2007 March 31 Saturday
Save The Cheerleaders, Save The World

Cheerleading is the biggest sports danger for girls high school. Our cheerleaders are in mortal peril and something has to be done about it.

For decades, they stood by safe and smiling, a fixture on America’s sporting sidelines. But today’s young cheerleaders, who perform tricks once reserved for trapeze artists, may be in more peril than any female athletes in the country.

Emergency room visits for cheerleading injuries nationwide have more than doubled since the early 1990s, and the rate of life-threatening injuries has startled researchers. Of 104 catastrophic injuries sustained by female high school and college athletes from 1982 to 2005 — head and spinal trauma that occasionally led to death — more than half resulted from cheerleading, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research. All sports combined did not surpass cheerleading.

Why do cheerleaders do such dangerous stunts? I figure they have no say in the matter and are just following orders. Remember what Kirstin Dunst told her squad in Bring It On:

"Girls, this is not a DEMocracy, this is a CHEERocracy and I'm the cheertator!!"

Our girls are imperiled by a top-down dictatorship which is making them perform dangerous stunts in order to bring glory to the leadership. This is just so wrong on so many levels. First off, not every cheerleader has the healing power of cheerleader Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) of Heroes. Of course every cheerleader should have that healing power and someday will thanks to nanotechnology. But that's besides the point. Right now today they do not.

Second, these girls aren't performing their stunts in order to save, say, their captured sister ala Sydney Bristow of Alias. They aren't spinning around to get momentum to kick a bad guy. Heck, they aren't even spinning around to kick the football down the field. They are just trying to impress the crowd during breaks at amateur football games. The system pushes them into dangerous jobs for no pay with little value.

What is most wrong about all this? The guys are letting it happen. Shame on you male America. Protect your women. To hell with feminism. Answer the call of your genes.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 31 10:02 AM  Off Beat And Odd
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2007 March 28 Wednesday
Income Inequality Same As 1928

The rich are getting richer and the rest are doing worse.

Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.

The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total national wealth grew substantially in 2005 incomes for the bottom 90% went down!

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

What I wonder: How fast does the membership in that top 300,000 change? If someone sells their stock options in a successful VC start-up then they might pop up into that top group for a year and then not show up again in that group.

One of my worries with such drastic income inequality: A large chunk of total demand depends on a much smaller number of people who, if they get spooked, could just stop buying and throw the country into a deep recession or even depression. The rich do not need to buy much new stuff each year because they already own so much. Therefore their demand for goods is a lot more optional than is the case for the middle and lower classes. So is this trend putting us at risk of another great depression?

New England has the most severe income inequality in the United States.

The gap between rich and poor grew at a faster rate in New England than in any other region of the nation over the last 15 years, according to a University of New Hampshire study released Thursday.

The widening income gap has shrunk New England's middle class and disrupted many of the region's communities, according to the study's authors from UNH's Carsey Institute.

I would expect that result. Why? Because New England probably has the highest average IQ of any region in the United States. Income inequality is being driven by the huge earnings of a portion of the brightest. Not every very bright person is scoring big time in business and professions. But enough are that a population that has a lot of very bright people is going to have more big winners and therefore larger income inequality.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 28 10:18 PM  Economics Labor
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Erotic Literature Widespread In England 300 Years Ago

Popular views of England in recent centuries seem to revolve around Victorian standards of behavior. But a new study argues erotic literature was widely available and cheap in 18th century England.

Prostitutes, perversions and public scandals – the stuff of the 21st century tabloids was familiar to readers three centuries earlier, according to new research from the University of Leeds.

The reading of erotic literature was already a social activity 300 years ago.

Erotic texts were read out loud in public settings.

And despite earlier work suggesting that these texts were only for solitary consumption – at home, alone, and behind closed doors – Skipp’s work throws up a surprising image of how these works were used. "They would be read in public – everywhere from London's rough-and-ready alehouses to the city’s thriving coffee houses, which weren't quite the focus of polite society in the way we sometimes think," she explained. "Some texts even came as questions and answers and were clearly intended for groups of men to read together, with one asking the questions and the others answering them."

But erotic literature of the 1700s was better written than modern era porno stories.

And Skipp describes a literary quality to the writing which you might struggle to find in modern erotic fiction or top-shelf pornography. "It is very different to today's erotica," she said. "It is more humorous, more literary and more engaged with the wider issues of the life and politics of the times." Its metaphors mirror the passions of the age: "At a time when military power was equated with virility, armed conquest is often used as a metaphor for sex – in phrases such as 'unsheathing the weapon', 'storming the fort' and 'releasing the cannon'."

Today's scandals and celebrity intrigues shown on TV and in tabloids find their parallels in the 1770s.

By the 1770s, the transcripts of adultery trials became a new source of titillation. To secure a divorce, a man would first have to successfully sue a rival for 'violating his property', before petitioning Parliament to dissolve the marriage. "There is something rather voyeuristic about these trials," said Skipp. "Often servants would give evidence while innkeepers would testify about lovers taking rooms together."

Imagine if you could go back in a time machine with very small hidden cameras. You could go to trials and ale houses and record stories every bit as scandalous as anything that happens today.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 28 09:47 PM  Human Nature
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Lexus Lanes Coming To Freeways

High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes or Lexus Lanes are all the range among free marketeers.

Economics geeks love HOT lanes because they're a beautiful example of supply and demand in its essence. Read the professors on this, and HOT lanes start to sound like econ porn.

Even some environmentalists like HOT lanes on the theory that high tolls will discourage driving and that revenue from tolls can be steered toward transit projects.

So if all these smart people love Lexus lanes, what's the problem?

Drivers tend to hate the idea for three reasons: 1) Lexus lanes seem unfair to low- and middle-income commuters who can't afford to shell out the big bucks. In Virginia, where prices could vary according to traffic volume, planners say it could cost up to $42 per day roundtrip between Prince William County and the Pentagon on the HOT lanes scheduled to be built along Interstate 95.

Wow, $42 per day. Why should drivers hate that the people going in the fast lane are paying more per trip in tolls than the slower drivers pay for transportation total? Seems to me this is a "sock it to the rich" tax where the rich volunteer to pay through the nose.

The cost per trip is so high that the HOT lanes must generate more revenue than they cost to build. Also, the traffic on them reduces the burden on the rest of the lanes.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 28 09:36 PM  Economics Transportation
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2007 March 25 Sunday
Mexican Drug War Losses Over 150 Dead Per Month

Cops are getting killed in drug-fueled violence in Mexico as the drug lords fight for power over the government.

The number of police deaths in Mexico in incidents involving organised crime has jumped 50% this year, according to official statistics.

At least 61 police officers have been killed in Mexico since the year began.

The increase in police deaths follows a crackdown on drug-related violence by the Mexican government.

If the United States built a wall along the entire US-Mexico border one of the effects would be to cut revenue to Mexican drug lords. Mexico would become a more civilized and lower crime society. Governments in Mexican border cities and towns could get a handle on the lawlessness and drive out the drug gangs.

