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April 30, 2016

Marine Life Flourishes at California Oil Rigs




(p. D1) EUREKA OIL PLATFORM OFF CALIFORNIA COAST -- Eight miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., the oil rig Eureka, which has stood here for 40 years, is a study in contrasts. From a distance, it looks like just another offshore platform, an artifact of the modern industrial landscape.

But beneath the waves, the Eureka and other rigs like it in the area are home to a vast and thriving community of sea life that some scientists say is one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet.

"They are more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries," said Milton Love, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara. "It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly."

Dr. Love, who has published research on marine life at offshore drilling sites, said the location of these rigs -- in marine-protected areas in a cold current that swoops down from British Columbia -- have made them perfect habitats for fish and other sea life.

Scientists and divers have been aware of the abundant life here for years, but a 2014 paper that Dr. Love co-wrote, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed what many experts had already suspected: that most of the life was actually created at the rig rather than having come from other parts of the ocean and settled around the massive concrete pylons.

"For some of these major economic species like the rockfishes, there's no question that there are more of them out in Southern California waters because the platform is there," Dr. Love said.


. . .


(p. D4) "I think it's time for us to step outside the box and think creatively about the resources we have," said Amber Jackson, an oceanographer and conservation biologist who co-founded Blue Latitudes with Emily Callahan, a marine scientist. "To lose these ecosystems just because they are on an oil platform structure, I feel, is shortsighted."


. . .


But over the last decade or so, divers and scientists have discovered that the rigs harbor an unexpected bounty of life. Just beneath the surface at the Eureka rig, sea lions prowl in the crystal clear waters; half a dozen species of rockfish and bright orange Garibaldi swim in the swift currents; and florid carpets of invertebrates and crustaceans cling to the rig's pylons.

"It's the most amazing diving that I've ever done," said Ashleigh Palinkas, a San Diego-based conservation biologist who came out to dive the rigs last October. "It's like an oasis. The structure itself is really impressive. It gives you a sense of total weightlessness."

Over the last few years, word has spread about the pleasures of diving the rigs. In 2014, Ms. Jackson and Ms. Callahan started advocating to allow oil companies to keep large sections of many of the rigs in place after they are no longer functioning.



For the full story, see:

ERIK OLSEN. "Oil Rigs Gushing with Life." The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 8, 2016): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 7, 2016, and has the title "Marine Life Thrives in Unlikely Place: Offshore Oil Rigs.")


Dr. Love's academic research on the flourishing of sea life at oil rigs, is:

Claisse, Jeremy T., Daniel J. Pondella, Milton Love, Laurel A. Zahn, Chelsea M. Williams, Jonathan P. Williams, and Ann S. Bull. "Oil Platforms Off California Are among the Most Productive Marine Fish Habitats Globally." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 43 (Oct. 28, 2014): 15462-67.






April 29, 2016

Tesla Model 3 Excites Venturesome Consumers





America's venturesome consumers are hungry for products exciting enough to justify enthusiasm. They are desperate for evidence that the future can continue to look bright.



(p. B2) DETROIT -- Despite a steady stream of new models from a number of automakers, sales this year of electric and hybrid vehicles have failed to keep pace with the growth in the overall American market.

But if the market for electrified cars was slumbering, Tesla Motors woke it up with a jolt Thursday [March 31, 2016] with the unveiling of its coming Model 3 lineup of affordable, zero-emission vehicles.

Given that electric and hybrid vehicles account for only about 2 percent of last year's record-setting sales in the United States, the extraordinary reaction to Tesla's first mass-market model was a vivid demonstration of the potential demand in the segment.

"It shows that the future of electric vehicles is not necessarily bleak," said Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with the research firm Kelley Blue Book. "Maybe we've been waiting for the right products that resonate with consumers."

Tesla said on Friday that it had booked reservations -- at $1,000 each -- from nearly 200,000 people for the first Model 3 sedans, which will not be available until next year.

With a starting price of $35,000 and a battery range of 215 miles, the new Tesla is a big leap in the company's expansion beyond expensive luxury models.

"The final step in the master plan is a mass-market, affordable car," Elon Musk, Tesla's chief executive, said at the lavish introduction of the Model 3 held at the company's design studios in Hawthorne, Calif.



For the full story, see:

BILL VLASIC "In Clamor for new Tesla, Signs of an Electric Future." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 2, 2016): B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2016, and has the title "Tesla's New Model 3 Jump-Starts Demand for Electric Cars.")






April 28, 2016

How Health Insurance Slows Medical Innovation




(p. A8) A recent study led by Wendell Evans at the University of Sydney supports growing evidence that early tooth decay, before a cavity forms, can often be arrested and reversed with simple treatments that restore minerals in the teeth, rather than the more typical drill-and-fill approach.

The randomized, controlled trial followed 19 dental practices in Australia for three years, then researchers checked up on the patients again four years later. The result: After seven years, patients receiving remineralization treatment needed on average 30% fewer fillings.


. . .


There is a substantial body of research supporting remineralization as a treatment for early tooth decay, and little opposition in the dental profession, says Margherita Fontana, a professor of cariology at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Tradition, however, has been an obstacle to widespread use of the treatment. "For older generations [of dentists], it just feels wrong to leave decay and not remove it," Dr. Fontana says. "That's how they were trained."

Reimbursement is another obstacle. Insurance typically covers application of fluoride varnish in children, but not adults. The cost ranges from $25 to $55, according to the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute. Other preventive treatments also generally aren't covered.



For the full story, see:

DANA WECHSLER LINDEN. "Simple Dental Treatments Can Help Reverse Decay." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 12, 2016): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2016, and has the title "Simple Dental Treatments May Reverse Decay.")






April 27, 2016

Former Goldman Sachs Banker Predicts "Green Bubble"




(p. R5) Sustainable investing and clean energy are hot topics, but one Danish financier is warning that people might be getting carried away.

