Tagged: infrastructure

Reaganomics, privatization, brought Swedes crumbling schools, hospitals, booming inequality

Voters…are returning to faith in cradle to grave welfare after eight years of center-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who cut income, wealth and corporate taxes. Sweden’s tax burden has fallen by four percentage points of GDP – now lower than France.

In the eyes of many Swedes, the welfare state withered. Sickness and unemployment benefits were cut. Private firms started to run tax-funded schools and hospitals. But a tipping point may have come as a September general election approaches – and many now point to a U-turn…

By any standards, Sweden is healthy. Its public debt is around 40 percent of GDP, half of Germany’s.

But Sweden has one of the world’s most generous welfare states – like subsidized child care with up to 480 days of parental leave per child. Its Nordic model depends on keeping to a strict national bookkeeping unusual in much of Europe…

At the same time as demands grow for more spending on schools and hospitals, Sweden’s public finances have worsened. The country may now be heading for years of rising tax burdens if it wants to keep its public finances in order.

Flush from income tax cuts, middle classes have also enjoyed cheap loans and a property boom. As wealth grew – with clusters of Michelin star restaurants in Stockholm – Sweden remained one of the few economies in Europe with the top AAA credit rating. It also has the fastest growing economic inequality of any OECD nation…

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Psychiatric patients who quit smoking are less likely to be rehospitalized

Patients who participated in a smoking-cessation program during hospitalization for mental illness were able to quit smoking and were less likely to be hospitalized again for their psychiatric conditions, according to a new study led by a Stanford University School of Medicine scientist.

The findings counter a longstanding assumption, held by many mental-health experts, that smoking serves as a useful tool in treating some psychiatric patients.

Smoking among such patients has been embedded in the culture for decades, with cigarettes used as part of a reward system. Indeed, clinicians sometimes smoke alongside patients as a way of creating a rapport with them, said Judith Prochaska, PhD, MPH…lead author of the study.

She said the study, done in collaboration with researchers at UC-San Francisco, is the first to examine the impact of a stop-smoking intervention in hospitalized adult psychiatric patients…

Because psychiatric patients aren’t encouraged to stop smoking, the group is among the country’s most prolific smokers and among those most likely to die of smoking-related ailments, Prochaska said. Nearly half of the cigarettes sold in the United States are to people with psychiatric or addictive disorders, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average life expectancy for people with severe mental illness is 25 years less than that of the general population, and their leading cause of death is chronic illness, mostly tobacco-related…

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Fix infrastructure on the cheap while you still can!

Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rates and quantitative easing policies, borrowing costs are near generational lows. The costs of funding the repair and renovation of America’s decaying infrastructure are as cheap as they have been since World War II.

But the era of cheap credit may be nearing its end. And thanks to a dysfunctional Washington, D.C., we are on the verge of missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…

The argument [in 2011] was that a major infrastructure repair program would create jobs, keep us competitive with China and improve the security of our ports, energy facilities and electrical grid. And as a fantastic bonus, borrowing costs for funding these repairs were at the lowest levels in a century. Imagine the least costly way to improve and repair our infrastructure imaginable, and that was what was available to us: the deal of the century.

All of the above remains true — except the bit about ultra-low rates. They have begun to move higher as markets anticipate the end of the Fed’s quantitative easing. The most widely held U.S. Treasury, the 10-year bond, was yielding about 2.6 percent late last week — a full percentage point higher than in early May. The 30-year bond, which we tend to think of as the cost of funding infrastructure that will last for decades, has risen almost as fast.

As a nation, we still have a window to take advantage of these historically low rates. However, that window is beginning to close, and we need to act sooner rather than later.

As D.C. dithers, the rest of the economy has already jumped at the chance to put this cheap credit to work. The corporate sector has taken advantage of low rates to refinance its debt. Today, publicly traded U.S. companies have the cleanest balance sheets seen in decades. It is in no small part a driver of the stock market rally that began in March 2009.

Households have also taken advantage of low rates. Families with a reasonable income and a half-decent credit rating should be refinancing their consumer debt, especially home mortgages. And the data show that many of them have been.

That leaves Uncle Sam, along with the states and municipalities, as the odd men out of the debt refinancing boom. Rather than waiting for bridges to collapse to do expensive emergency repairs, we should proactively be upgrading and improving the rest of our infrastructure. We should be refinancing whatever debt we can while rates are still low…

RTFA for a detailed consideration of all that could be accomplished if the Republican Party cared sufficiently for the best interests of their electorate to participate in bipartisan legislation. That party exists only in memory.