The figures above for police deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. As of Friday March 23 one accounting puts total deaths from the drug wars at 491 so far in 2007 and over 2000 in 2006.

MEXICO CITY - Nearly 500 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars so far this year, according to media reports here, despite a crackdown on the illicit trade by President Felipe Calderon.

The dead include dozens of police officers, the daughter of a retired Army general and a suspected cartel hit man in the northern city of Monterrey left with a knife sticking out of his chest and a message to local officials affixed to his body.

...

Calderon's government, which took power in December, promised a get-tough approach against the drug trade, which claimed more than 2,000 lives last year.

That's worse than US yearly losses from fighting in Iraq. We are talking about the country on the southern border of the United States. We need to insulate ourselves from this with a border barrier and tougher immigration controls. We should also deport all the illegal alien criminals and other illegal aliens. That'll remove drug gangs and provide other benefits as well.

A big increase in law enforcement in a section of the Texas border with Mexico freed up enough agents to quadruple drug seizures. A barrier layer along the entire border with fence and wall elements would free up Border Patrol agents to go after drug smugglers. So few would attempt to cross that agents could respond to electronic crossing detection sensors and catch just about every illegal crosser. We could eliminate Mexico as a conduit for illegal drugs smuggled into the United States while also eliminating it as a source of illegal aliens.

Thanks to Omer K for the heads up.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 25 10:37 AM  Mexico
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2007 March 24 Saturday
K-12 Online Course Use Growing

The Sloan Consortium (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which was funded with money from the guy who built up GM into a massive corporation) produces interesting reports about education, especially about online education. A recent Sloan Consortium report finds widespread and growing use of online education for kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12).

1.  Almost two-thirds of the responding public school districts are offering online courses:

  • 63.1% had one or more students enrolled in a fully online or blended course.
  • 57.9% had one or more students enrolled in a fully online course.
  • 32.4% had one or more students enrolled in a blended course.

The quantity and quality obviously varies. But offerings will continue to improve on both scores.

School districts expect big growth in the use of online courses.

2.  Over 60% of school districts with students enrolled in online courses anticipate their online enrollments will grow.  Over the next two years districts predict online enrollments will increase by 19% and blended enrollments by 23%.

3.  The overall number of K-12 students engaged in online courses in 2005-2006, is estimated at 700,000.

4.  Respondents report that online learning is meeting the specific needs of a range of students, from those who need extra help to those who want to take more advanced courses and whose districts do not have enough teachers to offer certain subjects.

5.  School districts typically depend on multiple online learning providers, including postsecondary institutions, independent vendors and state virtual schools as well as developing and providing their own online courses.

6.  Perhaps the voices heard most clearly in this survey were those of respondents representing small rural school districts. For them, the availability of online learning is most important in order to provide students with course choices and in some cases, the basic courses that should be part of every curriculum.  These rural districts might be providing models and lessons for other districts facing teacher shortages in high-need subject areas such as science and mathematics.

7.  While concerns about the quality of online courses, funding, and teacher development were expressed, it appears that many of these issues are gradually being resolved.

Note in item 6 the benefit to rural schools. They have smaller student bodies and can't offer as much different specialized classes. But with online courses and video recordings (and some of the online content is very likely streaming media) the kids in rural areas can watch lectures on a huge variety of topics.

High bandwidth web connections and growth in content deliverable over the web will reduce the educational advantages of cities and suburbs. Also, online content will increase the value of home schooling. Why waste a kid's time with bus and car rides back and forth to school if a parent can supervise video viewing and use of interactive learning software? If a kid fails an online test a parent can receive an automated email notification. Or a page can show a report of current scores in all subjects and how far along each child is on each course.

A lot more of the smart kids will zip through elementary school and high school at faster speeds when they gain the ability to pace their own learning. Some will study 12 months of the year and watch more lectures, do more learning exercises, and take more tests when they gain the ability to work on courses any hour of the day or night and any day of the year.

This trend is going to change demographic patterns since parents will not need great schools to provide their kids with first class educations. While parents will still want to avoid dangerous areas the need to live in a top notch school district will lessen. The lower costs of online learning will reduce demands for greater school spending and reduce support for bricks and mortars schools.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 24 04:54 PM  Education Online
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The Growing Hispanic Gang Problem

The Inductivist Ron Guhname, who writes a lot of posts pouring over social science data, comments on the growing Hispanic gang problem.

The gang nightmare: VDare.com just posted a piece by Steve Sailer on the growing Hispanic gang problem. Among many items, he describes how California has been exporting gangs to the rest of country. A few months ago I was talking to a professor who had participated in a study of gangs in Denver. Now, Denver would not be the first city to come to mind as a gang capital. Chicago, yes, but when I think of Denver, hip ski bums come to mind. According to the study, FIFTY PERCENT of adolescent male Hispanics belong to a gang. Folks, gangbanging is becoming NORMATIVE behavior for these kids. Estimates put gang members nationwide at close to 1 million, and more than half of that is Latino. Their latest strategy is to spread their crews to Indian reservations. In the past, gangs were basically limited to big cities, but now they've even made it to the reservation--a place most whites can't find with a map. This is a tidal wave, I'm telling you.

Think about the term "gang". The guys who join them want power and a sense of belonging from membership in a violent group. They do not get a sense of belonging and high enough feelings of status and power from what they can hope to attain in school and work. That they belong to gangs in such large numbers is a measure of just how unsatisfied they are for their basic biological needs for status and power.

There's an obvious lesson here for anyone who will allow themselves to see it: Do not let in immigrants who lack the intellectual capacity and other qualities to do well enough that they do not feel the need to join ethnic gangs.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 24 01:10 PM  Immigration Societal Decay
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6 Strikes For Illegal Alien Prosecutions

Illegals have to get caught 6 times before they get prosecuted for illegal entry into the United States.

Documents released in the controversy about eight fired U.S. attorneys show that federal prosecutors in Texas generally have declined to bring criminal charges against illegal immigrants caught crossing the border — until at least their sixth arrest.

A heavily redacted Department of Justice memo from late 2005 disclosed the prosecution guidelines for immigration offenses, numbers the federal government tries to keep classified. DOJ officials would not say Thursday whether it has adjusted the number since the memo was written, citing "law enforcement reasons."

This six times rule is dumb for obvious reasons. But let me go and state the most obvious one anyway: Most illegal crossers are probably going to make it across in less than 6 tries. This rule seems aimed at simply reducing the amount of work prosecuting and holding illegals.

What other justification is there for 5 warnings? Cost is the only one I can see. The Justice Department could argue they can't handle the volume of lawbreakers. But that's an argument for hiring a lot more prosecutors and judges to allow prosecution of all illegals on their first attempts. The effect of such a strategy would be to reduce the number who try to cross illegally in the first place. We should spend much more and try much harder to enforce immigration law for a short period of time. Go all out for a year or two. Then the total number of illegal crossers will plummet and the amount of law enforcement resources needed on the border will drop.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 24 12:38 AM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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2007 March 23 Friday
Housing Sales Up But Prices Down

The number of US home sales has increased.

