Thursday, May 31, 2018

Proof of creation?

EXTENSIVE analysis of DNA barcodes across 100,000 species revealed a telltale sign showing that almost all animals on Earth emerged about the same time as humans.

WHO would have suspected that a handheld genetic test used to unmask sushi bars pawning off tilapia for tuna could deliver deep insights into evolution, including how new species emerge?

And who would have thought to trawl through five million of these gene snapshots — called “DNA barcodes” — collected from 100,000 animal species by hundreds of researchers around the world and deposited in the US government-run GenBank database?

That would be Mark Stoeckle from The Rockefeller University in New York and David Thaler at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who together published findings last week sure to jostle, if not overturn, more than one settled idea about how evolution unfolds.

It is textbook biology, for example, that species with large, far-flung populations — think ants, rats, humans — will become more genetically diverse over time.

But is that true?

“The answer is no,” said Stoeckle, lead author of the study, published in the journal Human Evolution.

For the planet’s 7.6 billion people, 500 million house sparrows, or 100,000 sandpipers, genetic diversity “is about the same,” he told AFP.

The study’s most startling result, perhaps, is that nine out of 10 species on Earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.

“This conclusion is very surprising, and I fought against it as hard as I could,” Thaler said.

That reaction is understandable: How does one explain the fact that 90 per cent of animal life, genetically speaking, is roughly the same age?

Was there some catastrophic event 200,000 years ago that nearly wiped the slate clean?

To understand the answer, one has to understand DNA barcoding. Animals have two kinds of DNA.

The one we are most familiar with, nuclear DNA, is passed down in most animals by male and female parents and contains the genetic blueprint for each individual.

The genome — made up of DNA — is constructed with four types of molecules arranged in pairs. In humans, there are three billion of these pairs, grouped into about 20,000 genes.

But all animals also have DNA in their mitochondria, which are the tiny structures inside each cell that convert energy from food into a form that cells can use.

Mitochondria contain 37 genes, and one of them, known as COI, is used to do DNA barcoding.

Unlike the genes in nuclear DNA, which can differ greatly from species to species, all animals have the same set of mitochondrial DNA, providing a common basis for comparison.

Mitochondrial DNA is also a lot simpler, and cheaper, to isolate. Around 2002, Canadian molecular biologist Paul Hebert — who coined the term “DNA barcode” — figured out a way to identify species by analysing the COI gene.

“The mitochondrial sequence has proved perfect for this all-animal approach because it has just the right balance of two conflicting properties,” said Thaler.

On the one hand, the COI gene sequence is similar across all animals, making it easy to pick out and compare.

On the other hand, these mitochondrial snippets are different enough to be able to distinguish between each species.

“It coincides almost perfectly with species designations made by specialist experts in each animal domain,” Thaler said.

In analysing the barcodes across 100,000 species, the researchers found a telltale sign showing that almost all the animals emerged about the same time as humans.

What they saw was a lack of variation in so-called “neutral” mutations, which are the slight changes in DNA across generations that neither help nor hurt an individual’s chances of survival.

In other words, they were irrelevant in terms of the natural and sexual drivers of evolution.

How similar or not these “neutral” mutations are to each other is like tree rings — they reveal the approximate age of a species.

Which brings us back to our question: why did the overwhelming majority of species in existence today emerge at about the same time?

Environmental trauma is one possibility, explained Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University.

“Viruses, ice ages, successful new competitors, loss of prey — all these may cause periods when the population of an animal drops sharply,” he told AFP, commenting on the study.

“In these periods, it is easier for a genetic innovation to sweep the population and contribute to the emergence of a new species.” But the last true mass extinction event was 65.5 million years ago when a likely asteroid strike wiped out land-bound dinosaurs and half of all species on Earth. This means a population “bottleneck” is only a partial explanation at best.

“The simplest interpretation is that life is always evolving,” said Stoeckle. “It is more likely that — at all times in evolution — the animals alive at that point arose relatively recently.” In this view, a species only lasts a certain amount of time before it either evolves into something new or goes extinct.

And yet — another unexpected finding from the study — species have very clear genetic boundaries, and there’s nothing much in between.

“If individuals are stars, then species are galaxies,” said Thaler. “They are compact clusters in the vastness of empty sequence space.” The absence of “in-between” species is something that also perplexed Darwin, he said.



How Trump Can Dismantle Obamacare Without Congress

After more than eight years of promising to end Obamacare, Republicans in Congress—despite having control of both the House and Senate—have failed to stop this disastrous health care law. But thanks to an important provision Republicans included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act when they passed the law in December 2017, the Trump administration may soon have an opportunity to end Obamacare without Congress, which might force Republican congressmen to finally get their act together and pass health care legislation that would empower states and local governments and free health care markets from costly federal government mandates.

 As I have previously noted in several articles on the subject, including in a May 14 article for Townhall, a very strong argument can be made that Obamacare will soon no longer be constitutional. The short explanation is that in the 2012 decision upholding the legality of the Obamacare individual mandate, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate on the basis that the penalty imposed for not having “qualifying” health insurance is not a fine, penalty, or fee, but rather a tax. Since Congress has the power to tax, Roberts reasoned, it has the power to impose the individual mandate.

 When Congress and the Trump administration passed their tax reform legislation in December, they lowered the Obamacare penalty to $0 (effective January 1, 2019), eliminating any possibility of the fine being considered a “tax.” They did not, however, eliminate the mandate to purchase health insurance (because they couldn’t under the congressional rules used to pass the tax reform law). Without the so-called “tax” tied to the mandate, the foundation of Roberts’ argument will completely disappear when the penalty is removed.

