issues are completely opposite (one being Syria and Iraq, and the other Iran's relations with Russia). Boroujerdi is among the Iranian politicians who are close allies to movements in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. In recent years, he has traveled to these countries on several occasions and has expressed strong support for President Bashar al-Assad during visits to Syria.

Conversely, Falahatpisheh is perhaps among one of the first officials within the Iranian political establishment who has strongly criticized Assad's policies. Referring to a call by the Syrian president for regional states not to turn Syria into a theater for their own conflicts in the aftermath of a series of Israeli airstrikes, Falahatpisheh retorted on May 12, "Bashar al-Assad's passive stance comes as Iranian youths have been losing their lives while defending the territorial integrity of Syria for the past six years. It was after these measures that Russia began its support, and after the conditions for stabilizing the Syrian government, that Bashar al-Assad's international equations moved forward."

Their views on Russia also differ. While Boroujerdi is among those within the political establishment who believe that Iran should strengthen its tilt toward Russia and China, Falahatpisheh has a completely different view. In August 2016, when Iran allowed Russia to use an air base in the northwestern Iranian city of Hamadan for operations in Syria, he was the only person who criticized the move, calling it "against the constitution." Moreover, in June, he said, "Iranians have repeatedly been a plaything in Russia's [self]-interest seeking policies."

As such, the evident differences in the political positioning of these two men can only guarantee one thing: Looking ahead, the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy commission is about to be reshaped.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income? (Nathan Heller, 7/05/18, The New Yorker)

One cause of the program's especial popularity in Northern California is also a reason for the urgency of its appeal: it is a futurist reply to the darker side of technological efficiency. Robots, we are told, will drive us from our jobs. The more this happens, the more existing workforce safety nets will be strained. In "Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream" (2016), the labor leader Andy Stern nominates U.B.I. as the right response to technological unemployment. Stern, a lifetime labor guy, is a former president of the two-million-member Service Employees International Union. But he thinks that the rise of robots and the general gig-ification of jobs will "marginalize the role of collective bargaining," so he has made a strategic turn to prepare for a disempowered working class. "You go into an Apple store and you see the future," he quotes an economist saying. "The future of the labor force is all in those smart college-educated people with the T-shirts whose job is to be a retail clerk." (This presumes that people will frequent brick-and-mortar shops in the first place.)

By Lowrey's assessment, the existing system "would falter and fail if confronted with vast inequality and tidal waves of joblessness." But is a U.B.I. fiscally sustainable? It's unclear. Lowrey runs many numbers but declines to pin most of them down. She thinks a U.B.I. in the United States should be a thousand dollars monthly. This means $3.9 trillion a year, close to the current expenditure of the entire federal government. To pay, Lowrey proposes new taxes on income, carbon, estates, pollution, and the like. But she is also curiously sanguine about costs, on the premise that few major initiatives balance out on the federal books: "The Bush tax cuts were not 'paid for.' The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not 'paid for.' " When the country wants to launch a big project, she insists, the double joints and stretchy tendons of a giant, globalized economy come into play.

This open planning won't exactly soothe the cautious. A big reason for chariness with a U.B.I. is that, so far, the program lives in people's heads, untried on a national scale. Then again, by the same mark, the model couldn't be called under-thunk. The academic counterpart to Lowrey's journalistic book is Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght's recent "Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy" (Harvard), a meticulously comprehensive, frequently persuasive accounting of U.B.I.'s superiority by measures economic, philosophical, and pragmatic. Like Lowrey, they see basic income as a sound social program and a corrective "hope": not a perfect system, but better than anything else.

Traditionally, a challenge for means-tested aid is that it must determine who is most deserving--a vestige of the old Elizabethan system. Often, there's a moralizing edge. Current programs, Lowrey points out, favor the working poor over the jobless. Race or racism plays into the way that certain policies are shaped, and bureaucratic requirements for getting help can be arcane and onerously cumulative. Who will certify the employee status of a guy who's living on the streets? How can you get disability aid if you can't afford the doctor who will certify you as disabled? With a universal income, just deserts don't seem at issue. Everybody gets a basic chance.