If we fail to take advantage of this once-in-a-century opportunity, future generations will look back at us with a mix of disgust and anger. They will wonder how we let such a golden opportunity slip by and will think of us as “the idiot generation.”

And you know what? They will be right.

As ever, Barry Ritholtz is my favorite Recovering Republican.

Sinkhole swallows car, driver climbs out and up a ladder to safety


Click to enlarge

A sinkhole swallowed a car as it was traveling down a street in Toledo, Ohio, and the 60-year-old driver climbed out of the hole using a ladder supplied by rescue workers…

A water main break or heavy rains may have caused the sinkhole to open up under the street on Wednesday as the woman was driving down it, fire department Lieutenant Tom Kuhman said.

“She saw the car in front of her kind of almost go in but her car, being already in motion, was unable to avoid it,” he said…

The woman was unhurt and climbed out of the hole using a ladder, helped by a firefighter.

The biggest city here in New Mexico is Albuquerque. Part of how it grew was the railroad going west along the Mexican border. A big part has been the military and our government’s devotion to weapons of mass destruction. Between air force bases and national labs like Sandia and Los Alamos, taxpayer dollars dedicated to death and destruction put three squares a day on a lot of New Mexico tables. Very little of that goes to infrastructure for civilians.

Albuquerque has as many as three water main failures a week like this. You can time construction matching the growth of the city to wars. World War 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. When the water system was laid down and apparently targeting a 50-year-replacement cycle. Long past – and never done.

Yeah, another tale of infrastructure self-destructing around us and under us.

Repairing infrastructure can help repair economy, employment

If you have spent much time traveling around the United States, you likely have noticed that our infrastructure looks a bit worn and tired and in need of some refreshing. If you spend much time traveling around the world, however, you will notice that our infrastructure is shockingly bad. So bad that it’s not an exaggeration to declare it a national disgrace, a global embarrassment and a massive security risk.

Not too long ago, the infrastructure of the United States was the envy of the world. We had an extensive interstate highway system, deep-water ports connected to a well-developed rail system and a new airport in every major city (and most minor ones). Electricity was accessible to the vast majority of the nation’s residents, as was Ma Bell’s telephone network.

That was then. In the ensuing decades, we have allowed the transportation grid to get old and out of shape. Our interstate highway system is in disrepair; our bridges are rusting away, with some collapsing now and then. The electrical grid is a patchwork of jury-rigged fixes, vulnerable to blackouts and foreign cyberattacks. The cell system of the United States is a laughingstock versus Asia’s or Europe’s coverage. There are very few things that are done better by government mandate than by the free market, but cell coverage is one of them. Broadband, almost as laughable as our cell coverage, is another…

Don’t take my word for it. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a U.S. Infrastructure Report Card…that reviewed key civil engineering projects on their quality and state of repair. The society graded aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit and wastewater.

Overall, America’s infrastructure GPA was a “D.” We earned our highest grade in solid waste — a C+ (insert your own infrastructure joke here).

To get to an “A” would require a five-year infrastructure investment of $2.2 trillion dollars. You can understand why recent proposals of $50 billion were so underwhelming. That is 10 percent of what is required to return the United States to a competitive level with the rest of the developed world. Even the emerging world outshines us in these areas.

A massive infrastructure program would have numerous benefits, not the least of which would be giving a boost to the economy when it could use one. The big advantage of infrastructure rebuilds is that they create a lasting effect by creating tools and platforms that the private sector can build upon. Consider the vast economic benefits we have enjoyed from the interstate highway system, DARPAnet and NASA, and you have a sense of what a massive infrastructure program can yield.

That’s the intro. Barry Ritholtz published this at his Washington Post blog October 22, 2011. Ain’t anything much changed. The longer Congressional Republicans keep saying “NO” – the higher the eventual price tag will be.

Barry Ritholtz is one of my favorite Recovering Republicans. He’s retained the essentials of traditional American conservatism including respect for science and mathematics – two qualities missing entirely from the spooky crap sloughed off as ideology by the Tea Party and craven rightwingers huddled inside the dimbulb country club still called the Republican Party.

Click through the link in my post and read the details. They still make sense and all they would provide is a rescue for the infrastructure going back to FDR and Eisenhower, jobs and training for millions of Americans.