Sales of existing homes rose in February by the largest amount in nearly three years, but worsening troubles in subprime mortgages were viewed as a roadblock to a full-fledged rebound. The National Association of Realtors reported Friday that existing home sales climbed 3.9 percent last month, pushed up by a milder-than-normal winter that boosted sales in areas of the country such as the Northeast.

But prices are still dropping.

Even with the improvement in sales, the median price of a home kept falling, dropping to $212,800 in February, down 1.3 percent from a year earlier. It marked a record seventh straight decline in prices compared with the same month a year earlier.

The housing market is hard to measure by median sold home price. The houses getting sold might be shifting toward bigger or smaller size or more upscale or downscale neighborhoods. Foreclosures probably happen more now at lower income levels for cheaper houses. The sub-prime mortgage market until recently was pumping up the number of low income mortgage holders. Some of their foreclosed homes are coming on the market.

The effect of price drops might get cancelled out by more foreclosures and also by a reduction in credit available for borrowing. If so, prices have further to fall to complete this correction.

What I want to know: Will the retirement of the baby boomers create a glut of housing as they try to downsize into smaller housing? Or will population growth swamp that effect? Or will higher taxes to pay for retiree health benefits decrease the money available to buy housing?

By Randall Parker 2007 March 23 10:50 PM  Economics Housing
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2007 March 21 Wednesday
German Judge Cites Koran To Justify Wife Beating

Can Muslim husbands castigate their wives by beating them?

The case seems simply too strange to be true. A 26-year-old mother of two wanted to free herself from what had become a miserable and abusive marriage. The police had even been called to their apartment to separate the two -- both of Moroccan origin -- after her husband got violent in May 2006. The husband was forced to move out, but the terror continued: Even after they separated, the spurned husband threatened to kill his wife.

A quick divorce seemed to be the only solution -- the 26-year-old was unwilling to wait the year between separation and divorce mandated by German law. She hoped that as soon as they were no longer married, her husband would leave her alone. Her lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk agreed and she filed for immediate divorce with a Frankfurt court last October. They both felt that the domestic violence and death threats easily fulfilled the "hardship" criteria necessary for such an accelerated split.

In January, though, a letter arrived from the judge adjudicating the case. The judge rejected the application for a speedy divorce by referring to a passage in the Koran that some have controversially interpreted to mean that a husband can beat his wife. It's a supposed right which is the subject of intense debate among Muslim scholars and clerics alike."The exercise of the right to castigate does not fulfill the hardship criteria as defined by Paragraph 1565 (of German federal law)," the daily Frankfurter Rundschau quoted the judge's letter as saying. It must be taken into account, the judge argued, that both man and wife have Moroccan backgrounds.

Some Westerners are definitely enemies of the West. Take this judge for example.

Thanks to Dragon Horse for bringing this story to my attention.

Islam is already causing enough oppression of people in Germany without help from judges. A group of out-of-the-closet former Muslims is getting death threats from current Muslims

A group of former Muslims in Germany who formed a non-religious society have been sent threatening letters, pronouncing them "fit for death."

Mina Ahadi, an Iranian-born woman, founded the society in Cologne with 10 sympathizers several weeks ago and called it the National Council of Ex-Muslims. At the end of February she called a news conference in Berlin to publicly pronounce herself non-Islamic.

The police have assigned plainclothes bodyguards to protect her ever since.

"I'm a target," said Ahadi, 50. She said members of her society had received letters telling them they would be shot in the back. When she went online with a fierce attack on Islamic organizations, somebody circulated a statement suggesting she was fit to be killed, she said.

Islam does not recognize a right to leave the religion. In many Muslim countries leaving Islam is against the law.

A state in Germany has responded to concerns about divided Muslim loyalties by toughening a loyalty exam.

Believed to be the first test of its kind in Europe, the southern state of Baden-Württemberg has created the two-hour oral exam to test the loyalty of Muslims towards Germany.

...

But now they will be quizzed on their attitudes to homosexuality and western clothing for young women, and whether husbands should be allowed to beat their wives.

Other questions covering topics such as bigamy and whether parents should allow their children to participate in school sports have been called "trick questions", meant to catch people off guard.

The state interior ministry said the test would be used to filter out Muslims who were unsuited for life in Germany. Those who answered "correctly" but later acted against expected behaviour, such as wife-beating, could have their citizenship removed.

Want a more effective alternative for Germany and Europe? Separationism. Keep out a religion that is incompatible with Western societies. Pay Muslims to leave Europe.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 21 09:16 PM  Immigration Culture Clash
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2007 March 20 Tuesday
Aggressive Employers Slowing Health Costs Rise

Some employers are finding better ways to reduce the rate of increase in health care spending.

Employers that have done the best job of managing annual increases in health care costs are pulling out ahead of their peers, according to the findings of the 12th annual National Business Group on Health/Watson Wyatt Survey.

I wonder how much of this huge difference is due to bigger deductibles at some companies.

"If you look at the spread between the poor performers and the best performers, the gap is increasing," said Ted Nussbaum, practicing director of health care consulting North America at Watson Wyatt Worldwide in Stamford, Conn.

The two-year average trend for the best performers in this year’s survey was just 2.5%, compared with 11% for poor performers, while in last year’s survey the differential was 3% for best performers vs. 11% for poor performers and in 2005 it was 5% for best performers vs. 15% for poor performers, Mr. Nussbaum pointed out.

Employers are offering money to do "wellness" things. I've personally seen an employer offer cash for getting screened for blood pressure, cholesterol, and some other indicators. Go to a wellness day appointment and get paid for it.

For example, best performers are 17% more likely to offer compelling financial incentives to encourage employee education and participation and 11% more likely to effectively deliver health care information, according to the survey of 573 large employers.

The aggressive companies are identifying lower cost providers. Sounds like competitive pressures at work in the medical marketplace. Imagine that.

In last year’s survey, best performers found that they could lower health care costs by encouraging employees to seek care from "high-performance networks," defined as a subset of doctors and hospitals in a particular provider network that have proved they provide consistently high quality care on a cost-effective basis.

However, this year, the best performing employers are finding not all providers in a "high-performance network" can produce the same results for all types of procedures. In other words, "quality is procedure-specific," Mr. Nussbaum explained. As a result, many best performing employers are using high-quality, cost-effective providers similar to the way they use Centers of Excellence for transplants, only to treat other conditions, he said.

The average annual cost increase for surveyed companies was 8%.

Annual cost increases for all employers remained at 8 percent for the second year in a row and are expected to stay at this level through 2008.

That's more than double the rate of inflation.

Something has got to give on rising medical costs. Medical spending has surpassed 16% of of US GDP and will consume 20% of the US GDP by 2015 if one projection by Medicare actuaries is to be believed (and it seems plausible). The pressure for cost cutting and automation is going to rise dramatically.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 20 09:38 PM  Economics Health
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NY Times Wants Bigger Army

One of the lessons I learned from Iraq? We should think really hard about staffing up a ground force large enough that a US President could try to use it to spread democracy. Not so the Gray Lady. The editors of the New York Times wants to expand the US Army so that it is big enough to occupy countries like Iraq.