Observers often are squeamish about that proposition. Junkies, alcoholics, scam artists: Do we really want to hand these people monthly checks? In 2010, a team of researchers began giving two-hundred-dollar payments to addicts and criminals in Liberian slums. The researchers found that the money, far from being squandered on vice, went largely to subsistence and legitimate enterprise. Such results, echoed in other studies, suggest that some of the most beneficial applications of a U.B.I. may be in struggling economies abroad.

Like many students of the strategy, Lowrey points to Kenya, where she reported on a U.B.I. pilot in a small village. (She won't say which, for fear of making it a target for thieves--a concern worth counting as significant.) The pilot is run by a nonprofit called GiveDirectly, and is heavily funded through Silicon Valley; in that respect, it's a study in effective philanthropy, not a new model of society. But the results are encouraging. Before GiveDirectly sent everyone the equivalent of twenty-two U.S. dollars a month (delivered through a mobile app), Village X had dirt roads, no home electricity, and what Lowrey genteelly calls an "open defecation" model for some families. Now, by her account, the village is a bubbling pot of enterprise, as residents whose days used to be about survival save, budget, and plan. (The payments will continue until 2028.)

A widow tells her, "I'll deal with three things first urgently: the pit latrine that I need to construct, the part of my house that has been damaged by termites, and the livestock pen that needs reinforcement, so the hyena gets nothing from me on his prowls." A heavy-drinking deadbeat buys a motorbike for a taxi business, sells soap, buys two cows, and opens a barbershop. His work income quadruples. He boasts to Lowrey of his new life.

Purely as a kind of foreign aid, Lowrey suggests, a basic income is better than donated goods (boxes of shoes, mosquito nets), because cash can go to any use. The Indian government's chief economic adviser tells her that, with a U.B.I. of about a hundred U.S. dollars a year, India, where a third of the world's extreme poor live, could bring its poverty rates from twenty-two per cent to less than one per cent. Those figures are stunning. But India is in the midst of major bureaucratic change. Would there be any chance of a U.B.I. finding a foothold in the entrenched U.S. political climate?

Advocates have noted that the idea, generally formulated, has bipartisan support. Charles Murray, the conservative welfare critic, was an early enthusiast. His book "In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State" (2006) called for a U.B.I. of ten thousand dollars a year, plus catastrophic health insurance, to replace existing social programs, including Social Security. Rather than fester for years under the mismanaging claws of Big Government, he thought, money could flow directly to individual recipients. "The UBI lowers the rate of involuntary poverty to zero for everyone who has any capacity to work or any capacity to get along with other people," Murray declared.

But although politically dissimilar people may support a U.B.I., the reasons for their support differ, and so do the ways they set the numbers. A rising group of thinkers on the left, including David Graeber and Nick Srnicek, tout a generous version of U.B.I. both as a safety net and as a way to free people from lives spent rowing overmanaged corporate galleons. Business centrists and Silicon Valley types appreciate it as a way to manage industry side effects--such as low labor costs and the displacement of workers by apps and A.I.--without impeding growth. In "The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future" (Hachette), Andrew Yang, the Venture for America founder who has already filed for Presidential candidacy in 2020, recommends the model as a way to bypass kludgy governmental systems. He imagines it paired with something he calls "human capitalism." "For example, a journalist who uncovered a particular source of waste, an artist who beautified a city, or a hacker who strengthened our power grid could be rewarded with Social Credits," he explains. "Most of the technologists and young people I know would be beyond pumped to work on these problems."

