Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is Obama a right-wing extremist?

Norway killer Breivik's clenched-fist Communist salute is universally being described in the media as "Right wing".

Background on the clenched fist salute here

Note that Breivik began the third day of his trial the same way he began the previous two, with the clenched fist salute.


Tiny gene change affects brain size, IQ: scientists

One more piece of the jigsaw. There have now been several genetic changes found to be associated with higher IQ. The interest of this discovery is that the gene seems to work by increasing brain size. High IQ people do tend to have bigger brains, though the effect is not a strong one. So this finding confirms that the size effect is genetic

An international team of scientists said Sunday the largest brain study of its kind had found a gene linked to intelligence, a small piece in the puzzle as to why some people are smarter than others.

A variant of this gene “can tilt the scales in favour of a higher intelligence”, study leader Paul Thompson told AFP, stressing though that genetic blessings were not the only factor in brainpower.

Searching for a genetic explanation for brain disease, the scientists stumbled upon a minute variant in a gene called HMGA2 among people who had larger brains and scored higher on standardised IQ tests.

Thompson dubbed it “an intelligence gene” and said it was likely that many more such genes were yet to be discovered.

The variant occurs on HMGA2 where there is just a single change in the permutation of the four “letters” of the genetic code. DNA, the blueprint for life, comprises four basic chemicals called A (for adenine), C (cytosine), T (thymine) and G (guanine), strung together in different combinations along a double helix. In this case, the researchers found that people with a double “C” and no “T” in a specific section of the HMGA2 gene had bigger brains on average.

“It is a strange result, you wouldn’t think that something as simple as one small change in the genetic code could explain differences in intelligence worldwide,” said Thompson, a neurologist at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The discovery came in a study of brain scans and DNA samples from more than 20,000 people from North America, Europe and Australia, of European ancestry.

People who received two Cs from their parents, a quarter of the population, scored on average 1.3 points higher than the next group — half of the population with only one C in this section of the gene.

The last quarter of people, with no Cs, scored another 1.3 points lower. “The effect is small,” said Thompson, but “would be noticeable on a (IQ) test … (it) may mean you get a couple more questions correct. “It wouldn’t be an enormous change. Even so, it would help our brain resist cognitive decline later in life.”

The research, published in Nature Genetics, was conducted by more than 200 scientists from 100 institutions worldwide, working together on a project called Enigma.

Thompson said other studies have implicated some genes in IQ, but this was the first to link a common gene to brain size.

The team found that every T in place of a C represented a 0.6 percent smaller brain — equal to more than a year’s worth of brain loss through the normal ageing process.

Asked to comment on the research, Tom Hartley, a psychologist at Britain’s University of York said he was “a little wary of thinking in terms of a gene for intelligence.

“There are undoubtedly a lot of things that have to work properly in order to get a good score on an IQ test, if any of these go wrong the score will be worse.” But he said it was “fascinating” to find that such small genetic changes could affect the size of critical structures such as the hippocampus, the brain’s memory centre.

“Given the importance of the hippocampus in disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease these could turn out to be very significant findings,” said Hartley.



Can Wal-Mart Scale L.A.’s Great Wall of Regulation?

Opponents claim local Asian-Americans oppose the big-box store. Locals tell a different story.

Some of the most powerful unions in Los Angeles want to make sure that Wal-Mart doesn’t have a chance of opening anytime soon in Chinatown. Perhaps they should meet some of the Chinese senior citizens who support it. I did—and with the help of a translator and my own rusty Chinese, I learned that “fresh fruit,” “always low prices,” and “cheap stuff” sound good in Mandarin and Cantonese, too, especially to those immigrants and seniors living near the poverty line or in assisted living centers.

For decades, there’s been nothing on the vacant first floor of the apartment complex where Wal-Mart wants to open its Chinatown store—which it hopes will be the first of many “neighborhood marts” in Los Angeles County. Slightly smaller than a Whole Foods supermarket and only one-fifth the size of a typical Wal-Mart, the 33,000 square-foot store on West Cesar Chavez Avenue would offer fresh fruits and groceries, beauty products, and—most crucially for the seniors I spoke with—a pharmacy.

Right now, Chinatown has only one grocery store and a highly priced CVS drugstore to serve its nearly 50,000 residents. The lack of competition allows these stores to charge even more than the area’s high-priced small markets for what should be cheap products like aspirin.

