Tagged: infrastructure

Republican supply-side economics bring doom and gloom to Kansas

Every year, right after the April 15 tax deadline, the U.S. Census releases its data on the prior year’s state tax collections. It is a fascinating document, filled with great data points for tax and policy wonks. It reveals a good deal about the state of local economies, economic trends and results of specific policies. In broad terms, the financial fortunes of the states are improving.

State government tax revenue increased 2.2 percent…according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections.

General sales and gross receipts taxes drove most of the revenue growth…

Let’s focus on Kansas, because of all the states its tax data reflects conscious policy choices as opposed to larger economic forces, such as falling oil prices.

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, the state radically cut income taxes on corporations and individuals. Going on the assumption that this would generate a burst of economic growth and higher tax revenue, no alternative sources of revenue were put into place. Similarly, the state failed to lower spending.

Alas, reality trumps theory. As we have seen almost every time this thesis has been put into practice, it fails. The tax cuts don’t magically kick the economy into higher gear and the government ends up short of money…

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The Large Hadron Collider is switching back on – What do scientists hope to learn?

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Click to enlarge

The Large Hadron Collider — the particle accelerator used to discover the Higgs boson in 2012 — is being fired back up after a two-year break.

The gigantic collider (which includes a 17-mile-long underground tunnel that runs between France and Switzerland) was shut down in February 2013 so engineers could make upgrades. Now, physicists are starting it back up for a new series of experiments intended to push the laws of physics to their limits…

In essence, these experiment involve shooting beams of particles around the ring, using enormous magnets to speed them up to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light (causing them to whip around the ring about 11,000 times per second), then crashing them together. Sophisticated sensors capture all sorts of data on the particles that result from these collisions.

The huge amount of energy present in these collisions leads the particles to break apart and recombine in some pretty exotic ways. And these conditions can reveal flaws in the standard model of physics — currently our best formula for predicting the behavior of all matter.

Physicists want to do this because, as accurate as the standard model seems to be, it’s still incomplete…

The LHC’s biggest finding so far was the July 2012 discovery of an elementary particle called the Higgs boson.

Since the 1960s, the Higgs boson was thought to exist as a part of the Higgs field: an invisible field that permeates all space and exerts a drag on every particle. This field, physicists theorized, is why we perceive particles to have mass…

On paper, the Higgs field and boson both made a lot of sense — all the equations of the standard model pointed toward their existence. But we had no direct physical evidence of them…

After several years of upgrading the LHC’s magnets (which speed up and control the flow of particles) and data sensors, it’ll begin…a new series of experiments that will involve crashing particles together with nearly twice as much energy as before.

These more powerful collisions will allow scientists to keep discovering new (and perhaps larger) particles, and also look more closely at the Higgs boson and observe how it behaves under different conditions…

Once upon a time, it looked like a truly gigantic accelerator would actually be built in the US. In 1989, Congress agreed to spend $6 billion to build the Superconducting Super Collider: a 54-mile-long underground ring in Waxahachie, Texas, that would have produced collisions with five times as much energy as the LHC’s. But in 1993, with the costs rising to a projected $11 billion, Congress killed the project — after $2 billion had already been spent on drilling nearly 15 miles of tunnel.

Just in case you thought stupid was a new definition of Congressional priorities.

Invading other countries because liars in the White House say we must; building new fleets of fighter jets and ships to protect landing craft for future invasions because liars in the military-industrial complex say we must; building bridges to nowhere instead of repairing and improving our nation’s infrastructure because powerful members of Congress say we must – are the kinds of commitments to increasing the national debt that our politIcians adore, the average American loves. The size of the “Boom” is sufficiently impressive to draw everyone’s attention away from the results of science and studies headquartered outside our borders.

And TV news-as-entertainment gets to fill the space where conversation used to get in the way with beaucoup footage of all the people around the world who love Americans more than ever.

Who needs science, anyway?

Addendum: Ursarodinia sent me this link this morning – before the LHC post; but, I didn’t get round to checking my email until late this afternoon.

Art meets the science of the Biggs Boson

Wyoming rakes in more than $4.4 Million from taxes on wind-power


Click to enlargeDave Showalter

More than $4.4 million was generated from taxes on wind production across Wyoming in the last fiscal year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Albany, Carbon, Converse, Laramie, Natrona and Uinta counties share in $2.7 million with the state’s portion of the revenue at slightly more than $1.7 million…

This year’s taxes from wind-generated electricity are the tip of the iceberg to state and local coffers. When the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project’s 1,000 wind turbines come online, they could eventually bring in more $10 million in revenues annually, from wind generation alone.