The first lesson is the continued importance of ground soldiers in a world that defense planners predicted would be all about stealth, Star Wars, satellites and Special Operations forces sent on short-term missions. Now we know that enemies hunkered down in caves and urban slums can be as dangerous as those in defense ministry bunkers — and that rebuilding defeated nations is crucial to lasting security.

...

As long as United States troops are in Iraq, meeting the recruiting quotas of an expanded force will be difficult. The multiple combat tours, the warehoused wounded, the deteriorating Iraqi security situation are a lot to overcome.

Once that is behind us, the Army can be increased substantially, and should be, so long as Congress can assure the country that it will never again delegate away its war powers as carelessly and recklessly as it did in 2002. And so long as the next president understands that the point of having a large Army is to strengthen American diplomacy, not to launch impulsive and unnecessary wars.

Okay, two points here: First, these editors realize that conditions in Iraq make enlistment in the US Army a much less appealing prospect. So they want to get the US out of Iraq first, better to dupe adolescents to sign up. Why? So these adolescents will be available in larger numbers to conduct large so-called nation-building military operations. You know, like we are trying to do in Iraq.

Second, logic isn't a strong suit of these folks. Earlier on they say the need to fight in urban environments reduces the value of fancy weapons technology and requires more troops. Sounds like they want bigger forces for doing occupations of other countries. But then they zig and zag and end up arguing that we need a bigger military so that we do not actually need to use it. Maybe in their imaginations it is our ability to do democracy-building nation-building invasions that will give our diplomats the ability to credibly threatened the Saddam Husseins of this world so that they'll presumably impose democracy on themselves.

I am curious to know which countries the Times editors would have us scare into their own internal nation-building programs. Just what will we need to do against which particular countries? Force the Saudis to let women drive and vote? Or maybe scare African governments into being less than totally corrupt and incompetent?

Major avoidable debacles should at least teach us useful lessons. I'm afraid that Iraq hasn't taught the editorial board of the New York Times anything useful.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 20 08:12 PM  Military War Costs
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2007 March 17 Saturday
Subprime Mortgage Problems Portend Deeper Housing Downturn

A deep enough demand drop to bring on a recesssion?

Most economic forecasters in a new WSJ.com survey believe recent turmoil in the subprime mortgage market is likely to spread to the broader mortgage market and they expect a widely followed index of home prices to fall this year. But they still think the U.S. will avoid a recession and even a significant rise in unemployment.

Serious question: which sectors of the US economy can grow? Can any export industries grow enough to exert a substantial positive influence? At some point the US economy's growth is going to become export led. The US dollar can't stay strong against Asian currencies forever.

I think the majority are right that the subprime mortgage problem will influence the regular mortgage market. Some of those subprime buyers are buying from financially stronger sellers who are selling to buy another house but with a higher quality mortgage.

Of the 60 economists surveyed, 32 said it is either "very" or "somewhat" likely that the intense and speedy unraveling of the market for subprime mortgages -- home loans made to people with poor credit histories – will spill over to the rest of the mortgage market.

But 26 said that's not likely. Two didn't respond.

These economists put the odds of a recession in the next 12 months at only 25%.

They put the odds of recession in the next 12 months at about 25%, slightly less than former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's odds of about 33%.

But interest rates on shorter and longer term bonds suggest at least a 50:50 chance of a recession this year.

The bankruptcies of many sub-prime lenders and the general tightening of lending requirements by the remaining lenders means fewer people getting the money to buy and less demand for new and existing housing. Plus, less money will flow into "flip this house" remodelling. So the total demand for housing construction workers and materials will drop.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 17 04:54 PM  Economics Housing
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2007 March 15 Thursday
International Trend Toward Internet Censorship

National governments are censoring the internet.

OpenNet Initiative, a project by Harvard Law School and the universities of Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford, repeatedly tried to call up specific websites from 1,000 international news and other sites in the countries concerned, and a selection of local-language sites.

The research found a trend towards censorship or, as John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said, “a big trend in the reverse direction”, with many countries recently starting to adopt forms of online censorship.

This OpenNet Initiative has a map of the world color-coded by the openness of their internet access.

I find it ironic that while the neoconservatives push an agenda of forced democratization in the Middle East the overall world trend is toward more dictatorships and controls on free speech and press. Russia has been on the road toward less freedom for probably the last 10 years, or at least since Vladimir Putin took office. The Venezuela of Hugo Chavez is going down a similar path. Democracy in Iraq has not produced a panacea.

Look at the big picture. The Europeans are not reproducing. The Muslims are making more babies and the Muslims aren't much interested in freedom of religion and freedom of speech when such freedoms can lead people to say and do things against Islam. Africa is a thoroughly corrupt place where freedom to access the internet is irrelevant for people living on 1 or 2 dollars per day. Governments in Africa are too incompetent to regulate internet access but their populaces are mostly too poor and illiterate to make use of web sites.

The rise of East Asia and the decline of the West argue for a more authoritarian future.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 15 11:05 PM  Freedom Internet
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Bloomberg Poll Show Most Dissatisfied

Most people do not like where America is headed.

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- How gloomy Americans are about the direction of the country and President George W. Bush's leadership depends on how much money they make.

Twenty-three percent of all Americans said the country is on the right track, a 15-year low, according to a new Bloomberg poll. Among those with higher incomes, 43 percent said the country is on the right path. Three-fifths of Americans disapproved of the job Bush is doing, compared with 38 percent who approved. Among those with household income higher than $100,000, the gap is smaller, with 53 percent disapproving and 46 percent approving.

I see this poll as a reflection of the trend toward US national wealth gains accumulating mostly in the upper classes. The rest grow more resentful of their lower status. The wider the income disparity gets between the top and the bottom the more dissatisfied people are going to get. This is a problem because the dumbing down due to demographic trends is going to swell the ranks of the lower middle class and lower classes.

The Democrats can make some headway by supporting more taxes on the rich. Robin Hood politics seems likely to play a bigger role on the American political scene.

But the poor are likely to be disappointed. They are more willing to vote for people who will raise taxes on the upper income brackets. But the additional revenue raised is increasingly going to go toward financing old age retirement benefits, especially medical costs. So the lower class workers will end up voting for taxes to pay for the living standards of old folks.

Will poor folks turn against middle and upper class old folks and demand less be spent on the old and more on the youthful and middle aged poor?

By Randall Parker 2007 March 15 10:36 PM  Politics Factions
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More European Muslims Embrace Jihad

More Muslims in Europe are turning toward the path of jihad and terrorism against non-Muslims.

ZUTPHEN, Netherlands -- On the surface, the young Dutch Moroccan mother looked like an immigrant success story: She studied business in college, hung out at the pub with her friends and was known for her fashionable taste in clothes.

So residents of this 900-year-old river town were thrown for a loop last year when Bouchra El-Hor, now 24, appeared in a British courtroom wearing handcuffs under an all-encompassing black veil. Prosecutors said she had covered up plans for a terrorist attack and wrote a letter offering to sacrifice herself and her infant son as martyrs.

