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.

Climate change happening too quickly for some species to adapt

combes-mountain-myth-snow-leopard
Species that live on mountains, such as the snow leopard, are particularly at risk

Among the many strange mantras repeated by climate change deniers is the claim that even in an overheated, climate-altered planet, animals and plants will still survive by adapting to global warming. Corals, trees, birds, mammals and butterflies are already changing to the routine reality of global warming, it is argued.

Certainly, countless species have adapted to past climate fluctuations. However, their rate of change turns out to be painfully slow, according to a study by Professor John Wiens of the University of Arizona. Using data from 540 living species, including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, Wiens and colleagues compared their rates of evolution with the rates of climate change projected for the end of this century. The results, published online in the journal Ecology Letters, show that most land animals will not be able to evolve quickly enough to adapt to the dramatically warmer climate expected by 2100. Many species face extinction, as a result…

The study indicates there is simply not enough time for species to change their morphologies – for example, by altering their bodies’ shapes so they hold less heat – to compensate for rising heat levels. Too many generations of evolutionary change are required. Nor is moving habitat an option for many creatures. “Consider a species living on the top of a mountain,” says Wiens. “If it gets too warm or dry up there, they can’t go anywhere.”

The crucial point of the study is that it stresses a fact that is often conveniently ignored by climate change deniers. It is not just the dramatic nature of the changes that lie ahead – melting icecaps, rising sea levels and soaring temperatures – but the extraordinary speed at which they are occurring. Past transformations that saw planetary temperatures soar took millions of years to occur. The one we are creating will take only a few generations to take place. Either evolution speeds up 10,000-fold, which is an unlikely occurrence, or there will be widespread extinctions.

Climate change deniers – even more so their acolytes – won’t be bothered by scientific studies answering their allegiance to fossil fuel fanboys. If they were the sort who read science for love of the discipline, enjoying the additional knowledge for what it is, they would be unlikely to lap up the agitprop rooted in corporate greed in the first place.

No – we’re answering questions raised not even as idle rhetoric; but, solely as additions to PR campaigns orchestrated by flacks and fools recruited to prop up anti-intellectualism, anti-science and anti-progress which calls into the question the motives of profiteers.

Facial blood vessel-scanning could be the next biometric ID

We’ve certainly been hearing a lot about facial recognition as a means of identification, although the technology could – conceivably – be thwarted by someone wearing a mask. Now, however, scientists at India’s Jadavpur University are taking a different approach to facial ID. They’ve developed a system that can identify a person based not on the composition of their face, but on the blood vessels within it.

The system starts with an infrared scan being performed on the person’s face, using a thermal imaging camera. The image that is obtained is then processed by a computer, using a specially-designed algorithm. As a result, virtually all of the veins and arteries beneath the skin (including the tiniest capillaries) can be seen in that image.

The accuracy of the system is said to be over 97 percent. Given the complexity that would be involved in first imaging the layout of the blood vessels within a person’s face, and then constructing a mask that convincingly replicated that layout, the scientists believe that their system would be very difficult to foil.

Um, OK. How many different ways does the government need to know who I am?

X-47B unmanned aircraft makes historic first carrier landing

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator put another page in the history books on Wednesday with its first unmanned arrested-wire carrier landing. The drone flew 35 minutes from Patuxent River Naval Air Station to the carrier USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia, where is landed at about 167 mph with an arresting wire catching its tail hook and bringing it to a stop in 350 ft..

This test marks the culmination of ten years of research by the Navy and Northrop Grumman to produce a prototype unmanned combat vehicle for the US Navy. Previously, the X-47B completed deck operations aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in December and the first UAV catapult launch in May…

“We have been using the same [carrier] landing technology for more than 50 years now and the idea that we can take a large UAV and operate in that environment is fascinating,” says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy program manager. “When I think about all of the hours and all of the work-ups the team put into executing this event, I had no doubt the air vehicle was going to do exactly what it was supposed to do.”

After the initial landing, the X-47B was launched again from the carrier by catapult and did another arrested landing…

I know, I know. It’s a shame the military gets to do all this fascinating research.

When you live in the belly of the beast that is the last dedicated imperial superpower – to some extent – you grow accustomed to the rules of the game. Death and destruction trumps all other motivations. They get the dollars even without a requisition. The military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned against has ruled the United States for decades.