Coupled with property taxes and the sales and use tax, Chokecherry promises to be a financial boon to Carbon County, said Kara Choquette, communications director for the Power Company of Wyoming…

“This represents a very significant and positive financial impact for the county, all of the public entities that get a portion of the property taxes and all of the cities and towns that get a portion of the sales and use tax.” Choquette said. “Along with the generation tax, it’s in the hundreds and millions of dollars. That’s a pretty significant increase over what Wyoming is getting now from all of the wind turbines combined.”

We have much of the same potential plus more solar – especially in downstate New Mexico. Of course the state engineer’s office made the determination that we could be a net power exporting state in wind-generated electricity 20 years ago. Our beloved PNM took no notice.

Congrats to Wyoming for making this growing infrastructure part of a larger picture beyond public utility executives patting themselves on the back.

Of course, we’re all farting around – dawdling behind Colorado when it comes to doing something sensible like legalizing marijuana. A renewable resource that slows traffic, generates income for the state and jobs for the young at heart – and brings miles of smiles.

Infrastructure advances worldwide — US politicians stick with crumbling bridges

While our politicians debate whether torture is really torture, is affordable access to basic health care necessary for people who work for a living, is climate change important [if it exists] – the rest of the world is simply advancing national and regional infrastructure beyond anything in the richest nation in the world.

In Switzerland, the world’s longest rail tunnel — straight through the Alps — is about to open.

At 57 kilometres, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will travel through the Alps between the northern portal of Erstfeld and Bodio in the south, will become the longest rail tunnel in the world once complete, stripping the title from Japan’s 53.85 kilometre Seikan Tunnel…

Italy now boasts Europe’s fastest high-speed train — capable of speeds up to 400 km/h (249 mph) — that will cut travel times between Rome and Milan — about the distance between Washington, D.C. and Providence — to two hours and some change…

Even as Americans are stuck traveling on the MegaBus, China has agreed to finance construction of a new high-speed line — through the formerly war-torn Balkan states — from Belgrade to Budapest — by 2017.

China has signed an agreement with the governments of Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia for the construction of a new high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the railway would be complete within the next two years. Feasibility studies are expected to to be carried out by June next year and the project completed by June 2017.

The new 200km/h line will reduce travel times from eight to around two-and-a-half hours between the two capital cities…

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America’s neglected infrastructure, ready to fall apart

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Busiest train bridge in Western Hemisphere = 104 years old, carries up to 500 trains/day!

There are a lot of people in the United States right now who think the country is falling apart, and at least in one respect they’re correct. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, our airports are out of date and the vast majority of our seaports are in danger of becoming obsolete. All the result of decades of neglect. None of this is really in dispute. Business leaders, labor unions, governors, mayors, congressmen and presidents have complained about a lack of funding for years, but aside from a one time cash infusion from the stimulus program, nothing much has changed. There is still no consensus on how to solve the problem or where to get the massive amounts of money needed to fix it, just another example of political paralysis in Washington.

Tens of millions of American cross over bridges every day without giving it much thought, unless they hit a pothole. But the infrastructure problem goes much deeper than pavement. It goes to crumbling concrete and corroded steel and the fact that nearly 70,000 bridges in America — one out of every nine — is now considered to be structurally deficient…

Pennsylvania is one of the worst states in country when it comes to the condition of its infrastructure, and Philadelphia isn’t any better off than Pittsburgh. Nine million people a day travel over 900 bridges classified as structurally deficient, some of them on a heavily traveled section of I-95…

Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania…says it’s a nation’s number one highway. Twenty-two miles of it goes through the city of Philadelphia. There are 15 structurally deficient bridges in that 22-mile stretch. And to fix them would cost seven billion dollars — to fix all the roads and the structurally deficient bridges in that 22-mile stretch…

It’s less a case of wanting to get something done, than coming up with the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to do it. There is no shortage of ideas from Democrats or Republicans who’ve suggested everything from raising the gas tax to funding infrastructure through corporate tax reform. But there is no consensus and not much political support for any of the alternatives as Andy Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, told us last summer…

He said, you’re sitting there at these committee meetings; they seem to agree with you. Yes, we have to make investments in infrastructure. Yes, we have to do these things. But then they come around and say, “Well, where are we going to get the money?” And you sort of sit to yourself and say to yourself, “Well, we elected you to figure that out.”

RTFA for enough examples of crumbling infrastructure to scare a sensible human being into action. Now, we just need to figure out how to get our elected officials to exhibit as much sense. Sitting around worrying about how to raise the funds for repairs without offending any of their big money contributors ain’t going to get it done.

Thanks, Mike

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.