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why is gas at $4 a gallon? June 23, 2008

Posted by KG in econ, environment, foreign policy, international, politics.
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robert reich’s blog:

Conspiracy theories abound, but the soaring price of crude oil (today around $137 a barrel) is related to four more mundane forces:

(1) growing demand from developing nations, especially China and India. This is the main reason for the price rise over the last six years.

(2) the dropping dollar. As it drops, because of our trade imbalance and overall indebtedness to the rest of the world as well as our slowing economy, everything we buy from abroad — including much of the oil we import — costs more; everything we sell to foreigners — including much of the oil we produce — costs less to them. I attribute half of oil’s price rise since January to this.

(3) Global investors (including, perhaps, your own pension fund) are anxious about the American economy, and looking to hedge their bets against future declines. Oil is one of the commodities that looks like a good bet. Hence, there’s speculation in oil futures. This isn’t a nefarious plot. It’s the way the market works. A bit of a speculative bubble is forming, so beware. I attribute a big part of oil’s price rise over the last few weeks to this.

(4) Instability in the Middle East. Israel’s recent bellicose statements about Iran have generated fears about the continuing capacity and willingness of Middle Eastern oil producers to generate oil (about a third of world oil production). OPEC refuses to produce more. Some of oil’s price rise over the last week is attributable to this.

In other words, a perfect storm. Given the US recession and slowing of European economies, I expect oil to fall to around $125 a barrel but then be pushed up by speculators and the falling dollar to around $135 over the next several weeks. Wall Street investment houses are talking about $150 by July but that’s their way of stoking more speculation (in which they have a financial interest).

Bottom line: The days of cheap energy are over, folks. Gas may go down to $3.50 a gallon by this time next year, but you’d be wise to trade in your SUV for an economy car. And you’d be wise to avoid building that new addition to your home and put the money instead into better insulation.

act April 23, 2008

Posted by KG in design, econ, environment, food, health, news, science, tech.
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“act” – from the nytimes magazine green issue:

WALK THE WALK: In many parts of the country, walking has become as quaint a pastime as spinning yarn or playing the bagpipes. Between 1977 and 1995, the number of daily walking trips taken by adults declined by 40 percent — while more than a quarter of all car trips are now shorter than a mile. Those under-a-mile journeys fall into the zone that new urbanists call “walkshed”: the area a person can reasonably cover on foot. People whose walksheds teem with shops and restaurants have more reason to walk than those whose don’t, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to quantify a neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendliness. Last summer, a trio of Seattle software developers started walkscore.com, which calculates the number of potential destinations within walking distance of any given address and then produces a rating. If your neighborhood scores 90 or above, you can easily live there without a car; if it scores under 25, you’ll be driving to the backyard. More than a million addresses were searched in the site’s first month. Matt Lerner, one of the site’s developers, knew the concept had arrived when a condo in Seattle hung out a gigantic banner that said “Walk Score 100.” “People react really negatively to phrases like ‘density,’ ” he says, “but they react really positively to phrases like ‘walkability.’ ”Walk Score’s popularity may be a sign that walking is making a comeback, fueled by both rising gas prices and widening waistlines.

BEYOND WASTE: Zero waste, a state of eco-utopia far beyond ordinary sustainability, raises the notion of planetary stewardship to a sweeping level: instead of using, we should reuse; instead of dumping, we should compost. A number of municipalities, including Seattle and Boulder, Colo., have made zero waste a guiding ambition. The daunting challenge is that so many consumer products are neither recyclable nor compostable. Worse, they’re made with highly toxic chemicals. Reducing the impact of these products may depend less on finding better ways to dispose of them and more on discovering how to remake them — or on no longer making them at all. A number of green certifications exist for “healthier” consumer products, but for the past three years, a small firm in Virginia known as MBDC has been awarding a “Cradle to Cradle” certification, or “C2C,” to certain items that satisfy a rigorous philosophy espoused by its founders, the green architect William McDonough and the environmental chemist Michael Braungart. The duo have long held that, as McDonough recently put it, “waste is basically stupid.” Theirs is a business-friendly credo. Corporate growth isn’t in itself problematic; nor should sustainability mean getting by with less. Rather, the firm endorses rethinking the way products are designed and manufactured. To get a C2C seal of approval, a product needs to be made from components that are either “technical nutrients” (which can be recycled or repurposed) or biological nutrients (which can degrade naturally, like compost). “Instead of saying zero waste, we say let’s just eliminate the concept of waste,” says Jay Bolus, an environmental engineer who is in charge of the MBDC certification process. C2C has mainly been a business-to-business endeavor, and only a few of the 100 products that have won MBDC certification — Herman Miller chairs, United States Postal Service envelopes — are familiar to consumers. But C2C is expanding, and next year, according to Bolus, there should be 400 or 500 products with the logo. To McDonough, his certification is a point of entry into the world that he’s imagining. “It honors intention,” he says. “And I think that’s really important, given that we have to redesign nearly everything.”