The Washington Post article uses this Dutch Moroccan (i.e. Muslim) as an example of an improbable terrorist. Well, granted men are more likely to embrace jihad than women. But some women do it. Muslim women aren't automatically safe to be around just because they are women.

People in Zutphen may have been surprised, but terrorism suspects from atypical backgrounds are becoming increasingly common in Western Europe. With new plots surfacing every month, police across Europe are arresting significant numbers of women, teenagers, white-skinned suspects and people baptized as Christians -- groups that in the past were considered among the least likely to embrace Islamic radicalism.

Teenagers are unlikely to embrace Islamic radicalism? If they are Muslim teenagers it goes with the territory. If someone is baptized as Christian that does not make them immune to conversion to other religions. Once they become Muslims their embrace of jihad is a pretty small intellectual step.

Islam is not a religion of peace. The Western peoples should separate their societies from Muslims. Europeans could pay Muslims with residency rights to leave Europe. Illegal alien Muslims should just get deported.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 15 10:25 PM  Immigration Terrorism
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Mortgage Defaults Driving US Economy To Recession?

Rising mortgage default rates, especially on so-called sub-prime loans to financially weaker borrowers, are driving some subprime lenders into bankruptcy and causing others to tighten up standards for loans. As a result the housing downturn in the US now looks like it has not yet bottomed out and recession is not out of the question.

With mortgage rates rising and house prices falling, experts say as many as one and one-half million Americans could lose their homes. Rick Sharga, with RealtyTrac, a company that provides information on real estate trends, says foreclosures are at an all-time high – up 42 percent since 2005.

"It's almost a perfect storm if you are a homeowner who is in distress right now,” Sharga says. “Because you are seeing housing values go down in parts of the country, so the house might not be worth what you paid for it."

With the continued shift of manufacturing to China we can't very well expect manufacturing to counter-balance the worsening US housing sector. The housing bubble basically replace the internet bubble. What next can replace housing as the growth industry?

More than a dozen mortgage lender firms have gone bankrupt.

Susan Bies, a governor of the Federal Reserve, said in a speech Friday in Charlotte, N.C., that the troubles of sub-prime borrowers represented the "front end" of a wave the central bank was monitoring.

"This is not the end; this is the beginning," she said.

A surge in the number of homeowners defaulting on sub-prime mortgages has triggered the collapse of more than a dozen lenders in recent months.

Parallels are being drawn with the 1991 recession.

If this slump follows the same pattern as the last one, in 1991, it will persist for at least another year and may fuel a recession. New-home sales declined 45 percent from July 1989 to January 1991 and about 1 percent of all U.S. jobs, or 1.1 million, were lost in that recession, said Robert Kleinhenz, deputy chief economist of the California Association of Realtors.

This time around, new-home sales have declined 28 percent since September 2005, hitting a low in January, the last month for which data is available

Interest rates on shorter and longer term US Treasury bonds provide another indication of looming recession.

The probability the U.S. economy will shrink for two quarters has risen to 50 percent, according to a model created when Greenspan ran the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The formula is based on differences in yields on Treasuries.

The economy has gone into recession six of the seven times since 1960 that short-term interest rates topped longer-term bond yields, as they do now.

Alan Greenspan puts the risk of recession down around 30%. But I figure the bond market knows better than Greenspan and the bond market disagrees.

The recovery from the last recession does not feel like it has been underway for all that long a time. Yet we might already be headed into another recession.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 15 09:57 PM  Economics Housing
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Congressional Republicans Sour On No Child Left Behind

Some Republicans in Congress are turning against the No Child Left Behind Act which seeks to make every child into the image of our college educated upper classes.

More than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate -- including the House's second-ranking Republican -- will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush's signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.

...

Among the co-sponsors of the legislation are House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a key supporter of the measure in 2001, and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Bush's most reliable defender in the Senate. Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the House GOP's chief deputy whip and a supporter in 2001, has also signed on.

No Child Left Behind is better labelled No Lie Left Behind. The most noteworthy thing about it is the sheer size of the lie by which it was justified. It is based on the idea that America's children all live in Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average". Schools which can not get dumber children to perform like higher IQ college bound kids are punished for the genetic endowments of their students.

Our intellectuals, such as they are, made the No Lie Left Behind legislation possible. What I want to know: which motivations are most important for the telling of these lies? One of the motives is the desire to avoid saying something that'll hurt the feelings of others. Don't want to tell a person or a group their kids are dumb. Is that the biggest motive?

Another motive for lying about relative abilities is the desire to reshape and remold society. This is a milder version of the dream to create New Soviet Man.

NCLB might yield one benefit: All the effort to achieve NCLB goals will fail. The educrats are going to have a hard time explaining why testing, teaching to the tests, longer school days, smaller classes, more school days per school year, and more money did not help. But I'm confident they'll make like our elites and come up with some suitable lies.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 15 06:33 PM  Education
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2007 March 12 Monday
Pell Grants Drive Up College Tuition Prices

Why have tuition costs risen faster than the rate of inflation for decades? Rising demand fueled by tax money increases the cost of higher education.

Undergraduates at in-state institutions were not significantly affected by tuition increases linked to rises in Pell grants between 1989 and 1996, economists Larry D. Singell Jr. and Joe A. Stone report in a paper to appear in the journal Economics of Education Review. The study is available online.

“For private colleges, the response to Pell grants is no different from their approach to tuition pricing and awarding of differential scholarships to students based on need,” said Singell, head of the UO department of economics. “So we are not much surprised by our findings. We were also not surprised to find no significant effect for Pell grants on residential tuition at public colleges.”

Some students, whose families’ incomes make them ineligible for Pell, have faced tuition hikes that sometimes match almost one-to-one any dollar increases in Pell grants when they enroll at out-of-state public institutions or private schools. However, rather than having the effect of turning away the poorer students with Pell grants, tuition redistribution allows these institutions to accommodate lower-income Pell recipients, said Stone, the W.E. Miner Professor of Economics at the UO.

“A lot of people have looked at the Bennett hypothesis,” Stone said. “I think our study is the most comprehensive one in terms of the types and numbers of schools and the long time period we examined. We found that Pell increases do expand the opportunities for students entering their in-state public schools without seeing a directly related increase in tuition. For students going to private schools and non-residents going to public schools, we found that access to those schools increases, too, but it comes at the expense of higher overall tuition paid by wealthier students.”

So the government spends more on education and people too affluent to qualify for student aid pay higher tuition as well.

Most people think colleges ask for financial information from parents so they can identify parents whose kids deserve price breaks. No, that is not it. The colleges use the financial information to identify parents who they can soak with higher tuitions. The official public tuition level is what they'll charge you if you can afford to get milked. If they had no way to tell how much each parent can afford to pay they'd have to offer lower official tuition levels.

Some of the Pell grant money goes toward allowing poorer students to attend more expensive schools.