In addition, many residents worry about the quality of the meat at some of the Chinese shops that Los Angeles city officials say a Wal-Mart will undercut. Indeed, all of the Chinatown residents I spoke with emphasized that at some of the Chinese markets, meats and other items are displayed on the sidewalk, exposed to the air and heat.

During a recent visit, Ming-Sheng and Lindsey Hu invited me into their home and offered “tea eggs,” a traditional Chinese delicacy, after I took off my shoes. The Hus, immigrants from China, are excited that a Wal-Mart may finally open up nearby. After showing me pictures of her grandchildren, Mrs. Hu—a lively 82 years old—proudly took me to her bathroom to see all of the Target and Wal-Mart products. Although inexpensive, they weren’t easy to buy. Mrs. Hu must be driven 30 minutes by car to the Target in Alhambra, or wait for her children to take her—more than 40 minutes by car—to Rosemead’s Wal-Mart. A new Wal-Mart in Chinatown would be more convenient, especially for her 86-year-old husband, who has limited mobility, and for the other residents of the Grand Plaza Senior Apartments, next to the planned Wal-Mart.

While Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) has decried Wal-Mart’s “ability to…drive all other competitors away” with rock-bottom prices, many Chinatown residents, suffering for years from gouging by the local markets, would probably say “good riddance.” In what must frustrate the unions most, the typical argument that products “Made in China” are inherently inferior doesn’t work in Chinatown. “I come from China, too!” one of the old Chinese ladies protesting in favor of Wal-Mart said. “We Chinese are cheap!” another pro-Wal-Mart elderly lady told me.

The neighborhood Chinese stores charge “whatever they think they can get,” another senior said. Another problem is that most Chinatown residents must cross a busy thoroughfare to get to these markets. The Wal-Mart, in contrast, would be on the same side of the avenue—a safer, more convenient trip, especially for those with limited mobility. A resident of the Grand Plaza apartments explains that having a Wal-Mart nearby might even help save taxpayer dollars. He notes that city social workers have to come and help many of the seniors buy groceries, taking time from their other duties. In addition, the man told me through a translator, “Nobody wants to be a drain on the public.”

To the Los Angeles City Council, size matters, and in this case large is bad. City Hall’s anti-business attitude comes at a cost. While the City of Angels’ deficit for next fiscal year is a whopping $220 million and counting, local politicians have ruled out so-called Big Box retailers.

So Wal-Mart’s proposed small neighborhood store actually complies with the city’s unrealistic anti-superstore ordinance. This law, enacted in 2004, forces big-box retailers who want to open a store larger than 100,000 square feet to provide a costly economic analysis showing whether it will depress wages or harm nearby businesses. (So much for Schumpeterian creative destruction!)

Despite the planned Chinatown store’s compliance with the strict size limit, the council in late March unanimously approved a motion that would block it—suggesting that sponsor Ed Reyes and his colleagues are really against Wal-Mart, not just large outlets. Wal-Mart, however, outmaneuvered the council by obtaining its needed building permits the day before the vote. Naturally the unions, allied with the left-wing Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), have vowed to appeal those permits. “They’ve got to review the permits to determine if any errors were made,” James Elmendorf, LAANE’s deputy director, told the Los Angeles Times.

LAANE and councilmembers Reyes and Eric Garcetti may search for “errors,” but the move is so transparently unfair that even the Times’ editorial page has come out against it. “Rather than presenting potential businesses with reliable rules and allowing those businesses to judge whether they can or will comply, every deal in the city is subject to negotiation,” the editorial board wrote. The paper might have added that unions and allies like LAANE get to decide the terms of these negotiations.

Part of LAANE’s opposition to Wal-Mart comes from its support of what it calls a “living wage,” but what they mean by that isn’t at all clear—and deliberately so. According to Charles Crumpley, editor of Los Angeles Business Journal, the starting wage for a non-managerial Wal-Mart worker is $12.69 an hour. In Long Beach, LAANE wants to force hotels to pay their staffs a “living wage” of just $13 an hour. The tiny difference suggests that the organization is nickel-and-diming companies it doesn’t like in the service of its union funders and allies, like the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 (whose members get $15.41 an hour—before dues).