(more…)

link roundup March 19, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, books, econ, environment, news, politics, race, religion, science, sex, tech.
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1) the human side of ralph nader (make sure you change the bookmark to chapter 1)

2) hillary’s “experience”

3) fred krupp, president of the environmental defense fund, talks about “his new book and his thoughts on harnessing the great forces of capitalism to save the world from catastrophe.” – direct real audio link & airtalk archive link (scroll to 3/14)

4) andrew sullivan ponders prostitution – 1 & 2

5) ezra klein on wright vs. falwell

6) TED talks (richard dawkins, larry brilliant, bill clinton, the google guys, and more)

the carbon king March 13, 2008

Posted by AP in econ, environment.
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from the wsj:

The planet is getting warmer. Richard Sandor, a 66-year-old economist, is getting wealthier.

His company, London-based Climate Exchange PLC, has carved out a key role in Europe’s booming trade in “carbon permits” — essentially, buying and selling the right to pollute. Since 2005, the European Union has required major polluters to either cut the amount of carbon dioxide they spew, or buy pollution credits in the open market.

A big chunk of the action occurs on an exchange founded by Mr. Sandor, a one-time Berkeley professor who has morphed into a gregarious climate-change entrepreneur….

It’s an unusual mix of markets theory and environmentalism. “The right wing always suspects you of being a tree-hugging environmentalist and the left wing accuses you of being a money-grubbing capitalist,” says Mr. Sandor, who back in the 1990s developed a markets-based system to cut down on pollutants causing acid rain.

oveall, an interesting article. in addition to discussing the rare common ground between environmentalism and capitalism, it also provides a good summary of the debate between cap-and-trade and carbon tax systems. on sandor’s berkeley roots:

He first envisioned a carbon market long before many people had heard of global warming. In 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, he presented an academic paper on how markets might be used to reduce carbon emissions.

Of the conference, Mr. Sandor recalls: “There was more tie-dye there than at a Grateful Dead concert. It felt like a movement.” Indeed, the event laid the groundwork for what eventually became the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

 

swifter, higher, crueler March 1, 2008

Posted by KG in econ, environment, international, media, news, politics, religion.
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 beijing-2008.jpg

photo by flickr user H@r@ld used under a creative commons license

joshua kurlantzick of the new republic reports (pdf 1/pdf 2 or jpg 1/jpg 2) on the regression of human rights and increased censorship in china pre-Olympics:

Given China’s promises, over the past five years politicians, activists, and many reporters have created a meta-narrative for the Beijing Olympics: With prestige on the line, and the international press descending on Beijing, China simply would have to improve. The Olympics offers China “an enormous opportunity to change world perceptions and implement significant reforms,” said John Kerry after Beijing won the bid.

Yet, since obtaining the Games, China’s human rights record has actually regressed. Human Rights Watch recently concluded that “legal reforms [have] stalled,” Chinese officials have stepped up their censorship of online forums, and authorities have targeted the “network of lawyers, legal academics, rights activists, and journalists…which aims to pursue social justice and constitutional rights.” “Instead of pre-Olympic ‘Beijing spring’ of greater freedom and tolerance of dissent, we are seeing the gagging of dissidents, a crackdown on activists, and attempts to block independent media coverage,” announced Brad Adam, head of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, a conclusion echoed by a recent Amnesty International assessment of China. Meanwhile, as a Financial Times report revealed, the Communist party has tightened its grip on Chinese politics by co-opting more entrepreneurs into the Party and taking over greater swathes of government bureaucracy.

Even the Olympic pledge of press freedom has not been met. Beijing has imposed a law restricting foreign news agencies working in China and also tightened control of the domestic press by launching a crackdown on “false” news and shuttering some 18,000 blogs and websites since April. Local journos who don’t get the message wind up in worse shape then Judith Miller: In August, Chinese reporters interviewing people in a province where a bridge collapsed were attacked by plainclothes thugs, who kicked and punched the journalists.

nader and gonzalez on kqed March 1, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, campaign finance, econ, environment, international, interviews, iraq war, news, politics, privacy.
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http://www.kqed.org/programs/radio/forum (click here for realmedia stream)

Fri, Feb 29, 2008 — 9:00 AM
Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez

   
Listen Download (MP3)
(Windows: right-click and choose “Save Target As.” Mac: hold Ctrl, click link, and choose “Save As.”)

Yesterday, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader named San Francisco’s own Matt Gonzalez — a former Board of Supervisors president and mayoral candidate — as his running mate. Guest host Rachael Myrow talks with both Nader and Gonzalez about their campaign.
Host: Rachael Myrow

trees vs. solar energy February 12, 2008

Posted by AP in environment, media, news.
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apparently, trees are bad for the environment. npr reports:

Morning Edition, February 12, 2008 · One homeowner in San Francisco has asked his neighbor to chop down his redwood trees because their shadow is interfering with his solar panels. The neighbor refused. The feud has ended up in court, and the results could have ramifications statewide.

ralph nader 2008 run? January 30, 2008

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, campaign finance, econ, environment, iraq war, news, politics.
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ralph-nader.jpg

bloomberg:

Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who ran for president in 2000 and 2004, said he is considering another bid for the White House because he believes the current contenders aren’t standing up enough to corporate interests.