Many of the super-rich are also super-pumped about the universal basic income. Elon Musk has said it will be "necessary." Sir Richard Branson speaks of "the sense of self-esteem that universal basic income could provide to people." What's the appeal for the plutocracy? For one thing, the system offers a hard budget line: you set the income figure, press start, go home. No new programs, no new rules. It also alleviates moral debt: because there is a floor for everyone, the wealthy can feel less guilt as they gain more wealth. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


There is no productivity crisis, experts say (Steve LeVine, 5/27/18, Axios)

[I]n a presentation at the Dallas Fed on Friday, Chad Syverson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, said technological history has been one of lag-times between the launch of new technologies and their visibility in productivity numbers. In work he did with MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock, Syverson said advances in artificial intelligence in particular simply have not worked their way through the economy and into complementary products.

He cited analogies:

At least half of U.S. factories remained unelectrified until 1919, three decades after the invention of the first functional AC motor.

It wasn't until the 1980s, more than 25 years after the invention of the integrated circuit, that computers had penetrated U.S. businesses.

It took two decades for e-commerce to reach 10% penetration of retail.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Hispanic Texans on pace to become largest population group in state by 2022 (ALEXA URA AND NAEMA AHMED, JUNE 21, 2018, Texas Tribune)

With growth among the Hispanic population in Texas continuing to easily outpace growth among white Texans, it's likely the state will reach that demographic milestone as soon as 2022. That's according to the state demographer and new population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The new figures, which account for the state's population growth through July 2017, reflect the extent to which the white population growth rate pales in comparison to growth among Texans of color since 2010 -- a disparity that has set the Hispanic community on its way to becoming a plurality of the state's population.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Gina's Way  (DANIEL C. VOCK | JULY 2018, Governing)

It was in the midst of all that economic distress and political distrust that Raimondo introduced herself to Rhode Island voters. Her first step was to run for state treasurer, which fit her background as a venture capitalist. As a Rhodes scholar with an economics degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale, she had impeccable credentials. But she also had authentic connections to blue-collar Rhode Island. Raimondo often relayed the story of her father being laid off from his job in Providence when the Bulova watch factory closed. She says she jumped into politics because libraries around the state were shutting down, a point that hit home for her because her grandfather learned English at his local public library.

Raimondo moves comfortably in these two worlds. But, inevitably, these worlds collide.

They certainly did after the Central Falls bankruptcy, in which Wall Street investors remained unscathed but retired city workers faced steep benefit cuts. "It broke my heart to see 75-year-old firefighters saying, 'I can't buy food. I can't buy my medicine. I can't stay in my house,'" Raimondo said in an interview with the podcast Freakonomics earlier this year. She worried the same thing would happen to teachers and other workers in the state pension funds, which were also dangerously underfunded. "I decided, I'm not going to do that. It's not about my politics, it's about shoring up the system. ... There are a lot of people in this system who need their pension to be there in 30 years, and it wasn't going to be. My tagline at the time was, 'This is math, not politics.'" 

She insisted that existing benefits had to be reduced, and said that if lawmakers didn't act, the system would be broke in 25 years. She proposed eliminating cost-of-living increases and moving recipients into a system that more resembled the riskier 401(k) plans used in the private sector. After Raimondo made her case around the state, lawmakers in 2011 passed her proposal by wide margins. Unions fought the deal unsuccessfully. They eventually reached a settlement with the state several years later, but resentment over the issue, particularly among teachers unions, has never really died away.

Raimondo's pension victory boosted her profile, setting up her campaign for governor in 2014. She narrowly won a three-way primary against two labor-friendly Democrats, then won the governorship in November in another three-way race. Raimondo didn't dwell on the pension fight during her campaign, although it galvanized support for her opponents. Instead, her message in that race was all about job creation. It still is.

During Raimondo's term as governor, she has appeared countless times touting one commitment or another by companies to bring or add jobs to Rhode Island. She joined the head of General Dynamics Electric Boat in May to tout the creation of 1,300 jobs. Electric Boat is expanding to build parts for a new class of nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy. Raimondo has announced 500 new jobs from Infosys, an Indian tech company; 75 jobs at a tech center for Johnson & Johnson; 50 new positions for GE Digital; 300 additional jobs for Virgin Pulse, a health software company; and 700 jobs for Infinity Meat Solutions to package and process meat. And the list goes on.

