What Happened to America’s Political Center of Gravity?

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

What Happened to America’s Political Center of Gravity?
By Sahil Chinoy
Jun 26 2019

The Republican Party leans much farther right than most traditional conservative parties in Western Europe and Canada, according to an analysis of their election manifestos. It is more extreme than Britain’s Independence Party and France’s National Rally (formerly the National Front), which some consider far-right populist parties. The Democratic Party, in contrast, is positioned closer to mainstream liberal parties.

These findings are based on data from the Manifesto Project, which reviews and categorizes each line in party manifestos, the documents that lay out a group’s goals and policy ideas. We used the topics that the platforms emphasize, like market regulation and multiculturalism, to put them on a common scale.

The resulting scores capture how the groups represent themselves, not necessarily their actual policies. They are one way to answer a difficult question: If we could put every political party on the same continuum from left to right, where would the American parties fall?

According to its 2016 manifesto, the Republican Party lies far from the Conservative Party in Britain and the Christian Democratic Union in Germany — mainstream right-leaning parties — and closer to far-right parties like Alternative for Germany, whose platform containsplainly xenophobic, anti-Muslim statements.

The Republican platform does not include the same bigoted policies, and its score is pushed to the right because of its emphasis on traditional morality and a “national way of life.” Still, the party shares a “nativist, working-class populism” with the European far right, said Thomas Greven, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin who has studied right-wing populism. These parties position themselves as defenders of the “traditional” people from globalization and immigration, he said.

The difference is that in Europe, far-right populist parties are often an alternative to the mainstream. In the United States, the Republican Party is the mainstream.

“That’s the tragedy of the American two-party system,” Mr. Greven said. In a multiparty government, white working-class populists might have been shunted into a smaller faction, and the Republicans might have continued as a “big tent” conservative party. Instead, the Republican Party has allowed its more extreme elements to dominate. “Nowhere in Europe do you have that phenomenon,” he said.

The situation predates the current administration, Mr. Greven said. While we could analyze Republican manifestos only through the 2016 election, since then, President Trump has openly expressed approvalfor politicians like Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of France’s National Rally, who was recently ordered to stand trial for posting pictures on Twitter of killings by the Islamic State.

The Democrats fall closer to mainstream left and center-left parties in other countries, like the Social Democratic Party in Germany and Britain’s Labour Party, according to their manifestos’ scores.

And the United States’ political center of gravity is to the right of other countries’, partly because of the lack of a serious left-wing party. Between 2000 and 2012, the Democratic manifestos were to the right of the median party platform. The party has moved left but is still much closer to the center than the Republicans.


The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
Jun 24 2019

A theme often repeated in the media is that Japan is suffering terribly because of its low birth rates and shrinking population. This has meant slow growth, labor shortages, and an enormous government debt.

Like many items that are now popular wisdom, the story is pretty much nonsense. Let’s start at the most basic measure, per capita GDP growth. Yeah, I said per capita GDP growth because insofar as we care about growth it is on a per person basis, not total growth. After all, Bangladesh has a GDP that is more than twice as large as Denmark’s, but would anyone in their right mind say that the people of Bangladesh enjoy a higher standard of living? (Denmark’s GDP is more than twelve times as high on a per capita basis.)

On a per capita basis, Japan’s economy has grown at an average annual rate of 1.4 percent since the collapse of its stock and real estate in 1990. That’s somewhat less than the 2.3 percent rate of the U.S. economy, but hardly seems like a disaster. By comparison, per capita growth has averaged just 0.8 percent annually since the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 in the United States.

But per capita income is just the beginning of any story of comparative well-being. There are many other factors that are as important in determining people’s living standards. To take an obvious one that gets far too little attention, the length of the average work year has declined far more over this period in Japan than in the United States.

According to the OECD, the length of the average work year has declined by almost 16 percent between 1990 and 2017 (the last year for which data are available). By comparison, the length of the average work year in the United States has declined by less than 3 percent over this period. This is a really big deal in terms of peoples’ lives.

If we use a start point of a 40-hour workweek, for 50 weeks a year, a 16 percent reduction in hours would be equivalent to 8 weeks a year of additional vacation. Alternatively, it would mean a 6.4 hour reduction in the length of the average workweek, meaning that people would be working 33.6 hours a week rather than 40 hours. My guess is that most people in the United States would be very happy to see the same sort of reduction in work hours as in disaster Japan.

Turning to health statistics, the OECD reports that life expectancy at birth in Japan increased from 75.9 years in 1990 to 81.0 years in 2016 (the last year for which data are available). In the United States it increased from 71.8 years in 1990 to 76.1 years in 2016. This means that the gap in life expectancy between Japan and the United States has increased from 4.1 years in 1990 to 4.9 years in 2016.