“Look at the major areas of injustice, deprivation and solutions that are not being addressed by the major candidates,” Nader, 73, said in a telephone interview today. Among other issues, he cited the need for a “practical timed withdrawal” from Iraq, programs to crack down on corporate fraud and a rearrangement of the U.S. tax system.

The campaign has set up an exploratory committee and is in the process of filing papers with the U.S. Federal Election Commission. The committee’s Web site says Nader is “committed to challenging the corporate powers that have a hammerlock on our political and economic systems.”

Nader said he wants to spend the next month assessing the fundraising abilities of the campaign, gathering paid staff and volunteers and trying to win over an army of lawyers willing to work for free to fight for his access on ballots across the U.S. He said he would want to raise $10 million over the course of the campaign and initially get enough to cover operations.

By comparison, the top Democrats — New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama — each raised more than $100 million in political contributions last year.

nader’s exploratory committee website:

Maybe the Democrats and Republicans will nominate Presidential candidates this year who will stand up against the war profiteers, the nuclear industry, the credit card industry, the corporate criminals, big oil, and the drug and health insurance industries.

We doubt it.

But hope springs eternal.

In the meantime, take a few minutes and explore with us an idea.

abc:

He was set to announce that he had formed an exploratory committee Wednesday, even before former Sen. John Edwards made it known that he’d be ending his candidacy. But with Edwards — who has made economic populism and ending poverty cornerstones of his campaign — leaving the Democratic field, Nader said, he feels his candidacy is more urgent than ever.

“When Kucinich threw in the towel, now you have Edwards gone — who’s going to carry the torch of democratic populism against the relentless domination of powerful corporations of our government?” Nader said. “You can’t just brush these issues to the side because the candidates are ignoring them.”

He has harsh words for the leading Democratic candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, chastising them for failing to advance aggressive plans to tax corporations more fairly, and to fight for a vastly higher minimum wage.

Obama, he said, is a particular disappointment, since his background suggests that he knows the importance of progressive issues yet hasn’t fought for them in the Senate.

“His record in the Senate is pretty mediocre,” Nader said. “His most distinctive characteristic is the extent to which he censors himself. He hasn’t performed as a really progressive first-term senator would.”

His “self-censorship,” Nader said, “is a reflection of character.”

cnn political ticker:

Nader said he finds Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both unacceptable candidates, and he said whichever wins the party’s presidential nomination will not have an impact on his decision to run.

“They are both enthralled to the corporate powers,” Nader said of the two leading Democrats. “They’ve completely ignored the presidential pattern of illegality and accountability, they’ve ignored the out of control waste-fruad military expenditures, they hardly ever mention the diversion of hundreds of billions of dollars to corporate subsidies, handouts, and giveaways, and they don’t talk about a living wage.”

He expressed particular disappointment with Obama, whose senate record he called “mediocre, and quite cautious.”

“It’s not that he doesn’t know what the score is, of course he does — look at his background, he knows plenty,” Nader said. “But he’s censoring himself.”

new insights on poverty January 19, 2008

Posted by KG in animation, econ, environment, health, history, international, media, politics, science, talks, tech.
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professor hans rosling @ TED in 2006 (20:35):

2007 presentation available here

“Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair.

Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)”

“the moral instinct” – steven pinker January 12, 2008

Posted by KG in environment, neuroscience, news, politics, science.
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steven-pinker.jpg

steven pinker with a brilliant essay in the nytimes magazine covering some of the cognitive science and evolutionary biology of morality

“the moral instinct”:

When people pondered the dilemmas that required killing someone with their bare hands, several networks in their brains lighted up. One, which included the medial (inward-facing) parts of the frontal lobes, has been implicated in emotions about other people. A second, the dorsolateral (upper and outer-facing) surface of the frontal lobes, has been implicated in ongoing mental computation (including nonmoral reasoning, like deciding whether to get somewhere by plane or train). And a third region, the anterior cingulate cortex (an evolutionarily ancient strip lying at the base of the inner surface of each cerebral hemisphere), registers a conflict between an urge coming from one part of the brain and an advisory coming from another.

But when the people were pondering a hands-off dilemma, like switching the trolley onto the spur with the single worker, the brain reacted differently: only the area involved in rational calculation stood out. Other studies have shown that neurological patients who have blunted emotions because of damage to the frontal lobes become utilitarians: they think it makes perfect sense to throw the fat man off the bridge. Together, the findings corroborate Greene’s theory that our nonutilitarian intuitions come from the victory of an emotional impulse over a cost-benefit analysis.

The five spheres are good candidates for a periodic table of the moral sense not only because they are ubiquitous but also because they appear to have deep evolutionary roots. The impulse to avoid harm, which gives trolley ponderers the willies when they consider throwing a man off a bridge, can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey. Respect for authority is clearly related to the pecking orders of dominance and appeasement that are widespread in the animal kingdom. The purity-defilement contrast taps the emotion of disgust that is triggered by potential disease vectors like bodily effluvia, decaying flesh and unconventional forms of meat, and by risky sexual practices like incest.

Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue. In his influential essay “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, argued that we should disregard reason when it comes to cloning and other biomedical technologies and go with our gut: “We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings . . . because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. . . . In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”

There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors’ repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.