Losing years

Of course, the rationale for raising the Social Security retirement age is that “people” are living longer. The people who are living longer are upper-income white males:

For generations of Americans, it was a given that children would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites, an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.


Researchers have long documented that the most educated Americans were making the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting. Four studies in recent years identified modest declines, but a new one that looks separately at Americans lacking a high school diploma found disturbingly sharp drops in life expectancy for whites in this group. Experts not involved in the new research said its findings were persuasive.

The fine print

David Cay Johnston on his new book, “The Fine Print”:

Americans are paying high prices for poor quality Internet speeds — speeds that are now slower than in other countries, according to author David Cay Johnston. He says the U.S. ranks 29th in speed worldwide.


“We’re way behind countries like Lithuania, Ukraine and Moldavia. Per bit of information moved, we pay 38 times what the Japanese pay,” Johnston tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “If you buy one of these triple-play packages that are heavily advertised — where you get Internet, telephone and cable TV together — typically you’ll pay what I pay, about $160 a month including fees. The same service in France is $38 a month.”


In his new book, The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind, Johnston examines the fees that companies — such as cellphone and cable — have added over the years that have made bills incrementally larger.


Johnston says that telephone and cable companies worked the regulatory process and the legislatures and Congress to get the rules written for their benefit.


“Over the last 20 years, we’ve paid at least $360 billion in higher rates to the traditional telephone companies, and well north of $100 billion more to the cable companies, who all testified before Congress, made filings with regulatory agencies, bought ads on TV that told us we were going to have this information superhighway and it was going to be everywhere,” he says. “Instead, what they built was a system in very limited locations.”


Johnston cites Verizon as providing fiber-optic service to 16 million Americans with no plans to build more.


“Whole huge parts of the country — all of northwestern and central New York [and] everything away from metropolitan New York — is not scheduled to get the high-speed Internet that we paid for and we were promised,” he says.

There’s more. Go listen to the Fresh Air interview.

Breakthrough

I don’t think the oil lobbyists will be able to suppress the breakthroughs coming down the pipeline:

One of the holy grails of solar cell technology may have been found, with researchers at UCLA announcing they have created a new organic polymer that produces electricity, is nearly transparent and is more durable and malleable than silicon.

The applications are mind-boggling. Windows that produce electricity. Buildings wrapped in transparent solar cells. Laptops and phones – or even cars or planes – whose outer coverings act as chargers. It might even be sprayed on as a liquid. The promise of cheap and easy-to-apply site-generated solar electricity might now be a lot closer to reality.

Of course, the idea of solar films and solar plastics is not new. The breakthrough to making a transparent film, however, came with isolating only one band of light in the spectrum.

“[A solar film] harvests light and turns it into electricity. In our case, we harvest only the infrared part,” says Professor Yang Yang at UCLA’s California Nanosystems Institute, who has headed up the research on the new photovoltaic polymer. Absorbing only the infrared light, he explains, means the material doesn’t have to be dark or black or blue, like most silicon photovoltaic panels. It can be clear. “We have developed a material that absorbs infrared and is all transparent to the visible light.”
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Feast of fools

Lewis Lapham:

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.


Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it refers to the cherished hope of liberty embodied in the history of a courageous people.


The campaigns don’t favor the voters with the gratitude and respect owed to their standing as valuable citizens participant in the making of such a thing as a common good. They stay on message with their parsing of democracy as the ancient Greek name for the American Express card, picturing the great, good American place as a Florida resort hotel wherein all present receive the privileges and comforts owed to their status as valued customers, invited to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping, to select wisely from the campaign advertisements, texting A for Yes, B for No.


The sales pitch bends down to the electorate as if to a crowd of restless children, deems the body politic incapable of generous impulse, selfless motive, or creative thought, delivers the insult with a headwaiter’s condescending smile. How then expect the people to trust a government that invests no trust in them? Why the surprise that over the last 30 years the voting public has been giving ever-louder voice to its contempt for any and all politicians, no matter what their color, creed, prior arrest record, or sexual affiliation? The congressional disapproval rating (78% earlier this year) correlates with the estimates of low attendance among young voters (down 20% from 2008) at the November polls.


I was talking about this when I was on Mark Thompson’s radio show the other night: That our candidates never say a genuine word, there’s no authentic discussion of what we need, and certainly no attempt at actual leadership. It’s all very un-democratic, it seems. They don’t trust voters enough to tell them the truth. Truth, in our national politics, is like a hologram. A simulation.

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