There is an even more dramatic difference in life expectancy at age 65. In Japan, this went from 20.0 years to 24.4 years in 2016. In the U.S., life expectancy at age 65 increased by just 1.7 years over this period, from 18.9 years in 1990 to 20.6 years in 2016.

If we look at unemployment rates, most of us are happy to see that the unemployment rate in the United States has fallen to 3.6 percent, a fifty-year low. By comparison, the unemployment rate in Japan is just 2.4 percent.

If we flip the picture over and look at employment to population ratios (EPOP), the percentage of the working age people (ages 15 to 64) who have jobs, the difference is even more dramatic. The most recent figure for the United States is 71.9 percent. For Japan, it is 77.5 percent. While most of this gap is due to higher EPOPs among men, 84.3 percent in Japan, compared to 76.3 percent in the United States, Japan now has higher EPOPs among women as well. In the most recent data, the EPOP for women was 70.5 percent in Japan, compared to 66.0 percent in the United States. This is due to the fact that Japan, unlike the United States, has made an effort to extend access to quality child care in the last decade.

The OECD does not have good data on inequality extending back beyond the last decade, but just looking at levels, the United States does far worse than Japan.  The OECD puts the Gini coefficient (post-tax and transfer) for the United States in 2016 at 39.1, near the top among wealthy countries. It puts Japan’s Gini coefficient at 33.9 in 2015, pretty much in the middle for wealthy countries. It is likely that inequality had increased in Japan over the last three decades, but it started at a lower level than in the United States and remains at a considerably lower level.


In lobbying battle for electric vehicle tax credit, it’s car makers vs. the oil and gas industry

In lobbying battle for electric vehicle tax credit, it’s car makers vs. the oil and gas industry
A federal tax credit that has boosted electric car sales is starting to run out.
By Dino Grandoni and Steven Mufson
Jun 25 2019

When the chief executive of General Motors came to Washington earlier this month, she huddled with a handful of her best allies in Congress: the Michigan delegation.

That state’s senior senator, Debbie Stabenow (D), says Mary Barra asked her to bring together members from both parties in part to stress the company’s commitment to building electric cars. In 2019 alone, the company said it will add 400 jobs to its Orion, Mich., plant to build a new electric Chevrolet and previewed its first electric Cadillac.

But to sell these cars — and keep these jobs — Barra wanted their help.

GM, like a fleet of other car manufacturers, is seeking the extension of a tax break that has for a decade helped sustain the sale of cars that need little to no gasoline to run.

This has triggered an intense lobbying battle with oil and natural gas companies, which supply the fuel that runs the internal-combustion engines that dominate American roadways.

It’s not just about the money: Electric vehicle sales could also help determine whether the United States can curtail the buildup of climate-warming gases from tailpipes and the rest of the transportation sector, which recently surpassed power plants as the country’s top source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Oil and gas companies, said electric car proponent Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.), “prefer a world where every vehicle spews greenhouse gases, and this is not the world that I’m trying to encourage.”

Kildee, along with Stabenow, sponsored legislation to expand the quota of tax credits so companies would be able to sell three times as many electric vehicles before the tax credits, originally offered as a lifeline after the 2008 financial crisis, start to run out.

But oil and gas interests say extending the tax credit would be unfair to middle- and lower-class consumers who are unable to afford electric cars. And they’re making inroads with their own Republican allies.

“Regardless of whether you support the tax credit for electric vehicles or not, there is no denying taxpayers are overwhelmingly subsidizing Americans that can afford to buy their own car,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who has proposed legislation to wipe out the tax credit. “If you want an electric car you can buy one — there are more available now than ever before.”

Here’s how the program now works: The federal government provides a tax credit of $7,500 to buyers for the first 200,000 electric vehicles sold by each company. After a manufacturer sells that first tranche, the tax credit drops by half for cars sold over the next six months — then by half again for another six months before disappearing entirely.

The loss of the credits will hurt those companies at the forefront of electric vehicle development, erasing their advantage over gasoline-powered cars and putting them at a disadvantage to other makers of electric vehicles.

Electric-vehicle advocates are petitioning Congress to allow consumers to earn a tax credit of at least $7,000 for 600,000 vehicles from a single carmaker before the credits start to phase out. Though more than 1 million electric vehicles are on the road in the United States, that represents a tiny sliver of the more than 270 million registered cars.

Two major auto companies, Tesla and GM, have already crashed into the 200,000-car threshold. Two more, Nissan and Toyota, probably will run into the same problem by 2021.

