October 20, 2014

Britain is on the brink of becoming a nation permanently divided between rich and poor, poverty commission warns

Britain is on the brink of becoming a nation permanently divided between rich and poor, according to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in its second annual state of the nation report.
The 335-page document is likely to be a reference point against which the government’s anti-poverty record will be judged, and to feature strongly in opposition party manifestos for the 2015 general election.
The report says all three main Westminster political parties are lamentably failing to be frank with the electorate about the fact there is no chance of meeting the government’s statutory child poverty target by 2020.
It also predicts that 2010-2020 will be the first decade since records began that saw a rise in absolute poverty – defined as a household in which income is below 60% of median earnings. A rise from 2.6 million households in absolute poverty to 3.5 million is now expected.
The chair of the commission, the former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, said: “Muddling through will not do when the mismatch between needs and anti-poverty government policies are widening.”
Asked whether the government had responded to his first report, he said: “It is like water from the stone. Our plea is not just to the current parties of government … They are great at talking the talk, the issue is whether they can walk the walk. The policies lack the scale to move the dial.”
Milburn attacked the government for failing to agree a child poverty strategy due to a coalition row. “You cannot have a situation where government ministers first discredit a target and then fail to agree a new target and then go back to a discredited old target,” he said. “That is beyond a Whitehall farce.” 
The report warns that “2020 could mark a watershed between an era in which for decades there have been rising living standards shared by all and a future era where rising living standards bypass the poorest in society.”
It suggests that the link between effort and reward, on which social mobility relies, has been broken by changes in the housing market – with home ownership rates halving among young people in 20 years – and the labour market – with 5 million workers trapped in low pay.
When combined with cuts in welfare and public spending, these changes put Britain on track to become a permanently divided nation.
The report calls on the next government to supplement the existing targets with new measures to give a more rounded picture of poverty and to amend the legislation to set out a new timescale for achieving them.

Mexican drug cartels are worse than ISIL. "This summer ISIL beheaded two Americans... By contrast, the cartels killed 293 Americans in Mexico from 2007 to 2010."

The horrific rampage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has captured the world’s attention. ManyWestern commentators have characterized ISIL’s crimes as unique, no longer practiced anywhere else in the civilized world. They argue that the group’s barbarism is intrinsically Islamic, a product of the aggressive and archaic worldview that dominates the Muslim world. The ignorance of these claims is stunning.
While there other organized groups whose depravity and threat to the United States far surpasses that of ISIL, none have engendered the same kind of collective indignation and hysteria. This raises a question: Are Americans primarily concerned with ISIL’s atrocities or with the fact that Muslims are committing these crimes?
For example, even as the U.S. media and policymakers radically inflate ISIL’s threat to the Middle East and United States, most Americans appear to be unaware of the scale of the atrocities committed by Mexican drug cartels and the threat they pose to the United States.

Cartels versus ISIL

A recent United Nations report estimated nearly 9,000 civilians have been killed and 17,386 wounded in Iraq in 2014, more than half since ISIL fighters seized large parts on northern Iraq in June. It is likely that the group is responsible another several thousand deaths in Syria. To be sure, these numbers are staggering. But in 2013 drug cartels murdered more than 16,000 people in Mexico alone, and another 60,000 from 2006 to 2012 — a rate of more than one killing every half hour for the last seven years. What is worse, these are estimates from the Mexican government, which is known to deflate the actual death toll by about 50 percent.
Statistics alone do not convey the depravity and threat of the cartels. They carry out hundreds of beheadings every year. In addition to decapitations, the cartels are known to dismember and otherwise mutilate the corpses of their victims — displaying piles of bodies prominently in towns to terrorize the public into compliance. They routinely target women and children to further intimidate communities. Like ISIL, the cartels use social media to post graphic images of their atrocious crimes.
The narcos also recruit child soldiers, molding boys as young as 11 into assassins or sending them on suicide missions during armed confrontations with Mexico’s army. They kidnap tens of thousands of children every year to use as drug mules or prostitutes or to simply kill and harvest their organs for sale on the black market. Those who dare to call for reforms often end up dead. In September, with the apparent assistance of local police, cartels kidnapped and massacred 43 students at a teaching college near the Mexican town of Iguala in response to student protests. A search in the area for the students has uncovered a number of mass graves containing mutilated bodies burned almost beyond recognition, but none of the remains have been confirmed to be of the students. 
While the Islamic militants have killed a handful of journalists, the cartels murdered as many as 57 since 2006 for reporting on cartel crimes or exposing government complicity with the criminals. Many of Mexico’s media have been effectively silenced by intimidation or bribes. These censorship activities extend beyond professional media, with narcos tracking down and murdering ordinary citizens who criticize them on the Internet, leaving their naked and disemboweled corpses hanging in public squares. Yet American intellectuals such as Sam Harris appear to be more outraged when Muslims protest or issue threats in response to blasphemous or anti-Muslim hate speech than when cartels murder dozens of journalists and systematically co-opt an entire country’s media.
Similarly, Westerners across various political spectrums were outraged when ISIL seized 1,500 Yazidi women, committing sexual violence against the captives and using them as slaves. Here again, the cartels’ capture and trafficking of women dwarfs ISIL’s crimes. Narcos hold tens of thousands of Mexican citizens as slaves for their various enterprises and systematically use rape as a weapon of war.
U.S. media have especially hyped ISIL’s violence against Americans. This summer ISIL beheaded two Americans and has warned about executing a third; additionally, one U.S. Marine has died in efforts to combat the group. By contrast, the cartels killed 293 Americans in Mexico from 2007 to 2010 and have repeatedly attacked U.S. consulates in Mexico. While ISIL’s beheadings are no doubt outrageous, the cartels tortured, dismembered and then cooked one of the Americans they captured — possibly eating him or feeding him to dogs.