Per Wimmer, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the founder of Wimmer Financial LLP, a London-based corporate-advisory firm specializing in natural resources, foresees a "green bubble" that could have similar consequences to the dot-com and housing bubbles.


. . .


WSJ: What are the main issues behind the so-called bubble you see forming in green energy?

MR. WIMMER: Very simply put, for green energy to be truly sustainable, it must be commercially sustainable. The reality today is that when it comes to politicians allocating subsidies, it seems like they are being allocated almost religiously across the board. As long as there is a green element, then [politicians believe] it is fine and deserves funding from tax dollars. I argue that is a little unsophisticated.

We have got to look at supporting and subsidizing the technologies that stand a chance at becoming commercially independent from subsidies within a reasonable time period--about seven to 10 years.


. . .


WSJ: In your book "The Green Bubble," you highlight infrastructure problems involved in large-scale green-energy projects in the U.S. Tell us about those.

MR. WIMMER: There are a number of challenges that green energy faces, and one [involves] infrastructure, meaning that if you were to target, say, 20% green energy including wind farms in the U.S., you would have to build an awful lot of transmission grid, which is quite expensive.

Somebody is going to have to pay for it--the taxpayer, perhaps?



For the full interview, see:

TANZEEL AKHTAR. "Renewable Energy Is a 'Bubble,' Says Financier." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 11, 2016): R5.

(Note: bold and italics, in original; ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12 [sic], 2016,)


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Wimmer, Per. The Green Bubble: Our Future Energy Needs and Why Alternative Energy Is Not the Answer. London, UK: Lid Publishing, 2015.






April 26, 2016

Feds' Regulatory Delay Supports High-Fare Trans-Atlantic Airline Oligopoly




(p. B1) In the past three years, Norwegian, one of Europe's biggest low-cost airlines, has quietly established a beachhead in the trans-Atlantic market by offering low-fare, no-frills service on long-haul flights.

Thanks to a small but expanding fleet of fuel-efficient planes combined with deeply discounted ticket prices, Norwegian Air Shuttle has attracted a growing number of leisure travelers looking for cheap flights.

It is all part of the vision of Norwegian's outspoken chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, who is determined to force the same kind of low-fare competition on international routes that has been so successful in domestic markets for airlines like Southwest and Spirit, and Ryanair in Europe.


. . .


But Norwegian's expansion has been stymied by vigorous opposition. Legacy airlines on both sides of the Atlantic see a low-cost competitor on their cash-cow routes as a major threat to their long-term profitability. Labor unions object to Norwegian's plans to hire flight crew from Thailand, a practice they have repeatedly described as "labor dumping."

The airline has also faced lengthy delays in receiving regulatory approvals in the United States.


. . .


(p. B4) A spokeswoman for the Transportation Department did not give any reasons for the delays that have left Norwegian in bureaucratic limbo in the United States. The airline's first request was filed more than two years ago. . . .

The long delay in approving the application "does not reflect well on the political independence of the Department of Transportation with respect to the free trade principles behind the E.U.-U.S. open skies agreement," according to a report by analysts at the CAPA Center for Aviation. "The calculated inaction only serves to restrict competition and to deny consumer choice."


. . .


"There is still a lot to do," Mr. Kjos said. "We have to think about how to fly more people more cheaply. There are hundreds of millions of people that don't have access to cheap flights."



For the full story, see:

JAD MOUAWAD. "Norwegian Air Flies in the Face of the Trans-Atlantic Establishment." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 23, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 22, 2016.)






April 25, 2016

Discovery of Proof of Concept of Transition from Fish to Land Vertebrates




(p. A4) It's one of the most famous chapters in evolution, so familiar that it regularly inspires New Yorker cartoons: Some 375 million years ago, our ancestors emerged from the sea, evolving from swimming fish to vertebrates that walked on land.

Scientists still puzzle over exactly how the transition from sea to land took place. For the most part, they've had to rely on information gleaned from fossils of some of the intermediate species.

But now a team of researchers has found a remarkable parallel to one of evolution's signature events. In a cave in Thailand, they've discovered that a blind fish walks the way land vertebrates do.


. . .


The researchers published their study on Thursday [March 24, 2016] in the journal Scientific Reports.

Dr. Flammang said that the waterfall-climbing cave fish eventually might give scientists hints about how fish originally arrived on land. "The physics are the same," she said.



For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. "Researchers Find Fish That Walks the Way Land Vertebrates Do." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 25, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 24, 2016.)


The academic article presenting the research summarized above, is:

Flammang, Brooke E., Apinun Suvarnaraksha, Julie Markiewicz, and Daphne Soares. "Tetrapod-Like Pelvic Girdle in a Walking Cavefish." Scientific Reports 6 (March 24, 2016): 23711.






April 24, 2016

Government Regulations Protect Health-Care Incumbents Against Innovation




(p. A15) As people age, the main valve controlling the flow of blood out of the heart can narrow, causing heart failure, and sometimes death. In the past the only way to repair the damage was risky open-heart surgery. But an ingenious medical device now allows the heart to be repaired using a catheter that introduces a replacement valve through a main artery in the leg--another miracle of modern medicine.

In 2011, more than four years after they hit the European market, the Food and Drug Administration finally approved aortic heart valves for use in the U.S. The total cost of the new procedure is about the same as open-heart surgery. But government bureaucrats feared that the new replacement valve's lower risks and easier administration would mean that many more elderly patients would seek to fix their failing heart valves, pushing up Medicare's total spending. To limit their use, regulators created coverage rules based on a set of strained medical criteria. It was a budget prerogative masquerading as clinical reasoning.

This episode is a vivid example of the government's increasing practice to regulate medicine and ration care. A series of landmark studies published earlier this month in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago, makes clear how contrived the original Medicare guidelines were.