Bottom-line results were that in-state public tuition has risen nationally, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. It rose by $359 per $1,000 of Pell awards in a standard statistical analysis but by just $130 per $1,000 when other effects were considered. The researchers theorized that the difference suggests that Pell grants tend to assist recipients in attending the more costly public institutions within their own states.

At public universities, out-of-state tuition went up the most in the West and Northeast, increasing at $804 per $1,000 of Pell grants. Tuition at private institutions, which get very little state support and rely more heavily on endowments, also rose, with the sharpest increases in the same regions. The rise related to Pell grants was $863 per $1,000, approaching a one-to-one effect. Stone and Singell also conclude that students who obtained larger Pell grants are drawn more to private schools with lower tuition rather than those with higher tuition.

These numbers above are a sign that colleges operate like oligopolies. Competition ought to drive down costs. But the main goal of colleges is not to provide the best education for the dollar. The main goal is to allow people to show how high their IQs are by saying which college they graduated from.

In practice the smartest kids have to pay the most to demonstrate how smart they are. The elite schools charge the most. The smarter kids tend to have smarter and more affluent parents. So the elite schools have customers who both are smarter and whose parents have deep pockets.

If employers could easily test for IQ then the need for smarter kids to spend more on expensive schools would go away. This would save them money by allowing them to go to cheaper schools. This would also drive down tuitions at the most expensive schools.

Another way to introduce more price competition: Have standard tests for major subjects with many sites offering the tests. If, for example, one could earn a degree in chemistry by taking all the standard tests of the American Chemical Society for undergraduate chemistry then a person could buy their prerecorded college chemistry lectures separately from their tests and earn a degree for a small fraction of current costs. No need for lots of expensive lecture labor and buildings with lecture halls. Watch lectures any time of night and day and go through a course as fast as you can push yourself.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 12 07:08 PM  Education
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2007 March 11 Sunday
Hundreds Of Deportable Gang Members In SoCal Prisons

The feds are starting to get serious about deporting illegal criminals who are doing jail time.

A spot check by federal agents has identified 59 street gang members in Southern California jails who are illegal immigrants subject to deportation, sparking a debate about the role of border enforcement in the region's battle against violent gangs.

The initial identification of deportable gang members came during a first-of-its-kind screening of a portion of jail inmates last month.

The review will continue, and officials expect during the first year to identify 700 to 800 gang members who are illegal immigrants, according to Jim Hayes, director of the Los Angeles field office for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The pressure on the federal government from popular outrage over immigration has gotten high enough that the US government is doing "first-of-its-kind screening" on jail inmates. These are people in jail. In other words, they are criminals. Yet doing a screening on them to identify illegal alien gang members for deportation is a "first-of-its-kind" event now in the year 2007. That shows how bad things got and how far we still have to go on immigration law enforcement.

Arrests and criminal charges along a section of the Texas-Mexico border have drastically cut down illegal alien crossings. We need the same policy along the rest of the border. Our supporters of open borders for years argued it is futile to control the borders. They wanted us to to give in to feelings of helplessness and passivity. Instead we got angry, yelled at the gub'mint and they did something about it while trying not to. Now we have more narcotics getting seized because the reduction in the flow of illegals frees up more Border Patrol time to go after smugglers. Border law enforcement works, the border is controllable, and illegal crossings can be brought down to a small trickle.

Border Patrol commanders argue the slackening flow of migrants belies the conventional wisdom that it is impossible to stem illegal migration along a 2,000 mile, or 3,200 kilometer, border. Many veteran officers in the force are now beginning to believe that with sufficient resources, it can be controlled.

We need a wall. We need more monitoring gadgets. We need more Border Patrol agents. We also need prosecution of illegal crossers along the entire length of the border. Plus, we need more interior enforcement of immigration laws.

Update: Bush thinks a big border crackdown will help him get a big amnesty and guest worker program through Congress.

Despite its spartan conditions, the facility in Willacy County, 260 miles south of Austin, is a key to President Bush's drive to create a channel for temporary foreign workers and a path toward legalization for as many as 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

To do so, the government must convince skeptics that it can credibly enforce laws aimed at illegal immigrants and their employers, and can hold and deport those caught by the U.S. Border Patrol. At the same time, the administration and its allies argue that even additional detention beds will be overwhelmed without new channels for legal immigration. Accordingly, the United States has embarked on a huge prison building and contracting campaign, increasing the number of illegal immigrants detained from 19,718 a day in 2005 to about 26,500 now, and a projected 32,000 this summer.

We could deport at least 300,000 illegals who are criminals if we just identified them as illegals and made sure they do not get released at the end of their prison terms.

The Border Patrol made 1.1 million apprehensions last year -- mostly Mexicans who were promptly returned across the border -- but estimates 500,000 people evaded capture or entered legally and then overstayed visas.

An additional 630,000 are at large, ignoring deportation orders, and 300,000 more who entered state and local prisons for committing crimes are to be deported but will probably slip through the cracks after completing their sentences.

Bush wants to end illegal immigration as part of a drive to drastically ramp up legal immigration. Will he get away with it? As the supply of illegals dry up the businesses that make use of cheaper labor will complain about the need to pay more. But any temporary worker permit program will ramp up both legal and illegal immigration.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 11 04:09 PM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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2007 March 08 Thursday
Former US Navy Muslim Arrested On Terrorism Charges

A former sailor in the US Navy has been charged with activities in support of terrorism.

HARTFORD, March 8 — When Hassan Abujihaad was a sailor on a United States Navy destroyer in 2001, federal prosecutors said, he began exchanging e-mail messages with a man who ran an Internet site seeking to raise money for terrorist causes.

I found a web site that claims "Abu" means holy man or saint but that it is common practice to use "Abu" to refer to fathers. So this guy's name, Abu (father) Jihaad (holy war) is father of holy war. That is probably the chosen name of a convert since he's also referred to in news stories as Paul R Hall.

Mr. Abujihaad initially contacted the administrators of the Web site to buy DVDs that promoted Muslim separatist fighting in Chechnya and elsewhere, the authorities said. But in 2001, he shared information about his ship’s whereabouts and vulnerabilities, according to a complaint filed by the Department of Justice.

The US government claims he was telling a British Muslim web site operator when his destroyer passed through the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. That web site operator, Babar Ahmad, is a British Pakistani who the United States government wants to extradite from Britain to put on trial in the US for raising funds for terrorism.

The investigation into Babar Ahmad turned up emails from Abujihaad.

In July of 2001, referring to the attack on the USS Cole, Abujihaad writes in an e-mail: "I am a Muslim station on board a U.S. warship currently operating deployed to the Arabian Gulf. It shall be noted before Osama's latest video was viewed by massive people all over the world. That psychological anxiety had already set in on the America's forces everywhere. All this is due to the martyrdom operation against the USS Cole."

The Western countries should stop letting Muslims immigrate and should deport the vast majority of non-citizen Muslims already here. Also, citizen Muslims should be offered money to give up their citizenship and to move to Muslim majority nations. Oherwise we are going to witness the continued development of Muslim parallel societies in the West.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 08 10:38 PM  Immigration Terrorism
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NYC Teachers Weak In English

Thomas Wagner, a former New York City public school English teacher, says grammar isn't taught very much in the NYC public school system and the teachers there are increasingly unable to teach grammar and writing.