Nobody Wants To Host The 2022 Olympics.

The bidding process for the 2022 Olympics was a disaster for the International Olympic Committee.
Democratic nations are no longer buying the argument that hosting the games is a wise investment. Every potential 2022 host city with a democratic government eventually pulled out of the bidding, many over economic concerns, leaving Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, as the IOC's only two options.
Academics have been saying for years that hosting the Olympics doesn't make economic sense. The costs are typically larger than expected, the infrastructure needed for a big sporting event isn't the same as the infrastructure needed for daily life, and the economic benefits are typically overstated.
The latter point was addressed by Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson in a 2004 paper called "Economic Multipliers and Mega-Event Analysis."
The paper examines a major problem with pre-event economic-impact studies, which Matheson says have a tendency to overestimate how much a one-time attraction like the Olympics will contribute to the local economy.
Olympic organizers consistently cite such studies as a justification for the astronomical costs of building and staging the games.
Matheson argues these studies are inaccurate, and he presents a hypothetical example about hotels that demonstrates why.
Before we get to his example, here's his explanation for why these studies overestimate how much money the Olympics will bring in:
In estimating economic impacts from mega-events, analysts frequently use multipliers derived from input-output tables based on the normal state of the economy even though the presence of a large temporary tourist attraction such as a World’s Fair, the Olympics, or the World Cup indicates a departure from this normal state. Mega-events are characterized by high utilization rates and increased prices for tourism related industries. While labor may benefit to some extent through increases in hours worked or higher tips, the main recipient of this windfall is likely to be business owners.
Basically, there's a difference between the way money ordinarily flows through the economy and the way money flows through the economy during the Olympics. Local workers don't benefit from the Olympics as much as business owners do. Because the industries that typically capitalize off the Olympics are dominated by national or multinational corporations, much of the new money coming in during the games will not stay in the host city, Matheson says.
Matheson uses the hotel industry ("an industry that accounts for up to half of all visitor spending during mega-events") as an example. 
The hotels built for the Sochi Olympics weren't ready in time, and probably helped the economy less than you think. The Hotel Example
He starts with a hypothetical:
  • A hotel sells 75 rooms per night at $150 per room and employs 75 workers at $100 per night.
  • The city collects a 10% tax.
  • Workers spend 50% of their wages locally, with a 2x multiplier for "subsequent rounds of spending."
If we assume the owner of the hotel is outside the city, the economic multiplier on a normal night at this hotel is 1.7 (meaning every dollar spent has a total economic benefit of $1.70 once it flows through the economy).
Matheson then presents three different scenarios that mimic what this hotel would do during the Olympics:
1. Hotel increases the number of rooms it sells by 25% and the number of nightly workers by 25%.
2. Hotel increases the number of rooms it sells by 25%, leaving the number of workers the same.
3. Hotel doubles the price of its rooms, leaving the number of rooms sold and workers the same.
In each of those scenarios, much of the additional revenue generated because of the special circumstances of the Olympics flows to the owners. As a result, the economic multiplier for the local economy is different (and smaller) than the "normal night."
Whereas every dollar spent on a normal night has a total economic benefit of $1.70, scenario No. 2 has a benefit of $1.50, and scenario No. 3 has a benefit of $1.39.