For a patient to be qualified for the aortic valve device, Medicare required two cardiac surgeons to certify first that a patient wasn't a candidate for the open-heart repair. Also mandated was the presence of a cardiothoracic surgeon and an interventional cardiologist in the operating room during the procedure.



For the full commentary, see:

SCOTT GOTTLIEB. "Warning: Medicare May Be Bad for Your Heart; Aortic valve replacements are superior to open-heart surgery and less risky. So why are they hard to get?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 12, 2016): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 11, 2016.)


The Lancet article mentioned above, is:

Thourani, Vinod H., Susheel Kodali, Raj R. Makkar, Howard C. Herrmann, Mathew Williams, Vasilis Babaliaros, Richard Smalling, Scott Lim, S. Chris Malaisrie, Samir Kapadia, Wilson Y. Szeto, Kevin L. Greason, Dean Kereiakes, Gorav Ailawadi, Brian K. Whisenant, Chandan Devireddy, Jonathon Leipsic, Rebecca T. Hahn, Philippe Pibarot, Neil J. Weissman, Wael A. Jaber, David J. Cohen, Rakesh Suri, E. Murat Tuzcu, Lars G. Svensson, John G. Webb, Jeffrey W. Moses, Michael J. Mack, D. Craig Miller, Craig R. Smith, Maria C. Alu, Rupa Parvataneni, Ralph B. D'Agostino, Jr., and Martin B. Leon. "Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Versus Surgical Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients: A Propensity Score Analysis." The Lancet (April 3, 2016), DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30073-3.


The New England Journal of Medicine article mentioned above, is:

Leon, Martin B., Craig R. Smith, Michael J. Mack, Raj R. Makkar, Lars G. Svensson, Susheel K. Kodali, Vinod H. Thourani, E. Murat Tuzcu, D. Craig Miller, Howard C. Herrmann, Darshan Doshi, David J. Cohen, Augusto D. Pichard, Samir Kapadia, Todd Dewey, Vasilis Babaliaros, Wilson Y. Szeto, Mathew R. Williams, Dean Kereiakes, Alan Zajarias, Kevin L. Greason, Brian K. Whisenant, Robert W. Hodson, Jeffrey W. Moses, Alfredo Trento, David L. Brown, William F. Fearon, Philippe Pibarot, Rebecca T. Hahn, Wael A. Jaber, William N. Anderson, Maria C. Alu, and John G. Webb. "Transcatheter or Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients." New England Journal of Medicine (April 2, 2016), DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1514616.







April 23, 2016

Welfare System Hurts Those It Is Intended to Help





I saw part of a C-SPAN 2 presentation, originally broadcast on 3/28/16, of a new book by Harvey and Conyers that appears to argue persuasively that the current American welfare system makes it harder for welfare recipients to transition to employment. It further argues that work is an important part of the good life, usually an important contributor to happiness. As a result, the current welfare system hurts the very people that it is intended to help.


The book discussed above, is:

Harvey, Phil, and Lisa Conyers. The Human Cost of Welfare: How the System Hurts the People It's Supposed to Help. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.






April 22, 2016

Today Is 16th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González




GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2016) is the 16th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.






April 21, 2016

Haramiyids May Be Missing Link Between Reptiles and Mammals




(p. A17) With technologies like CT scans and 3-D printing, a team of scientists reported on Monday that it had solved a mystery about the family tree of mammals that started with a single tooth a century and a half ago.

The tooth, found in Germany in 1847, was tiny and distinctive in shape -- not quite reptile, not quite mammal. More fossils of that kind were found around Europe, but always just single teeth. Scientists named this group of animals haramiyids -- Arabic for "trickster."

The teeth were embedded in rocks as old as 210 million years, an era in which ancestors of the first mammals were evolving.


. . .


What was unclear was whether Haramiyavia was a direct part of the family tree of mammals -- that would push the emergence of mammals back to more than 200 million years ago -- or an evolutionary branch that split off before common ancestors of mammals emerged, the view of paleontologists who believe that the first mammals evolved 170 million to 160 million years ago.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Jawbone in Rock May Solve Mammal Family Mystery." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 17, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 16, 2015, and has the title "Jawbone in Rock May Clear Up a Mammal Family Mystery.")






April 20, 2016

Tech Replaces Labor When Government Raises Labor Costs




(p. A11) In late 2013, Chili's and Applebee's announced that they were installing more than 100,000 tableside tablets at their restaurants across the country, allowing customers to order and pay their bill without ever talking to a waiter. The companies were soon followed by Buffalo Wild Wings, Panera Bread, Olive Garden and dozens of others. This means fewer servers covering more tables. Quick-service restaurant chains are also testing touch-screen ordering.


. . .


So why the increased use of technology? The major reason is consumer preference. Research shows that many appreciate the speed, order accuracy, and convenience of touch screens. This is particularly so among millennials who already do so much on smartphones and tablets. I've watched people--young and old--waiting in line to use the touch screens while employees stand idle at the counter.

The other reason is costs. While the technology is becoming much cheaper, government mandates have been making labor much more expensive.

In 2015, 14 cities and states approved $15 minimum wages--double the current federal minimum. Additionally, four states, 20 cities and one county now have mandatory paid-sick-leave laws generally requiring a paid week of time off each year per covered employee. And then there's the Affordable Care Act, which further raises employer costs.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDY PUZDER. "Why Restaurant Automation Is on the Menu; Forget about robot waiters, but technology helps cut government-imposed costs. And consumers like it." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 25, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2016.)






April 19, 2016

College Students Have Been Raised to Be Fragile





In the passage quoted below, John Leo interviews John Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU.



(p. A9) Haidt: . . . Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently--protected as fragile. The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb's concept of anti-fragility.

Leo: What's the theory?

Haidt: That children are anti-fragile. Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up. And so do children. I'm not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we're going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.