Tesla’s tax credit could be trimmed to $1,875 per vehicle as early as next month. And the company said in its recent annual report that the credits will expire altogether by the end of the year. That, it said, “could have some negative impact on demand for our vehicles, and we and our customers may have to adjust to them.

Stabenow and Kildee crafted their bill for months in consultation with major automakers. Three of them — Tesla, GM and Nissan — helped form the EV Drive Coalition late last year to press for passage of an extension.


The Law©?

The Law©?
By The Editorial Board
Jun 25 2019

No one owns the law, because the law belongs to everyone. It’s a principle that seems so obvious that most people wouldn’t give it a second thought. But that’s what is at issue in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, a case about whether the State of Georgia can assert copyright in its annotated state code. This week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in its next term.

Americans deserve free and easy access to public records of all kinds, including court documents. But access to the law is the most important of all: Democracy depends on it. Keeping the law free of copyright is the first step. 

Yet the law is in disarray on the topic. The last time the Supreme Court ruled on the issue was in 1888, and it only addressed opinions written by judges. In the last century, a number of lower courts issued lofty proclamations on how the law belongs to the people and the people alone. Meanwhile, copyright laws passed in 1909 and 1976 explicitly excluded any “work of the United States government.” But that exclusion applies only to the federal government.

So when the nonprofit organization Public.Resource.Org purchased, scanned and uploaded all 186 volumes of the annotated Georgia state code to its website, the state sued to take it down. The code was already available free online through the state’s partnership with LexisNexis. As part of the deal, Georgia gave LexisNexis exclusive rights to official “annotations” that elaborate on the law but aren’t legally binding. LexisNexis allowed users to read the law free and it sold the annotated code for $404 per copy.

Public.Resource.Org is no stranger to litigation. For years, it has been embroiled in lawsuits over its publication of fire and electrical safety standards, air duct leakage standards, nonprofit tax returns and European Union baby pacifier regulations. The founder of Public.Resource.Org was once labeled a “rogue archivist.” But if publishing building safety standards online is an act of roguery, it is time for the courts to take a hard look at what copyright is for.

Much of the litigation against Public.Resource.Org falls into an ever-expanding gray zone of the law, created by government outsourcing bits and pieces of its regulatory function to the private sector. Regulations for everything from student loan eligibility to food additives can use standards written by trade groups. 

Courts have issued conflicting opinions on this premium tier of the law. In the Georgia case, an appeals court ruled that the annotations were “sufficiently law-like,” partly because LexisNexis had created the annotations at the direction of the state. As a consequence, “the people are the ultimate authors of the annotations.”


There’s no scientific consensus that humanity is doomed

There’s no scientific consensus that humanity is doomed
By David Von Drehle
Jun 25 2019

I am a big, big fan of science.

I am grateful for the scientific method. I am an admirer of scientific geniuses. I support the work of scientists past and present, and I hope more scientists will do more excellent work across an ever-widening range of discovery in the future. I value pure science, and I value applied science. I don’t find scientific breakthroughs threatening; quite the contrary. I enjoy the feeling of assimilating new knowledge into my existing store.

Very pro-science am I.

One of the most important things I understand about science is this: Scientists know a lot less than we ordinary folks sometimes like to believe. I doubt there is a single scientific discipline in which humans know even half of all there is to know. (I would love to hear from experts in a field nearing the totality of knowledge — that would be a fascinating discovery in itself.) In many fields, I suspect humans know only one-tenth, or one-hundredth, or one-thousandth of all there is to know.

The vastness of undiscovered knowledge gives each generation fresh delight at the ignorance of their elders. How dumb they were to measure skulls as a way of predicting character. How primitive they were, believing that ulcers were caused by stress. How could they not see that dinosaurs were distant cousins of chickens? That same vastness will, undoubtedly, make this age look foolish to a more enlightened generation someday.

I blame journalists such as myself for making science seem omnipotent. Learning is incremental, but incremental journalism is dull, dull, dull. So we package every scientific discovery as a breakthrough, or the brink of a breakthrough, or (at worst) one step closer to a breakthrough. “Mysteries” are always being “unlocked” in the imagery of science journalism. The mystery of the Big Bang, of artificial intelligence, of cancer and so on.

Yet every unlocked door reveals more doors with more locks containing more mysteries.

This is wonderful if you love science. So much to learn! The depth and complexity of the unknown is marvelous but only to the sort of person who delights in reading thrillers one page at a time. For those who prefer jumping ahead to the last paragraphs to see how the story comes out, the unknown can be painful.

