Important articles you may have missed this week!

These are all, in their different ways, important articles.

  1. What Shortage of Scientists and Engineers?“, John Tierney, NY Times’ TierneyLab, 17 October 2008 — More evidence disproving one of the most common urban legends about the US economy.
  2. Fusion Projects hand in limbo“, Alan Boyle, MSNBC’s Cosmic Log, 20 October 2008
  3. Smearing Colonel Vandeveld“, Ross Tuttle, The Nation, 20 October 2008 — A sad and important story.
  4. Income inequality and poverty rising in most OECD countries“, OECD, 21 October 2008
  5. Wrecked Iraq – What the Good News from Iraq Really Means“, Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, 23 October 2008 


What Shortage of Scientists and Engineers?“, John Tierney, NY Times’ TierneyLab, 17 October 2008 — More evidence disproving one of the most common urban legends about the US economy.  Excerpt:

If the United States really has a critical shortage of scientists and engineers, why didn’t this year’s graduates get showered with lucrative job offers and signing bonuses?

… But employers don’t have to throw around that kind of money because there’s no shortage of workers – and they won’t be increasing their offers if the federal government artificially inflates the labor supply with an extra 100,000 graduates. As Daniel S. Greenberg wrote in the Scientist magazine in 2003: “Despite the alarms, no current or impending shortage exists, and never did. Instead, we’re glutted with scientists and engineers in many fields, as numerous job seekers with respectable credentials can attest.”

The only “shortage” is of American-born scientists and engineers. But with so many talented foreigners competing for positions here in schools and laboratories, it’s entirely rational for American students to head into fields where their skills are in more demand – and harder to replace with foreign labor. Mr. Greenberg sums up their options nicely:

Consider the economic fates of two bright college graduates, Jane and Jill, both 22. Jane excels at a top law school, and after graduation three years later, is wooed and hired by a top law firm at the going rate-$125,000 a year, with a year-end bonus of $25,000 to $50,000.

Jill heads down the long trail to a PhD in physics, and after six Spartan years on graduate stipends rising to $20,000 a year, finally gets her degree. Tenure-track jobs appropriate to her rigorous training are scarce, but, more fortunate than her other classmates, she lands a good postdoc appointment-at $35,000 year, without health insurance or professional independence. Three years later, when attorney Jane is raking in $150,000 a year, plus bonuses, Jill is nail-biting over another postdoc appointment, with an unusually ample postdoc recompense of $45,000 per annum. Medicine and business management similarly trump science in earning power.

Fusion Projects hand in limbo“, Alan Boyle, MSNBC’s Cosmic Log, 20 October 2008 — Excerpt:

The current round of financial uncertainty is coming at just the wrong time for America’s largest and smallest fusion research programs. Federal funding currently backs three strategies for fusion power:

This is an update to these posts:

  1. Fusion energy, too risky a bet for America (we prefer to rely on war) , 4 May 2008
  2. A long-shot project for fusion power: the Polywell, 30 September 2008

Smearing Colonel Vandeveld“, Ross Tuttle, The Nation, 20 October 2008 — Excerpt:

As the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) was informed of a top prosecutor’s intent to resign–and his decision to go on record with his ethical concerns–it launched a forceful offensive against him. As part of this campaign, leading officials at the OMC circulated belittling talking points to other staffers and deployed a Soviet-style strategy of punitive and discrediting psychiatric evaluations.

The target of this latest push was Lieut. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor, who resigned September 9 and then submitted a damning four-page affidavit to the war court. Vandeveld had been the lead prosecutor in the case of Mohammed Jawad, a young Afghan accused of attempted murder. According to his statement, Vandeveld decided to resign due to deep-seated ethical concerns about the treatment of Jawad in custody and the withholding of “potentially exculpatory evidence” from the defense. Vandeveld characterized the procedure for providing evidence to the defense as “slipshod [and] uncertain” and concluded, “I am highly concerned to the point that I believe I can no longer serve as prosecutor at the Commissions.”