Source of the Haidt interview passage quote:

"Notable & Quotable: 'Anti-Fragility in Children." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 23, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the quotes from the interview with Haidt has the date Feb. 22, 2016, and has the title "Notable & Quotable: Our Weak, Fragile Millennials.")


For John Leo's full interview with Jonathan Haidt, see:

http://www.mindingthecampus.org/2016/02/a-conversation-with-jonathan-haidt/


The Taleb book referred to, is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. New York: Random House, 2012.






April 18, 2016

Government Limits Hospital Competition




(p. A9) When the 124-bed StoneSprings Hospital Center opened in December, it became the first new hospital in Loudoun County, Va., in more than a century. That's more remarkable than it might at first seem: In the past two decades, Loudoun County, which abuts the Potomac River and includes growing Washington suburbs, has tripled in population. Yet not a single new hospital had opened. Why? One big reason is that StoneSprings had to fight through years of regulatory reviews and court challenges before laying the first brick.

County officials and the Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, began talking about building a new hospital in 2001. But Virginia is one of the 36 states with a "certificate of need" law, which requires health-care providers to obtain a state license before opening a new facility. Getting a license is supposed to take about nine months, according to the state Health Department. HCA first submitted an application in July 2002 but didn't win approval for a new facility until early 2004.

Then the plan faced a series of legal challenges from the Inova Health System, an entrenched, multibillion-dollar competitor. Over decades Inova has become the dominant player in the Virginia suburbs.


. . .


It's not hard to understand why Inova might fight so hard to keep out challengers: There's a direct correlation between prices and competition. In a paper released in December, economists with Yale, Carnegie Mellon and the London School of Economics evaluated claims data from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth. They found that rates were 15.3% higher, on average, in areas with one hospital, compared with those serviced by four or more. In markets with a two-hospital duopoly, prices were 6.4% higher. Where only three hospitals compete they were 4.8% higher.

Research by Chris Koopman of the free-market Mercatus Center suggests that Virginia could have 10,000 more hospital beds and 40 more hospitals offering MRIs if the certificate of need restrictions did not exist. "In many instances, they create a quasi-monopoly," he says. "In essence, it's a government guarantee that no one will compete with you, until you get notice and an opportunity to challenge that person's entry into that market."



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC BOEHM. "CROSS COUNTRY; For Hospital Chains, Competition Is a Bitter Pill; Building a new medical center in Virginia can take a decade, because state laws favor entrenched players." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 30, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 29, 2016.)


The academic paper mentioned above that relates hospital charges to the number of hospitals in the area, is:

Cooper, Zack, Stuart V. Craig, Martin Gaynor, and John Van Reenen. "The Price Ain't Right? Hospital Prices and Health Spending on the Privately Insured." NBER Working Paper # 21815. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., 2015.


Chris Koopman's research, mentioned above, can be found in:

Koopman, Christopher, and Thomas Stratmann. "Certificate-of-Need Laws: Implications for Virginia." In Mercatus on Policy: Mercatus Center, George Mason University, 2015.






April 17, 2016

Woody Allen and Gloria Vanderbilt Prefer to Live on in Their Apartments Than to Live on in the Hearts of People




(p. 1) Sometimes Anderson Cooper imagines himself as the Thomas Cromwell to his mother's Henry VIII, the voice of reason -- the tether -- to her buoyant impulsiveness. And sometimes he pictures Gloria Vanderbilt, who has been in the public eye since her birth 92 years ago, as an emissary from a distant star, marooned on this planet and trying to make sense of it all.


. . .


(p. 13) . . . , Ms. Vanderbilt is sanguine about her own mortality. She quotes Woody Allen, who was once asked whether he'd like to live on in the hearts of people after his death and replied, "I would prefer to live on in my apartment."



For the full story, see:

PENELOPE GREEN. "At Home With Gloria Vanderbilt." The New York Times, SundayStyles (Sun., APRIL 3, 2016): 1, 8 & 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 2, 2016.)






April 16, 2016

Robert J. Gordon, Purveyor of Doom and Gloom





Those who support the policies that have brought us economic stagnation, endorse Robert J. Gordon who believes that doom and gloom are inevitable. With Gordon to rely on, they do not have to face responsibility for the effects of their policies, or go through the cognitive stress of changing their views.

Contra Gordon, if we adopt policies friendly to innovative entrepreneurship, opportunity and growth will return.



(p. B1) The idea that America's best days are behind us sits in sharp tension with the high-tech optimism radiating from the offices of the technology start-ups and venture capital firms of Silicon Valley. But it lies at the heart of the current political unrest. And it is about to elbow its way forcefully into the national conversation.

Robert J. Gordon, a professor of economics at Northwestern University who has patiently developed the proposition in a series of research papers over the (p. B9) last few years, has bundled his arguments into an ambitious new book, "The Rise and Fall of American Growth" (Princeton University Press).

The hefty tome, minutely detailed yet dauntingly broad in scope, offers a lively portrayal of the evolution of American living standards since the Civil War. It also adds up to a dispiriting forecast for American prosperity in the decades to come. "This book," he writes in the introduction, "ends by doubting that the standard of living of today's youths will double that of their parents, unlike the standard of living of each previous generation of Americans back to the late 19th century."


. . .


Skepticism is warranted, to be sure. Since the time of Thomas Malthus, eras of depressed expectations like our own have inspired predictions of doom and gloom that were proved wrong once economies turned up a few years down the road.

"For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell," the economic historian Deirdre N. McCloskey of the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote in an essay about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," the blockbuster about income inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty. "Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world."

Optimism, though, is also subject to cognitive biases. It's not just that the income of our optimistic techno-entrepreneurs is growing faster than gross domestic product. A lot of new innovation -- the rockets to vacations in orbit, the Apple Watch and Google Glass -- also seems custom-designed for them.

"If you are sitting in Silicon Valley, rich and at the frontier of technology," said Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard, "it is probably true that things are getting better."