But Raimondo has backed more controversial projects as well. She appeared with the CEO of Deepwater Wind in 2016, when the company started building the first offshore wind farm in the United States. Residents of nearby Block Island tried to fight the new development because it obstructed their view of the ocean, but the governor forged ahead anyway. This spring, she signed off on a deal to let the company construct a wind farm that would produce 13 times as much energy as its first project. Meanwhile, Raimondo backed an effort to build a $1 billion natural gas-fueled power plant in the northern part of the state, despite fierce objections from environmentalists and local residents. 

Laurie White, the president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, credits Raimondo for rebuilding the state's economic development agency, which had languished under previous governors. "There were zero tools in the toolbox," she says. "The state didn't even have marketing materials. This governor understands what a contemporary economic development agency must do today to be in the game in order to win."

The company officials who appear with Raimondo to announce new jobs often tout the tax incentive packages that the state has offered to lure them there. Most of those incentives were created under the Raimondo administration. "Massachusetts and nearly every other state in the Northeast still uses incentives. And they've been doing it for years," Raimondo explained in her State of the State address this year. "Until recently, though, our leaders didn't have a strategy and, because of that, Rhode Islanders got left behind. And the few times our past leaders did take action, they put all their eggs in one basket or chased special deals. Any way you slice it, Rhode Islanders got hurt."

The governor's supporters note that some of the biggest state tax credits companies can qualify for require them to actually create jobs before they get the tax subsidy. In the end, they argue, the jobs will bring in more than enough money to pay for the breaks that drew them to Rhode Island. But to the governor's opponents, especially the ones lining up to run against her this year, the tax breaks smack of "corporate welfare," gifts to out-of-state companies that won't change the fundamentals of a broken Rhode Island economy. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 AM


Lesson Plan: After Decades of Reform, Has Chicago Finally Learned How to Fix Education?  J. BRIAN CHARLES | JULY 2018, Governing)

The phone call Janice Jackson had been waiting for came in early December. She was going to be named interim CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). A protégé of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she would be taking over the third largest school district in the nation. She was also getting the job she had predicted for herself since her days as a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A month after her appointment, the city closed the deal by dropping the word "interim" from her title.

Jackson has joined a long list of Chicago schools CEOs who have attracted national attention for their role in the city's seemingly endless series of reform efforts. One of them, Arne Duncan, went on to become U.S. education secretary in the Obama administration. Another, Paul Vallas, narrowly missed in a bid for governor of Illinois in 2002 and is currently campaigning to succeed Emanuel in city hall. 

But Jackson, who is 41 years old, has also taken over an institution that has never been able to divorce itself from Chicago's reputation for political controversy and corruption. Her rise to CEO was hastened by the resignation of Forrest Claypool, a former county commissioner and head of the Chicago Transit Authority, who was the target of an ethics investigation during his short tenure running the city schools. Before Claypool, Barbara Byrd-Bennett ran CPS until she was indicted and later sentenced to prison for steering contracts to a former employer and accepting kickbacks as compensation. 

Jackson is managing a district that has lost more than 50,000 students since 2000, triggering the closure of nearly 50 elementary schools and breeding resentment in much of the city. School administrators have been caught falsifying attendance and graduation rates. And recently the district has come under fire for not doing enough to stop rampant sexual abuse of students by staff. 

Still, good news landed on Jackson's desk just before she took the reins at CPS. New research from Stanford University showed that Chicago schoolchildren between the third and eighth grades were improving their performance at a faster rate than those in 96 percent of the school districts in the country. A significant number of Chicago pupils who came into third grade far behind their peers nationally were said to be attaining six years of academic growth in five school years.