When assessing how much money the Olympics are going to make for a city, Matheson argues, economic-impact studies get it wrong because they use normal economic circumstances to assess what will be a non-normal economic event.

America Can Nearly Quadruple Its Renewable Electricity By 2030- would cost the average household only about 18 cents per month

A recent Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) study found that America can nearly quadruple its renewable electricity in the next 15 years, reaching 23% by 2030. This comes in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that America set a modest goal of 12% renewable energy by 2030. Rachel Cleetus, Senior Climate Economist of UCS, referred to the EPA’s goal as just a fraction above “business as usual.” The UCS found raising this target, to +23% of the nation’s electricity from non-hydro renewable sources by 2030, would cost the average household only about 18 cents per month. Cleetus described this as a realistic and affordable goal: “Looking at the way renewable energy is ramping up and costs are falling dramatically, there is a real opportunity to go farther.” 
Seven states are already exceeding their proposed goals set by EPA for 2030 and another 17 have existing laws that require more renewable electricity than what the EPA requires. Nine states already report electricity from wind and/or solar in two figures. Iowa and South Dakota are at the top of this list, having both achieved 24%. Oregon has also joined this group, with 10%.
UCS started by using what states have accomplished during the past five years as a benchmark. They found that the national average annual growth rate in renewables has been 1% over the period 2009-2013. The UCS study assumes that, by 2020, every US state will at least meet the national benchmark of 1%. Some leading states that are already at or above that level would continue to grow at their current rate, subject to maximum growth rate of 1.5% a year. 
Their plan has lower proposed targets than the EPA for four states. Unlike the EPA approach, which used regionally averaged targets from state Renewable Electricity Standards (RES), the UCS used a more ambitious state-by-state approach based on demonstrated experience. The lower UCS targets arose in states like New Hampshire, which is in a region with high RES targets and therefore has a comparatively high EPA target. The UCS approach would also reduce power sector CO2 emissions by an additional 10 percent by 2030 above EPA’s draft plan, bringing them 40% below 2005 levels.
“I know that there are other groups working on strengthening other provisions of the Clean Power Plan, for example increasing the level of energy efficiency, so it may be possible to reduce emissions even more,” Cleetus said.

The Weirdest Foods From All Over The World

October 19, 2014

Grandmother starves herself to death after UK's assisted suicide laws left her with 'no alternative'

An elderly woman has starved herself to death to get around the UK’s tight and restrictive laws on assisted suicide.

Octogenarian Jean Davies, who is also a right-to-die campaigner, spent five weeks attempting to end her life and succeeded in doing so on 1 October.
The former maths teacher, 86, did not have a terminal illness, but suffered a range of conditions that made her life uncomfortable including chronic back pain and fainting episodes.

She told the Sunday Times: “It is hell. I can’t tell you how hard it is. You wouldn’t decide this unless you thought your life was going to be so bad. It is intolerable.”
It is understood that she stopped drinking water on 16 September and was frustrated that her death wasn’t days after, but two weeks.  

Ms Davies’ four children and two grandchildren were reportedly supportive of her decision.
She told the paper that she had no alternative as the other methods are “either illegal or I would need to go to [the Dignitas clinic in] Switzerland – and I want to die in my own bed”.
Earlier this month Australian doctor Philip Nitschke opened a clinic in the UK to help advise people on how to end their lives.

He told The Independent at the time: “It is easier to prepare [for death] now. That is the message Exit International has been promoting and why it is so important to have an office in London.

US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said that she was "greatly concerned" about rising inequality in the US. "I think it is appropriate to ask whether [growing inequality] is compatible with values rooted in our nation's history,"

US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said that she was "greatly concerned" about rising inequality in the US.
"I think it is appropriate to ask whether [growing inequality] is compatible with values rooted in our nation's history," she said in a speech in Boston on Friday.
Some worried the speech politicised the Fed in favour of Democrats.
President Barack Obama has highlighted inequality in recent speeches on the state of the US economy.
Ms Yellen has made efforts since taking over as head of the central bank in January to focus more on issues beyond the basic rate-setting role of the Fed.
'Great Gatsby Curve'
"The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression," she said, noting that while some degree of inequality is to be expected, the recent widening concerns her.
Ms Yellen cited the "Great Gatsby Curve", which has found that "among advanced economies, greater income inequality is associated with diminished intergenerational mobility".
To combat this trend, Ms Yellen advised focusing on four issues: affordable higher education, inheritance policy, business ownership and help for children.