The same can't always be said for the rest of us.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "ECONOMIC SCENE; America's Best Days May Be Behind It." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 20, 2016): B1 & B9.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 19, 2016.)


The Gordon book discussed in the commentary, is:

Gordon, Robert J. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War, The Princeton Economic History of the Western World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.






April 15, 2016

Frackers Have "Enthusiasm, Empiricism, Technical Inventiveness, and Fearlessness to Try and Err"




(p. A9) It's a complicated yarn that Gary Sernovitz, a novelist and energy investor, spins in "The Green and the Black" and one that is still revealing fresh plot twists. Just last week, the shale boom's most Shakespearean figure, Aubrey McClendon, died in a car crash the day after he was indicted on charges that he had rigged bids for oil and gas leases in Oklahoma. McClendon was dazzlingly ambitious and persuasive, if perhaps blithe to humdrum legalities.

Other pioneers of America's new energy age have been equally vivid. George Mitchell of Mitchell Energy was a Greek immigrant who began wildcatting in the 1950s and fracked the Barnett Shale in Texas for nearly two decades before he could make it work financially. By that time he was 77. Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, the 13th child of Oklahoma sharecroppers, became a multi-billionaire by fracking the Bakken formations across Montana and North Dakota. It was men like these, willing to keep buying land and drilling whether they were nearly bankrupt or billionaires, that Mr. Sernovitz credits for the shale revolution.


. . .


He writes: "For those who lament that America no longer makes anything but bond traders, for those who think that 'maker' culture only exists in a bearded guy pickling compassionately farmed okra in Austin, spend some time with oil industry engineers to absorb their enthusiasm, empiricism, technical inventiveness, and fearlessness to try and err."



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; The Shale Revolutionaries; There are energy deposits all over the world. Yet drilling oil and gas out of once-inaccessible shale was only pursued vigorously in the U.S."The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 18, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 17, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Sernovitz, Gary. The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2016.






April 14, 2016

Denisovans May Have Mated with As-Yet-Undiscovered Hominin Species




(p. A17) A tooth fossil discovered in a Siberian cave has yielded DNA from a vanished branch of the human tree, mysterious cousins called the Denisovans, scientists said Monday [November 16, 2015].

Their analysis pushes back the oldest known evidence for Denisovans by 60,000 years, suggesting that the species was able to thrive in harsh climates for thousands of generations. The results also suggest that the Denisovans may have bred with other ancient hominins, relatives of modern humans whom science has yet to discover.

Todd Disotell, a molecular anthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the new study, said the report added to growing evidence that our species kept company with many near relatives over the past million years.


. . .


Some of the DNA in the Denisova 8 tooth hints at an even older interbreeding. While most of the genetic material in the tooth bears a close kinship with Neanderthals, some of it seems only distantly related to Neanderthal or human DNA.

One possible explanation, Dr. Paabo said in an interview, is that Denisovans interbred with another hominin species that lived in Asia. It is conceivable that this hominin was a species already known from fossil discoveries, such as Homo erectus. But it could also be a related species.

"If you would have told me five years ago I would be talking about species we don't have any fossils for, I would have thought you were crazy," Dr. Disotell said.



For the full story, see:

CARL ZIMMER. "Tooth in Cave Adds Earlier Evidence of Some Very Old Cousins, the Denisovans." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 17, 2015): A6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 16, 2015, and has the title "In a Tooth, DNA From Some Very Old Cousins, the Denisovans.")






April 13, 2016

Eminent Domain Advantages Centralized Energy Generation and Disadvantages Distributed Energy Generation




(p. B1) COWGILL, Mo. -- Up and down the center of the country, winds rip across plains, ridges and plateaus, a belt of unharnessed energy capable of powering millions of customers, with enormous potential to help meet national goals to stem climate change.

And because the bulk of the demand is hundreds of miles away, companies are working to build a robust network of high-voltage transmission lines to get the power to the coasts.

If only it were that simple. In all, more than 3,100 miles of projects have yet to be built, in need of government approval.

One of the most ambitious projects, called the Grain Belt Express from a company called Clean Line Energy Partners, spent six years winning the go-ahead in three of the Midwestern states it would cross, only to hit a dead end in Missouri when state regulators voted 3 to 2 to stop the project. They were swayed by landowners like Jennifer Gatrel, who runs a midsize family cattle operation with her husband, Jeff, here in the northwestern part of the state.

She and other opponents made the usual arguments against trampling property rights through the use of eminent domain, obliterating their pastoral views and disrupting their way of life.

But they also argued something else: Why should they have to live beneath the high-voltage lines when there is plenty of wind in the East?


. . .


(p. B6) . . . opponents like Ms. Gatrel say that giant projects like the Grain Belt Express represent an outmoded, centralized approach to delivering energy. Just as it is healthier and more sustainable to eat foods close to where they are grown, the argument goes, so, too, should electricity be consumed closer to where it is produced.

"We believe that the East Coast has access to abundant offshore wind and that any time you talk about green or clean, you should also be talking about local," she said. "Unnecessary long-haul transmission lines are not our country's future."


. . .


. . . some energy officials and executives say there is a more dynamic and resilient alternative to . . . sprawling networks. Instead, they are promoting the development of less centralized systems that link smaller power installations, including rooftop solar, storage and electric vehicles, an approach known as distributed generation.



For the full story, see:

DIANE CARDWELL. "Fight to Keep Alternative Energy Local Stymies an Industry." The New York Times (Thurs., MARCH 24, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 23, 2016, and has the title "Fight to Keep Alternative Energy Local Stymies an Industry.")






April 12, 2016

Defending Free Speech in Climate Research




(p. A17) The Climate Inquisition began with Michael Mann's 2012 lawsuit against critics of his "hockey stick" research--a holy text to climate alarmists. The suggestion that Prof. Mann's famous diagram showing rapid recent warming was an artifact of his statistical methods, rather than an accurate representation of historical reality, was too much for the Penn State climatologist and his acolytes to bear.