I retired in 2002, after 29 years as a public-middle-school English teacher in Jackson Heights, Queens, a stable working-class neighborhood in New York City.

...

In my final year, the assistant superintendent dropped by my class with the principal and later told her that it was nice to see a teacher still teaching grammar. There was no hint that a curriculum policy might be re-examined—just a wistful comment about the winds of change. To get to the point, there is no sequential program of language development that can be assumed in the New York City public-school system. While the word “curriculum” is now in vogue, there is little awareness that this might require the actual specification of academic content to be taught in each grade.

That this near-anarchic approach to teaching English had repercussions was brought home to me in the year following my retirement, when I was hired by my union, the United Federation of Teachers, to teach two sections of a six-session course to prospective teachers. The class was designed to help them pass the essay part of the New York State Teacher Certification exam. My students—all college graduates—were generally bright, dedicated, decent people, but most of them had a lot of difficulty organizing their thoughts into the form of a short essay and a limited knowledge of the mechanics of writing.

In fact, most of my students had already failed the licensing exam.

He says the inability of the teachers to teach writing is a reflection of their own inadequate education in the schools that taught them. But my guess is these prospective teachers aren't as smart as he's making them out to be. I'd love to see IQ tests administered to teachers in various public school systems. Do their skills in writing and grammar track with their IQ scores? Or is there a real decay in the level of proficiency of English writing skills adjusted for the intelligence of those teaching?

The smartest people do not go into teaching. Before women made their way into higher paying professions like law and medicine many smarter ones became teachers and nurses. But since so many more doors are open in business, higher education, and higher paying professions the elementary and high schools have probably suffered a brain drain of teaching talent. Plus, even smarter men find more demand for their skills in industry. So teaching suffers from an IQ problem.

If students need to receive instruction from brighter and more highly educated teachers the best way to address that need is to use more video lectures either recorded or delivered live to many classrooms simultaneously. The small number of very best and brightest teachers could teach tens and hundreds of thousands of students rather than just the small number of students who can fit in a single classroom. Average quality of viewed lectures could rise substantially. Also, software can automate testing and practice exercises.

Automation of teaching and testing is the path to both higher quality and lower costs.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 08 09:46 PM  Education
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2007 March 06 Tuesday
Do Specialty Hospitals Do Excess Treatments?

Specialty cardiac hospitals seem to increase the amount of cardiac treatments done in an area.

The opening of a specialty cardiac hospital is associated with an increase in the rate of coronary revascularization in a region, compared to new cardiac programs opened at general hospitals, according to a study in the March 7 issue of JAMA.

Specialty hospitals, which provide care limited to specific medical conditions or procedures, are opening at a rapid pace across the United States, according to background information in the article. Proponents argue that specialty hospitals provide higher quality health care and greater cost-efficiency by concentrating physician skills and hospital resources needed for managing complex diseases. Critics claim that specialty hospitals focus primarily on low-risk patients and provide less uncompensated care, which places competing general hospitals at significant financial risk.

"However, specialty hospitals raise an additional concern beyond their potential to simply redistribute cases within a health care market. Specialty hospitals are typically smaller than general hospitals and have high rates of physician ownership. Physician owners may have stronger financial incentives for providing services that fuel greater utilization," the authors write.

Of course physician owners have greater financial incentives. One really big problem with medicine is that patients lack the knowledge, expertise, and intellectual ability to evaluate the efficacy of treatment choices. Doctors can create work for themselves. Usually governments or insurance companies are footing the bill. So patients do not have financial incentives to take a critical look at physician recommendations for expensive procedures.

In what are called Hospital Referral Regions (HRRs) new specialty cardiac hospitals seem to raise use of the coronary revascularization procedure more than is seen when general hospitals open cardiac programs.

The researchers found that overall, rates of change for total revascularization were higher in HRRs after cardiac hospitals opened when compared with HRRs where new cardiac programs opened at general hospitals and HRRs with no new programs. "Four years after their opening, the relative increase in adjusted rates was more than 2-fold higher in HRRs where cardiac hospitals opened (19.2 percent) when compared with HRRs where new cardiac programs opened at general hospitals (6.5 percent) and HRRs with no new programs (7.4 percent)."

"Although we are unable to comment directly on the appropriateness of these procedures, these findings raise the concern that the opening of cardiac hospitals may lead to greater procedural utilization beyond the simple addition of capacity to a market. This is particularly worrisome since cardiac hospitals may not substantially improve clinical outcomes when compared with general hospitals with similar procedural volumes," the researchers write.

Within the United States the rate of use of medical care varies greatly

Medicare spending per patient varies greatly in the United States.

In some regions of the United States Medicare pays more than twice as much per person for health care as it pays in other regions. For example, age-, sex-, and race-adjusted spending for traditional, fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare in the Miami hospital referral region in 1996 was $8,414–nearly two and a half times the $3,431 spent that year in the Minneapolis region.1

Even after differences in price levels across regions are adjusted for, there are no obvious patterns that suggest why some areas spend more than others. Spending in urban areas in the Northeast tends to be higher than average, but spending in rural regions in the South and urban areas in Southern California is as high or even higher. And the dollar transfers involved are enormous. The difference in lifetime Medicare spending between a typical sixty-five-year-old in Miami and one in Minneapolis is more than $50,000, equivalent to a new Lexus GS 400 with all the trimmings.2

Lots more doctors want to live in south Florida than in Minnesota. So less unnecessary medical treatment gets done in Minnesota.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 06 11:12 PM  Economics Health
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2007 March 05 Monday
China Ups Military Spending 17.8%

Just as the Bush Administration appointed Nicholas Negroponte to manage the US relationship with China the Chinese made a big percentage increase in their defense budget.

Apparently by coincidence, the Chinese government chose the same moment to announce that its declared military expenditures for 2007 will amount to $44.94 billion, an increase of 17.8 percent.

According to Pentagon estimates, that declared total represents about a third of actual military spending if equipment purchases are taken into account. But even that would amount to only a fraction of the U.S. military budget, which is proposed to rise to about $623 billion for fiscal 2008.

The difference is narrower than the numbers suggest. The US military has to pay some multiple of what the Chinese pay their soldiers.

The US military is eventually going to become the second most powerful military in the world. Continued economic growth in China with a population more than 4 times larger will make the Chinese economy bigger and they'll have plenty of technology for creating a powerful military.

The western democracies aren't growing in population as fast as the rest of the world. Also, much of the population growth in the West comes from groups that do poorly in school and in the private sector. So the Western democracies are going to continue to dwindle in relative importance on the world stage. The West peaked in world power over 100 years ago when Europeans made up about a quarter of the world's population and they controlled the world far more thoroughly than they do today. Increases in absolute affluence in the West and triumphalist talk have obscured this longer term trend.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 05 10:20 PM  China
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2007 March 04 Sunday
Terrorists Make Internet Biggest Recruiting Tool

Click your way to Islamic Jihad.

