Friday, July 9, 2010


China’s trade surplus surges 140%. This is terrible news.

TechCrunch gives more consideration to our blimp-filled future.

Can anyone govern Japan?

The Field Poll on California’s attitudes towards pot legalization:
The survey found that 44% of voters said they supported the measure, compared with 48% who said they were against it. The poll of 1,005 likely voters was conducted June 22 to July 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

The numbers don't bode well for proponents of the measure. Typically, ballot measures need to show support at least in the mid-to high-50s at this stage of the campaign to have hopes of passing in November.
The Field Poll is generally regarded as the gold standard in California polling.

The public: surprisingly sensible on Constitutional tinkering.

How bad would a collapse in the Eurozone be? (Hint: bad)

Martin Wolf with some interesting thoughts, re: land:
In 1984, I bought my London house. I estimate that the land on which it sits was worth £100,000 in today’s prices. Today, the value is perhaps ten times as great. All of that vast increment is the fruit of no effort of mine. It is the reward of owning a location that the efforts of others made valuable, reinforced by a restrictive planning regime and generous tax treatment – property taxes are low and gains tax-free.

So I am a land speculator – a mini-aristocrat in a land where private appropriation of the fruits of others’ efforts has long been a prime route to wealth. This appropriation of the rise in the value of land is not just unfair: what have I done to deserve this increase in my wealth? It has obviously dire consequences.

A good idea: show us what we spend on power.

Great points on the defense budget:
To anyone who hasn't been paying attention, let's go over it one more time: In February the Pentagon requested $708.2 billion for fiscal year 2011 -- which would make the coming year's defense budget, adjusted for inflation, the biggest since World War II. As one analysis of the budget points out, that would mean that total defense spending -- including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- has grown 70 percent in real terms since 2001. Defense spending now accounts for some 20 percent of federal discretionary spending. That's even more than Social Security.

As a consequence, every year the United States accounts for just under half of the entire world's military spending. (By way of comparison, China spends about 8 percent; Russia, 5 percent.) As Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, recently noted in one report: "The closest thing the United States has to state enemies -- North Korea, Iran, and Syria -- together spend about $10 billion annually on their militaries -- less than one-sixtieth of what we do."
Any deficit-cutting talk that doesn’t seriously consider how to cut at least $200 billion isn’t very serious, I’m afraid.

Some great points on journalistic objectivity from Jack Shafer’s column (the first graf is quoted from another pair of authors):
When the concept [of objectivity] originally evolved, it was not meant to imply that journalists were free of bias. Quite the contrary. The term began to appear as part of journalism early in the last century, particularly in the 1920s, out of a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously. Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information—a transparent approach to evidence—precisely so that personal and culture biases would not undermine their work.

The journalistic method was the thing that was supposed to be objective, not the journalist, a method that depended on verification of results and findings. Rosenstiel and Kovach complain about how the old journalism of verification has been "overrun" by the new journalism of assertion that we consume on TV and radio. They also bellyache about the neutral voice adopted by unscrupulous journalists who want to appear objective when they're completely in the tank for somebody. This, they write, is a "form of deception." In my book, this kind of deception—and not shooting off your mouth—should be a firing offense.

Brazil’s airports: not very good.

Indians are buying cars in droves.

One in four California kids have never seen a dentist.

Damming the Yangtze:
China's biggest hydro-engineering project – the £39bn South-North Water Diversion Project, is so contaminated by pollution despite the construction of more than 400 expensive treatment plants that water remains barely usable even after treatment, reports revealed this week.

The South-North Water Diversion Project, is a hugely ambitious, 50-year project that aims to solve the country's worsening drought problems with three giant channels that will divert part of the Yangtze river towards the thirsty cities and factories around Beijing.

Contamination levels are so high along much of the eastern leg – which runs along the Grand Canal - that the water is barely usable even after treatment. Almost all of the 426 pollution control projects have been completed, but the director of the project, Zhang Jiyao told the local media this week that there was a long way to go before water quality could be assured.

The WSJ raises hopes of an HIV breakthrough; Andrew Sullivan’s blog discusses the report.

This post dismissing sports econohacks (e.g. David Berri) is great, but it’s that last line that makes you go “OH, SNAP!”: “There may be some social utility in distracting economists from theorizing about the economy, but there's no utility in the domain they're actually tackling.”

The road to prosperity might just be on our rivers:
Waterways used to be the most important avenues of transport in the United States. Today, however, only 4.7 percent of our current freight (as measured in ton-miles) moves by water, most of it low-value, bulky materials such as grain and coal. Compare this to the European Union, in which 40 percent of all domestic freight (also measured in ton-miles) moves by coastal shipping and inland waterways.

Boosting that abysmal market share, as a handful of companies…are trying to do, would require no sacrifice from the average American, and it would provide dramatic economic and environmental benefits. Barges use just over a quarter as much diesel fuel as a semitruck in moving a ton of freight. If only 30 percent of the freight that currently goes by truck went by barge instead, it would result in a reduction in diesel fuel consumption of roughly 4.7 billion gallons. This is equivalent to conserving more than 6 percent of the total end-use energy consumed by U.S. households, including heating, cooling, and lighting. To put it another way, the energy savings would be equivalent to turning off every household appliance in the state of Texas. Yet no one would have to do so much as turn down the air conditioner, ride a bike, or even install a fluorescent bulb.

It gets better. A rebirth of domestic water transportation would roll back the nation’s reliance on trucks, the fastest growing source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s in addition to many incidental benefits, from boosting the Navy’s sealift capacity to improving rescue efforts for disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. Moreover, by getting containers off trucks and onto a marine highway, it promises to make driving safer and faster for the rest of us, while also significantly reducing the need for highway repairs and new road construction.

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