Among their targets (and our client in his lawsuit) was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank prominent for its skeptical viewpoint in climate-policy debates. Mr. Mann's lawsuit seeks to put it, along with National Review magazine, out of business. Four years on, the courts are still pondering the First Amendment values at stake. In the meantime, the lawsuit has had its intended effect, fostering legal uncertainty that chills speech challenging the "consensus" view.


. . .


That is why we are establishing the Free Speech in Science Project to defend the kind of open inquiry and debate that are central to scientific advancement and understanding. The project will fund legal advice and defense to those who need it, while executing an offense to turn the tables on abusive officials. Scientists, policy organizations and others should not have to fear that they will be the next victims of the Climate Inquisition--that they may face punishment and personal ruin for engaging in research and advocating their views.

The principle of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court recognized in Dennis v. United States (1951), is that "speech can rebut speech, propaganda will answer propaganda, free debate of ideas will result in the wisest governmental policies." For that principle to prevail--in something less than the 350 years it took for the Catholic Church to acknowledge its mistake in persecuting Galileo--the inquisition of those breaking from the climate "consensus" must be stopped.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and ANDREW M. GROSSMAN. "Punishing Climate-Change Skeptics; Some in Washington want to unleash government to harass heretics who don't accept the 'consensus.'" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 24, 2016): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 23, 2016.)






April 11, 2016

Skepticism of Science Is Incompatible with Communist Dogma




(p. A11) On June 6, 1989, the physicist Fang Lizhi took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the invitation of President George H.W. Bush, who told Fang, then being hunted by the Communist Party, that he could stay as long as necessary. Two days earlier, troops from the People's Liberation Army had crushed the democracy protests in central Beijing and other cities that had riveted China--and the world. Fang did not participate directly in the Tiananmen Square protests, but his campus talks and writings on democracy during the 1980s had made him a hero to the students and an archenemy of the authorities. He and his wife, Li Shuxian, also a physicist, were No.1 and No. 2 on an arrest list after the massacre.

Fang and his wife stayed at the embassy for 13 months. During that time he wrote "The Most Wanted Man in China," a thoughtful, funny and still relevant memoir that recalls those tense days and the years leading up to them, during which Fang openly challenged China's Communist Party in a battle of ideas.


. . .


Fang has been called the "Chinese Sakharov" and not only because of his brilliance. "For Fang as for [Andrei] Sakharov," as Perry Link, a scholar of Chinese language and dissent, writes in the book's foreword, "rights were implied by science." Its axioms of "skepticism, freedom of inquiry, respect for evidence, the equality of inquiring minds, and the universality of truth . . . led Fang toward human rights and to reject dogma of every kind, including, eventually, the dogma of the Chinese communism that he had idealistically embraced."



For the full review, see:

ELLEN BORK. "BOOKSHELF; He Made the Great Leap; Fang Lizhi's name is banned in China. But everyone there who continues to push for democratic rights owes a debt to the dissident." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 17, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 16, 2016,)


The book discussed in the review, is:

Fang, Lizhi. The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey from Scientist to Enemy of the State. New York: Henry Holt and Co., LLC, 2016.






April 10, 2016

Zimbabwe Government Would Rather Starve Citizens than Allow GMO Food




(p. A15) Chikombedzi, Zimbabwe

My country's government would rather see people starve than let them eat genetically modified food.

That's the only conclusion to draw from the announcement in February that Zimbabwe will reject any food aid that includes a genetically-modified-organism ingredient--such as grains, corn and other crops made more vigorous or fruitful through GMO breeding. The ban comes just as Zimbabweans are suffering from our worst drought in two decades and up to three million people need emergency relief.

"The position of the government is very clear," said Joseph Made, the minister of agriculture. "We do not accept GMO as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view."

In other words, my country--which can't feed itself--will refuse what millions around the world eat safely every day in their breakfasts, lunches and dinners as a conventional source of calories. It doesn't matter whether the aid arrives as food for people or feed for animals. Our customs inspectors will make sure that no food with GMOs reaches a single hungry mouth.



For the full commentary, see:

NYASHA MUDUKUTI. "We May Starve, but at Least We'll Be GMO-Free; Unlike the Europeans we copied, Zimbabwe can't afford such an unscientific ideological luxury." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A15.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2016.)






April 9, 2016

"China Has Blindly Constructed So Many Homes and Wasted So Much Resources"




(p. C6) In November [2015], President Xi Jinping told a meeting of officials that China must resolve the housing inventory situation and ensure the health of the property sector.

Since then, Meishan, a city of 3.5 million people, has become a showcase for efforts to lure rural dwellers to cities to buy homes as part of so-called destocking efforts to reduce the glut.


. . .


. . ., some analysts and local government officials warn the rural strategy isn't a cure-all. Banks typically hesitate to extend mortgages to rural migrants, whose homestead land doesn't typically qualify as collateral.

"Now with bad loans growing in China, banks are reluctant to lend to farmers. Farmers don't have assets and lending to them is risky," said Wang Fei, an official at Hubei Province's department of housing and urban-rural development.


. . .


Housing inventory in the city rose to 22.5 months last April, an alarmingly high level compared with a healthier rate of 12 months or lower. There were also cases where cash-strapped property firms defaulted on their loans, leaving behind unfinished apartments.

Buyers of Purple Cloud Golden World housing project are now stranded after Yang Jinhao, who controlled Sichuan Xinrui Property Development, got involved in a dispute with a shadow lender early last year.

"China has blindly constructed so many homes and wasted so much resources. I can't stand it!" said Yu Jianmin, a 70-year-old caretaker of the stalled project who said the construction firm he works for is still awaiting payment from Mr. Yang. Mr. Yang couldn't be reached.