Vandeveld’s resignation came after a string of embarrassing repudiations of the Guantanámo trials, including three Supreme Court setbacks, the defection of at least four other prosecutors from the OMC and the disqualification of Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann from three separate trials because of political bias and interference. In an apparent attempt to minimize the impact of this latest rebuke of the OMC, Hartmann prepared talking points against Vandeveld. Obtained by The Nation, these talking points assert that Vandeveld is dishonest, “ill-informed” and has violated commission regulations.

After Vandeveld resigned, he made himself available to testify on behalf of the Jawad defense at a pretrial hearing, writing, “I do believe I have relevant testimony to offer.” But the OMC barred him from doing so. The office then circulated the sharply worded talking points intended to discredit Vandeveld.

Income inequality and poverty rising in most OECD countries“, OECD, 21 October 2008 — Excerpt:

The gap between rich and poor has grown in more than three-quarters of OECD countries over the past two decades, according to a new OECD report.

OECD’s Growing Unequal? finds that the economic growth of recent decades has benefitted the rich more than the poor. In some countries, such as Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway and the United States, the gap also increased between the rich and the middle-class.

Countries with a wide distribution of income tend to have more widespread income poverty. Also, social mobility is lower in countries with high inequality, such as Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, and higher in the Nordic countries where income is distributed more evenly.

Wrecked Iraq – What the Good News from Iraq Really Means“, Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, 23 October 2008 — Excerpt:

The tone of the coverage also changed. The powerful reports of desperate battles and miserable Iraqis disappeared. There are still occasional stories about high-profile bombings or military campaigns in obscure places, but the bulk of the news is about quiescence in old hot spots, political maneuvering by Iraqi factions, and the newly emerging routines of ordinary life.

… This glimpse of the degraded conditions at one Baghdad public school, amplified in the body of Dagher’s article by other examples, is symptomatic of the larger reality in Iraq. In a sense, the (often exaggerated) decline in violence in that country has allowed foreign reporters to move around enough to report on the real conditions facing Iraqis, and so should have provided U.S. readers with a far fuller picture of the devastation George Bush’s war wrought.

In reality, though, since there are far fewer foreign reporters moving around a quieter Iraq, far less news is coming out of that wrecked land. The major newspapers and networks have drastically reduced their staffs there and — with a relative trickle of exceptions like Dagher’s fine report — what’s left is often little more than a collection of pronouncements from the U.S. military, or Iraqi and American political leaders in Baghdad and Washington, framing the American public’s image of the situation there.

In addition, the devastation that is now Iraq is not of a kind that can always be easily explained in a short report, nor for that matter is it any longer easily repaired. In many cities, an American reliance on artillery and air power during the worst days of fighting helped devastate the Iraqi infrastructure. Political and economic changes imposed by the American occupation did damage of another kind, often depriving Iraqis not just of their livelihoods but of the very tools they would now need to launch a major reconstruction effort in their own country.

As a consequence, what was once the most advanced Middle Eastern society — economically, socially, and technologically — has become an economic basket case, rivaling the most desperate countries in the world. Only the (as yet unfulfilled) promise of oil riches, which probably cannot be effectively accessed or used until U.S. forces withdraw from the country, provides a glimmer of hope that Iraq will someday lift itself out of the abyss into which the U.S. invasion pushed it.

{a detailed examination follows of Iraq’s infrastructure and social disfunction}


Please make your quesions and answers brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to the above challenge.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

5 thoughts on “Important articles you may have missed this week!”

  1. And that just about sums up our our entire ponzi societies (US, UK, Oz, etc, far to many etc unfortunately). Pay a non productive drone more than someone who contributes to knowledge, the human race and, just incidentally wealth.

    There have been several studies (I’ll do the references later, its late here and I’ve been working all day) that all wealth has been created by technical achievement. Yep, the lot. Take bunch of people and raw materials and what seperates us from a hunter gatherer in rabbit fur? Knowledge!