To one Taiwan-born Chinatown resident I spoke with, the whole notion of a “living wage” is ridiculous. “Anyone can live, and live well, in America. Even the homeless here are fat,” the now retired restaurateur told me with a laugh, pointing to the homeless hangout spot on Cesar Chavez. To those who came to America with nothing or very little, the notion that you can’t get ahead here is offensive and false.



Why Tax Capital Gains at all?

Income tax time is an appropriate moment to go to the heart of President Obama’s complaint about the taxes Warren Buffett and other rich people pay, or don’t pay. What the president is really complaining about is that the tax rate on capital gains is too low.

But there is a more basic question to be asked: why tax capital gains at all?

Did you know that the term "capital gains" does not even appear in the official income accounts for the U.S. economy? That’s right. No matter how high stock prices climb, they do not affect the official reckoning of national income one iota.

"Capital losses" aren’t included either.

When stock prices soar, stock owners are wealthier — at least they feel wealthier. When stock prices plunge, owners of stocks feel less wealthy. But none of these ups and downs have any bearing whatsoever on the official calculation of the income for the economy as a whole.

So here is the policy question: If we are going to have an income tax, should we tax only income? Or should we tax activities, events and transactions that are not counted as part of our national income?

At the New York Times Economix Blog, Princeton University economist Uwe Reinhardt argues that capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income (which is included as part of national income, by the way). I had a debate about all of this with Michael Kinsley at Slate some time back. Interested readers may want to refer to the text of that debate for more details than I plan to go into here. Also, don’t miss Steven Landsburg’s devastating critique of Uwe’s piece.

Imagine a poker game. At the end of the evening, some players walk away winners. Some are losers. No real income has been produced at this event. It’s strictly entertainment. The winnings of the winners are exactly equal to the losses of the losers. Should the IRS get involved? If your answer is "no" I like the way you think.

As it turns out, however, the IRS does get involved and it does so in a very unfair way. It taxes the winner’s gains but limits the ability of the losers to deduct their losses. (Gambling losses can only be deducted from gambling winnings, not from other income.) If the IRS treated everyone fairly (symmetrically) there would be no point to taxing gambling income. The deductions by the losers would offset the gains of the winners and there would be no net revenue for Uncle Sam.

Now let’s turn to stock prices. One way to view the stock market is to see it as a place where people also make bets. They are betting on the future income of corporations. Eventually the future will arrive, however. The companies will realize their actual income and they will pay taxes on it. If the firms return some of this income to investors (stockholders), the investors will pay a tax on their dividend income. If the firms pay interest to bondholders, they will be able to deduct the interest payments from their corporate taxable income, but the bondholders will pay taxes on their interest income.

Here is the bottom line: There is no need for the IRS to tax the bets that people make along the way — as stock prices gyrate up and down. Eventually all the income that is actually earned will be taxed when it is realized and those taxes will be paid by the people who actually earned the income.

But, as in the case of the poker game, let’s suppose the IRS decides to foolishly get involved anyway. What will be the outcome? Uncle Sam almost certainly won’t collect much money unless (as with gambling) it treats people asymmetrically. And that is exactly what it does. It taxes capital gains ferociously while limiting the ability of people to deduct their losses.

Moreover, unlike the poker game, I have complete discretion over when I choose to sell a share of stock. I can time my gains so they fit into this taxable period or the next. I can time my losses in the same way. It is because of this discretion that the federal government would get almost no net income from the taxation of capital gains if it treated losses the same way it treats gains. That’s why the government imposes so many arbitrary restrictions on how both losses and gains can be realized. But these restrictions interfere with the flexibility of the capital market. And they do so for no good reason — because eventually all corporate earnings will be realized and taxed anyway.



Australian economy leads the world

Australia is actively seeking skilled immigrants at the moment, particularly tradesmen -- JR

Australia has the strongest economy in the developed world and it is expected to outperform all comers for at least the next two years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF - which issued its World Economic Outlook in Washington overnight - said it expected the Australian economy to expand by 3 per cent this year as fiscal tensions from Europe and the United States continue to ease.

The update said that it expects the Australian economy will outstrip growth over all other advanced economies over the next two years, noting we live in a region where exposure to troubled European banks was less than for other parts of the world.




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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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