For the full story, see:

ESTHER FUNG. "Discounts Help China Ease Home Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 2, 2016): C6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 1, 2016, and has the title "China Sweetens Home-Ownership Deals for Rural Dwellers.")






April 8, 2016

Sanctimoniously Environmental "Honest Company Inc." Is Dishonest




(p. A1) In less than four years, the Honest Company Inc. surged to a $1.7 billion private valuation thanks to its marketing of cleaning supplies, diapers and other consumer products that it says are safer and more ecologically friendly than other brands.

The company, co-founded by actress Jessica Alba, is challenging giants such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Clorox Co. with a guarantee that its offerings don't contain what it says are harsh chemicals found in many mainstream products. One of the primary ingredients Honest tells consumers to avoid is a cleaning agent called sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, which can be found in everyday household items from Colgate toothpaste to Tide detergent and Honest says can irritate skin. The company lists SLS first in the "Honestly free of" label of verboten ingredients it puts on bottles of its laundry detergent, one of Honest's first and most popular products.

But two independent lab tests commissioned by The Wall Street Journal determined Honest's liquid laundry detergent contains SLS.



For the full story, see:

SERENA NG. "Trendy Detergent Caught in Spin Cycle." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A1 & A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2016, and has the title "Laundry Detergent From Jessica Alba's Honest Co. Contains Ingredient It Pledged to Avoid.")






April 7, 2016

A&P, Once Dominant Grocery Chain, Files for Bankruptcy Again




(p. B1) A&P, a former titan of the grocery industry, has filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in five years and is trying to sell more than 100 of its stores.

The company, which owns Pathmark, Food Emporium and other food retailers clustered primarily in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said on Sunday that a restructuring in 2010 had failed to put it on secure enough financial footing to keep up with a shifting grocery landscape.

A&P, less commonly referred to as the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, has lost market share to competing stores like ShopRite and Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, as well Walmart and Target, retail giants that have spent the last few years expanding their offerings in the grocery aisles. A&P has debts of about $2.3 billion, court filings show, and assets of $1.6 billion.


. . .


Founded in 1859 as a mail-order tea business, A&P evolved into a discount food retailer that operated 16,000 stores by the mid-1930s and remained a dominant player in America's grocery landscape into the second half of the century.

"It was truly a powerhouse," said Marc Levinson, an independent historian and the author of "The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America." "In those days, independent grocers were every bit as afraid of A&P as mom-and-pop retailers are today of Walmart."

In 1912, A&P opened its first discount store in Jersey City. The idea of a retailer focused on low-cost groceries was novel at the time, and a reputation for rock-bottom prices helped the company flourish.

"They were opening stores literally more than one a day during World War I," Mr. Levinson said.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL ABRAMS. "A&P Files for Bankruptcy and Aims to Sell 120 Stores." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 21, 2015): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 20, 2015.)


Levinson's excellent book on the economic history of A&P, mentioned above, is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






April 6, 2016

Rates to Insure Against Global Warming Catastrophes Are FALLING





The "super-cat" insurance referred to below by Warren Buffett is the part of the reinsurance business that insures other insurance companies against the occurrence of very large (super) catastrophes (cat).



(p. A9) Up to now, climate change has not produced more frequent nor more costly hurricanes nor other weather-related events covered by insurance. As a consequence, U.S. super-cat rates have fallen steadily in recent years, which is why we have backed away from that business. If super-cats become costlier and more frequent, the likely--though far from certain--effect on Berkshire's insurance business would be to make it larger and more profitable.

As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.



Source of quote from Warren Buffett's annual shareholder letter:

"Notable & Quotable: Warren Buffett on Climate." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 1, 2016): A9.

(Note: the online version of the quotes from Buffett has the date Feb. 29, 2016.)


Warren Buffett's annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway stockholders can be found at:

http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/2015ar/2015ar.pdf






April 5, 2016

Owner Wants to Give Up Business Due to Regulations




(p. A11) D. Joy Riley, 59, of Brentwood, Tenn., who went to hear Mr. Rubio speak last weekend in the affluent Nashville suburb of Franklin, said that his story struck a chord with her personally. Her father was a coal miner. She is now a physician with a master's degree in bioethics. "We're all one or two generations away from some story like that," she said, repeating a line Mr. Rubio often uses in his speeches.


. . .


Mr. Rubio's story is intended to pull at the heartstrings. At his rally in Franklin, he spoke of his mother's struggles growing up in poverty in rural Cuba.

"My mother was one of seven girls raised by a disabled father," he said as he looked out on a horde of gingham shirts, khaki, fine Sunday dresses and derby hats.

He recalled how she left him with a strong understanding of selflessness and sacrifice. "My mother says her and her sisters never went to bed hungry," he continued. "But she's sure her parents did many nights."

As he tells these personal stories, Mr. Rubio weaves in the policy prescriptions he would act on as president, making his case for a smaller, more conservative government.

When he talks of the need for lower taxes, he cites the work his parents found in hospitality. The only reason the hotel where his father worked could exist, he insists, was because the business climate in Miami Beach was friendly enough that someone wanted to invest. And had it not been for taxes that were low enough to allow people the disposable income to vacation in Las Vegas, he says, his mother would not have had any hotel rooms to clean.


. . .


Nancy Conklin, 52, a business owner from North Hampton, N.H., was nodding along as Mr. Rubio spoke near Portsmouth last month. "You get older, have a family, employ people, and you start to realize how difficult all these regulations are," she said. "You don't want to have a business because you can't afford it."



For the full story, see:

JEREMY W. PETERS. "Rubio's Bootstraps Entice a Receptive Constituency: The Well-to-Do." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Marco Rubio Entices a Receptive Constituency: The Well-to-Do.")