    But what happens if in a particular country, originally high in technical knowledge, it then drops. To access that knowledge you import either the products or the people. But inevitably the place with people with knowledge will become steadily wealthier (thats how we did it after all). Those people who came for the higher salaries will not come, or will return. Then you are left with importing the products and how do you pay for it? Offer them legal advice? Or a rickshaw drive.

    I’m reminded of a guy I knew years ago, who said the US was finished in 1983(!) I disputed this and he said, “the number of physics Phds peaked, they will either have to import them or their high tech industries will collapse. If that happens they are just another country with 250 million people and there are plenty of those”. I’m not so dark, the US has shown incredible abilities at regeneration, the ‘Dr Who’ of countries, but regeneration is painful.

    But they did import (he was right about native born Americans) and that carried them through for a while. [And they paid some drop kicks sqillions for shody work, heck they should have paid me that, I proved the current financial models were wrong and even came up with better ones.]

    Unlike the UK, who cannot now make a nuclear reactor without French technical help, in the 70’s the UK had the highest proportion of nuclear power generated by any country in the World with, arguably, the best reactors. What are they going to do? No resources, no technical skills, cannot even feed themselves.

    The idea of gaining wealth by military force ended in the late 18th century. Nowadays it costs more that you will ever get back, ah la USSR, British Empire, French colonies, etc, etc, oh and the US.

    {Optimism Alert}
    But I’m also reminded by history. Australia, at the start of WW2 made nothing and was broke, it was a farm (not even much of a mine in those days). 10 years of depression. Sent all its forces to the UK, inclding its Prime Minister (thank god). By the end of WW2, just 6 years later it was making Mustangs and Mosquitos , the F-22 and F-35 of the era. Plus built white good and heavy engineering and high tech industries from nothing and made itself one of the wealthiest countries in the World. It ain’t over till its over.

  2. And, re fusion, in this I’m not a skpetic. 3-4 projects, well funded … and we will have it, even within my lifetime.

  3. {negative optimism alert}

    Healdines from the AGE newspaper this morning:
    (1)Mortgage Funds’ help plea (but they are almost certain to be rejected)
    (2) State Govt backs police spying
    (3) (water) Restrictions could be back by 2020 (after spending squilling on desalination, powered by natural gas no less)
    (4) Secrecy over $500M in transport money: Commercial-in-confidence laws keep spending secret for Connex (trains) and Yarra Trams.
    (5) Immigration intake “good for business”, they want cheaper rickshaw drivers?

    Well the age old philosophical question: “are humans smarter than yeast” keeps getting answered.

  4. Old Skeptic: you should write more often! We have plenty of doomsayers on this site (and some starry-eyed believers in the old American virtues) but few with a sense of humor.

    Respectfully disagree with the talent-drain thesis, however. It’s more about capital — who has it and whether/where they think they can make a profit with it. Or, how little they think they can pay for it.

    The story about what life is really like in Iraq, and how little of it gets through to the US public — and, correlatively, how ignorant and insensitive we continue to be to the meaning of our actions — is profoundly depressing, and makes me think we need a good ten year period of eating crow.

  5. I don’t have the figures handy, but something like 4.5 million Iraqis have been displace in-country, have fled, or have been killed. It’s close to 20% of the population, i.e. 60,000,000 in the US. I read that article earlier, but also many others over the years. It has been clear to anyone open to reading other than official reports.

    And another ominous/depressing aspect of this: no mainstream political candidate or press operation has been willing to state what is really going on. The story in Afghanistan is similar. We have ruined two countries in the name of ‘peace’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.

    It’s going to be more than crow, we’ll be eating, even if served up in perfectly baked ‘humble pie’. The rest of the world is organising and will work in a more concerted fashion to dismantle US military and financial hegemony.

    Which is the best thing possible for America as long as she doesn’t let a small bunch of maniacs get trigger-happy with her obscenely powerful nuclear arsenal without which her resumption of role as a ‘normal’ country would probably have started in the 80’s.

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