More than any other spoiler, people through the ages have yearned to know how the human story ends. Our epic from Australopithecus to apocalypse is a book, after all, that no one can read all the way through. Each one of us is destined to leave mid-drama as everyone before us has done, our departures lightly dog-eared somewhere between the covers.

For generations, religion and mythology painted the invisible end times. With the rise of science, though, people have stretched its incremental powers to glimpse the ultimate. They’ve applied partial knowledge to the vast unknowing. We scoff at the ignorance of our elders who searched comets for portents of The End. But how different are we? Isn’t it possible that our era will prove to have been too charmed by worst-case, end-of-the-world climate change predictions?

Here is a classic case of partial science feeding apocalyptic visions. Science has explained the problem: Certain gases in the atmosphere trap heat at the Earth’s surface. More of those gases in the atmosphere will trap more heat, unleashing a cascade of unpredictable effects. As always with science, the unlocked knowledge reveals more mysteries to be plumbed. How will Earth’s complex climate react, and how quickly? And how will Earth’s most creative and adaptable species, human beings, react to shape the outcome?

The challenge of climate change demands an urgent response but not an apocalyptic one. For example: It has become common in certain circles for people to say they won’t have children because of the impending hellscape of drought, fire, flood and tempest that will ruin future lives. How common? A celebrity member of Congress gave an endorsement. “Basically, there’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult,” saidRep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). She added: “And it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question: Is it okay to still have children?”


Beyond Meat’s latest plant-based burger is meatier, juicier and a big step closer to beef

Beyond Meat’s latest plant-based burger is meatier, juicier and a big step closer to beef
By Maura Judkis
Jun 25 2019

In the battle to create the best plant-based burger, Beyond Meat just fired a shot. The company has reformulated its Beyond Burger, making it meatier and better looking, with “marbling” to emulate the fat in traditional burgers. The new formulation is rolling out to grocery stores this week.

Beyond, like its competitor, the Impossible Burger, had previously engineered a burger that “bleeds” — it has beet juice that gives the alternative protein the characteristic pink of a ground beef burger. Both burgers were a breakthrough in the fake meat world, where previous veggie burgers were derided as tasteless pucks. If the goal is to get humans to eat less meat — for their health and the health of the planet — making a burger that simulates the taste and texture of meat is critical in winning converts.

A marbled plant-based burger is a step further in that direction. Where do those white fatty flecks come from? The company has added bits of coconut oil and cocoa butter, which melt into the burger when it’s grilled, and give it a juicier flavor. It has also added mung bean and rice proteins to the formula, which also includes pea protein. The additions give the burger more fiber and protein. It also has a “more neutral flavor and aroma profile,” according to a news release; some buyers had previously complained that the burger had a foul odor when cooked. The burger still has the beet juice, but it’s less pink on the inside, and it turns browner when it cooks — a change made possible by an apple extract.

We tried the burger, and agreed: It tastes meatier, with more umami flavor. But even more striking was the texture: It had a coarser texture that was closer to ground beef. And the melting flecks of coconut oil and cocoa butter, created little pockets throughout the burger that made it less dry, dense and puck-like compared with the previous iteration, especially when the two were sampled side-by-side. The company will also sell packaged ground “beef,” which is made from the same formula, meaning you can hand-form your own burgers or make other dishes that would traditionally call for ground beef.

Beyond Meat went public at the beginning of May, and its stock has had ups and downs since then. But since its $25 IPO, shares have risen to $165, giving it one of the most successful IPOs of the year.


Re: The Boomers Ruined Everything

[Note:  This comment comes from friend David Reed.  DLH]

From: “David P. Reed” <dpreed@deepplum.com>
Subject: RE: [Dewayne-Net] The Boomers Ruined Everything
Date: June 25, 2019 at 5:15:49 PM EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

I’m appalled. many of the baby boomers, myself included, risked our careers and necks to advance the Civil Rights Movement. Black boomers did the most, and many died in that process: Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, …

So this asshole makes up a story blaming now old people for the work of Strom Thurmond, all the “States Rights” nuts, etc.

Sorry, kid. It’s not on an age cohort. We inherited a completely f*ed up nation, full of redlining (in the federal housing laws, for example, blacks couldn’t get FHA mortgages), WWII era veterans focused on zoning out blacks, “Colored Only” restaurants, hotels, and rest rooms (even water fountains).

So stop whining and continue what we started. We were not the majority, but there were a hell of a lot of us boomers who made LBJ sign civil rights legislation, even though he didn’t want to.


The Boomers Ruined Everything
The mistakes of the past are fast creating a crisis for younger Americans.
By Lyman Stone
Jun 24 2019