April 4, 2016

Arbitrary Regulatory Waivers Undermine Rule of Law




(p. A11) Who cares about the swelling power of bureaucratic discretion in Washington over big business, since it doesn't threaten your personal freedom and prosperity. Or does it? That question lurked in the background of a Hoover Institution discussion on June 25, hosted by economist and podcaster extraordinaire Russ Roberts. The occasion was the 800th anniversary of Britain's Magna Carta, a landmark in the struggle for a rule of law.

One of the participants, Hoover economist John Cochrane, spoke of fears that America is drifting toward a "corporatist system" with diminished political freedom. Are rules knowable in advance so businesses can avoid becoming targets of enforcement actions? Is there meaningful appeal? Are permissions received in a timely fashion or can bureaucrats arbitrarily decide your case simply by sitting on it?

The answer to these questions increasingly is "no." Whatever the merits of 1,231 individual waivers issued under ObamaCare, a law implemented largely through waivers and exemptions is not law-like. In such a system, where even hairdressers and tour guides are subjected to arbitrary licensing requirements, all the advantages accrue to established, politically-connected businesses.

Another participant, Lee Ohanian, a UCLA economist affiliated with Hoover, drew the connection between the regulatory state and today's depressed growth in labor productivity. From a long-term average of 2.5% a year, the rate has dropped to 0.7% in the current recovery. Labor productivity is what allows rising incomes. A related factor is a decline in business start-ups. New businesses are the ones that bring new techniques to bear and create new jobs. Big, established companies, in contrast, tend to be net job-shrinkers over time.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The New Slow-Growth Normal and Where It Leads; On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, an unhinged regulatory state is our doomsday machine." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 1, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 31, 2015.)







April 3, 2016

New Libertarian Consensus?




(p. A17) In "Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order," Mr. Piereson argues that America has undergone three earthquakes in its history: the Jeffersonian revolution, which ushered in a long period of dominance of a new anti-Federalist party; the Civil War, which vanquished slavery and set off the ascendancy of northern Republicanism; and the New Deal, which dramatically expanded the size and intrusiveness of the federal government in Americans' lives. "In each period, an old order collapsed and a new one emerged . . . the resolution of the crisis opened up new possibilities for growth and reform," he writes. Looking out at our paralyzed and polarized polity, he argues that we are on the brink of yet another collapse--but this one might not have a happy ending.

Mr. Piereson, a hero of philanthropy who faithfully spent the Olin Foundation out of business after supporting the work of think tanks, small magazines and groundbreaking scholars like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, views the Obama presidency as the beginning of the collapse of an 80-year consensus, forged in the post-World War II years. That consensus "assigned the national government responsibility for maintaining full employment and for policing the world in the interests of democracy, trade, and national security." Such a consensus, which "is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges," Mr. Piereson argues, ". . . no longer exists in the United States. That being so, the problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a 'fourth revolution' or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental agreement."


. . .


A system failure is only a matter of time. At some point, what Democrat Erskine Bowles has aptly labeled "the most predictable crisis in American history" will be upon us, as the federal government defaults by one means or another on its unpayable promises. A revolt of the betrayed elderly, or of the plundered young, could be the catalyst for Mr. Piereson's revolution. Perhaps even sooner, one state rendered destitute by reckless government spending and public pensions will attempt to dump its hopeless debt problem on the rest of the union. Which of these scenarios is most likely? Which most dangerous? Could the fourth revolution manifest itself in a separatist movement by states where majorities feel culturally estranged and disinclined to pick up the tab for the extravagance of less responsible states? Could the growing number of citizens professing economic conservatism coupled with libertarian social views be the front edge of a new consensus?



For the full review, see:

MITCH DANIELS. "BOOKSHELF; America's Next Revolution; The U.S. has experienced three earthquakes: the Jeffersonian revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal. Are we on the brink of another?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses within paragraphs, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 14, 2015,)


The book discussed in the review, is:

Piereson, James. Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order. New York: Encounter Books, 2015.






April 2, 2016

Electricity from Cow Manure Failing Despite Administration Support




(p. B1) Wisconsin dairy farmer Art Thelen was full of optimism a decade ago when he joined a growing group of U.S. farmers investing in technology that turns livestock manure into electricity.

The systems promised to curb air pollution from agriculture, generate extra revenue and--in no small feat--curtail odors that waft for miles in much of farm country.

"It was a great idea, and when it worked well, it was wonderful," Mr. Thelen said.

Now the 61-year-old is among a group of farmers who recently have shut down their manure-to-energy systems--known as anaerobic digesters--or scrapped plans to build them because of the prolonged slump in natural-gas prices and higher-than-expected maintenance costs that made the systems less economical.



For the full story, see:

DAVID KESMODEL. "Energy Prices Steer Farmers Away From Manure Power." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 19, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2016, and has the title "F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.")






April 1, 2016

Obama Says Stimulus Worked at Battery Plant Where CEO Remains "Frustrated" at Losses




(p. A12) JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- President Obama on Friday [February 26, 2016] used a visit to a high-technology battery plant in Florida to argue that the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies he signed into law during his first days in office had bolstered the economy, transformed the nation's energy sector, and positioned the United States for a strong rebound.

But Mr. Obama's trip to the Saft America factory here, opened in 2011 with a $95.5 million investment from the Department of Energy, also highlighted the challenges that have tempered the economic recovery and the difficulty that the president has had in claiming credit for it.


. . .


After touring the facility and watching a large robot named Wall-E assembling one of the batteries, the president called the factory "tangible evidence" that his stimulus package had worked and said that the economy was better off for it. "We took an empty swamp and turned it into an engine of innovation," he said.

That engine, though, has sputtered as it has struggled to start here. Saft, based in Paris, announced last week that it was reducing the factory's value because it had still not gained profitability in the competitive lithium-ion battery market. Saying he was "frustrated," the company's chief executive projected the plant might not be profitable for a few more years.



For the full story, see:

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS. "Obama Praises Stimulus at Battery Plant." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Obama Points to Florida Factory as Evidence That Stimulus Worked.")






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