(CBS) America's top intelligence officer overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan says terrorists have made the Internet their most important recruiting tool. Brig. Gen. John Custer tells Scott Pelley that terrorist groups like al Qaeda are influencing Islamic youth to join their cause through Web sites devoted to jihad, or religious war.

Pelley's report will be broadcast this Sunday, March 4, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

"I see 16-, 17-year-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield. We capture them, we kill them every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan," says Custer. "Without a doubt, the Internet is the single-most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth," he tells Pelley.

As I like to say: the streets find their own uses for technology. The motivations for creating technologies are very often very different than the uses that technologies get put to. The more advanced technologies become the easier they become to use by everyone - including Muslims who believe non-Muslims should submit to Muslim rule or die.

As internet bandwidth costs have decreased so have the costs of producing and delivering streaming video jihadist propaganda.

The Internet allows terrorists to use increasingly sophisticated methods, such as music videos distributed by media organizations, to reach more potential recruits with more effective messages. "Now they are able to distribute … anything they want, anywhere they want. This is unheard of in history," says Ulph. "We're witnessing this ideological war on our own desktops."

This has implications for Western countries with Muslim minority populations. The more educated Muslims are more likely to become jihadists and the left-liberal assumption that more education makes people more tolerant is false. Well, technology increasingly allows Muslims living in Western societies to carve out their own media channels and communications channels so that they exist in parallel societies even while being physically close to majority non-Muslim populations. The internet enables these parallel societies because it supports huge numbers of channels of video, audio, and text content as well as online forms, chat, and other means of communication.

Al Qaeda are rebuilding their organization in the tribal lands of Pakistan.

Al Qaeda would still like to inflict mass casualties upon the US, and it continues to seek weapons of mass destruction, Admiral McConnell said.

In addition, it is "forging stronger operational connections that radiate outward" from Pakistan to affiliated groups in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, according to US intelligence.

Still, Al Qaeda remains a loose network of like-minded individuals, instead of a tightly controlled terrorist hierarchy. Three-quarters of Al Qaeda's pre-9/11 leaders were killed or captured, according to US estimates. Aside from Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, many of its leaders are relative rookies.

Nor has Al Qaeda's new Pakistani infrastructure replaced the multiple camps it operated in Afghanistan, capable of training thousands of recruits at once. "The numbers are not the same, but there are volunteers who are attempting to reestablish [training grounds]," McConnell said.

Al Qaeda's ability to communicate will grow as Pakistan's internet infrastructure improves. The internet helps jihadists worldwide. One of the best ways we can respond to this is by making separate societies sit on opposite sides of well-controlled borders. Multiculturalism within a single society is a recipe for Balkanization and Lebanonization within the borders of a single nation. The best policy for dealing with Muslims is Separationism where we keep them out of our societies and minimize our involvement and dependence on them and theirs.

By Randall Parker 2007 March 04 03:59 PM  Terrorists Activities
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2007 March 01 Thursday
David Walker: America Faces Fiscal Cancer

U.S. Comptroller General David Walker says the retirement of the baby boomers combined with the huge entitlements promised to them are a demographic tsunami and fiscal cancer that could lead to economic disaster for the United States.

WASHINGTON — The comptroller general of the United States is explaining over eggs how the nation's finances are going to hell.

"We face a demographic tsunami" that "will never recede," David Walker tells a group of reporters. He runs through a long list of fiscal challenges, led by the imminent retirement of the baby boomers, whose promised Medicare and Social Security benefits will swamp the federal budget in coming decades.

Walker is right of course. I expect this problem to go unaddressed until the boomers start retiring and the budget deficit becomes huge.

Walker is touring the United States with a bipartisan group of economists policy specialists in a "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour" to try to alert the American public to the scale of the problem. One of the members of this tour, Alison Fraser, director of economic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, points out that eliminating the Department of Defense would not save enough money to pay for the entitlements.

Project out 75 years, and the magnitude of the problem is stunning. In those projections, "we have gone from $20 trillion to $50 trillion in total liabilities and unfunded commitments in six years, primarily because of unfunded entitlements," says Walker, the nation's chief public accountant. That translates to $440,000 per current US household.

"If we eliminated the entire Department of Defense, it would not solve this problem," notes Fraser.

The relative power of the United States has peaked and will decline for years to come. The demographic trends due to aging and immigration both will cut into per capita GDP and economic growth.

Walker says the Medicare prescription drug bill which George W. Bush signed into law is fiscally irresponsible.

Walker talks to 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft this Sunday, March 4, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

"The prescription drug bill is probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s," says Walker, "because we promise way more than we can afford to keep."

Expect slower economic growth as the older skilled workers retire and taxes rise to pay for their retirements.

A wave of retiring workers will weigh down economic growth in the coming years unless Americans save more and employers take steps to hang on to more of their older employees, experts said.

How the nation responds is a "critical question," said Donald L. Kohn, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, warning that the costs could "fall entirely on future generations."

A study by Fed economists projected that economic growth would slip toward the 2% range after 2010, about a point lower than the rate of the last decade, largely the result of meager growth in the future labor force, Kohn testified.

The slower economic growth could feed a vicious cycle. Increases in taxes could slow growth. That would reduce tax revenue which could lead to higher taxes to make up for the lost revenue.

Among the experts there's bipartisan agreement that the problem is huge.

Touring with Mr. Walker are: Alice Rivlin, budget director under President Clinton and now a fellow at the moderate-to-liberal Brookings Institution; Alison Fraser, an economic policy specialist at the conservative Heritage Foundation; and Harry Zeeve, a director of the bipartisan Concord Coalition that advocates fiscal reform and balanced budgets. While the foursome, which spans the political spectrum, doesn't agree on solutions, its members acknowledge that nothing can be done politically if Americans remain ignorant of the problem.

The Clinton and Bush Administrations have been years of tremendous wasted opportunity to deal with America's demographic problems. The dumbing down and the aging problems are obvious to anyone who doesn't mind thinking taboo thoughts (i.e. most of the upper half of the IQ Bell Curve when they choose schools and places to live).

What should we do about the demographic problems? I have several suggestions:

  • Provide smarter kids with filmed lectures and online tests so they can learn more quickly, start accumulating college credits sooner, and enter the workforce at younger ages. The sooner smart people start working the more total years they'll work and pay taxes and create goods and services.
  • Start raising retirement ages. Get people to work more years and pay taxes for more years.
  • Put limits on medical spending for those who have few months left to live. Heroic and expensive treatments for people who gain few days of extra life cost the rest of us huge sums of money.
  • End all lower IQ immigration. Set a very high IQ requirement for prospective immigrants. We need workers who have higher productivity and less tendency to commit crimes or cause other problems.
  • Accelerate research into rejuvenation therapies. If we can keep people younger longer they can work more years before they have to retire.
  • Provide big cash prizes for the development of cheaper ways to treat diseases.

We need practical solutions to our huge demographic problems. Do you have any suggestions?

By Randall Parker 2007 March 01 10:59 PM  Economics Demographic
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