This argument, which was also made recently in a lawsuit filed in federal court by 20 states and several other plaintiffs, creates the opportunity for the Trump administration to end Obamacare without Congress having to pass a law. But how?

In other articles, I noted the Trump administration would need to officially declare that the law will no longer be constitutional when the tax is eliminated in January 2019, but as I’ve been instructed recently by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, that’s only partially correct.

In addition to declaring that the Trump administration will not recognize the constitutionality of the law, it would need to settle the lawsuit with those plaintiffs alleging the individual mandate is no longer constitutional. By settling the lawsuit and effectively acknowledging the plaintiffs’ argument is correct, Obamacare could be dismantled without Congress’s approval. With a settlement, it would be legally difficult, if not impossible, for Obamacare to be eliminated because the Trump administration has a duty to enforce existing federal law.

Some of you might be wondering why the entire Obamacare law might be tossed out if only the individual mandate is determined to be unconstitutional. The answer is that in previous Supreme Court cases, the Court has determined that when a particularly important provision of a law is deemed unconstitutional, the entire law should be struck down. The primary reason for this is that the Court’s job is not to create or alter legislation; that power, at the federal level, belongs to Congress alone.

Former Justice Antonin Scalia explained in the dissent he authored in the 2012 case that there is a two-part guide for determining whether one or more provisions ruled to be unconstitutional ought to compel the Supreme Court to strike down an entire law. As Scalia noted in the second part of the guide, the one most relevant for the current situation, “even if the remaining provisions can operate as Congress designed them to operate, the Court must determine if Congress would have enacted them standing alone and without the unconstitutional portion. If Congress would not, those provisions, too, must be invalidated.”

It’s extremely unlikely Congress would have passed Obamacare in 2010 had the individual mandate been removed from the law, because, as Congress noted in the ACA itself, the individual mandate is an “essential” part of the Obamacare scheme and “the absence of the requirement would undercut Federal regulation of the health insurance market.”

Obamacare is not constitutional, and the Trump administration has the power to end Obamacare on its own. For the sake of the country’s failing health insurance market, let’s hope it acts by settling the lawsuit challenging Obamacare and declaring the law to be what it always was: an illegal act by the federal government to force people to buy a product millions of families can’t even afford to use.



What the Left Gets Wrong About Stock Buybacks

If you look around, the economy is growing faster than most economists predicted just last year.

Layoffs are rare and employers are hiring. New claims for unemployment benefits are close to a 48-year low, and unemployment is at an 18-year low. If you haven’t noticed, “help wanted” signs seem to be going up all over the place.

Tax reform, which passed last year, has only contributed positively to these economic trends. Those who want to detract from the successes of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act look for stories like a recent Harley-Davidson plant closing and large stock buybacks.

Even a historically strong economy hasn’t been able to rescue the motorcycle company from four years of declining sales.

Despite all the good news, some keep hammering corporate stock buybacks as evidence that the tax cuts aren’t working. So, let’s look at the reality of stock buybacks.

When businesses don’t have suitable investment options for all their profits, they give part of them back to their investors so that those individuals can instead reinvest in other, more profitable endeavors.

Harley-Davidson is a prescient example of stock buybacks. By transferring just shy of $700 million back to shareholders, those investors are now able to redirect that money to other investments that have a more promising future.

Those new investments will also need workers to build, design, and manufacture whatever the future demands.

If instead, Harley-Davidson poured more money into a U.S. market that did not want to buy its bikes, the investment would still not sustain long-term jobs. Instead, it would just prolong the company’s decline and ultimately everyone—including the employees—would be worse off.

The former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Holtz-Eakin, summed up the economics of stock buybacks. “Stock buybacks do not make shareholders richer,” he said. “A stock buyback is simply the exchange of valuable stock for the same value in cash.”

Business Investment Raises Wages

The 2017 tax reform lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The lower tax rate makes investing in the U.S. more attractive. The tax law also further lowers the cost of business investments through expensing.

In the first quarter of 2018, investment increased by more than 21 percent among companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, compared with the same quarter in 2017.

Investment is often slow in the first quarter of the year, so most observers predict strong business investment will continue.

More business investment in new buildings and equipment means that Americans will be more productive, revenues will increase, and businesses will want to hire more workers and will pay higher wages to find good talent.

“In a dynamic, competitive economy, the relationship between companies and their employees is symbiotic, not antagonistic,” explains Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. That is exactly what we are seeing.

A Healthy Stock Market Benefits the Middle Class 

The popular narrative that only the rich benefit when the stock market and businesses are doing well is based on a mistaken view of stock ownership that may have been true in the 19th century, but certainly isn’t true today.

When businesses increase in value or pay dividends, shareholders—the owners of those businesses—share in the benefits.

In the U.S., shareholders are ordinary people, with more than half of all families owning stock, directly or indirectly. You likely own pieces of businesses in your private retirement savings account, through your company’s pension fund, and your kids’ college savings accounts.

The rate of stock ownership is increasing, with some of the biggest gains coming from lower-income households. The value of asset holdings in investment accounts has also for low-income Americans, compared with those with higher incomes.

The notion that only the wealthy benefit when businesses return profits to their investors is simply wrong.

All in all, stock buybacks are a common market function and a signal of a healthy economy. They may be an easy target to vilify, but we should base our attitude toward them on sound economic thinking and appreciate the broader context of a healthy economy.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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