Superstorm Sandy dumped 11 billion gallons of raw sewage into eastern United States waterways

shitstorm

Hurricane Sandy dumped about 11 billion gallons of raw and untreated sewage into waterways from Washington DC to Connecticut, the science journalism group Climate Central said on Tuesday. That’s enough human waste to cover New York’s Central Park in 41ft of sewage, or fill 17,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools…

The group, which drew on data from the Environmental Protection Agency, state protection agencies and water treatment plants, said most of the outflow during the storm, which hit the eastern US in October last year, was caused by storm surges, which overwhelmed sewage treatment plants. But power shutdowns – and heavy rain in Washington DC – also played a part. A third of the sewage was untreated.

The scientists said the report exposed yet another risk factor to America’s crumbling infrastructure, due to climate change.

New York City authorities have been working for years to reinforce the city’s subway system, which is vulnerable to flooding, and to shore up power stations, which are located along the coast. The scientists said that in the wake of Sandy, when storm surges raised waters more than 9ft above the high tide mark, it was time to look at waste-treatment plants.

“Our sewage infrastructure isn’t built to withstand such surges and we are putting our property, safety and lives at risk if we don’t adequately plan for these challenges,” said Alyson Kenward, a senior scientist and research manager for Climate Central, adding that almost all of the sewage had ended up in New Jersey and New York…

The estimated cost of repairs to New York and New Jersey’s sewage treatment plants could reach $4.7 billion. “In the long run, sea-level rise is going to force us to rework our infrastructure physically if we are going to keep it intact,” she said.

There isn’t any part of superstructure repair, maintenance or upgrades that Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in Congress care a rat’s ass about. They operate under the assumption that voters only care about dollars – like the money-grubbing thugs they’ve elected.

ASCE says U.S. needs to spend $3.6 trillion on infrastructure

Infrastructure in the United States has progressed from an overall grade of “D” to a “D+” since 2009, a survey by civil engineers indicates.

In its 2013 Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers sees a slight uptick in the status of the nation’s infrastructure since the society issued its last report card four years ago.

However, its 2013 report concludes that a total investment of $3.6 trillion is needed by 2020 in order to bring U.S. infrastructure up to an acceptable level.

Currently only about $2 trillion in infrastructure spending is projected, leaving an estimated shortfall of approximately $1.6 trillion.

The survey covered a vast number of topics including aviation, bridges, dams, levees, roads, schools and transit.

“The methodology with which this Report Card was produced was a very objective piece of work, not a bunch of people using a gut feeling, but real numbers,” said Robert Victor, ASCE Region 2 director.

Victor said the organization formed a committee of more than 30 civil engineers, all technical experts in their field, to assess the nation’s infrastructure.

If we left this in the hands of Congressional Republicans – first, we never would have made the breathtaking climb from D all the way up to D+. Second, the diminished; but, continuing clown show in the House will try their best to Ryanize the existing budget proposal – instead of responding to real needs within our crumbling infrastructure.

Best place to be born in 2013 — Switzerland

Switzerland is the best country for a baby to be born in 2013, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is based on both subjective and objective quality of life factors.

The variables include life expectancy, gender equality, political freedoms, and even climate, but because the study looks at where “to be born” not “where to live,” some of the factors look at what life will be like in those countries in 2030, when children born in 2013 reach adulthood.

Rounding out the top 10 are:

2. Australia
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Denmark
6. Singapore
7. New Zealand
8. Netherlands
9. Canada
10. Hong Kong

The report authors write:

Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account.

The United States didn’t crack the top 10 this year, because American “babies will inherit the large debts of the boomer generation,” the researchers write. Could have included mediocre education, crumbling infrastructure in that same sentence.

In the 1988 survey, the United States came in first, followed closely by mostly European countries and several high-performing Asian ones, such as South Korea and Japan…

Now, Japan and South Korea rank 25 and 19, respectively, perhaps because their economies have become more troubled in recent years.

Europe has also slipped in the rankings because the ongoing euro-zone crisis there has caused severe unemployment and “eroded both family and community life,” the authors write…Germany has dropped to 16 – a tie with the United States.

Disagree with the list? The full methodology can be found here.

The Economist is a magazine grounded in conservative economics. That’s conservative in the traditional sense, rather like the term used to be in the United States before today’s Republican Party started their outreach policy for governance by homophobes, religious nutballs, various and sundry bigots.

So, the list will be accused of being part of a mythic liberal conspiracy – regardless of credentials.